Tag Archives: lighting

A Game Plan with No Energy – Boetti at Tate Modern

4 Mar

It has been nearly a week since I visited the Alighiero Boetti exhibition at Tate Modern.  Generally, I like to write about exhibitions as soon as possible but, for this, I needed time to digest.  I felt thoroughly bamboozled by parts of the show.  To be honest, I still do.

Boetti is one of the most influential Italian artists of the 20th century, strongly associated with the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s (which he then rejected in 1969 with his work Niente da vedere niente da nascondere).  The exhibition begins with his Arte Povera objects at a time when he was experimenting with the figure and identity of the artist.  Taking this to extremes, Boetti began to represent himself as split in two, as twins called Alighiero E Boetti.

In the background – Alighiero Boetti, Niente da vedere niente da nascondere, 1969. Own photograph.

The exhibition highlights Boetti’s engagement with travel, geopolitics, games, numbers, words, dates, sequences, systems… with far too many things in fact.  It is very hard to tie Boetti down; throughout his career, he always jumped around, never remaining in one place for long and, for this reason, after the second room there is no route around the exhibition.  Instead, it is structured by ideas rather than arranged chronologically.  Game Plan is playful and conceptual, aiming to be the exact manifestation of the artist himself.

Game Plan at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Boetti is most widely-known for his maps where each country is created using the colours and symbols of its flag.  From June 1967, not having any interest in learning the skill himself, Boetti asked his wife to embroider the shapes for him.  When travelling, he commissioned local craftswomen as he was intrigued by the female approach to colour.  At one point, supposedly, the embroiderers did not recognise the ocean as an ocean and used a colour that was more plentiful in their supplies.  After this time he gave them leeway to choose the colours they preferred for the seas; the values of the locals are woven into the pictures along with the artist’s ideas.  Boetti was fascinated by systems of which maps are the very embodiment, the human method of representing the world through shapes and symbolic colours.  At the heart of this exhibition are 12 maps embroidered in his characteristic, vivid colours.  This room is certainly the highlight of the exhibition and one where we most coherently get a sense of Boetti’s personality and ideals.

Alighiero Boetti, Mappa, 1971-72. Own photograph.

There are other well-known highlights; his 1973 work ordine e disordine covers a whole wall with a hundred embroidered squares featuring the randomly-dispersed phrase.   Also included are his monumental embroideries and a book created in an attempt to classify the thousand longest rivers in the world.  Shown in a room with windows, through which it’s possible to see the Thames, the hangings take a vivid actuality with their sense of movement and research mirrored by the flowing fluvial contours outside.

Alighiero Boetti,Ordine e Disordine, 1973. Own photograph.

I found his postal works particularly interesting; in 1969, Boetti selected 25 characters to be part of his Viaggi  Postali.  He created 25 different journeys.  The first envelopes were sent to the first addresses but were obviously returned to sender as the addressee didn’t live there.  Boetti photocopied both sides of the envelope and filed the copies in grey folders.  The original envelopes were then placed in larger envelopes and sent to the second address.  And so the same thing would continue as part of Boetti’s own strange game.  19 envelopes remain in the final work, the others having got lost on their travels.

Alighiero Boetti,Viaggi Postali, 1969-70. Own photograph.

And then there’s the work generating most attention – his Lampada Annuale, a black box holding a single light bulb that only illuminates for 11 seconds a year.  Few people will ever see it alight but there will always be a great sense of expectation when approaching it.  But, Boetti will always have the last laugh; no doubt the work will illuminate one night, enjoying its 11-second glory in solitude.

In the foreground – Alighiero Boetti, Lampada Annuale, 1966. Own photograph.

Game Plan is another exhibition that Tate has dimly lit, making it gloomy and exhausting.  It is highly likely that the tapestries dictate these low light levels but the curatorial decisions have removed any playfulness from the exhibition.  Tate has done nothing to jazz this show up.  I’d only seen a few of Boetti’s works before but the sheer diversity is incredible.  However, if you don’t know anything about the artist, Tate’s choice of labelling and explanations is strange.  I found the catalogue to be far more palatable than the show and it is through this that I’ve been able to understand some of the more baffling elements in greater detail.  It clearly elucidates Boetti’s multi-faceted career in a non-exhausting way.

Alighiero Boetti,detail of I mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo, 1976-78. Own photograph.

Even on a preview morning, as people ‘accidentally’ stepped over the boundary lines, a ridiculous symphony of beeps deafened everyone in the gallery.  The alarms were like a sound installation which I imagine will get tiresome.

Some of Boetti’s works are a revelation and his use of texture throughout is amazing but overall it’s not for me.  The volume of work at Tate shows how active Boetti was.  Although, he made very few of the pieces himself, he saw thought as a sixth sense and was constantly bubbling with ideas.  There may be no continuity in his medium but Tate aims to show that his principles are consistent and that his eccentricity was omnipresent.

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan is at Tate Modern until 27th May 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

Little and Large – Street Protests at FLASH and Aesthetic Beauty at the V&A

28 Apr

Yesterday evening saw the opening of Street Fighting Man – 50 Years of Youth Protest at Flash Projects on Savile Row. 

Own photograph

A small but striking photographic exhibition, this charts rising violence in the years from 1968 and includes a riot at a Rolling Stones’ concert (the title of the exhibition comes from the Stones’ most political song), Caroline Coon’s celebrated photographs of Punks and photographs set in a wider sociological context including CND matches, civil unrest in Ireland, inner city riots and Poll Tax riots.  The abusive clashes are portrayed in some powerful monochrome images.

Own photograph

From little to large.  Having heard so many 5* reviews, I decided to avoid the Royal Wedding madness that has well and truly taken over London and, this afternoon, I headed to the tranquillity of the V&A to see The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement, 1860-1900.

In a desire to escape the ugliness, materialism and, often vulgar, wealth of 19th century Britain (a country experiencing rapid urbanisation and industrialisation) the Aesthetic Movement sought a new beauty.  Art was created not to serve a purpose but for its own sake (‘art for art’s sake’ becoming the slogan of the movement), to be beautiful and provide pleasure.  The works in this exhibition do just that and, may I say, wow!  The V&A has gathered a truly extraordinary and diverse collection both of paintings (including old favourites such as Whistler’s Symphonies in White) and objects, offering true aesthetic delight.  With their radical ideas, there is no denying that this group of artists changed the face of art and design in late Victorian Britain.  The Aesthetic Movement approached beauty in its own right and aimed to express this perfect ideal, not only through art but through an entire lifestyle change.

James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Symphony in White, No. 1, 1862.  Image via www.nga.gov

For example, furniture was no longer merely functional but something to be admired for its sensual curves and graceful structures.  The panoply includes costume, ceramics, furniture, architectural drawings, Liberty catalogues, wallpaper pattern books, poems, textiles, paintings, sculpture, jewellery, Punch, metalwork…  Could they have fitted any more in?  All these objects centre on beauty, showing the diversity of the movement and the potential for beauty, and for art, to be found in everything and in the way we choose to live our lives.  What a positive ideal!  The Aesthetic Movement really did encompass all art forms and all walks of life. 

Carlo Giuliano, Brooch and hair ornaments, 1875-95, 1912-14. Image via www.vam.ac.uk

As a William Morris fan, I was able to indulge.  Morris revolutionised the art of designing flat natural repeating patterns with richly harmonious colour.  He believed that wallpaper was integral to any interior decoration and it became one of the essential features of the Aesthetic interior.  Morris was synonymous with the style, his decorative skill in hiding the repeat marking him out as a genius.  We still use his designs today.

William Morris wallpaper, 1885.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

A similar form of interior decoration is seen a notable work early in the show by Edward Burne-Jones in stained glass, The Merchant’s Daughter.  Although he produced many large- scale church window designs, this smaller panel for a domestic interior is surprisingly moving.

Edward Burne-Jones, Merchant’s Daughter, c. 1860.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The cult of beauty, of course, extended to the aesthetic woman.  In literature, the aesthetic woman was meant to represent a budding flower, rather than one in full bloom.  The woman as a girl – filled with promise, optimism and hope.  For most male painters of the period, the aesthetic woman was one who embodied eroticism, a vision of beauty and sex which the spectator is invited to look at and fantasise about. 

These were images of temptation personified by the sensual red-headed beauties displayed here.  Lizzie Siddal (immortalised in Millais’ Ophelia) was Rossetti’s lover and his model exclusively but that did not prevent him having a string of affairs and Bocca Baciato from 1859, whose title means ‘the kissed mouth’, refers to the sexual encounter between him and its model, his lover – Fanny Cornforth.  Although devoid of conventional narrative, the painting is deeply symbolic with apples for temptation, rose for love and marigolds for grief, suggesting the illicit nature of their couplings.  Rossetti married Lizzie Siddal the following year before her untimely death in 1862 from a laudanum overdose.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Bocca Baciata, 1859.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The beautiful feminine vision is seen in different ways.  Millais’ Kate Perugini of 1880 is gorgeous and teasing while his Louise Jopling of 1879 shows the sitter’s spirit and confidence. 

John Everett Millais, Louise Jopling, 1879.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

In 1877, having gained recognition among the wider public, the Grosvenor Gallery was opened specifically to show these new works.  The Grosvenor was consciously opulent in design so as to show off and further elaborate the works with lavish red silk walls which famously changed to ‘greenery-yallery’ for the second year, gilded pilasters and marble- topped tables adorned with flowers.  The intimate setting was meant to resemble an aristocratic house rather than a ‘conventional’ gallery – an idea that is mirrored by the V&A.  The gallery’s immediate success cemented the emergence of a new artistic group, presenting a challenge to other more traditional artists of the day.

Entrance to the Grosvenor Gallery, 1877.  Image via www.cqout.com

Oscar Wilde has come to be known as the Aesthetic impresario.  Max Beerbohm (1894) said “In fact, Beauty had existed long before 1880.  It was Mr Oscar Wilde who managed her debut.”  This was a moment in which all of art was entangled with ideas of liberation, sexuality and dubious morality – ideas which Wilde perfectly illustrates.

Napoleon Sarony, Oscar Wilde, 1882.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

This is another one of those exhibitions where every work is stunning!  However, there is a but…  At times I felt the confusing and crowded layout was messy and quite claustrophobic.  The walkways force us so close to some of the larger canvases that they are nearly impossible to view in a satisfactory way. The V&A have gone to great lengths to re-create Rossetti’s bedroom but instead of having the room open or behind glass, visitors have to view the space through peep holes.  It’s such a shame they chose to block the room off in this way.  My stilettos gave me a better vantage point but there’s no way that a child, for example, has any chance of seeing this part of the exhibition.  Finally, the bright light projections (although pretty at first) often distracted from the works and the sound recordings were lost to the galleries, becoming nothing more than an annoying background mumble unless you were directly under the speaker. 

Projections at the V&A.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The Cult of Beauty united such ‘romantics’ as Dante Gabriel Rossetti (look out for his highly influential book illustrations infused with intense poetic feeling), James McNeil Whistler (spot his sumptuous etchings of the Thames), Frederic Leighton (his detailed drapery studies), William Morris, Aubrey Beardsley (with his decadent extraordinary black and white drawings) and Oscar Wilde. 

Aubrey Beardsley, Siegfried, 1892-3.  Image via www.vam.ac.uk

The V&A have beautifully brought together this incredible array of fabulous personas.  The dimly lit, almost secretive, rooms are very evocative of the era.  As you venture from space to space, it is as if you are exploring a private aristocratic house – an atmosphere that was also created in the Grosvenor Gallery.

This isn’t my specialist period but I was left wanting to know more.  I lugged the hefty 300-page catalogue home on the crowded tube, changing arms regularly to avoid elongation.  I’ve already made a start – it is a beautifully written, academic but not ‘weighty’ overview of how beauty was applied to the many different aspects of life and art. 

Visit, read and fall for the beauty of this ‘cult’. 

Street Fighting Man – until 4th June at Flash Projects, www.flash-projects.co.uk

The Cult of Beauty – until 17th July at The Victoria & Albert Museum, www.vam.ac.uk.

%d bloggers like this: