14 November 2016 § Leave a comment
Any passing thought that David Bowie was a casual or poorly informed collector of art disappears within moments of viewing his remarkable collection, shortly to be sold at a special three-part sale in Sotheby’s London.
In his own words David Bowie was an an ‘addictive and obsessive’ collector observing that it can “change the way I feel in the morning.” It inspired him and influenced his work, about Frank Auerbach’s Head of Gerda Boehm he for example commented “I can look at it and say: My God, yeah! I want to sound like that looks.”
The Sotheby’s sale consists of some 350 lots which, we are told, represents about half of his collection. Unfortunately we don’t know what has been saved – presumably the most personal and best pieces – but this is a tantalising look at the taste of one of the most remarkably creative artists of our times.
What is missing tells us almost as much as what is there. There is almost no photography or American art, no installations or performance artworks and little after the 1990’s
What we mostly find is a truly varied and comprehensive roll call of Modernist British art from the likes of influential painters like David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossof and Peter Lanyon. Alongside are modernist sculptors like Kenneth Armitage, Henry Moore and William Turnbull.
Bowie was also happy to put his time and money in to the lesser known – if he liked them – British artists like Alexander Mackenzie and Maurice Cockerell. He also bought outsider artists and invested in South African art.
There are other gems too. A pretty good Basquiat or Damien Hirst spin painting? A Tintoretto anyone? German expressionist etchings? There is also a small, but important selection of early conceptual and surrealist artists like Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Francis Picabia and Meret Oppenheim.
And then there is the furniture and design. Memphis burst out of Milan in the 1980’s with Ettore Sottsass revolutionised cutting-edge design, introducing fun, humour and strikingly bold colour combinations into functional pieces. The ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, from 1981, is considered a defining work of postmodern design as was the Olivetti Typewriter upon which Bowie typed his lyrics and that directly led him on to a love of Memphis and this broad and impressive collection.
Estimates are often very reasonable and at first glance it looks like it is possible to pick up some small works in the mid hundreds. There are other items like the 1966 Castiglione radio-phonograph at £800-1200 and a Brionvega cube radio estimated at £150-250, both tantalisingly priced. Sadly however these are all at fantasy prices to draw in the eager; you can probably add a nought to each before you even start. Good luck!
For more information visit www.sothebys.com
Part I: Modern & Contemporary Art, Evening Auction, 10 November 2016
Part II: Modern & Contemporary Art, Day Auction, 11 November 2016
Part III: Design: Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group, 11 November 2016
Postscript: I should have said ‘add two noughts’. The Valentine typewriter sold at £45,000, The Castiglione Radio-Phonograph £257,000, the Brionvega Radio £30,000 amongst many other items that sailed way above estimate. All the low lots estimated in the tens & hundreds went for £4k upwards as everyone wanted a small piece of Bowie memorabilia and the overall estimates on all sales were at least doubled. Basquiat ‘Air Power’ went for a record £7.1m. See BBC feature here.
This post also featured on CELLOPHANELAND*
9 October 2016 § Leave a comment
Having had the recent pleasure of a wonderful short break at the Goodwood Hotel nearby we took the opportunity to revisit the CASS Foundation (see post from previous visit). Actually located within the Goodwood Estate it displays large scale sculpture in a beautiful woodland location. The works are distributed along woodland trails, whilst a small hall and the main building house further displays of smaller work.
It’s easy to be a little wary of anything to do with sculpture located in rural locations, where it is rather too easy to end up at a depressing collection of derivative organic forms or animal carvings. This however is certainly not the case here where the work is very much contemporary in style and of the highest level. A run through of some of the names featured is a sculptural who’s who: Tony Cragg, Bill Woodrow, Eduardo Paolozzi and Sean Henry for example amongst very many more.
The current exhibition is A Beautiful Disorder, the first major exhibition of newly commissioned outdoor sculpture by contemporary Greater Chinese artists to be shown in the UK. It comprises sixteen monumental outdoor sculptures. These are shown around the grounds where the some very impressive pieces mix seamlessly with other permanent works.
The historical relationship between English and Chinese landscape aesthetics is the starting point and inspiration with the title of the exhibition, A Beautiful Disorder, a quote from an influential letter written by the Jesuit missionary and artist Jean-Denis Attiret in 1743 that had a tremendous effect on English garden culture.
Attiret used the term to describe the ability of the Chinese garden to provoke violent and often opposing sensations in the viewer through a series of theatrical framing devices.
The exhibition invites the viewer to reflect on China’s past, present and future relationship with the world at large, and provides valuable insight into the state of Chinese culture, politics and society today from the perspective of some of its most dynamic and engaging artists.
CASS is a charitable foundation in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass dedicated to commissioning new work from emerging and established artists. The Foundation’s 26 acre grounds are home to an ever-changing display of 80 monumental sculptures, many of which are available for sale with the proceeds going directly to artists.
A Beautiful Disorder runs until 6 November 2016
For more information visit CASS Sculpture Foundation
6 October 2016 § Leave a comment
Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in the work of Edward Burtynsky. He searches for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning: recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries. These are all places that outside of our normal experience and are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear.
Essential Elements comprises of a selection of photographs weaving an evocative journey through Burtynsky’s past projects, China, Manufactured Landscapes, Quarries, Oil and Water, drawing together the visual and thematic threads that connect throughout his oeuvre.
Burtynsky revealed in his recent conversation with us (The Edward Burtynsky Conversation) that William Ewing spent months assiduously sifting through Burtynsky’s whole back catalogue. He has wisely avoided publishing an obvious chronological trawl through the seemingly discrete projects that comprise Burtynsky’s past works and instead has got with an approach that looked at the juxtapositions as they made sense conceptually, aesthetically or visually.
This absence of chronology allowed him to juxtapose images that were unrelated by subject or era – the deep quarrying of Highland Valley #8 2008 faces Oxford Tire Pile #4 1999 and China Recycling #10 2004 sits opposite Car Terminal 2011.
We see plenty of iconic works but remarkably over 50% have never been published before and many never seen before.
Taking a free-flowing approach across geographical borders and over an extended period of time, the exhibition reveals the development of an expansive formal language, from early examples of his disorienting manipulation of perspective and scale in Railcuts (1985), to the rich organic patterns of Burtynsky’s first major aerial photography project, Silver Lake Operations in Australia (2007).
Mapping the human transformation of the landscape, and documenting the residual destruction stemming from industrial processes and manufacturing, Burtynsky’s photographs present a contradiction of aesthetic seduction and ecological concerns, functioning, as he sees it, as “reflecting pools of our times”.
Amongst the photographs Ewing has selected clips of text from multiple sources, including the artist that provide further insight. This is an excellent book, visually gripping and nicely insightful providing a useful additional angle on the work of an important contemporary photographer.
This feature is also posted in CELLOPHANELAND arts & culture magazine
All images are © Edward Burtynsky 2016. Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.
Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements, edited and curated by William A. Ewing is published by Thames & Hudson, 15 September 2016, £45.00 hardback (www.thamesandhudson.com)
5 October 2016 § Leave a comment
This conversation is also published on CELLOPHANELAND
We are here at the Flowers Gallery at the preview of your new exhibition as well as the launch of your new book and here downstairs is an exhibition of the new Salt Pans series. Meanwhile in the upstairs gallery there is a second exhibition is entitled Essential Elements, and this also is the name of the new Thames & Hudson book written by William Ewing. Can you tell us some more about it?
This is an idea that began about five years ago. Thames and Hudson wanted to produce a book that would take a whole different approach to looking at my work. So Bill started coming to the studio about three years ago. He literally looked at almost everything i ever did – I gave him my binders where I keep all my work and contact sheets and so on so he had a complete look through everything. Interestingly of all the different people that have ever been to the studio he spent the longest of anyone. In all over a longer period of time Bill probably spent a total of over a month in the studio.
I understand that he took quite a different approach to make this book.
One thing I do is that I tend to work in series, like here with Salt Pans which is a complete and discrete series, shot over a period of time. I then would made in to a book and it is promoted around the world. However Bill wanted to disregard these series and was just looking at the images as he found fit. He was looking at the juxtapositions as it made sense conceptually, together or aesthetically or visually – colour wise, line wise, form wise, composition wise and so on.
Also interesting was that there was no chronology – he didn’t care whether it was early work or late work or whatever so mixed that up too. The third interesting thing that he did was that he took a whole body of work that has remained quiet up to now. This is a body of work that I have been working on my entire life which is architecture and design. I still use the things that I’ve learned in shooting architecture – I was shooting urban architecture in China for example. I have always had architecture as part of what I did as an artist, but its never been brought in to my convention artwork thus far. He interleaved that work as well and brought it in to the book to be seen into a different light.
Do you see this books as a mid-career retrospective.
It is not really a retrospective per se – its really a way to look at the work and look at it from the sense of its visual subject matter and how they fit together. He found that even through all these different subjects there was a kind of persistence of vision and a consistency of seeing so that as I jumped across all these things there are things that carry over. He is taking us away from the content and more into visual aspects. Its been a real fun project.
He has also been looking at all the review and essays that have been done, and some dissertations that have been done of my work and found some really interesting excerpts. It is good to have these kernels of ideas that all come from different perspectives. So I’m really excited that this is the very first launch of the book and you are the first to see and first to experience
Is there something that you can tell us about working with Bill and about how personally you felt looking back at all this work and looking at all these different series.
It is really interesting. It is great to work with somebody who is able to look at you full body of work – a deep look at everything I have done. Sometimes he would unearth something and I would say yeah, its nice but not something I would want published! So sometimes we had to be able to navigate choices. In the book itself there are the very iconic works, but on the other hand, a lot of it – and I would say at least 50% – has never been published before. About 25% of it was completely new so there are some new pieces that we have discovered through working and collaborating with him
Did it make you think differently about the way you were working or make you change anything?
Interestingly I think that moment of real change happened for me in 2003. At that time I felt I was just working in discrete projects quarries, mines and so on. I was thinking that these were discrete things and at that moment I really saw the consistency of the subject matter. I then started seeing it all kind of stitched together that way. In the book what is interesting is seeing things that were never meant to be juxtaposed together.
For example we have in the exhibition a picture of Houston from 1987 and right beside it is a mined landscape from 2007. Even though there are twenty years between it is keeps you on your toes. Playing in all kinds of different ways there is a fundamental connection between the two images.
Did it make you reflect on the changes from analogue to digital, because during the period of the book there have been big changes in photography itself?
In some ways not really, because even though there was that transition from large format on the ground it is all about the image. Practically thought with analogue I would shoot two 8 x10 frames at a time and thats a whole ton of reloading. It was also really expensive – one holder would do just one shot, and this is in the early 90’s, costing $30 per frame before I even printed it up. It was a huge commitment for one picture – I would be sweating over what picture I was going to make! I would maybe make two or three shots a day. I would sit there and wait for hours because back in analogue days if you didn’t get the contrast and light and clarity just so…! With film you just have to wait for conditions to be perfect – I would sometimes go back 2 or 3 times to the selfsame location for the same shot. Digital is very different. I’m in the helicopter and all I have to do is to put in one bit of media in and I get 300 frames – so all that happens is that have I sometimes have to change my battery,
Along with the increased resolution of digital there are also all the extra tools of editing software.
I have to say that I don’t use photoshop as a compositional tool – only as a printing tool. I am interested in the fact that these are visions of our real world. When i used to make prints in an enlarger I only had three controls: density, sharpness and colour. Now I get to control every square inch of the picture and so I’m controlling the surface of the print in a way that wouldn’t have been possible in an analogue way. Every square inch of the picture is being considered.There are all kinds of things that I can do today that I couldn’t do before. Its a whole new world as a print-maker.
I don’t even have an enlarger any more. When I went back and looked at earlier work for Essential Elements I had to scan them in and remaster. I would ignore the old master prints from that negative and then afterwards put those images side by side, and effectively they’re different images. Im getting the print that I wish I could have got back then! So the technology has been liberating
Over time you seem to have steadily moved away from your subjects. Are you worried about to some degree losing the hand of the artist/photographer as you do so?
I dont know. I’ve gone up higher but you can make out farms and stuff but I’m interested in the fact that you can always go to the print and still understand the scale and see the people, if you look carefully. As soon as you go too high and can’t make out vehicles and people then that would become more pattern and more detached but I’m always trying to be at the critical distance where you can unpack the image and make out the landscape and still visually dig in and make out whats going on.
How do you see the Salt Flats series? Is it a chapter in a larger project?
I think its a stand alone series. In Salt Flats this is a pretty benign effect we are having on the landscape – if is stopped within a decade you would never know anyone was ever there. I’m working on the anthropocene but it doesn’t really fit as the things that we are looking at are those that will leave a signature in a million years. where were leaving evidence from plastics, concrete, glass, tunnels and so on.
How did you come to shoot the Salt Flats series?
I’ve known about these things for a few years and I kept thinking I’ve gotta go so I decided – go! I was doing work in Africa and I had a window of 10 days between two shoots and so planned this shoot. I did about 4 flights. It’s a military zone so its very hard and took an lot of angling to get unlimited flying in their area. I was able to shoot on the ground but it wasn’t nearly as interesting. For me it was a visual exploration of this space. My work has never really been on that documentary level so I would not do a story on the people on their plight – this is about how we as humans extract resources. So it’s following from that sort of work, whether its mines, quarries, agriculture, salt – so its in that category.
They are very abstract images. I think a lot of Paul Klee.
I love Paul Klee and was thinking Paul Klee in this! The subject allowed for this abstraction and I’ve always been interested in it. With my Water series in particular it allowed me to look at abstraction in a way that other subjects didn’t allow. With water when i first started in 2008 I rented an 80ft bucket and I realised very quickly that to understand the scale at which we start to reshape the landscape a bucket wasn’t enough. It didn’t tell the story so you had to get up 600/800 feet to to see the irrigation shaping the desert.You can sit on the ground and see the irrigation and farms but it doesn’t read as well as at 1000 feet – from that perspective you really understand. The subject matter pushed me up. When I’m up there I’m always always interested in abstraction and abstract expressionism and all-overness
Are you worried that these images just become viewed just like abstracts and any environmental angle gets lost?
These are pretty benign. With the Salt Pans I don’t think there is a great environmental message and I’m happy for people just to view them as they like. They are just whimsical.
Salt Pans and Essential Elements are showing at Flowers Gallery until 29 October 2016
All images are © Edward Burtynsky 2016. Courtesy Flowers Gallery, London / Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto.
Edward Burtynsky: Essential Elements, edited and curated by William A. Ewing is published by Thames & Hudson, 15 September 2016, £45.00 hardback (www.thamesandhudson.com);
5 September 2016 § Leave a comment
Think of a William Eggleston photograph and it most likely will not feature any people. He is celebrated for his experimental use of colour and the way that he sees complexity and beauty in the mundane and perhaps most likely you will recall simple slices of rural American life: a tangle of wires on a red ceiling, a child’s bike, a coke machine, old gas stations or simply a patch of wall.
Each of image has a deceptive simplicity and his groundbreaking style soon led to the solo show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1976, considered a pivotal moment in the recognition of colour photography as a contemporary art form. Democratically photographing whatever is in front of him he claims not to seek depth or narrative. What you see is what you get. “I wanted to make a picture that could stand on its own, regardless of what it was a picture of.”
Perhaps this is largely true but in a stunning new exhibition that has targeted the portraits, that up to now have perhaps seemed a less important part of his work, and it turns out that quite often there is rather more to the story.
Gathering together a hundred works from throughout his carer this exhibition soon makes you realise that portraits often features friends, musicians, actors and his own family and relations. They provide a window in to his home life and also reveal for the first time the identities of many of the previously anonymous sitters.
In his earliest black and white images – we see a selection from between 1960 and 1965 – people were his primary subject. Seemly largely taken unawares they are people going about their daily life. It seems however that for example one was of his housekeeper, another his mother on her bed.
Once we realise the identities of many of these people and that that Eggleston is not the disinterested, impartial observer that we know from his street scenes we start to understand more about these his life, these people and their times.
An interest in the bars and nightclubs of Memphis brought about a stock of grainy documentary footage – shown here for the first time – and another surprising set of images. Entitled Nightclub Portraits these were taken with a bulky view camera, rather than his nimble Leica, and with the help of an assistant. Remarkably clear and colourful, formally posed shots that, other than the subjects, they look like they were taken yesterday.
There are plenty more gems here. A never before exhibited portrait of Dennis Hopper in his car is hung beside one of Eudora Welty (apparently executed in a matter of seconds).
Another perviously unseen image is that of Joe Strummer, beer in hand, watched by a fan in a Clockwork Orange T shirt. This is a juxtaposition that could look like a casual accident. Not here though. The punk maverick and Kubrick’s dystopian nightmare are deliberately and deftly placed side by side by Eggleston’s pin-sharp vision.
A red haired girl spread on the grass, is executed perfectly with focus only on the face and the camera in her hand. A supermarket worker is captured tidying trolleys, in golden light, shadow on wall and watched by a local shopper. A middle aged lady in a flowery dress swings on a garden seat adorned in equally gaudy fabric.
Eggleston is an artists so well known that perhaps we thought that we knew pretty much everything about him and his aesthetic. How wrong we were. This exhibition, with deep research and clever curation brings a significant understanding to one of the great photographers.
This post also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
2 September 2016 § Leave a comment
Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is foul and dark latrine,
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In Humanity’s machine.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde
For the very first time in its history, Reading Prison – formerly Gaol – has been opened to the public. The National Trust have teamed up with Artangel to allow visitors to tour the corridors and cells best known for incarcerating Oscar Wilde for two traumatic and life-changing years from 1895.
We visited on a warm summers day, with well-lit corridors and cell walls illuminated by bright shafts of sunlight. It was not the best time to experience anything of the misery that prisoners must have endured from the 1840’s right up until its surprisingly recent decommissioning in 2013, but it was not too difficult to imagine the hardships that were endured.
The core of the prison remains largely as it was built, in brick and cast iron, by George Gilbert Scott. As a renowned Victorian Gothic revival architect, he was chiefly associated with the design of churches and cathedrals, but was also architect of iconic buildings like the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.
The influence of his church architecture can be seen in occasional gothic motifs and ceiling shapes that define the four brick-built wings. These are arranged in a (religiously influenced?) cross-shape so that the 19th century Governor could easily keep a beady eye on all four wings simultaneously from his central office area.
The prison chapel, most recently doubling as a sports hall, is suitably grand with high ceilings and leaded windows. It also features Oscar Wilde’s wooden cell door -carefully preserved it here stands monumentally atop a concrete plinth crafted to the exact dimensions of his cell. The space once had a sloping floor where the prisoners each had their own cubicle, banned from seeing or communicating with any other inmate. Total silence infact originally reigned throughout with prisoners locked 23 hours a day in single cells, banned from talking – or seeing – others and hooded when moved.
Those more dangerous or unruly were held in the handful of the ‘dark cells’ underground, isolated in the almost unimaginable privations of total darkness and silence. After taking showers in the adjacent area other prisoners were often given a two-minute taste of isolation as a, presumably fairly effective, warning of what would become them should they misbehave.
Wilde’s Cell A3.3 – actually now numbered A2.2 – can also be visited. Identical to every other it has enough space, just, for the single bed and desk that he was allowed. He managed to negotiate a supply of paper from a helpful warden – one sheet at a time – upon which he wrote the reflective De Profundis (From the Depths) – a letter to Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas, the object of the reckless relationship that led to his eventual imprisonment. The brutal regime of Reading broke his will and contributed heavily to his early death.
Readings from De Profundis by, amongst others Patti Smith, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw will also take place, whilst writers including Ai Weiwei have also contributed letters that are on display in the cells.
Alongside the prison tours, arranged by the National Trust, is a very impressive exhibition of contemporary art. Organised by Artangel, who commission ‘art that challenges perceptions, surprises, inspires and wouldn’t be possible within the confines of a gallery.’ They have invited a formidable array of talent to produce work that reacts to the prison environment and its history.
Amongst many highlights are Robert Gober’s meticulously crafted sculptures – a waterfall within a black suit and a stream within the excavated floor of the prison, clearly expressing unfulfilled fantasies of freedom and nature.
Nan Goldin brings her raw and intimate portraits into an appropriately claustrophobic space. She occupies four cells with pieces including The Boy – a cell filled with images of a single male muse, that climb over walls and lay scattered on an iron bedstead,
Marlene Dumas has produced eight new canvases that include Wilde and Bosie as well as chronicling other troubled relationships such as between Jean Genet and two of his lovers and Pier Paolo Pasolini and his mother.
In the centre of the corridors you can help yourself to a free (yes free!) unlimited edition print by Felix Gonzales-Torres alongside cells where his curtains of dangling blue plastic beads (Untitled Water) cleverly subvert the entry to a couple of cells and a blue mirror (Untitled Fear) reflects a troubled interior.
Other thoughtful and interesting contributions come from great names like Wolfgang Tillmans, Richard Hamilton, Roni Horn, Steve McQueen and Doris Salcedo.
It is not often that architecture, culture, history, literature and contemporary art come together in a single event but here www have an exception collaboration between two giants of the arts and culture – the National Trust and Artangel, in a unique environment. They have created a wholly satisfying and integrated whole that should be most definitely experienced while it lasts.
HM Prison Reading is open for tours Friday 9 September – Saturday 29 October 2016
Artists and Writers by Artangel at Reading Prison run from 4 September to 30 October 2016
For more information visit www.artangel.org.uk
This article also appears in www.cellophaneland.com