Tag Archives: installations

Last of the Summer Time

9 Oct

Finally, I’ve found some time to write a blog post and I’m ashamed to see how long it has been since the last one.  I’ve been gathering catalogues, notes and bits of paper from the inordinate amount I have seen over the past month but now there are far too many to tell you about them all.

At this time of year we’re all looking ahead to Frieze week – in fact, LAPADA in Berkeley Square already heralded the beginning of art month.  But, to look over some of my highlights I have to journey back to Edinburgh and an exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery showing works by Korean artist, Nam June Paik.  I have to confess, that I wasn’t at all familiar with his work even though he is dubbed the founder of video art.  Born in 1932, Paik had a remarkable insight into the ways that technology would change everyday life and our approach to art.  Unusually for Talbot Rice this is a posthumous retrospective; Paik died in 2006 but the gallery saw this as the perfect opportunity to celebrate this artist’s work – art and technology was the theme of the Edinburgh International Festival this year so this could not have been a more fitting choice.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.journal-online.co.uk

It is a confusing exhibition as there is so much going on around the galleries that at times it becomes hard to digest – the main floor exhibits a survey of Paik’s video works, sculpture (including two of his handmade robots) and documentary pieces, while the upper gallery shows objects from his important debut solo exhibition in Germany that took place 50 years ago.  Whatever direction you turn to Paik’s works include old-fashioned television sets whether in their entirety, showing montages of found documentary footage, or included in strange sculptures.  The works are often noisy and at times almost aggressive in their crude aesthetics.  Paik was intent on getting his message across and there can be no denying that he succeeded in conveying his overflowing ideas that combine television with contemporary art.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.re-photo.co.uk

In contrast, was Franz West at Inverleith House.  In all my years in Edinburgh I don’t think I’d ever visited the Botanic Gardens and I had most certainly been missing out.  Aside from the incredible glasshouses, which I’d definitely recommend particularly because of the sculptures dotted around them, the Gardens and House are free of charge.  Walking around this space is like entering another world, particularly in August when Edinburgh is taken over by the Fringe.

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Sculptures in the glasshouses at the Botanic Gardens.  Own photograph.

It is rare that we enter a gallery and are encouraged to touch the works on display.  Here we’re not just asked to gently touch but to play full on with West’s pieces that are solely in collaboration with other artists.  This exhibition contains more than 50 examples of these mad collaborations.  The list of artists in the press release shows quite how influential West is for all these artists to want to work with him – examples are Sarah Lucas, Michelangelo Pistoletto or Douglas Gordon.  Although there are some serious works the exhibition feels exciting and fun – if you don’t participate with the pieces you won’t get very much out of them.  West allows us to escape the conventions of gallery-going where many feel constrained, forced to whisper and look from afar.  The gallery staff make sure we’re doing it right as well – “Have you laid down here yet?” one young girl asked me as I walked through a room, “You can’t see the piece properly unless you do.”  Well, that told me and before I knew it I found myself prostrate on a work of art.  Thank you Franz West.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

Inverleith aren’t attempting to exhibit the sculptures that many of us would normally associate with West – their exhibition is solely about the creativity of collaboration.  Sometimes West integrated works by other artists with his own, sometimes he invited artists to ‘complete’ one of his works and sometimes the collaboration began with him asking an artist to provide him with something.  West was, however, always the conductor of these exchanges, the master of collaboration and of artistic harmony.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

The Edinburgh Art Festival spans the whole city and there are always wonderful installations dotted around in the most unusual o places.  One such example is Peter Liversidge’s work where he was invited anyone in the city with a flag pole to fly a white flag which bears the text: HELLO.  Hello is a word so commonly used in everyday life – to express a greeting, answer a telephone, attract attention and so on.  Liversidge aims to remind us that a flag is also a way to say hello and, here, they wave at us from across the city’s public buildings, blowing their greetings across Edinburgh with each gust of wind.

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A collective greeting in Edinburgh.  Own photograph.

When I was at school aged only 7 or 8, one of the first artists we studied was LS Lowry and he has always had a special pull for me.  Now Lowry’s time has come with a huge exhibition at Tate Britain.  For me, Lowry’s works don’t work well in bulk so this exhibition was always going to be difficult in that regard.  But that was never any doubt that no matter what Tate did I would be instantly won over.  Even ignoring my own personal love for Lowry, this is a very important show and one that is curated by two senior curators who give it an immediate element of gravitas.  But, both are art historians who live in America; they aren’t specialists in Lowry or British art and perhaps this is why they have decided to mix things up a bit, not always successfully.

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Lowry at Tate Britain. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.  

The exhibition offers direct comparisons between Lowry’s work and that of 19th century French artists tackling the same subject which is the big let-down of the exhibition.  Why have Tate not let Lowry stand in his own right?  Nor is the exhibition hung chronologically so it is very hard to see the developments across more than 60 years of work.

Lowry’s depictions of England and his acute powers of observation are still something special.  His depictions of modern life hold a simplicity and rusticity to them that capture the true feeling of the town – some of the scenes haven’t even changed that much since Lowry painted them in his work.  Although the poverty and hardship of the times is there, he often idealises his scenes to make them more palatable for his audience.  He is often criticised for the almost one-dimensionality of his tiny stick figures but look closely at the work that has gone into them.  This is Lowry’s unique record of changing times – his very own texture and timbre of the world in which he lived and the specifics he chose to see.  Love or hate Lowry this is a must-see show.

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Walking through the exhibition.  Image via www.demotix.com

Idris Khan was one of the artists included in our East Wing VIII exhibition at The Courtauld but his latest show at Victoria Miro marks an important departure from the photographic based work he then showed.  Beyond the Black comprises a suite of black paintings, a monumental site-specific wall drawing and a series of works on paper, considering the metaphysics of creation.  Using a mixture of black pigment, rabbit-skin glue and slate dust the paintings’ darkness shines from the walls.  Whereas previously Khan has used the writings of famous philosophers in his pieces, here he incorporates his own writings in response to his readings of Nietzsche, building up strands of text applying densely one on top of the other until the words disappear into the saturated surface, slipping away from us beyond our understanding.  The further we try to look into the works, the less we can comprehend.

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Idris Khan at Victoria Miro.  Image via www.londonist.com

The wall drawing upstairs consists of more than 120,000 lines of text forming a giant radial form.  It’s possible to get lost within this work for hours and I do mean get lost as we are incapable of following the complicated overlays of words at play here.  Throughout the exhibition we are offered glimpses of words that may, or may not, give us a window into Khan’s thinking.

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Complicated overlays. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

Edel Assanti’s latest show (and one on which I have worked) is of Alex Hoda’s incredible new sculptures where the cutting-edge technological processes of 3D-modelling are applied to traditional sculptural materials to create sublime forms.  Alex’s work is an investigation into how discarded objects can provide a valid starting point for wider discussion and critique of contemporary society’s ‘throwaway’ culture.  He sees chewing gum as the perfect embodiment of this area of consumer culture. The chewing gum undergoes a metamorphosis when translated into Carrara marble, imbuing the final piece with an importance that is more often exclusively reserved for classical iconography. The bronze works undergo a comparable transformation, only the source objects are delicate hand-sculpted maquettes formed from entwined dry banana skins.  Despite the medium of bronze, the ‘banana skins’ have an incredible delicacy and tactility that defies their medium and recalls the source objects in a beautiful way.

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Alex Hoda’s new works at Edel Assanti. Image via www.edelassanti.com

David Zwirner is currently showing Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s East of Eden, a large-scale body of photographs ranging from strangers, family members and pole dancers.  He takes everyday happenings and pushes them beyond the realms of banality and normality asking the viewer to question the truth of the image.  The works, partly inspired by John Steinbeck’s book of the same name and the Book of Genesis convey a sense of disillusionment, with lone figures contemplating their surroundings and remaining beyond our reach.  While some are compositionally stimulating and powerful others don’t quite hit the mark for me.

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Installed at David Zwirner.  Image via www.davidzwirner.com

Finally, I was lucky enough to visit Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere just before it closed to the public for a long programme for conservation and renovation.  Words cannot do justice to the feeling of walking through the modest chapel doors and being overwhelmed by the inspirational scenes that Spencer created, a series of large-scale epic murals that honour the ‘forgotten dead’ of the First World War, inspired by Spencer’s own experiences both as a hospital orderly in Bristol and a solider on the Salonika front.

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Approaching the Chapel.  Image via http://en.wikipedia.org

Peppered with personal and unexpected details, they combine the realism of everyday life with dreamlike visions drawn from his imagination.  His recollections, painted entirely from memory, focus on the domestic, rather than combative, and evoke everyday experiences – washing lockers, inspecting kit, sorting laundry, scrubbing floors and taking tea – in which he found spiritual resonance and sustenance.  The poignancy of the works is powerfully emotive.  The main 16 panels from this English ‘Sistine Chapel’ are journeying to Somerset House for an exhibition next month.

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Inside the Chapel.  Image via  www.siue.edu.

This is by no means a survey of all I have seen but a taster of some shows that are currently on.  The winter programme across London and the UK looks particularly exciting and I’ve recently bought a host of new heels in which to enjoy them.

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Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds is at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until 19th October 2013, www.ed.ac.uk/about/museums-galleries/talbot-rice.  Mostly West: Franz West and Artistic Collaborations was at Inverleith House, Edinburgh.  Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life is at Tate Britain until 20th October 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  Idris Khan: Beyond the Black is at Victoria Miro until 9th November 2013, www.victoria-miro.comAlex Hoda: D-Construction is at Edel Assanti until 26th October 2013, www.edelassanti.comPhilip-Lorca diCorcia: East of Eden is at David Zwirner until 16th November 2013.  Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War will be at Somerset House from 7th November 2013 – 26th January 2014, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

It’s Edinburgh time again…

18 Aug

The Edinburgh Art Festival is always a highlight of my August and I decided to start with the big players and see the blockbuster shows first of all.

The National Galleries of Scotland are showing a Peter Doig exhibition – a homecoming for the Edinburgh born artist although I don’t think many would instantly associate him with Scotland.  After all, he moved to Trinidad when he was two and, despite much moving around in the meantime, he has now moved back there.  The exhibition focuses on works from the last ten years and, naturally, his paintings reflect more the Trinidadian lifestyle and culture than the rugged Scottish landscape.

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Peter Doig, Paragon, 2006. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Doig really is a master of paint.  One of the highlights for me, and I’m sure for many others too, was Man Dressed as Bat from 2007 – a beautifully washed out work that can no doubt be read as a study in evanescence and transparency. Before Doig started this work, the canvas was affected by rain coming into the studio. Doig liked the effect and allowed it to suggest an approach to the painting whereby successive layers of paint barely mask those underneath.  The result is ghostlike; we are trapped in a dream that slowly reveals itself to us. There are other similar works with an equally wonderful diaphanous texture.  Although I don’t like all of Doig’s works, it is his subtlety and the transparent fading hues that form his true masterpieces and this exhibition captures the impressive quality of Doig’s oeuvre showing his over-riding commitment to one media.

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Peter Doig, Man Dressed as Bat, 2007. Image via www.nationalgalleries.org

One room shows his Studio Film Club Posters – Doig and Lovelace established this club in 2003 and Doig made hand-painted posters to advertise the weekly films that have a raw spontaneous quality almost reflecting some of the makeshift signs found in Trinidad.  The paintings throughout the exhibition have been arranged in a way to challenge each other and show the development of ideas through his works.  Doig does not paint from real life but devises his images from diverse sources including photographs, films and even memories.  This does sometimes make it hard to connect truly with the canvases – they aren’t abstract but they aren’t fully present, they remain tantalisingly inaccessible to us, trapped in Doig’s own ‘foreign land’.  His works linger in one’s mind and don’t quite disappear, the ghostly images calling from room to room.

Although I was short of time, with the Fruitmarket Gallery just across Princes Street Gardens, I couldn’t resist a quick visit.

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Princes Street Gardens. Own photograph. 

This summer their focus is on Gabriel Orozco and the exhibition takes his 2005 painting The Eye of Go as a starting point – a computer-generated pattern of black circles.  The thinking behind this show requires time and concentration but demonstrates the enormous range of materials and practices he uses to exploit the circle’s capacity to be an ‘instrument’ rather than just a geometric form in a composition.  His re-workings of this motif are rigorous and obsessive.  Circles appear as gestural sweeps of ink on paper, or points on meticulous grids in pen and graphite, as cuttings, inscriptions on tickets, letters and photographs and cedar wood, as wet pools of colour or dense ink impressions and shaded graphite spheres.  The possibilities are endless.  But these are far from just circles and at times you almost forget that this is the focus of the exhibition so fascinating are the works.

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Gabriel Orozco, The Eye of Go, 2005. Image via www.edinburghartfestival.com

You may not automatically think of an exhibition around circles to be the most dynamic that you will see but this exhibition seeks to shine light on Orozco’s practice and diverse methods.

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Upstairs at Fruitmarket Gallery. Own photograph.

I decided to have an art day and headed over to Modern One for what has to be described as a sublime exhibition – From Death to Death and Other Small Tales – which I was lucky enough to be shown around by Simon Groom as part of a Courtauld alumni event.  The title stems from a Joseph Beuys work and the exhibition seeks to create a conversation between works from the gallery’s own collection and pieces from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos that focus on the human body.  Some works reference the body explicitly while others make subtle gestures to bodies that may or may not be present.  The works presented often confront art historical tradition through similarity in subject matter.

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Sarah Lucas, Bunny Gets Snookered, 1997. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

There are the works we’d expect such as Sarah Lucas’s Bunny Gets Snookered which picks up on the tradition of full frontal female nudes.  But for it to be seen in this context is unusual and it really is good.  Every show about the body has to have a Tracey Emin and we aren’t left disappointed but then there are also some extraordinary surprises, particularly the 15 or so rarely seen works by American artist Robert Gober.  These turn everything on its head, often focusing on duality and collision of ideas.

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Robert Gober, Untitled (Torso), 1990. Image via www.thisispipe.com

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain for once is not taking centre stage.  Here, it is removed from its pedestal and placed in a corner, allowing the other works to come forward and take their rightful place in the spotlight.  Chadwick’s Piss Flowers are very simple but utterly beautiful.  Chadwick pissed in the snow and cast the remains, memorialising something that did not even exist.

The smell permeating through the ground floor galleries comes from Ernesto Neto’s labyrinth-like installation, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time where columns, made from gauze, are weighed down with aromatic spices, dividing the space. It is a very contradictory piece that feels like it was made for the space.

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Ernesto Neto, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time, 2000. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes all of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster series in one gallery – five feature length films set in a folkloric world of his own invention.  It would take a day to get through these incredible films and, indeed, I was quite upset I hadn’t known sooner that they were here.  Seeing them all together in this incredible performance/installation is mind-blowing.  Not many rooms are given over to one single artist but this room is all-encompassing and mesmerising.

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A still from the Cremaster series. Image via www.artsbournemouth.org.uk

Nearly every work in this exhibition deserves a mention which is a surprising feat (there are of course always some pieces that don’t float your boat and I will never be a fan of Paul McCarthy’s Pirate Party that takes over an entire room and can be heard in a couple of others).  I’m used to exhibitions at Modern One occupying only the ground floor but this one is so extensive it takes over the entire building with around 130 works of top quality, playing to the gallery’s own strengths while showing their curatorial expertise.  It’s fabulous with contrasting atmospheres throughout.  This is an opportunity to see works that get very little exposure. The gallery have created an exhibition that really works without compromise.  There aren’t many wall texts around the exhibition – we are allowed to make up our own minds without intervention and can then read the excellent catalogue at a later date.

This exhibition has been open since the end of last year and is closing early in September.  If you were having an urge to pop to Edinburgh then seize it – after all you can always go for the day like I crazily did last week.

I popped back to London for a few days last week too and took the opportunity to see Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece which is currently transforming the Roundhouse.  As a Shawcross fan, this was always going to be a winner for me.  He describes the piece as ‘an engine driving a functioning clock’.  Each hand is fitted with a 1000-watt bulb and solely the light from the installation illuminates the room.  The shadows are sent over the entire Roundhouse creating a huge sundial.

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Conrad Shawcross at the Roundhouse. Own photograph.

We are normally used to seeing the Roundhouse as a concert venue filled with loud noise and hubbub.  Timepiece has completely transformed the space.  It is now one of hushed contemplation with people sitting on the floor gazing at the four-metre high contraption as it rotates and moves at different speeds.  The work is poetic and isn’t just something to take a quick glance at.  It deserves consideration.  Ironically it is easy to lose track of time watching Timepiece work its magic.

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Peter Doig, No Foreign Lands is at the Scottish National Gallery until 3rd November, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Gabriel Orozco: Thinking in Circles is at Fruitmarket Gallery until 18 October, http://fruitmarket.co.uk/.  From Death to Death and Other Small Tales | Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the D.Daskalopoulos Collection is at Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) until 8th September, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece is at the Roundhouse until 25th August, http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/conrad-shawcross-timepiece

There’s a big blue cock in Trafalgar Square

30 Jul

The days have long gone when we can feel shocked or surprised at what is mounted on the fourth plinth.  Even more so now as the plans to install Hahn/Cock received much opposition before it was even unveiled.  So, the time had gone for exclamations of disbelief at the giant blue cockerel by Katharina Fritsch that now occupies the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square that was originally intended for an equestrian statue.  At 4.7m high, we are invited to laugh at this incongruous bird who has taken prime position in London.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Image via www.standard.co.uk

A cockerel can be seen as a leader and a chief – it is a symbol of strength and power.  Amazing really that a chicken can represent so much.  Of course, there’s no avoiding the double entendre and people are sure to be childishly sniggering that there’s now a giant cock standing proudly alongside Nelson’s column.  With his crest erect, this plump breasted bird is waving his tail feathers at all tourists to London.  Fritsch wanted to play with the English sense of humour and laugh with us.  She decided to move the focus away from Nelson atop his phallic column and all the male dominance and power displays for which this area is known.  The carefully placed plumage is intended to echo the folds of Nelson’s uniform while the cockerel’s crest may even mimic Nelson’s hat.  If we read the work in this way, Hahn/Cock is certainly laughing at Nelson and inviting us to join in.  Personally, I don’t feel it is respectful or appropriate to laugh at a national hero but Fritsch is a feminist and she sees this work as a female victory in a male-dominated square.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Own photograph.

The humour extends in various directions – this is a work by a German artist in an English square.  But, of course, the cockerel is also the national symbol of France and even its colouring here exemplifies that even though it has been placed next to a monument that commemorates victory against the French.  Fritsch claims she didn’t even realise the French association until she had planned the work.  If that’s true what wonderful coincidental irony to happen upon. Fritsch doesn’t intend the sculpture to be offensive or mocking our history but she sees it has a talking point.

On a simpler level the piece, with its vibrant and unmissable colour, does bring an injection of life into the grey stone works that surround it.  It creates a contrast with the more formal aesthetics to which we are accustomed.  It’s not an incredible work of art by any means but it’s sufficiently imposing and noticeable to satisfy this position and it’s certainly a bit of fun.  Yes, there is meaning behind it but I don’t think Fritsch is all worried about that – it lightens the gravitas and isn’t afraid to laugh at itself.  This cocky sculpture reminds us that the fourth plinth is, among other things, now meant to be a talking point.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Image via www.visitlondon.com

Fritsch clearly enjoys being provocative and this work is certainly going to ruffle feathers.  The dialogue with the surrounding area and other sculptures can be read on many levels which I think is part of the joy of public art.  On the whole, it doesn’t have to be academically invigorating.  Ben Lewis notably said of Antony Gormley’s work, which invited members of the public to stand on the plinth, that he had created “public art work that the public like”.  I think Fritsch has done this too and this is an important factor.  The fourth plinth is meant to get the public talking – while it can tackle issues along the way – and the big blue chicken has certainly done this.  This is a site with one of the biggest footfalls in London so we don’t want a work here that alienates viewers or that people don’t understand.  It was absolutely pouring this morning but I could see the sculpture from inside the safety of a taxi where my driver expressed his opinion that it is a ‘bloody eyesore’.

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Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock. Own photograph.

There have been a lot of works on the fourth plinth and this is certainly far from being the worst.  In fact, it’s probably one of the ones that will be most remembered.  My favourites have been Mark Wallinger’s Ecce Homo and Rachel Whiteread’s Monument.  While not as impressive as either of those works, Hahn/Cock stands proudly in its own right.  Even if you don’t like it and you think the cock is cack, you can’t miss it and it won’t be there forever.

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Hustle and Bustle

14 Jun

It’s been a little while since I gallery hopped and, as a result, I’m feeling a little behind on exhibitions so I thought it was time that I did the rounds.

I started my ‘tour’ with lunch at Raffety Clocks on Kensington Church Street – such a beautiful shop.  Aside from admiring the antiques, this is the place to go for relaxing (well, I think it is anyway).  It beats meditative spa treatments.  Five minutes sitting in Raffety listening to the tick tock of tens of chiming beauties can relax anyone.  I even stayed to hear them chime the hour at 2pm which was a delight.

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Inside Raffety Clocks.  Image via www.raffetyclocks.com

The Dairy Art Centre has been open for a little while now.  Hidden down a side street in Bloomsbury, the space is amazing and unexpected (the premises of a former dairy, it’s big with a wonderful industrial atmosphere).  The first thing that stood out was the warm greeting from the gallery staff – so often galleries ignore visitors or glance up coldly from their work but The Dairy is actively welcoming people.

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Finding The Dairy. Own photograph.

The space is the brainchild of Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm, a non-profit exhibition space that is said to be showing art, dance and music.  It has a lot of potential for cross-disciplinary exploration with a quirky layout and small spaces opening at unexpected angles so this is an interesting statement and I will be curious to watch as their programme develops.  But the opening exhibition but John Armleder wasn’t as inspiring as I’d hoped.  The main gallery, the first room that I entered, is hung with a number of large paintings and twelve fairly large glitter balls.  I half expected dancers to appear and for the gallery attendants to crank up some music for visitors to boogie to but, no, this is the installation.

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Glitter balls in the gallery. Image via http://dairyartcentre.org.uk

Throughout the space there are projections, fake and real flowers, taxidermy, strange installations and more paintings (relaxed relations of Abstract Expressionism).  Armleder certainly makes the most of the space and uses the gallery as a whole in a fluid style of curation that seems uncluttered and coherent.  His work extends further than we may originally think as the gallery is also full of his design – the first example being the multi-coloured bar stalls in the entrance space.

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Armleder’s installations at The Dairy. Own photograph.

The exhibition wasn’t my thing but the space is worth talking about.

I walked out of Wakefield Street to find that Google Maps on my phone wanted re-loading.  Of course, I did sort of know where I was but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of ambling in the wrong direction in the drizzle.  Taxi time!

It’s always a slight disadvantage seeing the Deutsche Börse Prize after the winner has been announced as it spoils the fun of guessing who you think might win.  As it happens, my money would have been on Broomberg and Chanarin anyway.  The prize rewards living photographers for a specific body of work in an exhibition or publication format which has significantly contributed to photography in Europe in the previous year.  This year the finalists were Mishka Henner’s images of sex workers sourced from Google Streetview cameras, Chris Killip’s black and white documentary photographs of Northern English communities in the 1970s and 1980s, Cristina De Middel’s faux documentary images inspired by an actual space programme in Zambia and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s documentation of the War on Terror using images sourced from the internet and mobile phones which pays homage to Bertold Brecht’s 1955 War Primer in which he matched poems with newspaper clippings about World War II.  Broomberg and Chanarin’s project requires far more attention that I was able to give it – it is bold and powerful, challenging the relationship between text and image, looking at the re-appropriation of past photography.  The duo are always pushing boundaries in everything they do and their extreme works, and views, normally garner significant interest.

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Broomberg and Chanarin’s winning piece in the foreground.  Image via www.125magazine.com

This year’s prize focuses on different aspects of documentary photography with a particularly strong focus on found imagery.  As ever, the show makes us question what photography is and challenges the very essence of the art form.

Deutsche Borse prize 2013: Chris Killip's Boo and his rabbit, Lynemouth, Northumberland (1983)

Chris Killip’s Boo and his rabbit, 1983.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

As I was heading to Dering Street and still in the mood for photography I popped into Ronchini Gallery who have mounted a mixed exhibition illustrating photographic diversity in terms of techniques, locations and motifs.  With only one or two works by each artist we’re not really able to get a proper feel for the works or their investigation into the media.  There were a couple of interesting pieces all the same.

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Mixed photography at Ronchini Gallery. Image via www.ronchinigallery.com

My real reason for coming in this direction was to see the exhibition of Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes at Annely Juda.  Curated by the director of visual art at the British Council, this exhibition focuses on Kossoff’s life in London from City bomb sites of the early 1950s to recent drawings of Arnold Circus.  Drawings look at sites in the 1960s and then again recently post-renovation, reconstruction and revitalisation.  Kossoff has grown with this city and, like it, he never seems to stop.  Aged 86, he is still working.  Through his works we see the vibrance and fast-paced nature of the constantly changing city; they express the rawness and true grit of his hometown.  Kossoff isn’t trying to clean up London in his works.  What he loves is the congestion, the dirt and the real life.  And I agree with him; it is the vigour of London that makes it special and, if you’re feeling slightly disillusioned having just walked down Oxford Street, Kossoff can make you fall in love with the city again.  These ninety drawings show his life and work over the past 60 years.

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Leon Kossoff, Dalston Lane No. 1, 1974.  Image via www.onestoparts.com

The thick impastoed surfaces of the paintings stand out one, possibly two, inches from the canvases, the paint blurring our vision while imbuing the works with the same sense of energy and dynamism.  In spite of this, his paintings are far less effective than his works on paper.

The upstairs gallery, of course, is flooded with light from the fabulous skylight that makes Annely Juda such a wonderful space.  The floor below is a bit too yellow for my liking and could do with being softened slightly to allow the works to speak more for themselves.  The works are quite dark and the contrast with the natural light is just what they need.

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The light filled upper galleries.  Own photograph.

Next up couldn’t have been much more different with Thomson & Craighead’s exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher, exploring the dissemination of information through the World Wide Web.  One wall is papered with Tweets gathered from within a one-mile radius of the gallery that have been printed as posters with a political feel.  The wall is personally edited by the artists and changes every day – it would be interesting to monitor the progression and the changes if you’re in the area.  It documents the idle thoughts and passing observations that saturate the Twittersphere almost like a form of collective poetry looking at the mundanity of the everyday.  Another work in the same room turns text from spam emails into song lyrics on a karaoke-style machine, accompanied by the kind of anodyne music favoured by supermarkets and shopping centres.  Are we really expected to pick up the microphone and engage with the work?  How far do these pieces go?

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Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

Spam email, the web and social media generate new data all the time at an extraordinary pace.  Thomson & Craighead create new meaning from what, by many, is considered as junk in the online sphere.  Read about this exhibition before you go or while you’re there.  It’s truly fascinating but if you haven’t done your homework then the sophisticated essence of the works will completely pass you by.

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Thomson & Craighead, Beacon, 2007. Own photograph. 

Finally, as it’s practically next door I headed into Pilar Corrias to finish with some more photography – their exhibition of Julião Sarmento’s 75 Photographs, 25 Women, 42 Years.  Drawing on themes of memory, sexuality, transgression, morality and duality, Sarmento’s portraits of women explore the relationship of each of them with the artist.  The work’s titles reveal the woman’s name and connect her to a time and place in Sarmento’s life.  The shots are candid – showing intimate exchanges but also impulsive playful moments.

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Pilar Corrias. Image via www.galleriesnow.net

And, with that, it was time to stop tottering from gallery to gallery and return to the hustle and bustle of Kossoff’s London.

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John Armleder: Quicksand is at The Dairy Art Centre until 17th August 2013, http://dairyartcentre.org.uk/Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013 is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 30th June 2013, http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/Summer Photography Show is at Ronchini Gallery until 19th June 2013, www.ronchinigallery.comLeon Kossoff: London Landscapes is at Annely Juda Fine Art until 6th July 2013, www.annelyjudafineart.co.ukThomson & Craighead: Never Odd or Even is at Carroll/Fletcher until 6th July 2013, www.carrollfletcher.com/Julião Sarmento: 75 Photographs, 35 Women, 42 Years is at Pilar Corrias until 27th June 2013, www.pilarcorrias.com.

Oh Woe is Woking

6 Apr

I’ve long been aware of The Lightbox and, when I read Florence Water’s article in January’s Apollo, I decided that it was time for a Mini adventure to Woking.

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The Lightbox, Woking, Own photograph.

In 1993, a group of 70 arts and heritage enthusiasts decided it was time to create an arts centre in Woking. Through their endeavours they achieved this goal raising more than £7 million and in September 2007 The Lightbox opened its doors (be careful on your way in as the automatic doors open outwards). Although the gallery does have a permanent body of staff, it still relies largely on the support of its 150 volunteers showing the strength of community in these parts. Education is obviously where this gallery comes into its own – as well as having great learning facilities, they run a young curators’ group, after-school arts clubs and more structured schools’ programmes that work within the national curriculum.

The Lightbox is located alongside numerous shopping centres, endless multi-storey car parks, lane after lane of traffic and more traffic lights than I’d care to count; its striking design sticks out like a sore thumb. This is obviously the most impressive building in town although I’m not sure there is much competition; designed by Marks Barfield Architects it is found, clad in wood with gold and silver aluminium panels, alongside the Basingstoke Canal. The canal-side garden is protected by a gabion wall, gesturing to Renaissance fortifications. Inside is the most wonderful expanse of wall, lit from an atrium that stretches the entire length of the south side. Currently there’s a mobile of hands hanging in the space but there is a painfully ‘blank canvas’ of white wall. Considering the surroundings this architecture is challenging but it is successful and effective.

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The white wall. Own photograph.

Most of the time, The Lightbox is filled with Chris Ingram’s spectacular collection of Modern British Art, helping to fulfil his desire to make this period more accessible to a wider public. The drawback of visiting during the Frink exhibition meant I saw very little of the collection I had hoped to view; it is usually on permanent rotating display in the Lobby galleries (aka the corridors). I made do with buying the books to give me a greater insight into the Ingram Collection which really is incredible, showing the works that Ingram likes and chooses to share with the nation. The generosity of his loan programme across the country and, indeed, his permanent loan here is fabulous.

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Chris Ingram at The Lightbox. Image via www.surreylife.co.uk.

You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Woking is the home of Kenwood food mixers and also where HG Wells wrote War of the Worlds. Part of the aim of the gallery is to house Woking’s Story which tells the social history of the town looking at the railway, the history of mental health through Brookwood Hospital, Brookwood Cemetery (once the largest cemetery in Europe) and Britain’s first purpose-built mosque. This display is aimed at a young audience and, although simplistic in format, it does well at highlighting the cultural importance of the area.

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Woking’s Story. Own photograph.

Currently, The Lightbox is mounting a retrospective of Dame Elisabeth Frink’s career. In the 1960s, while other artists turned increasingly to abstraction, Frink continued to pursue an interest in figurative and naturalistic imagery.

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The sculpture gallery on the ground floor. Own photograph.

In the double-height gallery on the first floor we are introduced to Frink’s main artistic concerns: Frink had no interest in sculpting the female body saying it didn’t act as a suitable vehicle for her ideas. Her fascination with man (whether standing, walking, running or seated) extended across her career, expressing ideas of masculine courage, strength and heroism. Her men are complicated vessels of emotion, sensuality and vulnerability.

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The main gallery. Own photograph.

Her interest in animals – horses, dogs and birds – also comes to the forefront here. She admired the strong bonds between man and beast – the loyalty, intimacy and interdependence.

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Frink’s horses. Own photograph.

Throughout the exhibition, which is spread across the building, we also see her heads, religious iconography and her vast array of print work which strongly complemented her sculptural processes.

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Frink’s Rolling Over Horse, 1979, and Lying Down Horse, 1977 from The Ingram Collection. Own photograph.

But, the gallery just hasn’t done very much with this amazing body of work – the pieces lose something by being plonked in the corridors and placed higgledy-piggledy across the space. We encounter the first Frink sculpture within seconds of walking through the front door before we’ve even seen a welcome panel.

The labels are sheets of sticky paper that are peeling off the walls. The lids of the Perspex cases aren’t actually screwed down (possibly not the best protection then) and are so smeared in places that it’s difficult to see the works beneath them. Ingram, the inventor of the modern media agency, has a fascinating background and obviously understands the importance of quality finish and appearance. Perhaps it would be worth him sharing a little of his expertise, as well as his art, with the gallery. Water wrote that ‘he loathes preciousness’ which I get and I have the utmost admiration for the aims of this space but The Lightbox comes off as distinctly amateur – it is not doing justice to the great works of art that it has the privilege to display.

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Victoria Way runs next to the gallery. Own photograph.

Hepworth Wakefield, Pallant House and Turner Contemporary can all get it right so being out of London is not an excuse. If The Lightbox wants people to come to see their gallery a little more work needs to go into the presentation and the curation needs more thought. The exterior is wonderful and I hope that, in time, the interior will match it. There was a huge party of men in fluorescents walking around so maybe they are planning some work to The Lightbox.

All the enthusiasm and dedication that formed this gallery in the first place needs now to be used to take The Lightbox to the next level.

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Elizabeth Frink: A Retrospective is at The Lightbox until 21st April 2013, www.thelightbox.org.uk.

Claustrophobic alleyways or a delightful treasure trove?

22 Mar

The V&A could not really have fitted much more into one gallery for their latest exhibition. Entitled Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars it doesn’t sound the most inspiring but it’s a treasure trove with 150 or so objects including silverware, jewellery (with magnifying glasses sensibly attached to the cases), taxidermy, armour, coats of arms, firearms, paintings, sculptures, clothing, Shakespeare’s first folio and maps. In spite of being an academic exhibition looking at a weighty topic, it clearly highlights an often neglected area of history, using important examples from the history of art.

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Armour design for Sir Henry Lee, c. 1585. Own photograph.

I must say from the outset that I’m really torn – on the one hand, I think the exhibition is a fascinating study of the development of cultural diplomacy and trade between Britain and Russia from its origins in 1555 when the Muscovy Company was founded. But, on the other hand, the way the exhibition is curated is confining and doesn’t do any of these objects justice.

It starts with Henry VIII’s consolidation of the Tudor dynasty, after his accession to the throne in 1509, and then follows the exchange between British sovereigns and ambassadors until the end of Charles II’s reign in 1685 when the British monarchy had resumed contact with Russia.

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A selection of fabulous armour on display. Image via www.dailymail.co.uk.

On entry to the exhibition we are greeted with carved wooden sculptures of beasts – a red bull, a black griffin, a white ram and a crowned white dolphin. These particular pieces were created to commemorate Thomas, Lord Dacre, who fought at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Power becomes immediately apparent here and is seen in various guises throughout this exhibition; it’s seen in the majestic armour on display as well as through the culture of possessing beautiful objects and costume. Power was not just dictated by exquisite jewels, it was far more subtle.

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Beasts at the entrance. Image via www.dailymail.co.uk.

The audio guide is in Russian and English – a nice touch to welcome Russian visitors, showing that our relations weren’t always frosty. In fact, one of the objects getting a lot of attention is a large white pelican – a gift from Russia that we still hold dear and can usually found at the Natural History Museum. I hasten to add that in 1662, it was alive and with a partner. The pelican is a strong heraldic emblem and, of course, the successors of this pair can still be found in St James’s Park. Gift-giving is a theme explored throughout the exhibition – there’s the lavish chariot presented in 1604 by British ambassador Thomas Smith to the Russian ruler Tsar Boris Gudunov. It’s represented here by a specially commissioned film and beautiful scale model. This film is one example of the successful use of multimedia; informative videos are dotted around to explain interesting points or arguments – there’s one looking at how miniatures were made.

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Model of an English Coach, 1974-1982. Own photograph.

At the very centre of the exhibition is a showcase of British and French silver, not just showing off these pieces but charting their extraordinary survival. The low lighting suits the works excellently. But, we really are led round the show and there isn’t much choice in where to go. These alleyways of art can become quite claustrophobic. The objects are amazing but heaven help you if you want to go back to see something again. The one way system doesn’t allow for any flexibility.

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Alleyways at the exhibition. Own photograph.

The Tudor and Stuart courts are explored in far more depth than the Russian court and it seems a bit unbalanced. Maybe this was different when the exhibition was shown in a slightly different format at the Kremlin last year.

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Finery.  Image via www.thetimes.co.uk.

The shop, as ever, really gets it right and knows how to maximise its market potential – there’s English mead created exclusively for the V&A, stained glass transfers, coins and goblets.

Despite all these positives, I can’t forgive that I felt I was frog-marched around this exhibition. If the objects had had more room, I’d have enjoyed it so much more.

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Treasures of the Royal Courts is at the V&A until 14th July 2013, www.vam.ac.uk.

Let there be light (but not quite this much)

10 Mar

I have fond memories of the two recent light exhibitions in London – Anthony McCall and James Turrell. Maybe they were so impressive as concentrated explorations of work by individual artists. Maybe they were just good exhibitions.

Light Show at the Hayward did not leave me feeling so warm. I know I’m in the minority here and I have no doubt that many of you will disagree with me but I found the show bland and, in parts, facile.

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Conrad Shawcross, Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV, 2009. Image via www.endoftheline.co

The exhibition examines light’s potential as a sculptural medium. What I find to be more fascinating is how we couldn’t manage without light and this becomes apparent as we struggle to find our way in and out of some of the installations. Light has always been at the forefront of science, technology and art and the exhibition makes use of the whole spectrum from a standard light bulb to cinema projectors with fabulous uses of technology and special effects. The work varies from small pieces to huge installations where you lose yourself and enter another world. Famous works are seen alongside pieces that have never before been exhibited in the UK.

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David Batchelor, Magic House, 2004/7. Image via www.haywardlightshow.co.uk.

The brutalist architecture of the Hayward is, in theory, the perfect setting for this. The lack of windows means that light can be used to totally transform the space but the density of works means that the Hayward haven’t taken enough advantage of their daylight-deprived space. Dan Flavin, the founder of light art, began this pioneering movement in 1961. His work is found upstairs, combining daylight, yellow and pink fluorescent tubes. But the gallery is too infused with light from other works for this to be effective. The work needs more dark space and this is a problem throughout. What is amazing is to be able to look back to the 1960s and see how our control of this media has developed and how artists have embraced new technologies in inventive ways.

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Dan Flavin, untitled (to the “innovator” of Wheeling Peachblow), 1966-68. Image via www.bbc.co.uk.

The exhibition opens with a work by Leo Villareal that is hypnotic to watch. Random patterns, operated by complex computer programming, cascade in endlessly changing waves evoking fireworks, waterfalls and the like. The speed is constantly in flux; the patterns morph from gentle twinkling to fast scatterings in a unique design where the same sequence will never be seen more than once.

Light Show at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 27/1/2013.

Leo Villareal, Cylinder, 2011. Image via www.onestoparts.com.

Cerith Wyn Evans’ columns in the second room make us think about electricity, light and energy as living things; consisting of floor-to-ceiling columns that ‘breathe’ giving off heat, brightening and dimming and affecting the surrounding space.

The changing colours in Carlo Cruz-Diez’s work are marvellous. This is a specially made optical environment where the three colour chambers (red, green and blue) dazzle and appear to change colour before your very eyes. Since the retina usually perceives a wide range of colours simultaneously, experiencing these monochromatic situations causes visual disturbances. I thought this was great but I’m reliably told it’s not a patch on his installation at MoMA. Many of the works illustrate how light affects mood and the sensory overload here was very moving. This was one of the works that required visitors to scramble around putting on overshoes, causing a hold up and just an altogether unpleasant experience. Stilettos and overshoes are not a good combination.

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Carlos Cruz-Diez, Chromosaturation, 1965-2008. Image via www.theartsdesk.com.

I decided to queue for the Turrell piece but, for me, this was one of his weaker works. Stumbling down the dark corridor we are guided to sit down in a pitch black room containing a full height proscenium. Beyond is another room but it’s hard to fully understand what we’re looking at. Turrell began this series of work in 1969, using light to diagonally divide the space in a room, creating what seem like tangible shapes. The longer we spend here, the more we see as shadowy apparitions and random twinkles appear. Perhaps I wasn’t prepared to stay long enough for the work’s full effects to reveal themselves but I felt let-down. In fact, from the looks on people’s faces as they left this work I’d say that I wasn’t alone.

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James Turrell, Wedgework V, 1974. Image via http://tobelikeafeatherby.wordpress.com/.

Upstairs was far weaker and it felt as if the curators were trying to cram works in without much thought of harmony and juxtaposition. I didn’t queue to go into the Tardis-like piece where illuminated space expands around you (your reflection never appears) and beneath your feet is a plunging black abyss. The illusion is created by one-way mirrors, like those used in interrogation rooms. Most visitors seemed to be missing the political undertones at play with this work; they were cooing at the pretty lights, when, in fact, the work attempts to recall a torture chamber associated with the artist’s own experience of the control and repression in Pinochet’s Chile.

For me, the best work was Olafur Eliasson’s piece. In a pitch black room we see jets of gushing water illuminated by fast-flashing strobe lights. It takes a while for your eyes to adapt but, when they do, this is magical. When a strobe light is used to illuminate flowing streams of water, the cascade appears as individual droplets of liquid and, by adjusting the frequency of the strobe, the droplets appear to freeze in mid-air.

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Olafur Eliasson, Model for a timeless garden, 2011. Image via www.newscientist.com.

I think the most disappointing was McCall’s work which lost all its power in such a small space. This is a horizontal light film, working on the same principles as the vertical structures we saw at Ambika P3, with a video projector, haze machine and computer scripting creating a large light sculpture that can be explored. Where was the magic, the intrigue and the delight that I had experienced there? Last time, I saw McCall’s works I felt my whole body being affected and I remember describing the sensation of losing myself in the light. That certainly didn’t happen this time round.

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Anthony McCall, You and I, Horizontal, 2005. Image via www.artwednesday.com.

I could see nothing worthwhile in most of the pieces. It’s an exhibition all about experience and entertainment. Although the exhibition guide and catalogue are fascinating and elucidate many of the works, people are missing the point and coming into the Hayward to play. There are no related works and no preparatory studies. But, I can’t criticise the Hayward for what they have set out to do – simply called Light Show it isn’t pretending to do anything complex.

I just don’t think this is worth the hype and I came away disappointed. It’s a bit like walking round a theme park of special effects. Some of these pieces that I have no doubt would be sublime in isolation lose something here. It’s not quite the sensory journey I expected – it’s so hit and miss.

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Light Show is at the Hayward Gallery until 28th April 2013, www.southbankcentre.co.uk.

Who’ll Stop The Rain – Tate, Barbican and The Courtauld

19 Feb

So many exhibitions have opened in the last week or so that it is nearly impossible to keep up.

Last Monday, I started at Tate’s latest BP British Art Display – Looking at the View – which brings together a multitude of landscape works from Tate’s stores. The works span 300 years and vary in quality and excitement but there are some pieces worth seeing including works by Julian Opie, Paul Graham, Wolfgang Tilmans, Gilbert & George, Willie Doherty, Patrick Caulfield and JMW Turner. Landscape has often been used to highlight changing social or political conditions and this display demonstrates the usage of the genre, showing how unconnected artists, centuries apart, have looked at our landscape in surprisingly similar ways and asked similar questions of their audiences.

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Julian Opie dominates in the distance. Own photograph.

The display has been publicised using Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby partnered with Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Wright shows Boothby reading Rousseau’s first Dialogues, of which he was the publisher, while Emin is also seen reading her own book – a comment on literary self-regard and the act of reading itself. It’s quite different to a normal Tate exhibition (and I breathed a sigh of relief that thankfully they haven’t painted the walls grey) but there is a lack of information as you wander round the space which, combined with the lack of narrative, can be confusing. It’s meant to be simplistic, an exhibition about looking, but a tad more guidance wouldn’t go amiss.

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Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby next to Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’m not sure all of the works quite fit in with the thematic arrangement of landscape but it’s certainly a diverse survey. It isn’t as worthy of consideration as a proper exhibition in its own right. It’s a bit of a hotchpotch; there are some beautiful juxtapositions but some strange ones too.

The display does act as a prelude to the Tate Britain re-hang that will be completed this May and aims to pull together the varied media of Tate’s collection and unite the works across the periods, providing coherence and solidarity. Let’s see shall we.

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Looking at the View at Tate Britain. Own photograph.

Next up for me was the Barbican; I was excited about The Bride and the Bachelors and my expectations didn’t let me down. This is the first exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s impact on four other modern greats – John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. It traces and studies their exchanges and collaborations blurring the boundaries between stage and gallery. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as mere creative relationships – Cage and Cunningham were life partners while Johns and Rauschenberg were long-term lovers – and the Barbican cast light on this spider’s web.

Press Preview At The Barbican Art Gallery Their New Exhibition The Bride And The Bachelors

The Bride and the Bachelors at The Barbican. Image via www.gettyimages.com

The personal and creative relationships of these artists are no doubt complicated and Barbican has not gone down an easy or over simplistic route in making these connections. It’s well-interconnected throughout, bringing the group together at every unexpected turn. By avoiding the obvious, the exhibition is challenging and really makes us think about what was going on during this important period.

Of course, there’s Duchamp’s The Bride (the show’s title piece) but there’s so much more including ghostly piano and dance performances and live dance pieces smack bang in the middle of the gallery, challenging our ideas about what a gallery can be in a fascinating cross-fertilisation of the arts. We can’t help but become part of the performance as we walk around the stage, encountering the art from every conceivable angle and viewpoint. This radical curation would have delighted Duchamp who sought to do things differently and change perceptions. Due to the exhibition’s design, the conversations between these creative genii are still very much ongoing today. The works of the ‘bachelors’ are saturated with Duchamp but often in such subtle ways that we are shocked to realise the inherent connections. Where would these artists have ended up without Duchamp? Duchamp oversees the power and poetry here, an invisible figure governing the creativity of the period as well as our enjoyment of the show. The soul of Duchamp is a persistent presence as we look at how important he was for the ‘bachelors’ and how important they were for him.

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Exploring the upper galleries. Own photograph.

The exhibition has been partly devised by artist Philippe Parreno and the juxtapositions he creates on the main stage are quite remarkable. I believe the live dance pieces will be performed on Thursday evenings and during the weekends and, to make the most of this exhibition, I’d recommend going at these times.

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Dancers in action on the main stage. Own photograph.

Some of Duchamp’s most seminal works are here and, in the same way that we still talk about them in any discussion of this period, I feel sure that this exhibition will be talked about long after its closing.

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Duchamp is the star of the show. Own photograph.

While at the Barbican, and with only two weeks until its closing, I decided to make the most of my visit and go to see the Rain Room. Having been told to change my shoes (heels aren’t recommended for walking over a wet metal grid), I slipped my ballerinas on and headed into the Curve Gallery.

The piece, created by Random International, invites us to control the rain and puts our trust to the test. It goes against our better nature and our very instincts to walk headlong into this torrential sheet of water. I must say, having heard mixed reports, I wasn’t very trusting but eventually fought my demons and walked into the water with my arms outstretched hoping they would trigger the sensors before I did. I didn’t think It would make for a very good blog if I wussed out and walked round the edge. I’m not upset that I must have looked like someone from the Ministry of Silly Walks wandering about in this somewhat strange fashion as my coat sleeves had been rained on by the time I emerged. Maybe I should have gone in more casual attire and worn a raincoat but, needs must, and straight hair and a smart dress were required.

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The nervous beginning… Own photograph.

You walk round a dark curving corridor and are confronted by a large patch of thundering rain. It must be that we don’t see quite enough rain in the UK because people are going wild to get into The Rain Room. The piece is activated by sensors and the falling water is meant to stop as you walk through the installation. You are forced to walk slowly and sedately through the piece allowing for greater and calmer appreciation of your experience. The sense of power and control is bewildering and surreal. Standing in the middle of the 100 square metre grid, enclosed by rain, is exciting. I can’t deny the wonder I felt at being part of the work. But, after a couple of minutes I was done. I’d walked through the rain, I’d stood in the rain and I’d narrowly avoided getting drenched. Maybe the inner child in me didn’t want to come out to play but I didn’t really see the point in hanging around.

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Inside the installation. Own photograph.

The technology behind the work is amazing. It’s memorable but I’m not sure it was as satisfying and spellbinding as I had expected it to be. There can be no doubt that it has caused a great deal of excitement and that the work is innovative but when I got outside I just wanted to dry off my arms.

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Looking back. Own photograph.

Numbers are limited to five people in the rain at any one time which explains the four hour queue at peak periods. Is it really worth it?

It was a busy day and, with wet arms and my heels back on, I headed over to The Courtauld to have a look at their Becoming Picasso which revolves around the artist’s work in 1901. The Courtauld’s recent exhibitions have gone from strength to strength focusing around one work from their own collection with a series of exceptional, rarely lent, loans to reinforce their message. This exhibition, in that sense, is no exception and they deserve to be very highly commended for the loans they have achieved here.

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Picasso, Seated Harlequin, 1901. Image via www.arthistory.about.com

The Courtauld’s own Child with a Dove is one of the stars of the show, looking at when Picasso ‘found his own voice as an artist’. The exhibition title is apt as it was in 1901 that Picasso went to Paris and really began to find his feet as an artist and concentrate on his art rather than his more vivacious lifestyle in Spain.

Pablo Picasso's Child with a Dove, 1901

Picasso, Child with a Dove, 1901. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition is ordered differently from usual and the entrance is where we would expect to find the exit, partly for practical reasons to avoid queuing on the stairs but also to make this space curatorially clearer. It is an unmissable exhibition with an exemplary selection of works, a fascinating look at Picasso becoming Picasso, developing his own style and identity in preparation for his debut exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery. A selection of works from that exhibition fills the first small room, setting a context for this period and allows us to get a feel for the pace at which Picasso worked, influenced by the bustle of Parisian life – the colours, the art and the daring nightlife.

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The new first room of The Courtauld Gallery exhibition space. Own photograph.

The second room looks at Picasso’s change in direction as we see him introduce themes that would come to dominate his works throughout his career. The works here introduce a more melancholic mood which the gallery explain in part by the tragic suicide of Carles Casagemas, one of Picasso’s closest friends. Here, the pieces are emotionally powerful, anticipating his later Blue Period. He moved so quickly from the saleable and marketable artist we saw in the first room to someone who the Parisian market struggled, at the time, to understand – this was the seminal year when he found his artistic voice and began to make his mark that will never fade in the history of art. These paintings explore the interplay between innocence and experience, purity and corruption and life and death, bound up both with his friend’s death and a number of visits he made to the Saint-Lazare women’s prison.

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Picasso, Yo – Picasso, 1901. Image via www.bbc.co.uk

Although it is no doubt a brilliant exhibition, it doesn’t quite live up to some of The Courtauld’s recent shows and something was lacking here. These are certainly not Picasso’s most palatable paintings and herein lies one of the problems with the exhibition – for a Picasso lover or scholar it is a masterpiece. But, for someone finding Picasso (as he was indeed finding himself) I’m not sure you’ll come away enraptured by the artist.

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Becoming Picasso at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

With only 18 works, The Courtauld don’t fuss around or waste space and their exhibitions are always academically enlightening. They have also produced a wonderful catalogue which looks in depth at the profound changes of 1901.

I haven’t even made a ripple in the water of all the shows that have recently opened, my list at the moment is ever growing but then again I wouldn’t like it any other way. I’m not too sure I’ll be hurrying back to any installation that requires flat shoes though – not really my thing at all.

Looking at the View is at Tate Britain until 2nd June 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns is at The Barbican until 9th June 2013 and The Rain Room is at The Barbican until 3rd March 2013, www.barbican.org.uk.  Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 is at The Courtauld Gallery until 26th May 2013, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Take Two at firstsite – Henderson and Paolozzi

27 Jan

Nearly a year after my first visit to firstsite, I boarded the train at Liverpool Street to head back to Colchester for a second look.  Everywhere has teething problems and the calibre of their latest exhibition sounded as if it was worth a return trip.  For some reason, I’d managed to convince myself that the train journey into Essex was going to be a wonderful experience but the tiny train really let us down, not even having a café to serve the usual railway tea that barely catches a glimpse of the teabag.

First Site, Colchester, Essex.

The impressive façade of firstsite.  Image via www.firstsite.uk.net.

Getting into a cab at Colchester station, we struck gold with a driver happy to fill us in on the cultural and civic developments in the town which has been the recipient of several grants and is currently ploughing ahead with ambitious renovation plans.  The main road is being partly pedestrianised, the castle is shut for an overhaul and two new hotels will shortly be gracing Colchester’s streets.  Colchester really is working to pull in the crowds.  But, this particular driver had never taken anyone to firstsite before and has only actually been once himself.

Many of my previous issues with firstsite remain and they are not going to go away in a hurry.  Still proudly ranking as one of the largest contemporary art venues in the UK, firstsite is so full of dead space that at times it grieved me to walk past these missed opportunities.

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The Potential for mezzanine levels is everywhere.  Own photograph.

The main exhibition galleries are only a tiny part of the overall space and the current show focuses around Hammer Prints, the partnership between Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi, charting the firm’s history with extensive previously unseen material that includes their original screens, photographs and test sheets.  During 1954-1975, nine Hammer Prints were manufactured as wallpaper by Cole & Son and textiles by Hull Traders and went into production, becoming celebrated worldwide.  The collaboration was not to last but the designs have become immortalised, instantly recognisable; the exhibition follows the development of these.

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Some of the original screens used in making the prints.  Own photograph.

This is the first time since the company’s dissolution that the history of Hammer has been explored.  While people are fully aware of Henderson and Paolozzi in their own rights, most will have never heard of Hammer Prints.  Although the exhibition opened in December, a catalogue will hopefully be available from next week that will enlighten the research developments further.  Products for the gallery have been created using the original images, including beanbags that seem to be receiving a lot of attention and use, but unfortunately nobody took advantage of the merchandising potential and none of these is on sale!  Due to the size of the space, the show obviously only covers a very small section of Henderson and Paolozzi’s output but it’s very well-conceived and pitched coherently to an audience who might otherwise be unaware of the techniques or the company.

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Installation view of the current exhibition.  Photo via Andy Keate and www.firstsite.uk.net and courtesy of the estate of Eduardo Paolozzi.

I’m not going to go into the architectural design of firstsite again but I must touch the thing that I feel is the most fundamental flaw of this gallery.  Due to the banana shape, there is one huge curved wall and I have previously commented how this could be tackled with ingenious ceiling hangings or sculptural installations.  I am assured there have been some impressive murals in place over the past year but, for this exhibition, the curators decided to print a few stencils of the Sea Beasts on the wall and leave nearly the whole expanse bare and boring.  Seeing that this wall dominates the entire building the sparseness baffles me.  The exhibition designers apparently wanted to create something really immersive but I was left speechless when I saw what they had produced.

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The curved wall.  Own photograph.

Yet, at the start of the exhibition, they had wallpapered the flat walls on which they could easily have hung more art.  Surely the wallpaper would have been more engaging on the curved walls.  These particular illustrations come from a series of plates found in an 18th century French encyclopaedia – the engravings were then photographed and made into a set of transfers that were applied to various ceramic objects.

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Installation view of the current exhibition.  Photo via Andy Keate and www.firstsite.uk.net and courtesy of the estate of Eduardo Paolozzi.

There is a permanent room in the gallery called ESCALA which is the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America.  Currently on display is David Pérez Karmadvis’s photography and video work broadly exploring the predicament of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republican and the issues of border politics.  The works are very powerful and the accompanying exhibition guide provides a thorough and interesting explanation of the thought-process.  For the work Identificaión, Karmadvis contracted a tattoo artist to brand people’s names and identity numbers onto their inner lower arms, where prisoners would have had a serial number marked.  Therefore, in case they disappear or their features become unrecognisable, this tattoo will remain to identify them.  The harrowing ideas at play here pack a fairly hefty punch.

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David Pérez Karmadvis, Identificaión, 2007.  Image via www.escala.org.uk

The events programme at Colchester is to be applauded – they have talks and tours (the enthusiasm of the guide who showed us around was infectious), art courses, dance classes, family days and a film programme that includes Picturehouse screenings from the Royal Opera House, Met Opera and National Theatre.  There is also a community art space and a schools programme which is going from strength to strength.  firstsite get a fair amount of visitors; in their first year, they welcomed 172,000 people .  How many of these, however, are schoolchildren or people solely there for the events?  For me, it isn’t really a gallery – it’s currently a local community centre housed in an impressive building but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.

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The ‘reading area’ with the beanbags.  Own photograph.

In terms of the art, it really doesn’t take long to get round the space and it’s certainly not yet offering enough to merit a full day out.  The new director, Matthew Rowe, is starting any day and maybe he will herald a turning point for the gallery.  I so want this space to work but there’s still a lot of work to do.

After wandering round firstsite, it was time to visit to The Minories Galleries – a site run and managed by the Colchester School of Art with some rather lovely studio space in the upper rooms.  Their current show is a three-room exhibition of works by Ron Sims – in actual fact, the exhibition extends discreetly over the whole building and the staff are happy to open up officially closed areas for anyone to have a peek.

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Ron Simms at The Minories Gallery. Own photograph.

The exhibition works well alongside firstsite and the two organisations seem to be working collaboratively and existing in happy partnership.  Sims produces groups of clearly defined shapes and forms that create boundaries and define dimensions.  His works have strong structural compositions, seemingly constructed by manipulated surfaces and visual planes.  Although only small, this space is working well and really utilising the whole building.

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firstsite seen from the garden at The Minories.  Own photograph.

I’m pleased to say the train home had armchair-like seats and the much-desired restaurant with tea as expected.  The countryside whizzed by and before we knew it we were back in London and I was off to see the state of the Waterloo tunnels after they’d been cleaned while we were out of town.

Nigel Henderson & Eduardo Paolozzi: Hammer Prints Ltd, 1954 – 75 is at firstsite until 3rd March 2013, www.firstsite.uk.netRon Simms: Visual Genetics, Human and Animal is at The Minories Galleries until 9th March 2013, www.colchester.ac.uk/art/minores.

The lights are on but nobody’s home

15 Jan

Burlington Gardens has currently been taken over with a solo exhibition by Mariko Mori, the first museum exhibition of her work in London in nearly 15 years.  It’s nice to have the RA back in the Burlington Gardens’ space.  They will be using this building in a regular exhibition programme over the next six years before David Chipperfield excitingly joins this with the main building on Piccadilly.

Mariko Mori aims to inspire people in a new consciousness that celebrates our existing balance with nature, and reflects on universal themes of life, death and rebirth.  Fittingly entitled Rebirth the exhibition will start and end with the death and birth of a star, raising questions about the cycle of life.  Poignantly, the show opened when the Ancient Mayans had predicted the world was coming to an end.  So, the exhibition was aptly timed to mark either the end of the world or the birth of a new era.

from bbc

Mariko Mori’s Rebirth at the Royal Academy.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk

This exhibition certainly makes an initial impact.  Popping in late one afternoon, I was guided by an attendant with a torch into the first room where I was confronted by an amazing globule of light – a five-metre high glass monolith, standing in isolation in a simple white space (I believe the colour of the light changes).  Another visitor was interacting with the object, moving closer and then edging back, seemingly unsure as to how the light was working.  He seemed convinced that he was activating it as he pranced around the room.

But, Tom Na H-iu is lit from within by hundreds of LED lights and is operated in response to real-time data from an observatory at the University of Tokyo.  Now I’m not really up with the scientific lingo but apparently the observatory detects neutrinos emitted by the sun, the earth’s atmosphere and, during a supernova, the work reflects these, in constantly changing light patterns.  As my fellow visitor showed you can still enjoy this work without any understanding of Mori’s principles.  The pieces are mesmerising and the fading light captivates us but we can make our own decisions and assumptions about rebirth and the universe.   This powerful start raised the bar for the remainder of the exhibition.  Then nothing quite matched up to my expectations.

Tom Na H-iu, from The Times

Mariko Mori, Tom Na H-iu. Image via www.thetimes.co.uk

The exhibition was practically deserted and my stilettos reverberated on the wooden floors.  I think the silence and lack of people helped to create a mysterious atmosphere and the dim lighting enhanced the supernatural feel.

The paintings and drawings fall short throughout; it is the installations that are fairly impressive.  Transcircle is Mori’s own Stonehenge with nine totemic objects arranged in a circle.  The glowing colours of the stone are seen at varying levels of brightness and the colours change depending on the position of the planets in the course of the year.  We’re meant to be made to feel something, to have an experience; other artists have been much more successful in moving me though.  There’s not enough power here.  Let’s be honest, people like this kind of art because it’s aesthetically pleasing and a bit twee.  In terms of comparing it to things I’ve seen recently, it’s not quite there.

from Ultra Vie

Mariko Mori, Transcircle 1.1.  Image via www.ultravie.co.uk.  

There’s an optimistic feel to the spiritual reasoning behind the exhibition.  The RA hopes this exhibition will make people slow down and contemplate our responsibilities.  Mori wants us to stop and think.  We’re Londoners – are we really going to slow down and give these sculptures the time they deserve?  Probably not.  I know I wasn’t able to spend more than a few minutes with the light sculptures.

white hole u tv

Mariko Mori, White Hole.  Image via www.u.tv/ 

For me, Mori’s works and this exhibition are lacking.  The works are aesthetically beautiful but they do not have the roughness and awe that I get from seeing the real Stonehenge.  There’s no sense that I’m viewing something truly incredible.  This exhibition is a bit too neat and clinical.  The works are pretty and leave us smiling; I did enjoy it but possibly not for the right reasons considering how serious Mori wishes to be.

We leave the exhibition past Ring, a Lucite circle which hangs above an artificial waterfall.  The work has a meditative feel and maybe we do slow down and walk back into the madness of Mayfair a little bit calmer.  However, maybe that feeling was down to knowing it was time for a Friday evening glass of champagne.

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Mariko Mori: Rebirth is at The Royal Academy until 17th February 2013, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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