Tag Archives: Edvard Munch

Frantic at the Fringe 2012 – Part III

31 Aug

My time in Edinburgh was flying by but I was lucky enough to get tickets for Speed of Light where runners in light suits weave subtle illuminated patterns across the ‘mountain’ at night offering a new visual interpretation of Arthur’s Seat.  Contrary to what many people think, Arthur’s Seat is not a dormant volcano but a small section of a bigger post-volcanic landscape.  It is a dominant feature in Edinburgh and a special part of the city.  I’ve climbed it before but never at night!

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

I’d been reading on Twitter about people preparing to do this night walk all month and to say I was excited would be an understatement.  Speed of Light seeks to fuse public art and sporting endeavour.  On arrival, you’re shown into large tents at the bottom of the walking path.  Surrounded by people in waterproofs with rucksacks and serious walking boots, we began to realise that handbags and fleeces may not cut it with this crowd.  However, we felt better when our clothing was approved and we were told that people had actually been dense enough to arrive in flipflops!  Groups set off at staggered times throughout the evening and, after a safety briefing and introduction, we were handed our walking sticks.  The audience becomes part of the work and these illuminated sticks become striking elements set against the dark brooding landscape of Arthur’s Seat.

Our walking sticks when we reached the summit. Own photograph.

Sadly, despite our eagerness, Speed of Light was underwhelming.  The publicity shots have all been taken with slow exposures and the spectacle isn’t quite what was promised (my shoddy photos give a more realistic idea).  The idea is brilliant and sometimes you get a feel for how it should be but with the fabulous backdrop of Edinburgh at night, the work so often gets lost.  There is no doubt that it was memorable and that we enjoyed ourselves but it could have been so much more.

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat seen against the cityscape. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

However, nothing else at the Festival compares to it.  Even the chattering drunk people in our group fell silent as we neared the summit and they felt the power of the pilgrimage-like walk we had undertaken.  Our singing light sabres didn’t half make a racket near the top as apparently they respond to altitude.  We were nearly blown away (literally not metaphorically) while we had to stop on the viewing platform and ended up hugging like penguins to stay upright.  At this point, while moaning and giggling, we were told off for talking and not appreciating the whining of our sticks.

Trying to photograph the piece with a normal camera. Own photograph.

At the summit, you leave a section of your staff in a vibrating urn-like thing, that wasn’t working properly on the night of our ascent, and then you slip and slide your way back down.  At times our group began to split up and, at one point, I seemed to be leading several other people without an official guide in sight.  Not the best idea considering that I can often be quite accident-prone and that I couldn’t really see where I was going.

I do have criticisms and I was rather disappointed by the end but this is an incredible project and I’m so pleased that we had the opportunity to be involved.  Reading about it afterwards has made the piece seem far more fulfilling – the work has been three years in the making and has involved not only the development of new technologies but the training of over 4,000 runners (it’s a shame that more of them weren’t involved at any one time).  There is some great merchandise on sale at the base including a beautiful book on Arthur’s Seat itself and when you finish the walk you are handed a programme about the project that explains the concept in illuminating detail (sorry!).

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

We were both fitter than we realised and were remarkably unscathed when we finished and headed off for crepes and drinks to celebrate and boast (no-one thought we’d actually do it).

Somehow I made the time to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art as well.  Modern 1 is showing Picasso and Modern British Art which I have recently seen at Tate Britain.  Modern 2, however, is showing Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gunderson Collection with around 50 lithographs and woodcuts owned by a private Norwegian collector.  The exhibition concentrates on how Munch revisited and re-explored his subjects.  Having recently visited the Munch exhibition at Tate in London, this exhibition highlighted to me how much stronger Munch’s graphic works are than his painted works.  Included is a 1895 lithograph on paper of The Scream, one of only two known prints of this work that Munch hand-coloured.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895. Image via www.i-onmagazine.co.uk

The exhibition also includes a display of archival materials relating to Munch’s first solo show in Edinburgh, in the winter of 1931-2, organised by the Society of Scottish Artists.  Due to the repetitive nature of Munch’s work this exhibition doesn’t take too long to get around but it’s well mounted and does what it says on the tin.  As ever, there is some fantastic sculpture dotted around the grounds of the Modern Galleries including a Gormley and a Roger Hiorns.

Gormley at the Gallery of Modern Art. Own photograph.

In contrast, the current exhibition at the National Gallery requires a bit more thought before you even walk through the door.  This is not an exhibition of Van Gogh and Kandinsky works as most visitors seem to expect (we overheard several people asking the guards where the rest of the Van Goghs were).  The full title is Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe, 1880-1910.  Please take careful note so you don’t get a surprise as there are only two Van Goghs and two Kandinskys in the entire show.   Instead, the exhibition, ordered by artistic trends, showcases landscapes from this period that express the anxieties and aspirations of the symbolists through their interpretation of the natural world.  The exhibition is fundamentally a survey of landscape painting, looking at an area of symbolism that has received little attention until now.  Although there are some famous names dotted throughout, the exhibition also includes artists that even the most ardent art historian wouldn’t pretend to know.

Hung with slightly overpowering wall colours, the exhibition feels like a mixed bag.  Plus, I was still somewhat disappointed by the slightly misleading title.  There are some great individual works hidden here but it’s a collection of landscape paintings and I felt a bit let down.  I thought they’d have gone more for the wow factor during the festival.

Piet Mondrian, (Woods) near Oele, 1908.  Image via http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk

As well as all this, I managed to see 57 theatre shows during my two and a bit weeks up at the Fringe and would have happily crammed in some more if I could have used a magic wand to add some extra hours into the day.  I won’t go on about that here but will gladly wax lyrical about what I saw if you bump into me when I’m out and about.  I certainly didn’t manage all the art exhibitions in the city (I was upset not to get to Summerhall, except at night for the bar which was lovely) but I have crossed out lots of spaces on my art map and next year I’ll try to beat my own gallery count and see how many I can manage.  Bring on Edinburgh 2013!

Speed of Light takes places on selected nights at Arthur’s Seat until 1st September 2012, http://speedoflight2012.org.ukEdvard Munch: Graphic Works from The Gundersen Collection is at the National Gallery of Modern Art until 23rd September 2012 and Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910 is at the National Gallery of Scotland until 14th October 2012, www.nationalgalleries.org.

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Warning: this exhibition is gloomy, dull and depressing

29 Jul

Edvard Munch was unfortunate to say the least.  He suffered from depression, alcoholism, agoraphobia and misogyny but I personally have a feeling that he was one of those people who perversely enjoy the afflictions that life in their paths.  There can be no doubt that he had a tragic life but this exhibition has a tragic start.  For me, his works don’t explore his torment in an artistic way.  Rather, his gloom and misery just emanate from the canvases and rub off on us.  The show (with walls painted in depressing Tate grey) doesn’t grab us immediately.

Munch, Red Virginia Creeper, 1898-1900. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Aesthetically, there’s an improvement from room two where both the works and the exhibition become slightly more vibrant.  This room looks at Munch’s fascination with repetition as many versions of his works exist.  In particular there are several versions of all his main compositions, some separated by as much as three decades.  Munch once said that ‘a great idea never dies’ and, rather than copy the works exactly, he created variants reinterpreting his initial ideas.  But, often the works weren’t good enough or the ideas strong enough to merit these constant re-workings.  Instead we are presented with one shoddily painted work after another obsessed with ideas of death and suffering.

Munch’s repetition. Own photograph.

The exhibition does make interesting light of his relationship with photography and film and his photography is used to guide us through the different sections of his artistic life.  As with the camera, Munch became addicted to cinematography (more than two thirds of the works here are photographs plus there are two films).  This understanding and experience helped refine his painterly skills and technique.  Entitled The Modern Eye, the exhibition aims to show that Munch was a modern thinker with modern concerns.  Fair enough, but he is certainly not a modernist which is one of the theses presented here.

Munch, Self Portrait Naked in the Garden at Asgardstrand, 1903. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Munch’s oeuvre is very varied with limited progression and because of this he doesn’t always come off well as an artist. The absence of The Scream does force us to concentrate a bit more on the rest of his output.  I’m not convinced this is a good thing though.  Although multiple copies of it exist, it would have been practically impossible for Tate to organise a loan for the exhibition.  The Scream recently sold at Sotheby’s New York for £74 million after an incredible 12 minutes of telephone bidding.  It is one of the most famous paintings in art history although not that many people could name any of his other works.  To be fair, I’m not sure I could have done.  The anguish, however, of the screaming figure is omnipresent.

Munch’s The Scream sells at Sotheby’s.  Image via http://fineart.about.com

It is a bland show.  Maybe I shouldn’t have visited on a grey and rainy day or maybe it comes down, once again, to lighting levels that are slightly too low.  The catalogue, however, is brilliant and I’d recommend buying this rather than traipsing over to Tate Modern.  The first essay begins not with discussion of his origins and his birth but with the date of his death – death after all pervades everything that Munch did.  His sister died of consumption when she was only 15 and death and sickness haunt the majority of his works.  Six versions exist of The Sick Child – through this reinvestigation Munch was perhaps able to experience a sense of cathartic release.

Munch, The Sick Child, 1907. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition begins and ends with his self-portraits.  Those in the final room are perhaps the most powerful works in the whole exhibition, following Munch’s self-destruction and the terrifying course of his own dark despair.  Munch had always had a poorly sighted left eye and, in 1930, he suffered a haemorrhage in his right eye.  Rather than consider this a reason to stop painting, he focussed (!) on painting the progression of the haemorrhage; the blind spot in his vision meant that he was able to dedicate himself completely to ill health and the subjectivity of his vision as his sight became further confused and images blurred.

Visitors to the Munch exhibition. Own photograph.

In 2005, the Royal Academy mounted a show of Munch’s self-portraits but few are held in public collections in the UK.  Tate doesn’t seek to engage with Munch’s key works, nor is this a retrospective exhibition.  Instead, it has been designed to illustrate the curators’ arguments and theses.  This is not an exhibition that is meant to be palatable to the public but to art historians with a strong interest in Munch – a narrow window indeed when you consider the gloomy outpourings of this depressive and one that I think is far too limited.  This isn’t normally a problem we encounter with Tate.  Such an institution should be seeking to engage more actively with all its public in a more inclusive way.

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye is at Tate Modern until 14th October 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman and a handful of other Mayfair Mentions

15 Apr

Last week I was charged with the responsibility of showing someone a few Mayfair Galleries.   This should have been an easy task really considering the amount of time I spend in and out of these places but the sheer volume of galleries in Mayfair did present me with a challenge.  However, with set start and finish times, a time restriction and a list of that evening’s private views, the journey mapped itself out with relative ease.

It was a luxury to spend the afternoon, strolling through these galleries and seeing the enormous diversity of brilliant art that such a small section of London has to offer.   We began at Alon Zakaim’s new space on Dover Street, currently displaying a mixed presentation of 19th century works.   Next, we dipped in and out of galleries on Cork Street including their original space as well as Flowers and Alan Cristea.

Marc Quinn, Sunspot (In the Night Garden), 2011 at Alon Zakaim, Cork Street.  Image via www.alonzakaim.com

Hooking round into Old Burlington Street, we visited Stephen Friedman.  To be honest, having missed the PV, I had forgotten what was currently on show here.  As soon as we walked in we were both struck by the power of the canvases – eight large paintings by Li Tianbing in his debut UK exhibition.  Friedman is known for having an eye for the crème de la crème and Tianbing is rightly regarded as one of the best Chinese-born artists of his generation.

Li Tianbing, Bullet holes, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

These semi-biographical works recall the artist’s upbringing under China’s one-child rule.  Introduced in 1979, the policy restricted married couples in urban areas to having only one child.  Families still find the emotional consequences of this legislation too difficult to discuss – Tianbing’s own parents, despite having seen his works, find them too painful to talk about.  It is thought that, since its inception, the one-child policy has prevented 400 million births as well as causing a serious increase in female infanticide, forced abortions and under-reporting of births.  Second children are often registered as someone else’s or not registered at all, creating a whole group of people who do not officially exist.  Those who are discovered are denied promotions, suffer benefit and pay cuts, are fined and are often made homeless.

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman. Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

When Tianbing moved to Paris at the age of 22 he took with him an album containing five slightly blurred black and white photographs – the sole memento of his childhood.  Even this in itself is rare and the images were taken on a camera that his father had borrowed from the People’s Army propaganda unit.  These images still have a profound effect on him, transporting him back to the lonely isolation of his youth.  The multi-layered paintings are instantly comparable to the monochrome detail of these photos and show an imagined upbringing with fictitious brothers and playmates – the ones he was never allowed.  Despite the multitude of figures often seen in these works, the children always seem alone, staring wide-eyed from the canvases, lost in their own thoughts.

In addition to his photographs, as a child, Tianbing only had one toy.  Don’t Touch my Dog shows a group of boys holding their toy dogs, a reminder that Chinese children hardly ever owned playthings.  The main figure holds his toy above his head and the others all look towards him.  The fragmentary nature of the work, enhanced by the use of a mixed palette, highlights the nature of these broken and adapted memories.

Li Tianbing, Don’t Touch my Dog, 2011.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

A mixture of abstraction and portraiture, Tianbing’s works use his own strong visual language which draws on Western contemporary art and traditional Chinese techniques.  Visual motifs recur repetitively such as his haunting use of staining which represents the corrosive power of political dictatorship.  There is no doubt that these pieces are striking.

The one-child system meant that Tianbing had an extremely lonely existence whilst growing up and, for him, art was the lifeline he grasped to survive this reality, taking refuge in his imagination and inventing his own life.  As well as showing the playmates he longed for, his works also show the hidden children of the regime.

Being able to spend time as a family is something that many Chinese never knew.  Tianbing, who now lives in Paris, already has a son and his second child is on the way.  This is something that we take for granted and don’t even consider but Tianbing feels as if he has won a prize.  His works are very moving and thought-provoking; they make us look at the cosy nature of our own existence and acknowledge the trials that Tianbing and others like him had to endure growing up under the oppressive Chinese administration.

Li Tianbing, Reverse Walk, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

Now that Tianbing is less lost and has found what he missed during his youth, his works have become more grounded with a glimmer of happiness.   Although the memory of the one-child policy will always be omnipresent, he has moved on to look at other issues affecting the Chinese economy.  Tianbing’s works have a powerful hold on viewers and, because they have room to breathe and are not over-crowded in the gallery, the children’s intense gazes do not let you go.

We wandered up Bond Street, past Sotheby’s who were preparing for the Munch viewing, to Opera Gallery where, for us, the highlight of their mixed contemporary show was two photographs by Gérard Rancinan.

Gérard Rancinan, On the Way Back from Disneyland, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.operagallery.com

For the first of our private views we headed back the way we’d come and turned onto Bruton Street.  Trinity Contemporary is tucked away upstairs and would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there.  We chickened out of going in the very creaky old lift and climbed up the stairs to their surprisingly light and neat space on the third floor to see a solo exhibition of drawings by Emma McNally.  Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is inspired by the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and these works show the artist’s extensive working with graphite made of carbon which reflects her interest in philosophy, science and music.  McNally’s pencil works are highly detailed looking as if they may well be the result of scientific readings – their vocabulary has been compared both to musical scores and computer coding, due to its rhythmic and harmonic activity.  In some of her new works, McNally has turned drawing into a sculptural process, pouring pure graphite powder onto large surfaces and then hammering nails into them.  The works shimmer, forming an intricate network of lines and marks.

Emma McNally at Trinity Contemporary. Own photograph.

Back to near where we started, we popped into Simon Lee which has to win top marks for being the buzziest private view of the evening.  It was packed with people drinking and gossiping for Paulina Olowska’s first solo show here.  Her new works continue her exploration of feminist and socially-engaged themes, often channelling or paying homage to other women artists.  Here, she plays with the rudimentary idea of the muse and the imagined, or remembered, image of a mother.  The images have a sense of fragility, trying to preserve a moment in time as it passes by.

Paulina Olowska at Simon Lee. Own photograph.

My feet were now starting to suffer and as I limped to Sarah Myerscough I had a feeling that this may well have to be our final stop.  Tucked away on Brooks Mews, the gallery is presenting an exhibition with works by 11 artists on the subject of monochrome.  There is no pretension, just a few really nice works in black and white.

B&W (Monochrome), Sarah Myerscough Fine Art. Own photograph.

A simple one with which to finish but I couldn’t face walking another pace to another place.  I hobbled round the corner, changed into ballet pumps and scurried home.  The other three galleries on my overly ambitious list will have to wait until another day.

Li Tianbing is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 21st April, www.stephenfriedman.comEmma McNall: Selected Drawings, Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is at Trinity Contemporary until 27th April, www.trinitycontemporary.com.   Paulina Olowska: Mother 200 is at Simon Lee Gallery until 26th May 2012, www.simonleegallery.com. B&W (Monochrome) is at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art until 5th May 2012, www.sarahmyerscough.com.  For more information on the other galleries mentioned please see www.alonzakaim.com, www.flowersgallery.com, www.alancristea.com and www.operagallery.com

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