22 May 2016 § Leave a comment
Only founded last year Photo London has already become the biggest Photographic fair in the UK and, with 85 exhibitors from twenty countries, it is also undoubtedly one of the largest in the world.
Taking place over four days it occupies a maze of rooms – and a courtyard pavilion – within Somerset House and whilst the central London location is wonderfully convenient the venue is unfortunately rather busy, sweaty, claustrophobic and far from ideal.
Nevertheless this is still an unmissable event for anyone with any interest in photography and in an era where images dominate the media and when ‘everyone is a photographer now’, anyone pretty much does mean everyone.
Interest in photography is increasing like never before, the young are being drawn in by the improving quality of mobile phone images and apps like Instagram put images in the palms of every hand.
Whilst the spread of interest amongst the young is self-evident – with improving quality of mobile phone images and apps like Instagram – this surge of youth has not necessarily reached the realms of the art galleries at Photo London. Modernist photography seemed to be somewhat over-represented and whilst it was nice to see classic images from the likes of Andre Kertesz and Edward Steichen there were rather to many Edward Weston style nude derrieres.
Perhaps this reflects where much of the money lies in the market, but surely the trend will swing sharply towards contemporary – and more art-oriented photography as buyers become ever more adventurous.
Here is just a very small selection of what caught our eye this year, starting with a William Eggleston Memphis Photo, some great Alex Webb images from the Leica stand and a Don McCullin from an Photo London special exhibition.
Anything else? A Vik Muniz ‘Seurat’ jigsaw, a great early conceptual piece from John Baldessari, some Alex Soth Gathered leaves works at Weinstein Gallery, George Osodi Nigerian Monarchs at Z Photographic, an exhibition of Sergei Chilikov soviet ‘New Photography’ in the Embankment galleries, a wall of some impressive large format abstract photographs from Nagoya Hatakeyama at Taka Ishii, some Fabien Miller camera-less photos, a wall of Andre Kertesz and… well, so much more.
There are lots of photo books too including a display of winners from the Kraszna-Krausz Book Awards, a series of lectures and, for when it all gets too much the Martin Parr cafe is the place to relax with some old British favourites.
Finally, since ‘everyone now is a photographer’, we of course have to add our own iPhone snap to the ever growing world of images. Hope you like it.
Photo London 2016 is at Somerset House 19 -22 May 2016.
For more information visit Photo London
This article also appears on the online arts magazine CELLOPHANELAND*
18 May 2016 § Leave a comment
This exhibition by Jeff Koons at Damien Hirst‘s new gallery brings together two titans of the commercial art world. Sitting at first and second place of the world’s wealthiest (Hirst usually pips a rapidly closing Koons) they also are head of lists of the most influential living artists.
There are plenty of parallels within their work too. Neither are strangers to the art of appropriation: Koons takes children inflatables and re-constructs them in gleaming painted aluminium, Hirst has enlarged a spastics society figure, Viagra pill and an anatomical model. How about something in a vitrine? Koons is happy to grab ‘ready-made’ basketballs or Hoovers, whilst Hirst takes perhaps severed cows heads, sharks, skulls or pills. All are presented as reflections on life, death, beauty and consumerism.
Linking them too is a mutual appreciation. Hirst has actually collected Koons’ work for over twelve years and has amassed a significant body of the artists work, some of which is being shown in the UK for the first time within this exhibition.
Koons is considered to be one of the most significant artists of the last fifty years and it is therefore quite astonishing to say that ‘Now’ is not only the first major UK exhibition to be devoted to the artist since ‘Jeff Koons: Popeye Series’, at the Serpentine in 2009 but the largest one to date. Spanning thirty-five years of the artist’s extraordinary career it features over thirty paintings, works on paper and sculptures dating from 1979 and including works from Inflatables, The New, Equilibrium, Luxury and Degradation, Made in Heaven, Popeye, and Hulk Elvis, amongst others.
The show begins with an early forerunner of one of Koons’ most enduring themes, the inflatable. Here we see a real inflatable in Flowers from 1979 – small flowers displayed on mirrored floor tiles. It is here presented alongside a number of his iconic Hoover sculptures from the early eighties – unused wall-mounted machines are displayed in acrylic boxes. Two of these Hoovers were actually included for Koons’s first solo show in New York 1980 and part of that installation – originally displayed in the museum’s storefront windows – has been reassembled for this exhibition.
These works show how Koons revels the everyday. Household goods to children toys and the kitsch are all readily employed in his approach to art, utilising mass market objects to communicate with the widest possible audience. The quotidien and fragile becomes monumental whist the ordinary is elevated to special.
There are plenty more of his recognisable works. The show continues with examples of his Total Equilibrium tanks where three basketballs are suspended in a vitrine of salt water – an allegory on unattainable states of being.
Further on a Jim Beam bourbon decanter of china and plastic has been rendered in aluminium. Said to be an “elegy to the age of steam and steel”, Koons’ said of this sculpture “I wanted to transform it and put it into a different metal but to preserve its soul, and that soul was the alcohol.”
We continue through most of the major series of Koons’ career. Ignoring the less interesting prints it is the sculptures that catch the eye – a five-metre high stainless steel Balloon Monkey in blue dating from 2013 occupies the whole of one of the side galleries. An inflatable dolphin and lobster dangle from the ceiling whist another lobster balances precariously on a chair and a bin. A seal and walrus are squeezed behind stack-away plastic seats.
The show culminates in the huge and impressive Play-Doh, a three-metre high mountain of brightly coloured kids plasticine, Surprisingly complex to construct it took Koons and his team over ten years to produce, the result so perfect that it is almost impossible to resist grabbing at the apparently squidgy material.
Only the second exhibition at the Newport Street Gallery space this is another highly impressive exhibition. It confirms that there is more to Koons than simply high kitsch and eye-catching sculptures. There is a strong emotional charge to the work too. We are caught in an irrational and surreal world of fakery, unsure what to make of the oversized objects, impossible poses and improbable materials. At its heart it is an uncanny and unsettling experience. A Night at the Museum is made real – the toys are taking over.
For more information visit the Newport Street Gallery
This post also appears on CELLOPHANLAND*
18 March 2016 § Leave a comment
“The sensation of the passage of time always inspires me. Time changes everything, and when I can detect the pure movement of time, nothing else seems to matter. In these moments, there is very little else I would want to do.” Wang Guangle
Pace gallery is one of the world’s leading commercial art galleries. Their artists include modernist icons like Josef Albers and Robert Rauschenberg plus the likes of James Turrell (see our exhibition review here), John Hoyland (see review here) and David Hockney (see review here and ‘On the trail of…’ here).
Anyone remotely interested in the ebbs and flows of the contemporary art market would indeed therefore be very wise to keep a close eye on their latest activity. A recent example would be the February 2016 opening of their new gallery space in the cultural desert that is Palo Alto in silicon valley. The ‘out-there’ decision to add Menlo Park to their big city portfolio of London, New York, Beijing, Hong Kong and Paris caught many in the industry by surprise but it is certain that there will be many carefully monitoring its success – or otherwise.
Wang Guangle is a younger artist who was born 1971, trained at the Beijing Academy and graduating in 2000. His name will not be familiar to many outside China, indeed Yellow will be his first solo exhibition in Europe, but this is a name that we will probably hear more often. His style of abstraction is easy on the western eye with its superficial similarity to modernists like Albers and Rothko perhaps, although it is an abstraction that actually comes from a more distinct and recent Chinese angle.
Wang is best known for his memento mori style abstraction—inspired by the traditional burial practices of southern China, his tactile works are produced in a process of repetitive layering of different colors of acrylic, his works united by experiments in depth and space. One of the preeminent abstract painters of his generation in Beijing, Wang’s work is rooted in questions of painting’s temporality and the canvas as a vessel of labour and marker of time.
The exhibition includes a selection of recent paintings that evince the spirit and style of his work from the past decade, which in this case perhaps unsurprisingly includes an unprecedented use of yellow. Although he has no prescribed meaning for the colour, he apparently embraces its various associations, from timidity and carefulness to a more Chinese connotation of the erotic.
A series entitled Coffin paintings, shows thin strips of acrylic paint lining the canvas and wrapping around the frontal surface, leaving the drips along the sides. Multiple layers of paint added over periods of several weeks provide a characteristic striped effect and both illusionistic and real physicality. This layering process has its origins in his home region of Fujian, where elder men annually add a fresh layer of lacquer to their coffins in anticipation of their death.
The Untitled paintings mirror this process of scaling and accumulation in the Coffin works while placing a greater emphasis on geometry. Wang paints rectangular fields, each layer progressing farther from the edge and closer to the centre, creating a subtle gradation of colour and the effect of an illuminated rectangle or void. In these works, the question of abstraction arises; for Wang, abstraction is less a means of non-figuration and more of record that most abstract of phenomena: time.
Wang Guangle: Yellow is at Pace London until 16 April 2016
For more information visit www.pacegallery.com
12 March 2016 § Leave a comment
“I like it when one is not certain what one sees. When we do not know why the photographer has taken a picture and when we do not know why we are looking at it, all of a sudden we discover something that we start seeing. I like this confusion.” Saul Leiter
Everyone will be familiar with ’New Colour Photography’, as exemplified by William Eggleston and Stephen Shore: the commonplace photographed as intriguing with colours used for composition and often in an abstract fashion. It is also these photographer’s who are usually credited with being the forerunners of the style, however Saul Leiter was actually already using colour and Kodachrome slide film together with a freer artistic style by the 1940s and actually preceded Eggleston and Shore.
In his photographs, the genres of street life, portraiture, still life, fashion and architectural photography fuse together. Leiter came across his subjects, such as shop windows, passers-by, cars, signs and (a recurrent motif) umbrellas, in the direct vicinity of his apartment in New York, where he lived for almost 60 years.
The lack of clear detail, the blurring of movement and the reduction in depth of field, as well as the use of windows and shadows as natural filters, combine to create a photographic language of colour and abstraction set against the urban space. It is easy to forget though how groundbreaking the use of colour was in art photography. Colour was usually associated with advertising, but in the 1950s Leiter was showing that it could be an art form, and that the marriage of photography and colour could be a powerful medium.
Despite beginning in black and white – his early images were published in LIFE and exhibited in New York and Tokyo – Leiter quickly moved into fashion photography, shooting for Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, Esquire and more. It is surprising that, despite his prolific career, Leiter did not receive due recognition for his pioneering role in the emergence of colour photography until late in his life. He was often criticised for going against the documentary and art traditions of the day whilst in addition fashion photography always had a bad reputation for being somewhat artificial and superficial, museums and galleries not being inclined to take his work seriously.
A forgotten figure for most of the 20th century Leiter didn’t have a gallerist until 2008, his irreverence, modesty and lack of ego perhaps lent him a low profile with his first exhibition in Europe actually not arriving until 2008. The Photographers Gallery is attempting to put right this neglect with this exhibition. It features more than 100 works, including early black-and-white and colour photographs, sketchbooks and ephemera and is Leiter’s first major show in a public gallery in the UK.
Leiter always saw himself as both a painter and photographer, drawn to shapes, shadows, surfaces and textures in his paintings and pictures, and the exhibition includes a broad selection of his non-photographic artworks. These show the influences of his painting upon his photography but are not surprisingly perhaps the weakest part of the exhibition. Dull, derivative and amateurish, his paintings pale against the innovative and inventive style of his photography.
Much imitated Leiter’s is a style seen to be everywhere from adverts to Instagram. The sheer ubiquity of such images detracts a little from the initial impact of the exhibition – it is easy to feel that we’ve ‘seen it all before’ – but it is well worth visiting to celebrate the work of a true pioneer of the genre.
Saul Leiter: Retrospective is at The Photographers Gallery London until 3 April 2016
For more information visit www.thephotgraphersgallery.org.uk
26 February 2016 § Leave a comment
Despite the process of photography being somewhat scientific, Gathered Leaves – Photographs by Alex Soth, is on first appearances a slightly surprisingly choice as the latest exhibition at the Science Museum. Alex Soth is a contemporary photographer who takes an innovative aim at documentary photography whilst perhaps another (excellent) current exhibition of early images from photographic pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron also on now at the same venue is more in line with the sort of thing we are expecting at the museum.
What many may not know however is that the Science Museum Group (SMG) has just announced an historic agreement with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Over 400,000 objects from SMG’s three-million-strong photography collection will be transferred to join the V&A’s existing collection of 500,000 to create the single largest collection on the art of photography in the world in their International Photography Resource Centre.
The collection will comprise encompasses exquisite vintage prints, the world’s first negative, unique daguerreotypes and early colour photographs, as well as important albums, books, cameras and the archives of major photographers. There are also of course major holdings of the worlds top photographers from the dawn of photography right up to to the present day.
Alex Soth is one of those artists featured in the collection and this beautifully presented exhibition, surprisingly his first ever in the UK, is a fitting backdrop to the announcement. Surveying a decade of his work it features Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006) and Broken Manual (2010) as well as the UK premiere of Songbook.
His work is characterised by a lyrical approach to documentary photography and a restless experimentation across the many forms that photography can take: from exhibitions and books, to zines and digital media. Soth, who lives and works in Minnesota, also shares the great American fascination with the open road, bringing a fresh perspective to ideas explored in the twentieth century by artists and writers such as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and Jack Kerouac.
Throughout the exhibition we are in no doubt that we are looking at the work of an American photographer. We recognise the physical landscapes and wilderness of the USA, from iconic sights like the Niagara Falls through to wild forest. We also see the small rural towns whilst rural and run down suburbs also act as backdrops for his poetic surveys of American life.
For Sleeping by the Mississippi Soth set off with his large format camera to travel its 2000 mile course. He drifts lazily down its course taking in dreamers, visionaries and time worn motels. His camera transports us physically and metaphorically via the moving waters and the wandering imaginations and dreams of the regions residents.
Niagara has of course long been associated with both honeymoons and suicides. Soth refers to its ‘intensified sexuality and unsustainable desire’ and grabs snippets of poetry and evidence of passion, people in bars an wedding venues and juxtaposes them with the grandeur of the flowing falls.
Broken Manual explores the desire to run away from civilisation. Researching the web he discovered a world of communications and manifestos distributed by those who have chosen to withdraw from society: survivalists, monks and hermits.
We see some of the documents and Soths own zines displayed in glazed cabinets in the exhibition space. Soth also created his own survival instructions, the Broken Manual and then went on the road himself in seeking out here people.
He found his recluses in the vast unpopulated expanses of America – from deserts to forests – and photographed them in their solitude, drafted in their settings.
Finally, in Songbook, Soth elucidates modern American life in a timeless black and white. The project emerged from a series of road trips with the writer Brad Zellar. Posing as local newspaper reporters, over the course of two years they attended hundreds of meetings, dances, festivals, and communal gatherings, the resulting stories published as an ad hoc series of ‘dispatches’ from the different states visited.
Soth isolates his photographs from their original news context, and in doing so, evokes a human desire for interaction in an era increasingly defined by virtual social networks. Funny, fragmentary and sad, Songbook is a lyrical meditation on the tension between American individualism and the urge to be united.
Gathered Leaves – Photographs by Alex Soth is on until 28 March 2016
For more information visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk
24 February 2016 § Leave a comment
I am usually rather sceptical about anything featuring numbered selections. Nowadays hardly anything seems to reach the pages of a magazine or a TV screen without being reduced to a seemingly arbitrary list. At best it can be of modest help where information has been distilled from something extensive or complex but at worst is simply a pointless exercise made with minimal critical judgement. The title of 100 Works Of Art That Will Define Our Age therefore aroused suspicion. How much selection was there? Was there really a nice round number? Could, or should, ’100’ just have been left off?
Numerical gripes aside this is an exceptional book. It is a formidable task to attempt to scroll forwards in time and make a judgement on how a future population will have judged art of the present day or indeed judge the art of your own era. It would also be easy to get bogged down in an almost endless series of semantic or philosophical questions but Grovier however delicately navigates this minefield with humour and skill.
He notes that Vincent Van Gogh’s contemporary view of his own ’Starry Night’ was that it was a dreadful ‘failure’ and by slipping in frequent insights such as this Grovier lets us glimpse at how the defining views of the art of the past and present are ever fluid.
We see how the artists of today continually draw from the past and how meanings flow in two directions. Great art never finishes but instead forever participates having the power to alter the art of the past as well as to influence the future.
Grover actually creates a definition of ‘Our Age’ by selecting art from about 1990 to 2010 leaving a certain amount of critical weight to have already been applied. The notorious Saatchi Sensation exhibition from 1997 already seems an age ago and a handful of works like Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and Marc Quinn’s Self are naturally included. Many others like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project for the Tate Turbine Hall, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present and Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’ seem natural choices, neatly included in sections with titles like ‘Is All Art Nostalgic’ and ‘Can Art and Life ever be in Sync?’.
At the same time one does wonder whether the likes of Jeff Wall, Cristina Iglesias, Walid Raad, Sean Scully and Sheela Gowda really define our age. I dont think so, and it is a stretch to think that as many as a hundred works can possibly define an age. If we look back another thirty years to Pop art how far do we see beyond a handful of names like say, Warhol and Lichtenstein? Who knows even if the period 1990 to 2010 will ever make its mark on history or fade in to a forgotten mist?
However, as one progressed through the book, the pleasure in looking back at some of the great works of our era and reading Grovier’s beautifully written and insightful analyses will dissolve all doubts. It reads easily and gently expands our appreciation of works that we perhaps doubted or misunderstood. It may, or may not, in the end include the works that define our age but perhaps it is best viewed simply as an exemplary record of memorable recent art.
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com
19 February 2016 § Leave a comment
Champagne Life is the title of a work by Julia Wachtel in this Saatchi Gallery exhibition of the same name. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West – better known as Kimye of course – feature repeated, inverted and brightly shaded, alongside pale blue Minnie Mouses (Mice?). Its a striking Warhol style work, from a Pictures Generation artist that critiques celebrity culture and one of several good Wachtel works that fill the first gallery.
This exhibition has selected fourteen disparate female artists to hang together. Unfortunately, other than the Wachtel piece giving the name to the exhibition, I’m not sure why it is entitled Champagne Life. Surely they cannot be suggesting that maybe girls tend to like bubbly drinks? The gallery tells us it is ironic but could it be rather more to do with the exhibition being sponsored by Pommery? In any case to hold a ‘girls only’ exhibition in the 21st century is surely unnecessary. The easy accusation is that Saatchi is guilty of tokenism when it should rather be concentrating on curating quality exhibitions.
The gallery is marking its 30th birthday with this show and still seems to have an unfortunate habit of shallow exhibitions based on rather on loose criteria. Recent major exhibitions have included for example Panagea I & II, which brought together a too-broad selection of both African and South America artists and Post Pop: East meets West, an incoherent overview of worldwide art linked only by a vague pop art aesthetic.
The works in the show are again decidedly mixed in quality. Sigrid Holmwood’s neon colours clash with the historical re-enactments depicted. They are striking and eye-catching but ultimately the sentiments are rather hollow.
Gallery three successfully brings together three middle-eastern artists making political tinged works. Saudi artist Maha Malluh presents a giant wall of battered and stained cooking pots, presented like a decorative arrangement of giant buttons. These discarded items speak of refugees broken lives and echo their sadness.
A stuffed mule atop a saggy green balloon by Iranian artist Soheila Sokhanvari was a work I saw part-finished at the RCA student show a few years back. I didn’t realise it had ended up in Saatchi’s hands, but it is a striking work that represents the deflation of hopes for Iran’s green movement.
In the same room Mia Feuer’s papier-mache Jerusalem Donkey, symbolises the plight of the Palestinians, restricted by the Israeli requirement to ride only mules over the border crossings.
Amongst more nondescript work a series of technically superb, giant sized works by Jelena Bulajić truly stand out. Minutely detailed but painted with a real delicacy and lightness of touch, her close-up portraits of elderly sitters convey real feeling.
Mequitta Abuja’s big, bright and fantastical scenes provide a welcome respite too. She weaves myth and legend in to canvases that are both autobiographical and trans-cultural and reminiscent of Chris Ofili’s work.
Filling gallery 10 are a giant bobbin and ball mummified in wound copper thread. Created by Alice Anderson, who we are told (unsurprisingly) entered a ‘meditative state’ during their creation, these demand attention but eventually leaves you to simply ask ‘why bother’?
The truly dreadful exhibition on the top floor where ‘Revelations’ by someone called simply Aidan (presumably to avoid the embarrassment of anyone finding out their real name) is presented by the ‘Tsukanov Family Foundation’. Does this reveal Saatchi’s formerly excellent artistic instinct being subverted by more mundane financial considerations?
I left feeling the same way I do at most Saatchi exhibitions, slightly unfulfilled. This exhibition is fine, but the wonderful space deserves just a little bit more. With an exhibition of Rolling Stones’ artefacts and ‘Graffiti Artist’ prints as the next two scheduled shows, I am not holding my breath quite yet.
For more information visit www.saatchigallery.com