Tag Archives: Frank Stella

A Blustery Walk to Brazil…at the Serpentine

2 Jan

Magnetized Space brings together a diverse range of works including sculpture, paintings, films, poems, engravings and collages by Lygia Pape.

Lygia Pape, Untitled, 1954-56. Image via www.serpentinegallery.org

Branded a forgotten genius, Pape was one of Brazil’s most celebrated artists, and I was excited to see the Serpentine’s new retrospective of her work.  I wasn’t previously familiar with her style but I left the exhibition feeling underwhelmed.

Pape referred to herself as Neo-Concretist, beginning from a point that her elders had taken a long hard-worn path to reach.  Her woodcuts on Japanese paper are surprisingly delicate – lines run across the sheets encountering minimalistic geometric shapes that conjure patterns, dynamism and electricity.  There is no doubt that Pape was innovative; the works in the West gallery show influences of American Modernism but, as is so often the case, the dates do not add up.  Her works predate those that we think influenced her such as Frank Stella and Agnes Martin.

Lygia Pape, Untitled. Tecelar (Weavings), woodcut on Japanese paper, 1953. Image via www.serpentinegallery.org

The exhibition opens with a series of video monitors showing works from the sixties.  These films do not, however, reflect her normal practice as Pape is known for her non-figurative art.  She was the first Brazilian artist to develop art as a network of experimental practices and her work is often so varied that it feels disjointed.  In this way, the Serpentine Gallery spaces lend themselves well to the separation of styles.  This diversity shows Pape’s continual investigation and rebellion.

Lygia Pape, Roda dos Prazeres (Wheels of Pleasure), film still, 1968. Image via www.serpentinegallery.org

The central piece of the exhibition uses gold threads to suggest columns, turning solid objects into shafts of light through the clever use of lighting.  There is nothing else like this on display here – the piece is beautiful, striking and dreamlike.  No doubt Tteia will be the work that makes people ooh and aah and remember the show.

Lygia Pape, Tteia (Web), 2011.  Image courtesy of Jerry Hardman-Jones and via www.serpentinegallery.org

One wall is filled with painted wooden three-dimensional constructions that each represents a day in Pape’s Book of Time.  All the days are different in colour, style and size; no day is ever the same.  For me, this was the highlight of the exhibition.  The wall becomes a rhythmic composition, showing the changing patterns of time that influence all our lives.

Lygia Pape, Livro do Tempo (Book of Time), 1961-63. Image courtesy of Jerry Hardman-Jones and via www.serpentinegallery.org

Pape’s works discuss weighty political issues although they are not immediately understood.  Many were created in response to the political repression that Pape experienced and her pieces span the political and cultural intensity of Brazil.  The catalogue essays help to shed some light on Pape’s responses to the grimmest period of Brazilian history, although their density means they take some time to tackle.  Apparently, her most explicitly political works have not been included and perhaps the reason I did not enjoy this show is its narrow viewpoint.  For those of us who do not know Pape well already, this show does not enlighten us.  It is hard to catch the Brazilian spirit that was thought to make her works so alive.  The exhibition was first shown in a larger format at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and may have been more effective there.  On the other hand, it may have worked better at the Serpentine had they not closed rooms to limit the exhibition space.

Lygia Pape, Espaços imantados (Magnetized Spaces) 1995/2011.  Image via www.serpentinegallery.org

Pape’s works are experimental as she shouted out for freedom rather than conforming.  Her multi-faceted practice reflects the turbulent pattern of her life.  With so many exciting shows in London at the moment, I didn’t think this was worth the blustery walk through Kensington Gardens.  In fact, the only thing that blew me away was the wind.

Lygia Pape: Magnetized Space is at the Serpentine Gallery until 19th February 2012, www.serpentinegallery.org.

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From Stella to Champagne: Haunch of Venison and PAD

10 Oct

Haunch always has a multitude of exhibitions on show.  In their Burlington Gardens’ space is showing three different exhibitions: the sensuous curved linear sculptures of Bae Sehwa’s wooden Steam Series, Ascent by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (the designers of the Olympic Torch for the 2012 Olympics) and, the main attraction, Connections by Frank Stella.

Ascent in the Mezzanine Gallery at Haunch. Own photograph.

Now, I will confess that I’m not the hugest Stella fan.  They’re obviously great works of art from a magnificent artist but they aren’t quite my thing.  They don’t move me although I feel they should.  In fact, I wish they would.

Regardless of my personal aesthetic taste, Connections  is a beautifully presented and clear show.  Aiming to examine Stella’s entire career in a mini-retrospective, Haunch presents his work in themes (openings, surfaces, working space, colour and narratives) rather than chronologically. This is a clever, curatorial decision that avoids any dips in Stella’s career, instead creating a concise and sensibly thought out study of his oeuvre.

As soon as you walk in to the gallery, two of Stella’s newest works dominate the downstairs hall: one a stainless steel piece, the other a polychrome resin work.  They give you a taste of what is to come.

Frank Stella, Djaoek, 2004. Own photograph.

The exhibition upstairs opens with his huge, familiar abstract expressionist paintings, including his black paintings of the ’50s. But these aren’t just black.  Even in them, Stella magically manages to explore the boundaries of colour.  Colour is a main theme of all his works and this later enhances the fact that he transcends the boundaries between painting and sculpture.  His wall-based works are so sculptural that we want to peer behind the multi-faceted sections and explore the works as a whole.   They are beautifully lit to make the shadows themselves interact with the sculptural forms on the walls.

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

You never really know where you stand with Stella’s works which is part of the fun.  His concerns with planes and surfaces, space and relief and colour and movement become profoundly apparent across this show as one gets lost inside the cyber-dimensions of his giant canvases.

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

Smaller rooms of Stella’s working drawings are made to feel more intimate due to successful curation and this set up allows us to better understand his processes.  The exhibition also includes his working maquettes that help us to see how his paintings are formed, forcing us to look at the process rather than merely the finished object.

It’s a busy week and I had to hurry.  The opening night of PAD beckoned and I can tell you that some of the best art in London is to be found this week amidst the trees of Berkeley Square.   You might even spot a nightingale but you’d be hard pressed to hear it over the clinking of champagne flutes.

Frank Stella: Connections and Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby: Ascent are both at Haunch of Venison, Burlington Gardens until 19th November 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com.  The Pavilion of Art and Design is in Berkeley Square until 16th October 2011, www.padlondon.net.

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