Tag Archives: light

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.

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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.

From Bermondsey to Victoria and all places in between…

14 Apr

I don’t make it over to White Cube Bermondsey as often I’d like. I know it’s not really that far away but it’s just not somewhere I amble past on a very regular basis. So when I found myself with a meeting on Bermondsey Street it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Their primary exhibition is Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration which explores the artist’s graphic oeuvre from when he made his first print in 1972. This isn’t the side of Close with which most of us will be familiar – we’re more au fait with his large-scale ‘heads’ – but this is a side that definitely deserves attention. Close’s experimentation with the media of printmaking is endless and fascinating; he is able to bring it to life, even turning mistakes or problems to his advantage. Alex/Reduction Block from 1992 was never intended to be end up like this which highlights the flexibility and ingenuity of both Close and his collaborators. The work was planned as a block reduction print but when the original linoleum cracked in the cold, they had to substitute it with an inferior material. More problems followed. They continued to cut the replacement linoleum despite knowing it was never going to work as a block reduction and documented the progressive stages by printing them in black on Mylar which resulted in a project perfect for silkscreen printing. The various shades of grey give Alex Katz’s face a shimmering metallic quality.

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Alex/Reduction Block in the distance at White Cube. Image via www.distortedarts.com.

Process has always been of the utmost importance to Close. If he has tried one method of printmaking he’s tried them all over the past forty years and it is his perseverance (he now works from the confines of a wheelchair after a spinal artery collapse) with his artworks and interrogatory use of materials that creates such wonderful qualities.

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Moving through the exhibition. Image via www.whitecube.com.

Close also breaks down the methods of printmaking, revealing the various stages involved through his reworking of the same subjects. Rather than diluting his intention this often enhances it, encouraging us to study a face in the same way that he must. This is a truly excellent, explorative and engaging exhibition and one that caught me rather by surprise – especially as it hadn’t been in my schedule for last week or even on my current list of things to try to see.

I would have liked more time in the gallery but I did manage to stop to see Eddie Peake’s installation – I just couldn’t walk past the naked figure in a see-through costume on roller-skates without seeing what was going on. It was all part of Peake’s Adjective Machine Gun, a major sculptural installation closely based around the old penguin enclosure at London Zoo – an iconic and easily recognisable structure. The walls act as an enclosing amphitheatre that both reveal and conceal the performer and the other works that form part of this. This is the first time Peake has married the two parts of his practice as he previously kept his sculpture and painting separate to his performance. I felt that this combination didn’t quite gel and the static works lacked some of the coherence of the performance elements.

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Eddie Peake, Adjective Machine Gun. Image via www.whitecube.com.

As is so often the case with performance, it was fascinating to watch the reactions of others: one man seemed quite affronted as the performer sped past him – I don’t think he’d anticipated being quite that close; one girl seemed embarrassed; while someone else was revelling in the intentional voyeuristic qualities of the piece. And I became so caught up with people-watching that after about five minutes I started to wonder where the skater had gone. He had crept up behind me and seemed to be leaning against the wall watching me. Is he meant to be oblivious to the audience and just contemplating the static works or is part of the wonder of the piece the duality of the voyeurism as we watch him watching us?

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Eddie Peake, Adjective Machine Gun. Image via www.contempoaryartsociety.org.

The following evening I decided to crack on with the shows I had intended to see. It had been a while since I last went on a private view evening but Wednesday promised some exciting openings and so we set off with a route in mind and a beady eye on the clock, determined to fit everything in.

First up was Art First – I have spent a few days in a quandary over this exhibition as I was drawn to the works but found they presented quite a bland group. Get up close and sometimes they are individually remarkable. On discovering Thomas Shelton’s 17th century system of shorthand, Simon Lewty found the perfect written code with which to experiment. His fascination was further heightened when he learnt that Samuel Pepys had used the very same method in his diary. Lewty taught himself Tachygraphy – no easy challenge – and has used this script to tell his own narratives. How often do people sit and write now? For so many, handwriting is becoming a thing of the past yet Lewty uses this time-honoured method to take us on a journey. So what was missing? I truly don’t know and maybe I need to return to reflect on the works in the gallery at a quieter time.

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Simon Lewty’s language. Image via www.artlyst.co.uk.

One of the shows I had been most excited to see was Tell Me Whom You Haunt at Blain Southern but I left disappointed – the show seeks to place works by ten contemporary artists in conversation with Marcel Duchamp but at times it feels irrelevant, confusing and bland. So many artists can relate their ideas and concerns back to Duchamp that I don’t think anything ground-breaking is going on between these walls. The first room is stronger and also aesthetically more pleasing but the second rooms loses its life. The exhibition title stems from an age-old French proverb referring to the idea that readymades spatially relinquish their previous significance and assume a shifting identity when they are re-contextualised. They cease to become the objects that they were intended to be and, instead, become something of the artist’s own making. The ideas behind some of the individual works are lost here and would have been far stronger seen in a different form of exhibition at the gallery. Maybe their connection to Duchamp needn’t have been articulated in such an explicit way. Any exhibition revolving around Duchamp sets its bar high and, for me, Blain Southern didn’t quite vault to greatness this time.

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Sislej Xhafa, Rocket Ship, 2011. Image via www.blainsouthern.com.

Next I made a flying visit to Hannah Barry to see Nathan Cash Davidson’s new drawings. Unusually, the drawings are executed on board which does present a weightier texture than we might expect from the delicacy of some of these works but I remained unexcited. Then onto Orion Contemporary’s celebration of print-making; there is a diverse range of works on display from Swedish Kent Karlsson to Pablo Picasso. Although this is a small show, it is one that must be praised for its brilliant lighting; the works were so well-displayed and the sensitivity of the hang really allows for close study.

The drizzle turned into heavy rain and my shoes weren’t cut out for puddles. Luckily we needed a cab to get to our last venue and we headed to Victoria to Edel Assanti.

Edel Assanti have now been in their new space for over a year and I feel awful to admit that this is the first time I have made it through the doors. However, the gallery is stunning and really shifts Edel Assanti to a whole new level from their previous project space just a few doors down the same road. Their current exhibition of works by Jodie Carey is very striking: seven plaster slabs have been arranged within the gallery, connecting and conversing with one another despite their differing formats. The backs of the slabs are intentionally exposed, revealing the wire and timber used to reinforce the plaster and the hessian sandbags weighting the sculptures down. Carey doesn’t want to hide these elements, instead she reduces these monuments back to their bare bones, challenging the reverence that public commemorations traditionally command. The type of monument that they evoke is left ambiguous and to different people Carey’s slabs will have different resonances.

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Jodie Carey, Untitled (Slabs), 2012. Image via www.edelassanti.com.

The works have a real presence in the gallery – fragile yet monumental, they rose with impressive dominance above the people crowding into the space. Closer inspection reveals that the hand-cast slabs have been painstakingly coloured in pencil crayon by the artist again providing a contrast from the usual industrial mechanics of large-scale monuments. The pastel colouring conflicts with the apparent strength and verticality of the forms presenting another inherent contradiction on which Carey leaves us to ponder. But the fragility and vulnerability of these works is what makes them arresting and, in fact, it is this fragility that makes a seemingly simple abstract form somewhat inescapable.

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Jodie Carey, Untitled (Slabs), 2012. Image via www.edelassanti.com.

I was so impressed by the exhibition that I have no doubt I will be visiting far more regularly. After all Victoria is only ten minutes from Fitzrovia in a taxi and we know I’m good at hailing those.

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Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration and Eddie Peake: Adjective Machine Gun are at White Cube Bermondsey until 21st April 2013, www.whitecute.com.  Simon Lewty: Absorption is at Art First until 11th May 2013, www.artfirst.co.ukTell Me Whom You Haunt: Marcel Duchamp and the Contemporary Readymade is at Blain Southern until 18th May 2013, www.blainsouthern.com.  Nathan Cash Davidson: Your’e French Gerdarmes with Me is at Hannah Barry Gallery until 8th May 2013, www.hannahbarry.com.  A Celebration of Printmaking is at Orion Contemporary until 20th April 2013, www.orioncontemporary.com.  Jodie Carey: Untitled (Slabs) is at Edel Assanti until 11th May 2013, www.edelassanti.com.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

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.

The Surreal World of a Spellbinding Genius

24 Dec

Somerset House has been transformed into a veritable fairyland, a surreal world belonging to the magical stylings of Tim Walker.  Walker has always been fascinated by the make-believe since as a 19-year old intern at Vogue he established their Cecil Beaton Archive.  After completing his studies at the age of 25 he shot his first Vogue fashion story; the rest, as they say, is history.  He was the recipient of the second ‘Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator’ at the British Fashion Awards in 2008 and the following year he received an Infinity Award from the International Center of Photography in New York. His photos are instantly recognisable including many famous fashion campaigns such as those of Mulberry (who are supporting the exhibition), Hèrmes and Valentino.

Giant doll

Tim Walker, Giant doll kicks Lindsey Wixson, Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2011.  Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

The extravagant and dazzling exhibition seeks to replicate the photos.  The first room contains a life-sized Spitfire, a prop used for a 2009 Burberry shoot for Vogue starring Lily Donaldson.  Here, it has crashed and erupted through the fireplace.  There’s no slow start.  This is Walker – take it or leave it.

Spitfire

Tim Walker, Lily Donaldson and Blue Spitfire, Glemham Hall, Suffolk, 2009. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

The exhibition guides us through Walker’s collaborations with some of the biggest names in contemporary fashion and culture: Alber Elbaz sporting a pair of rabbit ears (fairy tales are frequently referenced); Karen Elson up against it with a giant crocodile; Agyness Deyn in the sand dunes of Namibia; Tilda Swinton in Iceland; Alexander McQueen and a memento mori of skull and cigarettes; Helena Bonham Carter and Tim Burton turning an Essex garden centre into a danse macabre; Stella Tennant in a pink cloud among the rhododendrons of an English country garden and a visitor from outer space who surprises a foxhunt in Northumberland.  Some of the scenes are a bit bizarre to say the least but they are not scary – in fact they are mesmerising.  Walker’s images are characteristically British – from the models and design to the background.

© 2009 Tim Walker. All rights reserved. Moral rights asserted.

Tim Walker, Stella Tennant and pink powder cloud, Eglingham Hall, Northumberland, 2007. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

As with the Spitfire, props from the photographs are brought into the gallery.  I, for one, love bringing props into exhibitions and so they were onto a winner here with me but, when busy, this can make the display seem cluttered.  In particular, the room with the giant swan is very difficult to navigate especially as all the cold skaters from the Somerset House ice rink are migrating inside, seeking warmth from anywhere, even an art gallery.  The wall labels are also quite amateurish and some are even peeling off – a shame considering how the rest of the show has been thought out.  The wall labels and quotes are printed on corners making you move with them – the photos aren’t straightforward and the display follows this.  Despite these flaws this is a really fabulous show where the new East Wing at Somerset House has truly found its feet .

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Skaters at Somerset House.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk

In this exhibition, we are transported to Walker’s world where his imagination comes alive. And what a world it is!  Walker shoots entirely in film – for him, the easy part is pointing and shooting and the camera ‘is simply a box put between you and what you want to capture’.  The magic, and his genius, lies in the designs of these amazing sets that show off his models and all their couture finery.  The team involved here includes hair and make-up artists, fashion stylists, costume fitters, model makers, set designers, builders, producers, painters, prop suppliers and models with Walker at the centre waving his magic wand.

Olga Shearer

Tim Walker, Olga Shearer on blue horse, Sennowe Park, Norfolk, 2007. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

Somewhat surprisingly, Walker’s preference when looking at this show is his portraits, favouring the stripped back contrast of the faces to his previous flamboyance.  He feels it’s time for something new but I find it very hard to believe he’s going to leave all this behind.  Who knows?  Let’s see.

Alexander McQueen

Tim Walker, Alexander McQueen with skull and cigarettes, Clerkenwell, London, 2009. Image via www.somersethouse.org.uk and courtesy of Tim Walker.

Looking at Walker’s photographs feels as if we are somewhere else, in his own surreal land.  The soft focus, framing devices and clever lighting enhances this.  It is, in fact, the experience of viewing the photograph that stays with us longer than some of the specific images.  The works are an incredible cross between fashion, theatre, design and art.  They don’t have to come down in one place as they encapsulate all these things; and they encapsulate them faultlessly. 

And so it was time for me to journey to my own winter wonderland and don some skates at the Tower of London to be whisked away once more, this time onto the ice.

skates

Tim Walker: Story Teller is at Somerset House until 27th January 2013, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Sunday morning at Tate Britain with the Turner Prize and the Pre-Raphs

11 Nov

Early this morning I popped in the car and, managing to skirt around the very impressive Remembrance Sunday crowds and consequent road closures, I headed to Tate Britain.  Comfy clothes and comfy shoes (sorry but even I’m not that committed to my heels) were the order of the day for a weekend gallery outing.

Remembrance Day services.  Image via www.itv.com

I’m not a huge Turner Prize fan but it’s still nice to have it back in London (last year it was in Gateshead marking the start of its biennial staging away from Tate Britain).  The Turner Prize takes over the downstairs space at Tate Britain but is hung differently to usual with the entrance being where we used to find the exit.  This seems to work much better though I can’t quite fathom why.

Unusually, all of the shortlisted exhibitions that led to these nominations have taken place in Britain so many of you may well have seen the works before.

To start, we are greeted by Paul Noble’s drawings.  I blogged his exhibition at Gagosian earlier this year, where we saw his sprawling drawings detailing the minutiae of Nobson Newtown.  I’m a fan!  But, the exhibition at Gagosian was far better and maybe this is a larger problem with the Turner Prize – it fundamentally reproduces shows from the last year but diminishes them so they aren’t normally as good.  For me, the marble sculptures are slightly too crude and provide an unwelcome distraction from the densely fabulous pencil drawings.

Nobson Newtown at Tate Britain.  Image via www.standard.co.uk

Luke Fowler’s film is a full-length documentary but I did not have 93 minutes to spare this morning.  Whether or not I will return to watch in full remains to be seen.  The film is about RD Laing and the anti-psychiatry movement but, unlike a normal film, it does not have a narrative.  Instead, it is a collage of short scenes and snapshots that come together to tell its strange story.  Is this art that is film or a film masquerading as art?

Still from Luke Fowler’s All Divided Selves.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I wasn’t able to watch Elizabeth’s Price video work as there was a technical fault this morning but, from what I understand, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 is an overpowering piece in three acts, bringing together old photographs, archive footage, rhythms, words and sound.  The piece is an act of commemoration, exploring the horror of the fire in the Manchester branch of Woolworths.

Elizabeth Price, The Woolworths Choir of 1979.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Finally, we reach Spartacus Chetwynd’s work but I wasn’t around at the correct time to see one of the actual performances.   Chetwynd’s work seems intended to shock; Tate describes her team as an energetic “16th-century wandering troupe”.  What makes her work stand out, despite its silliness, is that Chetwynd’s commitment to her absurdity is entirely sincere – a contradiction in terms perhaps but one with often spectacular results.  I never made it to her 2011 Sadie Coles show but have heard it was far more dramatic, exciting and fun.  These feelings are nowhere to be found at Tate.

Spartacus Chetwynd with co-performers as part of Odd Man Out 2011.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Tate has gone for non-traditional media this year.  I’d like Noble to win but I imagine one of the video artists will take the prize.

Although I walked around the whole exhibition, I left feeling I had seen very little of the Turner Prize and didn’t really know what to make of this year’s submissions.  The winner of the prize will be announced live by Jude Law(!) at the award ceremony on Monday 3rd December 2012.  I worry that Tate may be going too far to popularise the Turner.  Before long the artists will have to do live tricks on air to cement their win.

Elizabeth Price – not working. Own photograph.

 The main reason for today’s visit though was to see Tate’s Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.  By 10.30am it was already packed out although the guard told me that what I thought was busy was in fact quiet.  As snobby as this will sound, I do find it hard to enjoy exhibitions that are flooded with people.  I began to regret not wearing sharp stilettos that would have helped me to encourage people to move out the way (don’t worry, I’m only joking).  Luckily, I was very familiar with most of the works here so didn’t feel I was missing out when I couldn’t get near to them.  Walking through the seven rooms, was like reliving my Courtauld first year survey course with Holman Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd, Ford Maddox Brown’s An English Autumn Afternoon, Hampstead – Scenery in 1853, Millais’ Christ in the House of his Parents and many more besides.

William Holman Hunt, The Hireling Shepherd, 1851-2.  Image via www.artchive.com.

Visitors to the show are heading straight to the work hanging opposite the entrance – Millais’ Isabella that created rather a buzz in the press before the opening.  One of the curators spotted that the foremost figure has a large erection.  He leans forward, with his leg stretched out in front of him and, although his groin is covered, a shadow is cast on the table.  It’s unmissable, yet we have missed it since 1848 when the work was conceived.

John Everett Millais, Isabella, 1848-9.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

The Pre-Raphaelites’ recognition of women as sensual and sexual people is obvious and one of their defining features.  Desire pours forth and we know that many of these artists were enjoying themselves and their models.

We can feel the curators’ passion as we walk around the show.  With 180 works, they’ve certainly tried to cram in all their favourites (although a few notable works are missing).  Now, the Pre-Raphaelites may not be to everyone’s fancy and I have heard some describe their work in horribly derogatory terms.  But, whatever you may think, all opinions are subjective and however ‘bad’ some of the works are it’s important to remember that everyone has different tastes.  As such, the popularity of this period reigns supreme and there are some fabulous works included here.

Ford Madox Brown, An English Autumn Afternoon, Hampstead – Scenery in 1853,1852-3.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Many of the works do merge into one – partly because the Pre-Raphs often painted with a prescribed artistic formula and relied on this through and through.  The works don’t often take too long to look at, they initially captivate with their bright and bubbly colours but their joy can fade away quickly when we start to note their cramped scenes, sickly colours and lack of perspectival understanding.  Some of the works are moving and many, like Ophelia, are so familiar that they are part of our everyday life.

 

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-2.  Image via www.tate.org.uk.  

I don’t think the exhibition has managed to prove anything new academically and, in fact, I disagree with the arguments that encourage us to view the movement through the eyes of Modernism but it’s a beautiful exhibition, presenting a well-known story and some well-known paintings alongside a mix of Victorian works.  Although it is a neatly summarised show, this is also its main problem.  Chronology has been abandoned here and themes imposed on the work often lead to confusion rather than distinction, such as Salvation, Beauty, Mythologies and History.  This does make it difficult to follow the progression of individuals as they get lost in the melée.

The exhibition doesn’t end on a bang and the last two rooms lose something for me – perhaps because this is actually no longer Pre-Raphaelitism but Arts and Crafts.  They clearly intend to show the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites on the later movement of Arts and Crafts but Tate fail to separate the two.

William Morris, Peacock and Bird Carpet, 1885-90.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

I certainly don’t loathe this period.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the exhibition and, although there are a lot of works shoved in this space, I do think it’s a very well-curated show with great wall colours and good lighting (something I don’t often say about Tate).

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat, 1854-6.  Image via www.wikipedia.org

The curators have taken care to stress the female artists from the circle with Julia Margaret Cameron and Elizabeth Siddal making bold appearances.  This is a very British show and we’ve had a very British year so Tate could not have timed this better.

One thing that still upsets me is the lack of an artist-designed Christmas tree at Tate.  Although the rotunda is no longer visible due to the major building work currently in progress I fail to believe that there is no room anywhere in the gallery to have kept this tradition alive.  The rest of London once again embraces Christmas while Tate stays in the dark.

Turner Prize 2012 is at Tate Britain until 6th January 2013 and Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde is at Tate Britain until 13th January 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

Seduced and Surprised by the National Gallery

4 Nov

Early on Tuesday morning, I joined the throng of commuters walking across Green Park.  I was freezing and realised that fingerless gloves don’t do very much now it’s winter!  I was off to a bloggers’ breakfast at the Queen’s Gallery – the Palace are embracing new technology – to view their new exhibition, The Northern Renaissance ­­.

The exhibition apparently reunites the enemies and allies of Henry VIII’s court, a place characterised by political intrigue and betrayal.   With around 130 works, it is a great excuse to show off some of the Royal Collection’s Renaissance gems including Lucas Cranach the Elder, Urs Grat and Pieter Bruegel the Elder.  Artists responded to changing ideas and a revival in humanism by producing ingenious works with advancing technical skill.

The Northern Renaissance at The Queen’s Gallery.  Own photograph.

The period saw an increase in the demand for tapestries, moveable furnishings that demonstrated the wealth and power of the owner.  When this exhibition was on display in Scotland, these weren’t shown as the exhibition was in a smaller form.  This show also teaches us that the Renaissance is not only Italian and concentrates on Northern Europe with particular emphasis on Albrecht Dürer and Hans Holbein the Younger.

One of the tapestries in the exhibition. Own photograph.

Without Holbein we wouldn’t even know what Henry VIII looked like and he also immortalised many of the personalities of Henry’s court.  The exhibition opens with a lovely collection of Holbein drawings.

The Apocalypse was a popular subject for illustration in the Middle Ages.  In 1498, Dürer published the Book of Revelations with 15 illustrations – incredible nightmarish scenes including figures from all sections of society, reminding viewers that no-one would be spared the day of judgement.  Dürer understood how to brand himself and his AD monogram, placed on all his works, made his art instantly identifiable.

Dürer’s The Apocalypse. Own photograph.

The Bruegel work, Massacre of the Innocents, which is normally on view in isolation in Windsor, is here seen in context.  But, this piece presents an interesting conundrum; during its lifetime, when owned by Emperor Rudolph II in Prague, nearly all the slaughtered children and babies were painted over to change the tone of the scene.  Evidence of them can be found using infra-red reflectography.  Do we intervene or accept that this is the history of the work?

Bruegel, Massacre of the Innocents. Own photograph.

In this vein, the gallery has conserved eight paintings for this exhibition, bringing them back to life.  One example of this is Holbein’s Hans of Antwerp – the cleaned portrait reveals new details and clues as to who this sitter may actually be but how much conservation is too much?!

Holbein, Hans of Antwerp. Own photograph.

The Queen’s Gallery do get their brightly coloured walls right and the exhibition is dark but not gloomy.  This is a much more serious exhibition than their usual and the curators haven’t gone for tricks to attract punters.  It’s a bit of a mix but maybe that is the point – to show the truly varied practice of this period.  This is a large and thoughtful exhibition (although sometimes the delicacy of the drawings is lost) and I don’t really know if it is right for their audience.  It’s alright but it’s not mind-blowing.

One exhibition, however, which is mind-blowing is Seduced by Art at the National Gallery.  I didn’t know what to think about the ideas behind this show so my expectations were low but it is sensational.

As soon as I walked into the first room I was grabbed (not literally).  Visitors are greeted by Jeff Wall’s The Destroyed Room, 1978, where he evokes the destructive frenzy of Delacroix’s painting The Death of Sardanapalus.  This is Wall’s earliest attempt to quote the past and he incorporates spectacle into the photograph, showing the aftermath of man-made disaster.  This room looks at how photographers responded to fine art traditions, especially painting; it’s called Setting the Scene which is what it does – it is a room of theatre.

Jeff Wall, The Destroyed Room.  Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada and via www.ng-london.org.uk

This is an exhibition that constantly surprised me.  If I had any doubts, they were gone by room two (portraits) where I was greeted by Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews (one of my all-time favourite paintings, loved all the more for its inclusion in Freya North’s Chloë) alongside Martin Parr’s Signs of the Times from 1991.  Parr recognised the satiric potential of a protracted pose.  His discomfort contradicts the couple in Gainsborough’s work but this is a clever and fascinating juxtaposition that is still making me smile that nearly a week on.  Parr’s work has a real edge but he also takes a well-considered look at social portraiture through pose and stance, among other things.  It encapsulates something very different to the usual snapshot, showing a young couple at the beginning of their married life in their first home – in this way, the work is very sympathetic to Gainsborough.

Parr and Gainsborough.  Own photograph.

Moving on, the Learoyd photo of Man with Octopus Tattoo II,which has been used for all the publicity, is here compared with the Laocoön group.  The National Gallery argues that they have a similarly sensuous and disturbing impact.   The resemblances don’t go very far aesthetically but the ideas are shocking in both.

Learoyd and surrounding works at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

The National Gallery is once again giving their large middle room a church-like atmosphere and here the exhibition presents provocative religious imagery.  Included is Thomas Struth’s photograph of visitors to the National Gallery viewing one of their altarpieces.  Is this photo real?  What are we looking at, a snapshot or a carefully contrived and created moment?  We will never really know and this helps to teach us to question what is presented to us.  The exhibition also shows the incredible advances that have taken place within the medium.

Religious imagery.  Own photograph.

Three photographs have also been incorporated into the permanent collections offering a sensational effect.  Each comparison is a revelation making a statement using the most incredible works to support its arguments.  It’s hard to keep superlatives from my writing as the exhibition really was so good!

Seduced by Art is not trying to be a survey, nor is it a history of photography.  It’s making an argument.  Whether or not you agree, the exhibition is a dialogue that looks at significant moments.  A survey of photographs can be found anywhere but this exhibition is different.  People who know and understand painting are led into photographs, people who love early photographs can see their relevance to contemporary work and so on.  It presents historical painting, alongside historical photography, alongside contemporary photographs.  It is a tripartite exhibition with various points of access that all knit together perfectly.  The rooms work into each other, offering wonderful vistas.  They bring connections between old, new and subject matter through a series of amazing loans.

Julia Margaret Cameron, Kate Keown, c. 1866.  Image courtesy of the Wilson Centre for Photography and via www.ng-london.org.uk

This is a very darkly lit, theatrical and beautiful exhibition.  It is an enthralling show and, rare as this is for me to say, I genuinely cannot get over how great it is.  It took me by surprise.  The curators have surpassed themselves.  The press release describes the exhibition as ground-breaking and I find myself agreeing.  I will certainly be back for another visit as it deserves a lot of time, attention and awe.

 

The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein is at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace until 14th April 2013.  Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present is at the National Gallery until 20th January 2013.

Double Whammy at the Royal Academy

7 Oct

The Royal Academy is back in Burlington Gardens and to re-launch the space they are hosting RA Now, an exhibition and auction that offers the opportunity to view a selection of works by current Royal Academicians (there are 80) and Honorary Academicians.  Be prepared, as the exhibition includes work by 121 artists!  It has been co-ordinated by Allen Jones and feels like the Academicians’ version of the Summer Exhibition.  By nature a broad range of media and artistic disciplines are encompassed here and not all of the art is good – the show doesn’t exactly enthuse and excite visitors.  The accompanying catalogue is designed to offer an overview into today’s Royal Academy rather than a survey of the exhibition and it is a lovely book.

RA Now in Burlington Gardens. Own photograph.

Although we are used to seeing their works individually, this is the first time that the current membership has exhibited exclusively together.  All the pieces have been donated and funds raised from the works auctioned on 9th October will contribute to the Royal Academy’s long- term plans for this site – a veritable price-war for some of the biggest names in the art world today.  Works not auctioned at this time will be available to buy during the course of the exhibition.

I think the next exhibition here in December will afford us more opportunity to see exactly what they are going to do with the space.  Due to this being a selling exhibition and auction, the curation isn’t very intelligent but it isn’t intended to be.

RA Now in Burlington Gardens. Own photograph.

The RA seem to be setting up this venue as a cultural hub; Pace have opened a gallery downstairs plus there is a new RA shop, the 42° RAW café and The Burlington Social Club – an incredible, huge scaffold construction in the central room of the Burlington Gardens’ space.  Sadly, the Club wasn’t open for us to try at the preview but it looks like a fairly special pop-up restaurant.  Seats are placed around the main rectangular area which is where I’m reliably informed the magic happens – chefs and mixologists brush arms, vying for space in the laboratory.  I think I may have to pop in to sample a cocktail.  The Burlington Gardens’ space is stunning and I, for one, am pleased to see it reopened.

The Burlington Social Club. Own photograph.

Just round the corner in the main Royal Academy is Bronze, the show that everyone is going mad for, the current must-see.

There are no surprises with this exhibition which is a delight.  It does exactly what it says on the tin – presenting around 150 bronze works from across the world that span over 5,000 years, many of which have never been seen before in the UK, certainly not in public.  The achievement of some of the loans is magnificent.  It is straightforward, a blockbuster show both in terms of scale and ambition.

Adriaen de Vries, Vulcan’s Forge, 1611.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Bronze is arranged thematically with rooms focusing on the human figure, animals, objects, reliefs, gods, and so on, including works by Ghiberti, Donatello, Rodin, Picasso, Moore and Jasper Johns.  Everyone is here!  Chronologically, the show is intentionally messy but it is best to forget about this and enjoy the wonderful objects that continue to delight us as we stroll slowly from gallery to gallery.  In fact, this arrangement seeks to show how the medium has not changed too much over the years and the curators would argue that the juxtapositions allow this point to be clearly illustrated.  Works from thousands of years ago look as if they may have been made only yesterday. – such is the power of this medium.  The individual objects are magnificent and the skill is awe-inspiring.

Trundholm Sun Chariot, Fourteenth century BCE.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Intelligently, the show also seeks to teach us about bronze – an alloy consisting mainly of copper, with lesser amounts of tin, zinc and lead.  One room is given over to explaining the complex processes behind bronze looking at various casting techniques and giving step-by-step explanations.

Chimera of Arezzo, Etruscan, c. 400 BCE.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

There is, however, a large but.  Painting is designed to be hung on a wall and stared at from the front.  Sculpture is three-dimensional and, for this reason, it should be circumnavigated and lit from all angles.  The majority of works here are pushed back against the wall, inaccessible and lost.  The entire method of display makes me uneasy.  Even when the works are accessible, you still can’t see them.  There is a fabulous Cellini in room one of Perseus and Medusa.  When you are behind the work, the lights blind you.  Perseus’ bum hasn’t been lit at all, which is a real disappointment.

Cellini, Perseus and Medusa. Image via www.pbase.com

I also have an objection to the stark white cases and statement walls used throughout.  The lighting is too bright and not well enough directed and the white walls only make it worse.  There is no daylight allowed through, this is a dark exhibition that has been floodlit looking like a bad light extravaganza.  The exhibition isn’t actually cluttered but many of the objects here need at least twice the space to be studied properly.  There are far too many things to take in and enjoy.  I’d recommend buying the excellent catalogue to appreciate fully some of the wonders or to visit several times in small bursts.  It is impossible to walk around this show in one hit and attempt to appreciate everything on display.

Donatello, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1455-60.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

When even slightly busy, the space is really quite claustrophobic.   I found it quite exhausting to walk round and needed to sit down with a glass of water after my visit.  Bronze certainly seems to be dividing opinion and I’m sure many of you will think I’m mad.  Although I’m not a fan of the layout, it is still an unmissable show that celebrates the medium.  The idea of focusing a show around medium does mean that just about anything can be put together without rhyme or reason.  But, what the hell, some of the sculptures are so incredible that it’s impossible not to be blown away.

It was time to head to the Residence of the Ambassador of Sweden for some rather different sculpture in HIT

RA Now is at 6 Burlington Gardens until 11th November 2012 and Bronze is in the Main Galleries at Burlington House until 9th December 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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