22 February 2012 § 1 Comment
At long last the Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 by Elmgreen & Dragset – otherwise to be known as (probably!) the golden rocking horse – will be unveiled by Joanna Lumley in London’s Trafalgar Square tomorrow – Thursday 23 February 2012. The recently commissioned competition-winning sculpture (see previous blogs linked below) is to occupy the notorious and long empty 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square. It was a fitting winner and my runaway favourite – I cannot wait to see it in place.
Here is what the artists say: “In this portrayal of a boy astride his rocking horse, a child has been elevated to the status of a historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate. As in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, this enfant terrible’ gently mocks the authoritarian pose often found in the tradition of equestrian sculptures. His wild gesture, mimicking the adult cavalier, is one of pure excitement — there will be no tragic consequences resulting from his imaginary conquest.”
Everyone is welcome to celebrate the unveiling by Miss Lumley between 9 and 10am. I am not entirely sure what she knows about art or sculpture, but hey, who cares? – she is after all a rather theatrical fantasy figure like the statute – and ex-Bond girls are in any case allowed to do what they like!
My previous blogs on the subject:
- Off their rockers: the artists behind the latest addition to the fourth plinth (guardian.co.uk)
- The battle of Trafalgar Square: six artists vie for fourth plinth spot (independent.co.uk)
- New Fourth Plinth sculpture to be unveiled next week (telegraph.co.uk)
20 August 2010 § 1 Comment
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Let battle commence! The finalists have been announced in the competition to find a replacement for Yinka Shonibare’s Ship in a Bottle. This in turn had followed Anthony Gormley’s One & Other, which allowed 2,400 members of the public their 15 minutes, or rather 60 minutes of fame atop the empty plinth. In my view the plinth has actually beome as important and certainly as talked-about as the work to be allowed to sit upon it – the thing itself surely is now worthy of elevation to iconic status. Why not just create a copy, gild it, and plonk it up on high? All hail the plinth. Problem solved! Sadly nobody asked for my view, so here are the competing sculptures arranged in my preferred order. The selection is actually is quite interesting,varied and is hard to criticise – too much – and I look forward to hearing the panel’s choice. The list is in reverse order (the artists own words in italics, my comments following) to allow the excitement to build to a crescendo!
6 Katharina Fritsch. Hahn/Cock. “The sculpture, a larger-than-life cockerel in ultramarine blue, communicates on different levels. The mostly grey architecture of Trafalgar Square would receive an unexpectedly strong colour accentuation, the size and colour of the animal making the whole situation surreal or simply unusual. The cockerel is also a symbol for regeneration, awakening and strength and at the same time plays with an animal motif that was popular in classic modernism. Finally, the theme refers, in an ironic way to male-defined British society.” But are we not long over the male-dominated society hang-up by now? A big blue cock? Oo-er missus. Regeneration and strength surely not – it is just a big chicken. It is all just a bit silly – was she influenced by Wallinger’s Horse?
5 Brian Griffiths Battenburg. “The pink and yellow cake is a humble commemoration of the Victorian era and a link with a British past that has slowly crumbled. Increased to gigantic proportions, fashioned from a selection of traditionally made household bricks and placed on a plinth alongside other Victorian statues in Trafalgar Square, the cake becomes a wry monument to monumentality. The sculpture transforms the Battenberg as a symbol of teatimes past into a contemporary comment on commodity, commemoration and collective identity.” Cake as cultural icon. Witty, with the bricks referring nicely to the Victorian housing of London. But in the end looks like, well, a pile of bricks.
4 Hew Locke Sickandar. “The plinth was designed to receive an equestrian bronze: 170 years later Sikandar fulfils that original ambition. The artwork replicates the statue of Field Marshal Sir George White (1835-1912) in Portland Place and transforms it into a fetish object. The sculpture will be embellished with horse-brasses, charms, medals, sabres, ex-votos, jewels, Bactrian treasure and Hellenistic masks. It is not an anti-military critique. It is an investigation into the idea of the hero and the problematic and changing nature of heroism.” Fun and interesting, but down the list because it is totally impractical. Weather and pigeons will turn this into a plastic-bag regaled, dirty, messy lump, dripping with pigeon sh*t.
3 Allora & Caldazilla Untitled (ATM/Organ).“Untitled (ATM/Organ) consists of installing an automated teller machine in the fourth plinth, connected to a functioning pipe organ which will produce sound by driving pressurised air through pipes selected via the ATM machine keyboard. This project addresses a range of themes and subjects such as personal banking, global financial systems, commerce, the sacred and the profane, music-making and personal and public space in a humorous manner.” Fun at first it will become very, very annoying – and 100% sure to break down.
2 Mariele Neudecker It’s never too late and you cant go back.“It’s Never Too Late And You Can’t Go Back is elevated above the plinth and represents a fictional mountainscape. If viewed from above it reveals the flipped and reversed shape of Britain. From below, the map is the right way around and more familiar. Its location and fabric link with features of Trafalgar Square as well as to classical sculptures and sublime landscape paintings in the National Gallery. It provokes thoughts about a monumental past and future of both landscape and city.” An interesting monument to Britain but I wonder about the practicalities. Will we see it properly or will the plinth get in the way?
1 Elmgreen & Dragset Powerless Structures Fig 101. “In this portrayal of a boy astride his rocking horse, a child has been elevated to the status of a historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate. As in a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, this enfant terrible’ gently mocks the authoritarian pose often found in the tradition of equestrian sculptures. His wild gesture, mimicking the adult cavalier, is one of pure excitement — there will be no tragic consequences resulting from his imaginary conquest.” A runaway winner. Mocks the daftly heroic statues of old with style and a sense of optimism and fun.
And the winner is…….. (to be continued)
- Fourth plinth contenders unveiled (bbc.co.uk)
- Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth faces huge cock up (guardian.co.uk)
- Six sculptures in running for Trafalgar Square (independent.co.uk)
- Fourth plinth designs include giant Battenberg cake (telegraph.co.uk)
- Art shortlist for Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth (channel4.com)
- Blue Chicken, Brick Cake Vie for London Plinth: Martin Gayford (businessweek.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
10 June 2014 § Leave a comment
I have been aware of the existence of the CASS Foundation for a number of years but had somehow not got around to visiting. The trip to the Foundation’s woodland location, deep in the heart of the Sussex countryside, always seemed like something that could wait until the next trip ‘down that way’.
In particular I have always been rather 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.
Nevertheless the opportunity for that particular foray in to the country arrived last week as I weaved through pretty villages and leafy country lanes and through the grand gates of CASS.
Immediately it was evident that this was was not going to be a disappointing visit. Standing guard outside the gates was a delightfully over the top work by Gary Webb in pink, silver and gold whilst next to the parking area were other works by Tony Cragg and Sean Henry.
A stroll around the winding paths of the estate revealed a series of contemporary sculpture of the highest quality. An army of Peter Burke figures in corten steel stood to attention in a clearing whilst a blancmange pink zebra entitled Doppenganger by Michael Joo gazed over the adjacent fields.
Bill Woodrow’s 2000 piece for the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square Regardless of History has found a home here as has Eduardo Paolozzi’s London-Paris – the last work that he completed before he died.
Other notable pieces include Cao Fei’s pink inflatable pig House of Treasures Phillip King’s Suns Roots II and Juliana Cerqueira Leite’s Climb (she also has a pavilion of her work on show).
The organisation is actually 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.
The main building has a changing exhibition – currently the excellent Gary Webb as well as a few books and a complimentary cup of tea of coffee to round off a delightful and worthwhile trip to the country.
The CASS Sculpture Foundation is open 7 days a week 10.30-4.30 through the summer
CASS, New Barn Hill, Goodwood, near Chichester PO18 0QP. Tel (0)1243 538 449
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.
23 February 2012 § Leave a comment
With todays unveiling of the Elmgreen & Dragset sculpture for the fourth plinth – Powerless Structures; fig 101 – the online digital ‘art’ collecting company s[edition] is offering 5000 free ‘editions’ of the sculpture.
For those of you who haven’t heard s[edition] “is a revolutionary new way to collect art by the world’s leading contemporary artists in digital format. Experience a whole new world of art and collecting.” Supposedly this is the way that you can suddenly ‘own’ you own masterworks of contemporary art. They boast that works “that can normally command astronomical prices can be had here [sic] for as little as 4 Euros.” They do not mention that it is up to 500 euros – -hardly good value in my book. And who are these artists that have licenced their work? Surprise, surprise – Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Matt Collishaw for starters, you can guess many of the rest.
Hmm – 4 Euros – spotted the catch yet? Uniquely it can only be used on digital devices accessible from your online vault. Infact all you are doing is paying to use an image. Forgive me for being cynical but wouldn’t most people just find an image somewhere on the web and use it as a screensaver? OK, officially you have to have permission to use some images but still many people will not be too concerned about using any image they find on the web for personal use (and there are plenty of royalty free images around too).
S[edition] cleverly throw around words like ‘own’, ‘collection’, ‘certificate of authenticity’. Art collecting is “instant, affordable, social and enjoyable“. And what happens if you want to sell some of these valuable ‘editions’ that you ‘own’ in your ‘art collection’. You can forget it for now – you cannot sell (or give) them to anyone else. They promise an online marketplace in the future, but don’t expect a queue of takers for those Hirst spots that you thought might look nice on the ipad.
Don’t get seduced in to thinking you are ‘owning’ contemporary art and this is somehow an art ‘collection’. This is throwaway temporary decoration. When I was younger we used to have access to instant, affordable, good value artworks – they were called Athena posters. They are of course now all valueless and discarded. If you want ‘arty’ screen-savers do yourself a favour and save some money – just browse the web!
- S[edition] Art: Collect Boldface Artists, Digitally (apartmenttherapy.com)
- elmgreen & dragset unveiled on 4th plinth trafalgar square (akickupthearts.wordpress.com)
24 January 2011 § 1 Comment
OK, I am feeling very smug. I correctly predicted in a previous blog E&D as the clear winners of the competition to fill the vacant Trafalgar Square fourth plinth. Admittedly it was not a particuarly difficult task given the quality of the opposition but thank goodness the judging comittee ‘got it right’ – well, in my view at least!
Adrian Searle in The Guardian was one in particular who also perceived it as a clear winner – their ‘golden boy on a rocking horse is by far the best. Like Fritsch’s cockerel, but unlike Locke’s work, it avoids being kitsch. The simplified detail and expression feel just right. Leaning back and with one arm raised aloft, he’s more than a toy boy. This is the child as hero of the battles of his imagination.’
The excellent Victoria Miro gallery represents E&D in the UK and were of course quick to congratulate them. This is what they say about the work:
‘In this portrayal of a boy astride his rocking horse, a child has been elevated to the status of a historical hero, though there is not yet a history to commemorate – only a future to hope for. Elmgreen & Dragset’s work proposes a paraphrase of a traditional war monument beyond a dualistic worldview predicated on either victory or defeat. Instead of acknowledging the heroism of the powerful, Powerless Structures, Fig. 101 celebrates the heroism of growing up.’
The plinth commission is typical of their work which reconfgures the familar with great invention and humour. They recently created ‘The Collectors’ for the Nordic Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (right) – a recreated ‘home’ deserted save for a body floating in a pool. Other works have included siting a Prada boutique in the centre of the Texan desert, creating a pool diving board from the window of a Californian home and transforming a venue in to a subway station.
Always redefining and confounding expectations can I suggest to Boris that they ask E&D to move underground from the Trafalgar Square plinth and turn the Tube in to an efficiently working service? Perhaps too much to ask – even for them!
I should note that in addition Katharina Fritsch’s giant blue cockerel is a second ‘winner’ which will be displayed in 2014 following E&D’s work.
- Huge blue cockerel set for Fourth Plinth (bbc.co.uk)
- Sculptures set for Fourth Plinth (bbc.co.uk)
- Rocking horse child wins place on Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth (guardian.co.uk)
- Trafalgar Square Fourth Plinth art choices revealed (telegraph.co.uk)
20 July 2010 § Leave a comment
Yesterday, after dropping off some prints at an auction house that might start with the letter ‘S’ – I took advantage of the sun and took a casual stroll across Soho. Anthony Reynolds has a pleasant little gallery here and I made some time to drop in and take a look at Mark Wallinger’s latest exhibition. He has been firmly in the public consciousness in the last few years courtesy of his Turner Prize win in 2007, last years Trafalgar Square 4th plinth (Ecce Homo) and the giant White Horse commission for Ebbsfleet.
The White Horse is inspired and brilliant – take that you northerners with your rusty Angel of the North – we are going to get the clean sparkling White Horse of the South. It is simple yet memorable – gazing over the Kentish landscape the horse is a surreal vision worthy of Magritte. It recalls the horses of Stubbs, the chalk horses carved in to hill sides and represents the tradition and history of the country.
But what does Anthony Reynolds have to offer? It took a while to find out – five minutes of patient waiting after ringing the bell before I gained entrance. Just WHY do galleries even bother to lock their doors, especially when the contents (as here) are pretty much un-nickable (if you should even have the desire)? Harrods seem to manage OK with contents far more prone to theft. And whilst I’m having a whine Harrods staff also manage to say good morning when you greet them, which is more than can be said of the staff at half of London’s galleries – including this one.
OK – on to the art, or at least what there is of it – one work (Self) downstairs and one (I am Innocent) upstairs. Self is a big ‘I’ in Roman lettering, the same height as Wallinger himself, but not nearly as corpulent (image right of the 2D version!). It is clearly a cipher for himself, a philosophical ‘I’, a representation of ‘I’, used in print it is a publically disseminated ‘I’, ‘I’ as we – and so on. Not difficult Mark – I get it. Just in case we don’t here is what he says:
The capital letter I; Times New Roman; A life-sized sculpture of Self
Times New Roman is how we are all represented by default. I A standing figure, a cipher made of concrete. The smallest poem of our sense of self in the world, of the world, our self is shared with everyone. What I have to say is said in our stead.
Where is I if it is us and how can I ever be me?
Language includes us in the continuum…
And so he goes on… and on and on… with this irritating, self-centred, patronising guff. Mark, I got it as soon as I walked in, as any teenage art student would. This would be forgiven if it was visually arresting or intriguing. It is not – it is marginally less interesting than the pillar that holds up the end of my kitchen.
Upstairs it gets worse (and that is without irritating you with the Press Release text). A twirling screenprint, looking like it was thrown together in a few hours, of Pope Innocent hangs from the ceiling. The image is mirrored on the reverse so the Pope (of Velasquez) maintains his 2D gaze. It’s the ‘I’ or ‘eye’ looking at us looking at him. Who is the observer/observed? He is omnipotent but is he innocent – are we innocent? Yawn… perhaps he is the Emperor – in his new clothes.
The renowned Benjamin Buchloh is a fierce critic accusing him of regurgitating “retardataire humanist, if not outright mythical or religious … messages,” and more, dumping Wallinger at the bottom of his artistic waste heap alongside his ‘Billy Graham’ of art, Bill Viola. I can see what he means… but then again there is that big white animal on the horizon. Wallinger can get it right – sometimes.
These two new works might have been vaguely interesting and original in 1995 but not now Wallinger. Bend over my boy, I have six Arial Bolds for you……
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