Tag Archives: Eva Hesse

Schwitters the Chamaeleon

5 Feb

I thought I knew Schwitters.  That is until I walked around Tate Britain’s latest exhibition.

It is said of so many people that they are forerunners of their time but Schwitters really was and his incredible multi-disciplinary practice brought together not only collage, assemblage, painting, sculpture and installation but also performance – sound poem Ursonate is screaming from room 4.

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Kurt Schwitters, Dancer, 1943. Own photograph.

This exhibition asks us to re-consider many of Schwitters’ later works.  After fleeing Hanover, he emigrated to Norway and, two years later, he boarded the last ship to leave before the Nazi occupation.  In Edinburgh, he was detained as an ‘enemy alien’ and interned until 1941 at the Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man with a significant number of artists and intellectuals with whom he became friends.  His creativity increased during captivity and he produced over 200 works during his 16 month internment.  On his release, he moved to London where he remained until the end of the war when he moved to the Lake District.  His was not an easy life; he suffered from misfortune, hardship and, in his latter years, extreme ill health.

Schwitters

Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920 and 1939. Own photograph.

His determination to make art meant he used whatever was to hand.  His works are shaped and influenced by location and the materials he was able to find, and it’s fascinating to trace the changes in his environment through his work.  His unique concept of Merz includes three-dimensional, everyday objects, discarded packaging and ephemera forming collages that used the detritus of everyday.  The compositions are considered and controlled but filled with emotional poignancy about Schwitters’ constant flight expressed through tickets, postage stamps, identity papers – the remnants of travel and upheaval.  His works from his period in London include such objects as sweet wrappers, bus tickets, metal toys and even a scrubbing brush.

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Kurt Schwitters, Untitled (Quality Street), 1943. Own photograph.

The first room, looking at his earlier years in Germany is stunning, and contains the crème de la crème of the exhibition.

His portraits are fascinating and are a part of his oeuvre of which I was not at all aware.  Not all were commissions, although those that were enabled him to earn a small living for his art.  They are also wonderful works in their own right, allowing us an insight into the people who surrounded him – his German and Austrian friends and his fellow internees.

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Portraits in the exhibition. Own photograph.

The room focusing on the Merzbarn lends itself to sober thoughtfulness – Schwitters had been forced to abandon this installation in Germany and it was later destroyed by bombing; he had only just begun to rebuild the piece in Cumbria – the biomorphic abstract plaster relief extended from the interior wall with embedded objects such as twigs and stones – when 6 months into the project he died, aged 60, never able to realise his aspirations.  Although born in Germany and having previously gained Norwegian citizenship, he was only offered British citizenship on the day before his death.

merzbarn

Fragments from the Merzbarn with slides by Richard Hamilton. Own photograph.

Tate has also commissioned young artists, Adam Chodzko and Laure Prouvost, to think about what Schwitters means in current times and the final two rooms of the exhibition are devoted to their new pieces.

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Responding to Schwitters. Own photograph.

My only criticism of this show (and regular readers of Artista will probably know what’s coming) is that Tate have whipped out their store of grey paint.  I have to say it’s not quite as bad as usual but for works on paper that have no doubt faded quite dramatically with time, a dull grey would not have been my chosen colour on which to represent such an exciting artist.

This is Tate’s second Schwitters’ retrospective – the last one was in 1985.  He had an amazing but tragic life that’s further outlined in the fabulous exhibition catalogue through which I’m slowly working my way.  By bringing together all these works, Tate has succeeded in showing how Schwitters’ figurative works move into abstraction and vice versa.

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Tate grey. Own photograph.

This is a big exhibition covering an incredibly varied output.  Schwitters never gave up and his drive and enthusiasm is excellently applauded by Tate.  Here, we see his interaction with British art and culture and the profound effects his locations had on him throughout his life.  Like a chamaeleon, Schwitters always adapted to his surroundings!

The following day, I popped in to the opening of Hauser & Wirth’s three new exhibitions.  Philippe Vandenberg takes over the space in Piccadilly, presenting strongly textured and powerful works that are explorations of his own psyche.  His visceral and tormented works help him to overcome his demons as he mutilates the canvas as much as he does the figures he depicts.  The feeling is immense but the works didn’t scream out to me in the way I had hoped – the inner turmoil remained stuck within the canvas.

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Philippe Vandenberg, Now Patience Is Flowering Into Death 2, 1980-1990-1999.  Image via www.londoncalling.com

Savile Row hosts two very different shows.  In one gallery is an exhibition of works by Eva Hesse from 1965 when, with her then husband, she unhappily spent a year working in a former textile mill in her native Germany; when she was two, she and her sister were sent by Kindertransport to Holland because of the Nazi threat.  This period of time in the factory marked a significant transformation in Hesse’s practice where she re-assessed her approach to colour and materials and began to move towards sculpture.  Like Schwitters, she was inspired by her surroundings.  It’s a must-see show for any Hesse fan.  I may well have to go back as the opening was too crowded for words and I was heading off on a shoe shopping mission that was sadly unsuccessful but I’ll be going back to that too.

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Eva Hesse in 1965. Image via www.aestheticamagazine.com.

Next door, in a small survey exhibition, there are five enormous Bruce Nauman pieces that easily fill the gallery – you have to be dazzled by Nauman.  The exhibition concentrates on his iconic neon sculptures and installations.  The ‘flashy works’ aren’t what won me over.  Instead, it was his Untitled (Helman Gallery Parallelogram) where you have to hunt out the work, pushing your way through a narrow entrance until you’re absorbed by his green fluorescents.

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Bruce Nauman, Untitled (Helman Gallery Parallelogram), 1971.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

The lights inspired me and reminded me that I must get over to the Hayward Light Show as soon as I have the time – though who knows when that may be.

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Schwitters in Britain is at Tate Britain until 12th May 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  Philippe Vandenberg: Selected Works is at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly until 13th April 2013, www.hauserwirth.comEve Hesse 1965 and Bruce Nauman / mindfuck are at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row until 9th March 2013, www.hauserwirth.com.

Spiked on the way to Vegas

8 Sep

Wednesday was one of those amazing late summer days and I managed to arrange my meetings at Aqua for most of the afternoon – the sunniest spot in town – which meant I was perfectly placed for cocktail hour.

Aqua on Argyll Street.  Image via www.cntraveller.com

When the sun started to set and there was no more basking to be done, I headed up the road to Dering Street for the Ronchini Gallery’s latest exhibition.  TIME, after TIME explores similarities between generations of artists, featuring a range of contemporary Americans alongside Italian artists from the 1950s, 60s and 70s including Michelangelo Pistoletto, Alighiero Boetti and Alberto Burri.  Many young American artists have been influenced by Italian movements and consciously, or subconsciously, reference Arte Povera in their works.

TIME, after TIME at Ronchini Gallery. Own photograph.

Individually some of the works are fantastic.  Some, however, are not.  The concept of the exhibition is clever and it may well be more effective when the gallery is empty.  The curation does draw intriguing parallels between seemingly contrasting pieces and the juxtapositions are provocative.

But when the gallery was busy during the private view, the exhibition became somewhat lost and messy.

TIME, after TIME at Ronchini Gallery. Own photograph.

Continuing with this Arte Povera theme, next on our list was Haunch of Venison’s latest Giuseppe Penone exhibition.  Haunch had a Penone exhibition at their old Burlington Gardens gallery last summer.  This one presents a range of new drawings – works on paper have always been central to Penone’s work and, whether as independent works or preliminary pieces, his drawings are all connected by ideas of touch, surface and growth.  Penone compares the act of drawing to the growth of a tree and he uses his fingerprints to represent the tree and to create a symbol of touch.  By pressing a single thumbprint onto the paper he creates marks that recall the age rings of a tree.

Giuseppe Penone at Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes one sculpture Un anno di cera ricopre lo spazio di luce (One year of wax covers the space of light) which shows a hollow tree trunk.  The work relates to Penone’s new commission which is currently on show at the Whitechapel Gallery (I’ve yet to visit) – a hollow inverted tree lined with gold, its surface covered with a layer of the artists fingerprints.

I like Penone’s work but I wasn’t blown away by this exhibition.  This has been a common problem of late, not just at Haunch and not just for me.  There are far too many exhibitions that don’t quite go far enough to make their mark and, although they include some great works, aren’t memorable for the right reasons.  The Giuseppe Penone exhibition can seem a little bland on first viewing but it did grow on me the more time I spent in the gallery.  I find his drawings are more engaging when seen alongside his sculpture but the limited space makes this impossible.

The gallery has been turned into one main space with a very narrow section at the end for this exhibition, a layout that is particularly effective for this show and really increases the feeling of movement around the gallery.

Giuseppe Penone at Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street. Own photograph.

Although the sun had gone, it was still hot and my shoes weren’t the best choice for such weather.  Now, you’ve all heard of people having injuries from wearing silly shoes –blisters, twisted ankles and the like but I can beat all of them.  These shoes can only be described as weapons.  I have always walked with my ankles close together – it’s elegant, especially when wearing a dress and because I’m a tango dancer it’s second nature; it has been drilled into me that your ankles should brush past each other at every step.  So, as I sashayed down the street, I forgot about my footwear and as my ankles gracefully brushed past each other, the spikes from my heels hit skin and I managed to spike myself.  I don’t think many people can say they have gashed open their ankles due to the killer bits sticking out of their shoes.

So after wiping the blood from my feet, we wandered (slowly!) to the last gallery on my list which was the Josh Lilley Gallery.  I’m sad to say I’ve missed a couple of their recent exhibitions but I’m glad I made it to this one as it was easily the highlight of my night.

Hang Up at Josh Lilley Gallery.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Hang Up is a group exhibition where the works blend so seamlessly together, discussing the potential of materiality, that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a solo show – OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but it gives you an idea of the purity of the hang.  That is the curatorial talent that Lilley has in bringing together artists; there are no uncomfortable pairings here but this is another beautifully curated show, exploring how the use of fabric, pattern and traditional designs allow for an engagement with each artist’s cultural, political, economic and conceptual process.

Hang Up at Josh Lilley Gallery.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Hang Up¸ the exhibition’s title, comes from a seminal work by Eva Hesse where by attaching a long metal rod to a canvas she transformed a painting into a sculpture.  This is recalled in the works upstairs where Liam Everett makes use of non-traditional processes with such materials as salt, alcohol, lemon and sunlight in order to force changes onto his surfaces.  The works are supported in non-traditional ways using leaning poplar beams and other such devices.

Liam Everett’s works at Josh Lilley Gallery.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Ellen Lesperance uses gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper to depict motifs that highlight power struggles and women’s rights.  Her works become odes to those who use fabric and design as a means of self-expression and liberation.  The two paintings here, shown alongside a knitted work, depict sweater patterns that function as memorials to individuals committed to fighting for causes greater than themselves.  Not only are the works perfectly executed but they are very moving and emotive.

Work by Ellen Lesperance. Own photograph.

The textures of Ruairiadh O’Connell’s works draw us in closer, using images of carpet designs from the biggest casinos in Vegas, laying them as silkscreen images onto wax-filled steel panels.  He kneads and manipulates the wax before it sets, recalling the techniques used by masseurs in casino complexes to relax visitors in order that they spend more money.

Ruairiadh O’Connell’s wax works downstairs at Josh Lilley Gallery. Own photograph.

Josh Lilley never disappoints and this is one of his most striking exhibitions to date.  It was time for dinner and as our reservation at Brasserie Zédel wasn’t for another hour or so we headed to their Bar Américain.  It was like stepping into another world, into Vegas – or maybe that was the influence of O’Connell!

TIME, after TIME is at Ronchini Gallery until 4th October 2012, www.ronchinigallery.comGiuseppe Penone is at Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street until 6th October 2012, www.haunchofvenison.comHang Up is at Josh Lilley Gallery until 5th October 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.com.

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