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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Hugh Mendes Obituaries & Other Works is at High House until 29 June 2014
12 June 2014 § Leave a comment
Following on from the excellent Yoshishige Saito exhibition (reviewed on AKUTA last month) Annely Juda are showing everyone’s favourite Yorkshire artist, David Hockney. Showing in the upstairs gallery are a series of sixteen bold and striking iPad drawings entitled The Arrival of Spring that the observant amongst you may have seen in the impressive Hockney show at the Royal Academy – A Bigger Picture (previously reviewed here).
When exhibited at the RA this series was shown in a darkened room on iPads mounted to the wall. Here they are an altogether different proposition blown up to nearly 5×4 ft (a selection of four are even larger) and filling the gallery. The increase in scale does not always work. There are some strange looking blobs and areas that seem unfinished but on the whole Hockneys’s eye for colour and form wins over and its hard not to admire his virtuosity on the small screen of the iPad.
The unerring digital brush strokes and the even coloration also work well in lending the landscapes a slightly unreal air. This slightly artificial look would be strange were the landscapes realistic but it works well with the strangely exotic colour schemes that Hockney’s keen eye draws from the subtle tones of the Yorkshire Wolds.
Amongst the iPad drawings the film Woldgate Woods, November 26th 2010 is also being shown: nine video monitors chart a slow progress through a snowy wooded landscape in East Yorkshire. Strangely hypnotic.
The second gallery space has been reserved for a series of new charcoal drawings which Hockney made in the Spring of 2013 following the RA show. Looking for a change from colour he stated “The Chinese say black and white contains colour, and so it can. They are five separate views of Woldgate, and with each one I had to wait for the changes to happen. Some were too close to the previous ones and I realised I was being impatient. I had to wait for a bigger change. I thought it was an exciting thing to do. It made me look much harder at what I was drawing.” (Guardian)
The absence of colour makes one look more closely at these pieces just as he looked harder drawing them. The effort is rewarded with an appreciation of his light touch and observant eye in these carefully observed sketches of leafy lanes and snowy woods.
David Hockney The Arrival of Spring at Annely Juda until 12 July 2014
The printed works are available in edition of 25. A further four prints have been printed in large format and mounted on dibond in an edition of 10.
6 June 2014 § 1 Comment
“If its covered in fabric it is part of the show” it was cheerily explained by the gallery attendant. I was arriving at the Manchester Art Gallery to view the latest offering by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos and had asked where I could find the works.
One would usually find an exhibition relatively easily but this exhibition however does not just occupy its own space but is rather more of an artistic ‘intervention’ that infiltrates the entire building. Furthermore within the rather eclectic collection of the Manchester Art Gallery actually comprises almost anything from fine art to costume and contemporary design I wondered how I would spot all the pieces.
I need not have worried after all. Familiar with Vasconcelos’ extravagance and bright-colours and armed with an annotated floor plan, the works were – mostly -easy to spot. This major new show features over twenty of the Portuguese artist’s most significant sculptures, which fill the main exhibition spaces, adorn the outside of the building and permeate the whole gallery.
A monumental new textile work Britannia 2014 comprises richly coloured textile forms that cascade down three floors of the Gallery’s central atrium. The explosion of suspended, swelling forms, textures and colours contrast dramatically with the cold metal, glass and rigid order of the architecture.
The organic forms are composed of many fabric elements including knitting and crochet, fine silks, velvet, recycled clothes and industrially produced textiles, embellished with Portuguese tassels, crystals and beads in a dazzling patchwork of patterns, shapes and textures.
Other works enclose the lions of the main staircase, occupy gallery spaces or fill frames hung on the walls. It is an exhibition that is riot of colour, humour and spectacle. Exhuberant and varied this is a show that that is just perfect for the quirky collection and varied spaces of the Manchester Art Gallery and which is one that will cement Vasconcelos’ growing international reputation.
Joana Vasconcelos – Time Machine at The Manchester Art Gallery until 1 June 2014
5 June 2014 § Leave a comment
It does not seem many years ago that the late work of major artists was largely ignored. Large sections of an artists oeuvre were discounted as insignificant senile dabbling and considered to be critically irrelevant. There has however been a steady and distinct change to this view – largely led by the market who often looked at late works differently to the critics.
With the lack of quality pieces available to satisfy the increasing worldwide demand collectors were priced out of the market for many artists works. It didn’t take long for them to move on to, for example Picasso work in the sixties, and moving forward provoke critical reassessment from the art establishment.
The late work of Henri Matisse is a perfect example of this re-evaluation. Produced only in the last seventeen years of his life before his death in 1954 these works were initially seen as an interesting novelty only gradually being re-evaluated as being not only extraordinarily valuable but highly important.
Initially Matisse used the cut-out technique to plan his painted works, but in part due to his failing heath he turned totally to scissors in place of the brush. He had realised that he could simply create the artistic line directly with his scissors and as a result found that – like a sculptor he could literally carve his works directly from the coloured paper. This was a revelation and with the newly liberated freedom found a new era of creativity.
Indeed once he got started there was literally no stopping him. An assistant would help him arrange the cut fragments around his walls, over the ceiling, occupying his entire living spaces. Installation-like these works were all-encompassing and evolving: frequently they were re-arranged, added to or discarded.
An innovator to the last his work frequently seemed to anticipate future trends and even late in his life Matisse had an awareness of what he was doing. “It seems to me I am anticipating things to come,” he said. “It will only be much later that people will realise to what extent the work I am doing today is in step with the future.”
Arranged largely chronologically it is hugely comprehensive and even reunites some works for the first time since they left the artists studio. This exhibition – if rather late in the day – provides a spectacular overview of the cut-outs, affirming them as his finest work – a perfect coda to a life of genius.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is at Tate Modern until 17 September 2014
Adrian Searles review in the Guardian
Brian Sewell review in the Standard
Richard Dorment review in the Telegraph
24 May 2014 § Leave a comment
To use an old cliche it seems like death was a great career move for the British sculptor Lynn Chadwick. Once acknowledged as a leader of a group of exciting young sculptors that included for example Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, and championed by renowned critic Herbert Read he was touted as a successor to the likes of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. He enjoyed a burst of fame in the 1950’s that culminated in 1956 when he won the International Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale but from that point onwards until his death, aged 88 in 2003, he was largely ignored by the art establishment and unknown by the British public. Until now.
He has enjoyed a recent and highly deserved renaissance, started by his retrospective in the Tate in 2003 and followed by a number of important galleries, that has led to a series of exhibitions this summer. Four of his works were recently installed in front of the RA and now Osborne Samuel May and Blain Southern are featuring extensive solo shows. In addition there are also exhibitions this summer in Berlin and New York.
Blain Southern‘s impressive new Hanover Square space is an ideal venue to enjoy a range of seminal bronzes from the 1950s and 1960s, amongst them Teddy Boy & Girl (1955) – one of the works that earned Chadwick the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1956 – as well as the monumental Stranger III (1959). These, along with Beast XVI (1959), Black Beast (1960) and Moon of Alabama (1957), serve to illustrate not only Chadwick’s unerring interest in human and animal forms, but the mainstay of his artistic practice; the manner in which he blurred the lines between figuration and abstraction.
Existential angst and despair is his favoured theme. There are howling beasts and attenuated figures with jagged heads, torsos reminiscent of bat wings and spindly, insect-like legs but while Chadwick is best known for his bronze works on occasion also worked with other materials. His group of Formica on wood ‘Pyramid’ and ‘Split’ sculptures – clean geometric shapes produced in 1966 – are shown in the main galleries and are surprisingly fresh and modern. Downstairs a group of welded stainless steel beasts represents Chadwick’s late exploration of the medium of steel in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Make sure to take the opportunity to view this impressive group of works but Chadwick’s new reputation doesn’t come cheap. It will set you back a cool £150k for one of the smaller works climbing to close to a £million for the larger ones. Enjoy the free entry and start saving!
Blain Southern until June 28
Alistair Sooke review in the Telegraph here.
Jackie Wollschläger review in the FT here.
Lynn Chadwick home website here.
20 May 2014 § Leave a comment
As the most valuable and prestigious photography competition in the UK the Deutsche Borse Prize is always well worth a close look as a good assessment of the most important photographic work of the previous twelve months.
It is interesting to note that the previous two awards were noticeable in their brave selection of two winners who were actually not photographers. If this sounds rather strange I should explain that these two winners actually used photography within their practice, but as the basis for works of collage: John Stezaker (2012) and Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin (2013). Hopefully this acted as a little, lets say, encouragement to The Photographers Gallery to be a little more adventurous in the exhibition schedule – some feel that they have erred to the cautious side in recent years – and indeed this years finalists indeed proved to be a worthy choice.
The four contenders were Alberto Garcia-Alix, Jochen Lempert, Richard Mosse and Lorna Simpson. Garcia-Alix is a personal and social documentary photographer whose black and white images often are quite dark – in both subject and nature. His works reflect both intimacy and excess, where photography – and occasionally video – is used to mediate his own neuroses and inner battles. This is effectively an exhibition of his own life.
Lempert’s approach veers between poetic and scientific. His modest-looking works are pinned simply to the walls or displayed in glass cases. Understated it is easy to miss the subtle associations and multiple links that his works cleverly weave.
Irishman Richard Mosse takes finely crafted images of war-torn Congo, but in a simple twist shoots them on false-colour infra-red film. The resultant images here are predominantly pink-hued and provide an other-wordly beauty to scenes that would otherwise be relatively mundane. Mosse effectively points at the failure of documentary photography and its inability to adequately communicate this horrific cycle of violence.
Lorna Simpson’s work initially appears to be a series of found 1950’s images of women in varied poses. On a closer look Simpson has interred parallel images of herself taken in similar format and style. Emphasizing a conceptual and performative approach, she asks questions of the predominately male gaze as well as identity, and culture.
And the winner was…. Richard Mosse. Of course. Another worthy winner in a series of excellent Prize exhibitions. Oh yes, and don’t forget to visit the excellent cafe.
The Deutsche Börse Photography prize 2014 is at The Photographers Gallery, Ramillies Street, London W1F 7LW until 13 July 2014.
11 April 2014 § 1 Comment
The knowing title of Martin Creed’s solo show at the Hayward, What’s the Point of It? offers an immediate hint at the content whilst also suggesting a potential response. This is undoubtedly an exhibition that will split the audience somewhere down the middle in a ‘Marmite’ reaction of love and hate.
A piece of blu-tac pressed against the wall, a screwed up ball of paper, cardboard boxes piled ziggurat-style and a row of nails are examples of some of Creed’s works, each carefully and sequentially numbered and to which the titular What’s the point? will clearly often be directed. One soon realises that Creed too is asking the same question of himself and life in general.
My last encounter with Creed was at a lecture – the word ‘lecture ‘s this case being a very loose description of what took place. He decided to start with a song with his guitar. For twenty minutes, in true comic style, his hand frequently hovered over the strings of his battered instrument, before frustratingly moving away as he drifted off in to a random point, reminiscence or story. The song when it eventually arrived was short, minimalist and funny.
The exhibition is very much like the song and its build up: Creed’s has a hesitant and agonised interaction with a modern life that for him is simply too complex and disordered – he struggles to bring order to this troublesome chaos – and eventually produces something quite simple, thoughtful and often amusing.
This quest for order is the source of his numbering system too. Here’s what he – hesitatingly – had to say about that for the Tate Magazine:
Yeah… I started numbering the things I made… because I wasn’t happy with some of the titles that I’d used, and I just wanted a way for them all…and, aye, I didn’t want titled and I didn’t want untitled… I wanted a way to try to treat them all the same whether they were a big thing or a small thing or a piece of music or whatever…and I like numbers… It’s difficult to start, I mean it’s often difficult to begin things… and in that respect numbers can be very useful. I mean one, to me, is a good start, and to continue, two’s good too… but… aye, it was to try to treat things all the same and… eh, not worry about titles, not worry about words… I just, you know, the numbers, you know the numbers, I don’t think they’re a particularly important, eh, thing, because basically all… many… most things are numbered, you know, with catalogue numbers or serial numbers… (read the whole interview here)
Decision-making for Creed is similarly agonisingly difficult and behind each work is an extended process where he attempts to decide by ‘not deciding’, or selecting by ‘not selecting’.
Piled boxes are stacked in decreasing sizes, nails in size order are hammered in the wall, a piano is played note by note up and down the keyboard in never ending arpeggios. Supermarket packets of brushes allow Creed to paint his trademark pyramids without the need for him to select brush sizes. For other artworks he picks every different size of ball, every colour of tape and a sequential array of cacti – each to avoid ‘choosing’.
The process brings its inevitable hits and misses. The best, seen upon entering the exhibition, is a vast and rapidly spinning neon. Spelling MOTHERS it is mounted on a huge iron girder as big as the room which threatens to decapitate anyone much over six foot tall. Mothers were of course dominating, protective and big in Creed’s childhood mind and the work here is equally intimidating. Another success is Half the air in a given space (work 360) – a room half filled with balloons is at the same time claustrophobic and exhilarating. I found a wall of hundreds of broccoli prints rather dull and am not sure that I learn much from watching film of people defecating but on the whole these are minor complaints.
As one would expect of an artist with a band and a cd release to coincide with the show there is plenty of sonic accompaniment too. The ticking of dozens of metronomes each set at a different rhythm accompanies Mothers whilst there is the piano, random farting noises from a corner, ascending sounds in the lift and sniggering laughs outside the toilet.
This is effectively an all encompassing tour of Martin Creed’s singular mind – in sound, light, paint and experience – that is in turns thoughtful, amusing and provocative. Love it or hate it, this is a show that deserves to be seen.
Martin Creed: What is the Point of It at The Hayward, London until 27 April 2014
10 April 2014 § Leave a comment
White Cube’s latest exhibition at their Masons’ Yard space is Miroslaw Balka’s DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 25,31m AMSL. The title refers both to the building’s altitude above sea level and the original German title of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams – the exhibition running concurrently with another at London’s Freud Museum (73,32m AMSL).
The title immediately suggests a connection with mental landscapes whilst – as with his vast steel box construction, How It Is, which occupied the Tate Modern turbine hall a couple of years ago – Balka’s work also is strongly connected with the body, materials and the physical.
The ground floor gallery houses just two minimalist concrete sculptures. The first, entitled 100 x 100 x 20 TTT, is a flat structure from which an internal light shines. Is it a plinth, a grave or perhaps a trapdoor to a subterranean space? Alongside is a trapezohedron, open at one side, that is inspired by the mysterious object in Abrecht Durer’s Melancolia 1 (1514) and matches the magic ‘invisibility’ helmet from Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
In the basement space Balka has installed Above your Head – a steel mesh canopy (chicken wire to you and me) fixed just above head height. He has added to this dim lighting and the whistled soundtrack of the Great Escape theme tune ‘to continue the theme of refuge and confinement’.
This all relates to recurring Balka references that cover topics like Polish history and the holocaust. Unfortunately it doesn’t work. The White Cube space looks like – well – a big space with a chicken wire ceiling and doesn’t invoke the claustrophobia and sense of confinement that it is meant to. The whistled tune is annoying and obvious whilst the ‘escape hatch’ sculpture of the upper gallery is far too simplistic.
The attempt at some sort of mystery supposedly introduced by the enigmatic tarpezohedron seems just a little desperate and the whole is far too literal. Perhaps the second exhibition at the Freud Museum makes more sense, but I won’t personally be finding out.
9 April 2014 § Leave a comment
I’m not sure whether Phyllida Barlow’s Duveen commission dock (reviews by AKUTA here) was scheduled before Ruin Lust but on the surface this looks like an intelligent pairing of exhibitions. With Barlow’s wonderful, monumental constructions of industrial ‘debris’ filling the central parts of the building, an exhibition that looks at our fascination with the subject should be rich with possibilities. The words Ruin Lust, by the way, deriving from the German word Ruinenlust, an obsession with, or taking pleasure in, decay.
It all starts promisingly with John Martin’s magnificent Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum and Jane and Louise Wilson’s imposing wartime bunker, Azeville. Not unexpectedly we then find plenty of 19th century romantic visions of classical ruins amongst idealised landscapes. We have John Sell Cotman and JMW Turner’s wonderful Tintern Abbey for example.
Less expected are works from others like Eduardo Paolozzi, Patrick Caulfield and John Stezaker. Just how were these artists obsessed with decay? John Stezaker has exactly zero connection with the subject of this exhibition, his inclusion down to the fact that the featured works happened to collage a couple of old postcards of photogenic ruins on to his trademark film publicity photos, creating new meanings. And Paolozzi? Caulfield?
Next comes Tacita Dean and Kodak. Less about ruin and decay this is more a self-reverential elegy to the medium of film and is only marginally relevant to the exhibitions subject.
At this point I have to admit I switched off for the remaining, less than attention-grabbing, four rooms. It was crystal clear that the curators were starting with a catchy title to then shoe-horn artworks with superficial relevance to then claim they were part of a greater whole.
Furthermore the choice of artists haphazard, the selection of work poor, many selected pieces downright dreadful and the hanging almost random. To rub salt in to the wound the accompanying exhibition book was equally low quality.
To me this was a shallow and poorly conceived exhibition with many mediocre works amongst a handful of interesting ones. I beg you not to waste £10 – see Phyllida Barlow and spend your hard-earned tenner in the cafe instead.
7 April 2014 § Leave a comment
The latest commission for the imposing Duveen Gallery at Tate Britain is by sculptor Phyllida Barlow. Anyone who visited her impressive exhibition RIG, for Hauser & Wirth‘s Piccadilly gallery, would have been greatly impressed at how she was able to so totally take over such a selection of varied spaces. Using inexpensive, everyday materials such as cardboard, fabric, timber, polystyrene and plaster she created bold and colourful three-dimensional collages that utterly transformed the whole building – from the grand main gallery to the tiny former bank safe in the basement (AKUTA review here).
At the time this was her finest achievement. Not only is this better but quite amazingly she manages once again to completely command the space despite its vast dimensions. Seven distinct works somehow take over this pompous neo-classical space in one glorious, over the top, bricolage of industrial debris inspired of course by London’s docklands.
Stretching to the roof, tumbling across the floor, hanging from the ceiling and even encapsulating part of the structure Barlow’s dock has made the Duveen its own.
Ambitious and exuberant it is hard not to laugh out loud and the audacious transformation. Upon entering huge wooden boxes hang from a lofty timber construction. Partially broken open they reveal broken pink polystyrene foam which tumbles out whilst on the reverse painted cardboard makes a wonderfully modernistic collage.
Farther on a pile of broken pallets climbs up towards the rotunda whilst more broken and painted timbers, strewn with coloured canvas and assorted debris climbs up the wall. Opposite a grand romanesque pillar – as if an ugly embarrassment to be hidden away – is encased with cardboard and sealed with brightly coloured tape.
Finally, what can only be described as the cardboard core of a giant toilet roll is suspended from another gantry as a the display’s ultimate sculptural statement.
This is an ambitious work that truly works. Joyful and transformative it is a delightful contrast to self-regarding works of the world of old-fashioned and male dominated sculptural pomposity. Don’t miss.
Phyllida Barlow dock at Tate Britain, Millbank, London until 19 October 2014. Free.