Tag Archives: video

Last of the Summer Time

9 Oct

Finally, I’ve found some time to write a blog post and I’m ashamed to see how long it has been since the last one.  I’ve been gathering catalogues, notes and bits of paper from the inordinate amount I have seen over the past month but now there are far too many to tell you about them all.

At this time of year we’re all looking ahead to Frieze week – in fact, LAPADA in Berkeley Square already heralded the beginning of art month.  But, to look over some of my highlights I have to journey back to Edinburgh and an exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery showing works by Korean artist, Nam June Paik.  I have to confess, that I wasn’t at all familiar with his work even though he is dubbed the founder of video art.  Born in 1932, Paik had a remarkable insight into the ways that technology would change everyday life and our approach to art.  Unusually for Talbot Rice this is a posthumous retrospective; Paik died in 2006 but the gallery saw this as the perfect opportunity to celebrate this artist’s work – art and technology was the theme of the Edinburgh International Festival this year so this could not have been a more fitting choice.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.journal-online.co.uk

It is a confusing exhibition as there is so much going on around the galleries that at times it becomes hard to digest – the main floor exhibits a survey of Paik’s video works, sculpture (including two of his handmade robots) and documentary pieces, while the upper gallery shows objects from his important debut solo exhibition in Germany that took place 50 years ago.  Whatever direction you turn to Paik’s works include old-fashioned television sets whether in their entirety, showing montages of found documentary footage, or included in strange sculptures.  The works are often noisy and at times almost aggressive in their crude aesthetics.  Paik was intent on getting his message across and there can be no denying that he succeeded in conveying his overflowing ideas that combine television with contemporary art.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.re-photo.co.uk

In contrast, was Franz West at Inverleith House.  In all my years in Edinburgh I don’t think I’d ever visited the Botanic Gardens and I had most certainly been missing out.  Aside from the incredible glasshouses, which I’d definitely recommend particularly because of the sculptures dotted around them, the Gardens and House are free of charge.  Walking around this space is like entering another world, particularly in August when Edinburgh is taken over by the Fringe.

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Sculptures in the glasshouses at the Botanic Gardens.  Own photograph.

It is rare that we enter a gallery and are encouraged to touch the works on display.  Here we’re not just asked to gently touch but to play full on with West’s pieces that are solely in collaboration with other artists.  This exhibition contains more than 50 examples of these mad collaborations.  The list of artists in the press release shows quite how influential West is for all these artists to want to work with him – examples are Sarah Lucas, Michelangelo Pistoletto or Douglas Gordon.  Although there are some serious works the exhibition feels exciting and fun – if you don’t participate with the pieces you won’t get very much out of them.  West allows us to escape the conventions of gallery-going where many feel constrained, forced to whisper and look from afar.  The gallery staff make sure we’re doing it right as well – “Have you laid down here yet?” one young girl asked me as I walked through a room, “You can’t see the piece properly unless you do.”  Well, that told me and before I knew it I found myself prostrate on a work of art.  Thank you Franz West.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

Inverleith aren’t attempting to exhibit the sculptures that many of us would normally associate with West – their exhibition is solely about the creativity of collaboration.  Sometimes West integrated works by other artists with his own, sometimes he invited artists to ‘complete’ one of his works and sometimes the collaboration began with him asking an artist to provide him with something.  West was, however, always the conductor of these exchanges, the master of collaboration and of artistic harmony.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

The Edinburgh Art Festival spans the whole city and there are always wonderful installations dotted around in the most unusual o places.  One such example is Peter Liversidge’s work where he was invited anyone in the city with a flag pole to fly a white flag which bears the text: HELLO.  Hello is a word so commonly used in everyday life – to express a greeting, answer a telephone, attract attention and so on.  Liversidge aims to remind us that a flag is also a way to say hello and, here, they wave at us from across the city’s public buildings, blowing their greetings across Edinburgh with each gust of wind.

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A collective greeting in Edinburgh.  Own photograph.

When I was at school aged only 7 or 8, one of the first artists we studied was LS Lowry and he has always had a special pull for me.  Now Lowry’s time has come with a huge exhibition at Tate Britain.  For me, Lowry’s works don’t work well in bulk so this exhibition was always going to be difficult in that regard.  But that was never any doubt that no matter what Tate did I would be instantly won over.  Even ignoring my own personal love for Lowry, this is a very important show and one that is curated by two senior curators who give it an immediate element of gravitas.  But, both are art historians who live in America; they aren’t specialists in Lowry or British art and perhaps this is why they have decided to mix things up a bit, not always successfully.

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Lowry at Tate Britain. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.  

The exhibition offers direct comparisons between Lowry’s work and that of 19th century French artists tackling the same subject which is the big let-down of the exhibition.  Why have Tate not let Lowry stand in his own right?  Nor is the exhibition hung chronologically so it is very hard to see the developments across more than 60 years of work.

Lowry’s depictions of England and his acute powers of observation are still something special.  His depictions of modern life hold a simplicity and rusticity to them that capture the true feeling of the town – some of the scenes haven’t even changed that much since Lowry painted them in his work.  Although the poverty and hardship of the times is there, he often idealises his scenes to make them more palatable for his audience.  He is often criticised for the almost one-dimensionality of his tiny stick figures but look closely at the work that has gone into them.  This is Lowry’s unique record of changing times – his very own texture and timbre of the world in which he lived and the specifics he chose to see.  Love or hate Lowry this is a must-see show.

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Walking through the exhibition.  Image via www.demotix.com

Idris Khan was one of the artists included in our East Wing VIII exhibition at The Courtauld but his latest show at Victoria Miro marks an important departure from the photographic based work he then showed.  Beyond the Black comprises a suite of black paintings, a monumental site-specific wall drawing and a series of works on paper, considering the metaphysics of creation.  Using a mixture of black pigment, rabbit-skin glue and slate dust the paintings’ darkness shines from the walls.  Whereas previously Khan has used the writings of famous philosophers in his pieces, here he incorporates his own writings in response to his readings of Nietzsche, building up strands of text applying densely one on top of the other until the words disappear into the saturated surface, slipping away from us beyond our understanding.  The further we try to look into the works, the less we can comprehend.

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Idris Khan at Victoria Miro.  Image via www.londonist.com

The wall drawing upstairs consists of more than 120,000 lines of text forming a giant radial form.  It’s possible to get lost within this work for hours and I do mean get lost as we are incapable of following the complicated overlays of words at play here.  Throughout the exhibition we are offered glimpses of words that may, or may not, give us a window into Khan’s thinking.

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Complicated overlays. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

Edel Assanti’s latest show (and one on which I have worked) is of Alex Hoda’s incredible new sculptures where the cutting-edge technological processes of 3D-modelling are applied to traditional sculptural materials to create sublime forms.  Alex’s work is an investigation into how discarded objects can provide a valid starting point for wider discussion and critique of contemporary society’s ‘throwaway’ culture.  He sees chewing gum as the perfect embodiment of this area of consumer culture. The chewing gum undergoes a metamorphosis when translated into Carrara marble, imbuing the final piece with an importance that is more often exclusively reserved for classical iconography. The bronze works undergo a comparable transformation, only the source objects are delicate hand-sculpted maquettes formed from entwined dry banana skins.  Despite the medium of bronze, the ‘banana skins’ have an incredible delicacy and tactility that defies their medium and recalls the source objects in a beautiful way.

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Alex Hoda’s new works at Edel Assanti. Image via www.edelassanti.com

David Zwirner is currently showing Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s East of Eden, a large-scale body of photographs ranging from strangers, family members and pole dancers.  He takes everyday happenings and pushes them beyond the realms of banality and normality asking the viewer to question the truth of the image.  The works, partly inspired by John Steinbeck’s book of the same name and the Book of Genesis convey a sense of disillusionment, with lone figures contemplating their surroundings and remaining beyond our reach.  While some are compositionally stimulating and powerful others don’t quite hit the mark for me.

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Installed at David Zwirner.  Image via www.davidzwirner.com

Finally, I was lucky enough to visit Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere just before it closed to the public for a long programme for conservation and renovation.  Words cannot do justice to the feeling of walking through the modest chapel doors and being overwhelmed by the inspirational scenes that Spencer created, a series of large-scale epic murals that honour the ‘forgotten dead’ of the First World War, inspired by Spencer’s own experiences both as a hospital orderly in Bristol and a solider on the Salonika front.

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Approaching the Chapel.  Image via http://en.wikipedia.org

Peppered with personal and unexpected details, they combine the realism of everyday life with dreamlike visions drawn from his imagination.  His recollections, painted entirely from memory, focus on the domestic, rather than combative, and evoke everyday experiences – washing lockers, inspecting kit, sorting laundry, scrubbing floors and taking tea – in which he found spiritual resonance and sustenance.  The poignancy of the works is powerfully emotive.  The main 16 panels from this English ‘Sistine Chapel’ are journeying to Somerset House for an exhibition next month.

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Inside the Chapel.  Image via  www.siue.edu.

This is by no means a survey of all I have seen but a taster of some shows that are currently on.  The winter programme across London and the UK looks particularly exciting and I’ve recently bought a host of new heels in which to enjoy them.

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Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds is at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until 19th October 2013, www.ed.ac.uk/about/museums-galleries/talbot-rice.  Mostly West: Franz West and Artistic Collaborations was at Inverleith House, Edinburgh.  Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life is at Tate Britain until 20th October 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  Idris Khan: Beyond the Black is at Victoria Miro until 9th November 2013, www.victoria-miro.comAlex Hoda: D-Construction is at Edel Assanti until 26th October 2013, www.edelassanti.comPhilip-Lorca diCorcia: East of Eden is at David Zwirner until 16th November 2013.  Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War will be at Somerset House from 7th November 2013 – 26th January 2014, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

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Frantic at the Fringe 2012 – Part I

11 Aug

I am spending a lot of time in Edinburgh this month.  When I return I hope to visit all the National Galleries but for my first trip my somewhat ambitious plan was to see all the galleries in the Edinburgh Art Festival programme – over 45 exhibitions spread across the city.  I’m not quite sure what prompted this absurd idea but, needless to say, it didn’t happen – I was in Edinburgh working and also seeing a large amount of theatre.  Plus, when I arrived, the Art Festival hadn’t actually started as I found out the hard way (some things never change).

However, this didn’t stop me from seeing a few brilliant shows.

Edinburgh. Own photograph.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is one of my favourite art spaces in Edinburgh.  As well as having a fabulous art programme, they have a brilliant café.  So, it’s practically compulsory to be standing on their doorstep when they open at 10am to start the day with a bacon butty and a cup of piping hot tea.  This done, I was ready to see their current exhibition of Dieter Roth’s Diaries.  This exhibition is the first to focus on Roth’s diaries which he used not only to record appointments, addresses, etc., but also to note his ideas and drawings.  His diaries help us to understand his work and the thinking behind it.  They were an integral part of his life; he even had his suits altered in order that the diaries would fit comfortably in the pockets.

Dieter Roth’s diary. Own photograph.

Many of Roth’s works are presented as visual metaphors of diaries – Flat Waste records a year in his life in rubbish that is less than 1cm thick (I’ve read a fair few different comments on the actual measurements of the rubbish but 1cm is stated in the Fruitmarket bumph that accompanies the exhibition) and Solo Scenes records on 128 video monitors the last year of the artist’s life.

Dieter Roth, Flat Waste. Own photograph.

The rubbish in Flat Waste is presented in 623 ringbinders that together form an archive, housed in specially designed shelving units.  Between each cabinet, a lectern allows visitors to browse a selection of the binders in more detail to appreciate fully the anal precision of this task.  Roth didn’t censor his life and plastic wallets in the ringbinders are filled with random everyday items including orange peel, used tissues and toilet paper (don’t ask!).   There are some anomalies in the dates because a number of the volumes from the original year (1975-6) went missing and Roth decided to replace them with binders of rubbish from the same day in later years.  The folders are labelled in an compulsively consistent pattern.  Using rubbish to make a portrait of his life, Roth is without the forerunner of many artists who consider themselves to be radical.

Dieter Roth, Flat Waste. Own photograph.

Video art has never been my favourite medium but Solo Scenes is incredible, a gripping look at Roth going about his day-to-day activities: getting out of bed, cooking, eating, and even sitting on the toilet, in his homes and studios in Iceland, Switzerland and Germany.  Nowadays, we are familiar with the concept of a video diary but it was far less common when Roth first began experimenting with the idea.  Although many of the activities that Roth carries out are mundane and don’t differ much from our own routines, they allow us to monitor him in an obsessive fashion blurring the boundaries between life and art.  Yet, despite witnessing Roth at such personal moments, he says we don’t necessarily come any closer to understanding him as ‘who knows what people think?’.  The work only came to an end when Roth died of a heart attack – this is a truthful and honest portrayal.

Dieter Roth, Solo Scenes. Own photograph.

As with Flat Waste, Roth hides nothing from us and poignantly shows us the reality of his life – the good, the bad and the ugly.  The exhibition also includes some of Roth’s copybooks and actual diaries.  Roth was never an orthodox or predictable artist; this is an amazing exhibition, showing that everything he did fed into his art.  Indeed his whole life was a voyage, creating diaries that fulfilled his need for constant artistic production.  This was the first exhibition that I saw in Edinburgh and I already knew it was to be a highlight.  It stayed with me for days.

Dieter Roth, Solo Scenes. Own photograph.

Next, I crossed the road to City Art Centre who are showing an exhibition of works by Leslie Hunter.  Hunter was part of The Scottish Colourists who, although they never worked together as a foursome, are brought together by their love of bold colour that revitalised Scottish art – the influence of which can still be seen in the work of artists in Scotland today.

With over 50 works, the exhibition really allows us to get a feel for Hunter’s oeuvre but, having just experienced the moving poignancy of Roth’s work, this exhibition did nothing for me.  Hunter is obviously a good painter but he didn’t excite me.

Leslie Hunter, Peonies in a Chinese Vase, 1925. Image via www.theskinny.co.uk

Upstairs, is a complementary exhibition entitled The Scottish Colourists which shows Hunter’s influences and the work of those who have been influenced by him.  On the top floor is Human Race which I thought would require very little time – I was wrong.  Human Race celebrates pioneering developments in medical imagery, surgery and sports training in the last 200 years.  The exhibition uses intriguing objects from Scottish collections that date as far back as to the Bronze Age and is split into themes; there is an 1820s Hobby Horse, films, drawings and photographs, bone and muscle specimens, a St John’s Ambulance first aid kit from the 1950s and specimen jars used in modern-day anti-doping tests.  The objects could not be more diverse or informative without being overbearing.  There are also a number of commissioned artworks that take inspiration from objects in the exhibition and explore the many tensions that exist in sports and medicine.

Human Race at the City Art Centre. Own photograph.

Heading up the road to Stills, I discovered the gallery wasn’t yet open and it was at this point I found out that the EAF didn’t officially start for a couple of days.  Hmm…  Some people never learn and perhaps that’s me.  Collective, however, had opened so recently that it was still possible to smell the fresh paint in the gallery.  Sadly, this may be their last exhibition in their current Cockburn Street space as they are moving to the City Observatory later this year.  Lying and Liars is a site-specific installation that explores the conflict between storytelling and formal experimentation by mixing different sculptural and architectural forms.  This is a beautiful gallery and its large glass frontage offers multiple perspectives on the unusual exhibitions they mount.

Lying and Liars at Collective. Own photograph.

The next morning I headed to St Andrew’s Square to see another EAF commission; Andrew Miller’s The Waiting Place is this year’s pavilion and is a playful reinterpretation of a summerhouse in one of the busiest areas of the city.  The building is designed to show off an ambitious and ambiguous architectural form.  The title comes from Dr Seuss’s Oh! The Places You’ll Go where the protagonist finds himself in The Waiting Place, ‘a most useless place … for people just waiting’ for a variety of different things to happen.  The pavilion doesn’t have any particular function but can fulfil whatever the visitor needs: ‘Waiting for a train to go, or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or a No, or waiting for their hair to grow…’.  Even a tree makes use of the pavilion as it erupts from its roof.

Andrew Miller’s The Waiting Place. Own photograph.

Stills was still shut (!) so I climbed the Scotsman Steps, where Martin Creed’s Work No. 1059 is a permanent installation.  Creed re-generated these 104 steps so that every stair is now a different kind and colour of marble.  Last year, I observed that although the staircase is fit for royalty, the city rushes up and down without even noticing its spectacular beauty.  I am more and more convinced that this is the charm of the work.  It is so beautifully integrated into Edinburgh that it is easy to miss yet, when you spot it, you just have to stop and stare at the stairs.  Continuing further into town, I headed to the Talbot Rice Gallery which hadn’t yet opened either.  I began to think that theatre may be easier (my tweets will allow you to track what I saw) and stored my art map in my bag for my next trip.

Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 at the Scotsman Steps. Own photograph.

I never quite managed to be in one of the set spots at 1pm to hear Susan Philipsz’ Timeline but I’ll try again next week.  The work, in response to the One O’Clock Gun makes use of the artist’s own voice to call out across the city every day.  I’ve heard recordings and it’s wonderful.

The Art Festival really must be praised for not only the Guide that they produce but also the map.  This year it has been produced by renowned illustrator Peter Arkle – it’s helpful, comical and beautiful and I’ll carry on working my way through galleries on my return when, hopefully, they’ll be open.

Dieter Roth: Diaries is at The Fruitmarket Gallery until 14th October 2012, www.fruitmarket.co.ukLeslie Hunter: A Life in Colour is at City Art Centre until 14th October 2012 and Human Race: Inside the History of Sports Medicine is at City Art Centre until 9th September 2012, www.edinburghmuseums.org.uk/venues/city-art-centre.aspxMick Peter and B.S. Johnson: Lying and Liars is at Collective until 30th September 2012, www.collectivegallery.net.  Andrew Miller: The Waiting Place is in St. Andrew Square, www.edinburghartfestival.com.  Martin Creed, Work No. 1059 is a permanent installation at The Scotsman Steps, www.martincreed.com.  Susan Philipsz: Timeline can be heard daily at 1pm outside Nelson’s Monument on Calton Hill, at Old Calton Cemetery, on North Bridge, on Waverley Bridge, behind the National Gallery of Scotland on The Mound and in West Princes Street Gardens.

Two of a Kind? Twombly and Poussin at Dulwich

26 Jul

Driving down to Dulwich earlier today, I decided to rely on the brain power of my sat-nav to guide the way.  I thought it was a fairly safe decision to use a gadget designed for navigating to help me on my way but here I was mistaken.  Admittedly, I was treated to a delightfully scenic tour of London before happening on Dulwich but I got there in the end.

The Dulwich Picture Gallery, as always, is worth a visit for the sheer beauty of Soane’s architecture (I have a thing for Soane since one of my first ever work placements was at the Sir John Soane Museum) and its impressive permanent collection.

Dulwich Picture Gallery. Own photograph.

Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters attempts to combine the works of Cy Twombly and Nicolas Poussin.  Both artists moved to Rome aged 30 and found their lifelong subject matter in this amazing city, inspired by the worlds of Classical antiquities.

Nicolas Poussin, The Nurture of Jupiter, mid-1630s. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.  

There is no doubt that both these artists are great and that there is a link but I don’t think this bold idea quite pulls through.

Poussin’s paintings are detailed canvases which draw the viewer into his Classical narratives. Although Twombly’s works draw you in, they draw you into a space where you often feel displaced and overwhelmed. This hazy sea of paint is what we may expect from an Abstract Expressionist and it delights us as we try to understand and read these canvases.  The effects both artists achieve are very different and why shouldn’t they be.  After all, they are two very different artists.

Cy Twombly, Bacchanalia-Fall (5 Days in November), 1977. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Twombly and Poussin approach their subjects in dissimilar ways.  For Poussin, the Classical is both a motif and a form of critique.  It is his sole subject that he explored in a figurative manner.  His formal, yet dramatically powerful works are carefully planned compositions in which he removes himself, and his own feelings, from the equation.  For Twombly, Classical antiquity is baffling; it is the allure of a romantic world expressed through his abstract palette that he makes his subject.  The fluidity of his painting results in drips, splodges and near explosions of colour and expression.  His works are infused with snippets of text, almost obliterated by heavy layers of textured paint and it is this romantic notion of hidden text that has appealed to writers throughout his career.

The artists may have studied the same subject matter (which is no coincidence) and Twombly may have idolised Poussin but they are poles apart.  On paper, they may be connected but when seen side-by-side on the walls at Dulwich, I’m not sure that they really are.  Although Twombly was inspired by Poussin and wanted to be Poussin (he once said ‘I would’ve liked to have been Poussin, if I’d had a choice, in another time’), he fell in love with a different Rome to that of his hero – a modern, vibrant and frenetic city.

Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan, c. 1636. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

For me, one of the highlights was Twombly’s Hero and Leandro telling the classical legend of doomed lovers.  The painting was executed after Twombly read Marlowe’s poem on the legend. Drowning is expressed by the turbulent waves of dripping paint, expressive brushstrokes and rippling textures across the surface.  The work is entrancing; the mesmeric colours conjure up the passion and emotions of the myth.

Cy Twombly, Hero and Leandro, 1985. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

So, what do Twombly and Poussin have in common?  They both painted.  They both painted in Rome about Classical antiquity.

In the exhibition’s defence, I don’t think it is attempting to compare and contrast the two artists.  Yes, some of the pairings provoke comparisons but that is not necessarily the point.  Rather it aims to show these artists journeying through a shared ambition, albeit in different centuries and in different styles.   Actually, I think the wall labels confuse visitors here.  Although they are brilliantly informative, for once, they are too detailed and almost imposing.

The final room consists of Twombly’s Four Seasons which are always spectacular to view –  an all-encompassing journey of colour and time.  Although Dulwich hasn’t been able to loan the Poussin ‘equivalents’ from the Louvre, they have included reproductions of the works so full marks to them for common sense.  The show ends with Twombly and I think Twombly dominates the show.  Poussin comes off a dull second which is ridiculous as he is obviously one of the greats but this just doesn’t work.

Cy Twombly, Quattro Stagioni, Autunno, 1993-5. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

There is a special Poussin display in the main galleries showing the series of five Sacraments (held by the Duke of Rutland) mounted on green walls and, here, Poussin is able to shine rather than being overshadowed.   On the Farrow & Ball white walls of the joint exhibition – clean, crisp and beautiful – Poussin is lost and his work diminished by the brash confidence of modernity.

Also on show is Tacita Dean’s film portrait of Twombly which unfortunately plunges the permanent collection of room 10 into darkness.  The work offers glimpses into Twombly’s life and world. The suspension of a small screen creates a rather magical and intimate viewing experience and it is particularly poignant to see Twombly in action at the end of the show.

Tacita Dean, Edwin Parker, 2011. Image via www.artvehicle.com. 

An In Memorian sign has been placed at the start as a mark of respect to Twombly who sadly passed away on 5th July this year, just after the exhibition had opened.  This exhibition is a great testimony to his works and it is a suitable tribute that he is shown alongside his idol.

The exhibition is brave and, for that, I think Dulwich deserve credit but I’d have preferred to see the works apart and admire the two artists separately, giving them the individual attention they deserve.  It does, however, give pause for thought and provoke us to reconsider our opinions on these two artists.  You’ll never again be able to look at a Poussin without thinking of Twombly and you’ll never again be able to look at a Twombly without thinking of his idol.

Twombly and Poussin: Arcadian Painters is at the Dulwich Picture Gallery until 25th September 2011, www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

Ooops, I love it again! Peacock Trousers at Josh Lilley

1 Jul

There is an exception to every rule.  My rule is not to write about each show a commercial gallery puts on but the Josh Lilley Gallery is my exception.  This is now my third Artista post on their exhibitions and I’m still smitten.   As long as they keep curating shows of this calibre, I feel I have to keep sharing.

Peacock Trousers is a joint show of works by the artists Gabriel Hartley and Appau Junior  Boakye-Yiadom.

The exhibition opens in the upstairs gallery with a solitary sculpture by Hartley, a 2005 graduate from the Royal Academy Schools who is already developing an international reputation.  Instead of being tempted to overcrowd the room by displaying more works, this beautiful piece has cleverly been given the space it deserves.

Gabriel Hartley, Split Piece, 2011. Own photograph.

More of Hartley’s works are to be seen downstairs – delicate  sculptures with fascinating texture and colour; the works appear momentarily frozen in the act of collapse -they are so light that an attendant was hovering nearby to prevent people from walking into them.  They look very tactile but don’t get any clever ideas about touching them while you’re down there.  Hartley builds and abstracts the works; an inherent contradiction is present in each sculpture as the subject seems in flux – is this raw form a figure or what does the abstract mass represent?   These aesthetically simple works have a powerful emotional resonance.  The sprayed and tarnished surfaces of the works tease, confuse and intrigue the viewer, presenting a mysterious conundrum.

Own photograph.

Hartley’s sculptures look heavy, as though carved from marble whereas, in fact, they are sheets of crumbled and folded paper, covered in fibreglass and resin and then carved away or smoothed over.  The resulting effect resembles metal or stone.  Coloured wallpaper, made of collaged A1 drawings (the same paper used to construct the sculptures), forms a backdrop for the sculptures.  The basic elements evoke the wall paintings made by Paleolithic cave-dwellers to protect themselves from supernatural forces and to act as a magical guard – the mystery of Hartley’s sculpture is almost magical in form.  It is possible that the aesthetic value of cave painting was unintended, but became evident as tool working moved beyond the strictly utilitarian into something more aesthetically pleasing.  Although Hartley’s drawings are aesthetically pleasing, as a backdrop, they become purely decorative, enhancing and dramatising the sculpture.

Gabriel Hartley, Heel, 2010. Own photograph.

The Josh Lilley Gallery magically transforms itself for every exhibition.  Although my stilettoes have grown accustomed to tottering down the steep staircase, I never know what will await me.  They’ve done it again; it couldn’t be more different than the set-up for the Fabian Seiz show.  There is a feeling of a wonderful and exciting contrast, creating a distinct divide, as the exhibition passes onto Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, an artist who uses the readymade, or everyday object, as his starting point to instigate a performance.  He enjoys transforming objects into absurd sculptures, filled with humour.

Own photograph. 

These works aren’t so much ‘my thing’ but they are very successful.  Peacock is a series of eight rainbow-coloured photographs, each showing a low-lying lampshade (perhaps the reason why the works themselves are hung so low) with an increasing number of lightbulbs underneath.

Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, Peacock, 2011. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com.

These works recall historic still life where the light source is external to the composition.  Here, the whole subject is the light source, as Boakye-Yiadom breaks with tradition and moulds convention into his own stylistic motif.  For me, Peacock lacks the excitement of some of the artist’s earlier works.

Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, Peacock, 2011.  Own photograph.

Boakye-Yiadom’s video installation, Golden Underground, is, however, superb; it shows him playing a piano with a paintbrush.  The film stops and starts, leaving the viewer in pitch darkness listening to a rendition of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag.  The video exposes the vulnerability and banality within the artist’s practice, focusing our awareness on the role of the artist and also on the artist’s self-awareness.  It is very easy to become immersed in this piece and love it.  Whether for its more complex undertones or for its jovial styling, it made me smile.

Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom, Golden Underground, 2011. Image via www.joshlilleygallery.com.

One of the things that makes these two bodies of work successfully alongside one another is their contrast and, somewhat different but equally experimental, use of practice – Hartley’s use of paper as a medium for sculpture and Boakye-Yiadom’s playful treatment of the everyday.

I don’t know what made me fall for this gallery. It’s not just me as other visitors I spoke to at the exhibition seemed equally enamoured.  Regular readers will know I’m not generally slow to criticise but I haven’t yet seen anything here I would want to criticise. Josh Lilley’s exhibitions hit the nail right on the head.

After the exhibition, we headed for dinner at Elysée on Percy Street, a wonderful little Greek restaurant, only 5 minutes away, where we were treated like gods and fed delicious food until we were ready to explode.  All in all, a great evening.

If you haven’t been to the Josh Lilley Gallery yet then shame on you – you’re missing some excellent exhibitions.  Hurry along!

Peacock Trousers: Gabriel Hartley and Appau Junior Boakye-Yiadom is at the Josh Lilley Gallery until 13th August 2011, http://www.joshlilleygallery.com.

Same Old, Same Old: Tracey Emin at The Hayward

27 May

I think I picked the worst day weather-wise to visit this exhibition. Yesterday, disregarding the weather forecast, and with eternal optimism, I hadn’t dressed for what was to come – after all it hadn’t rained for ages.  The wind blew my dress like Marilyn’s in The Seven Year Itch and I tried hard not to flash the whole of London. As I ran through London’s streets, squelching around in my stilettos, avoiding flooded drains, the driving rain made me look like a drowned rat.

What better refuge than the Hayward, or so I thought.  I have always been an Emin fan.  I remember writing at school about the re-emergence of feminine crafts in the visual arts with an in-depth discussion of Emin’s quilts so now that she is a ‘grande dame’ I was eagerly anticipating this mid-career retrospective, the biggest show of her work to date.

The show starts strongly, opening with 12 of Emin’s quilts, hung two deep on the lofty Hayward walls.  If you aren’t altogether familiar with Emin’s work, you’ll quickly get the idea – they are real, dirty, rude and explicit.  In my opinion, these are the best works on display, the beautiful blanket stitch framing the sordid content surrounded by delicate appliquéd pattern work. 

Emin’s appliquéd quilts.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The room is dominated by Knowing my Enemy (2002), a derelict wooden pier with an unstable hut at the end; the structure seems precarious, reminiscent of the Kent coast line, teetering in a by-gone era.  The room is illuminated by a pink glow from one of her neons, Meet me in Heaven and I will wait for you.  Alas, the strength of this spectacular installation was not to continue. 

Own photograph.

Next, her amassed neon works create a corridor of smut.  Neon is commonly associated with advertising – indeed, Emin first used this media to advertise her own shop. Now she uses it to advertise those things that are unadvertisable, gesturing to clubs and amusement arcades –  a barrage of abuse attacking the Margate she left behind and now claims to love. This method no longer shocks; it has become staid and kitsch.

Neon works.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Music from the film The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, accompanying one of Emin’s video works, resonates around the entire gallery.  Sadly, I do indeed mean entire.  At first this is effective but, after a while, when the theme is drumming in your head around the whole exhibition, it becomes annoying, and apparent that it is far too loud. 

Tracey Emin has never been one to hold back, in fact we know everything about her life – her art is about revealing herself.  Through this exhibition, however, we swiftly realise that Emin has never been able to cast off the negative shackles of her youth.  Her film Why I Never Became A Dancer (1995) recalls her bid to leave Margate by winning the British dancing championship.  While she danced, a gang of local boys she had slept with began chanting ‘Slag Slag Slag’ so loudly that she ran from the dance floor – her dancing career finished, she became an artist.  This video ends with Emin dancing triumphant saying ‘Shane, Eddy, Tony, Doug, Richard…this one’s for you’.  But there’s nothing triumphant about the work or this dedication.  In fact, it’s rather sad.

Why I Never Became A Dancer, 1995.  Image via www.loveiswhatyouwant.com.

In whichever of the many media that Emin has worked, she has always been self-absorbed, self-obsessed and self-pitying.  In the works of her masturbating she is even self-satisfying.  Emin’s spindly drawings, watercolours and embroideries are dotted throughout the exhibition, the majority featuring her favourite subject of a woman (most probably herself), legs spread-eagled, masturbating.  For me, one work takes her self-aggrandisement a step too far.  Presented in glass cases are a series of hospital nametags, pregnancy tests, plasters pills and…old tampons.  Emin herself has said that she’s a little bit embarrassed by this work and now thinks she should have cast them.  Maybe this would have helped but, as it remains, these disgusting memorials to Emin’s troubled journey bear more comparison to an over-flowing sanitary bin in the ladies’ loos than art works to gaze upon and contemplate. 

The History of Painting, Part I, 1999Image via www.dailymail.co.uk

The second half of the show, upstairs and outside at the Hayward, presents works from the last decade and these are particularly weak with no real impact. 

Sculptures on the outside terraces.  Own photograph.

There can be no doubt that Emin is a pioneering female artist but she’s made her point.  This mish-mash of work may have once been shocking but repetition has weakened the effect.  We’ve seen photos of Emin touching herself, we’ve seen the intentionally badly-spelt and hurriedly-scrawled expletives, we’ve seen all of Emin before.

Emin wants the show to focus on love but the only love we see is her narcissism.  The exhibition acts as a confessional, looking at the young slutty girl from Margate who became a celebrity, the queen of the British art world, suffering abortion, rape, alcoholism and various other trials along the way.  We have been there throughout.

Tracey Emin. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

Individually, some of her works are exciting and controversial but putting them together like this makes you sigh at their repetitive nature.  Has Emin only had one idea in the past 20 years?  There is nothing more to many of these works than shock and shock is a quick reaction, one without long-lasting resonant impact. 

No doubt most people will love this exhibition; Emin is a celebrity artist and people will flock to it.  I wanted to like the show but I left disappointed by this boring exhibition.  Tracey Emin’s work is about Tracey Emin.  It is about revealing herself.  But sadly, she revealed herself long ago and doesn’t seem to have done much with her time since.

Tracey Emin: Love is What You Want is at the Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre until 29th August 2011, www.southbankcentre.co.uk.

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