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Hustle and Bustle

14 Jun

It’s been a little while since I gallery hopped and, as a result, I’m feeling a little behind on exhibitions so I thought it was time that I did the rounds.

I started my ‘tour’ with lunch at Raffety Clocks on Kensington Church Street – such a beautiful shop.  Aside from admiring the antiques, this is the place to go for relaxing (well, I think it is anyway).  It beats meditative spa treatments.  Five minutes sitting in Raffety listening to the tick tock of tens of chiming beauties can relax anyone.  I even stayed to hear them chime the hour at 2pm which was a delight.

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Inside Raffety Clocks.  Image via www.raffetyclocks.com

The Dairy Art Centre has been open for a little while now.  Hidden down a side street in Bloomsbury, the space is amazing and unexpected (the premises of a former dairy, it’s big with a wonderful industrial atmosphere).  The first thing that stood out was the warm greeting from the gallery staff – so often galleries ignore visitors or glance up coldly from their work but The Dairy is actively welcoming people.

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Finding The Dairy. Own photograph.

The space is the brainchild of Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm, a non-profit exhibition space that is said to be showing art, dance and music.  It has a lot of potential for cross-disciplinary exploration with a quirky layout and small spaces opening at unexpected angles so this is an interesting statement and I will be curious to watch as their programme develops.  But the opening exhibition but John Armleder wasn’t as inspiring as I’d hoped.  The main gallery, the first room that I entered, is hung with a number of large paintings and twelve fairly large glitter balls.  I half expected dancers to appear and for the gallery attendants to crank up some music for visitors to boogie to but, no, this is the installation.

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Glitter balls in the gallery. Image via http://dairyartcentre.org.uk

Throughout the space there are projections, fake and real flowers, taxidermy, strange installations and more paintings (relaxed relations of Abstract Expressionism).  Armleder certainly makes the most of the space and uses the gallery as a whole in a fluid style of curation that seems uncluttered and coherent.  His work extends further than we may originally think as the gallery is also full of his design – the first example being the multi-coloured bar stalls in the entrance space.

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Armleder’s installations at The Dairy. Own photograph.

The exhibition wasn’t my thing but the space is worth talking about.

I walked out of Wakefield Street to find that Google Maps on my phone wanted re-loading.  Of course, I did sort of know where I was but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of ambling in the wrong direction in the drizzle.  Taxi time!

It’s always a slight disadvantage seeing the Deutsche Börse Prize after the winner has been announced as it spoils the fun of guessing who you think might win.  As it happens, my money would have been on Broomberg and Chanarin anyway.  The prize rewards living photographers for a specific body of work in an exhibition or publication format which has significantly contributed to photography in Europe in the previous year.  This year the finalists were Mishka Henner’s images of sex workers sourced from Google Streetview cameras, Chris Killip’s black and white documentary photographs of Northern English communities in the 1970s and 1980s, Cristina De Middel’s faux documentary images inspired by an actual space programme in Zambia and Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin’s documentation of the War on Terror using images sourced from the internet and mobile phones which pays homage to Bertold Brecht’s 1955 War Primer in which he matched poems with newspaper clippings about World War II.  Broomberg and Chanarin’s project requires far more attention that I was able to give it – it is bold and powerful, challenging the relationship between text and image, looking at the re-appropriation of past photography.  The duo are always pushing boundaries in everything they do and their extreme works, and views, normally garner significant interest.

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Broomberg and Chanarin’s winning piece in the foreground.  Image via www.125magazine.com

This year’s prize focuses on different aspects of documentary photography with a particularly strong focus on found imagery.  As ever, the show makes us question what photography is and challenges the very essence of the art form.

Deutsche Borse prize 2013: Chris Killip's Boo and his rabbit, Lynemouth, Northumberland (1983)

Chris Killip’s Boo and his rabbit, 1983.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

As I was heading to Dering Street and still in the mood for photography I popped into Ronchini Gallery who have mounted a mixed exhibition illustrating photographic diversity in terms of techniques, locations and motifs.  With only one or two works by each artist we’re not really able to get a proper feel for the works or their investigation into the media.  There were a couple of interesting pieces all the same.

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Mixed photography at Ronchini Gallery. Image via www.ronchinigallery.com

My real reason for coming in this direction was to see the exhibition of Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes at Annely Juda.  Curated by the director of visual art at the British Council, this exhibition focuses on Kossoff’s life in London from City bomb sites of the early 1950s to recent drawings of Arnold Circus.  Drawings look at sites in the 1960s and then again recently post-renovation, reconstruction and revitalisation.  Kossoff has grown with this city and, like it, he never seems to stop.  Aged 86, he is still working.  Through his works we see the vibrance and fast-paced nature of the constantly changing city; they express the rawness and true grit of his hometown.  Kossoff isn’t trying to clean up London in his works.  What he loves is the congestion, the dirt and the real life.  And I agree with him; it is the vigour of London that makes it special and, if you’re feeling slightly disillusioned having just walked down Oxford Street, Kossoff can make you fall in love with the city again.  These ninety drawings show his life and work over the past 60 years.

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Leon Kossoff, Dalston Lane No. 1, 1974.  Image via www.onestoparts.com

The thick impastoed surfaces of the paintings stand out one, possibly two, inches from the canvases, the paint blurring our vision while imbuing the works with the same sense of energy and dynamism.  In spite of this, his paintings are far less effective than his works on paper.

The upstairs gallery, of course, is flooded with light from the fabulous skylight that makes Annely Juda such a wonderful space.  The floor below is a bit too yellow for my liking and could do with being softened slightly to allow the works to speak more for themselves.  The works are quite dark and the contrast with the natural light is just what they need.

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The light filled upper galleries.  Own photograph.

Next up couldn’t have been much more different with Thomson & Craighead’s exhibition at Carroll/Fletcher, exploring the dissemination of information through the World Wide Web.  One wall is papered with Tweets gathered from within a one-mile radius of the gallery that have been printed as posters with a political feel.  The wall is personally edited by the artists and changes every day – it would be interesting to monitor the progression and the changes if you’re in the area.  It documents the idle thoughts and passing observations that saturate the Twittersphere almost like a form of collective poetry looking at the mundanity of the everyday.  Another work in the same room turns text from spam emails into song lyrics on a karaoke-style machine, accompanied by the kind of anodyne music favoured by supermarkets and shopping centres.  Are we really expected to pick up the microphone and engage with the work?  How far do these pieces go?

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Upstairs at Carroll/Fletcher. Own photograph.

Spam email, the web and social media generate new data all the time at an extraordinary pace.  Thomson & Craighead create new meaning from what, by many, is considered as junk in the online sphere.  Read about this exhibition before you go or while you’re there.  It’s truly fascinating but if you haven’t done your homework then the sophisticated essence of the works will completely pass you by.

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Thomson & Craighead, Beacon, 2007. Own photograph. 

Finally, as it’s practically next door I headed into Pilar Corrias to finish with some more photography – their exhibition of Julião Sarmento’s 75 Photographs, 25 Women, 42 Years.  Drawing on themes of memory, sexuality, transgression, morality and duality, Sarmento’s portraits of women explore the relationship of each of them with the artist.  The work’s titles reveal the woman’s name and connect her to a time and place in Sarmento’s life.  The shots are candid – showing intimate exchanges but also impulsive playful moments.

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Pilar Corrias. Image via www.galleriesnow.net

And, with that, it was time to stop tottering from gallery to gallery and return to the hustle and bustle of Kossoff’s London.

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John Armleder: Quicksand is at The Dairy Art Centre until 17th August 2013, http://dairyartcentre.org.uk/Deutsche Börse Photography Prize 2013 is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 30th June 2013, http://thephotographersgallery.org.uk/Summer Photography Show is at Ronchini Gallery until 19th June 2013, www.ronchinigallery.comLeon Kossoff: London Landscapes is at Annely Juda Fine Art until 6th July 2013, www.annelyjudafineart.co.ukThomson & Craighead: Never Odd or Even is at Carroll/Fletcher until 6th July 2013, www.carrollfletcher.com/Julião Sarmento: 75 Photographs, 35 Women, 42 Years is at Pilar Corrias until 27th June 2013, www.pilarcorrias.com.

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A Gallop around Glasgow – Part I

7 Jan

No journey of mine seems to be without a little drama and trying to get to Glasgow in early January in gale force winds should not be attempted by the fainthearted.  When my alarm went off at 5.30am, I had a feeling this wouldn’t be my smoothest journey.

Although Virgin Trains are great at replying on twitter, they’re not so good at communicating to those actually on their trains.  We didn’t even manage to leave Euston before having to change trains – Train One was apparently defective and unfixable.  Not a good start. Train Number Two abandoned us at Preston (a friend has since commented that just the thought of me stuck at Preston made him laugh) where due to re-platforming we were able to experience the delights of every station platform.  I think they were trying to keep us warm by moving us around so frequently!  Train Number Three, however, was a winner and, although late, nearly jeopardising my schedule, it delivered us safe and sound.

After a wonderful, oversized pizza at the Firebird, we headed to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum – the raison d’être for this whole trip.  My learned companion is studying for an MA in Egyptology and her thesis focuses on Sekhmet statues.  Rather ironically, the two here are on loan from the British Museum.  After the academic necessities were completed, we went to explore the museum.  There is no denying that Kelvingrove has an amazing and broad collection but the curation struck me as rather messy.  The rooms are thematic though, often, without coherent logic; dead-ends confront you and, without rhyme or reason, random objects crop up at regular intervals.  Kelvingrove is also very child-orientated in its forms of display; they clearly know their punters but this method often excludes a more mature audience.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Own photograph.

I was pleasantly surprised to come across Dalí’s Christ of St John of the Cross – a controversial painting from 1951.  It is displayed alongside a remarkable ink study that was given, by the artist, to the then director of the Glasgow Art Gallery.  The drawing highlights Dalí’s daring in working towards the extreme angle of Christ’s body.

Salvador Dalí, Study of Christ of St John of the Cross, 1952. Own photograph.

The room of French art includes a Van Gogh alongside works by Pissarro, Seurat, Millet and Monet (I guess the room is looking at art painted in France rather than at French artists) but offers a more traditional gallery experience with a coherent layout and more structured feel.  Following this is a room of Fragile Art – I didn’t know what to expect but it seems this is a rather strange term being coined for works on paper.  There are some great things at Kelvingrove, if you have the patience to look, but the mess deterred us and, instead, we left and walked through the courtyards of the splendid University of Glasgow.  With only time to admire its architecture, we hurried past the Hunterian Museum – one of the leading university museums in the UK, showing the vast and varied private collection of its founder, Dr William Hunter (older brother to John who founded London’s Hunterian) – to Mackintosh House.

The Hunterian Museum. Own photograph.

 Glasgow is famous for two Mackintoshes – the inventor of the waterproof raincoat, Charles Mackintosh, and the unrelated artist, designer and architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh.  Mackintosh House comprises the reassembled interiors of the house lived in by the Mackintoshes from 1906-14 (what was 6 Florentine Terrace, approximately 100 metres away).  Although the house was demolished in the 1960s, the original features and designs were preserved and great pains have been taken to ensure the sequence of rooms exactly reflects its forerunner.  Its recreation was no easy task and, although not everything about this house pretends to be accurate, the reproduction is as faithful as possible.  It was decided not to replicate the sandstone façade of the original house and, instead, the key features (the front door and principal windows) are encased in rough cast concrete.

Mackintosh House. Own photograph.

Particularly striking is the studio-drawing room on the first floor.  The geometry, unity and clarity of this L-shaped interior is stunning.  Flooded with light, the rear section was, fittingly, used as a studio where each of the three walls was filled with a major object as its centrepiece – a gesso panel by his wife, Margaret Macdonald, a white bookcase and the dark-stained writing cabinet.  This is more for display than practical use and it lacks much of the additional support required to act as a functional everyday object but there can be no debate about the beauty of its design.  I would say this room was Mackintosh at his best but every time I see one of his works I am blown away and have a new favourite.  To my mind, there can be no debate about the perfection of everything he did.

The studio-drawing room at Mackintosh House.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

The second floor was shut which meant we missed seeing the bedroom but we saw enough to be captivated and eager for the Mackintosh on day two of my itinerary.

The dining room at Mackintosh House.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

Mackintosh House is found within The Hunterian Art Gallery, the rest of which is also brilliant and made up for my disappointment at our first stop.  As well as housing a small, superb collection of 18th century portraits (where I happily went back to my roots), two aspects particularly struck me.  One focused on the art of the poster with works from the gallery’s print collection, focusing on posters as important social-historic documents.  Including works by Mackintosh (of course) and Lautrec’s Jane Avril, which I’ve recently seen at The Courtauld, the posters all successfully combine simplified forms, bold colours and dramatic viewpoints.

Posters at the Hunterian Art Gallery. Own photograph.

The other aspect was the works by James McNeil Whistler; I had no idea that the University of Glasgow houses one of the world’s pre-eminent collections of Whistler’s works having been bequeathed the entire estate by his heir, Rosalind Birnie Philip.  The gallery’s airy layout is perfect for his seascapes; painted ‘en plein air’, these are small-scale, portable panels to which Whistler directly applied paint.  The near-abstracted detail is jewel-like.

The Hunterian Art Gallery.  Image courtesy of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow 2012 and via www.glasgow.ac.uk/hunterian.  

The other fascinating find was his cartoon for The Fighting Peacocks – a full-size, highly-expressive drawing for the principal mural in the Peacock Room.  Pricked for transfer, the work shows Whistler’s retaliation to a quarrel.  Having overstepped his brief by decorating the entire room, Frederick Leyland refused to pay beyond the price agreed for the smaller commission.  The confrontational peacocks symbolise Whistler as art and Leyland as money, with coins scattered at his feet.

James McNeil Whistler, Cartoon of Rich and Poor Peacocks, 1876.  Image via www.huntsearch.gla.ac.uk

Thursday evening is late night at GoMA (Glasgow’s Modern Art Gallery) and so I was able to squeeze in another visit before dinner.  Downstairs, You, Me, Something Else considers the definition of sculpture today, looking at the progression of sculpture and how it has radically changed over time.  The room is intended to act as a 21st century sculpture court with objects suspended from the ceiling, leaning against columns, lying on the floor or, presented in a more traditional style, on plinths.  The media is varied but the artists are united by a common concern for physical experience and material form.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you’re an architectural fan), the architecture dominates much of the works but Andrew Miller’s Shaded, a tower of lampshades and fluorescent lights, stood out for me as the most effective work in this show.

You, Me, Something Else at GoMA. Own photograph.

After a long day in heels, we were starting to feel tired so took the lift to the top of the gallery and worked our way down.  Upstairs is an exhibition celebrating Glasgow Museum’s recent purchases of international contemporary art, understandably prioritising Scottish artists and those who studied at the Glasgow School of Art.  The main piece is a work by Martin Boyce, comprising daybeds, a bin, a wall-mounted mobile, ventilation grills and fluorescent ‘light-trees’, that aims to evoke a cinematic moment in a fictitious night-time urban environment.   As always with Boyce, the references are wide-ranging and complex, making you consider the work on many different levels.

Martin Boyce, Our Love is Like the Earth, the Sun, the Trees, the Birth, 2003. Own photograph.

Continuing down the stairs, we came across Atelier Public, a public artists’ studio to be used by gallery visitors, and an exhibition of works by Alasdair Gray – not really to my taste but he is obviously a talented draughtsman.

We were shattered and our bodies had gone into art-overload.  After dinner at Stravaigin, we collapsed at Saint Jude’s on Bath Street in our divine penthouse suite, re-energising ourselves in readiness for day two of this Glasgow adventure.

Saint Jude’s. Own photograph.

All these galleries have a regularly changing exhibition programme: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and GoMA, www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums; The Hunterian, http://www.gla.ac.uk/hunterian/.

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