Tag Archives: Royal Opera House

Take Two at firstsite – Henderson and Paolozzi

27 Jan

Nearly a year after my first visit to firstsite, I boarded the train at Liverpool Street to head back to Colchester for a second look.  Everywhere has teething problems and the calibre of their latest exhibition sounded as if it was worth a return trip.  For some reason, I’d managed to convince myself that the train journey into Essex was going to be a wonderful experience but the tiny train really let us down, not even having a café to serve the usual railway tea that barely catches a glimpse of the teabag.

First Site, Colchester, Essex.

The impressive façade of firstsite.  Image via www.firstsite.uk.net.

Getting into a cab at Colchester station, we struck gold with a driver happy to fill us in on the cultural and civic developments in the town which has been the recipient of several grants and is currently ploughing ahead with ambitious renovation plans.  The main road is being partly pedestrianised, the castle is shut for an overhaul and two new hotels will shortly be gracing Colchester’s streets.  Colchester really is working to pull in the crowds.  But, this particular driver had never taken anyone to firstsite before and has only actually been once himself.

Many of my previous issues with firstsite remain and they are not going to go away in a hurry.  Still proudly ranking as one of the largest contemporary art venues in the UK, firstsite is so full of dead space that at times it grieved me to walk past these missed opportunities.

space

The Potential for mezzanine levels is everywhere.  Own photograph.

The main exhibition galleries are only a tiny part of the overall space and the current show focuses around Hammer Prints, the partnership between Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi, charting the firm’s history with extensive previously unseen material that includes their original screens, photographs and test sheets.  During 1954-1975, nine Hammer Prints were manufactured as wallpaper by Cole & Son and textiles by Hull Traders and went into production, becoming celebrated worldwide.  The collaboration was not to last but the designs have become immortalised, instantly recognisable; the exhibition follows the development of these.

screens

Some of the original screens used in making the prints.  Own photograph.

This is the first time since the company’s dissolution that the history of Hammer has been explored.  While people are fully aware of Henderson and Paolozzi in their own rights, most will have never heard of Hammer Prints.  Although the exhibition opened in December, a catalogue will hopefully be available from next week that will enlighten the research developments further.  Products for the gallery have been created using the original images, including beanbags that seem to be receiving a lot of attention and use, but unfortunately nobody took advantage of the merchandising potential and none of these is on sale!  Due to the size of the space, the show obviously only covers a very small section of Henderson and Paolozzi’s output but it’s very well-conceived and pitched coherently to an audience who might otherwise be unaware of the techniques or the company.

42

Installation view of the current exhibition.  Photo via Andy Keate and www.firstsite.uk.net and courtesy of the estate of Eduardo Paolozzi.

I’m not going to go into the architectural design of firstsite again but I must touch the thing that I feel is the most fundamental flaw of this gallery.  Due to the banana shape, there is one huge curved wall and I have previously commented how this could be tackled with ingenious ceiling hangings or sculptural installations.  I am assured there have been some impressive murals in place over the past year but, for this exhibition, the curators decided to print a few stencils of the Sea Beasts on the wall and leave nearly the whole expanse bare and boring.  Seeing that this wall dominates the entire building the sparseness baffles me.  The exhibition designers apparently wanted to create something really immersive but I was left speechless when I saw what they had produced.

curved wall

The curved wall.  Own photograph.

Yet, at the start of the exhibition, they had wallpapered the flat walls on which they could easily have hung more art.  Surely the wallpaper would have been more engaging on the curved walls.  These particular illustrations come from a series of plates found in an 18th century French encyclopaedia – the engravings were then photographed and made into a set of transfers that were applied to various ceramic objects.

20

Installation view of the current exhibition.  Photo via Andy Keate and www.firstsite.uk.net and courtesy of the estate of Eduardo Paolozzi.

There is a permanent room in the gallery called ESCALA which is the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America.  Currently on display is David Pérez Karmadvis’s photography and video work broadly exploring the predicament of Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republican and the issues of border politics.  The works are very powerful and the accompanying exhibition guide provides a thorough and interesting explanation of the thought-process.  For the work Identificaión, Karmadvis contracted a tattoo artist to brand people’s names and identity numbers onto their inner lower arms, where prisoners would have had a serial number marked.  Therefore, in case they disappear or their features become unrecognisable, this tattoo will remain to identify them.  The harrowing ideas at play here pack a fairly hefty punch.

david%20perez

David Pérez Karmadvis, Identificaión, 2007.  Image via www.escala.org.uk

The events programme at Colchester is to be applauded – they have talks and tours (the enthusiasm of the guide who showed us around was infectious), art courses, dance classes, family days and a film programme that includes Picturehouse screenings from the Royal Opera House, Met Opera and National Theatre.  There is also a community art space and a schools programme which is going from strength to strength.  firstsite get a fair amount of visitors; in their first year, they welcomed 172,000 people .  How many of these, however, are schoolchildren or people solely there for the events?  For me, it isn’t really a gallery – it’s currently a local community centre housed in an impressive building but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.

beanbags

The ‘reading area’ with the beanbags.  Own photograph.

In terms of the art, it really doesn’t take long to get round the space and it’s certainly not yet offering enough to merit a full day out.  The new director, Matthew Rowe, is starting any day and maybe he will herald a turning point for the gallery.  I so want this space to work but there’s still a lot of work to do.

After wandering round firstsite, it was time to visit to The Minories Galleries – a site run and managed by the Colchester School of Art with some rather lovely studio space in the upper rooms.  Their current show is a three-room exhibition of works by Ron Sims – in actual fact, the exhibition extends discreetly over the whole building and the staff are happy to open up officially closed areas for anyone to have a peek.

minories

Ron Simms at The Minories Gallery. Own photograph.

The exhibition works well alongside firstsite and the two organisations seem to be working collaboratively and existing in happy partnership.  Sims produces groups of clearly defined shapes and forms that create boundaries and define dimensions.  His works have strong structural compositions, seemingly constructed by manipulated surfaces and visual planes.  Although only small, this space is working well and really utilising the whole building.

P1050623

firstsite seen from the garden at The Minories.  Own photograph.

I’m pleased to say the train home had armchair-like seats and the much-desired restaurant with tea as expected.  The countryside whizzed by and before we knew it we were back in London and I was off to see the state of the Waterloo tunnels after they’d been cleaned while we were out of town.

Nigel Henderson & Eduardo Paolozzi: Hammer Prints Ltd, 1954 – 75 is at firstsite until 3rd March 2013, www.firstsite.uk.netRon Simms: Visual Genetics, Human and Animal is at The Minories Galleries until 9th March 2013, www.colchester.ac.uk/art/minores.

Advertisements

A Collaborative Conversation: The Power of Metamorphosis at the National Gallery

9 Jul

I’m not enjoying this weather.  Waking up in July and putting on winter boots because of the rain and puddled pavements just doesn’t seem right.  The mixture of clothes is so incongruous.  Some are determined that it’s July and are donning summer dresses and flip flops no matter what.  While others are more resigned and have brought their Uggs back out.  So, it was with a heavy heart that I set off in the dank this morning to the National Gallery.

But I’m pleased to say that with Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 the National Gallery has once again pulled it out of the bag.  The exhibition is part of a much larger collaborative scheme which sees artists, choreographers, composers, poets and librettists responding to three paintings by Titian. Each visual artist (Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross and Mark Wallinger) has been afforded one room at the National Gallery as well as space in which to illustrate their costume and set designs for newly commissioned ballets that will be performed by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House.  Two of each of their costumes are shown here: Ofili’s using his trademark vibrant colours, Wallinger’s employing a tile pattern derived from Siena Cathedral and Shawcross’s using configurations of geometric spirals that originate from the light patterns created by his robotic Diana.

Chris Ofili’s costume designs. Own photograph.

The source of all these new works in various media is the three Titian paintings, displayed here together for the first time since leaving Titian’s own studio.  The dark and enigmatic curation of the exhibition means that the paintings shine from the walls.  The only downside of the darkness is that the wall labels are practically illegible but in terms of the atmosphere it conjures up it’s worth the loss.  There is no cop-out here with dim lighting, this is dark, powerful and evocative.

Titian, Diana and Actaeon, 1556-59. Image courtesy of the National Gallery and via www.nationalgallery.org.uk

I have been a Conrad Shawcross fan since I first saw one of his works but, even without this bias, his Trophy is the clear winner (although in no way are the works intended for comparison).  Shawcross’s Diana is a robot, reminiscent of not only his past works but also Tim Lewis’s mechanised pieces.  His Diana moves around her glass case in a beguiling way, her seductive movement leaves us heady.  Actaeon is represented by a wooden antler and, here, Diana examines her trophy with a light at the end of a wand.  The work is mesmerising and hypnotic.   By looking at Diana through innovative modern and technological design, Shawcross has redesigned Titian’s figures so they are now in tune with our modern world.  I came back to this work time and time again, following Diana’s journey and joining her in this ritual.

Conrad Shawcross, Trophy, 2012. Own photograph.

Mark Wallinger’s work superbly plays with the ideas of voyeurism found in these Titian pieces.  He has created a bathroom within a closed box which we are able to look into through peepholes.  By doing this we invade Diana’s space and ruin her privacy, recalling Actaeon encroaching on Diana’s sanctuary.  Wallinger explores Diana bathing through a contemporary motif by using a real Diana to explore the themes of Titian’s paintings. The piece is very physical and six actual women called Diana will play the role throughout the duration of the exhibition.  It’s brilliant – you can’t help but look and want to see more.  One viewing hole is a broken pane in a frosted window (even in high heels, I had to strain on tiptoes to see through, which may make the work a bit too obtuse for those of us on the smaller side) and another opening (better for those in flat shoes) can be found in the slats of a wooden window.  Intentionally, this only affords us partial glimpses of the scene.

Mark Wallinger, Diana, 2012. Own photograph.

On one side are two eyeholes that reveal the model in more detail and it is this that diminishes the work slightly for me as I felt that here the piece lost part of its mystery.  Notwithstanding, this is still very powerful and very Wallinger.

Mark Wallinger, Diana, 2012. Image courtesy of the artist and Anthony Reynolds Gallery and via www.nationalgallery.org.uk

For me, Ofili’s works are the least effective and are partly lost alongside the other two responses. His body of seven new paintings embraces the female form, transposing the Classical world to his home in Trinidad. These works don’t have the force or immediacy of the others.  Placed in between Shawcross and Wallinger they didn’t grab me in the same way.  Maybe they would have been better set apart.

Some of Chris Ofili’s new paintings. Own photograph.

There is also a choreographic room affording a glimpse into the work of the seven choreographers and a room showing working models of the artist’s sets.  The exhibition is designed to give a taster of the overall project and it certainly does this.  I now want to go to see the ballets at the ROH, I want to spend more time with Shawcross’s Diana.

Conrad Shawcross’s Royal Opera House set design. Own photograph.

I was disappointed that a publication hasn’t been produced to accompany this exhibition although I’m told that a leaflet is to follow.  I find the cross-media conversation intriguing, especially as there can be no doubt that it’s been a success and has resulted in some very powerful new works.

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is at the National Gallery from 11th July until 23rd September 2012, www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

The Shoe as Art (heaven!)

4 Nov

As you will have realised from reading Artista, I have a serious weakness for shoes.  This isn’t a new addiction either.  During my school days, I once donned Barbarella-inspired self-constructed silver boots for a fantasy fashion show.  Nowadays, practicality plays more of a part (well, slightly) and I am usually found tottering around Mayfair in stilettos.

My Barbarella-esque shoes on show a few years back. Own photograph.

So, I am devastated (and, no, that’s not an exaggeration) that I am still ill at home and can’t visit this exhibition myself.  It is surely one that would make my top 10 list for this year as it is an exhibition of spectacular shoes.  Just because I haven’t been able to visit in person, doesn’t mean I haven’t been able to indulge and spend an inordinate amount of time salivating over the photographs.

Shoes for Show in Brick Lane. Image via www.thisismission.com.

High heels date back to the Egyptian times when the upper classes were thought to have worn a form of raised heel for ceremonial purposes.  Over time, these shoes developed and progressed.  In the 15th century, the chopine could be seven or eight inches high acknowledging wealth or social standing.  The formal invention of the heel is thought to trace to Catherine de Medici who felt insecure when compared to the taller mistresses of her then fiancé, the Duke of Orléans.  To give her more allure, she donned two inch heels and well and truly ignited the fashion.  Now, heels are a familiar part of our culture, often in the press for their controversial designs or with safety warnings as models topple on the catwalk.

Beyonce’s shoe from the Rule the World video, designed by Gareth Pugh.  Image via www.thisismission.com. 

Organised by online shoe store, www.javari.co.ukShoes for Show: The Sculptural Art of High Heels is an exhibition after my own heart, displaying a selection of high couture designs from private collections dating back to the 1850s – shoes that were designed to be appreciated for their beauty, not their function.  An idea that I’ve long though should apply to shoes anyway.  The show aims to “focus on [the shoes’] beauty by placing them in the context of a gallery as sculptural pieces of art.”

Catwalk shoes in the exhibition. Image via www.thisismission.com. 

The word stiletto comes from the Italian for a pointed dagger or knife and,the exhibition includes Roger Vivier’s classic 1950s shoe for Dior, often credited with being the first stiletto.  Fittingly, Vivier was studying at art school and planning to be a sculptor when friends invited him to design a collection of shoes.  This surely shows the sculptural element of these phenomenal designs.  There is no doubt that these designers are artists.  Yantourny, for example, only made shoes as art objects with each work taking two to three years.  His only aim was to create a work that could be admired by future generations.  Many of these shoes are designed to make a statement such as, Rupert Sanderson’s designs for Verdi’s Aida at the Royal Opera House with figures from Greek mythology creating the undercarriage of the shoe.  To be worn by Princess Amneris, they were designed to stand out like diamonds on a beach full of pebbles.

Rupert Sanderson for the Royal Opera House.  Image via www.thisismission.com. 

Christian Louboutin (the god of shoes) designed jewel encrusted ballet slippers for the English National Ballet in June of this year; they are extraordinary, an innovative play on the verticality of the ballerina’s pointe shoe.  Identified by his trademark red soles, the shoes defy belief…and gravity.  He “could not help being inspired by English National Ballet…after all…isn’t the classical dancing ballet slipper the ultimate heel?  The heel which makes dancers closer than any other woman to the sky, closer to heaven.”

Christian Louboutin and Daphne Guinness shoes. Image via www.thisismission.com. 

These one-off designs are certainly artforms, capturing a range of designers’ sensational creativity.  Nicholas Kirkwood’s Alice in Wonderland heels designed for the spectacular window displays at Printemps in Paris (that I was lucky enough to see last year) involved the designer travelling the length and breadth of the UK’s car boot sales to find trinkets for adornment.

Nicholas Kirkwood for Printemps.  Image via www.thisismission.com. 

For those of you who scoff and say is it art?  For me, there is no doubt.  The exhibition presents ‘sculptures’ that are a clever fusion of fashion, art and design and inspire a powerful need in visitors to go shopping.  Even just viewing from my sofa, I’m having some serious shoe cravings.

Make sure you’re wearing your best heels to strut along this weekend.

Shoes for Show is at the Loading Bay, 91 Brick Lane only until 8th November 2011, http://www.trumanbrewery.com/cgi-bin/exhibitions.pl.

%d bloggers like this: