Tag Archives: Stephen Friedman Gallery

Frieze Fever and Frenzy: Too Many Galleries to Count

14 Oct

The week just gone is affectionately known by the art world as Frieze week – it is when Frieze (and this year Frieze Masters) takes over Regent’s Park and art lovers flock to London from across the world.  Frieze is accompanied by a host of other fairs (my favourite, and the most stylish, being PAD) as well as gallery openings that compete with each other on every night of the week.

Monday night saw the opening of PAD – the most chic and classy fair by far.  As I don’t ever write about fairs all I will say is that, although we were there for a considerable amount of time, I felt I needed to go back.  I also fell in love with numerous pieces including a Gerrit Rietveld Billet Chair from 1927.

Gerrit Rietveld, Billet Chair, 1927.  Image via www.pad-fairs.com

From PAD, we strolled out the square planning to go to Gagosian.  But the opening was at Britannia Street not Davies Street.  Oops!  Peering through the window we could see the Penone exhibition but not get near the works.  One black cross for me.  Next we tried Ordovas which my Frieze companion assured me was open.  One black cross for him.

Post PAD… Own photograph.

So, with very tired feet (well mine were already and it was only Monday) we went to Stephen Friedman who are exhibiting works by Tom Friedman (no relation).  Friedman’s work explores everyday objects, elevating the mundane beyond its original purpose to extraordinary new forms.  He deconstructs ideas and materials, rebuilding them into sculptural or artistic forms with a new level of genius.  What we think we see and what we actually see are very different things.

Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery.  Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

The main gallery space holds the biggest and the best work in this exhibition – a mass of tangled wires that take over the entire room.  As we move around the installation, we can see the hidden silhouettes of human figures and faces trapped within the forms, interlocked within the wires, emerging and evaporating depending on our position.  Friedman is obsessive and, for every piece, he distils each material back to its essence and rebuilds it, presenting a new structure that crosses between the mundane and the magical.

Tom Friedman at Stephen Freidman Gallery.  Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Everyone is opening a blockbuster this week (which makes this time of year both amazing and horrendous) and the National Gallery has gone for Richard Hamilton who was still planning this exhibition days before his death last year.  The painted white walls present a very modern space in the middle of this traditional gallery.  Previewing on Tuesday, the same day as Frieze, the exhibition is a powerful statement of intent – this is Hamilton challenging the art world.  It traces several themes of Hamilton’s career from the 1980s until his death, showing how he was moving towards a more traditional iconography at the end of his life.

The exhibition allows us to study his engagement with Marcel Duchamp, particularly in his works looking at the nude descending the staircase (addressed here in two works).   The works are perfectly executed but have a sense of disquiet; they are quite hard to read, it is often very ambiguous as to what we are looking at.

Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

Hamilton was one of the great experimenters with the computer, creating images that were entirely new, clean and crisp.  This exhibition of his work shows areas of interest that had obsessed him for so long.  One series of works remained unfinished at the time of Hamilton’s death – a trio of inket prints that visualise a moment from Balzac’s The Unknown Masterpiece, telling the story of a painter who loses his mind trying to achieve the perfect nude.   Hamilton knew he would not live to finish the work and made the decision that the exhibition would culminate in the initial presentation of these three large-scale variations.  We will never really know what Hamilton intended and this makes us sombre and reflective.  Each work features Courbet, Poussin and Titian contemplating a reclining female nude.  For me, these works would still be mysterious even if they were finished but, in this state, they just leave us to wonder.

Richard Hamilton exhibition at the National Gallery. Own photograph.

These later paintings aren’t my favourite Hamiltons – they are quite clinical in parts – but there is no denying that this is a beautiful, and surprisingly moving, exhibition.  Seemingly simple, there is so much going on; the paintings lead into one another, as the ideas progress from work to work.

Next, I headed down the road to Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly who are showing Fire by Days – paintings by the New York-based Rita Ackermann.  The idea for these resulted from an accident, a paint spillage on the floor of her studio that she was hastily forced to clean.  It was through these splurges of paint that she began to see suggestions of forms, abstracted but also figurative.  The works are very striking in this space, their strong and vibrant colours complementing the style of the room.  The pages from Ackermann’s sketchbooks, upstairs on the wood panelling of the American Room, look as if they have always been there.  There is nothing wrong with this exhibition but it failed to move me or make enough of an impact (rather like several things recently).

Rita Ackermann at Hauser & Wirth.  Image via www.royalacademy.org.uk

Continuing down Piccadilly to White Cube Mason’s Yard, I popped in to see Magnus Plessen – another artist who oscillates between abstraction and figuration.  Figurative elements cry out to us but they are juxtaposed with abstract passages that seek to disorientate the viewer.  Plessen’s techniques are the most interesting aspect of his work – he often physically turns the canvas to reposition and confound the arrangement of the piece.  It appears that he has scraped away the paint in parts using gestural washes of colour over heavier oils to muddle the picture planes.  With psychedelic acid yellows and hot pinks, there is often too much going to fully understand his intentions.  The show is well-curated and the works are afforded a lot of space – they need a white cube to shine which is exactly what has been allowed to happen here.

Magnus Plessen upstairs at White Cube.  Own photograph.

My list was looking daunting as the day hurried by and I headed up to Pace, the newly opened New York gallery which is now housed in the west wing of the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens’ space.  They have juxtaposed the paintings of Mark Rothko with the seascape photographs of Hiroshi Sugimoto.  The eight Rothkos included here make use of a limited palette of predominantly black and grey while the Sugimoto’s use a similar grey-scale colour scheme.  The artists form an aesthetic and quite superficial dialogue that, at times, becomes more of a battle.  It is a stunning exhibition that prompts interesting comparisons – another simple show that achieves its aims stylishly without any fuss.  Pace claim not to have opened in London sooner as they hadn’t found the right person to run the gallery or the right space – well they certainly seem to have hit the nail on the head here and I’m sure they will prove themselves during their four-year tenure.

Pace London. Image via www.manoelabowles.com

After visiting a few shops on Regent Street (to give my brain a well-needed art break), I headed to Savile Row where Thomas Houseago has taken over both of Hauser & Wirth’s gallery spaces there.

Heading to Hauser. Own photograph.

He has chosen not just to split the works between the two galleries but also to give the two spaces different titles: I‘ll be Your Sister (in the North Gallery) comes from a very raw Motorhead song while Special Brew is a strong beer that Houseago used to drink every day before school, getting drunk and avoiding normal school-time activities.  It allowed him to step outside the box.  The North Gallery presents his monumental sculptures, intentionally big and messy, these works have the wow-factor.  His works are brutally straightforward but still manage to appear mysterious and unworldly.  Houseago spends a lot of time drawing and planning the process of his work and this is evident in the highly-textured surfaces that resemble sketching.  The scale in the North Gallery is far more impactful than that in the South and the works are actually causing passers-by to stop and gape.

Thomas Houseago’s I’ll be Your Sister. Own photograph.

By nature of the sheer overload that is Frieze week, I’m having to be brief in my descriptions.  Most of these exhibitions deserve more time and attention but this overview of my mad run around London should give you a taster.

Just over the road, Ordovas are presenting Painting from Life: Carracci Freud, a tiny exhibition that brings together a group of head studies by Annibale Carracci and Lucian Freud.  This is a beautiful juxtaposition – intimate, simple and stunning.  Ordovas knows how to get their shows right and this rare collaboration between them and a public art collection (Dulwich Picture Gallery has loaned a work) shows the esteem in which this gallery is held.  The connections between Freud and Carracci have never before been explored but comparisons reveal intriguing affinities in technique, style, viewpoint and subject.  This isn’t the gallery’s first show of this type as they previously juxtaposed Bacon and Rembrandt and attracted over 10,000 visitors in their first month alone!

Ordovas. Image via www.ordovasart.com

The second of three New York galleries to open in London is David Zwirner (I’ve still not managed to pop into Michael Werner but hope to do so next week).  The gallery has certainly chosen a statement show of Luc Tuymans’ work with which to open their 18th century Grafton Street townhouse.  What a way to inaugurate this space.  Again, the gallery knows how to keep it simple, allowing the paintings space to breathe and space to be viewed.  Tuymans has lacked a proper presence in London since his 2004 Tate Modern retrospective but things are changing.  Allo! is inspired by The Moon and Sixpence, a film loosely based on the life of Paul Gauguin.  But Tuymans’ interest in this topic has to do with a general negation of modernism and Hollywood’s long-standing idealisation of the artist as a romantic savage.  This gallery adds a frisson of excitement to the already vibrant area – Dover Street and Grafton Street only continue to improve.

Luc Tuymans’ exhibition at David Zwirner’s new gallery.  Image via www.davidzwirner.com

After a very late lunch, I headed to Gagosian Gallery on Davies Street to see the Giuseppe Penone exhibition I’d planned to see on Monday night.  I seem to have seen a lot of Penone recently.  Here, he has engaged with the long narrow space of the Davies Street gallery, filling it with Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato, a large-scale standing sculpture comprised of delicately arranged tree branches and leaves defined in bronze.  Positioned to conceal a human face, two long branches jut outwards in place of the eyes in a projective act of looking, recalling Penone’s long-held fascination with the process of seeing.  It’s only a small show but, if you like Penone, then it’s worth popping in.

Gisueppe Penone, detail of Pelle di foglie—sguardo incrociato.  Image via www.arttribune.com

Further along the road at Gimpel Fils is Shana Moulton’s Preventation, a series of news videos in the on-going saga of Cynthia, her alter-ego.  The films are accompanied by a number of the artworks that feature in her films.

I was nearly all art-ed out for the day but had a final stop for the opening of Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable at The Piper Gallery.  This exhibition is definitely worth a visit partly to see how paintings need to be appreciated first-hand for the full experience.  Jaray has always maintained a fascination with geometry, pattern, colour and repetition culminating in her distinctive, subtle yet penetrating works.  As with many of the works I saw on Tuesday, Jaray plays with a carefully wrought tension between opposites: serenity and intensity, silence and sound, stasis and motion and two and three dimensions.  The exhibition includes over twenty identically-sized works from Jaray’s recent series, After Malevich; inspired by Malevich’s Red Square, they have an energy and intensity that grabs you as soon as you enter.  Despite the vast number of openings on Tuesday night, the gallery was packed!

Peaking into Tess Jaray’s Mapping the Unseeable.  Image via www.thepipergallery.com

Wednesday was my fairs day and, as well as a return trip to PAD, I spent time at Frieze and Frieze Masters which took up most of the day and evening.  But, I did make a small window to pop to The Courtauld for a private tour of their Peter Lely exhibition.  Lely is an important artist in British history but I don’t actually think very many people are familiar with, or excited by, his work so this is a brave choice of exhibition from The Courtauld.  Lely was appointed Principal Painter to Charles II in 1661 and his paintings define the glamour and debauchery of the period.  The works in this exhibition, however, concentrate on the period in the 1640s and 1650s when he was working in England, painting pastoral landscapes and large-scale narratives.  The exhibition is organised around The Courtauld’s own unfinished The Concert – originally thought to depict Lely and his family, it seems to be a highly personal and allegorical interpretation of Music in the service of Beauty.  This particular piece hasn’t been on display for a while and it’s nice to have the opportunity to view it in the context of other similar works.

Peter Lely, detail of The Concert. Own photograph.

The Courtauld is making the most of this exhibition with a Lely-fest; two other Lely’s are on show downstairs and room 12 boasts a display of drawings from Lely’s own celebrated and rare collection.

What this week has proved is how effective simple exhibitions can be.  Exhibited on putty-coloured walls with beautifully focused lighting, this exhibition gets it right.  Lely is a confusing artist with a mixture of styles that often betray his Flemish origins.  The paintings on show here are far more powerful than his Court portraiture of later years and this is another winner from The Courtauld.

Lely exhibition at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

Thursday was my final day of rushing round fairs and exhibitions and the evening saw two conveniently close openings on Riding House Street.  You may remember that I wrote about visiting Nick Goss’s studio a while ago.  I popped back a couple of weeks ago to see his new works and, as a result, was ridiculously excited by the prospect this exhibition.  The works here concentrate on portrayals of two different kinds of space – rehearsal spaces and the artist’s studio – where Goss seeks to investigate the detritus associated with the spaces used when playing in a band.  Cheap and simple, the limitations of these rooms allow creativity to flourish which promulgates the development of musical ideas.  Yet, devoid of players and instruments, the spaces have an uncharacteristic, melancholic atmosphere.  Goss has developed the theme of the shabby rehearsal space in a study of fakery and idealisation, filled with a sense of nostalgia and an elusive sensibility.  His are beautiful works, subtle paintings that pull you into his unique world.

Nick Goss’s new works at Josh Lilley. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Over the road at TJ Boulting is an exhibition by Juliana Leite; her new work stems from consistent investigations into the physical action of her own body in space.  The centrepiece is a large sculpture, of two separate latex forms joined in the centre; describing the artist’s movement up and down a staircase, the piece strikes a resonance with Marcel Duchamp’s Nude descending a staircase (a common theme this week).  The two parts were cast from a large mould composed of a set of stairs covered with a wooden tunnel, slowly lined with clay.  The work is immense and we are drawn to walk around it, exploring its textures and crevices several times before we feel we have understood its form.

Juliana Leite’s impressive new sculpture.  Image via www.tjboulting.com

Even thinking about the week just gone slightly exhausts me.  I have seen such a wealth of incredible art (some not so incredible too) and I have the sorest feet to show for it.  I still have 12 exhibitions to cover that I didn’t manage to have the time for, I’d have loved to get to the other art fairs and I would have relished more time at the fairs I did explore.  But, there are only a set number of hours in the week and I think I didn’t do badly!

Tom Friedman is at Stephen Friedman Gallery until 10th November 2012, www.stephenfriedman.comRichard Hamilton: The Late Works is at the National Gallery until 13th January 2013, www.nationalgallery,org.ukRita Ackermann: Fire by Days is at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly until 3rd November 2012, www.hauserwirth.comMagnus Plessen: Riding the Image is at White Cube Mason’s Yard until 10th November 2012, www.whitecube.comRothko/Suginoto: Dark Paintings and Secrets is at Pace London until 17th November 2012, www.pacegallery.comThomas Houseago: I’ll be Your Sister and Special Brew are at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row until 27th October 2012, www.hauserwirth.comPainting from Life: Carracci Freud is at Odovas until 15th December 2012, www.ordovasart.comLuc Tuymans: Allo! Is at David Zwirner until 17th November, www.davidzwirner.comGiuseppe Penone: Intersecting Gaze / Sguardo Incrociato is at Gagosian Davies Street until 24th November 2012, www.gagosian.comShana Moulton: Prevention is at Gimpel Fils until 17th November 2012, www.gimpelfils.comTess Jaray – Mapping the Unseeable is at The Piper Gallery until Friday 9th November 2012, www.thepipergallery.comPeter Lely: A Lyrical Vision is at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January 2012, www.courtauld.ac.ukNick Goss – Tin Drum is at Josh Lilley Gallery until Friday 23rd November 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.comJuliana Cerqueira Leite: Portmanteau is at TJ Boulting until 10th November 2012, www.tjboulting.com.

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman and a handful of other Mayfair Mentions

15 Apr

Last week I was charged with the responsibility of showing someone a few Mayfair Galleries.   This should have been an easy task really considering the amount of time I spend in and out of these places but the sheer volume of galleries in Mayfair did present me with a challenge.  However, with set start and finish times, a time restriction and a list of that evening’s private views, the journey mapped itself out with relative ease.

It was a luxury to spend the afternoon, strolling through these galleries and seeing the enormous diversity of brilliant art that such a small section of London has to offer.   We began at Alon Zakaim’s new space on Dover Street, currently displaying a mixed presentation of 19th century works.   Next, we dipped in and out of galleries on Cork Street including their original space as well as Flowers and Alan Cristea.

Marc Quinn, Sunspot (In the Night Garden), 2011 at Alon Zakaim, Cork Street.  Image via www.alonzakaim.com

Hooking round into Old Burlington Street, we visited Stephen Friedman.  To be honest, having missed the PV, I had forgotten what was currently on show here.  As soon as we walked in we were both struck by the power of the canvases – eight large paintings by Li Tianbing in his debut UK exhibition.  Friedman is known for having an eye for the crème de la crème and Tianbing is rightly regarded as one of the best Chinese-born artists of his generation.

Li Tianbing, Bullet holes, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

These semi-biographical works recall the artist’s upbringing under China’s one-child rule.  Introduced in 1979, the policy restricted married couples in urban areas to having only one child.  Families still find the emotional consequences of this legislation too difficult to discuss – Tianbing’s own parents, despite having seen his works, find them too painful to talk about.  It is thought that, since its inception, the one-child policy has prevented 400 million births as well as causing a serious increase in female infanticide, forced abortions and under-reporting of births.  Second children are often registered as someone else’s or not registered at all, creating a whole group of people who do not officially exist.  Those who are discovered are denied promotions, suffer benefit and pay cuts, are fined and are often made homeless.

Li Tianbing at Stephen Friedman. Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

When Tianbing moved to Paris at the age of 22 he took with him an album containing five slightly blurred black and white photographs – the sole memento of his childhood.  Even this in itself is rare and the images were taken on a camera that his father had borrowed from the People’s Army propaganda unit.  These images still have a profound effect on him, transporting him back to the lonely isolation of his youth.  The multi-layered paintings are instantly comparable to the monochrome detail of these photos and show an imagined upbringing with fictitious brothers and playmates – the ones he was never allowed.  Despite the multitude of figures often seen in these works, the children always seem alone, staring wide-eyed from the canvases, lost in their own thoughts.

In addition to his photographs, as a child, Tianbing only had one toy.  Don’t Touch my Dog shows a group of boys holding their toy dogs, a reminder that Chinese children hardly ever owned playthings.  The main figure holds his toy above his head and the others all look towards him.  The fragmentary nature of the work, enhanced by the use of a mixed palette, highlights the nature of these broken and adapted memories.

Li Tianbing, Don’t Touch my Dog, 2011.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

A mixture of abstraction and portraiture, Tianbing’s works use his own strong visual language which draws on Western contemporary art and traditional Chinese techniques.  Visual motifs recur repetitively such as his haunting use of staining which represents the corrosive power of political dictatorship.  There is no doubt that these pieces are striking.

The one-child system meant that Tianbing had an extremely lonely existence whilst growing up and, for him, art was the lifeline he grasped to survive this reality, taking refuge in his imagination and inventing his own life.  As well as showing the playmates he longed for, his works also show the hidden children of the regime.

Being able to spend time as a family is something that many Chinese never knew.  Tianbing, who now lives in Paris, already has a son and his second child is on the way.  This is something that we take for granted and don’t even consider but Tianbing feels as if he has won a prize.  His works are very moving and thought-provoking; they make us look at the cosy nature of our own existence and acknowledge the trials that Tianbing and others like him had to endure growing up under the oppressive Chinese administration.

Li Tianbing, Reverse Walk, 2012.  Image courtesy the artist, Stephen Friedman Gallery, London and Pearl Lam Galleries, Hong Kong and via www.stephenfriedman.com

Now that Tianbing is less lost and has found what he missed during his youth, his works have become more grounded with a glimmer of happiness.   Although the memory of the one-child policy will always be omnipresent, he has moved on to look at other issues affecting the Chinese economy.  Tianbing’s works have a powerful hold on viewers and, because they have room to breathe and are not over-crowded in the gallery, the children’s intense gazes do not let you go.

We wandered up Bond Street, past Sotheby’s who were preparing for the Munch viewing, to Opera Gallery where, for us, the highlight of their mixed contemporary show was two photographs by Gérard Rancinan.

Gérard Rancinan, On the Way Back from Disneyland, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and via www.operagallery.com

For the first of our private views we headed back the way we’d come and turned onto Bruton Street.  Trinity Contemporary is tucked away upstairs and would be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there.  We chickened out of going in the very creaky old lift and climbed up the stairs to their surprisingly light and neat space on the third floor to see a solo exhibition of drawings by Emma McNally.  Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is inspired by the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and these works show the artist’s extensive working with graphite made of carbon which reflects her interest in philosophy, science and music.  McNally’s pencil works are highly detailed looking as if they may well be the result of scientific readings – their vocabulary has been compared both to musical scores and computer coding, due to its rhythmic and harmonic activity.  In some of her new works, McNally has turned drawing into a sculptural process, pouring pure graphite powder onto large surfaces and then hammering nails into them.  The works shimmer, forming an intricate network of lines and marks.

Emma McNally at Trinity Contemporary. Own photograph.

Back to near where we started, we popped into Simon Lee which has to win top marks for being the buzziest private view of the evening.  It was packed with people drinking and gossiping for Paulina Olowska’s first solo show here.  Her new works continue her exploration of feminist and socially-engaged themes, often channelling or paying homage to other women artists.  Here, she plays with the rudimentary idea of the muse and the imagined, or remembered, image of a mother.  The images have a sense of fragility, trying to preserve a moment in time as it passes by.

Paulina Olowska at Simon Lee. Own photograph.

My feet were now starting to suffer and as I limped to Sarah Myerscough I had a feeling that this may well have to be our final stop.  Tucked away on Brooks Mews, the gallery is presenting an exhibition with works by 11 artists on the subject of monochrome.  There is no pretension, just a few really nice works in black and white.

B&W (Monochrome), Sarah Myerscough Fine Art. Own photograph.

A simple one with which to finish but I couldn’t face walking another pace to another place.  I hobbled round the corner, changed into ballet pumps and scurried home.  The other three galleries on my overly ambitious list will have to wait until another day.

Li Tianbing is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 21st April, www.stephenfriedman.comEmma McNall: Selected Drawings, Atoms Insects Mountains Stars is at Trinity Contemporary until 27th April, www.trinitycontemporary.com.   Paulina Olowska: Mother 200 is at Simon Lee Gallery until 26th May 2012, www.simonleegallery.com. B&W (Monochrome) is at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art until 5th May 2012, www.sarahmyerscough.com.  For more information on the other galleries mentioned please see www.alonzakaim.com, www.flowersgallery.com, www.alancristea.com and www.operagallery.com

The Disorientating Diversity of Kusama and Some More Shrigley

12 Feb

Last Tuesday morning during our cold spell (which doesn’t seem to be abating) I battled it through the snow to Tate Modern where I was greeted by a number of over-sized polka-dot inflatables.  Yayoi Kusama has arrived in the UK.

The 4th floor at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Now aged 82, Kusama, whose work spans six decades, is one of Japan’s best-known living artists.  Outside art circles, her work is not widely known but Tate is rightly propelling her into everyone’s consciousness.  This grand old lady of the visual arts travelled to the UK for the first time in 12 years to see her Tate show; she arrived at the exhibition, glowing in a polka-dot dress and red wig (matching the balls outside), laughing with a bright red lipstick smile.

Yayoi Kusama visiting her exhibition. Own photograph.

Even today, she is still innovative and ground-breaking and this broadly chronological unfolds with each sequence of rooms studying the emergence of a new artistic stance, showing off Kusama’s extensive and diverse body of work.  It allows us to learn about the artist; Kusama’s creative career can be divided into sections – beginning and ending in Japan, it includes a substantial period in New York where she was one of the forerunners on the alternative scene.  There is a natural dialogue between East and West in all of her work – sometimes subtle, sometimes more obvious.

The first two rooms show her rarely-seen early work as she moves away from her Japanese origins into a heavily-influenced Western style.  Her works on paper from the 1950s use abstracted forms that suggest natural phenomena with carefully worked, highly-detailed surfaces encompassing her own unique vocabulary.

Yayoi Kusama, early works on paper. Own photograph.

Kusama’s Infinity Paintings are breathtaking.  Seemingly endless scalloped brushstrokes of a single colour on a contrasting background have a calming effect on us yet are emotionally loaded with themes of obsession and compulsion.  They have a hypnotic quality with the same use of textured surface seen in her Accumulations.  This leads us into the middle part of the exhibition where Kusama’s obsession with sex comes to the surface.

Yayoi Kusama, detail of No. White A.Z., 1958-9. Own photograph.

While in New York, she appointed herself ‘High Priestess’ of the emerging hippie scene beginning a series of provocative performance pieces.  Chameleon like, she has always adapted to her surroundings.  Her Sex Obsession series includes phallus-covered chairs, tables and other day-to-day objects, mocking the macho nature of the US art scene.  This is complemented by her food obsession works that use macaroni to show her revulsion at the overabundance of food in the US.

Yayoi Kusama’s Sex Obsession works. Own photograph.

Her decision to return full-time to Japan from the US took a number of years as she see-sawed between the two countries; this was a difficult period of time in which her early hallucinations returned with a vengeance.  She admitted herself to a psychiatric hospital where, since 1977, she has voluntarily lived on an open ward.  This confined living gave her a sense of safety and ease and, once again, her approach to her art changed; she began creating small objects that were part of large, multi-faceted installations such as The Clouds (1984) which consists of one hundred sewn and stuffed cushions.  Although these are white for purity, they create a constellation and installation that is far from pure.  The phallic and sperm-like forms of her early years began to return.  Once again, her work is in dialogue with itself as Kusama uses her illness to make her art, channelling her warped energies to create her pieces.

Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern with The Clouds, 1984. Own photograph.

Much of her art has a near-hallucinatory effect, triggered by her early use of polka dots that show her unique vision and outlook on the world.  This disorientation is closely intertwined with all Kusama’s work where nothing is straightforward and nothing is at it seems.  The polka dot, a seemingly pretty and decorative motif, actually relates to the troubling hallucinations of her childhood.  Her immersive installations illustrate this with particular intensity as dark, mirrored walls discombobulate, throwing the viewer off balance, causing confusion and disorientation.

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

Kusama has always been ahead of her time.  Her art varies so much across her career that often you wouldn’t know it was by the same artist.  She was there before everyone else with performance art, wallpaper and installations.  The sheer diversity of her art is overwhelming; it’s easy to lose track of who Kusama is and her lack of a signature style is evident in the catalogue (which is, by the way, excellent).  She has never stayed in one place, in one genre, for long enough to make a mark on the public awareness.  Maybe now it’s time that she does.

Yayoi Kusama, detail of Flame, 1992. Own photograph.

One of the final works is stunning – Infinity Mirrored Room – filled with the Brilliance of Life which has been made specifically for this exhibition.  Lights flicker on and off, illuminating and hiding the room in a repetitive cycle.  The walls are clad with mirrored panels and a pool of water covers the floor.  Hundreds of lights, with endlessly changing colour sequences, are suspended from the ceiling.  It is not as disorientating as we expect and we quickly adapt to the coloured environment.  Maybe that is the point.  I think Kusama intends us to share her path as she has always adapted to her way of living and her confusion is now part of her life.  This work is pretty.  No doubt people will queue to walk through the glittering, mirrored maze.  It seems fun but there’s a deeper message; as we enter these installations we lose ourselves, joining Kusama on her journey of self-obliteration.

Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Mirrored Room – filled with the Brilliance of Life, 2011. Own photograph.

Kusama is a brand as the new merchandise in the shop shows.  But what a brand!  If any artist could achieve half of what this incredible woman has I imagine they’d be ‘well chuffed’.

I’m spending a lot of my time in Waterloo at the moment, working on Heritage Arts’ VAULT – an incredible festival in a new section of the Old Vic Tunnels.  This means that rather than being in Mayfair all day, I can often be found at Scooterworks on Lower Marsh – my new temporary ‘office’ where the lovely Stanley keeps me company.

Stanley the cat at Scooterworks. Own photograph.

I can’t, however, keep away from Mayfair for too long, and that evening I popped to the opening of yet another David Shrigley exhibition at Stephen Friedman – Arms Fayre.  A bucket of beers was waiting for guests outside the gallery.  They needn’t have bothered with the ice though.  Even in gloves, my fingers could have chilled a bottle quite adequately.

David Shrigley, new works on paper at Stephen Friedman.  Own photograph.

Bringing together three strands of Shrigley’s work, the exhibition is essentially an extension of the current show at the Hayward.  Bombs captures the archetypal image of a missile commonly found in cartoons.  This element of destruction and hurt is transformed in ceramic by Shrigley into something simple, fragile and alluring.

David Shrigley, Bombs, 2011. Own photograph.

The sculpture here had a stronger impact than the drawings.  All in all, it’s a small but good exhibition and one that they had to put on to complement the exhibition across the river.  It works well and helps to further illustrate the endlessness of Shrigley’s work.

Yayoi Kusama is at Tate Modern until 5th June 2012, www.tate.org.ukDavid Shrigley: Arms Fayre is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 10th March 2012, www.stephenfriedman.com.

Two Galleries for Tuesday: Stephen Friedman and White Cube

23 Nov

I often walk past the Stephen Friedman Gallery as I wander down Old Burlington Street – their wonderful frontage means it’s always easy to have a quick peek at the current exhibition without going in.  But their current exhibition of Catherine Opie photographs is reason enough to stop and take a closer look.  Although simple at first glance, Opie’s works have always been far more complicated and powerful than they initially appear.  They cross diverse genres including portraiture, landscape, and street photography, exploring complex issues of community and identity across her American homeland.  Opie has always been interested in the conditions that people live and how communities form and are defined.

Catherine Opie, The Gang, 1990. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

This is a simply, but very well, curated show.  Opie’s work is known for moving between portraiture and landscape and this exhibition harmoniously combines these two realms, presenting two very different bodies of work: a selection of portraits from her Girlfriends series and a new series of landscapes, captured at sea – Twelve Miles to the Horizon: Sunrises and Sunsets.

Catherine Opie, Sunset 5, 2009. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Taken from the mid-eighties through to 2010, Girlfriends is a striking, stark series of black and white portraits showing a diverse range of friends and lovers.  Opie’s representation often aims to provoke.  With no excess allowed in her compositions, these sitters are themselves and they dare you to accept them as they are.  The works have a playful intimacy, often highly sexualised, that transforms them from voyeuristic objects into subtle peeks into the artist’s world.

Catherine Opie, Gabby (back), 1989. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Twelve Miles to the Horizon: Sunrises and Sunsets documents Opie’s journey on a Hanjin cargo vessel, travelling across the Pacific Ocean, from Korea to California.  Living on the ship for 11 days, Opie documented each sunrise and sunset.  The images work in pairs, in conversation with each other, focusing on the passage of time and the transience of a day.  For me, these aren’t as exciting as the series in the front gallery but they certainly are beautiful and Opie puts her mark on the well-worn genre of landscape photography.

Catherine Opie, Sunset 6, 2009. Image via www.stephenfriedman.com

Time for a drink so we headed over the cobbles into Mason’s Yard for White Cube’s exhibition of new works by Jeff Wall.  I know it’s cold, and there are Christmas decorations adorning the whole of London, but this was the first true indication that winter has arrived – for the first time in months there were more people inside the gallery than outside (where the bar is).  Quelle horreur!  As at Stephen Friedman, White Cube are showing two series of works.  The first, upstairs, Sicily, 2007 consists of only three photographs.  This was in complete contrast to Opie’s use of landscape.  Using his typical large-scale format, Wall evokes ancient settings, mingling eras in a timeless world that he creates.  The works came about after a holiday to Sicily where Wall was struck by the powerful rocky landscape and the sense of desolate beauty.  The sheer scale of the works is necessary to convey the impact of the landscape.  Wall doesn’t wish just to photograph stunning scenery but to explore the power of nature.  This is most successful in his black and white images, showing that colour is not important here, only shape and space.

Jeff Wall, Hillside, Sicily, 2009. Image via www.thisislondon.co.uk

Downstairs, White Cube are showing seven new works that depict a figure or a group of figures, who appear to be playing or enacting a role.  Again, the photographs seek to transport the viewer to Wall’s timeless world.  They are always carefully composed and staged.

One such work is Boy Falls From Tree that aims to show a contrast of calmness interrupted by drama.  Yet, the drama does not really impact on the tranquillity of the scene.  The boy is playing a role; although staged, the scene is real, it isn’t created digitally, Wall actually did have someone fall from a tree but ‘protected him from the consequences’.  It is this that gives his work such imaginative depth – staged reality (whether on TV or in art) always captures the public imagination most of all.

Jeff Wall, Boy Falls From Tree, 2010. Image via www.whitecube.com

These are good exhibitions but not really exciting and the whole evening lacked the normal buzz of PV nights in Mayfair.  Even though there are now PVs every night of the week, and the same people attend the majority, it’s always easy to lose track of time chatting.  The art world never sleeps and there’s always gossip to be shared and news to be exchanged.  Reports from friends dotted over London at other openings weren’t encouraging and, with little time to spare before they shut, I decided to put the others on my list on hold until later this week.  The joy and nightmare of living in London is the amount there is to see but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Catherine Opie is at the Stephen Friedman Gallery until 21st January 2012, www.stephenfriedman.comJeff Wall is at White Cube until 7th January, www.whitecube.com.

 

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