Tag Archives: Yinka Shonibare

Mad Mission to Manchester

29 Apr

Normally when I go out of London on an art trip I plan my day with military precision.  My companions are normally slightly scared by the colour-coded maps.  But the week had been exceptionally busy and, when I sat down on the train, I only had four galleries on my list and it was on track to be a relaxing visit.  As you may have realised though, relaxing doesn’t come easily to me and, with a two-hour train journey and  good internet connection on my side, I started having a look at what else I could be visiting.  And wow did I get a shock.  Manchester appeared to be a veritable treasure trove of museums, galleries, historic buildings and, of course, it has a cathedral.  The tourist board website lists 67 galleries – I had my work cut out.

So I picked a host of things for my to-do and see list – slightly ambitious even for me considering I didn’t know my way around Manchester.

I bounded off the train like an over-excited puppy and headed straight to the Whitworth Gallery as this was always number one on my list.

The Whitworth Art Gallery. Own photograph.

The Whitworth Art Gallery is set within Whitworth Park and is part of the University of Manchester.  Currently three exhibitions are on show – COTTON: Global Threads tells the story of the production, consumption and global trade of cotton, with exhibits showing worldwide diversity that afford particularly attention to the fashion and textiles from India.  This isn’t really my area of interest so, although I had a quick look, I didn’t spend too long studying the displays in depth but it is a very well-planned exhibition with brilliant movement-activated display cases that are triggered on approach.  The exhibition includes Yinka Shonibare’s Boy with a Globe 4 using the Dutch wax-printed cotton that has become a trademark of his work.

Yinka Shonibare, Boy with a Globe 4. Own photograph.

Upstairs is an interesting piece by Ahmed Mater, Magnetism IV, which evokes the feeling of the first day of pilgrimage to Mecca, when pilgrims walk around the Ka’ba seven times counter-clockwise, by using tens of thousands of iron filings placed between the fields of two magnets.  A couple of galleries were closed for re-hang but there is also a small Victor Pasmore exhibition upstairs showing a series of his later screenprints exploring geometrical forms, lines and colour that suggest elegant organic movement.

Ahmed Mater, Magnetism IV. Own photograph.

The main reason for my visit to the Whitworth was to see Idris Khan’s The Devil’s Wall, an installation that draws on the rituals of the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca).  As always, Khan blurs the boundaries between the secular and the spiritual.  The main elements of the exhibition are three, black, cylindrical sculptures that slope down into infinite funnels.  Khan has printed text from the Quran (in English and Arabic) on the works, radiating outwards, sometimes disappearing into the black holes.  The sculptures reference the stoning of the Jamarat where pilgrims chant and throw seven stones at three walls in three different locations to crush the devil.

Idris Khan, The Devil’s Wall. Image via www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk

The works are very contemplative; displayed in a darkened room they evoke the voyage of self-discovery that Khan took in making these works.  His parallel concepts of repetition are also seen in a series of drawings, 21 Stones, that were printed using a rubber stamp.  Again making use of a circular motion they repetitively show statements from the Quran in a chant-like format.  Also on show is Voices where Khan experiments with the repetitive nature of Philip Glass’s music in a series of spell-binding, tranquil works where the notes appear to move around the stave.

Idris Khan, Voices. Image via www.wallpaper.com

Although highly complex, Khan’s works do no alienate or intimidate.  Instead, they invite people to reflect on the messages and traditions on which they focus.  I don’t normally comment on the exhibition guides but this one deserves mention; it is really brilliant, clearly explaining the works without over-simplifying or over-complicating.

Idris Khan, The Devil’s Wall.  Image via http://margaret-cooter.blogspot.com

Onwards, I hailed a cab to go to see the Victoria Baths, a building that has been the focus of much heritage attention over the last few years.  Opened in 1906, the Baths were then described as “the most splendid municipal bathing institution in the country” and became famous, not only for its design but for the Olympic swimmers who trained there.  In 1993 the council could no longer justify the expense of keeping the baths open and a committee was formed to try to save the building.  Over the years it’s been consistently in the public eye, winning the first series of the BBC’s Restoration in 2003 as well as having been awarded a considerable amount from the Heritage Lottery Fund which then became embroiled in complications.

The multi-coloured brick façade is stunning and many of the original features remain.  Sadly, I wasn’t around on a day when the interior was open for tours although I have seen many pictures and the potential for great arts installations in the past but it is a stunning building and I was glad to take a peek at this architectural gem.

Victoria Baths. Own photograph.

I carried on in my cab to see the UMIST building – an imposing red-brick building on Sackville Street.  I was already gaining the impression that Manchester is architecturally a very rich city.

UMIST building. Own photograph.

My next stop was Cornerhouse, Manchester’s centre for contemporary visual art and film.  Their current exhibition, Subversion, brings together 11 artists to rethink ‘modern’ and ‘Arab’ identity.  The exhibition looks at the stereotypical preoccupations that we have come to know as, or associate with, the Arab world.  I particularly liked Larissa Sansour’s striking photographs.  There are lots of video-based works and the top floor gallery is an immersive space for visitors to tamper with, that includes video games, a retro cinema and jigsaw puzzles.  The venue has a project-space, experimental vibe to it.  Cornerhouse feels like a cultural hub and I decided to stop for a late lunch and soak up the buzzy atmosphere.

Larissa Sansour, Nation Estate – Jerusalem Floor. Own photograph.

From there I was able to walk up the road to Central Library but unfortunately, in my rushed research, I had amazingly omitted to notice that it’s shut for a huge restoration project.  From the tiny sections that weren’t covered in scaffolding I could see how beautiful the neoclassical circular space must be but, alas, there wasn’t much I could do so I hopped over the tram lines down Mosley Street to the Manchester Art Gallery.

Manchester’s Central Library. Own photograph.

Downstairs is A Sleek Dry Yell, 2008 by Haroon Mirza which uses everyday sound and objects to reassemble redundant analogue technology.  Sound becomes sculpture although it echoes annoyingly around the entire building.  Again, some of the permanent galleries were shut for re-hang but they have a great 18th century collection with all the usual suspects – Highmore, a very dirty Hogarth, Gainsborough, Romney, Reynolds…   It’s a pleasant enough gallery but not too thrilling. It is, however, a comprehensive collection and a much larger space that I expected partly due to a surprising modern extension at the back where Gormley’s Filter hangs from the ceiling; a figure (of course) made of welded steel rings showing the body as a container.  The work hangs in space, open to light and the elements.  The steel rings mean that the figure’s skin becomes porous so there is a fluid transition from internal to external expressing freedom of movement and experience.

Antony Gormley, Filter. Own photograph.

What the Manchester Art Gallery does well is present a small and manageable introduction to the various periods of art history with works by a number of key artists.  I was constantly surprised by the calibre of some of the works but, equally, I was often disappointed by how they had paired them.  The top floor presents a gallery of craft and design which was a bit too cluttered for my liking as well as an interesting exhibition of Roger Ballen’s photographs.  I’m not sure why these things keep happening to me but I managed to approach this from the wrong side and was consequently surprised to find that this is his first UK exhibition and is, in fact, a huge retrospective.  Ballen lived and worked in South Africa for over 30 years, exploring small rural towns with a different world and culture.  His works have a stark black and white format which blurs the line between fantasy and reality in what he used to term ‘documentary fiction’.

Roger Ballen, Puppy between feet. Own photograph.

Rushing to avoid the impending rain, I headed to the John Rylands Library, a memorial building erected by Rylands’ third wife to house his 70,000 books and manuscripts.  The building is thought to be one of the best examples of neo-Gothic architecture in Europe.  Built as a chapel with stained glass windows rising from either end, the magnificent vaulted ceiling of the historic reading room demands awe and respect.  Although the outside of the building is filthy, the interior is beautifully preserved and this was easily the artistic highlight of my day.

The historic reading room at the John Rylands library. Own photograph.

I wandered past the mega shopping area by The Royal Exchange and went to Manchester Cathedral. Building commenced in 1421 but it has undergone some fairly hefty restoration in its time. Although it’s a great building it couldn’t really compare with the library I’d just come from.  I was lucky that there was organ practice while I was there so, once I’d looked around, I was able to sit and soak up the architecture while appreciating the acoustic splendour.

Manchester Cathedral. Own photograph.

Needless to say, by cocktail time I was becoming quite exhausted and my legs were suffering so The Alchemist was a perfect refuge.  Thanks to google maps and my wonderful sense of geography I had managed to see everything without getting lost.   I had only one thing on my list for the following day; I have no doubt that there is more to do and there are some gorgeous buildings on the outskirts of the city but I’ll have to save these for my next visit.  For my Manchester night out I headed over to the Lowry for Opera della Luna’s modern reworking of Don Giovanni, a comic portrayal of opera’s infamous lothario.  The perfect end to my day!

The Lowry. Own photograph.

After exploring the canals of Salford on Saturday morning I popped back to the Lowry to see their exhibition space – after all you can’t come to Manchester and not have a true Lowry indulgence.  I have always loved Lowry so obviously I have a strong bias here but his works have such character, charm and life that it’s impossible not to love them.  This is a really good collection and doesn’t just show the typical paintings for which he is popular.  Also on display are a range of his beautiful seascapes inspired by the North Sea showing infinite open spaces, loaded with meaning and emotion.  As Lowry grew older he became more and more fascinated with bizarre characters although some of his collectors found this surreal twist to his work too radical a departure.

L.S. Lowry, Going to the Match. Image via www.thelowry.com

There is also an Annie Lennox exhibition offering insights into her life and career as a singer, songwriter, campaigner and activist. I’m not quite sure it fits here as there is no distinction between the spaces except for wall colour but Lowry Favourites and this are independently two very good shows.

It was sadly time to leave Manchester and head back to the torrential rain in the South.  Most of the buildings and galleries deserve far more attention than I’ve afforded them here but, due to the amount I somehow managed to cram in, I’ve tried to keep each section brief.  I had a really relaxing and exciting trip and was fascinated to see some of Manchester that people don’t normally talk about or bother to notice.

COTTON: Global Threads, Idris Khan: The Devil’s Wall and Victor Pasmore; Transformations are all at the Whitworth Art Gallery until 13th May 2012, www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk.   Subversion is at Cornerhouse until 5th June 2012, www.cornerhouse.orgRoger Ballen: Shadowland, Photographs 1983-2011 is at Manchester Art Gallery until 13th May, www.manchestergalleries.orgLowry Favourites is at The Lowry until 6th July 2012 and The House of Annie Lennox is at The Lowry until 17th June 2012, www.thelowry.com.  For more details about any of the other places visited see: www.victoriabaths.org.uk, www.manchester.gov.uk/directory_record/3962/central_library, www.library.manchester.ac.uk/deansgate, www.royalexchange.co.uk/page.aspx, www.manchestercathedral.org, www.operadellaluna.org and www.visitsalford.info.

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.

How the Tate stole Christmas…

18 Dec

For the past 23 years, Tate Britain has exhibited artist-designed Christmas trees in their magnificent rotunda.

There have been some wonderful reinventions, starting in 1988 with Bill Woodrow’s ‘ecological tree’.  This was followed with trees designed by Tim Head, Lisa Milroy, Boyd Webb, Craigie Aitchison, Shirazeh Houshiary’s up-side down design, Cathy de Monchaux and Cornelia Parker whose tree was laden with dried fruit while the air was magically scented with the aroma of brandy.  In 1996, Julian Opie created a group of ‘model’ trees, constructed from two planes of wood.  Although they were instantly recognisable as fir trees, there were also instantly recognisable as Opie’s.  The group evoked the idea of a forest, drawing people into a mystical Christmas playground.

Julian Opie, Christmas Tree, 1996. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Michael Landy followed this installation the next year.  Then came Richard Wilson, Mat Collishaw, Catherine Yass (whose undecorated tree that was suspended and bisected by a thin beam of blue neon), Yinka Shonibare, Tracey Emin and Mark Wallinger.

Catherine Yass, Christmas Tree, 2000. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

A bare tree cropped up again for Wallinger’s installation.  He used a large aspen (the wood of the cross on which Christ was crucified), hung with 500 lightly-scented Catholic rosaries.  Then there was a tree by Richard Wentworth and a traditional spruce by Gary Hume decorated with hand-painted steel-plate blackbirds.  The blackbird is a typical Christmas bird and an iconic part of the festival – the ‘four calling birds’ of the popular song are blackbirds (calling birds, originating from colly birds where colly refers to the black soot of coal).

Mark Wallinger, Populus Tremula, 2003. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Important artists continued to adorn Tate’s rotunda with their festive spirit.  Sarah Lucas in 2006, then, Fiona Banner, Bob and Roberta Smith, Tacita Dean and, finally, last year, Giorgio Sadotti’s unadorned tree.  At the bottom of his Norwegian Spruce, rested a coiled bullwhip, intended to drive away the spell of Christmas on twelfth night.  Sadotti asked us to recognise the tree’s natural elegance in its state of undress.

Giorgio Sadotti, Christmas Tree, 2010.  Image via www.artswrap.co.uk

And so, it’s the time of year again when Tate should be unveiling its tree but, sadly, there is nothing.  “Due to building works” (that haven’t yet affected the rotunda), a wonderful British tradition has been left to fizzle out and Tate has disappointed Christmas-loving art fans.  I, for one, am missing this festive eccentricity normally embraced by one of our favourite galleries.  If for some reason they don’t want to use the rotunda this year, you’d think they would have enough space across both their London galleries that they wouldn’t have to be the gallery that stole Christmas.

Please Tate let us have our Christmas tree back next year!

Bill Woodrow, Christmas Tree, 1988. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Tim Head installing his tree, 1989. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Lisa Milroy, Christmas Tree, 1990. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Boyd Webb, Christmas Tree, 1991. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Craigie Aitchison, Christmas Tree, 1992. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Shirazeh Houshiary, Christmas Tree, 1993. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Cathy de Monchaux, Christmas Tree, 1994. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Cornelia Parker, Christmas Tree, 1995. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Michael Landy, Christmas Tree, 1997.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Richard Wilson, Christmas Tree, 1998. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Mat Collishaw, Christmas Tree, 1999. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Yinka Shonibare, Christmas Tree, 2001.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Tracey Emin, Christmas Tree, 2002. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Richard Wentworth, Christmas Tree, 2004. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Gary Hume, Christmas Tree, 2005. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Sarah Lucas, Christmas Tree, 2006. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Fiona Banner, Christmas Tree, 2007. Image via www.flickr.com/photos/practise

Bob and Roberta Smith, Christmas Tree, 2008.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Tacita Dean, Christmas Tree, 2009. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Double Exposure: National Portrait Gallery and Hamiltons

7 Jul

Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery is a celebration of Hollywood stars from 1920-1960.  Over 70 vintage photographs are on display here, many of which have never been shown before, from the amazing archives of the John Kobal Foundation.

The studios used these photographs to transform their actors and actresses into style icons and heartthrobs.  These iconic images helped to shape incredible personalities, acting as powerful ‘posters’ to publicise new films and draw in audiences.  Not only is the range of stars overwhelming (James Dean, Joan Collins, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others) but the range of photographers is also impressive including George Hurrell, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Bob Coburn and Ruth Harriet Louise.

Marlon Brando for A Streetcar Named Desire (1950) by John Engstead. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

The exhibition records decades of film history.  John Kobal began collecting film photographs in the 1950s. Over time, his passion burgeoned and he tracked down many of the photographers behind the portraits, arranging exhibitions, publishing books, and seeking to give them the recognition they deserved.  Luckily for us, Kobal was an obsessive, realising the importance of these artists when no one else did and bringing them to the forefront, together with the stars they were photographing.

Whereas today we like our ‘celebs’ to be real people, the Hollywood film studios of this era chose to depict the actors as glamorous, mysterious and inaccessible.  With no paparazzi, these were the photographs seen and admired by the fans.   Appallingly, to enable the photographs to be reproduced as widely as possible, they were stamped ‘copyright free’ meaning many of these important photographers remained uncredited for their timeless works.

Rita Hayworth (1939) by Gene Kornman. Own photograph. 

I know I always commend or criticise slightly strange things – here, I have heaps of praise for the wall labels; they are brilliantly concise with information about both the works and the stars who appear in them.  They are informative and interesting – just right.  It was fascinating to be able to read the real names of these Hollywood icons – Joan Crawford, for example, was born Lucille Fay Le Sueur.

The exhibition is two-tone with walls of light cyan and deep purple – a bold and unusual choice.  Whilst the cyan walls bring out the tonal qualities of the monochrome photos, the purple doesn’t work as well.  These sections are a confusing mass of colour – purple walls with an injection of black (as described by the curator), black wall labels and brown flecked frames.

Own photograph.

There’s no denying that these works are beautiful but, in a way, there are slightly too many here.  The reflections in the glass from the opposite wall are awful and it would be better without these distractions.  A bulk order of non-reflective glass would have been useful.

Alfred Hitchcock with MGM lion (1958) by Clarence Sinclair Bull. Own photograph.

The gorgeous James Dean photo near the entrance/exit is spoiled by the reflection of Rock Hudson vying for your attention.

Own photograph.

It’s a very easy exhibition to walk around – look at the gorgeous photos and admire the beauty of the stars who appear in them.

The works themselves are exciting but the exhibition itself isn’t, other than for bringing these great works together.  Maybe that’s enough though and maybe it doesn’t need to do anything more than this.

I struggled across Trafalgar Square, where people were camping in their thousands to see today’s world premiere of the last Harry Potter film, The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, to the National Gallery.   Ever since I was taken on my first-ever school trip, aged 3, I can’t go past without popping in to visit my favourite paintings.  As I continued across the square towards Yinka’s Fourth Plinth, I came across the National’s incredible living wall.  Over 8,000 plants have been used to recreate Van Gogh’s A Wheatfield with Cypresses mimicking the strong bands of colour in the painting.  It’s gorgeous and such a great idea.  This is the sort of innovative thinking that we should see more of.

Own photograph.

Although I had planned to go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, with time being tight, I decided to have a photography day instead and tottered over to Hamiltons for their Herb Ritts’ exhibition.  The gallery is dangerously close to a certain shop that sells certain special shoes with red soles but I managed to resist walking down Mount Street for a peek.

As well as working for Vogue and Vanity Fair, Ritts created hugely successful advertising campaigns for the likes of Calvin Klein, Chanel and Gap.  Many of these photographs, coming directly from Ritts’ private archive, have never been exhibited before.  They are images that Ritts particularly liked and saved for his own personal collection.

Own photograph.

This is a beautiful exhibition with clean-cut, striking works displayed in a crisp uniform fashion.  When I came home and looked back at my notes, I saw I had written an endless list of superlatives.  What else can you say about them but wow?  Aesthetically pleasing with perfectly executed compositions, these are a photographic delight.

Own photograph.

Also included are Ritts’ more well-known works such as Fred with Tires ­– this is the biggest ‘wow’ of them all.  It’s now very well-known and very gorgeous.  Girls, go and swoon to your hearts’ content.

Herb Ritts, Fred with Tires II, Hollywood, 1984. Own photograph.

Glamour of the Gods: Hollywood Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 23rd October 2011, www.npg.org.uk.

The National Gallery’s Living Wall can be seen in Trafalgar Square until the end of October 2011, www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Herb Ritts is at Hamiltons Gallery until 12th August 2011, www.hamiltonsgallery.com.

So many galleries, so little time…

8 Apr

Yesterday was definitely a mega gallery trawl.  Having spent a few days in bed suffering from the dreaded lurgy that I always seem to get at this time of year, I was suffering art withdrawal symptoms.  Heels at the ready (although having regard for my frailty I had a pair of flipflops in my Mary Poppins- like handbag just in case), I set off.

My first stop was Parasol unit on Wharf Road whose current exhibition, I Know Something About Love, includes works by Shirin Neshat, Christodoulos Panayiotou, Yinka Shonibare MBE and Yang Fudong.  Each artist explores the theme of love in various times and cultures reflecting on their personal experiences.  I went as I am a huge Yinka fan; for this exhibition he has re-configured his installation Jardin d’amour originally shown in Paris in 2007.  The works are housed within an evocatively romantic maze of ivy-covered trellis filled with secret walkways and mysterious turnings. 

Own photograph

You come across the three Yinka installations after losing yourself in the work. Please note, this was the only time that evening I got lost but that’s probably due to the fact that later I was with “the boys”!  I felt like a child again, on a treasure hunt and these works are indeed buried treasure.  Peepholes in the maze mean you see the installations of The Confession, The Pursuit and The Crowning before you find them. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

There is an exciting sensation as your pace quickens trying to reach the goal – hunting for the mystery of love.  Ironically, you encounter lots of dead ends in the process!  Beautifully complemented by the maze, Yinka playfully applies a political perspective by looking at love in eighteenth-century Rococo France.  The three scenes resemble Fragonard paintings with elegantly dressed, affectionately intertwined (headless) couples.   

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

One of the installations, surrounded by fritillarias, has a bench enabling the spectator to become part of the scene.  No-one is indifferent to love and Yinka’s garden will bring out the hopeless romantic in even the most cynical of us. 

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

The other artists’ works are in the upstairs gallery – three striking video installations that are all powerful in different ways.  To be truthful, I hurried through the upper galleries still lost in Yinka’s magical mystery tour so I didn’t afford these works very much time.

Image via www.parasol-unit.org

As I was next door it seemed opportune to pop into Victoria Miro where they are showing ‘new and recent’ paintings by Chantal Joffe.  As you enter the ground-floor gallery space you are confronted by seven large-scale paintings in a muted palette of black, red, blue and white. 

Own photograph

This limited palette is very effective, creating a sombre and dignified feeling.   The paintings depict portrayals of Joffe’s heroines, both imagined and real (painters and writers of the 19th and 20th centuries).  The young women, isolated against dark backgrounds, are trapped within the canvases; their bodies are in awkward or sexual poses, distorted or kneeling, conveying a sense of vulnerability.  The works are untitled to denote a lack of specificity but this reading is meaningless when looking at the works and the artist’s intention isn’t helpful.

Image via www.victoria-miro.com

The works left cold rather than feeling sympathetic or empathetic – they just had no impact.  However, I love this gallery and large works look good in this cavernous space.   In all Joffe’s paintings the figures gaze away from the viewer, maybe looking into the future or reflecting on the past.  Who knows?  And, sadly, who cares?  I felt the works were bland and, unfortunately, this didn’t change as I walked around the exhibition

Upstairs, smaller works are overpowered by the architecture.  Being familiar with Joffe’s earlier works, to me these new canvases seem hurried and I didn’t sense how these women felt or how Joffe herself  felt. 

 

Own photograph

Time to move on…

I met with ‘the boys’ and we headed to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery for the opening of an exhibition of new works by Harold Cohen.  Cohen, who represented the UK at the 1966 Venice Biennale, is undoubtedly a well-known artist – a pioneer in applying computing to the arts having created a unique technique.  These works are created with his celebrated program AARON which here forms the digital equivalent of underpainting the canvas.  Cohen then works over this underlayer with oils creating the finished works we know today.  I was fortunate to chat briefly to Cohen at the gallery; even during our short conversation, his passion and pride for the works is evident.  They are vivid and make good use of the upper gallery space.  For me, the works reflected the gorgeous weather outside.  As simplistic as this may sound, they were happy abstract canvases – the perfect antidote to the Joffe. 

Image via www.jacobsongallery.com

By now we were getting conscious of the time and, with my flipflops on, dashed up to the Lava Gallery for Page Tsou’s opening.  Although I’m a regular to Carnaby Street and the surrounding courtyards, I’d never noticed this gallery before which I think is a large part of its problem. 

Own photograph

This is a small space in a great location but there is nothing that exciting about the set-up to draw people in.  Tsou’s exhibition is only on for a week but it’s definitely worth a visit. 

He has flipped traditional portraiture – drawing the back of heads to form unidentifiable portraits. 

Image via www.rca.ac.uk

It’s a clever idea.  Tsou said he began this project as he realised it’s the back of the head that we look at every day, walking down the street, on the bus… and he didn’t know why people always focus on facial features when the hair and skull can be just as interesting.  These portraits are semi-figurative and mysterious.  Tsou’s technique is unquestionably good and the intricacy of his drawings is fascinating.  He has an unusual vision whilst upholding original techniques – certainly one to watch. 

Own photograph

And, he was giving away free combs – a nod to the hair-themed exhibition.  Love it!

 

Own photograph

As we legged it down to White Cube it was time for the heels to go back on.  I have a reputation to uphold after all and what fun would a PV be if I wasn’t tottering around.  Also the boys are all rather tall (they cheekily say I’m rather short) and I can see them better with my heels on.  Mason’s Yard was mobbed!  It was as if someone had sent an e-mail out earlier in the day offering sunshine and free beer after work and the whole of Mayfair had turned up. 

Own photograph

I doubt that many of the people there actually saw New Order as when we ventured inside it was blissfully quiet in comparison to the people-packed courtyard.  White Cube has to be the only gallery I know that operate crowd control with an in-out system in use for the PVs.  Classic and something only they could pull off. 

Apparently, the works in this exhibition share ‘a focus on the transformation of social or ideological structures that shape experience and, in different ways they explore existing communal, political and physical constructs of the everyday’.  A suitably broad and all-encompassing statement that enabled White Cube to shove in whatever they wanted.  There is no denying that the individual pieces in this show are great but, overall, I don’t feel there was any formal coherence to the show and the pieces don’t come together well. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

If I didn’t know better, I’d say these works had been pulled out of storage to fill a gap in the exhibition schedule.  The Balka work on show downstairs was generating a lot of attention but that was partly because, after a few beers and too much sun, people were enjoying the interactive element.  It is actually a very poignant work: a long tunnel with five coloured threads hanging and intermittently rotating, recalling wartime atrocities in Poland. 

Image via www.whitecube.com

By all means go to see the pieces and admire them in their own right but, for me, the theory does not make this a cohesive show. 

Time was getting tight and we were forced to sacrifice openings at Simon Lee and in Hoxton Square and hail a cab to the Britannia Street, Gagosian. 

This is another space that I adore and I particularly admire the versatility of the layout.  For this exhibition of works by Philip Taaffe, the gallery has returned to the format I like best, the one that was used for their wonderful Bacon/Hirst exhibition in 2006 and many more besides, with the main room as a huge rectangular space and a side room on the far left.   

Taaffe’s first solo show in London was one of the best of the evening.  The main room is filled with intoxicating triangular canvases – their kaleidoscopic shapes produce a trance-like mesmeric state.  The works are full of contradictions: the near violent use of clashing colours is still harmonious (or, perhaps, the fashion for colour blocking makes it seem so), the works are both filled with control and abandon, figuration and abstraction.  Considering this, they are very powerful pieces. 

Image via http://1.bp.blogspot.com

The second room is very different in style and, for me, not as exciting; here, Taaffe focuses on the interrelation of forms and images across art, nature, architecture and archaeology, recalling masks from Greek tragedy, ornamental friezes and late-antique stone carving. 

Image via www.gagosian.com

These are more muted than the stained-glass effect of works in the first room.  Although the works are aesthetically pleasing and this is a nice exhibition it is nothing outstanding.

An exhausting, but kind of wonderful, gallery overload and I couldn’t have planned a more diverse route if I’d tried.   I changed back into my flipflops outside the gallery and the security guard actually came out to tell me how clever he thought that was.  He laughed at me so much as I shrank a good four inches that I decided to call it a day.

Next stop … next week … Miró at Tate!

 www.parasol-unit.org

www.victoria-miro.com

www.jacobsongallery.com

www.pagetsou.com

www.lavacollective.com

www.whitecube.com

www.gagosian.com

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