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

Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album at the Royal Academy

21 July 2014 § Leave a comment

As well as being a famed actor and director, Dennis Hopper was a prodigious snapper. For a period he took his beloved Nikon 28mm wherever he went, working so obsessively that his friends, the artists Wallace Berman and Edward Kienholz actually referred to him as ‘the tourist’.

Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
During this period from 1961 to 1967 Hopper took over 18,000 photographs and in the process documented an era. This recording however was not in the form of a casual observer. Hopper had of course already appeared in rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956) – two of the eras seminal films that introduced fifties youth culture to a wary American public – and was an integral part of the Hollywood scene mingling, and friends with, the like of Peter and Jane Fonda, Bill Cosby, David Hemmings and Paul Newman.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
Artistic throughout his life he created paintings, assemblages as well as photographs and participated in a number of group exhibitions in the sixties. He was intimately associated with the Los Angeles art world and photographed key figures like Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Allan Kaprow and Ed Ruscha.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
His home was considered as something of a salon for artists, actors, writers and musicians – his eclectic possessions including artworks by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Ruscha and others – Andy Warhol himself once commenting that “Everyone in Hollywood I wanted to meet was there”.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
His connections with important galleries like Ferus meant led to commissioned work for the like of Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Artforum. Not only did he witness part of the Pop Art movement but also witnessed the flowering of the beat culture movement. Friendly with Allen  Ginsberg and Michael McClure he attended readings and hippie festivals taking photographs of the like of LSD king Timothy Leary.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
Music was an essential part of the culture of the period and once again Hopper was there snapping Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, James Brown and many more. The Hells Angels were frequently part of these festivals and further to his own deep interest in bikes (witness Easy Rider of course) he took many photographs of them too.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
He did not either miss other social movements such as black power and civil rights, witnessing and recording many events, marches and the then inevitable police clashes.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
An exhibition that superficially might therefore appear to be the casual photographs of a Hollywood icon is so, so much more.  We in effect have an insiders and participants view of one of the most important periods of American history witnessing and recording most of the important cultural and artistic events of the era.
Dennis Hopper The Lost Album, Royal Academy
Hopper’s images are by and large quite ordinary. If one takes many thousand images of such iconic events and personalities there are sure to be some great pieces – his Double Standard is reminiscent of the great works of Lee Friedlander for example – but the value here doesn’t lie in Hoppers moderate photographic talents but the astonishing breadth and depth of the images. Never mind the quality, feel the width.
Dennis Hopper – The Lost Album is at the Royal Academy, Burlington Gardens, London until 19 October 2014

 

Adrian Ghenie – Golems at Pace London

18 July 2014 § Leave a comment

Adrian Ghenie is one of the chief figures of The Romanian ‘Cluj School’ – comprising artists like Victor Man, Mircea Cantor and Ciprian Muresan – a painter who’s star has been rising exponentially since his relatively recent arrival on the art scene. His latest exhibition, Golems at Pace London, provides ample evidence of why he is so highly regarded.

Adrian Ghenie Golems Pace London

The golem is an animated anthropomorphic creature from Jewish folklore, created entirely from inanimate material; a doer of terrible deeds. Ghenie’s reference here is the creation of a radical idea in society – in this case Darwin’s – let loose to change the socio-cultural environment. Darwin’s personal story holds a special fascination for Ghenie; the skin condition and vomiting that afflicted him, his luxuriant beard and Victorian attire all afford a rich source of textural possibilities that reveal themselves in this series of portraits.

Adrian Ghenie Golems Pace London

The exhibition consists of a collection of new figurative works of Charles Darwin shown alongside the ‘Darwin Room’, an installation that consists of an assemblage of meticulously sourced 19th century furniture, wooden floor boards and wall panels. Taking the room’s composition from Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation Ghenie has created a three-dimensional environment that perhaps at first glance resembles a two-dimensional painting. Led in by an assistant with torch one reaches a dark and gloomy and life-sized room that evokes an intriguing physiological atmosphere of anxiety and comfort. The only light is that of the ‘light of reason’ which shines brightly through a small, solitary window – the room therefore a prototypical site for visionary thought within European history.

Adrian Ghenie Golems Pace London

The installation itself devoid of figures. These are supplied by the impressive artworks in the adjacent room. Portraits of 20th century figures whose actions indelibly changed the course of history are a recurring theme in Ghenie’s work and to him the publication of The Origin of Species represents such an inflection point – his ideas stolen by despots and dictators and misappropriated.

Adrian Ghenie Golems Pace London

Ghenie presents himself in Self portrait as Charles Darwin, 2014 and he himself becomes the arbiter of scientific change, the cliché of the tortured intellectual, and the anamorphic threat of the Golem; the idea let loose to reek havoc. All of these elements are present in Ghenie’s Bacon-esque brush strokes. He highlights an era that questioned man’s significance, the existence of God, and the question of Creationism —through a use of paint that suggests the anamorphic nature of identity through the evolution of scientific understanding.

Adrian Ghenie Golems Pace London

These works however are not just introverted intellectual exercise or conceptual navel-gazing, they are visually stunning and beautifully executed. The merging of impressive technique with rigorous artistic thought process provides the viewer with a rich and stimulating experience that will enhance Ghenie’s reputation not only critically but in the auction houses of the future.

Adrian Ghenie Golems Pace London

Adrian Ghenie – Golems is at Pace London until 25 July 2014

Keith Coventry: Ontological Pictures at Vigo

16 June 2014 § Leave a comment

Keith Coventry seems destined to be one of the ‘nearly men’ of British art. Despite being championed by Saatchi and featuring in the Sensation exhibition that helped make the names of many of the YBA’s Coventry has remained stubbornly on the sidelines.

Keith Coventry Estate Pictures

Perhaps his work is either not showy enough or too dry to catch on to popular taste. Nevertheless he has plenty of followers for his intelligent and interesting work.

Keith Coventry Ontological Pictures

He is most well known perhaps for his Estate Paintings. Here Coventry famously used the diagrammatic representations of the buildings themselves that, when denuded of the surrounding information, strangely recall the formal aesthetic language of Suprematism – that aimed at the creation of a new, pure, abstract visual language freed from the dull constraints of representation.

Keith Coventry Ontological Pictures

As art writer Matthew Collings said “These paintings capture the moment when modernist Utopian dreams — the well-meant belief that peoples’ lives would be bettered by living in clean, modern, high rise buildings, with lifts, way up above the street with plenty of fresh air—evaporated.” 

Keith Coventry Ontological Pictures

Vigo is showing here his Ontological Pictures (1996 – 2004) – the first show dedicated to this important series – where Coventry has taken the arrow and location symbols that accompany the legend YOU ARE HERE frequently found on those same estate maps, and turning them into wooden models which are then scattered randomly onto the canvas to create the content of the paintings.

Keith Coventry Ontological Pictures

In both series the process of isolating and re-contextualizing these specific visual elements has allowed Coventry to, with an extreme economy of expression animated by a subtle, dry wit, throw the ideological and theoretical meanings within those symbols into stark relief. He mocks the utopian social hopes of certain strands of Modernism that conceived high-density urban housing as a solution to a raft of social ills of modern life.

Keith Coventry solo shows don’t come around too often – this is an excellent opportunity to see one the other YBA’s for a change.

Keith Coventry: Ontological pictures at VIGO London until 28 June 2014

Hugh Mendes Obituaries & Other Works at High House

13 June 2014 § Leave a comment

‘It’s a simple idea, and it’s perfect for the genre. The newspaper, that man-made butterfly that ends its brief but glorious day-long life in the bin, the gutter, or floating piecemeal through a Tube tunnel, is offered up for the kind of sober contemplation that it rarely, if ever, enjoys.’ Kate Quill (The Times)

Hugh Mendes_SYdBarret(CrazyDiamond)

Hugh Mendes has been painting images of newspaper clippings for about ten years now. Most recently he has been working on an ongoing, and never ending, series of obituaries where a life is condensed into a few column inches. Locating a hidden melancholy in our society awash with imagery the relentless stream of stories from the press is halted and everyday death is revealed beneath a grand narrative.

ESTHER Williams Hugh Mendes

A single image, a scrap of newsprint, becomes a heavy token, a memento, even an icon, when rendered in paint. The act of seeing is frozen in time and the act of painting, and therefore sustained concentration, brings a degree of focus and depth to what otherwise would be a fleeting moment in the ephemeral daily press. 

Elizabeth-Taylor-Hugh Mendes

Also shown are a series of works commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Great War. Mendes was actually born on Armistice Day in a British military hospital in Germany: his mother a nurse and his father a British Intelligence code breaker. Using the same approach as with his Obituaries series ephemeral newspaper cuttings are elevated to poignant memorials for those who served and died.

Kevin Ayers Hugh Mendes

A journey in to the Cotswolds is always enjoyable, and this is as good an excuse as any to drop in to High House Gallery – one of the few outposts where you can find real contemporary art outside London.

war activists…Hugh Mendes

Hugh Mendes Obituaries & Other Works is at High House until 29 June 2014

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