Tag Archives: Guardian

Flash Bang Wallop, What A Let Down…

21 May

I was not the only one expecting big things from the re-launch of The Photographers’ Gallery which has been closed for two years for a mega £9.2 million restoration programme.  The obvious ‘big’ is that the building now features a two-storey extension that doubles the size of the old gallery.  Designed by Irish architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, the original Victorian red-brick warehouse is linked to the modern steel extension by an external sleeve of black render, terrazzo and Angelim Pedra wood.  There is no doubt that the exterior is striking.  The design is all about the importance of linking exterior and interior with picture-perfect windows punctuating the building that provide amazing views onto surrounding Soho.

The ‘new’ Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery space itself is stunning but this is yet another slick building with no heart.  The opening exhibition mounts a selection of works by renowned photographer Edward Burtynsky, showcasing over thirty images from his series OIL that looks at the mechanics of the manufacture, distribution and use of this highly controversial resource.

Edward Burtynsky, Highway #5, 2009. Own photograph.

Reading Adrian Searle’s review on Guardian online I couldn’t help but laugh at some of the obnoxious comments that had been posted in response to his description of the exhibition as ‘so-so’.  In this instance, I think Searle is spot-on.  Any photography fan will have seen these works before.  Any photography fan will appreciate the visual dynamism of these works.  Any photography fan will think this is an unadventurous choice of artist.  I thought the gallery would have taken more risks.  With low-level lighting (another gallery falling going down this gloomy path), the works aren’t shown to their full potential and I’m far more excited to see the display of his works at Flowers that opens later this week.

Edward Burtynsky photographs at The Photographers’ Gallery. Own photograph.

The gallery does have some interesting features.  The Eranda studio includes its own camera obscura (offering a 360 degree view of the surrounding area which visitors can see by using a rotating turret in the window) plus there’s an environmentally-controlled floor which will allow the more extensive exhibition of works from archives and museum collections.  There is also The Wall on the ground floor which is part of the new digital programme – this particular display will present guest-curated projects, artist commissions and collaborative photographic work.   Currently The Wall is showing The Animated GIF, featuring over forty GIF images by practitioners from a range of creative disciplines.  The GIF was first created in 1987 and this display seeks to celebrate its history and the aesthetic qualities of this medium, looking at the wide variety of approaches using this restricted palette of 265 colours.

The Wall on the ground floor. Own photograph.

There was still a lot of snagging to do when I went round although I’m sure this would have been righted before doors opened to the public.  The stairs are rather hidden and use of the lift is being encouraged but it is so slow; make sure you’ve got ample time, not to walk around the exhibition, but to actually get up to it!

When we found the stairs…. Own photograph.

This is one of those spaces that will, no doubt, change drastically for each exhibition and I will be back for the Deutsche Börse prize in July to see if different works can spice up this attractive warehouse.  I think it’s easy to get these spaces right but, seemingly, it’s even easier to get them wrong.

Burtynsky: Oil is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 1st July 2012, www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk.

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A Shared Joke – Shrigley Transforms the Hayward

4 Feb

After a busy week, I decided to pop to the Hayward Gallery’s late night on Friday to see their new David Shrigley exhibition.

The Hayward Gallery. Own photograph.

The Hayward has deviated from their norm for this exhibition.  Firstly, after showing your ticket at the main door, you enter via the lift (the attendant and I shared a baffled glance while I waited for it to arrive) which is filled with Monkeys – Shrigley’s spoken word installation.  It’s slightly claustrophobic but effective and dramatic.  Shrigley is that bit different; people are forced to do as he wishes and he is very much guiding our viewing.  And so I arrived at the upper galleries ready to be led wherever the artist wanted to take me.

Installation view of David Shrigley: Brain Activity at the Hayward Gallery.  Image courtesy of the Hayward Gallery and via www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Shrigley is known for his sense of humour, which is often rather warped, but there is no denying that his witty comments on everyday life are funny.  Brain Activity, which includes 68 new works made especially for the show, is the first major survey of Shrigley’s work to span the full range of his varied media – drawings, sculpture, taxidermy, animations, films, paintings…

David Shrigley, Very Large Cup of Tea, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.southbankcentre.co.uk

At the Glasgow School of Art, he wasn’t considered a serious artist and he left with a 2:2.  He was already antagonised by the establishment because they felt his artwork was inappropriate and more cartoonish than fine art.  So, on leaving the GSA, he became a cartoonist – not to take heed of them but to escape the environment and the people who kept degrading and undermining his work.  Eventually, he reconsidered and in 1995 his work was featured on the front cover of Frieze magazine.  Shrigley had made it, he was somebody.

Given this background, it is natural that Shrigley has little respect for the art world and he has never sought to fit in.  A Glaswegian, his sense of humour is often coarse and he has no issue in ‘sticking two fingers up’ at the art institutions that have made him famous. He has a dark humour that comes from a deep sense of frustration and drawing, for him, is a cathartic process.  Shrigley isn’t as you’d expect him to be – he’s quiet and polite, clean-shaven and wears socks with his sandals.  He works calmly for eight hours a day; he is not the madman that some of his works would suggest.

David Shrigley with his work. Image via www.mydaily.co.uk.    

Shrigley appeals to people who aren’t typical art lovers.  He produced a weekly cartoon for the Guardian for many years and has also been the political cartoonist for the New Statesman.  He doesn’t try to shy away from this and very much has a foot in both camps (cartoon and fine art) – he is overtly commercial and his work is found on t-shirts, badges, cards, duvet covers and tattooed onto the bodies of numerous fans.  Cartoons, however, are normally tidy and highly finished whereas Shrigley’s works are usually messy with crossed-out sections and scribbles.  His drawings and animations, which play on a range of familiar social subjects and everyday situations, are often awkward and crude while remaining immediate and accessible.  He is not a skilled draughtsman nor does he aim to be.  For him, drawing is just a method of communicating, writing a message to convey his thoughts.

David Shrigley, Untitled, 2011.  Image courtesy of David Shrigley and Yvon Lambert and via www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Shrigley is known for producing thousands and thousands of drawings, a corpus currently thought to include more than 7,000 works on paper.  There were around 25,000 but he discards a lot.  We don’t, however, feel the impact of his relentless scribblings here.  There’s not enough on show; the exhibition features around 240 works which may seem like a lot but I wanted more.

Shrigley is absurd: there’s a bell with a card saying ‘not to be rung again until Jesus returns’, a childish painting of a door marked ‘door’, a sign that says ‘hanging sign’ as he plays on the obvious in a comic way, a taxidermied rat placed under a fake wall and ominously visible as you pass by (ick!), and his, now-famous, taxidermied dog holding a placard that says ‘I’m dead’.

David Shrigley, I’m Dead, 2010. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.southbankcentre.co.uk

Death and the macabre are frequent themes in Shrigley’s work.  A gravestone with the words ‘Bread, Milk, Cornflakes, Baked beans, Tomatoes, Aspirin, Biscuits’ is an ironic take on our day-to-day consumption.  Shrigley commented that he prefers to see the humorous side of death as it isn’t something we can avoid.  Like me, he’s always been interested in lists and enjoys placing seemingly random information together in a way that forces it to become coherent.  His message may often be pessimistic but, notwithstanding this, he’s often able to induce a smile.  In the darkest of subjects, there is always some light to be found.

David Shrigley, Gravestone, 2008. Image courtesy of the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery and via www.southbankcentre.co.uk

In one of the outside courtyards stands a stick figure.  Try to get closer though and you can’t.  Shrigley has stuck the door, teasing us.  Again, we go where Shrigley tells us to.  One room has a fake wall with 12 eggs on top – suggestive of Humpty Dumpty as a small Alice in Wonderland-styled doorway in the wall allows you to see the feet of those passing by (the perfect place to check out the footwear).  Again, we want to go there but it’s not that easy.  The other courtyard is exhibiting Look at This but we can’t get out there either.  Visitors were smearing away condensation from the windows to try to look.  The joke is on us.

Some of the works are a bit bland but I think, like a comedy act, this level of humour is impossible to maintain all the time.  Brain Activity is actually the best-curated exhibition I’ve seen here in a long while.  It has been skilfully planned and lit and really transformed the gallery space.  Shrigley has made the Hayward his own.

David Shrigley, Hanging Sign. Image via www.whosjack.org

While walking round I overheard someone uttering the predictable ‘is it art?’.  Although this is something that people often ask of Shrigley, this is now an old and boring question.  He thought to do it.  They didn’t!

I don’t think Shrigley’s art is funny all the time but I caught myself smiling when I least expected to and, it was nice to see that the exhibition was having the same effect on other people.  Like a Mexican wave, a shared joke was moving across the galleries.  Shrigley’s aim is not to make people actually laugh – this is just a by-product of his art; using simple mechanisms and objects he seeks to engage people through humour.

David Shrigley, Nutless, 2002.  Image via www.thedrawbridge.org.uk

But (and it’s a big but), the exhibition only takes place upstairs.  The ground floors will be given over to the Jeremy Deller exhibition which opens on 22nd February.   Fortunately, there’ll be a £10 joint ticket so visitors aren’t expected to pay twice for what is normally one exhibition space but I still felt let down.  I was enjoying the exhibition and it finished far too soon.

David Shrigley, Untitled, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.southbankcentre.co.uk

You don’t need to know anything about Shrigley or his practice to enjoy these works.  There will be no added pleasure from doing your homework before going to this exhibition.  Shrigley’s ‘stuff’ is eclectic to say the least.  It shouldn’t be funny but it is.  I just wish I’d been given the opportunity to laugh at more.  It was good but it wasn’t great as I know that Shrigley could have filled the whole of the Hayward and I’d have come away more satisfied.

David Shrigley: Brain Activity is at the Hayward Gallery until 13th May 2012, www.southbankcentre.co.uk/shrigley.

Tuesday is the new Thursday – Paul McCarthy at Hauser & Wirth and more…

15 Nov

Winter has certainly arrived and, after a quick amaretto latte at Caffè Nero (my winter essential), I was grateful to take refuge inside the first gallery of the evening. Tuesday seems to be the new Thursday and with openings all across London, I selected four within easy walking distance of each other.

I began at Hauser & Wirth on Piccadilly to see one part of their current Paul McCarthy exhibition which is spread over both their gallery spaces and St James’s Square.  Not Paul McCartney – this is an art blog!  As everyone will know, Paul McCarthy, is, of course, one of the world’s most celebrated living artists.  Jonathan Jones of the Guardian recently travelled to Los Angeles to visit McCarthy and was overwhelmed by the vastness of his studio – the size of the operation is not just a Hollywood essential but is vital to his work as the exhibition fills three spaces (four if you count the Savile Row split) with huge ambitious pieces.  He’s also currently showing in their New York gallery and his daughter, Mara, has curated their Zurich exhibition – Hauser seem to like keeping it in the family.

Paul McCarthy, The King, 2006-2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Presiding over the ground floor at the Piccadilly space is McCarthy’s The King, a monumental installation raised on a platform and surrounded by large-scale airbrush paintings, supposedly created on the easel which stands on the said platform.  The main focus here is a silicone model of the artist – naked.  Slumped on a wooden throne, wearing a long blond wig, his limbs are partly severed, his eyes are closed (possibly in pain).  He is grotesque.  And, as is so often the case, we cannot help but look.  Church pews have been arranged in front of the piece so that the space becomes a chapel where visitors can worship at the shrine of the artist.  Incredibly, this created an almost holy hush across the gallery particularly noticeable to regular Hauser PV guests.  The King had cast an intense spell and everyone seemed intoxicated by his power.  There are other works in the vault rooms downstairs and the gallery spaces on the top floor but they didn’t have quite the same impact as the resonance of the initial piece. Neither, was it easy to access them; ascending or descending the stairs involved getting far too ‘up close and personal’ with the other guests.

Paul McCarthy, Mad House Jr., 2011.  Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Next, I wandered along Piccadilly to Beaux Arts who have an exhibition of paintings by Jonathan Leaman.  There is no doubt that his skill as an artist is exemplary and the paintings are good but, for me, they were not sensational (maybe this is unfair considering the act they had to follow).

Jonathan Leaman, The Great Pipe, 2006-2011.  Own photograph.

Leaman is visibly inspired by narrative works from the 17th and 18th centuries and he saturates his works with meanings and emotional incidents.  Beaux Arts had one particularly special visitor in the gallery, intent on cleaning his paws whilst offering the occasional greeting to anyone who intruded on his space by the bar.

Beaux Arts’ dog and the first dog in the blog. Own photograph.

Cork Street was awash with visitors and I passed at least five other tempting openings as I headed to my number three.  But, alas, there was no time.  Well, I say that but an enticing display of shoes distracted us for at least ten minutes.  Research for Artista, of course!

Kurt Geiger. Own photograph.

TAG Fine Arts have taken over the Air Gallery on Dover Street with an exhibition of maps.  Map-making is an ancient art form that has helped to form a coherent geographical image of the world.  But, maps are no longer merely useful objects to be used for navigation and this is often the last thing on the mind of the cartographer.  This exhibition shows how traditional topography has evolved into territory for imaginative exploration.  These are not just two-dimensional pieces but windows into imagined lands.

The Art of Mapping at the Air Gallery, Dover Street. Own photograph.

The Art of Mapping celebrates cartography as an art form in which artists use maps to respond to their environments, creatively register ideologies, emotions and ideas and present selective records of real or fictitious worlds.  Highlights are new works by Stephen Walter and Rob Ryan but the exhibition showcases a number of contemporary artists concentrating on these themes including a range of new works as well as old favourites like Simon Patterson’s The Great Bear.  From Google’s controversial Street View project, to the British Library’s Magnificent Maps exhibition, cartography is increasingly in the public eye.  One vodka tonic and lots of chatting later and time seemed to be running away with me…again!

Simon Patterson, The Great Bear, 1992. Own photograph.

My final stop was part two of the McCarthy exhibition at Hauser & Wirth on Savile Row.  The North Gallery is taken over by Pig Island, a work that took seven years to complete, filling McCarthy’s studio, blurring the boundaries between a work and the workplace.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Own photograph from the viewing ladder.

The sculpture combines political and popular figures, placing them in a morally deviant world overrun with images of reckless abandon.  Constructed and raised on blocks of polystyrene, the work is littered with wood, cast body parts, clay, spray paint and old fast-food containers.

Paul McCarthy, Pig Island, 2003-2010. Copyright to, and courtesy of, the artist and via Hauser & Wirth, www.hauserwirth.com

Pig Island looks intentionally unfinished – a raw and never-ending work that could expand into infinity.  There is something in every nook and cranny but the state of the piece means we can see McCarthy’s thinking and the development of his skewed ideas.  Stepladders are placed around the work to allow visitors a better view of the piece.  But, stilettos and a short dress meant I didn’t dare embark on this particular climb.  Instead, my loyal friend ventured up the ladder for me (and for you) with the camera and somehow managed not to fall headfirst into the island.

The ladders/viewing platforms for Pig Island. Own photograph.

The South Gallery presents some of the offspring of Pig Island which McCarthy himself has described as a sculpture machine.  Train, Mechanical shows two pot-bellied caricatures of George W. Bush, sodomising two pigs.

Paul McCarthy, Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

As perverse as it sounds, once again, it was impossible not to stop and stare.  The sculpture was intriguing and the audience were in no hurry to move away.  The work certainly brings out the voyeur in everyone.  I dare you not to stare at the rhythmic motion of the arses of presidents and pigs alike.

Paul McCarthy, detail of Train, Mechanical, 2003-2009. Own photograph.

Round the corner of the gallery, I gave in and changed into flats for my journey home.

Regent Street.

Walking down Regent Street, I had my first glimpse of this year’s Arthur Christmas Christmas lights – the countdown has truly begun.

Paul McCarthy: The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship is at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, Piccadilly and St James’s Square until 14th January 2012 (Paul McCarthy’s outdoor sculpture Ship Adrift, Ship of Fools will be on view until 15 February at St James’s Square), www.hauserwirth.com.  Jonathan Leaman: As Above So Below, 5 Years in the Making is at Beaux Arts until 17th December 2011, www.beauxartslondon.co.ukThe Art of Mapping is at The Air Gallery until 26th November 2011, www.tagfinearts.com.

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