Tag Archives: Peggy Guggenheim

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.

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Well Heeled in Dover Street

30 Mar

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

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

Dover Street. Own photograph.

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

Wolf & Badger. Own photograph.

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

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

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

A mixed exhibition at Clarendon Fine Art. Own photograph.

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

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

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

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

Gazelli Art House. Own photograph.

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

Philip Mould. Own photograph.

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

Spruth Magers. Own photograph.

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

Grafton Street. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

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

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

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