Tag Archives: Mayfair

Better than Usual: The Mixed Bag of the Summer Exhibition

28 Jun

I am one of the first to criticise the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition and maybe this year I enjoyed it more than usual because I entered the gallery with low expectations.  The Summer Exhibition is now in its 244th year and aims to cram in a mix of works by emerging and established artists.  This year the RA received over 11,000 entries that have been coordinated by Royal Academician, Tess Jaray.  There are all the usual suspects including Michael Craig-Martin, Michael Landy, Tracey Emin and Anselm Kiefer.  But, this year, the big names seem to have been better integrated with up-and-coming artists, in a way more in keeping with the RA’s philosophy.

Endless Walls at the Summer Exhibition.  Own photograph.

There can be no doubt that the exhibition has changed drastically since its inception.  The thing about the Summer Exhibition is that it’s important to remember that there is no overriding theme or connection between the works.  Fundamentally, this is a show of thousands upon thousands of unrelated pieces.  It is a selling show and people crowd the galleries like pictures crowd the walls.

Visitors to this year’s Summer Exhibition. Own photograph.

The first room that one enters has been painted in bright red, recalling Matisse’s The Red Studio.  After this though the RA have fallen back upon the old faithful wall colour of grey.  Now I’ve not mentioned wall colour in a while but, for such a popular exhibition that isn’t meant to appeal to art purists, I find this an odd choice.  After the impressive vibrancy of the first room we are met with one bland dreary wall after another.  While grey may be a neutral colour that can cause no offence it doesn’t do very much else.

Jaray has curated the largest gallery in a different way to usual and arranged the works in a wave design that rises and falls.  She has moved many of the smaller pieces, traditionally seen in the smaller rooms, to this gallery shifting the focus of the show and showing that the largest is not always the most impactful.  Although this undulating pattern makes it relatively hard to process the works individually, it is far more aesthetically pleasing and it is much better to enjoy this space as a visitor.  Jaray has made use of the works here to create more than just a hang – this is an installation.  This room also shows off the diversity of the Summer Exhibition – whether this is a good or bad thing comes down to personal taste.

Jaray’s wave. Own photograph.

However, rooms seven and eight really deteriorate with yet more grey walls, grey plinths and overcrowded poor sculpture.

Sculpture Galleries. Own photograph.

One room is showing a video work by Jayne Parker, proving that the exhibition is interacting with contemporary media but it is wrong to have this space dedicated to just one work by one artist.  It would be more appropriate if different pieces were on a loop, giving other artists more of a chance.

The Summer Exhibition does struggle to define itself.  It is still derided by the art world but it doesn’t actually make itself available as a public selling exhibition because you have to pay to go in. Whilst I understand charging for the catalogue, surely this should be the one time of year when entry to a Royal Academy exhibition is free of charge.  And so, the show sits in a difficult position and although it’s making progress, it will always be nigh on impossible to climb out of the rut it’s in.

The courtyard transformed.

As ever, the works all blur into one and I came out not really remembering too much of what we’d seen.  It’s a great game though to wander round with the list of works and see how well you know your artists and guess the prices.  There are some fairly good works this year.  There are some fairly bad ones too but this is the best Summer Exhibition that I’ve seen in a while.  I wonder what they’ll do next year…

The Summer Exhibition is at the Royal Academy until 12th August 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Concepts Greater than Works – Haunch and Hauser

20 Apr

Jamie Shovlin’s latest exhibition at Haunch is based around the cover designs of the Fontana Modern Master series – pocket guides from 1970-95 on eminent writers, scientists and philosophers.  The covers are iconic, instantly recognisable with their bright colours and abstract geometric shapes.

Shovlin has painted a series of works that represent titles scheduled to be published that, for reasons unknown, never appeared on the market.

Jamie Shovlin’s Fontana Modern Master covers. Own photograph. 

The actual cover designs, of course, remain unknown but Shovlin has used a process of deduction to imagine the designs, assuming the cover would reflect attributes of the subject.  Although his criteria are somewhat spurious, Shovlin stuck to his guns and his methodology is seen in the works in the first gallery where Colour Wheel illustrates the determining factors of his formula and Colour Reference shows the process of colour matching to the original inner pages of the Fontana Modern Masters.

The first gallery with Jamie Shovlin’s works at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph. 

These works recall Harland Miller’s paintings based on the dust jackets of Penguin books.  Although Miller uses the book covers as an often humorous method to include his own comments, they marry Pop Art with abstraction and figurative painting.

The series reflects Shovlin’s on-going interest in typography and graphic design.  The works are a commercial gallery’s dream – a coherent solid idea that has resulted in a large-scale series.  The system of creating the works and Shovlin’s Fontana formula is clever but the resulting canvases lack any excitement or dynamism.  The idea and the practice are more energising than the works.

Jamie Shovlin’s Fontana Modern Master covers. Own photograph. 

The same day I headed over to Hauser for the opening night of their Ron Mueck show in their South Gallery.  It has been a while since there was a solo Mueck show in London – the press release reliably informed me that it has, in fact, been over a decade.  The precision and detail of his works has always amazed and startled visitors and these are no exception.

Ron Mueck, Youth, 2009. Own photograph. 

The exhibition only includes four of Mueck’s contemporary sculptures, exploring traditional themes.  It is a staged exhibition where the works are shown individually, taking visitors on a journey of exploration.

Ron Mueck, Woman with sticks, 2008. Own photograph. 

Youth shows a young boy in jeans and a blood-stained t-shirt that he lifts to reveal an open stab wound, reminiscent of St Thomas inspecting Christ’s wound.  It is here that we begin to see the themes that Mueck is playing with and images from the Stations of the Cross come to mind.  Woman with sticks recalls the carrying of the cross while Drift, positioned high on the gallery wall, shows a tanned man in swimming trunks on a lilo with his arms outstretched in cruciform fashion, questioning the brevity of life – the work references Christ on the crucifix.

Ron Mueck, Drift, 2009. Own photograph.

Finally, Still Life, a work with which most of us are already familiar, shows a dead chicken, plucked and hung by its bound feet from the ceiling, again recalling Christ’s bondage.

These themes of religion, piety and death are not new to Mueck but his works still generate strong reactions, making many feel uncomfortable and uneasy.  The messages are discreet and leave you pondering while the pieces are beautifully crafted showing sensitivity and skill.  But, as with so many artists, we’ve seen this before and while the works may conceptually be strong they didn’t move me in the way I hoped they would, in the way his earlier works have done.

Ron Mueck, Still Life, 2009. Own photograph. 

Further down the street in the North Gallery is Medley Tour London.  Since 2010, artist Andreas Hofer has used the name Andy Hope 1930 and this is a display of his latest work, merging the worlds of comic books, science fiction and mythology with history, pop culture and literature.

Medley Tour London by Andy Hope 1930. Own photograph.

I fear I’m sounding like a broken record but yet again the concepts are more interesting than the works themselves.   Conceptually all these exhibitions were very good but in actuality they just weren’t great shows…again!

Jamie Shovlin: Various Arrangements is at Haunch of Venison until 26th May 2012, www.haunchofvenison.comRon Mueck and Medley Tour London by Andy Hope 1930 is at Hauser & Wirth until 26th May 2012, www.hauserwirth.com.

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman and a handful of other Mayfair Mentions

15 Apr

Last week I was charged with the responsibility of showing someone a few Mayfair Galleries.   This should have been an easy task really considering the amount of time I spend in and out of these places but the sheer volume of galleries in Mayfair did present me with a challenge.  However, with set start and finish times, a time restriction and a list of that evening’s private views, the journey mapped itself out with relative ease.

It was a luxury to spend the afternoon, strolling through these galleries and seeing the enormous diversity of brilliant art that such a small section of London has to offer.   We began at Alon Zakaim’s new space on Dover Street, currently displaying a mixed presentation of 19th century works.   Next, we dipped in and out of galleries on Cork Street including their original space as well as Flowers and Alan Cristea.

Marc Quinn, Sunspot (In the Night Garden), 2011 at Alon Zakaim, Cork Street.  Image via www.alonzakaim.com

Hooking round into Old Burlington Street, we visited Stephen Friedman.  To be honest, having missed the PV, I had forgotten what was currently on show here.  As soon as we walked in we were both struck by the power of the canvases – eight large paintings by Li Tianbing in his debut UK exhibition.  Friedman is known for having an eye for the crème de la crème and Tianbing is rightly regarded as one of the best Chinese-born artists of his generation.

Li Tianbing, Bullet holes, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

These semi-biographical works recall the artist’s upbringing under China’s one-child rule.  Introduced in 1979, the policy restricted married couples in urban areas to having only one child.  Families still find the emotional consequences of this legislation too difficult to discuss – Tianbing’s own parents, despite having seen his works, find them too painful to talk about.  It is thought that, since its inception, the one-child policy has prevented 400 million births as well as causing a serious increase in female infanticide, forced abortions and under-reporting of births.  Second children are often registered as someone else’s or not registered at all, creating a whole group of people who do not officially exist.  Those who are discovered are denied promotions, suffer benefit and pay cuts, are fined and are often made homeless.

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman. Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

When Tianbing moved to Paris at the age of 22 he took with him an album containing five slightly blurred black and white photographs – the sole memento of his childhood.  Even this in itself is rare and the images were taken on a camera that his father had borrowed from the People’s Army propaganda unit.  These images still have a profound effect on him, transporting him back to the lonely isolation of his youth.  The multi-layered paintings are instantly comparable to the monochrome detail of these photos and show an imagined upbringing with fictitious brothers and playmates – the ones he was never allowed.  Despite the multitude of figures often seen in these works, the children always seem alone, staring wide-eyed from the canvases, lost in their own thoughts.

In addition to his photographs, as a child, Tianbing only had one toy.  Don’t Touch my Dog shows a group of boys holding their toy dogs, a reminder that Chinese children hardly ever owned playthings.  The main figure holds his toy above his head and the others all look towards him.  The fragmentary nature of the work, enhanced by the use of a mixed palette, highlights the nature of these broken and adapted memories.

Li Tianbing, Don’t Touch my Dog, 2011.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

A mixture of abstraction and portraiture, Tianbing’s works use his own strong visual language which draws on Western contemporary art and traditional Chinese techniques.  Visual motifs recur repetitively such as his haunting use of staining which represents the corrosive power of political dictatorship.  There is no doubt that these pieces are striking.

The one-child system meant that Tianbing had an extremely lonely existence whilst growing up and, for him, art was the lifeline he grasped to survive this reality, taking refuge in his imagination and inventing his own life.  As well as showing the playmates he longed for, his works also show the hidden children of the regime.

Being able to spend time as a family is something that many Chinese never knew.  Tianbing, who now lives in Paris, already has a son and his second child is on the way.  This is something that we take for granted and don’t even consider but Tianbing feels as if he has won a prize.  His works are very moving and thought-provoking; they make us look at the cosy nature of our own existence and acknowledge the trials that Tianbing and others like him had to endure growing up under the oppressive Chinese administration.

Li Tianbing, Reverse Walk, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

Now that Tianbing is less lost and has found what he missed during his youth, his works have become more grounded with a glimmer of happiness.   Although the memory of the one-child policy will always be omnipresent, he has moved on to look at other issues affecting the Chinese economy.  Tianbing’s works have a powerful hold on viewers and, because they have room to breathe and are not over-crowded in the gallery, the children’s intense gazes do not let you go.

We wandered up Bond Street, past Sotheby’s who were preparing for the Munch viewing, to Opera Gallery where, for us, the highlight of their mixed contemporary show was two photographs by Gérard Rancinan.

Gérard Rancinan, On the Way Back from Disneyland, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.operagallery.com

For the first of our private views we headed back the way we’d come and turned onto Bruton Street.  Trinity Contemporary is tucked away upstairs and would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there.  We chickened out of going in the very creaky old lift and climbed up the stairs to their surprisingly light and neat space on the third floor to see a solo exhibition of drawings by Emma McNally.  Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is inspired by the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and these works show the artist’s extensive working with graphite made of carbon which reflects her interest in philosophy, science and music.  McNally’s pencil works are highly detailed looking as if they may well be the result of scientific readings – their vocabulary has been compared both to musical scores and computer coding, due to its rhythmic and harmonic activity.  In some of her new works, McNally has turned drawing into a sculptural process, pouring pure graphite powder onto large surfaces and then hammering nails into them.  The works shimmer, forming an intricate network of lines and marks.

Emma McNally at Trinity Contemporary. Own photograph.

Back to near where we started, we popped into Simon Lee which has to win top marks for being the buzziest private view of the evening.  It was packed with people drinking and gossiping for Paulina Olowska’s first solo show here.  Her new works continue her exploration of feminist and socially-engaged themes, often channelling or paying homage to other women artists.  Here, she plays with the rudimentary idea of the muse and the imagined, or remembered, image of a mother.  The images have a sense of fragility, trying to preserve a moment in time as it passes by.

Paulina Olowska at Simon Lee. Own photograph.

My feet were now starting to suffer and as I limped to Sarah Myerscough I had a feeling that this may well have to be our final stop.  Tucked away on Brooks Mews, the gallery is presenting an exhibition with works by 11 artists on the subject of monochrome.  There is no pretension, just a few really nice works in black and white.

B&W (Monochrome), Sarah Myerscough Fine Art. Own photograph.

A simple one with which to finish but I couldn’t face walking another pace to another place.  I hobbled round the corner, changed into ballet pumps and scurried home.  The other three galleries on my overly ambitious list will have to wait until another day.

Li Tianbing is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 21st April, www.stephenfriedman.comEmma McNall: Selected Drawings, Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is at Trinity Contemporary until 27th April, www.trinitycontemporary.com.   Paulina Olowska: Mother 200 is at Simon Lee Gallery until 26th May 2012, www.simonleegallery.com. B&W (Monochrome) is at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art until 5th May 2012, www.sarahmyerscough.com.  For more information on the other galleries mentioned please see www.alonzakaim.com, www.flowersgallery.com, www.alancristea.com and www.operagallery.com

Well Heeled in Dover Street

30 Mar

This is not a piece about specific exhibitions, more about the gallery spaces on a certain, very fashionable road – Dover Street!

Dover Street is happening.  It’s always been on the right side of trendy but now the art market is really moving in and it’s another enclave of galleries, fashion, clubs and restaurants.   Dealers and business owners must be waiting eagerly for leases to become available.

Dover Street. Own photograph.

I first began working on Dover Street at the Air Gallery for Rob Ryan’s The Stars Shine All Day Too at the end of 2010.  Unfortunately, due to rising rents, the Air Gallery has been taken over by Wolf & Badger (which will open shortly).

Wolf & Badger. Own photograph.

So, although I know this street well, I wanted to have a stroll to see how it’s developing.  Starting at the Piccadilly end, I popped into Alon Zakaim’s new space.  Zakaim opened his gallery on Cork Street in 2006 at the address of Peggy Guggenheim’s first London gallery.  His second space shows the gallery’s development; a good ten times bigger than Cork Street, Zakaim has transformed what used to be Alexia Goethe into a striking new gallery with dark walls, wooden floors focused lighting and a reflective atmosphere.  Although it’s too big to have the intimacy of his first space, the gallery does envelope you in a private, but friendly, atmosphere.  It has been designed to show off top quality art and it does just that.  Their opening exhibition covers 100 years of art history including a handful of top names to demonstrate their prestige.

Alon Zakaim Fine Art.  Image courtesy of Rob Ewen and via www.alonzakaim.com

Directly opposite is Clarendon Fine Art where I was greeted warmly on arrival and complimented on my shoes.  I knew, at that point, that I’d struck a winner here.  Their space is also stunning but about as different from Zakaim’s as possible with split levels and bright lights.  Clarendon tend to follow a pattern of solo shows to highlight one of their established gallery names, interspersed with two-week mixed exhibitions to show off their less prominent stable of artists.  It’s an elegant space with a tempting looking bar installed at the back.  They aim to introduce contemporary art to a wide-ranging audience and their artists include the likes of crowd-pleaser Rolf Harris.

A mixed exhibition at Clarendon Fine Art. Own photograph.

Heading up the street I passed the Arts Club, still the hot spot of Mayfair since its refurb and relaunch and the current place to be seen and sip a drink watching the gliteratti and the art world elite.

Next up, occupying the space where Richard Green used to be, is another newcomer  – Gazelli Art House, run by a dealer from Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan has been in the arts press recently, since the launch of the 012 Baku Public Art Festival at the end of February where 20 local artists are working on site specific projects across Baku, presenting newly-commissioned, public work.  The works will be unveiled every Friday until September, embracing Baku’s heritage through contemporary culture.   Most of us cannot even spell Azerbaijan on first attempt, let alone explain where it is so it’s bizarre to see its art suddenly being propelled into the public horizon.  Azerbaijan will also be more press conscious as hosts of the Eurovision this year and wish to send out a very positive image of their city.

Baku. Image via www.en.99ys.com

Since moving to London, director Mila Askarova ran a number of pop-up spaces and has now launched Gazelli’s first permanent London space.  The actual gallery space is quite small; most of the building seems to be closed off for private viewing.  Gazelli’s inaugural exhibition includes a mix of six international artists one of whom is Shan Hur, a young Korean artist who I spotted at his graduate show in 2010 and picked as one to watch.

Gazelli Art House. Own photograph.

Crossing the road again and walking up past Dover Street Market and Brown’s Hotel, I arrived at Philip Mould – one of the original incumbents of Dover Street and a leading specialist in British art and Old Masters.  Mould always has an impressive display and his 18th century works – including a rather lovely Gainsborough and Kauffman – made me swoon.

Philip Mould. Own photograph.

Passing Hay Hill, which offers yet more galleries, I headed up the street.  As Dover Street turns into Grafton Street, Spruth Magers crowns the street.  Housed on Dover Street since 2003, the gallery represents a handful of internationally-renowned artists and their current Boetti show complements Tate Modern’s retrospective.

Spruth Magers. Own photograph.

Two more prestigious dealers are set to open here and, this October, the 18th century townhouse at number 24 Grafton Street will be taken over by David Zwirner.  This will be another gallery with an historically important location; prominent past residents include Lord Robert Cecil, the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury (who was twice Prime Minister) and Helena Rubinstein.  Spread over five floors, the gallery will have almost 10,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Grafton Street. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

Of course, just a stone’s throw from the wonders of Cork Street, Old Bond Street and Savile Row, the development of Dover Street is only natural.  There’s a real buzz building and it’s not to be ignored.

It was time to stop for tea at Aubaine, a contemporary French bistro, boulangerie and patisserie, recently opened in the place of Chez Gerard on Dover Street.   It’s a bit quiet and lacking atmosphere at the moment but, no doubt, in time it will become more popular as they are serving the most amazing Nutella crème brûlée pots that are guaranteed to tempt even those without a sweet tooth.

An Exhibition of Everything – Lines of Thought at Parasol

29 Feb

Because it’s not right in the heart of Mayfair Parasol Unit often gets missed off the PV lists but art enclaves now exist all over London and Islington isn’t really as out of the way as many people think.  Last night, with dinner plans only a five minute drive away in Clerkenwell, I was determined and went to see Parasol’s new exhibition – Lines of Thought.

A mixed show, the exhibition includes work by Helene Appel, Hemali Bhuta, James Bishop, Raoul De Keyser, Adrian Esparza, Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt, Sol LeWitt, Richard Long, Jorge Macchi, Nasreen Mohamedi, Fred Sandback, Conrad Shawcross, Anne Truitt, and Richard Tuttle.

Özlem Günyol & Mustafa Kunt, Ceaseless Doodle, 2009. Image via www.designweek.co.uk.

Line is one of most powerful forms of artistic expression in history.  The exhibition, therefore, was based around a very simple premise.  Whether seen as continuous, broken, curved or straight, it’s everywhere and forms the basis for everything.  Some of the works show the magnitude and extravagance that can now be achieved through a focus on linear exploration.

Fred Sandback, Untitled Nr 4, 1968/1983. Image via www.designweek.co.uk.

Raoul De Keyser’s paintings, upstairs at Parasol, recall the workings of such Abstract Expressionists as Mark Rothko, where he has divided the small canvases into black and white fields, playing with the horizontal.  His paintings are introverted, self-reflections on his varied life.

Downstairs is more dramatic; Hemali Bhuta’s Stepping down is a site-specific installation using thousands of wax stalactites to mimic candles.  The impressive installation is somewhat diminished by the range of works in the gallery but the piece is still visually striking, transforming one corner of the room into a cave-like space where dripping formations evolve out of the ceiling.

Hemali Bhuta, Stepping down, 2010. Image via www.parasol-unit.org.

Adrian Esparza’s new work, So Fast and Slow, shows a mounted Mexican blanket that has been partially unravelled.  Much of his inspiration comes from his borderland experience in El Paso, where he lives and works, and his daily encounters with political divides.  Although So Fast and Slow is a new work this year, Esparza has created similar pieces before.  Here, guided through a loom-like maze of nails, the cotton thread becomes a strikingly geometric colourful landscape looking at the turbulent history it represents.  Esparza shows the blanket both as a constructed object and as a deconstructed form suggesting the potential for new possibilities from past forms.

Adrian Esparza, So Fast and Slow, 2012. Image via www.parasol-unit.org.

Of course, no exhibition on line would be complete without Richard Long (fresh from Haunch of Venison) and Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #103 from 1971.

For me, Conrad Shawcross’s Harmonic Manifold 1 (5:4) stands out and still has the same mysterious enigma as when I first saw it at Turner Contemporary and then again at Frieze – it’s been around quite a lot.  Placed on a raised platform surrounded by Shawcross’s drawings the work commands respect, bringing its own inspirational gravitas to Parasol.

Conrad Shawcross, Harmonic Manifold 1 (5:4), 2011. Own photograph.

The exhibition is a well-thought out idea, nothing radical, nothing subversive.  My fellow gallery-goer thought it had crossed the line and was dull.  I thought the strength of the disparate works kept it interesting.  The main problem is that line can be so manipulated that, in fact, the theme of the exhibition is everything, as everything uses line.

Outside at Parasol. Own photograph.

Parasol will always have the advantage that their stunning gallery space shows off works to their best no matter what they are.  It was a warm evening and people were milling outside by the pond, sipping champagne under Yamada’s SAD light and returning to the exhibition with smiles on their faces.

Lines of Thought is at Parasol unit until 13th May 2012, www.parasol-unit.org.

The Disorientating Diversity of Kusama and Some More Shrigley

12 Feb

Last Tuesday morning during our cold spell (which doesn’t seem to be abating) I battled it through the snow to Tate Modern where I was greeted by a number of over-sized polka-dot inflatables.  Yayoi Kusama has arrived in the UK.

The 4th floor at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Now aged 82, Kusama, whose work spans six decades, is one of Japan’s best-known living artists.  Outside art circles, her work is not widely known but Tate is rightly propelling her into everyone’s consciousness.  This grand old lady of the visual arts travelled to the UK for the first time in 12 years to see her Tate show; she arrived at the exhibition, glowing in a polka-dot dress and red wig (matching the balls outside), laughing with a bright red lipstick smile.

Yayoi Kusama visiting her exhibition. Own photograph.

Even today, she is still innovative and ground-breaking and this broadly chronological unfolds with each sequence of rooms studying the emergence of a new artistic stance, showing off Kusama’s extensive and diverse body of work.  It allows us to learn about the artist; Kusama’s creative career can be divided into sections – beginning and ending in Japan, it includes a substantial period in New York where she was one of the forerunners on the alternative scene.  There is a natural dialogue between East and West in all of her work – sometimes subtle, sometimes more obvious.

The first two rooms show her rarely-seen early work as she moves away from her Japanese origins into a heavily-influenced Western style.  Her works on paper from the 1950s use abstracted forms that suggest natural phenomena with carefully worked, highly-detailed surfaces encompassing her own unique vocabulary.

Yayoi Kusama, early works on paper. Own photograph.

Kusama’s Infinity Paintings are breathtaking.  Seemingly endless scalloped brushstrokes of a single colour on a contrasting background have a calming effect on us yet are emotionally loaded with themes of obsession and compulsion.  They have a hypnotic quality with the same use of textured surface seen in her Accumulations.  This leads us into the middle part of the exhibition where Kusama’s obsession with sex comes to the surface.

Yayoi Kusama, detail of No. White A.Z., 1958-9. Own photograph.

While in New York, she appointed herself ‘High Priestess’ of the emerging hippie scene beginning a series of provocative performance pieces.  Chameleon like, she has always adapted to her surroundings.  Her Sex Obsession series includes phallus-covered chairs, tables and other day-to-day objects, mocking the macho nature of the US art scene.  This is complemented by her food obsession works that use macaroni to show her revulsion at the overabundance of food in the US.

Yayoi Kusama’s Sex Obsession works. Own photograph.

Her decision to return full-time to Japan from the US took a number of years as she see-sawed between the two countries; this was a difficult period of time in which her early hallucinations returned with a vengeance.  She admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital where, since 1977, she has voluntarily lived on an open ward.  This confined living gave her a sense of safety and ease and, once again, her approach to her art changed; she began creating small objects that were part of large, multi-faceted installations such as The Clouds (1984) which consists of one hundred sewn and stuffed cushions.  Although these are white for purity, they create a constellation and installation that is far from pure.  The phallic and sperm-like forms of her early years began to return.  Once again, her work is in dialogue with itself as Kusama uses her illness to make her art, channelling her warped energies to create her pieces.

Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern with The Clouds, 1984. Own photograph.

Much of her art has a near-hallucinatory effect, triggered by her early use of polka dots that show her unique vision and outlook on the world.  This disorientation is closely intertwined with all Kusama’s work where nothing is straightforward and nothing is at it seems.  The polka dot, a seemingly pretty and decorative motif, actually relates to the troubling hallucinations of her childhood.  Her immersive installations illustrate this with particular intensity as dark, mirrored walls discombobulate, throwing the viewer off balance, causing confusion and disorientation.

Yayoi Kusama, I’m Here, but Nothing, 2000. Own photograph.

Kusama has always been ahead of her time.  Her art varies so much across her career that often you wouldn’t know it was by the same artist.  She was there before everyone else with performance art, wallpaper and installations.  The sheer diversity of her art is overwhelming; it’s easy to lose track of who Kusama is and her lack of a signature style is evident in the catalogue (which is, by the way, excellent).  She has never stayed in one place, in one genre, for long enough to make a mark on the public awareness.  Maybe now it’s time that she does.

Yayoi Kusama, detail of Flame, 1992. Own photograph.

One of the final works is stunning – Infinity Mirrored Room – filled with the Brilliance of Life which has been made specifically for this exhibition.  Lights flicker on and off, illuminating and hiding the room in a repetitive cycle.  The walls are clad with mirrored panels and a pool of water covers the floor.  Hundreds of lights, with endlessly changing colour sequences, are suspended from the ceiling.  It is not as disorientating as we expect and we quickly adapt to the coloured environment.  Maybe that is the point.  I think Kusama intends us to share her path as she has always adapted to her way of living and her confusion is now part of her life.  This work is pretty.  No doubt people will queue to walk through the glittering, mirrored maze.  It seems fun but there’s a deeper message; as we enter these installations we lose ourselves, joining Kusama on her journey of self-obliteration.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011. Own photograph.

Kusama is a brand as the new merchandise in the shop shows.  But what a brand!  If any artist could achieve half of what this incredible woman has I imagine they’d be ‘well chuffed’.

I’m spending a lot of my time in Waterloo at the moment, working on Heritage Arts’ VAULT – an incredible festival in a new section of the Old Vic Tunnels.  This means that rather than being in Mayfair all day, I can often be found at Scooterworks on Lower Marsh – my new temporary ‘office’ where the lovely Stanley keeps me company.

Stanley the cat at Scooterworks. Own photograph.

I can’t, however, keep away from Mayfair for too long, and that evening I popped to the opening of yet another David Shrigley exhibition at Stephen Friedman – Arms Fayre.  A bucket of beers was waiting for guests outside the gallery.  They needn’t have bothered with the ice though.  Even in gloves, my fingers could have chilled a bottle quite adequately.

David Shrigley, new works on paper at Stephen Friedman.  Own photograph.

Bringing together three strands of Shrigley’s work, the exhibition is essentially an extension of the current show at the Hayward.  Bombs captures the archetypal image of a missile commonly found in cartoons.  This element of destruction and hurt is transformed in ceramic by Shrigley into something simple, fragile and alluring.

David Shrigley, Bombs, 2011. Own photograph.

The sculpture here had a stronger impact than the drawings.  All in all, it’s a small but good exhibition and one that they had to put on to complement the exhibition across the river.  It works well and helps to further illustrate the endlessness of Shrigley’s work.

Yayoi Kusama is at Tate Modern until 5th June 2012, www.tate.org.ukDavid Shrigley: Arms Fayre is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 10th March 2012, www.stephenfriedman.com.

What a Year! A Summary of 2011…

24 Dec

Trying to pick my favourite exhibitions from this year has been quite a difficult task.  I’ve seen some rubbish but I’ve also seen an awful lot of amazing shows – 2011 has been a strong year for the art calendar.  In fact, reading back through Artista, I wonder how I have I managed to totter to so many galleries in the last few months.  But, there’s always so much to see…

My favourite exhibitions really left their mark, those I can still immediately recall that still delight me.  I’ve chosen the shows that weren’t just aesthetically pleasing but were also well-curated and academically interesting.  These are the ones that tick all the boxes.

Towering at Tate – The Gerhard Richter exhibition that is still on show at Tate Modern is breath-taking, looking at Richter’s diverse oeuvre as an unbroken panorama.  At Tate Britain, Vorticists win the prize – charting a short-lived movement, Tate aimed to place Vorticism in an international context, studying the impact of World War I on these artists.

Detail of one of Gerhard Richter’s Cage Paintings, 2006. Own photograph.

Rocking at the Royal Academy  – The Royal Academy’s upstairs gallery has to have one of the strongest exhibition programmes in London.  It’s a tie for the best show there this year between the recent Soviet Art and Architecture and Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography.

Martin Munkácsi, Four Boys at Lake Tanganyika, c. 1930.  Image via www.bbc.co.uk.

Knockout at the National Gallery – For me, Drenched in Devotion stole the show this year.  Looking at altarpieces in their context, the NG examined their structure and relationship to the surrounding architecture, following the formal, stylistic and typological developments across the period of focus.  One room was even turned into a chapel.

Room two in Devotion by Design. Image via www.independent.co.uk.

Leaving LondonRevealed: Turner Contemporary Opens was an extremely strong exhibition to launch another new public art gallery designed, of course, by David Chipperfield.  Highlights were from Daniel Buren and Conrad Shawcross.

Daniel Buren, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, 2011. Own photograph.

Also with podium finishes were:

Going for Gold – Haunch’s Mystery of Appearance with some of Britain’s most important painters – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow.  Need I say more…

Upstairs at Haunch with David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967. Own photograph.

Striking SilverThe Cult of Beauty at the V&A looked at art, from 1860-1900, created purely for its own sake to provide pleasure and beauty.

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

Bright Bronze – Future Tense’s Spectra I focused on colour – a simple concept but one that was wonderfully addressed with some of the best lighting I’ve seen this year.

Lee Baker, Refractive Monolith, 2011. Own photograph. 

and last but by no means least – Runner Up  – the brilliant Anthony McCall taking over Ambika P3 with his entrancing light works that combined cinema, drawing and sculpture.

Anthony McCall, Vertical Works, 2011. Image via http://www.dontpaniconline.com. 

Aaah… but there was also the shoes exhibition, Rembrandt and Bacon at Ordovas, Nicola Hicks and Mona Kuhn at Flowers, the many brilliant shows at Josh Lilley and the poignant timing of Lisson’s Ai Weiwei show.  What a year!  To look back at these exhibitions, use the categories or tags on the right hand side of the screen to make scrolling that bit easier.

Carla Busuttil at the Josh Lilley Galley.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Let’s hope that 2012 can move on from the success of these shows and be bigger, better and braver than ever before.  I’ll be there, in my stilettos, doing the rounds.

In the meantime, thank you for reading Artista.  A Merry Christmas and a Happy Shoe Year to you all.

(Check back next week for a look at The Courtauld’s current drawing exhibition.)

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