Tag Archives: JMW Turner

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.

Opie

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.

Tate Britain Looking at the View

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.

looking at the view

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.

upstairs

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.

dancers

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.

duchamp stars

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.

starting

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.

inside

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.

looking back

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.

picasso-met-2010-02

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.

first room

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.

_65898633_picasso

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.

becoming picasso

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.

Something Old, Something New, Five Exhibitions and Some Shoes

16 Dec

The thing I discovered when doing my gallery crawls is you need to be selective.  Deviate from your list and you’ll never leave the first street so I decided on this route and, with quite a tight time frame, I knew I had to stick to it.

Josh Lilley are currently showing a group exhibition with Analia Saban, Belen Rodriguez Gonzalez, Christof Mascher, Gabriel Hartley, Marita Fraser, Nicholas Hatfull, Nick Goss, Robert Pratt and Ruairiadh O’Connell.  There will be no surprises when I tell you this is another beautiful show – particularly notable is Robert Pratt’s Display Unit which grabs you as soon as you walk through the door.  The seemingly precariously placed pieces of clay on the display unit are Pratt’s body parts, positioned at the correct height, in proportion to his own body.

Josh Lilley 1

Robert Pratt, Display Unit (Pieces of a Man), 2012. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

The show gets even better as you go downstairs with works erupting from the ceiling that provide immediate visual impact.  It’s particularly lovely to see a selection of Goss works on paper after his recent solo show which included his more monumental paintings.  Although many of the works in the exhibition have obvious connections through materiality, process, colour, form, expressiveness and so on, Lilley has not attempted to impose a specific theme here which is quite refreshing.  Instead, the gallery has aimed to bring together certain artists – many of whom studied together or have maintained friendships over the years.  Through this, new and unexpected dialogues are initiated and connections made.

Josh Lilley 3

Downstairs at Josh Lilley with Ruairiadh O’Connell’s work in the foreground.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Next up was Blain Southern.  Sadly, I missed their opening show so this was my first visit to their new Hanover Square gallery – it’s a beautiful, glass-fronted, space, with a very traditional white box aesthetic.  Their current exhibition is Francesco Clemente’s Mandala for Crusoe.

clemente

Clemente at Blain Southern.  Own photograph.

For Clemente’s first show in seven years, they are exhibiting fourteen large-scale paintings, using raw linen, paint, verdigris, silver pigment, mica, oil sticks and lithographic ink, which gather myriad cultural references and merge timeless motifs from Buddhism and Hinduism.   In Eastern spiritual traditions, the mandala is identified as a conduit to a deeper level of consciousness.  Yet, Clemente uses the mandala in unexpected ways uniting it with the banality of everyday life.

One of the strongest works for me was The Dove of War where the dove, a symbol of peace, filled with silhouettes of planes and bombs, flies through a tinged pink sky.  Clemente divides his time between New York and India, feeling a nomadic affinity with the completive visual tradition of both the East and the West and this is clearly brought out in his works.  Not all of the images, however, have the same strength; the choice of imagery isn’t the most exciting and it is sometimes quite crudely applied.

dove

Francesco Clemente, The dove of war, 2012. Own photograph.

In contrast, I popped into Gimpel Fils to see Richard Smith’s kite paintings.  Smith has long been interested in paintings which work in three dimensions, having created kite works since the early 1970s.  The kite paintings are so successful partly due to their contrasts – the hard poles and the soft canvas, the string and the rope – and meticulous finish.  Known for emphasising the importance of shape, support, colour and surface, these works focus on the physical constitution of painting.  The tenser and more exaggerated they are, the more I find myself enjoying them.

kites

Kite paintings at gimpel fils. Own photograph.

I strolled round the corner, past the currently closed Gagosian Davies Street and headed to Timothy Taylor, resisting the temptation to walk further down Mount Street to see what Christian Louboutin had in store.

A9q72r1CQAA02qZ

Louboutin’s Christmas shoe tree.  Image via http://theexhibitionlist.wordpress.com/

Their latest exhibition presents new work by Lucy Williams who has redefined the concept of collage through her mixed media bas-reliefs of unpopulated mid-century Modernist architecture.   It’s difficult to decide if these works are sculptures or collages or even how they are made.  They look so simple but I have no doubt they are ridiculously complex to execute due to the high level of detail and finish.  Williams starts by creating a technical drawing that can take several drafts to get right.  She then picks her materials and starts to build her layers, one on top of each other.  It’s the geometry of the buildings that interests her most and, from a distance, it is the modular structure of her pieces and the predominant patterns that stand out.

the tiled cathedral

Lucy Williams, the tiled cathedral, 2012. Own photograph.

Although hints of activity can be seen behind closed curtains, the works are always unpopulated.  People could return at any moment but, instead, we are allowed to explore these miniature and obsessively realised worlds in an oasis of calm.  The works are presented on architectural supports, providing the perfect context and framework for these beautiful pieces.

Pavilion

Pavilion at Timothy Taylor Gallery. Own photograph.

My final stop of the day was the Royal Academy for Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape.  This show particularly appeals to me as walking through its doors was like re-entering my Masters – some Sandby watercolours brought back very vivid memories indeed.  The exhibition looks at the formation of landscape painting through John Constable, Thomas Gainsborough and JMW Turner, highlighting the discourses surrounding the Beautiful, the Sublime (mainly Burke this time round) and the Picturesque (championed by William Gilpin) and looking at the changing styles of landscape.  The works by the three key figures are contextualised with paintings by their 18th century counterparts and prints made after 17th century Masters, showing the roots of the tradition which comes from the Carracci brothers, Nicolas Poussin, Salvator Rosa and Lorraine Gaspard Dughet.  They used landscape to inform the drama in their subjects and this was important in shaping what we see in this exhibition.

PL001014

Paul Sandby, Wenlock Abbey, Shropshire, The South Transept and Converted Prior’s Lodge Seen from the North Transept, 1779.  Image via www.racollection.org.uk

And, of course, there’s Richard Wilson, often regarded as the father of British landscape, who introduced an aesthetic scaffolding that encouraged a particular view with framing devices to send the viewer’s eye to the subject and referenced the landscape as a useful and enterprising place.

PL004639

After Richard Wilson, Engraved by Joseph Wood, The Lake of Nemi, 1764. Image via www.racollection.org.uk

Looking at the shift from the idealised view of the landscape, to a celebration of the particular, imbued with ideas of morals and emotions, the works here show the discovery of the landscape of the British Isles and a move away from the Grand Tour imagery that was so popular.  Specificity of landscape was very important to these artists all of whom took meticulous sketch notes.

The exhibition has been put together in a wonderfully engaging way – the first room looks at the work of Richard Long, Norman Ackroyd, Michael Kenny and John Maine showing the lasting legacy of the three artists on which the show focuses.  This offers a fascinating framework through which to see the exhibition and I hope will quash any silly comments that landscape is boring.  After this bold start, the exhibition continues more as one would expect, charting the progression of landscape and introducing its key themes.

heaven-and-earth

Richard Long, Heaven and Earth, 2001. Image via http://azurebumble.wordpress.com

Perhaps, most importantly, the exhibition looks at the significance of printmaking in popularising and disseminating the genre.  It does rely heavily on prints but this is certainly a positive thing as it’s rare to see so many excellent works on paper together.  For this reason though, it can sometimes seem quite gloomy – but there’s no choice as these works require low light levels and the walls have been painted to show off the paper (drawings and prints) rather than the canvases.

gainsborough_2386579b

Thomas Gainsborough, Romantic Landscape, 1783.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

I am deliberately not writing anymore as otherwise I fear I will be at risk of regurgitating my MA.  But, the joy of this exhibition is that it informs so well and specifically that I would urge you to go and learn about the period for yourself.  The RA has not produced a catalogue for this which is a great shame.  Instead, they’ve produced a lovely small exhibition guide that takes the format of their normal student guides.

Leaping Horse

John Constable, The Leaping Horse, 1825. Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The show is displayed in the Fine Rooms and the Weston Rooms which we’re not so used to but it certainly makes a change.  The big names will no doubt pull in the punters (it’s worth visiting just to see the popular oils that appear later in the show) but this exhibition is so much more than a 19th century blockbuster and many of the works are a rare delight.  It follows the evolution of the tradition of British landscape through 120 works all of which have been sourced from the RA’s own impressive collections.  This is the first Burlington House show to do this in 50 years and illustrates the veritable treasure trove they house.  I’d love to get down there to see the rest.

shoes

Something New is at Josh Lilley Gallery until 10th January 2013, www.joshlilleygallery.com.   Francesco Clemente: Mandala for Crusoe is at Blain Southern until 26th January 2013, www.blainsouthern.com.  Richard Smith: Kite Paintings is at gimpel fils until 12th January 2013, www.gimpelfils.com.  Lucy Williams: Pavilion is at Timothy Taylor Gallery until 11th January 2013, www.timothytaylorgallery.comConstable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape is at the Royal Academy until 17th February 2013, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Ditzy and Disorientated in Fitzrovia

9 Dec

After having popped into The Piper Gallery, I decided to meander down Eastcastle Street before heading to my next set of meetings.  This is an area of London that I know well – after all I’m here most days.

I intended my first stop to be Haunch of Venison and as I opened the door to the gallery I thought how different the space looked, they’d completely gutted it.  And, as I walked further in, it seemed they’d even excavated and added a basement floor.  Yet alarm bells weren’t going off in my head and I even sent a text to a friend informing him that Haunch had opened up their basement!  As I wandered back upstairs it finally struck me that the whole aesthetic of the show didn’t really seem in keeping with Haunch’s normal style.  I picked up a press release and the reason became all too clear – I had unknowingly wandered into Carroll/Fletcher, which is a few doors down the street.

first blog

Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

I don’t really have a bona fide excuse for these five minutes of sheer ditziness.  But, it did allow me to explore a gallery I hadn’t previously visited and discover that it is a beautiful, and large, space.

Carroll/Fletcher is currently presenting the first solo exhibition of Manfred Mohr, a concise survey of his fifty-year practice.  Mohr makes use of the automatic processes of the computer, uniting his interests in music and mathematics to create minimal but lyrical works.  He claims his key influence is the composer Pierre Barbaud who is responsible for introducing Mohr to the innovations of computer programming.  As such, the artist works by a set of restrictive rules that culminate in abstract shapes often formed using a plotting machine.  Although many of these works are similar and related to one another they are not the same.

cubes

Manfred Mohr at Caroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

In 1972 Mohr began to work with the cube, exploring a rigorously methodical system of art-making often comparing the cube to a musical instrument.  Using a simple shape (perhaps comparable to a musical riff) he is able to improvise endless possibilities.   Upstairs, Morh’s obsessive experimentation with cubes is demonstrated in every possible configuration and distortion, progressing into hyper-cubes with multi-dimensions and elements.  These hard-edged systems and codes show a growing interest in systematic art.

Downstairs, his early works are displayed in a scatter hang.  This is effective to gain an overall impression but it is impossible to see the detail in some works; sitting on the gallery’s bench allowed me to soak up the ideas and concepts (well, some of them) behind Mohr’s practice.

downstairs

The hang downstairs. Own photograph.

The final room of the exhibition plays his film Cubic Limit through an old-fashioned juddery projector – the film constructs and deconstructs the cube, outlining the limitless variations that can be created.

After having worked in monochrome for nearly forty years, Mohr returned to the use of colour in 1999 to emphasise and distinguish subtleties in spatial relationships.  Some of the concepts here no doubt went way over my head – especially as I’d struggled even to walk into the right gallery – but the subtlety of his work made the exhibition very palatable.

cubic limit

Mohr’s Cubic Limit. Own photograph.

As I headed out of Carroll/Fletcher I realised quite how many times I’ve walked past it.  It’s definitely going on my Fitzrovia list for the future.

Finally, I headed into Haunch (looking as it normally does) who are showing Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State, a body of work that explores the physical and metaphorical enormity of landscape and the sublime.

haunch from outside

Isca Greenfield-Sander’s Second State at Haunch. Own photograph.

Greenfield-Sander uses vintage slides as the starting point for her multi-layered paintings.  The imagery is easily recognisable but the paintings are expanded, physically referencing the magnitude of the subjects.  But size alone cannot illustrate the sublime.

Using the power of painting to convey the sublime is a tricky business to say the least.  The sublime represents nature at its grandest scale and is both powerful and awesome although remains an indeterminate concept.   In Kant’s Critique of the Power of Judgement of 1790, he divided the sublime into two types:  the mathematical sublime deals with size and the immeasurable and refers to something huge beyond all comparison, in particular the majesty of nature; and the dynamic sublime deals with the incomprehensibility of the great power of natural forces.  Experiencing the mathematical sublime makes all else small and insignificant; it is a magnitude that cannot truly be experienced and, therefore, reminds us of the limitations of our own relationship with nature.  The mathematical sublime overwhelms our mental faculties so that we are unable to comprehend fully what we see.   Traditionally, an example that inspires awe due to its magnitude is an ocean or a mountain range, but Kant also relates to ideas of reason such as absolute totality and absolute freedom.

greenfield-sander

Greenfield-Sander works. Own photograph

While the mathematically sublime is based on the incomprehensibility of an infinite measure, the dynamically sublime is based on incomprehension of absolutely great power as produced by the vast forces in nature. This is exhibited by the power of a hurricane, a tumultuous ocean, a high waterfall or a mountain range in relation to which we realise our own physical powers are puny yet are forced by our insignificance to try to understand the faculty of practical reason.  Both types of sublime are complex feelings of frustration at the inability to comprehend such absolute vastness, but the mathematically sublime takes pleasure in the ability of imagination, while the dynamically sublime takes pleasure in the superiority of reason.

Probably the best representation of dynamic sublime in art is Turner’s Snow StormSteam-Boat Off a Harbour’s Mouth of 1842 where the whirling boundaries between the chaos of the sea and sky are totally confused.  Turner tied himself to the ship’s mast to experience at first hand the powerful forces of nature; viewers of the painting are not in danger but appreciate the magnificence and power knowing that from their vantage point they are safe.

Snow Storm - Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth exhibited 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

JMW Turner, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, 1842.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

With this in mind, I think claiming that Greenfield-Sander’s works explore ‘the power of painting to convey the sublime’ only confuses matters.  Taking this element out of the equation, her use of a bright tonal range and abstracted areas is very effective.  Overall, for me, there’s some excitement lacking and this exhibition doesn’t quite live up to Haunch’s usual standard.

Across the road Scream are showing Greg Miller work which make use of the diverse cultural and geographical make-up of Miller’s American roots, exploring the contradictions between urban streetscape and history.  These works have a huge energy to them, montaging different images that Miller has collected over time, layering meanings, stories and narratives into a dense melée of artistic factions.  His use of resin to glaze the works preserves their history and transience, saving these otherwise impermanent memories.  The nostalgia of these works is poignant despite their busy and bold constructs – the personal touch recalling the artist’s youth and fonder memories from his upbringing in Northern California.

Greg Miller

Greg Miller at Scream. Own photograph.

To finish the day off I went for a marked contrast, popping into the Piacenti Art Gallery for a glass of champagne and their winter exhibition of old Master works.  Sadly this was a short run and has now shut but it’s a lovely space to visit in the New Year.  Although be warned with all those galleries on Duke Street, who knows where you’ll end up.

shoes

New Possibilities: Abstract Paintings from the Seventies is at The Piper Gallery until 21st December 2012.  Manfred Mohr: one and zero is at Carroll/Fletcher until 20th December 2012.  Isca Greenfield-Sanders: Second State is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street, until 25th January 2013. Greg Miller: Four Corners is at Scream until 5th January 2013.

Kenwood’s Closing…

13 Mar

I don’t often make it over to the Estorick Collection – a gallery which I still think is one of the most unknown and undervalued in London.  This afternoon I decided to take a break from the computer and drive to Canonbury.  I know the Estorick is shut on a Monday (having nearly been caught out in the past) but, be warned everyone, it is also shut on a Tuesday.  I arrived to find the gates locked.  I was not a happy bunny to say the least.

So the challenge arose to find somewhere to visit on the way home in order not to have a wasted journey.  My choices were Highgate Cemetery (but I didn’t really fancy walking around in the cold), Keat’s House, Freud’s House (also closed on a Tuesday (!)) or Kenwood House (one of my all time favourites).   Kenwood won!

If you haven’t been then this really is a must-visit property.  Known for its amazing summer concerts, which have not been without controversy over the past few years, and for having appeared in many films including Notting Hill, Kenwood, owned by English Heritage, is set in the parkland of Hampstead Heath.

Kenwood House. Image via www.english-heritage.org.uk

The house dates from the 1600s but, on acquisition by Lord Mansfield in 1754, was remodelled into what we see today by Robert Adam, who worked on the stucco frontages, the North Front portico, the library wing and the third storey.  It is acknowledged to be one of England’s greatest stately homes and an obvious identifier of Adam’s style; this was a terribly important commission for Adam due its position and would have propelled him into the awareness of the London aristocracy.  There have always been problems with his famous stucco exterior and Lord Mansfield apparently commented that it would have been cheaper to cover the whole front with marble.  Some of the details that are there today are replicated in fibre glass from Adam’s engraving.

Kenwood House. Own photograph.

Of course, the building has undergone many more changes since Adam’s involvement, including, in 1793, the addition of two wings by George Saunders that flank the entrance portico, but it still preserves the grandeur and elegance that Adam intended.

Kenwood House. Own photograph.

The library, then called the Great Room, is the epitome of Adam’s work, his tour de force and the house’s crowning glory.  It would have appeared even more splendid in the 18th century as the climax of Adam’s suite of rooms.  Remarkably, it remained nearly unaltered until 1922 when some of the furniture was sold at auction.  It’s yet another place where I did some work experience during which I helped to conserve and clean not only some of the paintings but the library.  Cleaning has never been top of my list of favourite things but there was a bit more to it than dusting and vacuuming.

The Great Room at Kenwood.  Image via http://londonbytes.wordpress.com

Kenwood also contains the Iveagh Bequest, the art collection of Edward Cecil Guinness, great grandson of the founder of the Dublin brewery.  He retired early to devote himself to the collection of art and acquired works by Gainsborough, Romney, Reynolds, Turner, Hogarth as well as a self-portrait by Rembrandt and Vermeer’s Guitar Player, exemplifying his late style.  Although the house couldn’t be more English in character it provides a setting for global art, an exemplar collection of the very best of European paintings.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self Portrait, 1665. Image via www.rembrandtpainting.net

Specialising in the 18th century, it’s hard for me to pick favourites but one of my personal highlights is Hogarth’s Taste in High Life which shows the folly and superficiality of aristocratic taste.  A forerunner to Marriage à la Mode, the humour is typically Hogarthian showing two heavily caricatured connoisseurs in raptures over a mundane cup and saucer.  Another aristocrat examines a black pageboy, a satire on his masters and the embodiment of the Orient and sexual excess.  There is also a gorgeous small Constable of Hampstead Heath with Pond and Bathers from 1821, a view that Constable often painted to aid him with his focus on the sky.

Print of William Hogarth, Taste in High Life, 1746. Image via www.vam.ac.uk

Outside, the landscaped gardens lead down to the beautiful lake and acres upon acres of muddy marshland.  I always end up coming to Kenwood without my dogs despite this being a dog walkers’ paradise, probably because I appreciate the house too much and can spend time with my two slobbery Clumbers any day.

The fake bridge at Kenwood. Own photograph.

You’ll have to hurry to Kenwood as it is scheduled to close at the start of April for a £5.3 million restoration project that will include vital roof repairs, the replacement of the skylights, repointing and sweeping of more than 100 chimneys and the stripping down and repair of the façade.

Fear not!  When I first heard this news I thought what a travesty it was to shut away such a wonderful collection even if repairs are essential but English Heritage has had great foresight and their incredible art collection will tour to three American galleries while the Vermeer will be loaned to the National Gallery.

The grounds, however, will still be open so there’s the opportunity to picnic and sunbathe, admire the contemporary sculpture and watch the restoration taking place but if you don’t manage to visit the house this month you’ll have to wait until late summer of next year.

Kenwood’s Orangerie.  Image via www.omgimgettingmarried.com

Kenwood is a beautiful place to visit and, amazingly English Heritage still open it to the public without charge.  I wonder if this will change post-restoration.  In the meantime, it is truly splendid and somewhere I don’t pop to often enough despite its close proximity to my home.  I’m glad I was able to see it again before it closes and was able to turn my earlier misfortune to my advantage.  Plus, rather surprisingly, I was even in appropriate footwear for a romp through the grounds.

Kenwood House is run by English Heritage, http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood-house/.  It will be open until 31st March 2012.

Margate Mini Adventure – Turner Contemporary

22 Apr

Never being one to do things by halves, when I decided to drive my Mini to Turner Contemporary, I took the opportunity to cram a jam-packed schedule into two days and explore Kent.

My time in Canterbury started with a scrummy picnic lunch punting on the Stour.  I’m a Cathedral addict and Canterbury has long been one of my favourites in England.  If you haven’t been, shame on you.  With wide-ranging, mostly French, influences, the building presents a harmonious and inspiring interior.

All photographs are my own unless otherwise stated

Buildings of the Gothic era, particularly Cathedrals, were ornamented appropriately to the function they served.  Such ideas of decorum ensured that a Saint’s shrine and its surrounds required the most lavish design and sculptural decoration and reflected the valid aesthetic ideas of the period.  The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket became a ‘medieval celebrity’ after his brutal murder in the Cathedral on 29th December 1170 and he is buried in a majestically designed chapel, approached by increasing architectural richness on the climatic processional pilgrimage routes.

The monks of Canterbury regarded him as a second Christ.  Like Christ, he returned on Palm Sunday, presided over his ‘last supper’,  was struck down by enemies of the state and had five wounds inflicted on him.  Poetic hagiography is incorporated into the Trinity Chapel where red and white stone symbolise Becket’s blood and brain; the red also depicts Becket as a martyr and the white shows his inner martyrdom.  This analogy has strong Christological references as blood and water spilled from Christ’s side wound.

This trip included many favourites for me: cathedrals, ruins, the seaside and the work of Antony Gormley.  Nowadays, his sculptures are ubiquitous in cathedrals and one is suspended in the crypt.  Made of recycled iron nails from the repaired roof, Transport hangs above the site of Becket’s first tomb.  The 6ft floating man reminds us that we are temporary inhabitants of our bodies; they house our souls and are the instruments through which we are able to communicate our emotions.  The piece expresses transience and reflects the way in which sacred spaces communicate a sense of time and eternity.

After popping into St Augustine’s Abbey (founded in AD 567 by St Augustine during his mission to convert the pagan Anglo-Saxons to Christianity), I headed to Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre.  Although Richborough is now over two miles from the sea, it was once a bustling port that saw the first Roman landing – hard to believe now when looking at the surrounding countryside. 

After struggling with English Heritage’s poor signage, I finally found St Augustine’s Cross – a 19th century cross of Saxon design marking what is thought to have been the site of St Augustine’s landing on the shores of England in AD 567.

After a wonderful day, I arrived at a gorgeous B&B in Broadstairs before heading off to a wonderful dinner in Ramsgate.  The coastal villages seem to be stuck in a time warp – old chippies, amusement arcades and enormous beaches – with shabby, run down seafronts. 

That’s not to say that they aren’t charming in parts as Kent really is a beautiful county but some of these places feel like they have been left behind. 

Early the next day, I drove along the pretty but somewhat dilapidated coast to Margate.

Margate must have been wonderful in its heyday but is now very sad, mostly boarded up and shut down.

Turner Contemporary, the brand new public art gallery, is an imposing landmark and rises from the site of the lodging house where Turner stayed in Margate.  The view outside probably hasn’t changed much since his visits.  Sitting on the seafront, the building needed to be tough and robust.  After the initial shock factor of the arresting structure, designed by David Chipperfield architects, its charm becomes apparent.  Formed of six interlocking rectangular blocks, the two-storey building can evoke boat sheds or connecting artists’ studios. 

Flooded with natural light, the interior consists mostly of polished concrete and glass – a simple and clean design that is both austere and beautiful.  Chipperfield wanted art to be experienced rather than viewed and has made the open spaces like studios.  He succeeds, at the same time creating an intimacy conducive to wonderful exhibitions.   It is a triumph, perfectly in tune with its purpose and location.   

Turner spent time in Margate throughout his life and many of his works feature the Kentish coast. Turner Contemporary celebrates his connection with Margate and one or more of his paintings will always be on display in the gallery.  The current exhibition Revealed: Turner Contemporary Opens takes inspiration from Turner’s 1815 painting of a volcanic eruption on the island of St Vincent.  Turner was fascinated by the power of nature and this painting captures the drama.  His works give the viewer sensory experiences transcending their surroundings to become part of the scene.

Image via www.anothermag.com

The only permanent work, Michael Craig-Martin’s neon Turning Pages invites you to begin your metaphorical journey around the galleries.

I don’t have a bad word to say about the current exhibition.  Daniel Buren makes use of the large window and walls.  His work frames the outside panorama, using mirrors to reflect and amplify the glorious coastal scene and a vivid yellow to further lighten and brighten the galleries. 

Douglas Gordon’s text work Afterturner, on the treads of the staircase, plays with Turner’s supposed last words.  Though the stairs have generated criticism for being tucked away and simple, I had no trouble finding them and felt a grander structure would have been out of place and detract from the large open plan resonance.

Ellen Harvey’s newly-commissioned Arcadia is a scale reconstruction of the gallery Turner built to house his work, filled with engraved lightboxes with views of present-day Margate.  There are also great works by Teresita Fernández and Russell Crotty.

For me the star of the show was Conrad Shawcross; his ingenious installations Projections of a Perfect Third seek to understand the musical chord.  Shawcross is fascinated by science and philosophy and this dramatic installation brings together different threads from his practice.  His mysterious, enigmatic structures leave you in awe, staring at the near-sublime rotating form that hangs above you, whirring in perpetual motion no matter what.  Shawcross’s machines are designed with no specific working purpose, suggesting a quest for a perfect ideal.  They are intricate manifestations of his thoughts and ideas showing the skill of his craftsmanship through beautiful, mesmerising forms.  The giant rotating wings (like helicopter blades or windscreen wipers) captivate viewers, leaving them standing engaged but lost. 

Strangely, Emin, Margate’s most famous daughter, is not included in the exhibition but her pink neon sign, I never stopped loving you, is installed above the door of the nearby tourist information centre and harbour master’s office.   The work is almost invisible in daylight and I had to ask someone to point it out.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) I wasn’t in Margate at night to see if the work is more effective, dramatically illuminated on the front but, when the sun is shining, it is lost to the surrounding architecture and Emin’s thoughts remain unheard.

Due to the amount of walking, this was a flip-flops only trip but, in my hurry to get down to the beach to take photographs looking up at Turner Contemporary, I didn’t spot a large slimy patch of seaweed and managed to launch myself down the lifeboat ramp.  Splat!  Ouch!  That’ll teach me not to wear flat shoes!

Once a popular seaside resort (the famous Dreamland is expected to re-open in 2013), Margate is now rather run-down.  The perfect weather when I visited only served to highlight the town’s shabbiness.  Turner Contemporary is meant to be a catalyst for regeneration but, as much as I adored it, I’m not sure that this alone is enough.  The effect Turner Contemporary will have on the town and whether it will initiate the long-awaited Margate renaissance remains to be seen.  The locals have already embraced it, nicknaming it ‘The Turner’, but will it trigger the much-needed regeneration and prompt change?

On the way home, I stopped at Reculver where the 12th century towers of a ruined church stand defiant among the ruins of a fort and monastery.  Finally, oysters and a wander in Whitstable before returning to London.  And all in less than 2 days. 

Of course, if you aren’t feeling quite that intrepid, the train will get you to Margate in only a couple of hours and you too can spend the day at the seaside.

All photographs are my own.  More can be seen at: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/fbx/?set=a.187173014662889.42704.121039074609617

http://www.turnercontemporary.org/

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/

http://www.canterbury-cathedral.org/

http://belvidereplace.co.uk/

%d bloggers like this: