Ai Wei Wei at Blenheim Palace

6 November 2014 § Leave a comment

Ai Wei Wei at Blenheim Palace is the inaugural exhibition of the Blenheim Art Foundation. One’s first instinct is that these are strange bedfellows: Ai Wei Wei is a strongly anti-establishment figure. Mistrusted by the Chinese authorities he has been regularly arrested or jailed whilst even now he is under house arrest, his passport confiscated. On the other hand the stately Blenheim Palace is a symbol of the aristocracy as well as the home of WInston Churchill, one of the very pillars of British Society.
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This juxtaposition of this irreverent joker and political activist with the heart of establishment Britain is of course the genius of the show. Nowadays it is not lost on wealthy titled land-owners that in the modern-day there is a fine line to be walked between historical anachronism and valuable heritage.
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It is exhibitions like this that allow the likes of the current 11th Duke of Marlborough, Lord Spencer-Churchill, some apparent self-critical analysis, whilst adding valuable funds to the coffers, helping shore up their slowly crumbling stately piles.
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never been afraid of taking on the powerful. In the library, for example, is Weiwei’s extensive series “Study of Perspective”, dating back to the Nineties – blown up snapshots of the artist sticking his middle finger up at symbols of influence, from Big Ben to St Paul’s, the Tate Modern to a super-yacht.

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With Ai stuck at home in China this exhibition was amazingly put together using a combination of plans, 3d imagery and extensive collaboration, the artist never having visited the site. Mightily impressive it is too both in scope – over fifty works – imagination and scale. Works are dispersed throughout the house and gardens, part of the enjoyment being to spot the unlabelled ‘impostors’ amongst the ornate interiors. Almost seamlesslessly old is combined with new, East with West and opulence with bling.
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The fun starts immediately upon entering the main house. A seventeen foot chandelier hangs from the vast baroque ceiling and looks remarkably at home. Ai is immediately questioning us – should not all his works be seen to sit on an equal cultural and aesthetic footing as all the incumbent pieces?

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In the Red Drawing Room, a sea of porcelain crabs sit in front of the fireplace, each carefully hand made. In the Green Drawing Room ancient Han vases, each been painted in a different gaudy metallic car-body colour, sit ironically surrounded by Blenheim’s own ornate china collection.

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In the First State Room is a wooden map of china carved from the wood of demolished Qing temples. A bowl of 250kg of freshwater pearls sits in a giant rice bowl in the centre of the Boulle Room right opposite a gold-crested casket by Louis XIV’s cabinetmaker.

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In every room the tapestries heirlooms and paintings are interrupted by his provocative Duchampian installations. Golden zodiac heads are impressive in the Salon, his marble surveillance camera watches over us in the library, Han vases with Coca Cola logos are in the Great Hall where we find ourselves walking upon Soft Ground – a 45 metre long custom woven rug that replicates a muddy cart track.

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Ironically Ai’s contemporary art that includes his own appropriation of antique vases and pieces of furniture allows us to realise that of course Blenheim’s own collection is not rooted in one era.  Our appreciation of his own work is not only expanded but also is the quality of what is already there.

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This is a truly liberating, irreverent, humorous and inspirational exhibition and surely the best of the year so far.

For more information visit

Eric Fischl Art Fair Paintings at Victoria Miro

4 November 2014 § Leave a comment

Eric Fischl Art Fair Paintings at Victoria MiroVisiting one of the big art fairs, such as Frieze or art Basel, it is quickly self-evident that many of those visiting are not always particularly interested in the art. Naturally many are, but around this highly moneyed core orbit the people-watchers, hangers-on and parasites in a desperate see-and-be-seen dance, different groups each with their own specific agenda.

Eric Fischl Art Fair Paintings at Victoria Miro

“The big collectors try to get in and out before anyone buys what they are after and certainly before the hoi polloi gets to look. And then you’ve got people who are just there for the social scene. So you have people texting or not paying any attention at all. It is as if the art is not there, or that they think it has no effect on them. But when you stop the moment you can see this weird world that is taking place” say Fischl

Eric Fischl Art Fair Paintings at Victoria Miro

It is this world – which he usually desperately avoids – to which Eric Fischl has most recently turned a keenly tuned eye. As a starting point he took hundreds of photographs from which he selected, before editing and manipulating in Photoshop to construct an image to ultimately translate into paint.

Eric Fischl Art Fair Paintings at Victoria Miro

As the series has grown so has the complexity of the resonances of the images, individually and in relation to each other. The paintings are a sharp social satire as much as they are a loving tribute to the world the artist knows best: the international art scene.

Eric Fischl Art Fair Paintings at Victoria Miro

A keen observer of the relationships between people, and between people and their surroundings Fischl here demonstrates his acute observation of body language and the small details that reflect social relationships. Art fairs are notoriously busy, and these paintings give a sense of the energy and bustle as visitors move amongst the stands, apparently giving as much attention to each other – and to their mobile phones – as to the artworks on display.

Art Fair Paintings at Victoria Miro

Fischl has described this effect: “The space in these paintings is collapsed, cluttered, irrational and aggressive. Those depicted in the scenes seem oblivious to the mania of their condition. What I’ve discovered as I moved into this work is the essentially abstract nature of the art fair spaces. They are nearly cubistic in their flatness and their jarring collaged constructions. Layers of consciousness on top of layers of cross-purposes.”.

Wangechi Mutu Victoria Miro

Also on show in Victoria Miro’s downstairs gallery are new works from the excellent Wangechi Mutu.

For more information on bothe exhibitions visit

Richard Serra at Gagosian London

27 October 2014 § Leave a comment

Richard Serra is not a particularly prolific artist – quite understandable given the scale of his individual works. His works are usually large, site-specific sculptures for architectural, urban and landscape settings. As for seeing them in London, other than an occasional smaller work at the Tate its hard to recall when I last saw a work in the city – indeed his last show here was again at Gagosian way back in 2008.

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Most usually Serra’s giant steel sculptures are single piece installations and when there is opportunity to view more than one it immediately brings to mind to mind the maxim about London buses – none for ages and then they all come at once. It is therefore with great anticipation that we make our way to see the latest Gagosian exhibition at their new space in Brittania Street.
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Comprising three new works, alongside the older Backdoor Pipeline (2010) each is significant in scale and ambition – almost every wall in the gallery intact destroyed and rebuilt in order to allow the installation. Serra’s sculpture explores the exchange between artwork, site, and viewer and the group of pieces here cleverly explore this relationship in very different ways. He says “I wanted to make a show with different aspects of compression and circulation, intervals and elevation, different ways to approach a field or a space or a context.”

In one room two vertical expanses of steel are jammed corner to corner across the room and sit diagonally one upon the other, as its title London Cross suggests. Walking under the balanced sheet one is apprehensive about the vast weight balanced above your head.

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In another gallery is Dead Weight – two massive blocks of steel that rest one on top of the other.  They are not exactly the same size, texture or shape, the upper is larger, more rusted – it seems to impose itself upon the lower, plainer block . Peering through the uneven crack between them you can see the uneven shapes; they sit together, as Serra says, ‘like ancient rocks’.

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The largest space is occupied by Ramble and its rows of upright blocks. In a variety of different sizes they sit at 90 degrees to the predominate direction of passage through the space physically blocking your progress. They invite you to weave your way through them experiencing their size and mass as you wander through the gaps and pathways.

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The most impressive was, one presumes, the most complex to construct.  Backdoor Pipeline is a curving tunnel, a doughnut-shaped segment of monumental steel in two parts. About fifty feet long one is urged to enter the dark tunnel   that it forms, with the exit only revealed as you walk through its interior.

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Cleverly Serra asks us to variously walk under, through, around and inside – each piece experienced in a different way. Despite their unyielding weight, massive size and imposing presence his handling of these vast steel blocks is clever and delicate. Even in his seventies Serra clearly has lost none of his touch.

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

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

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.
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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.

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


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