Stephen Goodman at High House Gallery

16 October 2014 § Leave a comment

For their last exhibition of the current season, and neatly timed to coincide with the seasonal burst of gallery activity that marks the Frieze Art Fair, High House have adventurously selected an emerging young talent. Originally from Oxfordshire, Stephen Goodman is a graduate of Bath, now returning to his home county for this, his first solo show.

Stephen Goodman Test of Time High House Gallery

Goodman’s abstract paintings are the outcome of an open-ended process, where varied materials such as bitumen oil paint, acrylics and spray paint are combined in a sort of alchemical speculation. Using time, gravity, instability and chance Goodman applies varied materials liberally before allowing them to coagulate – an eventual arrangement being realised through the drying process where chance is allowed to play a large part in the outcome.

Stephen Goodman Test of Time High House Gallery

The end results are fascinating works that swirl and flow in an apparent 3D effect. Largely featuring combinations of black, white and blue the patterns created hold a significant affiliation with the geological and seismic occurrences of our planet. Goodman infact draws his own parallels to aerial photography of an imagined world that is ficticious and yet somehow familiar, and where he has begun to create his own particular mythology.

Stephen Goodman Test of Time High House Gallery

He has a particular affinity for Iceland, the place where these internal forces meet the external world in the most spectacular fashion. Here too myths and legends have been created in parallel as a means of human attempts at explanation. Similarly Goodman aims to connect and mediate between these two worlds manipulating his materials in his own attempts to control these conflicting forces.

Stephen Goodman Test of Time High House Gallery

His canvases hold a captivating beauty that alternately conceal and expose the extreme violence of the processes that they reflect – an eternal duality of destruction and re-creation also reflected in the world around us.

Stephen Goodman Test of Time High House Gallery

The results are attractive yet enigmatic – we need to be wary of their fragile beauty. Our desire to succumb to their charms is mitigated by our impending realisation of what these marks represent; it is a beauty found at the margins of violence and desire.

Stephen Goodman Test of Time High House

Of course time is the ultimate force and its unstoppable power is evident in Goodman’s artwork, as he continually engages with, and manipulates it as an aid for creation. We are unable to control time, but these paintings embrace this lack of control and embrace progression, a natural component of time, and the joy of the unknown.

David Blackburn

Shown alongside, and unexpectedly perhaps, complementing Goodman’s work are a small series of beautifully executed works from one of Britain’s Modern masters, David Blackburn. Inspired by the landscape he is now accepted, in his 75th year, as one of the world’s leading exponents in the medium.

For more information please visit www.highhousegallery.com

Daniel Buren Catch as Catch Can – The Baltic Centre

15 October 2014 § Leave a comment

It is easy to think of Daniel Buren simplistically as the ‘stripe man’.  Whilst it is useful for some to remember, and others to denigrate Buren by reference to his trademark wide stripes, there is of course much more to his art than that. As France’s leading conceptual artist he has punctuated the past 50 years with unforgettable interventions, controversial critical texts, thought-provoking public art projects and engaging collaborations.

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In the sixties Buren developed a radical form of conceptual art, a ‘degree zero of painting’, creating works which drew attention to the relationship between art and context. Abandoning traditional painting he adopted a wide vertical stripe, used as a ‘visual tool’ to prompt a reading of the work’s surroundings as well as just the work itself. The stripes were variously made with paint, fabric, paper and tape often appearing outside the formal gallery space, made in situ, and responding to a particular location whilst appropriating and colouring the space .

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For his latest exhibition at the Baltic Centre the work is best considered in two parts. In the level 3 galleries it is easy to see the development from his earlier, simpler work. The strong colours remain but here are not only stripes but geometric arrangements  whilst their structure has also become more sculptural and architectural.

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Fibre optic works from the Electric Light series unfurl down the walls, glowing sensuously. There are a selection of reliefs, paintings and sculptures which bend, zig zag or form 3D reliefs cleverly playing with depth, surface, colour and architectural space.

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Arguably better still is the second part of the exhibition – a large-scale commission for the Level 4 gallery where Buren has coated the expansive skylight windows in geometric ‘gel’ panels of seven different colours.

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The whole space has effectively been appropriated as an architectural canvas for the projected light. I giant kaleidoscope if you like. To heighten the effect a series of angled mirrors have been propped around the floor casting light throughout the space.

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During our visit the sun popped back and forth from behind scudding clouds and alternately added even more colour to an already vivid display. One can imagine changing effects and sensations throughout the day.

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Further coloured panels were also commissioned for the front of the building with a varying effect either from outdoors as you approach the space or indoors – in particular riding the glass sided lift past the arrangement.

For further information visit www.balticmill.com

Antonio Marguet at High House Gallery

4 October 2014 § Leave a comment

The oasis within the Cotswolds contemporary art desert that is High House Gallery has come up with yet another excellent exhibition. Their latest is a solo show from emerging Spanish photographic artist Antonio Marguet, selected to complement the new Photo Oxford fair that runs over the same period.

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Whilst Marguet has a background in fine art his works bring together a remarkable range of interdisciplinary skills. He carefully constructs highly theatrical re-presentations of nature and forms by using an eclectic selection of artificial props.

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At least part of the pleasure in examining his colourful work lies in the attempt to work out precisely what materials have actually been used. Uncontaminated Bites (2013) for example features a cute pink plastic hamburger-like object with a mustardy-yellow filling that sits adjacent to a balanced and embossed red form. They both stand before a primal and earthy brown mass that looks like (but surely is not) solidified mud. All sit on a mosaic of bathroom tiles.

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Other works feature egg-like organic forms in red or blue made from very inorganic-looking materials, assorted frames and block of unidentifiable plastic or foam. Much is made to fit the artist’s imagination, but if sundry objects gleaned from shops and market stalls fit the bill then all the better – not even a worn kitchen dish brush is safe from inclusion in one of Marguet’s unique constructions.

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Bizarre and witty captions offer an insight into the thought process behind these striking candy-coloured arrangements: Pending Marshmallow in a Seascape, Postmodern Nude and remote Crocodile Tears are examples..

The delightful range of colours and textures presented within the images immediately invites a tactile response which is firmly denied. These sculptural installations are captured as images before being destroyed. The photograph ultimately therefore becoming the only remaining record of the object. We are left to examine and consider – our imaginations can run wild.

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Working at the boundary between sculpture, installation and photography Marguet is fascinated by the use of props and surrogates. Images become objects, the real is concealed and the photograph becomes a mythological or fetishistic object.

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Marguet notes ‘Where the image as an object is used to replace or resemble a real thing is what interests me. In particular, I am fascinasted by the implications on how the image become a fetish. Pointing to certain phantasmagoria questions the image as instrument and as a methods of concealment, by which the ‘real’ is hidden and transformed into illusory appearance.’

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The particular series exhibited is entitled Toenail Constellations referencing the notion of self-absorption and projection into a deep space of immensity and fantasy. The ‘toenail’ working as a metaphoric surface which is connected to the local, familiar and intimate. Familiarity and strangeness combine.

Marguet’s work has received widespread recognition including selection for the highly respected Catlin Guide and as a Saatchi ‘New Sensation’. On this evidence more well-deserved acclaim and recognition is sure to follow.

A selection of top quality work is being shown alongside and include John Stezaker, Minhong Pyo, Gilbert & George, Julie Cockburn, Tacita Dean, Virgilio Ferrera,  Martin Parr and Giacomo Brunelli.

Exhibition runs until 5 October 2014

The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture at The Hayward

25 August 2014 § Leave a comment

If there is one reassuring constant of sculpture over the ages it is the  repeated attempts at representations of the human form. The Hayward has brought together major works by twenty or so leading artists from the last quarter of a century and reflects on how we represent the ‘human’ today.

The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 14/6/2014.They suggest that the exhibition  ‘pointedly revisits and update classical traditions of sculpture…  inventively remixing past and present’ but the visitor would be hard pressed to find the classical here, overwhelmed as it is by more Duchampian reworking of more modern movements. Grouping works thematically, and not always successfully, curator Ralph Rugoff addresses themes like consumerism, physical perfection, violence, religion, sex and death.

The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
The least successful works involve the cliched use of shop mannequins. John Miller’s eroticised male mannequin poses in a pile of horse-shit, plaster on cheek whilst Isa Genzken’s are dressed with cheap charity shop sundries. Thomas Hirschhorn’s, 4 Women has them in a glass showcase, numbered one to four to represent increasing levels of alienation and violence.
The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
Much better are Yinka Shonibare and Ryan Gander who both re-imagine Edgar Degas’s Little Dancer. In Shonibare’s version, the (headless) dancer has a surprise in store – in a fetching ethnic print dress she carefully clutches a pistol behind her back.
The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
Ryan Gander versions have a more witty take. In one Degas’s dancer has taken a break from her plinth and sits behind on the floor enjoying a quick fag, whilst in another version stands on tiptoes to peer through a window.
The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery
I also liked Martin Honert’s sculptures. Based on personal photographs, the best has himself as a child sat at a table and painted with exaggerated light and shadow and faded ektachrome colours it has the eerie quality of memories somehow brought to life.
The Human Factor Cattelan
In an otherwise empty gallery is Maurizio Cattelan’s Him. From behind we approach a young boy on his knees in prayer. In a moment of shocking realisation you see it is actually Hitler. Eyes upwards is he penitent or simply pensive? A less successful work in another room features an unblemished John Kennedy lying in state. 
 
Mark Wallinger’s statue of christ, Ecce Homo, which once graced the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, is shown here on a low plinth, but still effective and whilst talking of Trafalgar Square Katharina Fritsch, of  blue cockerel fame, has three strong works exhibited. Each tableaux comprises a monochrome figure before a blown up photograph. In one a blown-up religious kitsch black Madonna stands in front of a photographic wall of ivy, another features a yellow chef and nondescript German roadside Inn.
The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 14/6/2014.
For more kitsch what better than Bear and Policeman (1988) by Jeff Koons – actually the oldest work in the show. An oversize toy bear with child-like stripy pullover and popping eyes, grasps a bobby’s whistle. Cute at first glance, but the grasp of the whistle hints at a deeper meaning – it is actually a metaphor for sexual humiliation.
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Out on one of the terraces Pierre Huyghe has reworked a traditional reclining nude. In place of its head is a open hive, the bees busily swarming around whilst on another Rebecca Warren’s three lumpy women are tall, unrecognisable and totem-like.

The Human Factor at The Hayward Gallery

Last but not least Paul McCarthy’s That Girl (T.G. Awake) is a diversion from his more familiar lumpy and vivid pink latex grotesques. He has turned to Hollywood experts to create three lifelike casts of the actress Elyse Poppers. Naked, exposed and legs apart they sit on glass-topped trestle tables. They are so disturbingly lifelike it is hard to escape the notion, however impossible, that they will somehow come to life.

There are omissions but to complain about missing artists or the few lesser works would be churlish. This is an excellent overview of the current – pretty healthy – state of figurative sculpture.

The Human Factor: The Figure in Contemporary Sculpture until 7 September 2014

Hauser & Wirth Somerset opens with Phyllida Barlow Gig

31 July 2014 § Leave a comment

Hauser & Wirth are one of the powerhouses of worldwide contemporary art with galleries in Zurich, London, New York, Los Angeles and Bruton. Yes, you read that right, Bruton – a sleepy village home to some three thousand souls, a handful of pubs and a couple of takeaways.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
So why Somerset? The first thoughts are that the site is perhaps ideal for the outdoor display of large scale sculptures or that it could be considered a refreshing alternative to the widely prevalent ‘white cube’ city galleries. But whilst these thoughts are both in some way correct it is soon apparent that there is much more to the story.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
Whilst Bruton may well turn out to be a great commercial success the deciding elements were much more personal. Back in 2005 Iwan and Manuela Wirth decided to live temporarily in England, at least in part so that their children were schooled for a while experiencing a different culture and language.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
Before long their attachment became much deeper. They developed a love of the Somerset countryside, moved in to their own medieval house before discovering the almost derelict Durslade Farm. They quickly purchased the 18th century property and set about its restoration.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
The work that has been done is astonishing – a labour of love that has drawn on their considerable contact list. The run-down buildings have been sympathetically restored with old stone, brick and traditional materials, whilst new extensions are hidden behind the old facades.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
The very best architects and designers were given virtual free rein and have given new life to the historic buildings, creating no less than five gallery spaces plus offices, educational spaces, bar, bookshop and restaurant. Outside a muddy pasture is now a stunning garden, created by Piet Oudolf no less – the internationally-renowned designer behind New York’s High Line and the Queen Elizabeth Park at the London Olympic site.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
I have yet to move on to the contents of the space and again it is hard to rein in the superlatives. The galleries will of course house some of the world’s finest contemporary art. Since the first gallery opened its doors in 1992 at the old Löwenbräu brewery building in Zurich Hauser & Wirth have steadily built up a remarkable stable of artists, now represening giants like Allan Kaprow, Paul McCarthy, Ron Mueck, Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeois, amongst many others.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
The first to occupy the main gallery spaces is Phyllida Barlow, who recently wowed the art world with her striking installation ‘Dock’ at Tate Britain (see our review here), and is similarly impressive with this show. Entitled ‘Gig’ it commands the four varied spaces it occupies, her ramshackle aesthetic of accumulated fabric scraps and building materials nicely commenting on the cycle of dereliction and renovation work just completed at the site.
Hauser & Wirth Somerset
As would be anticipated the bar and restaurant doesn’t just serve top quality food (courtesy of At The Chapel, Bruton) but is also an ‘installation’ by artists Bjorn & Oddur Roth with sundry fine artworks lining the dining room walls.
 With a big educational and artist residency programme plus a distinct community bias this is an establishment of huge ambition and matching quality. Bound to become an important fixture in the regions cultural and artistic landscape it’s future programme and progress is one to watch.

Malevich at Tate Modern

29 July 2014 § Leave a comment

Despite Kasimir Malevich being widely feted during his lifetime as a leader in non-figurative art exhibitions of work since his death in 1935 have been few and far between. With the location of many works not only behind the iron curtain but considered subversive – the seminal ‘Black Square’ was actually hidden from view until the 1980’s – the opportunity for bringing together a significant body of Malevich’s work has been limited.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

This show is quite simply breathtaking.  A 2003 Guggenheim-sponsored tour was impressive but this Tate show dwarfs anything previously attempted. An unprecedented international collaboration has brought over 150 major works plus another 150 works on paper, publications and film. It was with great anticipation therefore that we previewed the Tate show, entitled simply Malevich and were not disappointed.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

Malevich is of course most famous for one of the defining works of the 20th century – Black Square. This slightly uneven shape painted with a white frame, was created in 1915 roughly contemporaneously with Marcel Duchamp’s groundbreaking readymades.  Equally revolutionary it boldly and clearly signalled the end of painting as it was then known.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

Bringing an end to centuries of representation this was a giant artistic full stop. He had momentously declared that art was now free of history and was ready for “the beginning of a new culture”. Malevich’s new beginning was Suprematism – a bold visual language of abstract geometric shapes and stark colours and its first exhibition was The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10 (Zero-ten).

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

The Tate has recreated this momentous event with by reuniting nine of the remaining twelve known works and rehanging them according to the only black and white photograph of the original exhibition. This small photograph shows, in black and white, two walls densely hung with Black Square positioned in the top corner – taking the traditional place of a typical homes religious icon.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

Despite the many missing works the impact upon arriving in this room is huge. Suddenly one is aware of what a massive impact must have been felt one hundred years ago upon arriving at the same viewpoint; an earth-shattering assault on the senses that can never have been previously experienced. The effect is almost as strong today – the black and white works are bold and striking, the others surprisingly colourful.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

The remainder of the show necessarily takes a back seat but is still impressive. Starting from his early paintings of Russian landscapes, agricultural workers and religious scenes, the exhibition follows the influence of the French Impressionists, particularly Matisse, and his journey towards abstract painting and his suprematist masterpieces.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

In 1913, together with musician Mikhail Matyushin and poet Aleksei Kruchenykh, Malevich produced a manifesto calling for the dissolution of language and the end to rational thought before producing with them the futurist opera Victory Over the Sun. The collaboration helped bring forward ideas to wrest painting away from its duty to render a world of myths, stories and representations.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

The exhibition moves in to the Suprematist era with a stunning series of rooms that chronicle the Malevich’s most inventive period. Despite shortages and poor living conditions we see exciting geometric abstracts on the white backgrounds of ‘infinite space’ and a variety of monochromes or bold shapes. Call up to the war however soon slowed down output before the gradually increasing disapproval of the new Soviet leaders of avant-garde art forced him in to abandon painting for teaching and drawing.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

Possibly chastened by the Stalinist state in to conforming he later returns to painting combining his early style with the strange introduction of aspects of realism and Renaissance portraiture. It is notable however that many of his last works are not signed but instead feature a tiny  black square – the same Black Square that hung over his death bed and led his funeral cortege. Malevich certainly realised that this was his key achievement – an iconic work that symbolised both the end and a new beginning.

Kasimir Malevich Tate Modern

Malevich is at Tate Modern, SE1 (020 7887 8888, tate.org.uk) until 26 October 2014

Barbara Kruger at Modern Art Oxford

27 July 2014 § Leave a comment

You have already seen Barbara Kruger’s work. Whether you realise it or not is a different matter, but the bold graphic design and powerful statements that typify her work have infiltrated the world of western consumer culture and have strongly influenced the world of media around us. You will recognise it on advertising hoardings, T Shirts, shopping bags and political banners.
Barbara Kruger Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am) 1987 - not in show

Barbara Kruger Untitled (I Shop Therefore I Am) 1987 – not in show

Kruger’s instantly recognisable work combines bold lettering, colours and dramatic juxtapositions of text and image. Through ironic appropriation of specific slogans and imagery she deploys the visual strategies of mass communication in order to challenge the often manipulative logic at work in the language of advertising, television and other media and the role of Western consumerist culture.
Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford
Working since the 1980’s she is considered a vital element of the Pictures Generation – a group of artists including the likes of Richard Prince, John Baldessari, Cindy Sherman and Sherrie Levine that appropriated images from consumer culture questioning things like gender and identity.
Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Kruger’s latest exhibition at Modern Art Oxford comprises different strands of her work – a site specific text installation, multi-channel video and her trademark collages. The first work that you encounter having ascended the stairs in to the spacious first floor gallery is untitled ‘architectural wrap’ that impressively covers the covers the entire lofty space.

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Over the floor variety of black and white words list supposed categories of people as varied as posers, fatuous fools or survivors. One might be happy to be considered grouped with intellectuals and professors as well as perhaps with doers and winners but to be labelled within sycophants, fatuous fools, jerks or airheads however may not be quite so desirable.

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Here then is a potted selection of labels that we, consciously and unconsciously attach to those around us and Kruger cleverly forces us to consider our complicity in categorising not just ourselves but those around us. On the walls in words up to thirty feet high we are meanwhile invited to ponder statements like Be Here Now, Remember Me or Is That All That There Is

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

In the middle gallery a selection of her 1980’s pasted collages is presented – works that evolved from her work as a Conde Nast designer. Including Talk Is Cheap and You Kill Time these modest black and white pieces set the template for iconic future works like I Shop Therefore I Am or Your Body Is A Battleground.

Barbara Kruger Modern Art Oxford

Finally, Kruger’s video Twelve, 2004 comments on the absurdities of human interaction. Members of staged four-way interactions are projected on to the four walls of the gallery surrounding us. Whilst we see the expressions of the actors and hear their words, their ‘real’ thoughts are presented in written form as a news-channel style ticker-tape across the bottom of the screen challenging any cohesive narrative.

Barbara Kruger is at Modern Art Oxford until 31 August 2014

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