Tag Archives: sculpture

Double Whammy at the Royal Academy

7 Oct

The Royal Academy is back in Burlington Gardens and to re-launch the space they are hosting RA Now, an exhibition and auction that offers the opportunity to view a selection of works by current Royal Academicians (there are 80) and Honorary Academicians.  Be prepared, as the exhibition includes work by 121 artists!  It has been co-ordinated by Allen Jones and feels like the Academicians’ version of the Summer Exhibition.  By nature a broad range of media and artistic disciplines are encompassed here and not all of the art is good – the show doesn’t exactly enthuse and excite visitors.  The accompanying catalogue is designed to offer an overview into today’s Royal Academy rather than a survey of the exhibition and it is a lovely book.

RA Now in Burlington Gardens. Own photograph.

Although we are used to seeing their works individually, this is the first time that the current membership has exhibited exclusively together.  All the pieces have been donated and funds raised from the works auctioned on 9th October will contribute to the Royal Academy’s long- term plans for this site – a veritable price-war for some of the biggest names in the art world today.  Works not auctioned at this time will be available to buy during the course of the exhibition.

I think the next exhibition here in December will afford us more opportunity to see exactly what they are going to do with the space.  Due to this being a selling exhibition and auction, the curation isn’t very intelligent but it isn’t intended to be.

RA Now in Burlington Gardens. Own photograph.

The RA seem to be setting up this venue as a cultural hub; Pace have opened a gallery downstairs plus there is a new RA shop, the 42° RAW café and The Burlington Social Club – an incredible, huge scaffold construction in the central room of the Burlington Gardens’ space.  Sadly, the Club wasn’t open for us to try at the preview but it looks like a fairly special pop-up restaurant.  Seats are placed around the main rectangular area which is where I’m reliably informed the magic happens – chefs and mixologists brush arms, vying for space in the laboratory.  I think I may have to pop in to sample a cocktail.  The Burlington Gardens’ space is stunning and I, for one, am pleased to see it reopened.

The Burlington Social Club. Own photograph.

Just round the corner in the main Royal Academy is Bronze, the show that everyone is going mad for, the current must-see.

There are no surprises with this exhibition which is a delight.  It does exactly what it says on the tin – presenting around 150 bronze works from across the world that span over 5,000 years, many of which have never been seen before in the UK, certainly not in public.  The achievement of some of the loans is magnificent.  It is straightforward, a blockbuster show both in terms of scale and ambition.

Adriaen de Vries, Vulcan’s Forge, 1611.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Bronze is arranged thematically with rooms focusing on the human figure, animals, objects, reliefs, gods, and so on, including works by Ghiberti, Donatello, Rodin, Picasso, Moore and Jasper Johns.  Everyone is here!  Chronologically, the show is intentionally messy but it is best to forget about this and enjoy the wonderful objects that continue to delight us as we stroll slowly from gallery to gallery.  In fact, this arrangement seeks to show how the medium has not changed too much over the years and the curators would argue that the juxtapositions allow this point to be clearly illustrated.  Works from thousands of years ago look as if they may have been made only yesterday. – such is the power of this medium.  The individual objects are magnificent and the skill is awe-inspiring.

Trundholm Sun Chariot, Fourteenth century BCE.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Intelligently, the show also seeks to teach us about bronze – an alloy consisting mainly of copper, with lesser amounts of tin, zinc and lead.  One room is given over to explaining the complex processes behind bronze looking at various casting techniques and giving step-by-step explanations.

Chimera of Arezzo, Etruscan, c. 400 BCE.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

There is, however, a large but.  Painting is designed to be hung on a wall and stared at from the front.  Sculpture is three-dimensional and, for this reason, it should be circumnavigated and lit from all angles.  The majority of works here are pushed back against the wall, inaccessible and lost.  The entire method of display makes me uneasy.  Even when the works are accessible, you still can’t see them.  There is a fabulous Cellini in room one of Perseus and Medusa.  When you are behind the work, the lights blind you.  Perseus’ bum hasn’t been lit at all, which is a real disappointment.

Cellini, Perseus and Medusa. Image via www.pbase.com

I also have an objection to the stark white cases and statement walls used throughout.  The lighting is too bright and not well enough directed and the white walls only make it worse.  There is no daylight allowed through, this is a dark exhibition that has been floodlit looking like a bad light extravaganza.  The exhibition isn’t actually cluttered but many of the objects here need at least twice the space to be studied properly.  There are far too many things to take in and enjoy.  I’d recommend buying the excellent catalogue to appreciate fully some of the wonders or to visit several times in small bursts.  It is impossible to walk around this show in one hit and attempt to appreciate everything on display.

Donatello, Lamentation over the Dead Christ, c. 1455-60.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

When even slightly busy, the space is really quite claustrophobic.   I found it quite exhausting to walk round and needed to sit down with a glass of water after my visit.  Bronze certainly seems to be dividing opinion and I’m sure many of you will think I’m mad.  Although I’m not a fan of the layout, it is still an unmissable show that celebrates the medium.  The idea of focusing a show around medium does mean that just about anything can be put together without rhyme or reason.  But, what the hell, some of the sculptures are so incredible that it’s impossible not to be blown away.

It was time to head to the Residence of the Ambassador of Sweden for some rather different sculpture in HIT

RA Now is at 6 Burlington Gardens until 11th November 2012 and Bronze is in the Main Galleries at Burlington House until 9th December 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Advertisements

Endless Impossibilities – Lindsay Seers at the Tin Tabernacle

20 Sep

It has been nearly a week since I visited the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn and I’m digesting what I saw.  But, I think that is the point of the work – it is intentionally so complex that we go on pondering its meanings and will never quite fully understand every component.

The Tin Taberacle. Own photograph.

Artangel’s latest project is a commission by artist Lindsay Seers taking place in the Tin Tabernacle in Kilburn, a remarkable corrugated iron chapel that I was quite curious to see.  Artangel seek to take art out of traditional gallery settings and open their projects up to new audiences.  They are offering free tickets on a Wednesday afternoon to allow those who may not be able to afford to pay an opportunity to experience the work.  Not only have they hit the nail on the head with this incredible project but they have made it accessible and, as ever, they must be applauded.

Flat-packed corrugated buildings, such as the Tin Tabernacle, were sent by the Victorians to colonies all over the world to act as temporary places of worship.  This specific example, constructed in 1863, is now a Grade II listed building that has been home to the Willesden and St Marylebone Sea Cadets since 1949.  Shortly after occupying the site, they transformed it into a training ship so the building has portholes, rigging, a 1943 anti-aircraft gun and much more besides.  Although the outlines of a ship are normally present, the building is no longer recognisable and a lot more has been added to it in the creation of Seers’ piece.

Inside The Tin Tab. Own photograph.

Entering the Tin Tabernacle was the start of my adventure.  You walk through a grubby yard at the side of the church and are shown into a waiting room – the ship’s wardroom.  Music calls softly from everyone’s headphones.  When everyone has arrived, you’re shown into Seers’ world where nothing is as it seems.

Entering the building. Own photograph.

The idea of creating spaces and buildings is not new to Seers.  The Tin Tabernacle is a living museum and much of what you see belongs to the Cadets although it’s impossible to tell what was here and what was not.  And so starts the endless impossibilities of this piece.

Nowhere Less Now is a poignant amalgam of film, photography, sculpture, performance, animation, philosophy and writing that brings together research, history, autobiography and fiction in an exploration of time, place, family, sea-faring, masonry and more besides.  The work consists of two films projected simultaneously onto specially designed screens, resembling two eyes – a theme which is omnipresent throughout the work in the discussion of heterochromia, a condition that results in different coloured eyes.  The multi-layered soundtrack is played through the headphones creating an intimate and more personal experience.

A still from the film piece.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Magical realism comes into play with Seer’s multi-media installation, blurring boundaries between truth and fiction; the magic of Seers’ art is that we are unable to distinguish which is which.  She establishes extraordinary connections and creates experiences that set off connections within your mind.  The story tells us of her great great uncle, George Edwards, a sailor who was born on 27th September 1866, a hundred years to the day before she was born (look carefully and you can find a photograph of George on one of the walls).  He sailed to Zanzibar where she had previously discovered another prefabricated church.  The story also involves a present day African sailor called George and takes us to a George in the future where photographs have ceased to exist.

A still from the film piece.  Image via www.timeout.com

Seers feels that we experience everything through complicated connections and her work aims to represent the experience of ‘being’, jumping backwards and forwards as these connections progress and develop.  When the film ends, we’re left with so many questions.  I don’t want to describe the video in any more depth as part of the beauty of the work is the mystery.  Before leaving the Tin Tabernacle, you have the opportunity to wander round the dimly lit space for ten minutes not really knowing what to make of the surroundings.  The act of experiencing the site is a one-off voyage of discovery.  On the way out, visitors are handed a fairly substantial book and this is my one criticism – everything is meant to be unresolved and no-one should have to feel the need to read nearly 200 pages in a bid to help them untangle the webs of Seers’ work.

The book that’s handed out on exit.  Image via www.immprint.com

It’s easy to forget where you are and walking back onto the street is quite disorientating.  Seers has a unique way of seeing things.  Is this an autobiographical piece or is this all fiction?  We’ll never know.  Are the people in the film who we think they are?  Again, the implausibility of the story is meant to baffle and move us.  Whatever you take from the content of the piece, the method of projection, design and transformation of building and the overall construction are so beautiful and dreamlike and executed to such a high degree of finish that you can’t help but be moved in some way.

Lindsay Seers: Nowhere Less Now is at The Tin Tabernacle until 21st October 2012, www.artangel.org.uk.

Spiked on the way to Vegas

8 Sep

Wednesday was one of those amazing late summer days and I managed to arrange my meetings at Aqua for most of the afternoon – the sunniest spot in town – which meant I was perfectly placed for cocktail hour.

Aqua on Argyll Street.  Image via www.cntraveller.com

When the sun started to set and there was no more basking to be done, I headed up the road to Dering Street for the Ronchini Gallery’s latest exhibition.  TIME, after TIME explores similarities between generations of artists, featuring a range of contemporary Americans alongside Italian artists from the 1950s, 60s and 70s including Michelangelo Pistoletto, Alighiero Boetti and Alberto Burri.  Many young American artists have been influenced by Italian movements and consciously, or subconsciously, reference Arte Povera in their works.

TIME, after TIME at Ronchini Gallery. Own photograph.

Individually some of the works are fantastic.  Some, however, are not.  The concept of the exhibition is clever and it may well be more effective when the gallery is empty.  The curation does draw intriguing parallels between seemingly contrasting pieces and the juxtapositions are provocative.

But when the gallery was busy during the private view, the exhibition became somewhat lost and messy.

TIME, after TIME at Ronchini Gallery. Own photograph.

Continuing with this Arte Povera theme, next on our list was Haunch of Venison’s latest Giuseppe Penone exhibition.  Haunch had a Penone exhibition at their old Burlington Gardens gallery last summer.  This one presents a range of new drawings – works on paper have always been central to Penone’s work and, whether as independent works or preliminary pieces, his drawings are all connected by ideas of touch, surface and growth.  Penone compares the act of drawing to the growth of a tree and he uses his fingerprints to represent the tree and to create a symbol of touch.  By pressing a single thumbprint onto the paper he creates marks that recall the age rings of a tree.

Giuseppe Penone at Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes one sculpture Un anno di cera ricopre lo spazio di luce (One year of wax covers the space of light) which shows a hollow tree trunk.  The work relates to Penone’s new commission which is currently on show at the Whitechapel Gallery (I’ve yet to visit) – a hollow inverted tree lined with gold, its surface covered with a layer of the artists fingerprints.

I like Penone’s work but I wasn’t blown away by this exhibition.  This has been a common problem of late, not just at Haunch and not just for me.  There are far too many exhibitions that don’t quite go far enough to make their mark and, although they include some great works, aren’t memorable for the right reasons.  The Giuseppe Penone exhibition can seem a little bland on first viewing but it did grow on me the more time I spent in the gallery.  I find his drawings are more engaging when seen alongside his sculpture but the limited space makes this impossible.

The gallery has been turned into one main space with a very narrow section at the end for this exhibition, a layout that is particularly effective for this show and really increases the feeling of movement around the gallery.

Giuseppe Penone at Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street. Own photograph.

Although the sun had gone, it was still hot and my shoes weren’t the best choice for such weather.  Now, you’ve all heard of people having injuries from wearing silly shoes –blisters, twisted ankles and the like but I can beat all of them.  These shoes can only be described as weapons.  I have always walked with my ankles close together – it’s elegant, especially when wearing a dress and because I’m a tango dancer it’s second nature; it has been drilled into me that your ankles should brush past each other at every step.  So, as I sashayed down the street, I forgot about my footwear and as my ankles gracefully brushed past each other, the spikes from my heels hit skin and I managed to spike myself.  I don’t think many people can say they have gashed open their ankles due to the killer bits sticking out of their shoes.

So after wiping the blood from my feet, we wandered (slowly!) to the last gallery on my list which was the Josh Lilley Gallery.  I’m sad to say I’ve missed a couple of their recent exhibitions but I’m glad I made it to this one as it was easily the highlight of my night.

Hang Up at Josh Lilley Gallery.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Hang Up is a group exhibition where the works blend so seamlessly together, discussing the potential of materiality, that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a solo show – OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but it gives you an idea of the purity of the hang.  That is the curatorial talent that Lilley has in bringing together artists; there are no uncomfortable pairings here but this is another beautifully curated show, exploring how the use of fabric, pattern and traditional designs allow for an engagement with each artist’s cultural, political, economic and conceptual process.

Hang Up at Josh Lilley Gallery.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Hang Up¸ the exhibition’s title, comes from a seminal work by Eva Hesse where by attaching a long metal rod to a canvas she transformed a painting into a sculpture.  This is recalled in the works upstairs where Liam Everett makes use of non-traditional processes with such materials as salt, alcohol, lemon and sunlight in order to force changes onto his surfaces.  The works are supported in non-traditional ways using leaning poplar beams and other such devices.

Liam Everett’s works at Josh Lilley Gallery.  Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Ellen Lesperance uses gouache and graphite on tea-stained paper to depict motifs that highlight power struggles and women’s rights.  Her works become odes to those who use fabric and design as a means of self-expression and liberation.  The two paintings here, shown alongside a knitted work, depict sweater patterns that function as memorials to individuals committed to fighting for causes greater than themselves.  Not only are the works perfectly executed but they are very moving and emotive.

Work by Ellen Lesperance. Own photograph.

The textures of Ruairiadh O’Connell’s works draw us in closer, using images of carpet designs from the biggest casinos in Vegas, laying them as silkscreen images onto wax-filled steel panels.  He kneads and manipulates the wax before it sets, recalling the techniques used by masseurs in casino complexes to relax visitors in order that they spend more money.

Ruairiadh O’Connell’s wax works downstairs at Josh Lilley Gallery. Own photograph.

Josh Lilley never disappoints and this is one of his most striking exhibitions to date.  It was time for dinner and as our reservation at Brasserie Zédel wasn’t for another hour or so we headed to their Bar Américain.  It was like stepping into another world, into Vegas – or maybe that was the influence of O’Connell!

TIME, after TIME is at Ronchini Gallery until 4th October 2012, www.ronchinigallery.comGiuseppe Penone is at Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street until 6th October 2012, www.haunchofvenison.comHang Up is at Josh Lilley Gallery until 5th October 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.com.

Slipping to Galleries on a Rainy Day in London

13 Jul

I was reticent to return to the BP Portrait Award this year as it’s become so predictable.  But, having attended a lunchtime talk downstairs it seemed churlish not to have a quick whizz round.  Now in its 33rd year at the National Portrait Gallery, the BP Portrait Award once again presents us with a selection of great portraits – great in the sense that these artists are obviously technically advanced and can paint well but the works don’t blow you away.  Portraiture does not have to resemble photography though and this is an important issue that the prize should remember – on this note, there’s slightly less photorealist work than usual which is refreshing.  This exhibition proves the age-old mantra that size isn’t everything and some of the smaller works capture remarkable intimacy and should be afforded more attention that their larger rivals.

BP Portrait Award at the NPG. Own photograph.

Painting portraits of unknown figures is a challenge; we demand an insight into the lives of complete strangers.   This year’s winner is American artist Aleah Chapin for her large-scale nude of a family friend – Auntie.  Chapin views the figure’s body as a map of Auntie’s life journey, she sees this woman as a strong role model, accepting and unguarded.   No doubt she is a talented artist but I’m not quite sure what Chapin was trying to invoke.  The stretched skin becomes almost repulsive while she smiles out at us.  This is not a sympathetic image.  Is she really content?  We don’t know what she’s doing, who she’s addressing.  It is, however, a great painting – one filled with empathy and emotion but the message seems diluted and somewhat confused.

Aleah Chapin, Auntie, 2012. Image via www.huffingtonpost.co.uk

Having missed Tuesday night’s PVs I had some catching up to do and so I headed over to Edgware Road for the Lisson Gallery’s latest double whammy.

My next comment may be a bit controversial as I know not everybody feels this way but I love Julian Opie.  I vividly remember seeing some Opie works during sixth form at school and devoting a section of my sketchbook to them and his practice.  Ignoring the rest of my beautifully executed sketchbook and all the work I’d done, my art teacher asked if I was taking the piss.  The Opie stayed in the sketchbook.  I most certainly wasn’t!

Julian Opie at the Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

Famous for his portraits of Blur that now reside in the NPG, Opie’s work is easily recognised, looking at ideas of representation through the reinterpretation of the vocabulary of everyday life.  For this exhibition, Opie has returned to walking figures, working unusually to capture passers-by rather than using subjects he knows personally.  The apparent visual simplicity of the pieces is always striking and these new works are particularly effective looking at the idiosyncrasies of individual figures.

Julian Opie at the Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

The exhibition also includes two major new bodies of work; first, a group of mosaic portraits bringing his portraits more into the realms of sculpture.  I have to say I don’t like these works and the idea is further extended with a series of painted busts.  For me, the exhibition would have been stronger without these.  I think Opie should have stuck with his bread and butter.  However, I still adored the show.  Also exhibited are six digitally animated landscapes on LCD screens that reminded me of Hockney’s recent iPad drawings at the RA.  Still using his trademark simplified vocabulary, the works offer an idyllic picture, enhanced by the calming soundtrack.

Julian Opie, Summer, 2012. Own photograph.

Outside in the courtyard are two more LED works; mounted on a plinth is a galloping horse so high that it can be seen from the street, referencing other equine monuments around London.  Next to it and on a vastly different scale is Peeing boy – the works couldn’t be more different in subject; the horse powerful and dominant while the boy quietly urinates alongside him, oblivious to anything else.  It is this juxtaposition that shows off how well Opie’s distinctive style can translate to different subjects.  You can’t help but smile.

Julian Opie, Galloping horse, 2012 and Peeing boy, 2012. Own photograph.

In Lisson’s other space is an exhibition of works by Ryan Gander.  My advice would be to read the press release before you go round.  Without knowing what this exhibition stands for, it comes across as rather bland but the concepts behind the work move the pieces to a whole new level.  The exhibition is about visibility and invisibility, Gander is the ultimate magician and joker, only revealing what he wants us to see, when he wants us to see it.  The Fallout of Living recalls the moment in an artist’s life when, having become so fluent in visual language, life and practice becomes indistinguishable.

The main gallery of Ryan Gander’s The Fallout of Living at Lisson Gallery. Own photograph.

One room is filled with a giant ball of discarded pieces of stainless steel but the work blocks the door and we can’t get into the room.  We have to leave the gallery to see it properly.  Equally, a sculpture of Gander’s nose in a glass cabinet turns opaque if we approach.  Gander holds all the control.  Upstairs, The Best Club encourages us to pull back the curtain but, of course, there’s nothing there.   The exhibition subtly explores the relationship between spectacle and spectator and, as ever, Gander knows how to make us think through layered systems of meaning that elude and obstruct the viewer.

Ryan Gander, More really shiny things that don’t mean anything, 2011. Own photograph.

Leaving the gallery and knowing I had a bit of walking to do, I changed into flipflops which seemed to trigger the heavens to open.  As I walked into Edgware Road station, I had to grab a post to stop myself going flying (I reckon the bruise will get more colourful today). This should have been my cue to change back into my far more reliable heels but for some reason, partly due to a lack of seats on the tube, common sense temporarily abandoned me.  I was in Oxford Street when I slipped for a second time. Thank heavens a kindly tourist caught me (I kid you not) or I’d have been on the floor in a giant puddle.  I changed back into my stilettos and feeling shaken but not deterred I continued on my gallery adventure.

I wanted to pop to Blain|Southern to see a work by Amelia Whitelaw.  I first met Whitelaw a few years ago when she installed a piece as part of our East Wing Collection VIII at The Courtauld, a mighty installation  of falling dough that explored the fragile balancing act between life and death, between stabil­ity and flux.  The flesh-like dough seeped through a labyrinth of nets at a variety of speeds, the dough constantly morphing and evolving along its downward path.  Whitelaw has a new work in Blain|Southern’s Gravity and Disgrace.  Based around a similar premise, a solid rock anchors a rope that, via a pulley, suspends a net of raw salt dough.  Both sculptural and performative, the organic material ends its journey on the gallery floor where it dries out leaving twisted, elongated shapes in stark contrast to its initial bulbous, clean appearance.  I would have liked to see the work at the very beginning but it is still effective and still manages to present the same unusual medium in a new guise.

Amelia Whitelaw, There are no Accidents, 2012. Own photograph.

The show also includes work by artists Jane Simpson and curator Rachel Howard, focusing on pieces where materiality is key.

It was time for a rest and I managed to resist strong alcohol and head to Joe & the Juice for a ‘stress down’ and a sit down.  Next stop was Haunch of Venison on Eastcastle Street showing a series of new works from Simon Patterson – the man famous for The Great BearUnder Cartel (a historic term regarding the status of exchanged prisoners of war or hostages) is a series of photographs of equestrian statues from around the world.  Each statue is paired with another, suggesting ideas of bartering or exchange.  The proposed swap is illustrated by flashing neon arrows that indicate the journeys the sculptures will take.  Additional photographs rest on the floor on foam blocks, waiting in reserve in case one of the first choice works was ‘unavailable’.

Simon Patterson’s Under Cartel at Haunch. Own photograph.

It’s a truly brilliant exhibition raising questions of ideological, historical, political and cultural values.  Patterson asks if we would notice if these works were swapped?  Are these statues and their ideas outmoded?  Opie obviously thought not with this modern version of an equestrian statue but maybe they are indeed relics of another time, relics that we would not want to live without and that form part of the heart of, not only London but, cities across the world.

Simon Patterson’s Under Cartel at Haunch. Own photograph.

We sheltered outside waiting for a taxi as no way was I risking another slip and we headed to White Cube, Hoxton Square for an exhibition of cast iron blockworks by Antony Gormley.  Now, of course, we knew what to expect – the gallery was filled with sculptures of the artist himself.  I joke but I do really like him and his work.  These pieces show a new direction in Gormley’ sculpture as he uses the blockwork to attempt to describe the internal mass and inner state of the body through architectural language.

Antony Gormley’s Still Standing at the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg. Image via www.antonygormley.com 

The 17 figures on the ground floor gallery are each composed of small rectangular iron blocks that map the body’s internal volume, investigating the verticality of the human form in spatial and conceptual terms.  Upstairs is a work from Gormley’s Proper series which continues these ideas.  Here, the body is made playful and elongated, recalling childhood Jenga or high-rise towers.  The austere geometric blocks are remarkably emotional and receptive considering the formal nature of their construction.

Antony Gormley at the State Hermitage Museum in 2011. Image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/britishcouncil/6194705382/

I was getting hungry and it was time to pop to the final gallery of the evening.   Celebrating the launch of Dennis Morris’s photo essay of The Stone Roses, the Londonewcastle project space (where I spent most of June) has been temporarily transformed into a music festival.  With dry moss on the floor (that wasn’t easy to walk on), dim lighting, stage areas and loud music, the space is unrecognisable.  I’m not a big festival fan and I’ve never really seen the fun in standing in a muddy field and queuing for dirty toilets.  I think last night was the closest I will get as Londonewcastle even had the dodgy portacabins so I could truly do the festival thing.

Crowding in at Londonewcastle. Own photograph.

Morris’s works showing The Stone Roses live at Spike Island and Glasgow Green are projected onto the gallery walls.  The photographs offer a glimpse into the world of the band, showing their timeless image and the hysteria of their fans.  The atmosphere was electric.  It was no longer a gallery.  My stomach won and we popped across the road to the Albion for dinner but we couldn’t resist heading back for another look.  It was even louder, even grimier and generally what a festival should be at the mid-way point!

BP Portrait Award 2012 is at the National Portrait Gallery until 23rd September 2012, www.npg.org.ukJulian Opie is at Lisson Gallery until 25th August 2012 and Ryan Gander: The Fallout of Living is at Lisson Gallery until 24th August 2012, www.lissongallery.com.  Gravity and Disgrace is at Blain|Southern until 25th August 2012, www.blainsouthern.comSimon Patterson: Under Cartel is at Haunch of Venison, Eastcastle Street until 31st August 2012, www.haunchofvenison.comAntony Gormley: Still Standing is at White Cube, Hoxton Square until 15th September 2012, www.whitecube.comDennis Morris: This is the One will be at the Londonewcastle Project Space until 19th July, www.londonewcastle.com.

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.

Getting Away to Garda…Verona and Padua

8 Jul

Last week I escaped to Lake Garda for a week of sun, reading and relaxation.  Now, relaxation is rather an alien concept to me so, being in the Northern heart of Italy, I couldn’t resist squeezing in some cultural excursions alongside our fun-filled activities (which included me driving a motorboat and lots of wonderful meals).

Out on the lake. Own photograph.

One of the main reasons for the trip was to see Aida at the Verona Arena.  The Arena itself is housed in Verona’s Roman amphitheatre; completed around 30AD, it is the third largest in Italy and can seat 25,000 spectators.  This is the best preserved amphitheatre in Italy and it is this that helps to create an unrivalled experience and spectacle explaining why so many people (not necessarily opera-lovers) flock to watch the opera during the summer months.

Verona’s Arena. Own photograph.

Although I’m familiar with Verona, any excuse to wander round the marble paved streets is a welcome one.  All there was time for on this visit was a brief walking tour to reacquaint myself with the city.  Verona, like most Italian cities, is littered with Roman monuments and examples of stunning Italian architecture.  Of course, there’s also La Casa di Giulietta with a romantic balcony that Romeo is thought to have climbed to.  It is in fact a 13th century inn that was called Il Cappello which is how it sort of links to the Capulets.  This tenuous connection doesn’t stop tourists flocking to the courtyard off Via Capello and graffiti-ing their love messages on the walls.  There is also a bronze statue of Juliet and rubbing her left breast is thought to bring good luck in love.  Also of particular note are the Scaliger Tombs, a group of five exquisite Gothic monuments in celebration of the Scaliger family who ruled in Verona, found in the courtyard of the church of Santa Maria Antica.  The three major tombs show their occupants in dominating equestrian poses and reposing in death below them.

Detail of the Scaliger Tombs in Verona. Own photograph.

After a 2.30am finish (Aida is a long opera, made even lengthier by numerous intervals and curtain calls), I was up bright and early, in the scorching heat, to take a coach to Padova (Padua).  This was my first trip to Padua and we began on a guided walking tour of the city admiring the palazzos that appear on nearly every street.  With only a few hours and being forced to work around the lunchtime closures, I had to be selective with what interiors I saw.

Padua. Own photograph.

Padua is known for its university; founded in 1222 it is one of the earliest in the world.  I was lucky enough to be walking past on graduation day which is certainly a bit more frisky than any UK equivalent.  After formal photographs with a laurel wreath, giant posters are pinned up in the piazza.  They are made by the graduates’ friends and each poster shows a large caricature of the student in question and a multitude of stories about their time at the university.  They are taped to the university wall for all to see and read out by the graduating students in costume in the square.  And, there’s a local anthem to accompany this madness, “Dottore, dottore, dottore del buso del cul.  Vaffancul, vaffancul.”  I’ll let you translate that of your own accord if you’re interested but it’s very catchy and rather rude.

Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua. Own photograph.

The lewd songs started to give me the true feel of the city – vibrant, noisy and energetic.  Just across the piazza is Caffè Pedrocchi, built in 1831 and famous for never being able to close as it had no doors – glass doors are now incorporated into the design.  It is still a hub of intellectual and social discussion with very refreshing and special mint coffees.  The first floor also contains a museum that recounts local and national history.

Padua is famous for its Giotto frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel.  As our guide told us that visits to the chapel had to be pre-booked months in advance my heart sank.  I couldn’t come all the way to Padua and miss it so I decided to try my chances and, after much debating with the ticket desk in a mixture of Italian and English, they let me in.

The Scrovegni Chapel. Image via www.padovacultura.padovanet.it

The works are so delicate, that in order to protect the frescoes, there is a state of the art entrance system that controls a microclimate inside the chapel itself.  True to form, the Italians were running late with their supposedly regimented entry system but, finally, I went into the pre-room where we were shown a video – firstly a marketing tool about their other museums and then a look at the history of the chapel.  Considered to be the medieval equivalent of the Sistine Chapel, the building is a magnificent funeral chapel with a barrel vaulted ceiling showing a starry sky.   Divided into two, the back held the public while a smaller section at front was exclusively for the Scrovegni family.  A small door on north wall connected to the Palace, to avoid them having to mingle with the commoners.  While Giotto was responsible for all the paintings, Pisano was commissioned to execute the three altar pieces.   This is the most complete cycle of Giotto frescoes remaining, looking at the lives of Joachim and Anna, episodes from the Virgin Mary’s life and episodes from Christ’s life and death.  The lower walls depict allegories of the vices and virtues.

A detail of the Scrovegni Chapel. Image via www.walksofitaly.com

The architecture is thought to have been designed around the scheme for the painted fresco cycle.  The chamber is completely covered in paintings and there is no doubt that this is impressive but I had expected to be more overwhelmed, more in awe.  The colours would have been brighter and more intoxicating in their day but, for me, the chapel lacked something.

Although I was short of time I had a speedy scoot around the Museo Civico in the same complex.  This is an absolute goldmine and I was taken aback by the sheer range of their collections.

Museo Civico. Own photograph.

Scurrying over the cobbles, I headed to the Baptistery at the Duomo which houses a fresco cycle by Giusto de’Menabuoi – sadly the Duomo itself was shut for a long lunch.  The pictorial cycle here shows The Paradise, The Creation, The Crucifixion and the Descent of the Holy Ghost.  These frescoes have been relatively recently restored, emphasising and bringing out the natural colours and revealing the full wonder of the layout and iconography.  This imagery is so overwhelming that it is exhausting – in a good way.  For me, this building had the effect I had hoped for at the Giotto chapel.   With over 100 scenes you just don’t know where to look first.

Frescoes at the Baptistery. Image via http://therealchrisparkle.wordpress.com

I stopped in one of the main squares at an all-Italian (always a good sign) scruffy looking bar that served mainly sandwiches  and spritzes – lunch was divine and gave me the boost I needed to get back up in the 40 degree heat and continue my whirlwind tour.

Prato della Valle. Own photograph.

Next, I wandered through the largest and most impressive piazza in Padua, the Prato della Valle; surrounded by a moat it houses 79 statues of those associated with Padua’s prosperity.  Down one of the side streets is the Basilica Sant’Antonio, a building designed to house the Saint’s remains.  The Italians, as ever, have gone all out with a cluster of seven domes, a beautiful cupola, two campanili and two smaller minarets.  The treasury holds the tongue and larynx of Il Santo and queues form to see this – I have to say the architecture and Donatello’s altarpiece appealed more than someone’s old tongue.

Basilica Sant’Antonio. Own photograph.

It was time to sprint back to the coach although I wouldn’t have minded being left in Padua.  It’s a town that hasn’t yet been overrun by tourists and still has an amazing truth to it.  We headed back to the lake via a tour and tasting at a Soave vineyard.  The dessert wine was divine and my trick of wrapping it in towels and packing two bottles in my case worked fine.  It wasn’t even overweight – I knew I should have got another bottle.  But now I’ve got an excuse to head back soon to stock up.  I’d better book some more opera tickets and flights!

La Cantina di Soave. Own photograph.

Better than Usual: The Mixed Bag of the Summer Exhibition

28 Jun

I am one of the first to criticise the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition and maybe this year I enjoyed it more than usual because I entered the gallery with low expectations.  The Summer Exhibition is now in its 244th year and aims to cram in a mix of works by emerging and established artists.  This year the RA received over 11,000 entries that have been coordinated by Royal Academician, Tess Jaray.  There are all the usual suspects including Michael Craig-Martin, Michael Landy, Tracey Emin and Anselm Kiefer.  But, this year, the big names seem to have been better integrated with up-and-coming artists, in a way more in keeping with the RA’s philosophy.

Endless Walls at the Summer Exhibition.  Own photograph.

There can be no doubt that the exhibition has changed drastically since its inception.  The thing about the Summer Exhibition is that it’s important to remember that there is no overriding theme or connection between the works.  Fundamentally, this is a show of thousands upon thousands of unrelated pieces.  It is a selling show and people crowd the galleries like pictures crowd the walls.

Visitors to this year’s Summer Exhibition. Own photograph.

The first room that one enters has been painted in bright red, recalling Matisse’s The Red Studio.  After this though the RA have fallen back upon the old faithful wall colour of grey.  Now I’ve not mentioned wall colour in a while but, for such a popular exhibition that isn’t meant to appeal to art purists, I find this an odd choice.  After the impressive vibrancy of the first room we are met with one bland dreary wall after another.  While grey may be a neutral colour that can cause no offence it doesn’t do very much else.

Jaray has curated the largest gallery in a different way to usual and arranged the works in a wave design that rises and falls.  She has moved many of the smaller pieces, traditionally seen in the smaller rooms, to this gallery shifting the focus of the show and showing that the largest is not always the most impactful.  Although this undulating pattern makes it relatively hard to process the works individually, it is far more aesthetically pleasing and it is much better to enjoy this space as a visitor.  Jaray has made use of the works here to create more than just a hang – this is an installation.  This room also shows off the diversity of the Summer Exhibition – whether this is a good or bad thing comes down to personal taste.

Jaray’s wave. Own photograph.

However, rooms seven and eight really deteriorate with yet more grey walls, grey plinths and overcrowded poor sculpture.

Sculpture Galleries. Own photograph.

One room is showing a video work by Jayne Parker, proving that the exhibition is interacting with contemporary media but it is wrong to have this space dedicated to just one work by one artist.  It would be more appropriate if different pieces were on a loop, giving other artists more of a chance.

The Summer Exhibition does struggle to define itself.  It is still derided by the art world but it doesn’t actually make itself available as a public selling exhibition because you have to pay to go in. Whilst I understand charging for the catalogue, surely this should be the one time of year when entry to a Royal Academy exhibition is free of charge.  And so, the show sits in a difficult position and although it’s making progress, it will always be nigh on impossible to climb out of the rut it’s in.

The courtyard transformed.

As ever, the works all blur into one and I came out not really remembering too much of what we’d seen.  It’s a great game though to wander round with the list of works and see how well you know your artists and guess the prices.  There are some fairly good works this year.  There are some fairly bad ones too but this is the best Summer Exhibition that I’ve seen in a while.  I wonder what they’ll do next year…

The Summer Exhibition is at the Royal Academy until 12th August 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

%d bloggers like this: