Tag Archives: Ron Mueck

Flesh, Despair and Glistening Oil – Haunch and Saatchi

4 Dec

This is certainly not the first time we have seen Patricia Piccinini at Haunch of Venison and I doubt it will be the last but this is her first solo UK exhibition.  I popped into the opening one night last week but I have to say it lacked the normal buzz of Haunch’s exhibitions.  I don’t know if it was the cold or that this has been done and seen before – it’s impossible not to mention Mueck when looking at her works.

Piccinini’s work blurs the boundaries between the artificial and the natural, encompassing many different media along the way.  She explores our desire to homogenise the human body and considers if we do, or do not, accept those who don’t measure up to a manufactured ideal of perfection.

the carrier

Looking at Piccinini’s The Carrier at Haunch. Own photograph.

Her fascination with medical science is obvious and she uses this to attempt to explain our contemporary world.  Piccinini’s figures are far removed from the people we are used to seeing – they are mutated human/animal hybrids that are alarmingly lifelike.  The panels on the walls have been presented in a square format – silicone, fibreglass and human hair resembling a slab of butchered meat.  Her anthropomorphised machines reference both a universal instinct to apply human emotions to all animals and things as well as a consideration that people and technology are increasingly, and unavoidably, intertwined.

lovers

Patricia Piccinini, The Lovers, 2011. Own photograph.

Haunch haven’t overcrowded this exhibition or been over-ambitious.  The space afforded to the works allows us to form a baffling relationship with the pieces as we look at these familiar, yet alien, forms.  Piccinini is fetishising scarred and damaged flesh but the honesty of the material and her process removes some of the repulsion which we may otherwise feel here.

The hyper-realism draws us in closer.  Although I was disgusted by the sculptures, I couldn’t stop looking at them, admiring her technique and ideas.  Haunch state that the works both ‘attract and unsettle the viewer’ and this could not be more accurate.  This contradiction of emotions is Piccinini’s aim and couples perfectly with the juxtaposition of ideas in the works.

scarred flesh

Scarred Flesh. Own photograph.

On Sunday afternoon, I popped to Saatchi who have just opened Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: Art from Russia.  Saatchi like to do things big and recent exhibitions have looked at art from India, America, Germany, Korea and China.  This time they tackle Russia but this exhibition presents Russia in a grim and unforgiving light, with little optimism.

Before I make any comment, I have to say this is one exhibition that truly teaches the importance of being able to put aside personal taste.  To be honest, I am not a fan of the works in this show but it cannot be ignored that this is a powerful and well put together exhibition that doesn’t cower from conveying its messages.

A mono photo-like print of a bare chested man with tattoos

Sergei Vasiliev, Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopedia Print No.12, 2010.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition opens with works by Sergei Vasiliev, possibly the images that, for me, were the most enduring.  Put simply, Vasiliev, a former prison warden, has photographed tattoos.  But there is so much more here.  Tattoos were, in fact, illegal and these images aren’t just about making a mark and an image but an act of defiance created with a scalpel using blood and urine.  This isn’t a subtle veil but a coded message that we see recur again and again on worn flesh.  These men are in prison and many don’t ever expect to be released.

All of the works in this exhibition are intertwined with the unavoidable political history of Russia.  The works are immediate and exposing; Vikenti Nilin’s photographs show people sitting on the windowsills or roofs of towering buildings.  They don’t seem as if they are about to jump or are on the verge of falling, instead they sit calmly on the edge – a fascinating comment about their day-to-day existence.

v0_master

Vikenti Nilin, from the Neighbours Series. Image via www.culture24.org.uk

Boris Mikhailov’s works repel and mesmerise us, in the same way that Piccinini does at Haunch, and two galleries here are dedicated to his work.  These photographs are a small portion of 400 images he took in his homeland of Ukraine showing the distressed, desperate, dying, destitute and decaying.  The drama and theatricality of the poses would be comic if the people weren’t baring all to reveal gashes, cuts, bruises, cancerous cysts and far worse.

boris

Boris Mikhailov photographs.  Image via www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk

The photographs are at the epicentre; not all of the works deliver their messages in such a compelling way and I don’t think some of the pieces translate to a London audience.  It would have been stronger if it wasn’t quite so big and determined to show a survey of Russian contemporary art.  Of the 18 artists on show, many have never been seen outside Russia.

The title Gaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union comes from a speech by Joseph Stalin but there is no gaiety here and the work comments on the aftermath of the regimes that have gone before.  The irony could not be more poignant.

A dummy of a man hangs in a hand-built row of cells

Gosha Ostretsov, Criminal Government, 2008  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The highlight of visiting the Saatchi has to be the opportunity to gaze into Richard Wilson’s 20:50, an incredible reservoir of metal, filled with engine oil, that takes the shape of the room.  You’ve probably seen it before; the oil reflects its surroundings, it glows and glistens.  It perfectly harmonises with the architecture around us, confounding our ideas of distance and space.  Sadly, the walkway into the pool of black was closed on Sunday but I had experienced this at County Hall.  It could not be simpler; it could not be more perfect and concrete despite the fluidity.

richard_wilson_doy

Richard Wilson, 20:50.  Image via www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk

As strange as this may sound, 20:50 provides the perfect counter-balance to the grim despair of the Russian exhibition.  For me, this work is timeless and whatever Saatchi may be showing make sure you get lost in Wilson’s black depths.

shoes

Patricia Piccinini: Those who dream by night is at Haunch of Venison, New Bond Street, until 12th January 2013, www.haunchofvenison.comGaiety is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union: Art from Russia is at the Saatchi Gallery until 5th May 2013, www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk.

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Concepts Greater than Works – Haunch and Hauser

20 Apr

Jamie Shovlin’s latest exhibition at Haunch is based around the cover designs of the Fontana Modern Master series – pocket guides from 1970-95 on eminent writers, scientists and philosophers.  The covers are iconic, instantly recognisable with their bright colours and abstract geometric shapes.

Shovlin has painted a series of works that represent titles scheduled to be published that, for reasons unknown, never appeared on the market.

Jamie Shovlin’s Fontana Modern Master covers. Own photograph. 

The actual cover designs, of course, remain unknown but Shovlin has used a process of deduction to imagine the designs, assuming the cover would reflect attributes of the subject.  Although his criteria are somewhat spurious, Shovlin stuck to his guns and his methodology is seen in the works in the first gallery where Colour Wheel illustrates the determining factors of his formula and Colour Reference shows the process of colour matching to the original inner pages of the Fontana Modern Masters.

The first gallery with Jamie Shovlin’s works at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph. 

These works recall Harland Miller’s paintings based on the dust jackets of Penguin books.  Although Miller uses the book covers as an often humorous method to include his own comments, they marry Pop Art with abstraction and figurative painting.

The series reflects Shovlin’s on-going interest in typography and graphic design.  The works are a commercial gallery’s dream – a coherent solid idea that has resulted in a large-scale series.  The system of creating the works and Shovlin’s Fontana formula is clever but the resulting canvases lack any excitement or dynamism.  The idea and the practice are more energising than the works.

Jamie Shovlin’s Fontana Modern Master covers. Own photograph. 

The same day I headed over to Hauser for the opening night of their Ron Mueck show in their South Gallery.  It has been a while since there was a solo Mueck show in London – the press release reliably informed me that it has, in fact, been over a decade.  The precision and detail of his works has always amazed and startled visitors and these are no exception.

Ron Mueck, Youth, 2009. Own photograph. 

The exhibition only includes four of Mueck’s contemporary sculptures, exploring traditional themes.  It is a staged exhibition where the works are shown individually, taking visitors on a journey of exploration.

Ron Mueck, Woman with sticks, 2008. Own photograph. 

Youth shows a young boy in jeans and a blood-stained t-shirt that he lifts to reveal an open stab wound, reminiscent of St Thomas inspecting Christ’s wound.  It is here that we begin to see the themes that Mueck is playing with and images from the Stations of the Cross come to mind.  Woman with sticks recalls the carrying of the cross while Drift, positioned high on the gallery wall, shows a tanned man in swimming trunks on a lilo with his arms outstretched in cruciform fashion, questioning the brevity of life – the work references Christ on the crucifix.

Ron Mueck, Drift, 2009. Own photograph.

Finally, Still Life, a work with which most of us are already familiar, shows a dead chicken, plucked and hung by its bound feet from the ceiling, again recalling Christ’s bondage.

These themes of religion, piety and death are not new to Mueck but his works still generate strong reactions, making many feel uncomfortable and uneasy.  The messages are discreet and leave you pondering while the pieces are beautifully crafted showing sensitivity and skill.  But, as with so many artists, we’ve seen this before and while the works may conceptually be strong they didn’t move me in the way I hoped they would, in the way his earlier works have done.

Ron Mueck, Still Life, 2009. Own photograph. 

Further down the street in the North Gallery is Medley Tour London.  Since 2010, artist Andreas Hofer has used the name Andy Hope 1930 and this is a display of his latest work, merging the worlds of comic books, science fiction and mythology with history, pop culture and literature.

Medley Tour London by Andy Hope 1930. Own photograph.

I fear I’m sounding like a broken record but yet again the concepts are more interesting than the works themselves.   Conceptually all these exhibitions were very good but in actuality they just weren’t great shows…again!

Jamie Shovlin: Various Arrangements is at Haunch of Venison until 26th May 2012, www.haunchofvenison.comRon Mueck and Medley Tour London by Andy Hope 1930 is at Hauser & Wirth until 26th May 2012, www.hauserwirth.com.

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