Tag Archives: VAULT

An Intimate Inside View – Simon Annand

24 Mar

I was fortunate to meet and assist Simon Annand during VAULT when he came to photograph the festival one night and I was able to experience first-hand his unique eye and skill at capturing the unseen.

Kindle Theatre’s The Furies at VAULT 2012. Image courtesy of Simon Annand.

His images truly reveal the intimacy and excitement of the festival showing performers at their peak, revelling in their characters and new relationships.  He shows atmosphere and emotion like no other.

Silent Opera at VAULT 2012. Image courtesy of Simon Annand.

Currently a selection of photographs from his book, The Half, is being exhibited at the Idea Generation Gallery.  The work shows the mystery of backstage theatre as Annand captures a moment in the final half-hour before curtain up when the performers are left in solitude, focusing on their performance.  This is the time when an actor becomes the character and enters into the psychological negotiation required for such a transformation to take place.  The portraits are remarkably intimate capturing a world that is not meant to be seen – the intense physical and mental preparation needed to work on stage.  There are nerves, excitement, anticipation, humour, happiness, terror showing the way ‘the half’ affects different people.

Cate Blanchett, Plenty, The Albery Theatre. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

The individuality of the actors is paramount and the juxtaposition of these photographs side-by-side shows off the diversity of their craft.  The photographs show the vulnerability of some of the most famous actors of our day as they prepare.  Annand’s works are in direct contrast to the posed and Photoshopped media images we are used to.

Daniel Craig, A Number, Royal Court Theatre, 1999. Own photograph.

Throughout Simon’s career, the dressing room and stage wings have always been his studio.  As you go into the exhibition, you can pick up a lovely piece of writing by Simon Callow where he describes their first meeting in 1983 when Annand asked if he could photograph him in the final half-hour. Callow agreed and, on seeing the results, said: ‘I see that he’s caught something I’ve never seen before in theatre photographs – not the sense of performance; I don’t think he’s very interested in that – but the inner life of the actor.’  Callow then commissioned Annand to go to Switzerland to photograph his first opera and feels ‘proud to have facilitated the admission of his uniquely watchful, taciturn presence into the secret life of the theatre, which he has recorded as no one else ever has.’

James McAvoy, Three Days of Rain, Apollo Theatre, 2009. Own photograph.

As well as photographs from his book, the exhibition also includes a selection of previously unseen colour works from British theatre and the London stage.

Amanda Holden, Shrek, Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 2011. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

The gallery space here is fundamentally a large segmented reception area and doesn’t really do justice to the works.

Idea Generation Gallery. Own photograph.

Notwithstanding this, the works are entrancing.  At the push of a button, Annand is able to capture something magical.  These works are much more than mere snapshots.  The honesty of the photographs presents a hidden insight into the normally off-limits world of theatre.

Tilda Swinton, Mozart and Salieri, Almeida Theatre, 1989. Image courtesy of Simon Annand and via www.ideageneration.co.uk

Plus, the exhibition is also handily situated two minutes from The Albion, the perfect place for a pit stop!

Simon Annand: The Half is at the Idea Generation Gallery until 8th April, www.ideageneration.co.uk.

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Rocking and Rolling: the fourth plinth, Hauser & Wirth and Sadie Coles

26 Feb

I didn’t manage to make it to Trafalgar Square for the 9am unveiling of Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 last Thursday but I did amble along in the afternoon while they were clearing away from the pomp and circumstance of the morning.  Tourists were giving the work a casual glance as if it had been there for years, nobody seemed too perturbed by the latest fourth plinth sculpture, shining resplendent in the sun.

This, the 8th commission, by artists Elmgreen & Dragset, is a 4.1m high, golden bronze sculpture of a boy astride a rocking horse.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, 2011. Own photograph.

The fourth plinth was originally intended for a bronze equestrian statue and the installation of this new work directly engages with the history of the plinth itself, taking it back to its roots.  The planned sculpture in the 1840s was of King William IV but now a child has been elevated to the status of the other heroes honoured in Trafalgar Square.  The work celebrates heroism – the heroism of youth and of growing up, asking us to look at events in our life that we often skip over without due reflection.  The child plays on his horse, conquering the world and leading his imaginary army to victory.

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 101, 2011. Own photograph.

I don’t think the designers of the fourth plinth ever envisaged an equestrian statue like this.  Elmgreen & Dragset are gently mocking tradition but, at the same time, they have modernised it without being patronising, successfully engaging with past purpose and intention.  The monument cannot honour the figure’s history as he is only a child so it honours his future.  Cheeky?  Yes.  Derogatory?  No.  With a raised arm referencing classical works of the past, the work is both contemporary and historical.

Trafalgar Square. Own photograph.

It’s not my favourite piece to adorn the plinth and I do now rather miss Yinka’s boat but Powerless Structures is not offensive and I see why the Mayor’s Office may have wanted a relatively tame piece up for the Olympics.  The public are able to instantly engage with this work.  It’s obvious, it’s eye-catching, it’s pretty.

After a refreshing cup of tea, I headed over to Hauser & Wirth to catch their two new exhibitions, the openings of which I had missed a couple of nights previously but I hear that their brass band caused quite a stir and a distraction.

Michael Raedecker, pretence, 2012. Own photograph.

The North Gallery is showing a selection of works by Michael Raedecker who pushes the boundaries of his medium, exploiting texture using embroidery interwoven with the painted canvas.  The subject matter isn’t the most exciting – abstracted scenes of suburban architecture and everyday domesticity such as chandeliers and curtains – but the paintings explore the combination of fine art and craft, of a male painter enlivening a feminine craft.  There is something melancholic and unsettling about some of his scenes, shimmering worlds on distressed, punctured canvases where his use of silver paint adds a new dimension to the works.  The paintings seek to evade a specific interpretation or genre; they pull you in but they don’t quite have the required emotional intensity to keep you there.

Michael Raedecker, detail of strip, 2012. Own photograph.

People seemed to be using Hauser as a resting place and, at times, the window ledge was busier than the gallery.

Hauser & Wirth’s window ledge. Own photograph.

In Hauser’s South Gallery are works by Mary Heilmann – paintings, ceramics and her distinctive chairs.  Heilmann’s paintings conjure a diverse range of moods and atmospheres; they tell her on-going life story, recalling long road-trips or her visits to the sea, watching the wild waves break on the shore.  Rather than seeing her works as individual entities, Heilmann views the entire show as an installation piece and visitors are incorporated in the work.  This explains the chairs!  Ironically, no-one had stopped for a rest in these.  Heilmann wants people to sit down, relax and enjoy the work but the chairs didn’t look particularly stable and, although the security guards encouraged me to do so (with wry smiles) I didn’t fancy the chances of lowering myself into them wearing these boots; I had visions of rolling across the entire gallery.

Mary Heilmann at Hauser & Wirth. Own photograph.

Neither of these Hauser exhibitions has that ‘je ne sais quoi’ to keep me in the galleries very long.  I headed further down Savile Row to Situation, a new gallery at Sadie Coles HQ.  Devoted to the work of Sarah Lucas, Situation (just above the normal gallery space but accessed through a separate door) will show her new installations in February, May, August and November of this year.  The space is intentionally shabby – a disused office that has been transformed.

Entering Situation. Own photograph.

The opening exhibition is signature Lucas and recalls her once highly provocative works from the 1990s – sculptures using found domestic objects where fried eggs and a chicken reference her early works about sexual stereotyping.

Sarah Lucas at Situation. Own photograph.

Her new works use the same things we’re used to and stuffed tights play a strong role in Viz. Nice Tits where concrete casts of thigh-high boots stand on the floor.  Above them hangs a metal grill filled with stuffed tights in the shape of boobs and phalluses.

Sarah Lucas, Viz. Nice Tits, 2011. Own photograph.

The space is only small but I get the feeling Lucas is reeling us in and will expand over the year.  What will she do in May?  Make a bigger bang, I imagine.

Sarah Lucas in MumMum, 2012. Courtesy of Ben Springett.

In the conventional gallery space, there is an exhibition of new glazed ceramics by Paloma Varga Weisz.  Upstairs is quite calm and the works are small, muted and could be mistaken for decorative whereas downstairs is more overt.  Mother shows a figure in a shroud lying on a table, captured ambiguously in sleep or death, either emerging from or receding into the slab beneath.

Paloma Varga Weisz, Mother, 2011. Own photograph.

I had hoped for some more excitement but nothing that afternoon really enlivened me.  My sore feet needed a taxi to carry on to the tunnels for week three of VAULT.

Michael Raedecker: volume and Mary Heilmann: Visions, Waves and Roads  are both at Hauser & Wirth, Savile Row until 5th April 2012, www.hauserwirth.com.  Situation is on the first floor of 4 New Burlington Place for all of 2012, www.sadiecoles.comPaloma Varga Weisz is at Sadie Coles HQ until 25th February 2012, www.sadiecoles.com.

Pestilence in Palermo – Van Dyck in Sicily

15 Feb

As many of you will know, I’m somewhat geographically challenged.  When I was studying, I found a quick and easy way from home to the Strand.  As a result, when I drive around London (and I mean anywhere in London), I operate rather like a homing pigeon.  I can get to pretty much anywhere as long as I plan my route around the Strand.  So you can imagine my delight when the online route planner advised me to go exactly that way to get to the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Tuesday morning.  And better than that, the route then continued past VAULT.  I couldn’t stay away even for a day.

I got to Dulwich without any real mishaps and managed to park outside the Picture Gallery.  What a relaxing way to travel – well, apart from the traffic, speed cameras and red lights but that’s all par for the course.  At least I had heating the whole way!

Anyway, the reason for my visit to the other side of London was the opening of Dulwich’s new Van Dyck exhibition which focuses on the year and a half he spent in Sicily.  The exhibition brings together all 16 of the works believed to have been executed during his stay in Palermo.  Normally, when we think of Van Dyck we think of Charles I or the Swagger portraits and, until now, very little study has been devoted to this earlier period.

Van Dyck exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Own photograph.

The key point to be aware of here is that Van Dyck only spent a short amount of time in Sicily and his paintings were quite time-consuming enterprises.  I warn you of this because I was initially surprised by the size of the show – half the normal amount of rooms used for Dulwich’s temporary exhibitions.  Admittedly, the three rooms used here are beautifully curated with deep purple and dark grey walls.  Although compact, it’s full of personality –the exuberance of Van Dyck, Dulwich and the curator, Xavier Salomon.  It’s a dramatic exhibition.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, Prince of Oneglia, 1624.  Courtesy of the Trustees of Dulwich Picture Gallery and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Hearing Xavier give his exhibition tour took me back to my days at The Courtauld when he taught a survey course in my 1st year.  Until 1999 it had been thought that Van Dyck only spent four months in Palermo but recent discoveries, made possible by the Sicilian state archives, have been able to prove the full time frame using legal documents, invoices and papers regarding commissions.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, St Rosalie in Glory, 1624. Courtesy of The Menil Collection, Houston and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Here, we are told the story of how Van Dyck arrived in Palermo in 1624 expecting to complete a commission to paint Viceroy Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy and head home.  But, things didn’t go quite to plan.  In May 1624, a ship from Tunis arrived at the busy port of Palermo carrying with it bubonic plague which, by December that year, had killed off most of the population.  Surrounded by death, catastrophe and disaster, Van Dyck had little choice but to prolong his stay and, amidst this panic, he set up studio, establishing a practice and producing a variety of works for local clients – many of which are thought to remain undiscovered.  Towards the end of summer, the bones of Saint Rosalia were discovered in a nearby cave and carried in procession through the city; after which the plague ceased and Saint Rosalia was declared Palermo’s protector.  In the final room, the exhibition brings together Van Dyck’s images of the patron saint.

The painting loaned from the Prado is the smallest of all his images of her and is particularly moving.  Although this is compositionally similar to the others, Van Dyck painted Rosalia in many different guises.  In this devotional image, she looks up to heaven while an angel offers her a crown of roses.  In her left hand she holds a skull, referencing the recent mortalities of the plague and the iconography of hermit saints, while her right clutches her breast and heart.  These paintings were made as forms of prayer and to give thanks to God and Rosalia for their benevolence which ended the city’s suffering (better late than never – Van Dyck himself must have been grateful for his survival).

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Saint Rosalia, c. 1625. Courtesy of Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

The painting of the Viceroy is one of the highlights of the permanent collection here.  It is incredibly rare for the armour seen in the painting to have survived in such good condition and it is an interesting juxtaposition and point of comparison to see them side-by-side.  Armour was a very valuable possession (described by Xavier as the Porsche or Ferrari of the day) and, ironically, at the time, would have been worth more than any of the paintings now on show here.  But this image is a definitive one showing the viceroy majestically armoured and prepared against his enemies.  Sadly, shortly after the painting was finished and by July of that year, he too had been lost to the plague after leaving the confines of his palace to access the situation and inspect the city.

Maestro del Castello de Tre Torri, Armour of Emanuele Filiberto of Savoy, c. 1606. Courtesy of Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Room two focuses on two large devotional works, that were most probably painted for the aristocracy of the island, as well as two highly emotive portraits of Sofonisba Anguissola.  A fragment of a larger portrait that has been cut down on all sides, Sofonisba Anguissola (1624) is touching evidence of the young artist’s encounter with an aged celebrity painter.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Sofonisba Anguissola, 1624.  Courtesy of the Sackville Collection, Knole and Matthew Hollow Photography and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

This is a historical exhibition, using a limited number of paintings to elucidate a period of history.  The self-portrait of Van Dyck seen at the start is not actually from the period in Palermo (but through x-rays we actually know that he did paint a self-portrait under one of the paintings of Rosalia).  He’s dressed as an aristocrat – a young Flemish dandy arriving in Palermo.  He was dressed in rich attire and used to the company of noblemen.  He knew he was something special – a point that we see emphatically by looking at this exhibition.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Self-Portrait, 1620-21. Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Art Resource/Scala, Florence and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

In contrast to the Picasso exhibition, I wish this show had been bigger.  But, no more works remain so that is hardly the fault of Dulwich or the curators and, in a way, it is refreshing to see such dedicated focus and concentration.  They haven’t tried to pad it out. This is a tight-knit, story-board exhibition.

Alongside this, the Picture Gallery are showing Ragamala Painting from India to highlight the work of Tilly Kettle, a relatively unknown artist from their permanent collections.  This is not so much a curated exhibition but a collection of 24 rarely seen objects.  A ragmala is a set of miniature paintings depicting various musical modes of Indian music.  Each painting is accompanied by a brief caption or poem, most frequently focused around love.  These were tactile objects for private consumption and were never intended to be seen on display.  Magnifying glasses have been provided to allow you to get up close and personal with the miniatures.  I didn’t really have the time to inspect these properly as I had spent a considerable time in the Van Dyck exhibition and I needed to head back to meetings, over Waterloo Bridge of course – where else?

Bhairava Raga, Pahari, Nurpur, c.1690. Courtesy of the Claudio Moscatelli Collection and Matthew Hollow Photography and via www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk

Ragmala Paintings from India: Poetry, Passion, Song and Van Dyck in Sicily: Painting and the Plague are both at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 27th May 2012, www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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.

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