Tag Archives: France

Sojourn in the South of France

21 Jul

Ridiculous as this may seem, it is nearly a month since I went to France and this is the first chance I have actually had to sit down and properly reflect on my trip – apart from my usual frantic running around I have had a particularly bad bout of sinusitis and an allergic reaction to a wasp sting that then became infected.  The medication has exhausted me and I’ve had a huge amount of work to do in the crazy run up to the Edinburgh Fringe.  So, apologies to all my regular readers but now I’m back!

P1060197

The rooftops in Mons. Own photograph.

Mons is a village nestled high in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, seemingly isolated in the middle of a picturesque nowhere.  The village doesn’t seem to have changed in centuries – accessed only by hairpin bends that climb the mountains, its streets are narrow and imbued with character.  Mons forces you to relax and the Art Lover’s House is the perfect place to do this.

P1060210

Narrow streets in Mons. Own photograph.

This no ordinary house, it is also a gallery but it is available to rent and you can spend a holiday surrounded by an eclectic mix of work in all media.  There are sculptures dotted in the maze-like corridors, vibrant paintings, photographs of cityscapes, charcoals of changing landscapes with never-ending rows of Venetian gondolas, abstract nudes, pieces of ironwork and a wonderful collection of vintage Olympic Games’ posters at the very top of the house in a room overlooking the entire valley and mountainous landscape.  The horse’s head near the cave looks like a ruin amongst the gravel but is perfectly placed to surprise you every time you turn the corner.  One little ledge of a twisting staircase reveals a chair and a pair of boots tucked behind glass – maybe for the house’s ghost or for the resident artist to return to his perch after a day exploring the rugged landscape.  There’s something here for everyone and if forced relaxation doesn’t work for you there’s plenty to visit nearby as I found out.

P1060377

Art Lover’s House. Own photograph.

Nearby Seillans makes the hills in Mons seem very slight indeed.  Accessible only by foot, it was the home of Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning in the ’60s and ’70s and it now hosts a quirky Max Ernst museum above the tourist office, open in the afternoons.  Ernst first discovered Seillans when visiting Patrick Waldberg and, aged 73, he fell in love with the sleepy village.  He moved there with Tanning and remained there for the last 12 years of his life.

P1060360

Seillans. Own photograph.

I paid my two euros to ascend the stairs and what I found was a surprise.  There are no attendants in the exhibition area itself; in fact, you have to turn the lights on and off yourself.  And why not?  I think this is rather a sensible and economical idea.  Although I imagine there are times in the summer when Seillans is busy, they certainly do not need to man this space full time.  On display are, mainly, lithographs intended as illustrations for the works of Surrealist friends but this is not a bad show for a small museum.

P1060349

Inside the Max Ernst Museum.

Even today, Seillans is a very artistic town with galleries throwing open their doors on every street.  One such space is The Orange Tree Gallery – part of Tessa and Nigel Cox’s house – which is filled with light and a wonderful orange tree growing in the middle (a couple of fake oranges have been strung onto the branches, adding to the charm and mystique of the space).  Tessa is the artist in residence and, as well as displaying her own works, she is very welcoming to visitors having a nose around her studio.  Considering the amount of cats I had seen in this area, sadly we didn’t meet their famous black cat who can be spotted in most of the publicity shots of the gallery.

P1060363

The Orange Tree Gallery. Own photograph.

As we had a late flight home, we made the most of the day by visiting Antibes on our way to Nice.  Located on a completely stunning stretch of coast, Antibes is home to the Picasso Museum which is housed in the Château Grimaldi, built on the foundations of an ancient Greek town.  In its time it has been the Grimaldi family home, the town hall of Antibes and for six months in 1946 it was home to Pablo Picasso.  During this time he produced paintings and frescoes that still remain there.  Part of what makes the museum so special is Picasso’s inherent connection to the building that you can still feel even to this day.  The collections holds around 250 Picasso works of varying quality and many of the lesser-known works deserve particular note.  The collection is a joy to behold but not too big so as to overwhelm.  I took a couple of people with me who don’t have my enthusiasm for art and they found themselves swept away.  The museum’s location makes it particularly special; standing in the sculpture courtyard overlooking the perfect blue sea of the Côte d’Azur is magical and presents the sculptures in an entirely new framework.

P1060417

The sculpture terrace. Own photograph.

The museum also has a modern and contemporary collection which, sadly, was largely closed for a rehang during my visit but this allowed me to truly focus on the Picasso.

P1060424

Closed at the Picasso Museum. Own photograph.

Moving on to Nice itself my first stop was the Chagall Museum.  I’m a Chagall fan anyway but seeing his works en masse in this specially-designed space was mind-blowing.  Everywhere I turned there was another work of exceptional quality.  Chagall creates another world, a richly emotive setting of Biblical and imaginary figures who wander from canvas to canvas through his ever-shifting landscapes.  The museum was built in close collaboration with Chagall himself; its simple interiors within a highly complex architectural structure are full of spaces flooded with natural light.  Chagall’s Biblical Message, a cycle of seventeen large-format paintings, forms the heart of the collection and is on permanent display.  Chagall felt that his paintings provided a commentary on biblical texts – one that you can appreciate and understand regardless of religious convictions.  The museum is the perfect setting for these perfect works.

P1060438

Chagall’s Biblical Message on display. Own photograph.

A concert hall, where a film about Chagall is currently being shown, is lit by three exquisite stained-glass windows showing the seven days of Creation.  The windows are remarkably abstract with only the middle window containing substantial recognisable figurative elements.  Just when you think there can’t be any more you stumble across a mosaic on an outside wall above a pool.  If you only want to see one thing in the area this museum would have to be my recommendation.

P1060444

The outside mosaic at the museum. Own photograph.

The Matisse Museum didn’t overwhelm me in quite the same way and the collection was easy to walk through without as much devotion to the individual works on display.  The permanent collection seeks to look at the artist’s development and his experimentation and includes objects that were in his possession throughout his career.  It’s also up a very long hill so I don’t recommend being brave and walking up or down.  There’s a very good bus that goes from the Chagall to the Matisse but, unfortunately, I didn’t find the right bus stop to get back down and ended up walking for miles.  To celebrate its 50th anniversary the Matisse Museum has mounted an exhibition looking at the theme of music running through Matisse’s career, particularly linked to his presence in Nice.  While music may have formed part of Matisse’s everyday environment I didn’t feel this was conveyed by the exhibition itself.  The pamphlet tells that each of his children played an instrument, that his paintings portray various musical instruments and that, in the 1920s, he produced numerous paintings of Henrietta at the piano.  He paints instruments in the way others may paint a portrait.  But, here, his passion is somewhat diluted.  The villa in which the museum is housed is particularly striking – an imposing building in 17th century Genoese style with a red-ochre façade overlooking the nearby Roman ruins and the olive grove that stretches out in front.

P1060449

The Matisse Museum in Nice. Own photograph.

I always find visiting the South of France to be special.  Every time I head in that direction, I visit something new whether it be a large museum, an artist’s studio or an unexpected commercial gallery hidden in a maze of cobbled streets.  I can’t wait to go back, it’s just a case of finding the time.

P1060407

For more information about all the places I visited see: http://artlovershouse.com/, http://www.theorangetreegalerie.com/, http://www.antibes-juanlespins.com/les-musees/picasso, http://www.musees-nationaux-alpesmaritimes.fr/chagall/ and http://www.musee-matisse-nice.org/.

Here, there and everywhere

26 May

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind – as soon as I seem to be back in London and on top of my to-do list I’m heading off somewhere new.  Of course, I’m loving every minute but it has certainly been chaotic which is why this particular post ranges from France to Sussex and back to Shoreditch and Trafalgar Square.

P1050972

Monet’s House at Giverny. Own photograph.

A few days after Berlin Gallery Weekend I was woken up in the very early hours to head over to France for the Bank Holiday weekend.  I’ve always wanted to visit Giverny and, as it was only an hour off route (heaven forbid that I could just relax and enjoy French wine and cheese), we programmed the sat-nav and off we went.  Entry to Giverny provides access to Monet’s house and garden.  This was the second pink house with green shutters in which Monet had lived and the second time his house had been separated from the garden by a road.  Colour is everything here – both inside and out.  The walls of the house are adorned with works – there are Japanese prints everywhere plus his huge collection of paintings including works by Delacroix, Cézanne and Renoir.

P1050963

Inside Monet’s House. Own photograph.

Even on an overcast day, the garden cannot help but make you smile with its full-to-the-brim flowerbeds and radiant colours.  Monet had started gardening while living at Argenteuil but not on a scale that would suggest the passion he imbued into the gardens at Giverny.  His garden was designed with his paintings in mind – he planted what he wanted to paint so, in a sense, he created the scene that resided in his imagination.  When Monet arrived at Giverny there were no ponds but it had always been his dream to have them and it is, of course, his water lily ponds and the Japanese bridge that have become synonymous with his name.

P1050991

The Japanese bridge. Own photograph.

Monet was severely afflicted by cataracts despite two operations towards the end of his life.  As his sight worsened, his works turned from fresh, bright colours to a heavier palette, almost certainly as a result of his blurred colour vision.  Whether or not his gardens became lost to him is hard to say but what can be certain is that his pronounced choices of colour infused his world with light and life for many years and helped to create some of the scenes we remember him for today.

P1050965

Monet’s garden. Own photograph.

After settling in at Nogent-Le-Rotrou, it was irresistible to visit the Chateau Saint-Jean as it was only two minutes away.  Built around 1020 on the site of an earlier castle, the building has suffered a lot of intervention over the years and much of what remains is of a later period.  It is an imposing and impressive fortress perched on a point with a vantage over the entire area.  Inside there is a museum dedicated to the history of the town and, strangely enough, a contemporary art gallery with an exhibition of works by Patrick Loste, evoking the often crude portrayals of cave paintings.  I can find art anywhere!

P1060032

Chateau Saint-Jean. Own photograph.

It was a flying visit to France but, on the way back home, there was just time to stop in at the Holy Trinity Abbey in Vendôme enabling me to indulge my love of the Gothic period.  The feature of most note has to be the 12th century frescoes that were discovered behind the 14th century chapter house walls.  The sections that remain are badly fragmented the sections but have been preserved remarkably well and one scene showing the Miraculous Catch after Christ’s Resurrection is still strikingly clear consider its age.

P1060104

Holy Trinity Abbey, Vendôme. Own photograph.

Back in the UK, it was time for the opening of the opera season at Glyndebourne, the wonderful opera house in Sussex founded in 1934.  As tempted as I am to do so, I will resist touching on the opera but do have to mention their art programme.  As many of you will know, I am very into public installations and making the most of outdoor spaces through art.  Glyndebourne are very much on the same page and this season is marked by an exhibition of works by Sean Henry who does exactly this, creating monumental works in bronze for the urban landscape.  His works capture the mundane, subjects caught in a moment of introspection with which we can identify.  Glydnebourne don’t have the strongest selection of his sculptures but they are unavoidable in the picturesque landscape of the house.

IMG-20130518-00673

Sean Henry, Catafalque, 2003. Own photograph.

Finally, it seemed I was back in London for long enough to get around some exhibitions here.  The Catlin Art Prize is a highlight of the calendar and the brilliant eye of the curator means that we can normally expect great things from the nine chosen graduates who have had to produce new work for the exhibition.

Catlinexterior2013 The Catlin Prize takes over Londonewcastle. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

The winner Terry Ryu Kim forced the visitor to become part of her installation – manipulating the viewer’s path through architecture and technology.  The work explores how structures can exert power, the installation becomes a stage that dictates our actions.  It is haunting and beautiful, both intimate and evasive at the same time.

TerryRyuKim

Terry Ryu Kim, Screening Solution I,II and III. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

Juno Calypso who won the visitor vote has garnered a lot of attention, using the more traditional medium of photography.  Calypso staged scenes in which she performs as a character called Joyce, always obscuring her face and thereby forcing us to focus on other elements of the scene.  The narrative of the unsettling seems to be a theme in this year’s award.

mask_web

Juno Calypso, 12 Reasons You’re Tired All The Time. Image via www.artcatlin.com

All of the finalists deserve mention but I think praise must be given to Nicky Deeley.  Of course, performance art is common now but for a young graduate to produce a work of such maturity is impressive.  The piece sits deftly on the line between creepy, cute and fascinating.  Admittedly I only saw one costume change but the crowds of people gathered around the work certainly suggested everyone was hooked.

IMG-20130522-00694

Nicky Deeley performing Island Year. Own photograph.

I can often be hard to please and so regularly gallery spaces rest on their laurels.  One may think this is more true of traditional spaces that are guaranteed the crowds come what may.  Well, The National Gallery is currently shaking things up.  Michael Landy’s Saints Alive is a result of a two year residency with an in-house studio.  Many artists in the past have failed this challenge but Landy has risen to it.  He wasn’t scared of the esteemed regard in which everyone holds the National Gallery’s collections.  Everything that made him seem the most inappropriate person for this position has actually made him the best.

P1060141

Saints Alive at The National Gallery. Own photograph.

Asked my thoughts on The NG I would normally name it as a place of calm, a space where one can think and admire some of the most wonderful art in London.  It was the first gallery I visited as a child and somewhere I still regularly visit.  As I approached the Sunley Room I could hear crashes and bangs, normally such noises would have the guards running to find the source of the disturbance.  But the disturbance is, in fact, part of the exhibition.  Landy has subverted the serenity.

Walking in I was met by Saint Apollonia, a nine-foot sculpture made of fibre glass, recalling a sculpture painted in a Lucas Cranach work.  I nervously edged towards the pedal at her feet, balancing precariously on a stiletto and pressing it down.  At this point the pliers she was holding smashed persistently into her mouth.  There’s a spare head ready for when this one becomes a tad too battered.  She is not the only one who is bringing to life the suffering the saints endured.

P1060147

Saint Apollonia in the Sunley Room. Own photograph.

Landy has been inspired by the stories of the saints – stories which were once known by everybody yet today have fallen into obscurity. Towering over visitors are seven large-scale kinetic sculptures that swivel and turn, evoking the torment of each saint’s life.  These sculptures are interactive; there are buttons to press, a handle to crank and foot pedals to push. There are T-shirts to be won and a Saint Francis of Assisi donation box activated by coins.

P1060140

One of Landy’s kinetic sculptures. Own photograph.

Landy doesn’t intend to cause offence with these sculptures; his research into the works in the collection and his retelling, through these kinetic beasts, of the saints’ stories is remarkable.  Each saint has a symbolic attribute that makes him or her instantly recognisable.  Landy has transformed the saints from objects of spiritual devotion into artworks, made from pieces of junk that play on his interest in destruction.  Landy brings the saints from the walls of the gallery to life.  They are fascinating.  We want to press the buttons again and again – are they unnerving or are they funny?  I don’t think anyone was quite sure.  The legends themselves are often ridiculous and Landy has captured this with his own unique magic, comedy and an enticing undertone of the macabre.  The awful and gruesome ordeals these saints underwent were meant to show their patience and endurance.  As the sculptures break under the strain there is a certain irony here.  And don’t think that’s not fully intentional either.  Landy’s past works have always been about selflessness, generosity and virtue so he wasn’t actually as far removed from these topics as many thought.

Alongside the sculptures are his drawings and collages made from cut-up reproductions of works in the collection.  I’d urge you not to get so distracted by the sculptures that you miss these.

P1060146

Saint Jerome in action. Own photograph.

As I turned back to take one last look at the exhibition Saint Jerome was still quivering behind me.  Legend tells that he used to beat himself with a rock to prevent him from having impure sexual thoughts.  But as he stands there quivering you can’t help but wonder what is going on beneath the excessive drapery around his legs.  However, before there was a chance to cast any aspersion onto the virtue of the saint, someone else had crept towards the pedal and Saint Jerome had returned to whacking himself.

DSC_0306

Michael Landy’s Saints Alive is at The National Gallery until 24th November 2013, www.nationagallery.co.uk.

Naked or Nude? The Simplicity of Mona Kuhn

7 Oct

Wednesday night was one of those mad evenings of PVs across London; my main aim was to get to Art London – the first of the October art fairs – but, on the way, I decided to pop into Flowers to see their new exhibition of works by Mona Kuhn.  I’m familiar with Kuhn’s photography by sight but don’t maintain to have had much, if any, knowledge of her actual practice before this.  Her photos struck me in a way that made me want to find out more.

Mona Kuhn, Portrait 33, chromogenic print, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Each year, Kuhn, a Brazilian artist living in Los Angeles, heads to a remote area of France, near Bordeaux, where she lives with no electricity or unnecessary distractions.  She takes on a simple life and, instead of valuing worldly possessions, she concentrates on, and cherishes, the people with whom she surrounds herself.  This is the parallel reality in which Kuhn is able to work, where she is influenced by her surroundings and the calm state she is able to invoke (I don’t think that living with such bare necessities would inspire me in the same way).

Mona Kuhn, Paysage 5, Silver gelatin fibre based paper, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Amusingly, the reason why Kuhn chooses France as her hideaway is that, in France, people are very casual about being naked, and the nakedness is probably the first thing that one notices about the work.

But her models aren’t naked.  They are definitely nude…  Although Kuhn is a contemporary artist, her use of the nude has an overriding Classical feel (Kuhn is a classically trained artist and has studied art history extensively).  Nakedness as such did not exist in the Classical period; nearly all the sculptures of that era were nude.  This is a debate that I have always relished and, as an art historian, was something we delved into quite early at The Courtauld.  Although nude and naked are officially synonyms, in art they have subtly different connotations; nude is an ideal form of nakedness that has been prepared in some way, whereas naked is more of a startled appearance.  The nude, implying a suggestive display, has no discomfort to it whereas the naked has a sense of embarrassment.  Naked tends to connote vulnerability at being found undressed, or deprived of clothes, whereas nude is often posed or modelled nakedness, designed to be aesthetically pleasing especially in artistic contexts.  Nude is the body re-formed that stands proud and prosperous, the body on display, and this is exactly what Kuhn powerfully presents.  Due to the complexity of the English language, these charged words add a confusing dimension to the discussion that we project onto works of art.  German art historians, for example, only have the word ‘nackt’ to describe the naked state, which limits the confusion surrounding this argument.

Mona Kuhn, Portrait 14, chromogenic print, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Kuhn rarely looks at the fact that her models are naked.  She only photographs them in this way as she does not wish them to be limited by clothes, wanting them to be more timeless than fashion allows.  The body is a place where our mind resides and that is what Kuhn’s work focuses on.  For her, nakedness or nudity is a form of abstraction.  She is interested in the body as an element of culture rather than a gender.  Her works request that we look at the compositions and relationships in the image rather than studying individual elements.

Kuhn is a figurative artist and only works with models who are her friends and family.  This latest body of work shows these people posed against a red-patterned drape with nothing else but a chair.  The simplicity of the surroundings forces us to concentrate on the composition and Classic approach of her work.  Bare natural light floods in, no artificial lights are used, no distractions can be found.

Mona Kuhn, Portrait 34, chromogenic print, 2011. Image © Mona Kuhn, courtesy Flowers, London (www.flowersgalleries.com). 

Kuhn doesn’t dictate to her sitters; instead, she allows them to move around freely, finding a position that makes them comfortable.  This means the works truly express the sitters’ characters.

For her, photography is fast and fascinating.  Kuhn’s works are intimate and natural explorations of compositions.  You can’t just look at the photographs, which however beautifully executed and interesting, lack something.   When you know more, they come to life.

Mona Kuhn at Flowers. Own photograph.

So, now that you understand Kuhn’s incredible working environment, enjoy this exhibition in a different light.  Don’t just view, understand.

Mona Kuhn’s Bordeaux Series is at Flowers, Cork Street, until 29th October 2011, www.flowersgalleries.com.

You Shall Have A Fishy On A Little Dishy – Musée de l’Étang de Thau

18 Sep

As we all know, the French love their food and I, for one, have spent the past week sampling their gastronomic delights.  The English have a sentimental attachment to their pets, and while the French cherish their dogs, even taking them out to restaurants, most other animals are regarded as potential meals.  The Musée de l’Étang de Thau, in the charming fishing village of Bouzigues, demonstrates this in no uncertain terms.  An art gallery, museum and aquarium all rolled into one – it certainly is unique.

Musée de l’Étang de Thau, Bouzigues. Own photograph. 

The second largest lake in France, the Étang is a thriving shellfish industry with over 13,000 tonnes of oysters and 3,000 tonnes of mussels farmed annually.  Their current photography exhibition, Femmes d’Étang, focuses on the women of the Étang showing that they can work as well as the men.  The feminist in me rose to the surface and I thought this was great.  Originally, the men were responsible for the manual labour ‘with their arms’ but the women wanted to share in the work believing they were just as capable (if not more so).

Femmes d’Étang at Musée de l’Étang de Thau. Own photograph.

Over the years, women have become more and more involved in the life of the Étang, often adapting established systems to create more efficient and convivial practices.  The photographs successfully capture the hard work that goes on here and the principal involvement of these great women, who seem to thoroughly enjoy it.

Femmes d’Étang at Musée de l’Étang de Thau. Own photograph.

But, the highlight of the museum, which has to be seen to be believed, is the aquarium where fish from the Étang swim around their tanks accompanied by plaques with local recipes and serving suggestions.  I kid you not.  I’d heard about this museum for a number of years but always thought I was having my leg pulled.

Sole and Daurade. Own photograph.

No, you’ve got to hand it to the French – they’re certainly spiced up an otherwise fairly mundane aquarium.  And, I’m somewhat ashamed to admit that looking at those oysters in their tanks did make me look forward to my lunch.

Oysters and Mussels. Own photograph.

Femmes d’Étang is at the Musée de l’Étang de Thau until 31st December 2011, http://www.bouzigues.fr/musee/francais/etang-thau.html.

%d bloggers like this: