Tag Archives: Olympics

Ceçi n’est pas une chaussure…

12 Apr

This is a slightly strange one…  Blame it on last week’s illness if you like (I’m in need of an excuse) but, earlier this week, I set off for the Design Museum, excited to see their Louboutin exhibition.  I had been disappointed that it was scheduled to open on 28th March, while I was on holiday, and I therefore assumed that I’d missed all the press hype and a visit was overdue.

The Design Museum. Own photograph.

So, as I sat in the taxi from London Bridge station down to Shad Thames and loaded the Design Musuem website, imagine my surprise to see a picture of a gorgeous Louboutin shoe in the section for forthcoming exhibitions.  It would seem that the dates have changed and it’s now not opening until the 1st May.  Great!  As beautiful as it is to come to this part of London I didn’t really need to trek down the Thames to the Design Museum but, having done so, I thought I might as well see what was going on.

The River Thames by the Design Museum. Own photograph.

The Design Awards are celebrating their 5th anniversary this year.  Currently on show at the Design Museum is the longlist including The London 2012 Olympic Torch, the Duchess of Cambridge’s Wedding Dress, designed by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen, and the London 2012 Velodrome.  These are not designs to be taken lightly, with the exhibition including some of the big hitters from the worlds of architecture, digital, fashion, furniture, graphics, product and transport design.  The awards aim to be as wide-ranging as possible and the exhibition certainly shows off the diversity of design and the all-encompassing bracket of this term.  Many of the designs here have a conscience and seek to address vital needs.

Designs of the Year. Image courtesy of Luke Hayes and via www.designmuseum.org. 

The objects’ explanation panels help understand the motivation behind their creation and many of these deserve attention.  One work that caught my eye was the redesign for the ambulance by the Helen Hamlyn Centre at the Royal College of Art.  Their innovative new system enables a stretcher to be accessed from all sides and includes a digital communications and monitoring system that can send information ahead to the hospital.  The new ambulance is more efficient with a cleaner finish; it resembles a mini-hospital rather than the interior of a vehicle.

Ambulance redesigned. Own photograph.

Thisotropes by Conny Freyer, Sebastien Noel and Eva Rucki of Troika was commissioned by Selfridges.  It is a light sculpture formed of eight mechanised structures, each of which consists of a series of intersecting geometric profiles.  It’s a dizzying combination of science, technology and art which come together to create a beautiful and mesmerising moving chandelier.

Thisotropes. Own photograph.

Also included is the 2012 Olympic Torch that will be used to carry the Olympic flame this July. The piece has been designed to reflect the celebratory nature of the games; the body is made of aluminium alloy skins, held in place by a cast aluminium top and base.  The skin is perforated by 8,000 circular holes – one to represent every torch carrier.  As well as creating visual lightness, the holes enhance the piece on a practical level by significantly reducing its weight.  It is not only practical but deeply symbolic and very British.

2012 Olympic Torch. Own photograph.

Even The Hepworth Wakefield is included in these awards; when I visited last September I was struck by the confidence and power of the building.  Designed by David Chipperfield Architects, The Hepworth is very exposed and isolated; it rises from the River Calder, like an old mill or Venetian palazzo.  Made from warm grey concrete, the building consists of ten geometric forms that can be viewed from all aspects.   The Hepworth is a strong, yet sensitive, design far removed from the ubiquitous sterile, white-box gallery space.

The Hepworth Wakefield.  Image via www.hepworthwakefield.org

Although it includes some ingenious pieces of design, I found the exhibition to be messy; it appears cluttered and unforgiving to the objects on display.  The works are displayed on cylindrical drums that create an overload of ‘stuff’.  I was surprised by the lack of finesse and interior design here – quite ironic for a museum of design.

Clutter at Designs of the Year 2012. Own photograph.

Notwithstanding this, I will, of course, be back in May for the Louboutin exhibition – unless the dates change again!

Designs of the Year 2012 is at the Design Museum until 4th July 2012, www.designmuseum.org.  The winners of the seven categories and the overall winner will be announced on 24th April 2012.

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Rocking and Rolling: the fourth plinth, Hauser & Wirth and Sadie Coles

26 Feb

I didn’t manage to make it to Trafalgar Square for the 9am unveiling of Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 last Thursday but I did amble along in the afternoon while they were clearing away from the pomp and circumstance of the morning.  Tourists were giving the work a casual glance as if it had been there for years, nobody seemed too perturbed by the latest fourth plinth sculpture, shining resplendent in the sun.

This, the 8th commission, by artists Elmgreen & Dragset, is a 4.1m high, golden bronze sculpture of a boy astride a rocking horse.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, 2011. Own photograph.

The fourth plinth was originally intended for a bronze equestrian statue and the installation of this new work directly engages with the history of the plinth itself, taking it back to its roots.  The planned sculpture in the 1840s was of King William IV but now a child has been elevated to the status of the other heroes honoured in Trafalgar Square.  The work celebrates heroism – the heroism of youth and of growing up, asking us to look at events in our life that we often skip over without due reflection.  The child plays on his horse, conquering the world and leading his imaginary army to victory.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, 2011. Own photograph.

I don’t think the designers of the fourth plinth ever envisaged an equestrian statue like this.  Elmgreen & Dragset are gently mocking tradition but, at the same time, they have modernised it without being patronising, successfully engaging with past purpose and intention.  The monument cannot honour the figure’s history as he is only a child so it honours his future.  Cheeky?  Yes.  Derogatory?  No.  With a raised arm referencing classical works of the past, the work is both contemporary and historical.

Trafalgar Square. Own photograph.

It’s not my favourite piece to adorn the plinth and I do now rather miss Yinka’s boat but Powerless Structures is not offensive and I see why the Mayor’s Office may have wanted a relatively tame piece up for the Olympics.  The public are able to instantly engage with this work.  It’s obvious, it’s eye-catching, it’s pretty.

After a refreshing cup of tea, I headed over to Hauser & Wirth to catch their two new exhibitions, the openings of which I had missed a couple of nights previously but I hear that their brass band caused quite a stir and a distraction.

Michael Raedecker, pretence, 2012. Own photograph.

The North Gallery is showing a selection of works by Michael Raedecker who pushes the boundaries of his medium, exploiting texture using embroidery interwoven with the painted canvas.  The subject matter isn’t the most exciting – abstracted scenes of suburban architecture and everyday domesticity such as chandeliers and curtains – but the paintings explore the combination of fine art and craft, of a male painter enlivening a feminine craft.  There is something melancholic and unsettling about some of his scenes, shimmering worlds on distressed, punctured canvases where his use of silver paint adds a new dimension to the works.  The paintings seek to evade a specific interpretation or genre; they pull you in but they don’t quite have the required emotional intensity to keep you there.

Michael Raedecker, detail of strip, 2012. Own photograph.

People seemed to be using Hauser as a resting place and, at times, the window ledge was busier than the gallery.

Hauser & Wirth’s window ledge. Own photograph.

In Hauser’s South Gallery are works by Mary Heilmann – paintings, ceramics and her distinctive chairs.  Heilmann’s paintings conjure a diverse range of moods and atmospheres; they tell her on-going life story, recalling long road-trips or her visits to the sea, watching the wild waves break on the shore.  Rather than seeing her works as individual entities, Heilmann views the entire show as an installation piece and visitors are incorporated in the work.  This explains the chairs!  Ironically, no-one had stopped for a rest in these.  Heilmann wants people to sit down, relax and enjoy the work but the chairs didn’t look particularly stable and, although the security guards encouraged me to do so (with wry smiles) I didn’t fancy the chances of lowering myself into them wearing these boots; I had visions of rolling across the entire gallery.

Mary Heilmann at Hauser & Wirth. Own photograph.

Neither of these Hauser exhibitions has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to keep me in the galleries very long.  I headed further down Savile Row to Situation, a new gallery at Sadie Coles HQ.  Devoted to the work of Sarah Lucas, Situation (just above the normal gallery space but accessed through a separate door) will show her new installations in February, May, August and November of this year.  The space is intentionally shabby – a disused office that has been transformed.

Entering Situation. Own photograph.

The opening exhibition is signature Lucas and recalls her once highly provocative works from the 1990s – sculptures using found domestic objects where fried eggs and a chicken reference her early works about sexual stereotyping.

Sarah Lucas at Situation. Own photograph.

Her new works use the same things we’re used to and stuffed tights play a strong role in Viz. Nice Tits where concrete casts of thigh-high boots stand on the floor.  Above them hangs a metal grill filled with stuffed tights in the shape of boobs and phalluses.

Sarah Lucas, Viz. Nice Tits, 2011. Own photograph.

The space is only small but I get the feeling Lucas is reeling us in and will expand over the year.  What will she do in May?  Make a bigger bang, I imagine.

Sarah Lucas in MumMum, 2012. Courtesy of Ben Springett.

In the conventional gallery space, there is an exhibition of new glazed ceramics by Paloma Varga Weisz.  Upstairs is quite calm and the works are small, muted and could be mistaken for decorative whereas downstairs is more overt.  Mother shows a figure in a shroud lying on a table, captured ambiguously in sleep or death, either emerging from or receding into the slab beneath.

Paloma Varga Weisz, Mother, 2011. Own photograph.

I had hoped for some more excitement but nothing that afternoon really enlivened me.  My sore feet needed a taxi to carry on to the tunnels for week three of VAULT.

Michael Raedecker: volume and Mary Heilmann: Visions, Waves and Roads  are both at Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row until 5th April 2012, www.hauserwirth.com.  Situation is on the first floor of 4 New Burlington Place for all of 2012, www.sadiecoles.comPaloma Varga Weisz is at Sadie Coles HQ until 25th February 2012, www.sadiecoles.com.

The New Hockney – another RA Blockbuster

20 Jan

2012 is the year of the big names and the big shows that will pull in the punters and the RA has hit gold with one of their own – David Hockney RA.   This is the first ‘countdown event’ for the London 2012 Festival and advance ticket sales have reportedly already outsold their van Gogh exhibition.

David Hockney, Woldgate Woods, 21, 23 and 29 November 2006, oil on six canvases. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture is the first exhibition in the UK to showcase Hockney’s landscape work, a genre with which, until a few years ago, we would not have readily associated this artist. Hockney has always been innovative – famous for his ‘portraits’ of boys with Californian swimming pools in an idealised gay aesthetic.  His works are recognisable – he shows LA as a landscape of pleasure and sexual freedom with cloudless blue skies and idealistic fantasies.  His raunchiness has long gone and his recent work is far more mainstream and conservative, more acceptable to many audiences; he has returned to the area around his hometown of Bradford and settled down.  But maybe his work hasn’t changed as much as we initially think – yes, the subject matter may be different but the ideas, use of colour and idealism still underlie the canvases.  Hockney has tricked us with his change of aesthetic focus.

David Hockney, The Road across the Woods, 1997, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

So, here we have a Hockney exhibition that is a display of vivid paintings inspired by the Yorkshire countryside.  This is not simply a show about nature, although the theme may lead us to believe it is.  It is an exhibition about the importance of an artistic tradition and the British landscape.

Walking into the Royal Academy, you are instantly engulfed by Hockney’s work.  So much so, that the use of a room with multiple doorways means visitors don’t actually know where to start from.  My advice is head to the right.  Once you’re in Room Two you’ll find that curatorially the show flows like a dream.  The wall colours change in almost every room, often successfully alternating between deep red and putty grey (which is a surprisingly nice colour).

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture at the Royal Academy. Own photograph.

The second gallery contextualises the exhibition, looking at landscapes from earlier in Hockney’s career, showing how he has always been a landscape artist.  Hockney has a skill with colour and, while landscape may have been present earlier in his career, this is still fairly a dramatic shift in subject.  Many of his works are made up of numerous panels, reflecting the dominance of nature and A Closer Grand Canyon from 1998 comprises 60 stunning canvases.  Due to its vastness, the Grand Canyon is not an easy subject for any artist to tackle but size has never scared Hockney.  This painting extends the boundaries of the conventional landscape genre, focusing on the depiction of space and the experience of being within such a space at one of the most spectacular vantage points.

David Hockney, A Closer Grand Canyon, 1998, oil on 60 canvases. Own photograph.

I adore Hockney’s landscapes so, for me, this exhibition is generally a delight.  They are beautiful works that can’t help but make you smile; Hockney’s exuberant use of colour creates bright, happy, idealistic paintings.  The recurring motifs of idealism and the importance of colour still pervades Hockney’s work.

Moving around the exhibition, the dense hang, in Room Four, of the paintings from 2004-5 reflects the unusual smaller scale of these works  and, here,  it’s possible to really get a sense of Hockney’s passion for his re-discovery of landscape.   Hockney has become extremely well-attuned to the natural world, studying seasonal changes.  Continuing this progression, Room Five is the first of four consecutive galleries devoted to a particular subject or motif, often the same place at different times of day.  It is fascinating to study the scene in its different guises.

David Hockney, A Closer Winter Tunnel, February-March 2006, oil on six canvases.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Despite Hockney’s nod to a tradition of British painting, one of the most distinctive elements of the show is his new iPad works where he is able to celebrate the new and enliven the old.  Now I’m not particularly adept on any Apple product but Hockney certainly is.  At 74 years old, Hockney has re-invented a tradition using his iPad as an electronic sketchbook and the stylus as his new paintbrush.  He delights in the immediacy of the medium but retains the hallmarks of his style to very different effect; the painterly skill he has achieved using an App is impressive.  This is apparent when comparing his iPad works to his painting, which reveals a bolder composition and use of mark-making.

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven) – 2 January,    iPad drawing printed on paper.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The iPad works document the changing season, recording the transition from winter to spring along a small Roman road that leads out of Bridlington.  Filling the central room, all these works form The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven)which comprises 51 iPad drawings and one large painting made from 32 canvases.  This gallery is stunning;  light and airy, there is a deliberate sense of theatricality where the viewer is centre stage, surrounded by drama and change, engulfed by the natural landscape.  Hockney has applied his obsessive energy to this new medium and this project, designed with these rooms specifically in mind.  The iPad works all have dates on the walls next to them so that we can follow Hockney’s journey.  He scrutinises the natural world and nothing passes him by.  The works in The Arrival of Spring are strong because they are a group.  Whether the paintings would retain this impact individually cannot be assessed here but, in this configuration, they are gorgeous.

David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring in Woldgate, East Yorkshire in 2011 (twenty eleven), oil on 32 canvases, Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

To leave the exhibition, you have to pass through Hockney’s reflections on Claude.  The less said about these the better.  Inspired, by the spatial effect seen in Claude’s Sermon on the Mount, Hockney has made a life-sized transcript and a number of studies exploring Claude’s geographical compression of space.  These are bad and unforgivable, a sad way to end a beautiful show.  I actually walked round again and exited through the front door so that I could end with a feel-good factor.

David Hockney, The Sermon on the Mount II (After Claude), 2010, oil on canvas.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

One of the final rooms in the exhibition presents a bank of screens – multi-camera footage of Yorkshire mixed with interior films and motifs from Hockney’s paintings.  The videos have been filmed simultaneously using nine and eighteen cameras, fitted on customised cars, providing a spell-binding, immersive experience.  Once again, Hockney enjoys pushing technology to its limits, playing with a medium with which we think we are familiar.

David Hockney, Nov. 7th, Nov. 26th 2010, Woldgate Woods, 11.30 am and 9.30 am, film still. Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Critics say Hockney wanted to get away from his recognisable signature style but, although now concentrating on a different subject, these works still retain everything that has always been important to the artist.  The exhibition is about the importance of seeing and of observing and studying change.   Hockney’s commitment to the landscape is evident by the close study necessary to produce some of these works.  The exhibition also includes a number of drawings showing Hockney’s dedication to the fundamentals of his art.  Sometimes the colours can be a bit garish and some of the works aren’t quite as good as others but, more often than not, they are beautiful – simple expressions of the joy of the natural landscape.  Hockney transforms what, from any other artist, may be polite works into spectacular visions of England, filled with energy and life.  Hockney’s work is ahead of its time, answering questions that have not yet been asked.

 

David Hockney, Under the Trees, Bigger 2010–11, oil on twenty canvases.  Courtesy of the artist and via www.royalacademy.org.uk

The exhibition is immense with more than 150 works, the majority of which have been created in the last eight years.  It’s a wonderful show; Hockney is now considered the greatest living artist – he’s brilliant, the British public love him and why the hell not!

David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture is at The Royal Academy until 9th April 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

No need to be SAD: Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit

28 Nov

You may remember that I missed a couple of openings last Tuesday so after lunch and a few meetings at The Charles Lamb in Islington on Friday afternoon, I decided to head over to Victoria Miro and Parasol Unit to see their two, much-talked about new exhibitions.

Victoria Miro’s artist, Alex Hartley, has had his fair share of press recently – and not much of it positive – regarding his 2012 Cultural Olympiad Project, Nowhere Island.  The sculpture is formed from six tonnes of rock cut from a Norwegian glacier and will visit numerous venues across the UK next summer.  Hartley’s aim is for the project to highlight the dangers of climate change but the ‘island’ has been slated as a waste of public money.  Rarely do all the different newspapers unite but here they found a common cause.

Alex Hartley’s Nowhere Island. Image via www.dailymail.co.uk

However, Hartley’s current exhibition at Victoria Miro serves to remind us what a great artist he is.   Presenting a series of mixed-media photographs, the exhibition seeks to explore his on-going investigation into dystopian architecture, secular habitation and the construction of a sanctuary.  Not only do his photographs concentrate on built environments, but the works become built environments themselves as well, as Hartley constructs and transforms traditional wall-mounted photographs, turning elements of them into sculptural jungles.

Alex Hartley, A city in my mind, 2011. Own photograph.

The interventions are all scaled architectural models which come together to allude to the creation of something that has now become uninhabitable, a building or form of shelter occupying an uninhabited landscape.  In some of the images, Hartley even digs crevices into the flat surface of the photograph – ingenious!  From a distance they look like just photographs but up close they are sculptural landscapes.

Alex Hartley, I’m tired of travelling, 2011. Own photograph.

His works directly reference Drop City, the first rural hippy commune built in a desolate area of Colorado in the mid-1960s.  Living in makeshift shelters, the radical artists and film-makers sought to create a live-in, and living, work of art.  In practice, it wasn’t quite so successful and was disbanded within ten years.  But, on Victoria Miro’s terrace, Hartley has made a Drop City dome, rusted, aged and out of time which he will apparently inhabit during the exhibition.  I saw a pair of boots outside the tent mouth but didn’t spot him lurking inside, only a few hens pecking away at the water’s edge.  Dropper is beautiful and so brilliantly brings to life the ideas in his photographs.

Alex Hartley, Dropper, 2011. Own photograph.

One other sculpture accompanies this exhibition.  Upstairs, a work shows a life-size, one-man tent, partly submerged in a snowdrift.  Is the inhabitant inside?  Has he/she survived or escaped?  Although the message reinforces that of the photographs the sculpture, in my opinion, was slightly unnecessary and seems a bit random placed by itself.

Upstairs at Victoria Miro showing Bivvy, 2011. Own photograph.

The project space by reception includes artefacts and objects from Hartley’s past two expeditions to the High Artic that relate to the controversial Nowhere Island.  As this space is separate, it doesn’t distract us too much but I wish they hadn’t dredged up the Olympic debate here and, therefore, brought all of our doubts about Hartley to the surface.

However, regardless of your views on that, the mixed-media photographs are superb and deserve attention in their own right.  Pretend Hartley has had nothing do with the Olympics and look at these stunning works afresh as he re-builds the photograph, forcing us to think about place, community, shelter and surroundings.

Alex Hartley at Victoria Miro. Own photograph.

Looking at the Hartley installation on the terrace, it’s impossible not to be struck by Parasol Unit’s installation by James Yamada.  The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees is a sculptural work addressing the phenomenon of light and is the first in Parasolstice – Winter Light, a series of outdoor projects on this theme.

Complementing Victoria Miro’s exhibition, Yamada’s work is a shelter but in no ordinary sense.  Integrated into the roof are lights normally used in the treatment of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).  Yamada is known for such ingenious constructions as this that merge nature and technology but here the main question is, is it art or therapy?  The artist doesn’t want it pigeon-holed as either.  Art is therapeutic for a lot of people and, regardless of whether you suffer from SAD (and I think we all do a little bit), after ten minutes of exposure, the lights are meant to elevate your mood and change your body dynamic.  Yamada thinks that London is dreary in winter and wants the artwork to give people hope.  We visited just as it was getting dark and, although I didn’t have time for my ten minute stint, it did make me happy looking at the warm glow emanating across the terrace.

James Yamada, The Summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees, 2011. Own photograph.

Inside at Parasol is an exhibition of two Swedish artists – Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand – that focuses on time and memory.

Cecilia Edefalk at Parasol. Own photograph.

Edefalk’s work carries a strong Scandinavian haunting melancholy.  Beautifully painted, her twelve completely different versions of the same nude (a Venus statue) focus on ideas of repetition, reproduction and historical memory.  Although all the paintings concentrate on the same subject, they could not be more different.  They allude to one another and form a complex exchange until all that remains is an abstracted, silhouetted image.  The artist is heavily involved in the exhibition and the physical set-up is an integral part of her practice – some works are displayed at angles, some upside down and so on until the exhibition becomes a performance of the artist’s own sensibilities.

Cecilia Edefalk at Parasol. Own photograph.

Upstairs, Wåhlstrand’s work blew me away.  Images do not do these justice – they are photo-realistic ink drawings, focusing on memory, that reconstruct her own personal history.  Exploring motifs from the family album, Wåhlstrand re-approaches her family history and the harrowing story of her father’s suicide when she was only one year old.  Although the images themselves are not particularly special by re-drawing them, Wåhlstrand gives them a poignant immediacy as she re-explores the past of her family that she never knew.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand, Walk, 2011. Own photograph.

As she approaches and moves beyond the stories they tell, the drawings are greatly enlarged from a normal family snapshot.  The images are soft and lacking in resolution, showing the fading of memories over time.  The softening dilutes the power of the photograph and the memory.  Both artists’ works have a profound sense of loss and distance.  We cannot get close to the figures depicted, we will never truly understand.

Gunnel Wåhlstrand upstairs at Parasol. Own photograph.

Three brilliant exhibitions and they’re next door to each other so what a bonus (I confess to having been in flats otherwise this would have been a perfect totter for me).  All the works deserve attention in different ways and then, if you’re tired from an art overload, you can sit down in Yamada’s happy house and get some energising light.  It’s a win win situation!

Alex Hartley: The world is still big is at Victoria Miro until 21st January 2012, www.victoria-miro.comJames Yamda: The summer shelter retreats darkly among the trees is at Parasol unit until 18th March 2012 and Time and Memory: Cecilia Edefalk and Gunnel Wåhlstrand is at Parasol Unit until 12th February 2012, www.parasol-unit.org.

From Stella to Champagne: Haunch of Venison and PAD

10 Oct

Haunch always has a multitude of exhibitions on show.  In their Burlington Gardens’ space is showing three different exhibitions: the sensuous curved linear sculptures of Bae Sehwa’s wooden Steam Series, Ascent by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (the designers of the Olympic Torch for the 2012 Olympics) and, the main attraction, Connections by Frank Stella.

Ascent in the Mezzanine Gallery at Haunch. Own photograph.

Now, I will confess that I’m not the hugest Stella fan.  They’re obviously great works of art from a magnificent artist but they aren’t quite my thing.  They don’t move me although I feel they should.  In fact, I wish they would.

Regardless of my personal aesthetic taste, Connections  is a beautifully presented and clear show.  Aiming to examine Stella’s entire career in a mini-retrospective, Haunch presents his work in themes (openings, surfaces, working space, colour and narratives) rather than chronologically. This is a clever, curatorial decision that avoids any dips in Stella’s career, instead creating a concise and sensibly thought out study of his oeuvre.

As soon as you walk in to the gallery, two of Stella’s newest works dominate the downstairs hall: one a stainless steel piece, the other a polychrome resin work.  They give you a taste of what is to come.

Frank Stella, Djaoek, 2004. Own photograph.

The exhibition upstairs opens with his huge, familiar abstract expressionist paintings, including his black paintings of the ’50s. But these aren’t just black.  Even in them, Stella magically manages to explore the boundaries of colour.  Colour is a main theme of all his works and this later enhances the fact that he transcends the boundaries between painting and sculpture.  His wall-based works are so sculptural that we want to peer behind the multi-faceted sections and explore the works as a whole.   They are beautifully lit to make the shadows themselves interact with the sculptural forms on the walls.

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

You never really know where you stand with Stella’s works which is part of the fun.  His concerns with planes and surfaces, space and relief and colour and movement become profoundly apparent across this show as one gets lost inside the cyber-dimensions of his giant canvases.

Frank Stella at Haunch. Own photograph.

Smaller rooms of Stella’s working drawings are made to feel more intimate due to successful curation and this set up allows us to better understand his processes.  The exhibition also includes his working maquettes that help us to see how his paintings are formed, forcing us to look at the process rather than merely the finished object.

It’s a busy week and I had to hurry.  The opening night of PAD beckoned and I can tell you that some of the best art in London is to be found this week amidst the trees of Berkeley Square.   You might even spot a nightingale but you’d be hard pressed to hear it over the clinking of champagne flutes.

Frank Stella: Connections and Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby: Ascent are both at Haunch of Venison, Burlington Gardens until 19th November 2011, www.haunchofvenison.com.  The Pavilion of Art and Design is in Berkeley Square until 16th October 2011, www.padlondon.net.

These Boots Are Made For Working – Site Visit for the Sutcliffe Show

10 Aug

This morning I was able to don a hard hat, high visibility jacket and some sturdy steel-capped boots and go exploring in what will be the new East Wing Galleries at Somerset House.  I didn’t really look my usual well-groomed self but the builders seemed to enjoy me tripping around the site.  My ‘gorgeous’ boots were several sizes too big and although it was rather fun, I was pleased to return to my stilettos.

The boots. Own photograph.

These beautiful new galleries (you may have to use your imagination a bit at the moment) will be the home for the London stop of In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe next year – an exciting touring exhibition.

The new East Galleries at Somerset House. Own photograph.

Sutcliffe’s importance to the Beatles must not be underestimated – he was one of the founder members, the original bass player during their early years, and a close friend of John Lennon.  Stuart Sutcliffe’s sad and sudden death (attributed to an aneurysm) is part of Beatles’ folklore, a poignant story of a young man whose promising career was tragically cut short.

Stuart Sutcliffe in Hamburg, 1960-61. Image via www.stuartsutcliffeart.com.

In July 1961, Sutcliffe decided to leave The Beatles to concentrate on his art, enrolling at the Hamburg College of Art under the tutelage of Eduardo Paolozzi, who considered him one of his best students.  Known as the 5th Beatle, Sutcliffe was a fantastic young artist who showed huge potential and the legacy of his work has been seen all over the world.

Stuart Sutcliffe, Untitled, Red Portrait. Image via www.stuartsutcliffeart.com.

We’re bringing a great collection of Sutcliffe works over from the States and, as if that isn’t good enough, the exhibition will include a number of artists’ responses to Sutcliffe’s life and work.  Artists involved and creating works for the show are Michael Ajerman, Andrew Bick, Kit Craig, Andrew Curtis, Nick Goss, Mark Hampson, Jann Haworth, Serena Korda, Laura Lancaster, Bob Matthews, Bruce McLean, Marilene Oliver, Flora Parrott, Martina Schmid, Steven Scott, Jamie Shovlin, Sergei Sviatchenko, Jessica Voorsanger, Stephen Walter and Uwe Wittwer.  The final few will be confirmed this month so keep watch for more news.

Excited?  You should be! We are! They are! It’s going to be an amazing exhibition.

The Crypt Gallery, Liverpool (stop 2). Own photograph.

In Conversation with Stuart Sutcliffe will be hosted by CCA&A in Hamburg from 10th April – 9th May 2012, by the Crypt Gallery at the Contemporary Urban Centre in Liverpool from 18th May – 23rd June and by Somerset House in London from 4th July – 27th August.  New York dates are to be confirmed.

Messing About in Boats: A Day in Greenwich

2 Aug

I’ve a confession to make… Today’s outing necessitated wearing flip-flops due to the crazy humidity that has suffocated London and the vast amounts of walking I knew we’d end up doing.  The flip-flops were co-ordinated with my neon yellow nails though so at least I was wearing flats in style.

Parliament from the Thames. Own photograph.

In my opinion, the best way to get to Greenwich is by boat.  River travel used to be the predominant means of transport up and down the Thames and we often forget what a great and quick method this is.  Thames Clippers, our commuter boats, are London’s vaporetti and I disembarked at Greenwich Pier.

Tower Bridge. Own photograph.

Approaching from the water, the view of the Old Royal Naval College majestically fronting the Thames is unsurpassable.  Originally the Royal Hospital for Seaman – the Greenwich pensioners used to wear blue coats like the red ones of their Chelsea counterparts – and later the officer training centre for the Royal Navy, these 18th century Christopher Wren buildings, on the site of the former Greenwich Palace, are stunning.  Wren’s symmetrical arrangement of courtyards, domes and colonnades works around a central axis and the buildings stand virtually unchanged from his original plans.  Even if you’ve not visited before they probably look familiar having featured in so many films and period dramas, most recently in The King’s Speech (wonderful by the way).

The Old Royal Naval College from the water. Own photograph.

The Old Naval College now houses Greenwich University and Trinity College of Music – jazz melodies from the summer schools floated out across the quads.

Part of the Old Royal Naval College. Own photograph.

My first, and most important, stop was The Painted Hall.  One of Europe’s finest banqueting halls, this took Sir James Thornhill 19 years to paint.  Supposedly he was paid £3 per square yard on the ceiling and £1 for the walls making a grand total of £6,685.  And that was then!  The artist’s skill is remarkable and his use of trompe l’oeil and grisaille is most realistic.  The Vestibule entrance includes three fascinating plaques listing donations towards the cost of the building.  The paintings reference the Hospital’s Royal patrons and the importance of the Navy, interwoven with stories from Classical mythology.  The main theme tells the triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyranny, paying tribute to William and Mary and British Maritime Power.  The Naval College’s own website has a wonderful analysis of the paintings.

The Painted Hall. Own photograph.

A particularly nice touch, and the quirky sort of thing that makes me smile, is a facsimile of the original An Explanation of the Painting in the Royal Hospital at Greenwich written by Thornhill himself that they have on sale for only £1 (they don’t have this in the shop and don’t really have a float so make sure you have change).

You couldn’t go to Greenwich and not visit the Painted Chapel.  In fact, if you only have time to visit one thing here then make sure it is this building (admittedly, this is coming from a slightly biased 18th century art historian’s point of view).

The Painted Hall. Own photograph.

Next, and directly opposite, is the Chapel of St Peter and St Paul, a neo-Classical chapel built by James Stuart and William Newton and finished in 1751.  The Chapel contains a beautiful mix of Greek and naval imagery that covers nearly every surface.  If you don’t have a neckache from staring at the ceiling in the Painted Hall, you will have by the time you’ve finished gazing up in here.  The ceiling design of squares and octagons with centrally positioned ornate details were carved by a master plasterer – it is truly fabulous and a testament to the craftman’s skill that this looks like painted wood.  The colour scheme is Wedgewood-inspired contrasting with the beautiful black and white marble floor.

The Chapel Ceiling. Own photograph.

Above the altar hangs a work by Benjamin West showing St Paul’s Shipwreck on the Island of Malta.  It is one of West’s only paintings to remain in the place for which it was commissioned.

The Chapel showing West’s painting. Own photograph.

The World Heritage Site at Greenwich is full of places to visit and things to do.  After a pub lunch at the Trafalgar Tavern (as depicted by Jacques-Joseph Tissot), we headed off to the National Maritime Museum, the largest of its kind in the world, which tells the story of Britain’s maritime past.

Jacques-Joseph Tissot, The Trafalgar Tavern, 1878. Image via www.portcities.org.uk.

I don’t wish to do the museum an injustice and I’m sure it is brilliant but maritime history isn’t really what lights my fire and this was quite a quick visit.  But, suffering a moment of madness, I went in a simulator for the Volvo Ocean Yacht race.  Now, I hadn’t heard of this race but after my ‘extreme’ experience of the dangers of being at sea I had a google.  This race is exceptional – the Everest of Sailing – and takes nine months to complete where crews of only 11 sail 39,000 nautical miles around the world’s most treacherous seas.  It is thought to be one of the most demanding team sporting events in the world.  I was exhausted after my 4 minutes so I don’t think I’ll have an invitation to crew on the next race.

The Simulator. Own photograph.

Also nearby and well worth a visit is The Queen’s House, commissioned by Anne of Denmark, and the Royal Observatory (be warned this is up a fairly steep hill so thank heavens I wasn’t in the heels), home to Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the World.

The Observatory at Greenwich. Own photograph.

It probably goes without saying but the views from the Observatory are stunning (it has a great view of the Equestrian area for the 2012 Olympics).

Looking down from The Observatory. Own photograph.

Having crammed in quite a lot for one day, I headed back to the Clipper where a welcome splash cooled me down as we pulled away.  I’ve always loved being on the water and “simply messing about in boats”.

www.oldroyalnavalcollege.org and www.nmm.ac.uk.

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