Tag Archives: Tate

Who’ll Stop The Rain – Tate, Barbican and The Courtauld

19 Feb

So many exhibitions have opened in the last week or so that it is nearly impossible to keep up.

Last Monday, I started at Tate’s latest BP British Art Display – Looking at the View – which brings together a multitude of landscape works from Tate’s stores. The works span 300 years and vary in quality and excitement but there are some pieces worth seeing including works by Julian Opie, Paul Graham, Wolfgang Tilmans, Gilbert & George, Willie Doherty, Patrick Caulfield and JMW Turner. Landscape has often been used to highlight changing social or political conditions and this display demonstrates the usage of the genre, showing how unconnected artists, centuries apart, have looked at our landscape in surprisingly similar ways and asked similar questions of their audiences.

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Julian Opie dominates in the distance. Own photograph.

The display has been publicised using Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby partnered with Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Wright shows Boothby reading Rousseau’s first Dialogues, of which he was the publisher, while Emin is also seen reading her own book – a comment on literary self-regard and the act of reading itself. It’s quite different to a normal Tate exhibition (and I breathed a sigh of relief that thankfully they haven’t painted the walls grey) but there is a lack of information as you wander round the space which, combined with the lack of narrative, can be confusing. It’s meant to be simplistic, an exhibition about looking, but a tad more guidance wouldn’t go amiss.

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Joseph Wright’s Sir Brooke Boothby next to Tracey Emin’s Monument Valley (Grand Scale). Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I’m not sure all of the works quite fit in with the thematic arrangement of landscape but it’s certainly a diverse survey. It isn’t as worthy of consideration as a proper exhibition in its own right. It’s a bit of a hotchpotch; there are some beautiful juxtapositions but some strange ones too.

The display does act as a prelude to the Tate Britain re-hang that will be completed this May and aims to pull together the varied media of Tate’s collection and unite the works across the periods, providing coherence and solidarity. Let’s see shall we.

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Looking at the View at Tate Britain. Own photograph.

Next up for me was the Barbican; I was excited about The Bride and the Bachelors and my expectations didn’t let me down. This is the first exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s impact on four other modern greats – John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. It traces and studies their exchanges and collaborations blurring the boundaries between stage and gallery. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as mere creative relationships – Cage and Cunningham were life partners while Johns and Rauschenberg were long-term lovers – and the Barbican cast light on this spider’s web.

Press Preview At The Barbican Art Gallery Their New Exhibition The Bride And The Bachelors

The Bride and the Bachelors at The Barbican. Image via www.gettyimages.com

The personal and creative relationships of these artists are no doubt complicated and Barbican has not gone down an easy or over simplistic route in making these connections. It’s well-interconnected throughout, bringing the group together at every unexpected turn. By avoiding the obvious, the exhibition is challenging and really makes us think about what was going on during this important period.

Of course, there’s Duchamp’s The Bride (the show’s title piece) but there’s so much more including ghostly piano and dance performances and live dance pieces smack bang in the middle of the gallery, challenging our ideas about what a gallery can be in a fascinating cross-fertilisation of the arts. We can’t help but become part of the performance as we walk around the stage, encountering the art from every conceivable angle and viewpoint. This radical curation would have delighted Duchamp who sought to do things differently and change perceptions. Due to the exhibition’s design, the conversations between these creative genii are still very much ongoing today. The works of the ‘bachelors’ are saturated with Duchamp but often in such subtle ways that we are shocked to realise the inherent connections. Where would these artists have ended up without Duchamp? Duchamp oversees the power and poetry here, an invisible figure governing the creativity of the period as well as our enjoyment of the show. The soul of Duchamp is a persistent presence as we look at how important he was for the ‘bachelors’ and how important they were for him.

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Exploring the upper galleries. Own photograph.

The exhibition has been partly devised by artist Philippe Parreno and the juxtapositions he creates on the main stage are quite remarkable. I believe the live dance pieces will be performed on Thursday evenings and during the weekends and, to make the most of this exhibition, I’d recommend going at these times.

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Dancers in action on the main stage. Own photograph.

Some of Duchamp’s most seminal works are here and, in the same way that we still talk about them in any discussion of this period, I feel sure that this exhibition will be talked about long after its closing.

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Duchamp is the star of the show. Own photograph.

While at the Barbican, and with only two weeks until its closing, I decided to make the most of my visit and go to see the Rain Room. Having been told to change my shoes (heels aren’t recommended for walking over a wet metal grid), I slipped my ballerinas on and headed into the Curve Gallery.

The piece, created by Random International, invites us to control the rain and puts our trust to the test. It goes against our better nature and our very instincts to walk headlong into this torrential sheet of water. I must say, having heard mixed reports, I wasn’t very trusting but eventually fought my demons and walked into the water with my arms outstretched hoping they would trigger the sensors before I did. I didn’t think It would make for a very good blog if I wussed out and walked round the edge. I’m not upset that I must have looked like someone from the Ministry of Silly Walks wandering about in this somewhat strange fashion as my coat sleeves had been rained on by the time I emerged. Maybe I should have gone in more casual attire and worn a raincoat but, needs must, and straight hair and a smart dress were required.

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The nervous beginning… Own photograph.

You walk round a dark curving corridor and are confronted by a large patch of thundering rain. It must be that we don’t see quite enough rain in the UK because people are going wild to get into The Rain Room. The piece is activated by sensors and the falling water is meant to stop as you walk through the installation. You are forced to walk slowly and sedately through the piece allowing for greater and calmer appreciation of your experience. The sense of power and control is bewildering and surreal. Standing in the middle of the 100 square metre grid, enclosed by rain, is exciting. I can’t deny the wonder I felt at being part of the work. But, after a couple of minutes I was done. I’d walked through the rain, I’d stood in the rain and I’d narrowly avoided getting drenched. Maybe the inner child in me didn’t want to come out to play but I didn’t really see the point in hanging around.

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Inside the installation. Own photograph.

The technology behind the work is amazing. It’s memorable but I’m not sure it was as satisfying and spellbinding as I had expected it to be. There can be no doubt that it has caused a great deal of excitement and that the work is innovative but when I got outside I just wanted to dry off my arms.

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Looking back. Own photograph.

Numbers are limited to five people in the rain at any one time which explains the four hour queue at peak periods. Is it really worth it?

It was a busy day and, with wet arms and my heels back on, I headed over to The Courtauld to have a look at their Becoming Picasso which revolves around the artist’s work in 1901. The Courtauld’s recent exhibitions have gone from strength to strength focusing around one work from their own collection with a series of exceptional, rarely lent, loans to reinforce their message. This exhibition, in that sense, is no exception and they deserve to be very highly commended for the loans they have achieved here.

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Picasso, Seated Harlequin, 1901. Image via www.arthistory.about.com

The Courtauld’s own Child with a Dove is one of the stars of the show, looking at when Picasso ‘found his own voice as an artist’. The exhibition title is apt as it was in 1901 that Picasso went to Paris and really began to find his feet as an artist and concentrate on his art rather than his more vivacious lifestyle in Spain.

Pablo Picasso's Child with a Dove, 1901

Picasso, Child with a Dove, 1901. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition is ordered differently from usual and the entrance is where we would expect to find the exit, partly for practical reasons to avoid queuing on the stairs but also to make this space curatorially clearer. It is an unmissable exhibition with an exemplary selection of works, a fascinating look at Picasso becoming Picasso, developing his own style and identity in preparation for his debut exhibition at Ambroise Vollard’s gallery. A selection of works from that exhibition fills the first small room, setting a context for this period and allows us to get a feel for the pace at which Picasso worked, influenced by the bustle of Parisian life – the colours, the art and the daring nightlife.

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The new first room of The Courtauld Gallery exhibition space. Own photograph.

The second room looks at Picasso’s change in direction as we see him introduce themes that would come to dominate his works throughout his career. The works here introduce a more melancholic mood which the gallery explain in part by the tragic suicide of Carles Casagemas, one of Picasso’s closest friends. Here, the pieces are emotionally powerful, anticipating his later Blue Period. He moved so quickly from the saleable and marketable artist we saw in the first room to someone who the Parisian market struggled, at the time, to understand – this was the seminal year when he found his artistic voice and began to make his mark that will never fade in the history of art. These paintings explore the interplay between innocence and experience, purity and corruption and life and death, bound up both with his friend’s death and a number of visits he made to the Saint-Lazare women’s prison.

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Picasso, Yo – Picasso, 1901. Image via www.bbc.co.uk

Although it is no doubt a brilliant exhibition, it doesn’t quite live up to some of The Courtauld’s recent shows and something was lacking here. These are certainly not Picasso’s most palatable paintings and herein lies one of the problems with the exhibition – for a Picasso lover or scholar it is a masterpiece. But, for someone finding Picasso (as he was indeed finding himself) I’m not sure you’ll come away enraptured by the artist.

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Becoming Picasso at The Courtauld. Own photograph.

With only 18 works, The Courtauld don’t fuss around or waste space and their exhibitions are always academically enlightening. They have also produced a wonderful catalogue which looks in depth at the profound changes of 1901.

I haven’t even made a ripple in the water of all the shows that have recently opened, my list at the moment is ever growing but then again I wouldn’t like it any other way. I’m not too sure I’ll be hurrying back to any installation that requires flat shoes though – not really my thing at all.

Looking at the View is at Tate Britain until 2nd June 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns is at The Barbican until 9th June 2013 and The Rain Room is at The Barbican until 3rd March 2013, www.barbican.org.uk.  Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901 is at The Courtauld Gallery until 26th May 2013, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Two in One at Tate

7 Jan

Tate’s current ‘blockbuster’ brings together the works of William Klein and Daido Moriyama, exploring modern urban life in New York and Tokyo from 1950s to the present day.  The exhibition seeks to demonstrate the visual affinity between their urgent, blurred and grainy styles of photography and also their shared desire to convey street life and political protest, from anti-war demonstrations and gay pride marches to the effects of globalisation and urban deprivation.

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Heading into the Tate Modern exhibition.  Own photograph.

The exhibition doesn’t so much juxtapose the two artists as present two completely separate exhibitions that run parallel to each other and interlock in the middle, like a nicely fitted jigsaw.  We are meant to be able to see the influence of Klein on Moriyama.  Yes, there are no doubt obvious aesthetic similarities but wouldn’t the influence be easier to trace if the two artists were shown side by side?  The exhibition fails to present a dialogue between the two – the shows are just too separate but there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that as both, in their own right, are fabulous.

Tate Modern opens William Klein + Daido Moriyama exhibition

Klein + Moriyama exhibition.  Image via http://pcruciatti.photoshelter.com

The exhibition opens with Klein whose work, for me, has a more inherent power.  Maybe this is because I was blown away by him in the first half but I don’t think I’m that fickle.  The several rooms of Klein’s powerful images are mind-blowing to say the least.

Klein’s enormous prints knock us sideways.  They are clear and crisp and the images are juxtaposed one after the other after the other. It’s a beautifully curated exhibition on almost-white walls (thank heavens that Tate’s grey hasn’t reared its head).

Born in New York in 1928, Klein was an art lover from a young age and came to photography after a meandering path where he touched on design and painting (room four of the exhibition includes some of his early abstract wooden panels and it is nice to see his origins).  His early experiments with photography were so impactful that he was offered a job at Vogue and his career as a fashion photographer kicked off with great momentum.  Concurrently, he began documenting the city in a photo diary that eventually formed the basis of his first book.  There was no stopping this man.  Unusually, Klein wanted the viewer to be aware of his own presence at the scene and provoke a response.

William Klein, Candy Store, New York, 1955 from Indy

William Klein, Candy Store, New York, 1955.  Image via www.independent.co.uk

Perhaps because Klein has worked in so many forms, he has always been versatile when transferring ideas from one medium to another and the exhibition progresses to show his experimentation with techniques such as photograms and enlarged photographs graffitied with enamel paint.

Klein is not just a photographer but a documentarian, graphic designer and filmmaker – sections of his film are looped throughout the exhibition.  Klein works in the present.  His works are very powerful and this is an all-encompassing exhibition; this is Klein’s photographs as they are meant to be seen.

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William Klein, Piazza di Spagna, Rome 1960. Image via http://thewomensroomblog.com.    

And then halfway through the exhibition turns to Daido Moriyama. The two artists are so different yet they sit alongside each other seamlessly.  I think this level of harmony is rare.  Tate hasn’t compared or contrasted, they haven’t commented – it’s up to us if we do that.

Moriyama does not go for such a polished aesthetic – his photos are grim and gritty.  They lack the passion that we came to expect from Klein in the first half of this double retrospective.  Moriyama’s works are much more introspective, playing with light and dark, abstracting his scenes so we have to search within the image in a bid to reveal its subject.  He claims his approach was simple – he wanted to show the truth.

Daido Moriyama, TOKYO, 2011 from Indy

Daido Moriyama, TOKYO, 2011.  Image via www.independent.co.uk

His early works can be seen as coming from a Japanese documentary tradition but even at a young age this artist stood out.  He continually questions his subjects and his images explore and seek to understand the very nature of the urban experience.  Many of his photographs present a cross-section of society, looking at anonymous passers-by one alongside the other.  Moriyama uses photography as a form of investigation – both into city life and into the medium itself.  In the third room we see his series Farewell Photography from 1972 where the images are dominated, and often obliterated, by blurs, grains and scratches.  We see a mass of abstract grey.  His images often have deep personal meanings, relating to his own experiences and sense of place.  These grainy grey-scale works appear like fleeting memories that could fade away at any point.

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Looking at Moriyama’s works. Own photograph.

This is Tate Modern’s biggest photography exhibition since its inception but it’s not really one exhibition. There is no evidence that these two artists are properly connected which is possibly why the dialogue fails – it’s unclear how well they knew each other and how much inspiration they took from one another’s work.  But, they are both sensational photographers who produced revelatory work. The monochrome works of both artists push photography to its large-scale limits.  Whether it’s one or two exhibitions, it’s overwhelming and highly enjoyable.

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William Klein + Daido Moriyama is at Tate Modern until 20th January 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

2012 Highlights

27 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Destroyed Room, 1978

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

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

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

Also with podium finishes were:

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

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

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

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

Scintillating SilverNowhere Less Now, Tin Tabernacle

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

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The Tin Taberacle. Own photograph.

Brilliant BronzePainting from Life: Carracci Freud, Ordovas

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

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Ordovas. Image via www.ordovasart.com.

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

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

6. Burri White Cretto 1975

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

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

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

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

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

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Warning: this exhibition is gloomy, dull and depressing

29 Jul

Edvard Munch was unfortunate to say the least.  He suffered from depression, alcoholism, agoraphobia and misogyny but I personally have a feeling that he was one of those people who perversely enjoy the afflictions that life in their paths.  There can be no doubt that he had a tragic life but this exhibition has a tragic start.  For me, his works don’t explore his torment in an artistic way.  Rather, his gloom and misery just emanate from the canvases and rub off on us.  The show (with walls painted in depressing Tate grey) doesn’t grab us immediately.

Munch, Red Virginia Creeper, 1898-1900. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Aesthetically, there’s an improvement from room two where both the works and the exhibition become slightly more vibrant.  This room looks at Munch’s fascination with repetition as many versions of his works exist.  In particular there are several versions of all his main compositions, some separated by as much as three decades.  Munch once said that ‘a great idea never dies’ and, rather than copy the works exactly, he created variants reinterpreting his initial ideas.  But, often the works weren’t good enough or the ideas strong enough to merit these constant re-workings.  Instead we are presented with one shoddily painted work after another obsessed with ideas of death and suffering.

Munch’s repetition. Own photograph.

The exhibition does make interesting light of his relationship with photography and film and his photography is used to guide us through the different sections of his artistic life.  As with the camera, Munch became addicted to cinematography (more than two thirds of the works here are photographs plus there are two films).  This understanding and experience helped refine his painterly skills and technique.  Entitled The Modern Eye, the exhibition aims to show that Munch was a modern thinker with modern concerns.  Fair enough, but he is certainly not a modernist which is one of the theses presented here.

Munch, Self Portrait Naked in the Garden at Asgardstrand, 1903. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Munch’s oeuvre is very varied with limited progression and because of this he doesn’t always come off well as an artist. The absence of The Scream does force us to concentrate a bit more on the rest of his output.  I’m not convinced this is a good thing though.  Although multiple copies of it exist, it would have been practically impossible for Tate to organise a loan for the exhibition.  The Scream recently sold at Sotheby’s New York for £74 million after an incredible 12 minutes of telephone bidding.  It is one of the most famous paintings in art history although not that many people could name any of his other works.  To be fair, I’m not sure I could have done.  The anguish, however, of the screaming figure is omnipresent.

Munch’s The Scream sells at Sotheby’s.  Image via http://fineart.about.com

It is a bland show.  Maybe I shouldn’t have visited on a grey and rainy day or maybe it comes down, once again, to lighting levels that are slightly too low.  The catalogue, however, is brilliant and I’d recommend buying this rather than traipsing over to Tate Modern.  The first essay begins not with discussion of his origins and his birth but with the date of his death – death after all pervades everything that Munch did.  His sister died of consumption when she was only 15 and death and sickness haunt the majority of his works.  Six versions exist of The Sick Child – through this reinvestigation Munch was perhaps able to experience a sense of cathartic release.

Munch, The Sick Child, 1907. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition begins and ends with his self-portraits.  Those in the final room are perhaps the most powerful works in the whole exhibition, following Munch’s self-destruction and the terrifying course of his own dark despair.  Munch had always had a poorly sighted left eye and, in 1930, he suffered a haemorrhage in his right eye.  Rather than consider this a reason to stop painting, he focussed (!) on painting the progression of the haemorrhage; the blind spot in his vision meant that he was able to dedicate himself completely to ill health and the subjectivity of his vision as his sight became further confused and images blurred.

Visitors to the Munch exhibition. Own photograph.

In 2005, the Royal Academy mounted a show of Munch’s self-portraits but few are held in public collections in the UK.  Tate doesn’t seek to engage with Munch’s key works, nor is this a retrospective exhibition.  Instead, it has been designed to illustrate the curators’ arguments and theses.  This is not an exhibition that is meant to be palatable to the public but to art historians with a strong interest in Munch – a narrow window indeed when you consider the gloomy outpourings of this depressive and one that I think is far too limited.  This isn’t normally a problem we encounter with Tate.  Such an institution should be seeking to engage more actively with all its public in a more inclusive way.

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye is at Tate Modern until 14th October 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

Worth the Walk down Upper Street: Burri at The Estorick

27 Mar

It was a sunny spring day and I hopped off the tube at Angel for a stroll to lunch at Byron, opposite the Business Design Centre, before heading to the Estorick for their latest exhibition of Alberto Burri.  But wow!  I always forget quite how long Upper Street is and this is not a walk to be undertaken by the faint-hearted.  The Estorick is at the Highbury and Islington end of the road and there is a good reason why this street is serviced by two tube stations.  By the time I eventually arrived, I imagine I looked a little worse for wear.

As popular as it is, I still feel that the Estorick is one of London’s hidden treasures; it is a small but marvellous gallery that many people have still never visited, including many of my colleagues in the art world.  I know that there are always far too many things to see in London but the Estorick is a gem.

The Estorick Collection.  Image via http://citygirldiariesec1.blogspot.co.uk

I didn’t really know what to expect on entering their Burri exhibition as he is an artist I knew very little about, partly because this is the first major retrospective of his work in this country.  In fact, only one of the works in this exhibition is a British loan – a piece owned by Tate who currently house it in storage.  Made of acrylic and collaged hessian sack, the painting resembles a field with a burning red sky.  Its energy appeals to all our senses.  Burri is known and admired internationally (and a work of his recently sold at Sotheby’s in London for over £3 million) but people seem to have had difficulty placing him in art history.   So, perhaps this is why he has been sidelined but this exhibition seeks to change that and open our eyes.

Alberto Burri, Sacking and Red, 1954. Image courtesy of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri and Città di Castello and via www.estorickcollection.com

Initially working in an Expressionist style, Burri’s work developed swiftly.  He quickly abandoned this mode and began exploring the boundaries of the two-dimensional nature of wall-mounted artwork.  The first piece I encountered was iron on painted wood and stretcher – a dark and truly emotive work with textures that really grab you and don’t let go.  Burri is famous for using such unorthodox materials as sacking, twine and PVA glue.  I’m a fan of heavily textured works anyway but these pieces have a new depth to them enhanced by Burri’s abstract vocabulary.

Alberto Burri, Iron, 1960. Image courtesy of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri and Città di Castello and via www.estorickcollection.com

The first room also includes a selection of his Klee-like tempera on card and paper works.  Although these are more intimate, they lack the passion and dynamism of the more striking mixed media works.

Alberto Burri, Untitled, 1952.  Image courtesy of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri and Città di Castello and via www.estorickcollection.com

Room two opens with Black from 1961, another powerful and dynamic canvas.  Burri constantly plays with surface; the Cretto works, with zinc oxide and PVA glue on cellotex, look like giant crevices splitting the earth yet they retain a harmonic delicacy, exemplifying Burri’s skill.

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

Burri’s interest in unconventional materials was, in part, inspired by Umberto Boccioni’s 1912 Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture in which he exhorted artists to reject the exclusivity of such materials as bronze and marble.  Burri has certainly taken this to heart (or as I accidentally wrote in my first draft, taken this to art – spot on I think!) and makes use of simple materials to create his own unique masterpieces.  His sacking often resembles lacerated and stitched flesh which some scholars have suggested may be autobiographical, referencing his own medical background.   Burri was trained in medicine and had served as a doctor in North Africa during the Second World War before being taken prisoner in 1943.  It was here, interned in a camp that Burri began to paint with materials supplied by the YMCA.  As well as this medical interpretation, other works invite political readings while some resemble the landscape of his Umbrian homeland enhanced by his use of earthy colours.  But, Burri dismissed analysis that gave the works symbolic value.  For him, it was about the simple integrity of material and the work’s formal quality; he said its meaning was to be found within the composition and nowhere else.

Alberto Burri, Sack, 1954. Image courtesy of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri and Città di Castello and via www.estorickcollection.com

From 1954, Burri introduced fire to his work – charring, scorching and melting materials.  This development shows his power to manipulate his materials.  The exhibition demonstrates the incredible range with which Burri worked.  His methods show that he concentrated on one material until he exhausted the possibilities it offered him, pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable.  Burri’s works are as far from traditional representation as possible; instead, they are an exploration of the aesthetic potential of materials.  So much of art is inherently contradictory and Burri is no different – the works are aggressive but romantic and protective.

Alberto Burri, Combustion, 1961. Image courtesy of the Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini, Collezione Burri and Città di Castello and via www.estorickcollection.com

The wall labels are perfect, informative without overloading visitors; they help us to understand his life, theoretical approach and the rationale behind his artwork.  Burri is recognised as one of leading protagonists of Art Informel, a movement that focused on the instinctive and irrational aspects of the artistic process as much as on the finished product.  From the simplest materials, Burri is able to create something monumental and striking, imbued with energy and movement.  These are works about process and about the fundamentals of material.  Although I didn’t really know who Burri was, he was undoubtedly a master of the 20th century who revolutionised the artistic vocabulary of post-war art.  I have long been planning a trip to Sicily and now I have even more desire to go as Burri’s work Cretto is a must-see.  After a devastating earthquake destroyed Gibellina, Burri used the city’s ruins to create a concrete cemetery, preserving the layout of the hillside town.  It’s said to evoke a comforting gravestone that transforms a horrific catastrophe into something beautiful and poignant.

Alberto Burri, Cretto, 1985-89. Image via http://palermo.for91days.com/tag/cretto-di-burri/

Although only a three-room exhibition (the rest of the Estorick is taken over by their permanent collection), this show was definitely worth the walk.  If you don’t already know Burri’s works, it is important to look at them in the way that he intended and to learn about him and his influences afterwards.  We may have previously failed to acknowledge Burri as truly important but it is now time to do so and this beautiful exhibition does just that.

Alberto Burri:  Form and Matter is at The Estorick Collection until 7th April, www.estorickcollection.com

A Game Plan with No Energy – Boetti at Tate Modern

4 Mar

It has been nearly a week since I visited the Alighiero Boetti exhibition at Tate Modern.  Generally, I like to write about exhibitions as soon as possible but, for this, I needed time to digest.  I felt thoroughly bamboozled by parts of the show.  To be honest, I still do.

Boetti is one of the most influential Italian artists of the 20th century, strongly associated with the Arte Povera movement of the late 1960s (which he then rejected in 1969 with his work Niente da vedere niente da nascondere).  The exhibition begins with his Arte Povera objects at a time when he was experimenting with the figure and identity of the artist.  Taking this to extremes, Boetti began to represent himself as split in two, as twins called Alighiero E Boetti.

In the background – Alighiero Boetti, Niente da vedere niente da nascondere, 1969. Own photograph.

The exhibition highlights Boetti’s engagement with travel, geopolitics, games, numbers, words, dates, sequences, systems… with far too many things in fact.  It is very hard to tie Boetti down; throughout his career, he always jumped around, never remaining in one place for long and, for this reason, after the second room there is no route around the exhibition.  Instead, it is structured by ideas rather than arranged chronologically.  Game Plan is playful and conceptual, aiming to be the exact manifestation of the artist himself.

Game Plan at Tate Modern. Own photograph.

Boetti is most widely-known for his maps where each country is created using the colours and symbols of its flag.  From June 1967, not having any interest in learning the skill himself, Boetti asked his wife to embroider the shapes for him.  When travelling, he commissioned local craftswomen as he was intrigued by the female approach to colour.  At one point, supposedly, the embroiderers did not recognise the ocean as an ocean and used a colour that was more plentiful in their supplies.  After this time he gave them leeway to choose the colours they preferred for the seas; the values of the locals are woven into the pictures along with the artist’s ideas.  Boetti was fascinated by systems of which maps are the very embodiment, the human method of representing the world through shapes and symbolic colours.  At the heart of this exhibition are 12 maps embroidered in his characteristic, vivid colours.  This room is certainly the highlight of the exhibition and one where we most coherently get a sense of Boetti’s personality and ideals.

Alighiero Boetti, Mappa, 1971-72. Own photograph.

There are other well-known highlights; his 1973 work ordine e disordine covers a whole wall with a hundred embroidered squares featuring the randomly-dispersed phrase.   Also included are his monumental embroideries and a book created in an attempt to classify the thousand longest rivers in the world.  Shown in a room with windows, through which it’s possible to see the Thames, the hangings take a vivid actuality with their sense of movement and research mirrored by the flowing fluvial contours outside.

Alighiero Boetti,Ordine e Disordine, 1973. Own photograph.

I found his postal works particularly interesting; in 1969, Boetti selected 25 characters to be part of his Viaggi  Postali.  He created 25 different journeys.  The first envelopes were sent to the first addresses but were obviously returned to sender as the addressee didn’t live there.  Boetti photocopied both sides of the envelope and filed the copies in grey folders.  The original envelopes were then placed in larger envelopes and sent to the second address.  And so the same thing would continue as part of Boetti’s own strange game.  19 envelopes remain in the final work, the others having got lost on their travels.

Alighiero Boetti,Viaggi Postali, 1969-70. Own photograph.

And then there’s the work generating most attention – his Lampada Annuale, a black box holding a single light bulb that only illuminates for 11 seconds a year.  Few people will ever see it alight but there will always be a great sense of expectation when approaching it.  But, Boetti will always have the last laugh; no doubt the work will illuminate one night, enjoying its 11-second glory in solitude.

In the foreground – Alighiero Boetti, Lampada Annuale, 1966. Own photograph.

Game Plan is another exhibition that Tate has dimly lit, making it gloomy and exhausting.  It is highly likely that the tapestries dictate these low light levels but the curatorial decisions have removed any playfulness from the exhibition.  Tate has done nothing to jazz this show up.  I’d only seen a few of Boetti’s works before but the sheer diversity is incredible.  However, if you don’t know anything about the artist, Tate’s choice of labelling and explanations is strange.  I found the catalogue to be far more palatable than the show and it is through this that I’ve been able to understand some of the more baffling elements in greater detail.  It clearly elucidates Boetti’s multi-faceted career in a non-exhausting way.

Alighiero Boetti,detail of I mille fiumi più lunghi del mondo, 1976-78. Own photograph.

Even on a preview morning, as people ‘accidentally’ stepped over the boundary lines, a ridiculous symphony of beeps deafened everyone in the gallery.  The alarms were like a sound installation which I imagine will get tiresome.

Some of Boetti’s works are a revelation and his use of texture throughout is amazing but overall it’s not for me.  The volume of work at Tate shows how active Boetti was.  Although, he made very few of the pieces himself, he saw thought as a sixth sense and was constantly bubbling with ideas.  There may be no continuity in his medium but Tate aims to show that his principles are consistent and that his eccentricity was omnipresent.

Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan is at Tate Modern until 27th May 2012, www.tate.org.uk.

Holes Under My Heels and Spots Before My Eyes

12 Jan

Sadly, councils do not take stiletto-wearers into consideration in failing to repair London’s streets.  The sea of holes I encountered on the way to Davies Street was quite alarming and so walking in my killer stilettos (the first London PVs of the New Year called for statement shoes) required more concentration than usual.  I confess to resorting to the safety of taxis for the second half of my evening.

Damien Hirst, Methoxyverapamil, 1991.  Image via www.independent.co.uk

Hirst’s dots are dominating tonight with worldwide openings across all 11 Gagosians (rumour has it that there may well be a third London space opening this year).   Conceived as one exhibition over a multitude of locations, the works range from the smallest, comprising a half spot measuring only 1 x ½ inch, to a monumental work over 60 inches in diameter, as well as the most recent work with 25,781 spots, all in different colours.  No-one, not even the most ardent Hirst fan, could argue that these are exciting.  With more than 300 of his Spot Paintings on display across the two London galleries, the works become a blur.  Rather than maintaining Hirst is a skilled artist, Gagosian are merely illustrating his (and indeed their own) commercial magnitude.  There’s no stopping the Hirst mass-marketing machine and it will continue throughout the year as he takes over Tate in April.

Damien Hirst, Levorphanol, 1995. Image via www.independent.co.uk

I wandered round the Davies Street gallery with a collector who has loaned a painting to the exhibition and he couldn’t even spot his own work.  We finally limited it down to three possibles, all of which seemed to be hung the wrong way up.  That, for me, summed up the problem with these works.  See one and you’ve seen them all.  While I love some of Hirst’s works, these lack the excitement and controversy we have come to associate with him.  He simply claims they are works to pin down his joy of colour, creating a structure in which to explore the full spectrum.  He has no pretensions about them and that, I suppose, is the perverse beauty of Hirst.  He once said he wanted to make art to get rich.  He does what he says – nothing more, nothing less.  The spots are his way to explore the potentials of the palette.

Damien Hirst, Bromchlorophenol Blue, 1996. Image via www.independent.co.uk

Just around the corner at Sprüth Magers is an exhibition of Donald Judd’s working drawings from 1963-93.  Do familiarise yourself with Judd’s work before visiting, otherwise his artistic vocabulary will be meaningless which would be a shame.  The drawings are all preparatory, bearing some connection to Judd’s three-dimensional objects.  They present a script of the artist’s thoughts and calculations, most apparent in the works in the glass desk where the intensity of his thought process fights for room on the page.

Some of the larger ‘working drawings’ in the show were made after the actual works; they are an act of documentation, of re-thinking, charged portraits of what Judd has created.

Donald Judd Drawings at Sprüth Magers. Own photograph.

From holes in the pavements to cobbles in Fitzrovia, I headed to the Josh Lilley Gallery who are back on top form with a UK premiere of works by Matt Lipps.  Lipps’ work exists within the realm of photography but he is far from being a standard photographer.  Instead, he extracts images from a diverse range of source materials, re-organising culture into his own compositions, often with a range of unusual juxtapositions.

Upstairs, there is a gentle introduction to Lipps’ work with a series from 2008, showing photographs from his childhood home, montaged against the dramatic landscapes of Ansel Adams.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Stove), 2008. Own photograph.

HORIZON/S, his new series seen downstairs, transcends time, location and culture.  For this work, he took images from the first ten years of Horizon Magazine, a bi-monthly arts journal that aimed to present high culture to those who weren’t in the know.  After producing these almost sculptural collages, Lipps re-photographed the work, sealing the image onto one plane.  When finished, the works look as though they have been achieved in Photoshop but the very art of these works is the manual appropriation and re-mixing to form a unique vocabulary.

Matt Lipps, detail of Untitled (Women), 2010. Own photograph.

The work is organised into basic categories such as Women’s Heads or Men in Suits.  Boundaries of time and scale are ignored and distinctions between those pictured are eradicated.   The art world, and Horizon magazine, is often forced to organise objects.  Here, Lipps questions the logic of this through a different system of categorisation that includes an element of disorganisation.  Visitors to  the gallery were trying to identify the figures, to force them back into their normal social groups.  It’s absorbing to observe the need to understand and soak up culture in the way we have been ‘taught’.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Men in Suits), 2011. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com

Lipps’ reassembly of imagery comes together in carefully-balanced compositions.  Untitled (Horizon Archive), the centre point of the exhibition, is a complex tableau looking at the politics of organisation.  The six panels form an on-going image with a jumbled conglomerate of figures from various ages and cultures.  All are connected by the magazine-style stereotype which they embodied.  The fascination with these works is the act of encountering a dislocated image, transformed in size, that is designed to surprise.  They are particularly effective.  Are they sculptures, photographs, or found images?  They are not one thing, nothing with Lipps is meant to be that simple.

Matt Lipps, Untitled (Horizon Archive), 2010. Own photograph.

Talking to an artist outside the Josh Lilley Gallery I was directed to Gallery Vela (not one I’d heard of before), only a few minutes away.  Although a relatively small space, it has a welcoming atmosphere – a traditional gallery with dark wooden floors.  Focusing exclusively on the charcoal drawings of Matthew Draper, they are displaying two bodies of work, both very distinct in style.

Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

The first room shows Draper’s study of interiors where he plays with spaces and hidden depths.  The thoughtfulness of the framing enhances the effect of the drawings.  The darkened rooms are momentarily lit in his exploration of illusion. There is something quite primitive and basic in his style but the works have a lot of depth to them.

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

Like Lipps, Draper also experiments with collage by drawing on montages of found materials.  In contrast though, he enjoys the random nature of selection and there is no specific intention in his choice of news story – newspaper is just a material that allows him to create a composition.

Matthew Draper at Gallery Vela. Own photograph.

To go full circle, I headed to Britannia Street to get a bit more dotty.

I can’t remember when the gallery was last extended to this size but it is stunning.  They have opened all their rooms to show the large-scale paintings.  There is no doubt that this is a beautifully hung exhibition, showing Hirst’s tried and tested formula at its best.  The colours shine from the canvases in the way Hirst intends.  Show me one of these works and I’ll think it’s quite ‘pretty’ but show me 300 and they become monotonous.  Hirst has done some nice variants on the spots theme but basically they’re still all spots; there are no surprises here.  Instead, the works begin to resemble pages from a child’s colouring book.

Damien Hirst exhibition at Britannia Street. Image via www.artnet.com

Gagosian have made a joke of the 11 exhibitions by offering a prize (a signed Hirst print) to those who make it to all of them.  I guess if you could afford to go to all those galleries in the first place then you could easily afford to buy a print or even pop to one of his many studios and make your own.  He’s always generous enough to sign them for visitors!

Even without drinks, Gagosian always pulls in the crowds but they are there for a good gossip and to people-watch rather than spot watch.  Gagosian’s shop has gone dotty too with mugs, bags and badges, pushing the commercial nature of their brand to a dumbed-down extreme.   Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Hirst hater.  In fact, I rather like him but, for me, this is overkill and dilutes what was once quite a good idea.

 

Hirst in New York, in front of Minoxidil, 2005. Image vi a www.independent.co.uk

It’s been a good art start to the year and the 2012 London programme looks exciting.  Although not the best art of the night, Gagosian was certainly the place to be spotted.

Damien Hirst: The Complete Spot Paintings, 1986-2011 is at both London Gagosians until 18th February 2012, www.gagosian.comWorking Papers: Donald Judd Drawings, 1963-93 is at Sprüth Magers until 18th February, www.spruethmagers.comMatt Lipps is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 17th Februayr 2012, www.joshlilleygallery.comMatthew Draper is at Gallery Vela until 11th February 2012, www.galleryvela.com.

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