Tag Archives: Piet Mondrian

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.

queue

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.

lichtenstein-tate-mod-190213

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.

lichtenstein_masterpiece_1962

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.

Lichtenstein-2

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.

shop

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.

Catherine-Deneuve-922x1024

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.

Le-Violon-dIngres-001-381x500

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.

picasso-met-2010-34

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.

shoes small

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.

2012 Highlights

27 Dec

When it comes picking my highlights of the last year, I am impossibly indecisive – as ever there have been been the usual disappointments but there have been a fair few stunners in the arts calendar.  I can’t believe how many shows I’ve seen but I also feel I’ve missed a lot – if only there were a few more hours in every day.

As I did last year, I’ve chosen the exhibitions that stand out for me as being remarkable; they include stunning art work, and are interesting and well-curated.  Here we go…

Triumphant at Tate – Way back in February, I visited Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern and I can still vividly picture the exhibition.  Kusama has always been ahead of her time – her work is beautiful, innovative and ground-breaking.  The exhibition worked broadly chronologically with each sequence of rooms studying the emergence of a new artistic stance.

Kusama

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

Radiant at the Royal Academy  – while the rest of the world is still raving about Bronze, the RA’s highlight for me was their exhibition Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed.  I admit that, as an 18th century art historian, I may be slightly biased but through these 60 or so works, the RA successfully argued his importance to the artistic culture and heritage of his time.

Zoffany

Johan Zoffany, Three Sons of John, Third Earl of Bute and Three Daughters of John, Third Earl of Bute, 1763-4. Own photograph.

Nailing It at the National GallerySeduced by Art is still on show at the National Gallery and is an unmissable exhibition.  This divided opinion but, for me, it was a stunning and enthralling.  Seduced by Art is not a survey, nor a history of photography.  Instead, it offers an argument and dialogue that presents historical painting, alongside historical photography, alongside contemporary photographs. The National Gallery has had a strong year and I feel its Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 (with Wallinger’s Diana in particular) is also worthy of mention.

The Destroyed Room, 1978

Jeff Wall, The Destroyed Room. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Canada and via www.ng-london.org.uk.

Leaving LondonEdward Burra at Pallant House was the first major show for over 25 years of the artist’s works in which Burra is finally awarded a smidgeon of the recognition he deserves.  It offered an opportunity to study his extraordinary creativity.

Burra

Edward Burra, The Snack Bar, 1930. Image via www.tate.org.uk.

Also with podium finishes were:

Glistening GoldMondrian||Nicholson: In Parallel, The Courtauld Gallery

This explored the creative relationship between Mondrian and Nicholson, charting the parallel paths explored by these two artists during the 1930s.  It was a far more contemporary show than we would normally expect from The Courtauld and it successfully changed the gallery aesthetic, pairing two artists who many wouldn’t otherwise have realised are connected.

Composition C (No.III) with Red, Yellow and Blue

Piet Mondrian, Composition C (no. III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935. Image courtesy of Mondrian/Holtzman Trust and via www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Scintillating SilverNowhere Less Now, Tin Tabernacle

Artangel’s commission by Lindsay Seers, took place in the Tin Tabernacle; Nowhere Less Now was a poignant amalgam of film, photography, sculpture, performance, animation, philosophy and writing.  Its complexities still offer food for thought many months afterwards.

Tin Tab

The Tin Taberacle. Own photograph.

Brilliant BronzePainting from Life: Carracci Freud, Ordovas

Having successfully juxtaposed Bacon and Rembrandt in the past, Ordovas knows how to get its shows right: Painting from Life was a tiny exhibition bringing together head studies by Carracci and Freud.  This was an intimate, simple and stunning juxtaposition.

Ordovas

Ordovas. Image via www.ordovasart.com.

Last but by no means least – Runner Up  – Alberto Burri: Form and Matter, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art

Before this exhibition, I didn’t really know who Burri was but he is undoubtedly a master of the 20th century who revolutionised the vocabulary of post-war art.  From the simplest materials, Burri was able to create something monumental and striking, imbued with energy and movement.

6. Burri White Cretto 1975

Alberto Burri, White Cretto, 1975. Image courtesy of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri and Città di Castello and via www.estorickcollection.com.

But, there was also David Shrigley: Brain Activity at the Hayward Gallery, Leonardo da Vinci: Anatomist at the Queen’s Gallery, Rothko/Sugimoto: Dark Paintings and Secrets at Pace London, Tim Lewis: Mechanisms at Flowers, Doris Salcedo at White Cube and Louse Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed at The Freud Museum and numerous great little shows at Josh Lilley.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of gems.  We are so fortunate to have such varied and high calibre art to admire on our doorstep.  It’s so easy to get from gallery to gallery however precarious your footwear may be and, of course, there’s always a taxi around the corner.

It seems only fitting to include some of my favourite shoe pictures from the past year and to thank my principal shoe photographer (you know who you are).

shoes (3)

P1050311

P1050373 - Copy

P1030131

shoes (4)

Shoes

shoes (2)

Thank you, as ever, for reading Artista.  I hope you had a very Merry Christmas and wish you all a Happy Shoe Year.

Ski boots

Parallel Painting Paths – Mondrian and Nicholson converse at The Courtauld

22 Feb

As you know, the exhibition space at The Courtauld is at the very top of the building.  Now, during a quiet afternoon it may be permissible to have a quick pant in-between floors or to embark on the climb wearing flat shoes but these weren’t options at an evening opening and so I bravely tottered all the way up, without stopping and without moaning (well, not that I recall).  This is an unusual exhibition in many regards: It is a more contemporary show than we would expect of The Courtauld, it successfully changes the gallery aesthetic and it pairs two artists who many wouldn’t otherwise have realised are connected.

The exhibition explores the creative relationship between Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson, allowing us to continue London’s exploration of Modern British, charting the parallel paths explored by the two artists during the 1930s when their works were often presented side-by-side.  The exhibition presents the two artists in parallel – in conversation – with the works leading us through their story.  When Nicholson first visited Mondrian’s studio in 1934 he had to rest in a café afterwards to try to take in what he had just seen – the elegant serenity of the works, the ambience of the studio and the energy of Mondrian himself.  This visit marked the beginning of a fascinating friendship that lasted until Mondrian’s death.

Ben Nicholson, 1936 (white relief). Image  via www.courtauld.ac.uk

At Nicholson’s invitation, Mondrian moved from Paris to London where the two worked in neighbouring studios in Hampstead.  They were separated by the outbreak of war when Mondrian moved to New York and Nicholson to Cornwall but there are over 60 letters from Mondrian to Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth (Nicholson’s then wife) covering the ten years of their friendship.

As they often do, The Courtauld has cleverly conceived a show around one of their own works – this time a Nicholson canvas, 1937 (painting).  It is part of a group of related works with powerful colour combinations of white, black, yellow and red, moderated by a cool blue.  Nicholson stretched his canvas over board, ensuring a flat and solid surface on which to work.  As ever, the painting is precise and disciplined; the colour planes are carefully ruled and there is no chance that colours will bleed into each other.  The painter’s mark is suppressed. The composition is actually very unlike Mondrian but these two artists are united by their use of forms.

Ben Nicholson, 1937 (painting). Image  via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Nicholson explores lines, shapes and spatial effects in a subtle way whereas Mondrian’s works radiate energy.  It is so easy to go around this exhibition comparing them but this should not be the point.  Yes, their lives are placed in comparison but Nicholson was never trying to imitate Mondrian and their works must be viewed as a relationship of influence.  Their art offers an alternative modern vision using a restrained vocabulary of colour and line.  Although, at times, the compositions may be strikingly similar and their vocabulary is harmoniously shared, they are very different.  They do work well as conversational pairs but there can be no denying their extreme differences. Mondrian’s works have a calming effect yet their vibrancy is uncontainable.

Before this show, I don’t think many people were aware of the depth of the mutually reinforcing friendship of Mondrian and Nicholson.  Like the exhibition, the catalogue is small and focused, a perfect reflection of a joyously academic and calming show.  It mentions the ‘opposites attract’ theory stating that Nicholson was a networker while Mondrian was a loner, Nicholson demanding and provocative while Mondrian was courteous and quiet and that Nicholson was intolerant while Mondrian was patient.  Further research into their lives has shown that this is probably a myth but a rather nice one as there is an interesting parallel in their works – they are similar but different.

Piet Mondrian, Composition C (no. III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935. Image courtesy of Mondrian/Holtzman Trust and via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Mondrian painted using very specific rules where geometric figures were only ever to be the result of linear intersections and never to be separate forms.  Colour was reduced to the three most saturated primaries creating a stark contrast of black lines with bright colours.  His works have a forceful impact.

No spotlights are used to illuminate the paintings; instead, the white walls are floodlit bathing the works in light rather than starkly presenting them.  The show is beautifully and thoughtfully curated.   The exhibition space isn’t large and, therefore, the curators needed to be disciplined in their selection, presenting juxtaposing works that reveal the similarities and differences between these two artists.  Comments that the show is too small are unfair as this is what The Courtauld has to work with and they have done so brilliantly and in an astute fashion.

Mondrian and Nicholson present two strains of modernism that art history has often separated.  Now, thanks to this smartly masterminded exhibition, the two are no longer disjointed and are shown to be very much related.  Although Mondrian was Nicholson’s senior by 22 years, this only aided their reciprocal inspiration and willingness to develop.  The exhibition concludes with Nicholson’s 1936 (two forms) and Mondrian’s Composition No. III White-Yellow from 1935-42.  Nicholson’s painting, of which he produced nine variations over a period of great upheaval, is a transitional work that concludes his abstract paintings of the 1930s.  A small but intense rectangle sits proudly among three shades of grey; the work illustrates Nicholson’s highly refined use of colour relationships and the precise combinations he engineered.  The vertical format of the Mondrian is relatively unusual giving emphasis to the shape due to the obvious length of the lines.  No horizontals cross the full width of the composition.  Although the artists were apart when these works were conceived and painted, the paintings speak of the profound affinity that had developed between the two men as they worked in parallel.

Ben Nicholson, 1940-43 (two forms). Image via www.courtauld.ac.uk

The PV was so busy that I must return to this show another time, to view the works in a calmer atmosphere than amidst the bustling crowds of last Wednesday.  Not that there’s ever anything wrong with a bit of chatter and a glass of wine!  Dinner at Cigalon beckoned and I made my way a tad more cautiously back down the stairs.

Mondrian||Nicholson: In Parallel is at The Courtauld Gallery until 20th May 2012, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Due to restrictions by the Mondrian estate, I have only been able to reproduce one image here without charge.

%d bloggers like this: