Tag Archives: modernist

Something Old, Something New, Five Exhibitions and Some Shoes

16 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clemente at Blain Southern.  Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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Kite paintings at gimpel fils. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

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Pavilion at Timothy Taylor Gallery. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Warning: this exhibition is gloomy, dull and depressing

29 Jul

Edvard Munch was unfortunate to say the least.  He suffered from depression, alcoholism, agoraphobia and misogyny but I personally have a feeling that he was one of those people who perversely enjoy the afflictions that life in their paths.  There can be no doubt that he had a tragic life but this exhibition has a tragic start.  For me, his works don’t explore his torment in an artistic way.  Rather, his gloom and misery just emanate from the canvases and rub off on us.  The show (with walls painted in depressing Tate grey) doesn’t grab us immediately.

Munch, Red Virginia Creeper, 1898-1900. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Aesthetically, there’s an improvement from room two where both the works and the exhibition become slightly more vibrant.  This room looks at Munch’s fascination with repetition as many versions of his works exist.  In particular there are several versions of all his main compositions, some separated by as much as three decades.  Munch once said that ‘a great idea never dies’ and, rather than copy the works exactly, he created variants reinterpreting his initial ideas.  But, often the works weren’t good enough or the ideas strong enough to merit these constant re-workings.  Instead we are presented with one shoddily painted work after another obsessed with ideas of death and suffering.

Munch’s repetition. Own photograph.

The exhibition does make interesting light of his relationship with photography and film and his photography is used to guide us through the different sections of his artistic life.  As with the camera, Munch became addicted to cinematography (more than two thirds of the works here are photographs plus there are two films).  This understanding and experience helped refine his painterly skills and technique.  Entitled The Modern Eye, the exhibition aims to show that Munch was a modern thinker with modern concerns.  Fair enough, but he is certainly not a modernist which is one of the theses presented here.

Munch, Self Portrait Naked in the Garden at Asgardstrand, 1903. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Munch’s oeuvre is very varied with limited progression and because of this he doesn’t always come off well as an artist. The absence of The Scream does force us to concentrate a bit more on the rest of his output.  I’m not convinced this is a good thing though.  Although multiple copies of it exist, it would have been practically impossible for Tate to organise a loan for the exhibition.  The Scream recently sold at Sotheby’s New York for £74 million after an incredible 12 minutes of telephone bidding.  It is one of the most famous paintings in art history although not that many people could name any of his other works.  To be fair, I’m not sure I could have done.  The anguish, however, of the screaming figure is omnipresent.

Munch’s The Scream sells at Sotheby’s.  Image via http://fineart.about.com

It is a bland show.  Maybe I shouldn’t have visited on a grey and rainy day or maybe it comes down, once again, to lighting levels that are slightly too low.  The catalogue, however, is brilliant and I’d recommend buying this rather than traipsing over to Tate Modern.  The first essay begins not with discussion of his origins and his birth but with the date of his death – death after all pervades everything that Munch did.  His sister died of consumption when she was only 15 and death and sickness haunt the majority of his works.  Six versions exist of The Sick Child – through this reinvestigation Munch was perhaps able to experience a sense of cathartic release.

Munch, The Sick Child, 1907. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition begins and ends with his self-portraits.  Those in the final room are perhaps the most powerful works in the whole exhibition, following Munch’s self-destruction and the terrifying course of his own dark despair.  Munch had always had a poorly sighted left eye and, in 1930, he suffered a haemorrhage in his right eye.  Rather than consider this a reason to stop painting, he focussed (!) on painting the progression of the haemorrhage; the blind spot in his vision meant that he was able to dedicate himself completely to ill health and the subjectivity of his vision as his sight became further confused and images blurred.

Visitors to the Munch exhibition. Own photograph.

In 2005, the Royal Academy mounted a show of Munch’s self-portraits but few are held in public collections in the UK.  Tate doesn’t seek to engage with Munch’s key works, nor is this a retrospective exhibition.  Instead, it has been designed to illustrate the curators’ arguments and theses.  This is not an exhibition that is meant to be palatable to the public but to art historians with a strong interest in Munch – a narrow window indeed when you consider the gloomy outpourings of this depressive and one that I think is far too limited.  This isn’t normally a problem we encounter with Tate.  Such an institution should be seeking to engage more actively with all its public in a more inclusive way.

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye is at Tate Modern until 14th October 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

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