Tag Archives: painting

It’s Edinburgh time again…

18 Aug

The Edinburgh Art Festival is always a highlight of my August and I decided to start with the big players and see the blockbuster shows first of all.

The National Galleries of Scotland are showing a Peter Doig exhibition – a homecoming for the Edinburgh born artist although I don’t think many would instantly associate him with Scotland.  After all, he moved to Trinidad when he was two and, despite much moving around in the meantime, he has now moved back there.  The exhibition focuses on works from the last ten years and, naturally, his paintings reflect more the Trinidadian lifestyle and culture than the rugged Scottish landscape.

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Peter Doig, Paragon, 2006. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Doig really is a master of paint.  One of the highlights for me, and I’m sure for many others too, was Man Dressed as Bat from 2007 – a beautifully washed out work that can no doubt be read as a study in evanescence and transparency. Before Doig started this work, the canvas was affected by rain coming into the studio. Doig liked the effect and allowed it to suggest an approach to the painting whereby successive layers of paint barely mask those underneath.  The result is ghostlike; we are trapped in a dream that slowly reveals itself to us. There are other similar works with an equally wonderful diaphanous texture.  Although I don’t like all of Doig’s works, it is his subtlety and the transparent fading hues that form his true masterpieces and this exhibition captures the impressive quality of Doig’s oeuvre showing his over-riding commitment to one media.

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Peter Doig, Man Dressed as Bat, 2007. Image via www.nationalgalleries.org

One room shows his Studio Film Club Posters – Doig and Lovelace established this club in 2003 and Doig made hand-painted posters to advertise the weekly films that have a raw spontaneous quality almost reflecting some of the makeshift signs found in Trinidad.  The paintings throughout the exhibition have been arranged in a way to challenge each other and show the development of ideas through his works.  Doig does not paint from real life but devises his images from diverse sources including photographs, films and even memories.  This does sometimes make it hard to connect truly with the canvases – they aren’t abstract but they aren’t fully present, they remain tantalisingly inaccessible to us, trapped in Doig’s own ‘foreign land’.  His works linger in one’s mind and don’t quite disappear, the ghostly images calling from room to room.

Although I was short of time, with the Fruitmarket Gallery just across Princes Street Gardens, I couldn’t resist a quick visit.

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Princes Street Gardens. Own photograph. 

This summer their focus is on Gabriel Orozco and the exhibition takes his 2005 painting The Eye of Go as a starting point – a computer-generated pattern of black circles.  The thinking behind this show requires time and concentration but demonstrates the enormous range of materials and practices he uses to exploit the circle’s capacity to be an ‘instrument’ rather than just a geometric form in a composition.  His re-workings of this motif are rigorous and obsessive.  Circles appear as gestural sweeps of ink on paper, or points on meticulous grids in pen and graphite, as cuttings, inscriptions on tickets, letters and photographs and cedar wood, as wet pools of colour or dense ink impressions and shaded graphite spheres.  The possibilities are endless.  But these are far from just circles and at times you almost forget that this is the focus of the exhibition so fascinating are the works.

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Gabriel Orozco, The Eye of Go, 2005. Image via www.edinburghartfestival.com

You may not automatically think of an exhibition around circles to be the most dynamic that you will see but this exhibition seeks to shine light on Orozco’s practice and diverse methods.

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Upstairs at Fruitmarket Gallery. Own photograph.

I decided to have an art day and headed over to Modern One for what has to be described as a sublime exhibition – From Death to Death and Other Small Tales – which I was lucky enough to be shown around by Simon Groom as part of a Courtauld alumni event.  The title stems from a Joseph Beuys work and the exhibition seeks to create a conversation between works from the gallery’s own collection and pieces from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos that focus on the human body.  Some works reference the body explicitly while others make subtle gestures to bodies that may or may not be present.  The works presented often confront art historical tradition through similarity in subject matter.

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Sarah Lucas, Bunny Gets Snookered, 1997. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

There are the works we’d expect such as Sarah Lucas’s Bunny Gets Snookered which picks up on the tradition of full frontal female nudes.  But for it to be seen in this context is unusual and it really is good.  Every show about the body has to have a Tracey Emin and we aren’t left disappointed but then there are also some extraordinary surprises, particularly the 15 or so rarely seen works by American artist Robert Gober.  These turn everything on its head, often focusing on duality and collision of ideas.

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Robert Gober, Untitled (Torso), 1990. Image via www.thisispipe.com

Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain for once is not taking centre stage.  Here, it is removed from its pedestal and placed in a corner, allowing the other works to come forward and take their rightful place in the spotlight.  Chadwick’s Piss Flowers are very simple but utterly beautiful.  Chadwick pissed in the snow and cast the remains, memorialising something that did not even exist.

The smell permeating through the ground floor galleries comes from Ernesto Neto’s labyrinth-like installation, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time where columns, made from gauze, are weighed down with aromatic spices, dividing the space. It is a very contradictory piece that feels like it was made for the space.

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Ernesto Neto, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time, 2000. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes all of Matthew Barney’s Cremaster series in one gallery – five feature length films set in a folkloric world of his own invention.  It would take a day to get through these incredible films and, indeed, I was quite upset I hadn’t known sooner that they were here.  Seeing them all together in this incredible performance/installation is mind-blowing.  Not many rooms are given over to one single artist but this room is all-encompassing and mesmerising.

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A still from the Cremaster series. Image via www.artsbournemouth.org.uk

Nearly every work in this exhibition deserves a mention which is a surprising feat (there are of course always some pieces that don’t float your boat and I will never be a fan of Paul McCarthy’s Pirate Party that takes over an entire room and can be heard in a couple of others).  I’m used to exhibitions at Modern One occupying only the ground floor but this one is so extensive it takes over the entire building with around 130 works of top quality, playing to the gallery’s own strengths while showing their curatorial expertise.  It’s fabulous with contrasting atmospheres throughout.  This is an opportunity to see works that get very little exposure. The gallery have created an exhibition that really works without compromise.  There aren’t many wall texts around the exhibition – we are allowed to make up our own minds without intervention and can then read the excellent catalogue at a later date.

This exhibition has been open since the end of last year and is closing early in September.  If you were having an urge to pop to Edinburgh then seize it – after all you can always go for the day like I crazily did last week.

I popped back to London for a few days last week too and took the opportunity to see Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece which is currently transforming the Roundhouse.  As a Shawcross fan, this was always going to be a winner for me.  He describes the piece as ‘an engine driving a functioning clock’.  Each hand is fitted with a 1000-watt bulb and solely the light from the installation illuminates the room.  The shadows are sent over the entire Roundhouse creating a huge sundial.

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Conrad Shawcross at the Roundhouse. Own photograph.

We are normally used to seeing the Roundhouse as a concert venue filled with loud noise and hubbub.  Timepiece has completely transformed the space.  It is now one of hushed contemplation with people sitting on the floor gazing at the four-metre high contraption as it rotates and moves at different speeds.  The work is poetic and isn’t just something to take a quick glance at.  It deserves consideration.  Ironically it is easy to lose track of time watching Timepiece work its magic.

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Peter Doig, No Foreign Lands is at the Scottish National Gallery until 3rd November, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Gabriel Orozco: Thinking in Circles is at Fruitmarket Gallery until 18 October, http://fruitmarket.co.uk/.  From Death to Death and Other Small Tales | Masterpieces from the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art and the D.Daskalopoulos Collection is at Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art) until 8th September, http://www.nationalgalleries.org/Conrad Shawcross’s Timepiece is at the Roundhouse until 25th August, http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/conrad-shawcross-timepiece

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Hustle and Bustle

14 Jun

It’s been a little while since I gallery hopped and, as a result, I’m feeling a little behind on exhibitions so I thought it was time that I did the rounds.

I started my ‘tour’ with lunch at Raffety Clocks on Kensington Church Street – such a beautiful shop.  Aside from admiring the antiques, this is the place to go for relaxing (well, I think it is anyway).  It beats meditative spa treatments.  Five minutes sitting in Raffety listening to the tick tock of tens of chiming beauties can relax anyone.  I even stayed to hear them chime the hour at 2pm which was a delight.

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Inside Raffety Clocks.  Image via www.raffetyclocks.com

The Dairy Art Centre has been open for a little while now.  Hidden down a side street in Bloomsbury, the space is amazing and unexpected (the premises of a former dairy, it’s big with a wonderful industrial atmosphere).  The first thing that stood out was the warm greeting from the gallery staff – so often galleries ignore visitors or glance up coldly from their work but The Dairy is actively welcoming people.

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Finding The Dairy. Own photograph.

The space is the brainchild of Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm, a non-profit exhibition space that is said to be showing art, dance and music.  It has a lot of potential for cross-disciplinary exploration with a quirky layout and small spaces opening at unexpected angles so this is an interesting statement and I will be curious to watch as their programme develops.  But the opening exhibition but John Armleder wasn’t as inspiring as I’d hoped.  The main gallery, the first room that I entered, is hung with a number of large paintings and twelve fairly large glitter balls.  I half expected dancers to appear and for the gallery attendants to crank up some music for visitors to boogie to but, no, this is the installation.

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Glitter balls in the gallery. Image via http://dairyartcentre.org.uk

Throughout the space there are projections, fake and real flowers, taxidermy, strange installations and more paintings (relaxed relations of Abstract Expressionism).  Armleder certainly makes the most of the space and uses the gallery as a whole in a fluid style of curation that seems uncluttered and coherent.  His work extends further than we may originally think as the gallery is also full of his design – the first example being the multi-coloured bar stalls in the entrance space.

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Armleder’s installations at The Dairy. Own photograph.

The exhibition wasn’t my thing but the space is worth talking about.

I walked out of Wakefield Street to find that Google Maps on my phone wanted re-loading.  Of course, I did sort of know where I was but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of ambling in the wrong direction in the drizzle.  Taxi time!

It’s always a slight disadvantage seeing the Deutsche Börse Prize after the winner has been announced as it spoils the fun of guessing who you think might win.  As it happens, my money would have been on Broomberg and Chanarin anyway.  The prize rewards living photographers for a specific body of work in an exhibition or publication format which has significantly contributed to photography in Europe in the previous year.  This year the finalists were Mishka Henner’s images of sex workers sourced from Google Streetview cameras, Chris Killip’s black and white documentary photographs of Northern English communities in the 1970s and 1980s, Cristina De Middel’s faux documentary images inspired by an actual space programme in Zambia and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s documentation of the War on Terror using images sourced from the internet and mobile phones which pays homage to Bertold Brecht’s 1955 War Primer in which he matched poems with newspaper clippings about World War II.  Broomberg and Chanarin’s project requires far more attention that I was able to give it – it is bold and powerful, challenging the relationship between text and image, looking at the re-appropriation of past photography.  The duo are always pushing boundaries in everything they do and their extreme works, and views, normally garner significant interest.

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Broomberg and Chanarin’s winning piece in the foreground.  Image via www.125magazine.com

This year’s prize focuses on different aspects of documentary photography with a particularly strong focus on found imagery.  As ever, the show makes us question what photography is and challenges the very essence of the art form.

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Chris Killip’s Boo and his rabbit, 1983.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

As I was heading to Dering Street and still in the mood for photography I popped into Ronchini Gallery who have mounted a mixed exhibition illustrating photographic diversity in terms of techniques, locations and motifs.  With only one or two works by each artist we’re not really able to get a proper feel for the works or their investigation into the media.  There were a couple of interesting pieces all the same.

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Mixed photography at Ronchini Gallery. Image via www.ronchinigallery.com

My real reason for coming in this direction was to see the exhibition of Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes at Annely Juda.  Curated by the director of visual art at the British Council, this exhibition focuses on Kossoff’s life in London from City bomb sites of the early 1950s to recent drawings of Arnold Circus.  Drawings look at sites in the 1960s and then again recently post-renovation, reconstruction and revitalisation.  Kossoff has grown with this city and, like it, he never seems to stop.  Aged 86, he is still working.  Through his works we see the vibrance and fast-paced nature of the constantly changing city; they express the rawness and true grit of his hometown.  Kossoff isn’t trying to clean up London in his works.  What he loves is the congestion, the dirt and the real life.  And I agree with him; it is the vigour of London that makes it special and, if you’re feeling slightly disillusioned having just walked down Oxford Street, Kossoff can make you fall in love with the city again.  These ninety drawings show his life and work over the past 60 years.

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Leon Kossoff, Dalston Lane No. 1, 1974.  Image via www.onestoparts.com

The thick impastoed surfaces of the paintings stand out one, possibly two, inches from the canvases, the paint blurring our vision while imbuing the works with the same sense of energy and dynamism.  In spite of this, his paintings are far less effective than his works on paper.

The upstairs gallery, of course, is flooded with light from the fabulous skylight that makes Annely Juda such a wonderful space.  The floor below is a bit too yellow for my liking and could do with being softened slightly to allow the works to speak more for themselves.  The works are quite dark and the contrast with the natural light is just what they need.

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The light filled upper galleries.  Own photograph.

Next up couldn’t have been much more different with Thomson & Craighead’s exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher, exploring the dissemination of information through the World Wide Web.  One wall is papered with Tweets gathered from within a one-mile radius of the gallery that have been printed as posters with a political feel.  The wall is personally edited by the artists and changes every day – it would be interesting to monitor the progression and the changes if you’re in the area.  It documents the idle thoughts and passing observations that saturate the Twittersphere almost like a form of collective poetry looking at the mundanity of the everyday.  Another work in the same room turns text from spam emails into song lyrics on a karaoke-style machine, accompanied by the kind of anodyne music favoured by supermarkets and shopping centres.  Are we really expected to pick up the microphone and engage with the work?  How far do these pieces go?

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Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

Spam email, the web and social media generate new data all the time at an extraordinary pace.  Thomson & Craighead create new meaning from what, by many, is considered as junk in the online sphere.  Read about this exhibition before you go or while you’re there.  It’s truly fascinating but if you haven’t done your homework then the sophisticated essence of the works will completely pass you by.

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Thomson & Craighead, Beacon, 2007. Own photograph. 

Finally, as it’s practically next door I headed into Pilar Corrias to finish with some more photography – their exhibition of Julião Sarmento’s 75 Photographs, 25 Women, 42 Years.  Drawing on themes of memory, sexuality, transgression, morality and duality, Sarmento’s portraits of women explore the relationship of each of them with the artist.  The work’s titles reveal the woman’s name and connect her to a time and place in Sarmento’s life.  The shots are candid – showing intimate exchanges but also impulsive playful moments.

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Pilar Corrias. Image via www.galleriesnow.net

And, with that, it was time to stop tottering from gallery to gallery and return to the hustle and bustle of Kossoff’s London.

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John Armleder: Quicksand is at The Dairy Art Centre until 17th August 2013, http://dairyartcentre.org.uk/Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013 is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 30th June 2013, http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/Summer Photography Show is at Ronchini Gallery until 19th June 2013, www.ronchinigallery.comLeon Kossoff: London Landscapes is at Annely Juda Fine Art until 6th July 2013, www.annelyjudafineart.co.ukThomson & Craighead: Never Odd or Even is at Carroll/Fletcher until 6th July 2013, www.carrollfletcher.com/Julião Sarmento: 75 Photographs, 35 Women, 42 Years is at Pilar Corrias until 27th June 2013, www.pilarcorrias.com.

The Risk That Paid Off – Tate brings Choucair to London

30 Apr

We normally expect Tate Modern to put on blockbuster shows from exceptionally well-known artists who pull in the punters.  Lichtenstein is the perfect example but just a couple of floors above this popular current exhibition is a retrospective by an artist that I doubt many people have actually heard of.   You’d be forgiven for not having heard of her too as she is still relatively unknown.  Tate has taken a risk here as this is not what people expect of them; they have mounted the world’s first major museum exhibition of Saloua Raouda Choucair who has never really exhibited outside her homeland of Lebanon – she is now 97.  Older artists are certainly on trend at the moment.

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Saloua Raouda Choucair in 1974.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Choucair is a truly cosmopolitan artist and Tate ask us to consider this exhibition on level four in the context of Tate’s collections.  Although she rarely left Lebanon, Choucair did visit Egypt in 1943 and spent a few years in France from 1948 when she joined the studio of Fernand Léger.  Her crude copies of Léger’s works are a long way from mere imitations although this is how they may appear at first glance.  She imbues his style with a very personal reading and a new strident sense of dynamism and movement.  The women shown here aren’t fussed by our viewing them; they carry on with their activities, looking at art books, oblivious and uncaring.  The women who do look at us are forceful. Choucair lacks the crispness for which Léger is known, her figures are much rougher and less precise.  Through these works we instantly see her humourist and proto-feminist position.  The works articulate abstract forms and interlocking planes with an incredibly strong sense of colour.  Although, due to her use of natural materials, the palette in her sculpture is much reduced the forms recur again and again.

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Crude copies?  Own photograph.

To put together this exhibition, the curators were allowed to rummage through Choucair’s studio and one room includes a cabinet of hundreds of maquettes, drawings and documents that are actually stored in similar glass cabinets in her Beirut studio.  Through these maquettes we are able to see her thought processes in 3D and her varied and prolific output.  Choucair was very interested in architecture and architectural inventions; her sculptures illustrate her knowledge of architecture and her clear position on form where she liberated herself from the monolith of sculpture.  The creative energy of this artist is seen through her constant experimentation and need to be making things.  A lot of these objects remain small but she imagined them all big!

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Choucair’s cabinet of curiosities.  Own photograph.

Choucair has not had an easy journey and did not even sell a work in Lebanon until 1962 when she was in her 50s.  Of course, looking back through art history this in itself is far from unique but the political struggles that she had to endure add a further element.  Plus, through all this, we must not forget that to be a woman in this environment was exceedingly difficult.  One painting with holes and splinters of glass is the direct result of a nearby bomb during the civil wars; the violent history of Beirut can be followed through her art and much of her public art no longer survives.  Yet, she has continued producing and left us with an extraordinary body of work that constantly strives to break the boundaries of her environment and seek independence from her culture.  We must not underestimate how hard it was for her to create figurative works and even her choice of materials is extraordinary within the culture.

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The interlocking forms of Choucair’s sculptures. Own photograph.

Chouchair is fascinated by endless lines in her sculptures and the potential of the infinite.  She succeeds with the idea of playing with modular systems that can be taken apart and re-ordered in our mind’s eye.  The sculptures shown here are a highlight – ingeniously crafted and pulsating with life.  The forms of western design merge with Islamic motifs to create interlocking geometric puzzles.  Her works known as ‘duals’ present two carefully interlocking parts while some pieces stack together in a similar but more flexible way.

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Choucair, Infinite Structure, 1963-5. Own photograph.

The final room presents a completely different Choucair – a much more contemporary, altogether different artist.  But, look closer and the same ideas and principles are still very much hovering beneath the surface.  The tension, movement and dynamism is omnipresent.

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The final room of the exhibition. Own photograph.

Tate has produced a wonderful catalogue to accompany the exhibition that further elucidates Choucair’s career with remarkable insight and clarity.  This is a small show with only four rooms but I think it is the right size (entry is priced slightly lower than usual to reflect the size difference); I don’t think we would have been ready for a bigger exhibition of her work yet.  This is a well considered show.  Tate has kept it simple and not tried to cram in too much.  They have let us learn about Choucair for the first time.  They have let us come away intrigued and ready for her next exposure wherever and whenever that may be.

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Saloua Raouda Choucair is at Tate Modern until 20th October 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

Claustrophobic alleyways or a delightful treasure trove?

22 Mar

The V&A could not really have fitted much more into one gallery for their latest exhibition. Entitled Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars it doesn’t sound the most inspiring but it’s a treasure trove with 150 or so objects including silverware, jewellery (with magnifying glasses sensibly attached to the cases), taxidermy, armour, coats of arms, firearms, paintings, sculptures, clothing, Shakespeare’s first folio and maps. In spite of being an academic exhibition looking at a weighty topic, it clearly highlights an often neglected area of history, using important examples from the history of art.

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Armour design for Sir Henry Lee, c. 1585. Own photograph.

I must say from the outset that I’m really torn – on the one hand, I think the exhibition is a fascinating study of the development of cultural diplomacy and trade between Britain and Russia from its origins in 1555 when the Muscovy Company was founded. But, on the other hand, the way the exhibition is curated is confining and doesn’t do any of these objects justice.

It starts with Henry VIII’s consolidation of the Tudor dynasty, after his accession to the throne in 1509, and then follows the exchange between British sovereigns and ambassadors until the end of Charles II’s reign in 1685 when the British monarchy had resumed contact with Russia.

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A selection of fabulous armour on display. Image via www.dailymail.co.uk.

On entry to the exhibition we are greeted with carved wooden sculptures of beasts – a red bull, a black griffin, a white ram and a crowned white dolphin. These particular pieces were created to commemorate Thomas, Lord Dacre, who fought at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Power becomes immediately apparent here and is seen in various guises throughout this exhibition; it’s seen in the majestic armour on display as well as through the culture of possessing beautiful objects and costume. Power was not just dictated by exquisite jewels, it was far more subtle.

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Beasts at the entrance. Image via www.dailymail.co.uk.

The audio guide is in Russian and English – a nice touch to welcome Russian visitors, showing that our relations weren’t always frosty. In fact, one of the objects getting a lot of attention is a large white pelican – a gift from Russia that we still hold dear and can usually found at the Natural History Museum. I hasten to add that in 1662, it was alive and with a partner. The pelican is a strong heraldic emblem and, of course, the successors of this pair can still be found in St James’s Park. Gift-giving is a theme explored throughout the exhibition – there’s the lavish chariot presented in 1604 by British ambassador Thomas Smith to the Russian ruler Tsar Boris Gudunov. It’s represented here by a specially commissioned film and beautiful scale model. This film is one example of the successful use of multimedia; informative videos are dotted around to explain interesting points or arguments – there’s one looking at how miniatures were made.

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Model of an English Coach, 1974-1982. Own photograph.

At the very centre of the exhibition is a showcase of British and French silver, not just showing off these pieces but charting their extraordinary survival. The low lighting suits the works excellently. But, we really are led round the show and there isn’t much choice in where to go. These alleyways of art can become quite claustrophobic. The objects are amazing but heaven help you if you want to go back to see something again. The one way system doesn’t allow for any flexibility.

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Alleyways at the exhibition. Own photograph.

The Tudor and Stuart courts are explored in far more depth than the Russian court and it seems a bit unbalanced. Maybe this was different when the exhibition was shown in a slightly different format at the Kremlin last year.

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Finery.  Image via www.thetimes.co.uk.

The shop, as ever, really gets it right and knows how to maximise its market potential – there’s English mead created exclusively for the V&A, stained glass transfers, coins and goblets.

Despite all these positives, I can’t forgive that I felt I was frog-marched around this exhibition. If the objects had had more room, I’d have enjoyed it so much more.

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Treasures of the Royal Courts is at the V&A until 14th July 2013, www.vam.ac.uk.

From Ben-Day to Man Ray

1 Mar

As soon as the escalator emerged at level 2 of Tate Modern, I knew I had made a mistake. Why oh why would I have thought a Friday morning in half term was a good time to visit an exhibition of one of the most popular and recognisable artists in the world who was one of the central figures of American Pop Art? A momentary oversight I think. But, I was there and, as I’d been looking forward to seeing the Lichtenstein exhibition for quite some time, in I went.

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Queues to get into Tate’s latest exhibition. Own photograph.

Tate say that this is the first major Lichtenstein retrospective in over 25 years – I’m not sure why everyone is forgetting the Hayward’s 2004 retrospective which was then billed as the first major retrospective in 35 years. It’s obviously a catchy marketing line. Tate’s show brings together one hell of a lot of works, just over 125 to be precise, including some of Lichtenstein’s most well-known paintings and some less-known sculptures in steel and brass alongside early works, monochrome images of everyday objects, unseen drawings, collages and works on paper.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Wham!, 1963. Image via www.theweek.co.uk.

Everyone knows Lichtenstein for his work based on comic strips with Ben-Day dots but this exhibition seeks to show that there is so much more to him than this. Inspired by the commercial imagery of advertising, Lichtenstein transformed this aesthetic, painting everything by hand in a strangely depersonalised way.

Lichtenstein’s most well-known pieces are displayed in room four which, ironically, is easy to miss as it juts off to one side and does not provide a link to the end of the exhibition as you would expect. These comic book scenes are certainly not as simple as they initially appear; they capture the zeitgeist of their era, funny but with a poignant and often desolate overtone. They are often a reflection of Lichtenstein’s own life – in his Masterpiece a blonde tells the artist ‘…this painting is a masterpiece! My, soon you’ll have all of New York clamouring for your work.’ Of course, it wasn’t just New York clamouring for a slice of Lichtenstein. His work has now been the subject of over 240 solo exhibitions and there can be no doubt that he defines the enduring legacy of Pop. It seems the blonde was on the money.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Masterpiece, 1962. Image via www.londonist.com.

The first few rooms are engaging and momentous and then we sit on a downward slide (sadly, the more exciting slide of Carsten Höller are long gone). This exhibition isn’t doing Lichtenstein any favours. It certainly isn’t fair to say he was a one-trick pony but he knew what he was good at and some of his experiments should really not be hanging on Tate’s walls. The lack of soul in his pieces (a self-conscious decision of his style that dictated success) means his landscape works and, indeed, his self-portrait give very little away and so don’t require very long to view. Maybe the less-known works are diminished by the strength of his more recognisable pieces. Maybe they just aren’t as good. Room seven looks at works where he plays with pieces by other artists – his rip off works – and here I saw how he had ruined works by Picasso, Matisse, Mondrian and many others. I began to groan.

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Roy Lichtenstein, Non-Objective I, 1964. Image via www.independent.co.uk

Yet, it’s hard not to like his art and the simplicity of the subjects often makes us smile. The works aren’t as simply executed as they appear and required careful calculation and meticulous planning, bringing together his thoughtful techniques with the exact reproduction of found images. He may have repeated the system but he worked continuously to ensure he was exploring new subjects and themes. He was an avid producer.

The show offers a fabulous overview and exploration of Lichtenstein’s career and progression, something we are rarely allowed to see by galleries showing the popular pieces that pull in the punters. My worry at the beginning had been the huge numbers of visitors but actually it was lovely to see so many people engaging with the works. If the crowds weren’t enough of an indication that this show will do well, the shop says it all. It won’t be long before we start to spot tourists wearing Tate’s dotty t-shirts and carrying Lichtenstein canvas bags.

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The Lichtenstein shop. Own photograph.

I, of course, couldn’t resist the catalogue – another beautiful Tate publication – and had to lug it around for the rest of the day. No wonder I have a sore back, it’s carrying all these irresistible books in stilettos.

i5VhtnWvSoHQRoy Lichtenstein, Step-on Can with Leg, 1961. Image via www.bloomberg.com.

A couple of days later I found myself at the National Portrait Gallery for their Man Ray exhibition. We think of Man Ray and we think of dazzling photographs of fashionable people. This exhibition doesn’t disappoint, following him around Paris, New York, Hollywood and London, watching his style transform but never diminish.

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Man Ray, Catherine Deneuve, 1968. Image via www.ultravie.co.uk.

His portraits often reference great painters and known works of art. While he made his living as a commercial photographer for fashion magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Harper’s Bazaar, he was first and foremost an artist, a Surrealist and a Dadist who pushed boundaries to create exciting and exemplary portraits. He was a visual innovator who often stripped scenes or poses right back, the bare bones providing all the beauty he required – narrative wasn’t necessary. Not of all of his works do this however and some just capture a prescribed pose.

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Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924. Image via www.londonist.com.

There can be no doubt that Man Ray’s photographs are beautiful; his photographs of Lee Miller, his lover and muse, are stunning. But she’s certainly not the only lover we see here – before her was Kiki and after her Ady Fidelin, then Juliet Browner who he married and remained with until his death. These women guide us through his life. It’s not just women though – Man Ray’s photographs show us his friends and colleagues; there’s Picasso, Braque, Duchamp, Stravinsky, le Corbusier, Hemmingway, Peggy Guggenheim, James Joyce and many more.

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Man Ray, Pablo Picasso, 1933. Image via http://arthistory.about.com.

Man Ray was a photographer who had the gift of being able to capture the life and soul of his subjects. He manages to immortalise these people in the way they wanted to be seen whilst retaining their natural beauty and truth.

Man Ray’s images are so familiar to us that it seems hard to believe that this is the first show of his work at a British gallery. The NPG have included over 150 prints dating from 1916 to 1968, tracing his career. It is well-arranged curatorially in sections that focus on different periods of Man Ray’s life, finishing off back in Paris.

Many of these images are small-scale and it’s hard to appreciate them fully when seen, black and white, en masse. I’ve probably spent longer pouring over the catalogue (yes I bought another one) than I did in the exhibition. Their energy gets somewhat lost in the gallery but the creativity of Man Ray still shines through.

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Lichtenstein: A Retrospective is at Tate Modern until 27th May 2013, http://www.tate.org.uk. Man Ray Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 27th May 2013, http://www.npg.org.uk.

Schwitters the Chamaeleon

5 Feb

I thought I knew Schwitters.  That is until I walked around Tate Britain’s latest exhibition.

It is said of so many people that they are forerunners of their time but Schwitters really was and his incredible multi-disciplinary practice brought together not only collage, assemblage, painting, sculpture and installation but also performance – sound poem Ursonate is screaming from room 4.

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Kurt Schwitters, Dancer, 1943. Own photograph.

This exhibition asks us to re-consider many of Schwitters’ later works.  After fleeing Hanover, he emigrated to Norway and, two years later, he boarded the last ship to leave before the Nazi occupation.  In Edinburgh, he was detained as an ‘enemy alien’ and interned until 1941 at the Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man with a significant number of artists and intellectuals with whom he became friends.  His creativity increased during captivity and he produced over 200 works during his 16 month internment.  On his release, he moved to London where he remained until the end of the war when he moved to the Lake District.  His was not an easy life; he suffered from misfortune, hardship and, in his latter years, extreme ill health.

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Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920 and 1939. Own photograph.

His determination to make art meant he used whatever was to hand.  His works are shaped and influenced by location and the materials he was able to find, and it’s fascinating to trace the changes in his environment through his work.  His unique concept of Merz includes three-dimensional, everyday objects, discarded packaging and ephemera forming collages that used the detritus of everyday.  The compositions are considered and controlled but filled with emotional poignancy about Schwitters’ constant flight expressed through tickets, postage stamps, identity papers – the remnants of travel and upheaval.  His works from his period in London include such objects as sweet wrappers, bus tickets, metal toys and even a scrubbing brush.

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Kurt Schwitters, Untitled (Quality Street), 1943. Own photograph.

The first room, looking at his earlier years in Germany is stunning, and contains the crème de la crème of the exhibition.

His portraits are fascinating and are a part of his oeuvre of which I was not at all aware.  Not all were commissions, although those that were enabled him to earn a small living for his art.  They are also wonderful works in their own right, allowing us an insight into the people who surrounded him – his German and Austrian friends and his fellow internees.

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Portraits in the exhibition. Own photograph.

The room focusing on the Merzbarn lends itself to sober thoughtfulness – Schwitters had been forced to abandon this installation in Germany and it was later destroyed by bombing; he had only just begun to rebuild the piece in Cumbria – the biomorphic abstract plaster relief extended from the interior wall with embedded objects such as twigs and stones – when 6 months into the project he died, aged 60, never able to realise his aspirations.  Although born in Germany and having previously gained Norwegian citizenship, he was only offered British citizenship on the day before his death.

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Fragments from the Merzbarn with slides by Richard Hamilton. Own photograph.

Tate has also commissioned young artists, Adam Chodzko and Laure Prouvost, to think about what Schwitters means in current times and the final two rooms of the exhibition are devoted to their new pieces.

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Responding to Schwitters. Own photograph.

My only criticism of this show (and regular readers of Artista will probably know what’s coming) is that Tate have whipped out their store of grey paint.  I have to say it’s not quite as bad as usual but for works on paper that have no doubt faded quite dramatically with time, a dull grey would not have been my chosen colour on which to represent such an exciting artist.

This is Tate’s second Schwitters’ retrospective – the last one was in 1985.  He had an amazing but tragic life that’s further outlined in the fabulous exhibition catalogue through which I’m slowly working my way.  By bringing together all these works, Tate has succeeded in showing how Schwitters’ figurative works move into abstraction and vice versa.

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Tate grey. Own photograph.

This is a big exhibition covering an incredibly varied output.  Schwitters never gave up and his drive and enthusiasm is excellently applauded by Tate.  Here, we see his interaction with British art and culture and the profound effects his locations had on him throughout his life.  Like a chamaeleon, Schwitters always adapted to his surroundings!

The following day, I popped in to the opening of Hauser & Wirth’s three new exhibitions.  Philippe Vandenberg takes over the space in Piccadilly, presenting strongly textured and powerful works that are explorations of his own psyche.  His visceral and tormented works help him to overcome his demons as he mutilates the canvas as much as he does the figures he depicts.  The feeling is immense but the works didn’t scream out to me in the way I had hoped – the inner turmoil remained stuck within the canvas.

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Philippe Vandenberg, Now Patience Is Flowering Into Death 2, 1980-1990-1999.  Image via www.londoncalling.com

Savile Row hosts two very different shows.  In one gallery is an exhibition of works by Eva Hesse from 1965 when, with her then husband, she unhappily spent a year working in a former textile mill in her native Germany; when she was two, she and her sister were sent by Kindertransport to Holland because of the Nazi threat.  This period of time in the factory marked a significant transformation in Hesse’s practice where she re-assessed her approach to colour and materials and began to move towards sculpture.  Like Schwitters, she was inspired by her surroundings.  It’s a must-see show for any Hesse fan.  I may well have to go back as the opening was too crowded for words and I was heading off on a shoe shopping mission that was sadly unsuccessful but I’ll be going back to that too.

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Eva Hesse in 1965. Image via www.aestheticamagazine.com.

Next door, in a small survey exhibition, there are five enormous Bruce Nauman pieces that easily fill the gallery – you have to be dazzled by Nauman.  The exhibition concentrates on his iconic neon sculptures and installations.  The ‘flashy works’ aren’t what won me over.  Instead, it was his Untitled (Helman Gallery Parallelogram) where you have to hunt out the work, pushing your way through a narrow entrance until you’re absorbed by his green fluorescents.

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Bruce Nauman, Untitled (Helman Gallery Parallelogram), 1971.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

The lights inspired me and reminded me that I must get over to the Hayward Light Show as soon as I have the time – though who knows when that may be.

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Schwitters in Britain is at Tate Britain until 12th May 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  Philippe Vandenberg: Selected Works is at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly until 13th April 2013, www.hauserwirth.comEve Hesse 1965 and Bruce Nauman / mindfuck are at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row until 9th March 2013, www.hauserwirth.com.

Don’t Dwell on Death – the Wellcome Collection

22 Jan

I don’t get down to the Wellcome Collection nearly enough yet it’s a gem.  So, having battled through the snow to make it into town I decided to pop in after brunch on Saturday.  How I was walking round with one boot cuff turned up and one down is still slightly beyond me – no-one mentioned it so perhaps people thought I was making a new fashion statement!

Death: A self-portrait is an exhibition showcasing the collection of Richard Harris, a former antique print dealer based in Chicago.  The exhibition itself is an unusual portrait of Harris’s collecting and includes approximately 300 objects from his strange and unique collection devoted to death.  It is incredibly diverse – there are paintings, drawings, artefacts, sculptures, photographs, anatomical illustrations and much more.  His entire collection comprises over 2,000 objects and I’d love the opportunity at some point to get to see the whole of it.  The collection is growing all the time and Harris regularly finds and commissions new items.  It’s probably even expanding as I write this piece.

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Advertising Death.  Image via www.londonist.com

This is a truly fabulous collection showing comic portrayals of death alongside the more serious and harrowing.  The Wellcome hasn’t been precious about separating out the categories and they have celebrated its diversity.  Rare prints by Rembrandt, Dürer and Goya are displayed alongside anatomical drawings, war art and antique metamorphic postcards; human remains are juxtaposed with Renaissance vanitas paintings and twentieth century installations celebrating Mexico’s Day of the Dead.  There’s a group of Incan skulls alongside Jodie Carey’s In the Eyes of Others, a chandelier made from 3,000 plaster-cast bones.

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Jodie Carey, In the Eyes of Others, 2009.  Image via www.happyfamousartists.com

One room focuses on the art of violent death communicating the dehumanising effects of war and the brutality of death on a gargantuan scale.  Here, we find Goya’s The Disasters of War displayed alongside Otto Dix’s The War.  Dix’s memories of fighting as a soldier provided the source material for these 51 prints, showing the depravity of war.  He was wounded a number of times and the horror he illustrates is no doubt in part related to his own experiences.

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Otto Dix, Stromtroopers Advance under Gas, 1924.  Image via www.ottodix.org

The John Isaac sculpture was getting a lot of attention – a life-size sculpture of a semi-dissected man missing both arms and one leg sitting on a packing case.  In a room that focuses on our fascination with the disturbing or morbid, this work seeks to highlight the rawness of anatomical investigation and, coupled with some of the surrounding anatomical studies and engravings, reminds us that doctors first learnt about prolonging life through the study of death and the dead.

Death: A Self-portrait collection at Wellcome Collection

John Isaac, Are you still mad at me?, 2001.  Image via www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

The whole exhibition is a giant cabinet of curiosities.  Harris never intended this to be a private collection and always planned for everything to be exhibited to ‘capture the essence of Death through its iconography’.  I gave up writing down which works particularly intrigued me as the list grew and grew and we’d have never got out of there.  There was a series of anonymous photographs from the 20th century showing people, in backyards, classrooms and studios, posing with macabre artefacts that perhaps foreshadowed their destinies.   They are certainly worth very little commercially but together they make a wonderful and fascinating group – some comic, some serious, all engrossing.  Three of these photographs conclude the catalogue – a beautifully produced small album of objects in the exhibition.

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Unknown photograph, 20th century.  Own photograph.

The thing that’s really great is that this exhibition isn’t morbid or depressing.  Maybe I am alone in this opinion but, strangely, the exhibition didn’t make me dwell on death – of course this is the subject the objects all relate to but they’re so absorbing that we don’t have time to ponder our own morbid curiosities.

Ironically, my only criticism highlights the strength of the show; there’s actually too much to take in and I would have needed a good couple of hours to study everything properly.

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June Leaf, No stomach for death: Gentleman on Green Table, 1999-2000.  Image via www.standard.co.uk

I don’t think the exhibition is trying to say anything particularly poignant.  It’s not trying to look at what we think about death or about the experience of death.  If they’d wanted to do that then this exhibition wouldn’t be a self-portrait of Harris.  Maybe it’s making us think.  Maybe it’s showing us the different ways in which death can be portrayed and considered.  Or perhaps, as the pamphlet claims, it’s investigating the value of art in communicating ideas about death and the body.  Whatever it’s up to, I’m on board.

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Death: A self-portrait is at the Wellcome Collection until 24th February 2013, www.wellcomecollection.org.

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