Tag Archives: Francis Bacon

Frieze Fever and Frenzy: Too Many Galleries to Count

14 Oct

The week just gone is affectionately known by the art world as Frieze week – it is when Frieze (and this year Frieze Masters) takes over Regent’s Park and art lovers flock to London from across the world.  Frieze is accompanied by a host of other fairs (my favourite, and the most stylish, being PAD) as well as gallery openings that compete with each other on every night of the week.

Monday night saw the opening of PAD – the most chic and classy fair by far.  As I don’t ever write about fairs all I will say is that, although we were there for a considerable amount of time, I felt I needed to go back.  I also fell in love with numerous pieces including a Gerrit Rietveld Billet Chair from 1927.

Gerrit Rietveld, Billet Chair, 1927.  Image via www.pad-fairs.com

From PAD, we strolled out the square planning to go to Gagosian.  But the opening was at Britannia Street not Davies Street.  Oops!  Peering through the window we could see the Penone exhibition but not get near the works.  One black cross for me.  Next we tried Ordovas which my Frieze companion assured me was open.  One black cross for him.

Post PAD… Own photograph.

So, with very tired feet (well mine were already and it was only Monday) we went to Stephen Friedman who are exhibiting works by Tom Friedman (no relation).  Friedman’s work explores everyday objects, elevating the mundane beyond its original purpose to extraordinary new forms.  He deconstructs ideas and materials, rebuilding them into sculptural or artistic forms with a new level of genius.  What we think we see and what we actually see are very different things.

Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery.  Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

The main gallery space holds the biggest and the best work in this exhibition – a mass of tangled wires that take over the entire room.  As we move around the installation, we can see the hidden silhouettes of human figures and faces trapped within the forms, interlocked within the wires, emerging and evaporating depending on our position.  Friedman is obsessive and, for every piece, he distils each material back to its essence and rebuilds it, presenting a new structure that crosses between the mundane and the magical.

Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery.  Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Everyone is opening a blockbuster this week (which makes this time of year both amazing and horrendous) and the National Gallery has gone for Richard Hamilton who was still planning this exhibition days before his death last year.  The painted white walls present a very modern space in the middle of this traditional gallery.  Previewing on Tuesday, the same day as Frieze, the exhibition is a powerful statement of intent – this is Hamilton challenging the art world.  It traces several themes of Hamilton’s career from the 1980s until his death, showing how he was moving towards a more traditional iconography at the end of his life.

The exhibition allows us to study his engagement with Marcel Duchamp, particularly in his works looking at the nude descending the staircase (addressed here in two works).   The works are perfectly executed but have a sense of disquiet; they are quite hard to read, it is often very ambiguous as to what we are looking at.

Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

Hamilton was one of the great experimenters with the computer, creating images that were entirely new, clean and crisp.  This exhibition of his work shows areas of interest that had obsessed him for so long.  One series of works remained unfinished at the time of Hamilton’s death – a trio of inket prints that visualise a moment from Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, telling the story of a painter who loses his mind trying to achieve the perfect nude.   Hamilton knew he would not live to finish the work and made the decision that the exhibition would culminate in the initial presentation of these three large-scale variations.  We will never really know what Hamilton intended and this makes us sombre and reflective.  Each work features Courbet, Poussin and Titian contemplating a reclining female nude.  For me, these works would still be mysterious even if they were finished but, in this state, they just leave us to wonder.

Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

These later paintings aren’t my favourite Hamiltons – they are quite clinical in parts – but there is no denying that this is a beautiful, and surprisingly moving, exhibition.  Seemingly simple, there is so much going on; the paintings lead into one another, as the ideas progress from work to work.

Next, I headed down the road to Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly who are showing Fire by Days – paintings by the New York-based Rita Ackermann.  The idea for these resulted from an accident, a paint spillage on the floor of her studio that she was hastily forced to clean.  It was through these splurges of paint that she began to see suggestions of forms, abstracted but also figurative.  The works are very striking in this space, their strong and vibrant colours complementing the style of the room.  The pages from Ackermann’s sketchbooks, upstairs on the wood panelling of the American Room, look as if they have always been there.  There is nothing wrong with this exhibition but it failed to move me or make enough of an impact (rather like several things recently).

Rita Ackermann at Hauser & Wirth.  Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Continuing down Piccadilly to White Cube Mason’s Yard, I popped in to see Magnus Plessen – another artist who oscillates between abstraction and figuration.  Figurative elements cry out to us but they are juxtaposed with abstract passages that seek to disorientate the viewer.  Plessen’s techniques are the most interesting aspect of his work – he often physically turns the canvas to reposition and confound the arrangement of the piece.  It appears that he has scraped away the paint in parts using gestural washes of colour over heavier oils to muddle the picture planes.  With psychedelic acid yellows and hot pinks, there is often too much going to fully understand his intentions.  The show is well-curated and the works are afforded a lot of space – they need a white cube to shine which is exactly what has been allowed to happen here.

Magnus Plessen upstairs at White Cube.  Own photograph.

My list was looking daunting as the day hurried by and I headed up to Pace, the newly opened New York gallery which is now housed in the west wing of the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens’ space.  They have juxtaposed the paintings of Mark Rothko with the seascape photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto.  The eight Rothkos included here make use of a limited palette of predominantly black and grey while the Sugimoto’s use a similar grey-scale colour scheme.  The artists form an aesthetic and quite superficial dialogue that, at times, becomes more of a battle.  It is a stunning exhibition that prompts interesting comparisons – another simple show that achieves its aims stylishly without any fuss.  Pace claim not to have opened in London sooner as they hadn’t found the right person to run the gallery or the right space – well they certainly seem to have hit the nail on the head here and I’m sure they will prove themselves during their four-year tenure.

Pace London. Image via www.manoelabowles.com

After visiting a few shops on Regent Street (to give my brain a well-needed art break), I headed to Savile Row where Thomas Houseago has taken over both of Hauser & Wirth’s gallery spaces there.

Heading to Hauser. Own photograph.

He has chosen not just to split the works between the two galleries but also to give the two spaces different titles: I‘ll be Your Sister (in the North Gallery) comes from a very raw Motorhead song while Special Brew is a strong beer that Houseago used to drink every day before school, getting drunk and avoiding normal school-time activities.  It allowed him to step outside the box.  The North Gallery presents his monumental sculptures, intentionally big and messy, these works have the wow-factor.  His works are brutally straightforward but still manage to appear mysterious and unworldly.  Houseago spends a lot of time drawing and planning the process of his work and this is evident in the highly-textured surfaces that resemble sketching.  The scale in the North Gallery is far more impactful than that in the South and the works are actually causing passers-by to stop and gape.

Thomas Houseago’s I’ll be Your Sister. Own photograph.

By nature of the sheer overload that is Frieze week, I’m having to be brief in my descriptions.  Most of these exhibitions deserve more time and attention but this overview of my mad run around London should give you a taster.

Just over the road, Ordovas are presenting Painting from Life: Carracci Freud, a tiny exhibition that brings together a group of head studies by Annibale Carracci and Lucian Freud.  This is a beautiful juxtaposition – intimate, simple and stunning.  Ordovas knows how to get their shows right and this rare collaboration between them and a public art collection (Dulwich Picture Gallery has loaned a work) shows the esteem in which this gallery is held.  The connections between Freud and Carracci have never before been explored but comparisons reveal intriguing affinities in technique, style, viewpoint and subject.  This isn’t the gallery’s first show of this type as they previously juxtaposed Bacon and Rembrandt and attracted over 10,000 visitors in their first month alone!

Ordovas. Image via www.ordovasart.com

The second of three New York galleries to open in London is David Zwirner (I’ve still not managed to pop into Michael Werner but hope to do so next week).  The gallery has certainly chosen a statement show of Luc Tuymans’ work with which to open their 18th century Grafton Street townhouse.  What a way to inaugurate this space.  Again, the gallery knows how to keep it simple, allowing the paintings space to breathe and space to be viewed.  Tuymans has lacked a proper presence in London since his 2004 Tate Modern retrospective but things are changing.  Allo! is inspired by The Moon and Sixpence, a film loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin.  But Tuymans’ interest in this topic has to do with a general negation of modernism and Hollywood’s long-standing idealisation of the artist as a romantic savage.  This gallery adds a frisson of excitement to the already vibrant area – Dover Street and Grafton Street only continue to improve.

Luc Tuymans’ exhibition at David Zwirner’s new gallery.  Image via www.davidzwirner.com

After a very late lunch, I headed to Gagosian Gallery on Davies Street to see the Giuseppe Penone exhibition I’d planned to see on Monday night.  I seem to have seen a lot of Penone recently.  Here, he has engaged with the long narrow space of the Davies Street gallery, filling it with Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato, a large-scale standing sculpture comprised of delicately arranged tree branches and leaves defined in bronze.  Positioned to conceal a human face, two long branches jut outwards in place of the eyes in a projective act of looking, recalling Penone’s long-held fascination with the process of seeing.  It’s only a small show but, if you like Penone, then it’s worth popping in.

Gisueppe Penone, detail of Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato.  Image via www.arttribune.com

Further along the road at Gimpel Fils is Shana Moulton’s Preventation, a series of news videos in the on-going saga of Cynthia, her alter-ego.  The films are accompanied by a number of the artworks that feature in her films.

I was nearly all art-ed out for the day but had a final stop for the opening of Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable at The Piper Gallery.  This exhibition is definitely worth a visit partly to see how paintings need to be appreciated first-hand for the full experience.  Jaray has always maintained a fascination with geometry, pattern, colour and repetition culminating in her distinctive, subtle yet penetrating works.  As with many of the works I saw on Tuesday, Jaray plays with a carefully wrought tension between opposites: serenity and intensity, silence and sound, stasis and motion and two and three dimensions.  The exhibition includes over twenty identically-sized works from Jaray’s recent series, After Malevich; inspired by Malevich’s Red Square, they have an energy and intensity that grabs you as soon as you enter.  Despite the vast number of openings on Tuesday night, the gallery was packed!

Peaking into Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable.  Image via www.thepipergallery.com

Wednesday was my fairs day and, as well as a return trip to PAD, I spent time at Frieze and Frieze Masters which took up most of the day and evening.  But, I did make a small window to pop to The Courtauld for a private tour of their Peter Lely exhibition.  Lely is an important artist in British history but I don’t actually think very many people are familiar with, or excited by, his work so this is a brave choice of exhibition from The Courtauld.  Lely was appointed Principal Painter to Charles II in 1661 and his paintings define the glamour and debauchery of the period.  The works in this exhibition, however, concentrate on the period in the 1640s and 1650s when he was working in England, painting pastoral landscapes and large-scale narratives.  The exhibition is organised around The Courtauld’s own unfinished The Concert – originally thought to depict Lely and his family, it seems to be a highly personal and allegorical interpretation of Music in the service of Beauty.  This particular piece hasn’t been on display for a while and it’s nice to have the opportunity to view it in the context of other similar works.

Peter Lely, detail of The Concert. Own photograph.

The Courtauld is making the most of this exhibition with a Lely-fest; two other Lely’s are on show downstairs and room 12 boasts a display of drawings from Lely’s own celebrated and rare collection.

What this week has proved is how effective simple exhibitions can be.  Exhibited on putty-coloured walls with beautifully focused lighting, this exhibition gets it right.  Lely is a confusing artist with a mixture of styles that often betray his Flemish origins.  The paintings on show here are far more powerful than his Court portraiture of later years and this is another winner from The Courtauld.

Lely exhibition at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

Thursday was my final day of rushing round fairs and exhibitions and the evening saw two conveniently close openings on Riding House Street.  You may remember that I wrote about visiting Nick Goss’s studio a while ago.  I popped back a couple of weeks ago to see his new works and, as a result, was ridiculously excited by the prospect this exhibition.  The works here concentrate on portrayals of two different kinds of space – rehearsal spaces and the artist’s studio – where Goss seeks to investigate the detritus associated with the spaces used when playing in a band.  Cheap and simple, the limitations of these rooms allow creativity to flourish which promulgates the development of musical ideas.  Yet, devoid of players and instruments, the spaces have an uncharacteristic, melancholic atmosphere.  Goss has developed the theme of the shabby rehearsal space in a study of fakery and idealisation, filled with a sense of nostalgia and an elusive sensibility.  His are beautiful works, subtle paintings that pull you into his unique world.

Nick Goss’s new works at Josh Lilley. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Over the road at TJ Boulting is an exhibition by Juliana Leite; her new work stems from consistent investigations into the physical action of her own body in space.  The centrepiece is a large sculpture, of two separate latex forms joined in the centre; describing the artist’s movement up and down a staircase, the piece strikes a resonance with Marcel Duchamp’s Nude descending a staircase (a common theme this week).  The two parts were cast from a large mould composed of a set of stairs covered with a wooden tunnel, slowly lined with clay.  The work is immense and we are drawn to walk around it, exploring its textures and crevices several times before we feel we have understood its form.

Juliana Leite’s impressive new sculpture.  Image via www.tjboulting.com

Even thinking about the week just gone slightly exhausts me.  I have seen such a wealth of incredible art (some not so incredible too) and I have the sorest feet to show for it.  I still have 12 exhibitions to cover that I didn’t manage to have the time for, I’d have loved to get to the other art fairs and I would have relished more time at the fairs I did explore.  But, there are only a set number of hours in the week and I think I didn’t do badly!

Tom Friedman is at Stephen Friedman Gallery until 10th November 2012, www.stephenfriedman.comRichard Hamilton: The Late Works is at the National Gallery until 13th January 2013, www.nationalgallery,org.ukRita Ackermann: Fire by Days is at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly until 3rd November 2012, www.hauserwirth.comMagnus Plessen: Riding the Image is at White Cube Mason’s Yard until 10th November 2012, www.whitecube.comRothko/Suginoto: Dark Paintings and Secrets is at Pace London until 17th November 2012, www.pacegallery.comThomas Houseago: I’ll be Your Sister and Special Brew are at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row until 27th October 2012, www.hauserwirth.comPainting from Life: Carracci Freud is at Odovas until 15th December 2012, www.ordovasart.comLuc Tuymans: Allo! Is at David Zwirner until 17th November, www.davidzwirner.comGiuseppe Penone: Intersecting Gaze / Sguardo Incrociato is at Gagosian Davies Street until 24th November 2012, www.gagosian.comShana Moulton: Prevention is at Gimpel Fils until 17th November 2012, www.gimpelfils.comTess Jaray – Mapping the Unseeable is at The Piper Gallery until Friday 9th November 2012, www.thepipergallery.comPeter Lely: A Lyrical Vision is at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January 2012, www.courtauld.ac.ukNick Goss – Tin Drum is at Josh Lilley Gallery until Friday 23rd November 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.comJuliana Cerqueira Leite: Portmanteau is at TJ Boulting until 10th November 2012, www.tjboulting.com.

More Surprised than Shocked – Hirst Takes Tate

4 Apr

There is a tendency to Hirst-bash which seems more prevalent since Gagosian recently oversaturated the public consciousness, concurrently displaying Hirst’s spot paintings in all of their galleries.  An alarming amount of negative press has led up to his Tate retrospective and, from conversations I overheard, people had turned up to Tate Modern on Monday morning determined to criticise.

I wasn’t expecting any surprises with this exhibition as we all know Hirst’s work inside out, nor was I aiming to analyse the individual pieces; this has been done before and I know what I like and what I don’t like.  I was more interested to see how these works had been collectively displayed.

Damien Hirst, Spot Painting, 1986. Own photograph.

The exhibition brings together works from across his entire oeuvre with over 70 pieces ranging from The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (his large shark in formaldehyde) to his notorious diamond encrusted skull.  Of course, the exhibition doesn’t seek to show everything he has ever produced and his paintings that were briefly shown (and slated) at the Wallace Collection are notably missing.

Damien Hirst, detail of The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991. Own photograph.

Hirst first hit the art scene in 1988 when he conceived and curated Freeze, an exhibition of his own work and that of his fellow students from Goldsmiths.  Many of the works shown there are included in this exhibition for only their second public showing.

Damien Hirst with For the Love of God, 2007. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Hirst once said that ‘becoming a brand name is an important part of life’ and he has certainly achieved that.  He does not deny the importance of money and the exhibition screams of blatant wealth; For the Love of God, a platinum cast of an eighteenth-century human skull encrusted with 8,601 diamonds, sold in 2007 for £50 million, has its own security guards and is displayed in isolation in the Turbine Hall.  For the first 12 weeks of the exhibition, his iconic skull stands as a distinct element to the main retrospective, a free display illustrating Hirst’s ideas of mortality and value that will tempt people to head upstairs and pay admission.  It’s harder to get in to see than the Crown Jewels.

The skull’s special exhibition room. Own photograph.

The wow factor and status associated by many with owning a Hirst overflows into the exhibition shop where they clearly believe people will pay £36,800 for a limited edition plastic skull!

Hirst’s shop at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Hirst’s works present a study of the transience and frailty of life – areas with which he has been obsessed over the years in a repetitive process that can sometimes be tiring even for the most ardent fans.  But, whatever you think of him, everyone knows Damien Hirst and he has marked our culture like no other contemporary artist.

The exhibition is beautifully presented and the curators have succeeded in showing Hirst at his best.  Hirst has never been one to follow conventional artistic paths; in 2008, in an unprecedented event, he sold 244 of his works through Sotheby’s rather than through a commercial gallery, engaging directly with the art market in a method that enraged many.  The walls of room 13 are clad with wallpaper derived from the covers of catalogues from this sale and it is this sort of curatorial spark that excites the exhibition.

Room 13 at Tate Modern’s Damien Hirst retrospective. Own photograph.

My main criticism and dislike, however, is the room of live butterflies – a recreation of In and Out of Love, his installation from 1991 that was shown at the Anthony d’Offay Gallery where one floor contained five white canvases embedded with pupae from which butterflies hatched.  They then spent their lives eating, feeding and breeding.  Downstairs in the gallery, dead butterflies were pressed onto brightly covered monochrome canvases.

Damien Hirst, detail of In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies), 1991. Own photograph.

The butterfly installation can now be seen in a very humid room six which has been specially designed for this purpose.  Tate are quick to point out that the butterflies are all sourced from reputable UK butterfly houses and are known to thrive in these conditions (overcrowded galleries?).  They are also working with a professional consultant to check that the butterflies are comfortable.  There is no doubt they are stunning specimens but I found this work horrific.  Let Hirst play with dead animals but leave the live ones alone (I know I’m a hypocrite but I don’t feel as strongly when he kills flies).  Although there is a strict one-way system that allows staff to check that no one leaves with butterflies clinging to their clothes, the butterflies are still escaping all the time;  I saw several being returned on Monday morning, one even carried back to its habitat by Nick Serota.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this room has to shut; it is in a ridiculous location, forcing people into a hot room filled with live insects who keep flying towards the plastic sheeting in a bid for freedom.

Damien Hirst, detail of In and Out of Love (White Paintings and Live Butterflies), 1991. Own photograph.

Moving on, Pharmacy takes over an entire gallery with drug-filled vitrines and colourful jars creating an ecclesiastical aura.  Hirst’s art continues to become bigger, bolder and brasher.

Damien Hirst, Pharmacy, 1992. Own photograph.

Although it is a powerful work, I’ve never been keen on A Thousand Years.  When it was last shown at the RA, I found the smell quite nauseating.  But even worse was Crematorium, an oversized ashtray filled with cigarette butts and ash, a contemporary memento mori – a lifetime’s accumulation of the debris of smoking that also parallels the cremated remains of the human body.

Damien Hirst, Crematorium, 1996. Own photograph.

A Thousand Years shows Hirst’s overt debt to Bacon and, of course, this is not the only work that alludes to his greatest influence.  The Acquired Inability to Escape plays on Bacon’s methods of enclosing figures within cage-like lines.  The objects suggest a human presence within the vitrine while the structure generates a sense of confinement and distances the viewer to another remove.

Damien Hirst, The Acquired Inability to Escape , 1991. Own photograph.

The very clever titles that Hirst uses give his work more gravitas than it would otherwise have and they do not require too much close attention so the crowds may be more bearable than at most of the other London blockbusters.  Instead, this exhibition is about the concept of the retrospective and overall impression of the exhibition aesthetic as a whole.  Whatever you think of Hirst, he has made his mark on art history.

Hirst’s spin paintings at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

I was surprised by how good the exhibition is; in parts, it presents Hirst as a serious artist and shows a progression in his thinking.  It is generating a love/hate response but, this is what he does and really I don’t think he would want things any other way!

Damien Hirst is at Tate Modern until 9th September 2012 and For the Love of God can be seen in the Turbine Hall until 24th June 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

(I’ve come down with the dreaded lurgy so I’m sorry that there will only be one post this week.  Happy Easter!)

An Intoxicating Edge – Picasso and Modern British Art

13 Feb

February is over-saturated – more snow than London can cope with, hearts filling every shop window display (no matter how tenuous the connection) on every street and more blockbuster exhibitions than we have time to see.  This week alone I have four major openings marked in my diary plus a smattering of smaller ones that may well have to wait for a later date.

Picasso & Modern British Art at Tate Britain explores Picasso’s lifelong connections with Britain through a series of dialogues with the heroes of Modern British Art, examining his critical reputation and acclaim as both a figure of controversy and celebrity.

Pablo Picasso, Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, 1932. Image via www.tate.org.uk

The exhibition can be split into two – one strand that documents the exhibition and collecting of Picasso’s art in Britain which is interleaved with ‘conversation’ rooms showcasing the British Greats responding to Picasso’s work – Duncan Grant, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, Graham Sutherland and David Hockney.  This is a veritable treasure trove for any Modern British lover like me.  Picasso’s own versatility, in part, explains the range of these responses but the exhibition also seeks to show how these artists were responding to Picasso well before he had been embraced by the British public.

Picasso first exhibited in Britain in 1910 in an exhibition organised by Roger Fry.  After explaining this, the exhibition moves straight into a room looking at his influence on Duncan Grant who adopted African inspired figures and decorative patterns and later began to respond to Cubist collages.  Grant’s work does little for me; Tate don’t even dedicate a whole room to him and he shares wall space with Wyndham Lewis.  Although Lewis was a harsh critic of Picasso throughout his life, it’s not actually known if they ever met but his work suggests that he saw Les Demoiselles.

Wyndham Lewis room at the exhibition. Own photograph.

Throughout, the exhibition looks at Picasso’s trips to London with a stunning section on the scenery and costume designs he produced for Diaghilev and Ballet Russes in 1919 when he resided at the Savoy.  During the first few weeks of this stay, Picasso sat in the corner of the Ballet Russes rehearsal rooms, drawing away while they danced.  The Three Cornered Hat was the largest ballet that Picasso worked on and his designs were not just limited to costume and set – they even extended to the accessories and make-up, which, when possible, he applied himself.

Pablo Picasso, The Three Cornered Hat, 1919-20. Own photograph.

This is not an exhibition to be taken lightly; it includes some extraordinary works many of which are loaned from private collections.  Most works have hefty wall labels – I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but this is not a show to flit through during your ten minute lunch break.  It is altogether a more serious exhibition.

Obviously, there have been more responses to Picasso than the seven studied here but those included here illustrate variety and quality over a period of more than seventy years.  It is rare to have the opportunity to view these alongside the original Picasso’s that may have influenced them.

Inside the exhibition. Own photograph.

Ben Nicholson first encountered Picasso in Paris in the 1920s and recalled a specific Picasso of 1915 which he saw as the benchmark for the qualities in his own work.  In the following decade, he developed his own distinctive version of the Cubist composition where he adopted decorative patterning, intersecting forms and made use of materials such as sand to create a more physical presence.

Ben Nicholson, 1933 (coin and musical instruments), 1933. Own photograph.

Moving on, Sutherland acknowledges his debt to Guernica; he made several works where natural objects metamorphose into figurative presences – tortured anxious works reflecting the state of England at the time.  Sketchbooks throughout the exhibition allow us to see some real gems and we are teased here with some fabulous Sutherland studies.  I only wish Tate made more use of their technological ability, offering turning pages on a screen as they did in the Vorticism show last year.

Graham Sutherland, Thorn Head, 1946. Own photograph.

The exhibition includes some fabulous and intriguing early works by Bacon and Moore.   The Bacon’s are particularly remarkable and, if you are a fan, this room if worth a visit in its own right, bringing together seven of only nine works that are known to have survived Bacon’s attempts to destroy all his pre-1944 works.  Bacon said that ‘[Picasso’s work is closer] to what I feel about the psyche of our time [than any other artist]’; it was after he saw an exhibition of Picasso’s in the late 1920s that he abandoned interior design and began painting.  It was seeing Picasso’s representations of the body as a biomorphic structure that inspired him with the possibilities this medium could offer.  It would be a pleasure to write a whole piece on this one room looking at how Bacon’s works on the theme of crucifixion echo Picasso’s The Three Dancers (which Bacon may have seen a reproduction of in 1930 in Documents) or looking at his triptych, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion.  As Bacon’s style developed and became more distinct, the debt to Picasso became more embedded.  The two artists shared an approach that would forever tie them together.

Francis Bacon, Crucifixion/Figure, 1933 and Composition (Figure), 1933. Own photograph.

The curators decided to stop at Hockney, feeling that after this point Picasso’s influence just becomes too universal and never-ending.  The exhibition finishes with Picasso’s The Three Dancers of 1925, taking us back to the Picasso we know and love and, in turn, slightly losing the dialogue which has been so excellently explored throughout.

Peering through to Pablo Picasso, The Three Dancers, 1925. Own photograph.

The sooner Tate finish their job-lot of grey paint the better; it’s a brilliant show often dulled by the monotonous, gloomy wall colour.  The works are all so sensational that the exhibition comes together despite the somewhat tenuous nature of some of the links and comparisons.

Picasso’s climb to fame in the UK was not easy and he received much criticism along the way – in 1949, Churchill even said he would like to kick the artist up the backside.  Yet when in 1960 Tate finally mounted its first Picasso retrospective, it attracted more than 460,000 visitors in two months.  The exhibition made a profit and received positive reviews.  It appeared we had at last embraced Picasso’s Cubist ways and we’ve never really let go.

Pablo Picasso, Head of a Woman, 1924. Own photograph.

This exhibition is extensive but the works here are something to behold.  Tate really shows off some Modern British masterpieces; somewhat ironically, it is these that stay with me most and they are what I recommend you go to see.  Don’t get me wrong, the Picasso’s are brilliant but the Modern British story has an intoxicating edge aided by the influence of the Spaniard.

Walking through… Own photograph.

It’s easy to get lost in the academia of the exhibition.  I wouldn’t advise reading all the wall text or you may never get out.  Instead, admire the paintings and let the excellent catalogue tell the story in depth at a later date when you’re able to sit in the warm by a fire and not having to stand up.

This is an exhibition to allow time for; an hour and a half felt like I’d only scratched the surface.  It doesn’t have the gloss or jazz of the RA’s Hockney or the NPG’s Freud (although Hockney is, of course included here).  Instead, it is quietly brilliant.

Picasso & Modern British Art will be at Tate Britain from Wednesday until 15th July 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

Getting to know Lucian Freud…

8 Feb

Although Lucian Freud died last year, the exhibition of his work at the National Portrait Gallery is very much a living show, a survey curated in collaboration with the artist.  This is not meant to be a tribute show or a memorial retrospective and the NPG did not try to change the feeling of the hang they were working on with him.

Instead, it is a show spanning seven decades of Freud’s portraiture and it does this beautifully.  Paintings of people were central to Freud and, indeed, he felt that all of his works were portraits.

Lucain Freud, Girl with a White Dog, 1950-1. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition comprises 130 works from which it is possible to trace Freud’s stylistic development and his movement towards a denser application of paint.  It starts with the early works – head and shoulders portraits where an often alarming tension permeates the canvas as though Freud had not quite become comfortable with his own hand.  In the mid-1950s, when he began using stiffer hogshair brushes and loosening his style, he also started to work standing up – a drastic change for an artist who had always painted while sitting down, in a confined space.  From here on, you can feel his work become more alive and energetic as he moves around the canvas and uses his whole body to paint.  After Freud stood up, he said he never sat down again.  This is the start of the Freud that we truly know.  The canvases then increase in size from the 1980s when he seems to offer himself and his sitters breathing space.

Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery. Own photograph.

Broadly chronological, the exhibition begins in 1940 with a portrait of Cedric Morris, Freud’s tutor at the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing; it ends with the unfinished work that was on his easel when he died.  For many, this final piece will be the highlight – a huge unfinished portrait of David Dawson – Freud’s studio assistant and closest friend – with his whippet, Eli.  Portrait of the Hound is a deeply affectionate work, showing the intimacy between artist and sitter, their mutual understanding and respect.  Both the dog and Dawson are completely relaxed in Freud’s presence.

Lucian Freud, Portrait of the Hound, 2011. Image via www.artknowledgenews.com

Enough has been written about Freud’s many lovers and children that I do not feel the need to discuss Freud himself in depth – I don’t want to detract from what an amazing exhibition this is.  This is Freud’s life in paint showing the cast of fascinating characters he met along the way.  With sittings often taking several months (some even years), the works are a result of Freud’s intimate study and concentration.  His relationship with the sitters is often attributable to the success and fame of his portraits.

Lucian Freud, Nude with Leg Up, 1992. Own photograph.

The show includes many of Freud’s well-known works such as portraits of Francis Bacon, Leigh Bowery and Sue Tilley.  Benefits Supervisor Sleeping, one of his many paintings of Big Sue, set a world record of £22m when it sold in 2008.  I was lucky enough to see Sue, posing in front of the three portraits of her including in the exhibition.  Her vivacity and larger than life personality was infectious and seeing one of Freud’s sitters up close brought new meaning to the work.  His truthfulness is inescapable.  Freud’s expert depiction of flesh (acres of which can be seen on show here) was in part attributable to his use of Cremnitz white – a dry pigment with a stiff consistency (it has so much lead content that the tube weighs twice as much as normal) that he began to use the mid-1970s.

Sue Tilley posing in front of one of her portraits. Own photograph.

Usually when I go round an exhibition, I make copious notes but this art is so incredible that it speaks for itself.  I’m not trying to discredit the critics who find that a biographical approach is inevitable when discussing Freud or the many excellent monographs on his life which have told me so much about Freud over the years but, here, you must just look and revel in the opportunity that is being afforded you and give his work the close attention it deserves.  It is an intimate exhibition and the scale of some of the smaller rooms is intended to mimic the scale of his studio.

Lucian Freud, Interior with Plant, Reflection Listening (Self-Portrait), 1967-8. Own photograph.

My only criticism, and this is really a sign of the exhibition’s greatness. is that it will be too busy.  It was even a scrum at the preview this morning.  The works deserve quiet solitude but the small rooms here are going to be unbearable at peak times.  This criticism, however, just shows how incredible Freud is.  He deserves the heaving throngs that will fill the NPG from tomorrow.

Lucian Freud, detail of Reflection (Self-portrait), 1985. Image via www.dawn.com.

This is a living exhibition; Freud’s paintings allow us to see the real people behind the paint with human frailty at its most magnified.  There’s no hiding in a Freud, no distractions – the works are compositionally simple and successful.  He scrutinises every detail and the intensity of some of his paintings still has the power to shock us 40 years on.

There are many works here that we know but far more that we don’t.  This show is a triumph.  Most people can recognise a Freud but, until this exhibition, I don’t think many could understand the evolution of his painting.

Lucian Freud Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from tomorrow until 27th May 2012, www.npg.org.uk.

 

What a Year! A Summary of 2011…

24 Dec

Trying to pick my favourite exhibitions from this year has been quite a difficult task.  I’ve seen some rubbish but I’ve also seen an awful lot of amazing shows – 2011 has been a strong year for the art calendar.  In fact, reading back through Artista, I wonder how I have I managed to totter to so many galleries in the last few months.  But, there’s always so much to see…

My favourite exhibitions really left their mark, those I can still immediately recall that still delight me.  I’ve chosen the shows that weren’t just aesthetically pleasing but were also well-curated and academically interesting.  These are the ones that tick all the boxes.

Towering at Tate – The Gerhard Richter exhibition that is still on show at Tate Modern is breath-taking, looking at Richter’s diverse oeuvre as an unbroken panorama.  At Tate Britain, Vorticists win the prize – charting a short-lived movement, Tate aimed to place Vorticism in an international context, studying the impact of World War I on these artists.

Detail of one of Gerhard Richter’s Cage Paintings, 2006. Own photograph.

Rocking at the Royal Academy  – The Royal Academy’s upstairs gallery has to have one of the strongest exhibition programmes in London.  It’s a tie for the best show there this year between the recent Soviet Art and Architecture and Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography.

Martin Munkácsi, Four Boys at Lake Tanganyika, c. 1930.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk.

Knockout at the National Gallery – For me, Drenched in Devotion stole the show this year.  Looking at altarpieces in their context, the NG examined their structure and relationship to the surrounding architecture, following the formal, stylistic and typological developments across the period of focus.  One room was even turned into a chapel.

Room two in Devotion by Design. Image via www.independent.co.uk.

Leaving LondonRevealed: Turner Contemporary Opens was an extremely strong exhibition to launch another new public art gallery designed, of course, by David Chipperfield.  Highlights were from Daniel Buren and Conrad Shawcross.

Daniel Buren, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, 2011. Own photograph.

Also with podium finishes were:

Going for Gold – Haunch’s Mystery of Appearance with some of Britain’s most important painters – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow.  Need I say more…

Upstairs at Haunch with David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967. Own photograph.

Striking SilverThe Cult of Beauty at the V&A looked at art, from 1860-1900, created purely for its own sake to provide pleasure and beauty.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Bocca Baciata, 1859.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk.

Bright Bronze – Future Tense’s Spectra I focused on colour – a simple concept but one that was wonderfully addressed with some of the best lighting I’ve seen this year.

Lee Baker, Refractive Monolith, 2011. Own photograph. 

and last but by no means least – Runner Up  – the brilliant Anthony McCall taking over Ambika P3 with his entrancing light works that combined cinema, drawing and sculpture.

Anthony McCall, Vertical Works, 2011. Image via http://www.dontpaniconline.com. 

Aaah… but there was also the shoes exhibition, Rembrandt and Bacon at Ordovas, Nicola Hicks and Mona Kuhn at Flowers, the many brilliant shows at Josh Lilley and the poignant timing of Lisson’s Ai Weiwei show.  What a year!  To look back at these exhibitions, use the categories or tags on the right hand side of the screen to make scrolling that bit easier.

Carla Busuttil at the Josh Lilley Galley.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Let’s hope that 2012 can move on from the success of these shows and be bigger, better and braver than ever before.  I’ll be there, in my stilettos, doing the rounds.

In the meantime, thank you for reading Artista.  A Merry Christmas and a Happy Shoe Year to you all.

(Check back next week for a look at The Courtauld’s current drawing exhibition.)

Haunch of Excellence: ten British post-war greats…plus Sprüth and Bischoff/Weiss

7 Dec

It seems impossible to walk down a street in Mayfair without bumping into a familiar art face. As a consequence, due to all the chatting, a five minute walk often takes fifteen minutes.

I did finally make my way up Dover Street and get to Sprüth Magers who are showing a series of new works by Louise Lawler.  Lawler’s photographs seek to explore the presentation of artworks and the context in which they are viewed – whether in private homes or in galleries.  Her work forces us to look at art out of its normal context, making us consider how we view, and idealise, these artworks, and questioning how our opinions are modified by the manner of display.

Louise Lawler at Sprüth. Own photograph.

The current exhibition sees Lawler photographing two works by Richter – his Mustang-Staffel and Schädel – during their installation in Dresden. Through her manipulation of the original dimensions, she questions how the art world distorts artworks.  These two new sets of work lack her usual charisma but the concept is fascinating and it is a concise, playful show.

I also popped into Bischoff Weiss’ Chain Chain Chain. I found this to be a strange show and one where it is important to understand the conceptual rationale before visiting.  Curator, Glenn Adamson, who is also co-curator of Postmodernism at the V&A, has wanted to explore this project for a long time.  Looking at art as a commodity, and the commercial status of both artists and artworks, he examines commodity fetishisation and how artists can slow down the commodity chain that flows so readily around us.

Zoe Sheehan Saldana, Adult Life-Jacket, 2008-09. Own photograph.

As well as physically referencing chain as a material (which crops up frequently in the show), the title also evokes the commodity chain itself by mimicking and underpinning it; Gyan Panchal and Nicole Cherubini’s work evokes shipping containers or packing materials through highly aestheticised objects.

The best way to understand the complex chain of Adamson’s thoughts is to hear (or rather, to read) it from the horse’s mouth and this is best done by picking up the small pamphlet that accompanies the show.

Onwards, as I headed up Bond Street in the freezing cold to Haunch of Venison for the Mystery of Appearance – the show I had been looking forward to all day. Who could not be excited by the list of post-war British artists involved?  The list of ten artists includes some of Britain’s most important painters – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow.  The new front entrance to Haunch was only unveiled two days ago.  What used to be a shoe shop (how apt for me) has been transformed to become such a beautiful extension of Haunch that I can’t even pretend the loss of the shoe shop is tragic.  In fact, I can’t even now remember what shoe shop once stood here.

The new Haunch entrance on New Bond Street. Own photograph.

The title of the exhibition comes from Francis Bacon who said ‘To me, the mystery of painting today is how appearance can be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of making? …one knows that by some accidental brush-marks suddenly appearance comes in with a vividness that no accepted way of doing it would have brought about.’  Bacon himself here acknowledges the mystery of these artists’ genii – their ambition and the effect of their work is often mind-blowing.

Francis Bacon, Pope I – Study after Pope Innocent X by Velázquez, 1951. Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.   

The exhibition retains the artists’ individualities while introducing an enlivening conversation between them.  Yes, such conversations have taken place many times before (often in our auction houses) but, with art this great, this dialogue will never become staid.   The influence these artists still exert is sensational.   The exhibition also examines the personal relationships between the artists themselves some of which began in the late forties.

Upstairs at Haunch with David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967. Own photograph.

Several of the works have come from major public galleries while some of the pieces from private collections have not been on display in years.  With the recent sad deaths of Freud and Hamilton this show is timely and poignant.  The exhibition does not pretend to be an overview – more of a personal selection by the curator.

Richard Hamilton, Respective, 1951. Own photograph.

Opening with a selection of nudes, in the second gallery the exhibition moves onto landscapes and portraits.  These are followed by a focus on the special significance of the Old Masters to the artists, concluding with a focus on their interpretation of space and lens-based imagery.  What this exhibition does is highlight quality and excellence, re-evaluating this group of incredible artists – their motives, their stories and, most importantly here, their conversations.  Hours after the PV, I’m still struggling to pick a favourite – the sheer power of the Bacon, the textured dynamism of the Auerbach, the delicacy of the Freud portraits or the sensitivity of the Hamilton drawings…  All the works are sublime.

Leon Kossoff, Seated Woman No. 2, 1959. Own photograph.

The catalogue with essays by Catherine Lampert and Tom Hunt is equally stunning and the perfect companion to the show.  Although some of the relationships or conversations remain elusive, the paintings are all brought together by a sense of timeliness and a commitment to their medium through which the study of the human condition is touching and powerful.

Mystery of Appearance at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

Mystery of Appearance is a beautiful exhibition and one that I will certainly return to during the daytime when I can further appreciate the works flooded by natural light from the Haunch skylights.  But, in the meantime, wow!

Louise Lawler: No Drones is at Sprüth Magers until 23rd December 2011, www.spruethmagers.comChain Chain Chain is at Bischoff/Weiss until 28th January 2012, www.bischoffweiss.comMystery of Appearance: Conversations between ten British post-war painters is at Haunch of Venison until 18th February 2012, www.haunchofvenison.com.

From West to East and a Walk in the Park – Thursday of Frieze Week

14 Oct

Thursday of Frieze week and I was already exhausted with so many things yet to see.

Walking down Savile Row, I decided to pop into a new gallery and I’m pleased I did. Pilar Ordovas made headlines earlier this year when she announced plans to open her own gallery space. She was already well-known among the art world elite, partly for organising the famous, record-breaking sale of Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping. She isn’t shy of press. Having worked at Christie’s and managed London’s Gagosian, Ordovas decided to go it alone. One of the things that will make this space successful, other than Ordovas’ skill and vision, is her access to, and unique relationships with, artists. This first exhibition perfectly highlights her past experience. Having managed the estate of Valerie Beston (the private director of the Marlborough Gallery to whom Bacon bequeathed an astonishing collection of his works) in 2006, Ordovas was able to conceive this exhibition.

Ordovas on Savile Row. Image via www.ordovasart.com

Irrational marks: Bacon and Rembrandt is a museum-quality, academic exhibition, hidden within the walls of a commercial gallery. This will be the first show to explore the connections and influences of Rembrandt’s late self-portraits and Bacon’s own self-portraits. The creative dialogue between the two artists is extraordinary. The exhibition also displays a number of working documents, found in Bacon’s studio after his death, splattered with paint, discarded after they had inspired the great artist. They are absolutely fascinating. Ordovas is certainly doing something new.

Downstairs at Ordovas on Savile Row. Image via www.ordovasart.com

An art history professor friend once asked me if I’m conservative (I don’t think he meant in the political sense). ‘Yes’, I replied. ‘And, do you like Francis Bacon?’ he asked. ‘No, I love Francis Bacon’ was my response. ‘Well, then you are definitely not conservative’. Many years on, having seen people’s often extreme reactions to Bacon’s work I more fully understand what he meant but, to me, Bacon’s works are exquisite. The style may often be grotesque but they are sublime.

25 Savile Row is a beautiful space although the ‘frosting’ in the window actually looks as if they have not finished unpacking and we were unsure if they were actually open. Directly opposite Hauser & Wirth, I don’t think the galleries will conflict with one another as they are so different. Pilar Ordovas is helping to create a new arts hub in the heart of Mayfair.

Ordovas. Own photograph.

After lunch, I headed over to Frieze which, this year, felt like a chore. With more galleries than ever before, I thought the fair was remarkably bland. Still obviously feeling the effects of this long drawn-out recession, no-one had taken any risks. The VIP day having passed, most of the gallerists weren’t that bothered by the ‘general public’ bustling past their stands. Desks piled high with coffee cups and ipads (normally about three per stand) were far more amusing than the art and I couldn’t resist capturing the ennui.

Fed up at Frieze. Own photograph.

When we finished the long trek and my fellow fair-goer said his feet were hurting, I knew my moaning was justified. My legs ached. My stilettos clacked with less vigour than usual.

With no cabs to be found, I hobbled to Haunch craving the glass of wine that awaited me. This exhibition at least perked me up again – or was that the wine? Ahmed Alsouandi is an Iraqi artist who lives in New York. He uses the grotesque to explore war and conflict and the consequences of these atrocities. His deformed figures rework, and are inspired by, greats such as Goya and Bacon.

Ahmed Alsouandi at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

His vivid, over-saturated, palette both enhances the horror and detracts from the subject matter in an ironically joyous tone. Whilst his many influences are apparent, his work is certainly unique and his style his own. The turbulence and disfiguration are more a comment on general human conflict and physical disruption than specific warfare. From a distance, they could be mistaken for bright abstract patterns. Get closer, and you see tortured bodies, dismembered limbs and even a lone eyeball.

I’d forgotten how great the floor here is – a wonderful dark wood that works so well with whatever they hang. My signature photo would have shown this but my friend refused to squat on the floor of one of London’s major galleries to photograph my feet. The gallery was buzzing and, considering the competition this week, that is a mark of how good this show is.

Ahmed Alsouandi at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

Next on my list was Flowers Gallery – not the one in Mayfair unfortunately, I like to make my life difficult. Nicola Hicks has long been recognised as an important British artist. Having exhibited with Flowers for many years now, this demonstrates how astute the gallery were in picking her as a major talent after her selection in 1984 by Elisabeth Frink for their annual Artist for the Day exhibition. Her latest exhibition, which takes over the downstairs galleries at Flowers on Kingsland Road, is a new series of plaster sculptures based on Aesop’s Fables, the well-known children’s’ stories supposedly written by a slave in Ancient Greece in the 5th century BC.

Nicola Hicks’ Aesop’s Fables at Flowers. Own photograph.

Don’t be mistaken and think Hicks is merely depicting the Fables in illustratory form, as you couldn’t be more wrong. Instead these stories act as a catalyst for her work, providing a creative springboard for her wonderful imagination. The detail is incredible – the loose, tactile nature of the plaster means these works need, and deserve, closer inspection.

Although Hicks’ works have developed over time, she has been interested in animal forms from day one. Always heartfelt, she is able to do extraordinary things to her materials and contorts plaster in fantastic ways.

All of the anthropomorphic characters from the Fables are present, frozen in time for us to admire. The creatures are loveable and endearing, a humble theme for a wonderful artist who here explores empathy and beauty in a stunning new series of work. I have always loved Hicks’ sculpture so this exhibition was a treat for me. Who couldn’t fall for her dogs, gazing lovingly out with puppy dog eyes?

One of Hicks’ gorgeous dogs. Own photograph.

Upstairs is an exhibition by artist, Simon Roberts. Roberts is obviously a talented artist – he travelled across England in a motorhome for a year from 2007-2008 photographing England at leisure. His large horizons and country scenes play on a tradition of English landscape painting, studying our national identity in turn raising key social, economic and political issues. He finds beauty in the mundane but the photographs do not stand up to the brilliance of the exhibition downstairs.

Simon Roberts, Keynes Country Park Beach, Shornecote, Gloucestershire, 11th May 2008. Image via http://we-english.co.uk/. 

I had planned to head to an exhibition at the Hospital Club but gossiping away over dinner next door and resting my weary limbs made me realise how tired I was. Or was that the wine too? Anyway, there was no chance I was going back into the West End again that night.

Irrational Marks: Bacon and Rembrandt is at Ordovas until 16th December 2011, www.ordovasart.com.  Ahmed Alsoudani is at Haunch of Venison Yard until 26th November 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com. Nicola Hicks: Aesop’s Fables and Simon Roberts: We English are both at Flowers, Kingsland Road, until 19th November 2011, www.flowersgalleries.com. For more of my Frieze photos, see www.facebook.com/chloenelkinconsulting.

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