Basquiat: Boom for Real – The Barbican Gallery, London

2 November 2017 § Leave a comment

Do not come to the latest Barbican Gallery exhibition Basquiat: Boom for Real expecting a straightforward show of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work. This is rather more than that and all the better for it. This is an exhibition where, in the words of Jane Alison, the Barbican’s Head of Visual Arts, we can “see those works in the context of the New York scene of the 1980s.”  We therefore get videos, photographs, music, film, books and paintings, where Basquiat is presented as a multidimensional artist weaving between media.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

New York at that time was certainly a rich melting pot. A dangerous and violent city on the edge of bankruptcy, it housed a thriving cultural scene. Basquiat, young and black has often been pigeon-holed as a a poor outsider, who developed from homeless graffiti artist to gallery favourite. The truth is rather different.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

From a relatively wealthy family, Basquiat went to a private school, was well educated and a talented artist and was admiring Renaissance masters in New York galleries in his teens. Having dropped out of college, he briefly ran away from home, stayed with friends and scrawled graffiti as ‘Samo’ (a play on ‘same old shit’), although its style was not ‘from the streets’ but always from an artist insider critiquing the contemporary art scene.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

The Barbican Gallery divides the show in to some fourteen sections. From Samo graffiti we then see the beginning of his stratospheric rise in a recreation of the New York/New Wave exhibition. A landmark show where despite including the likes of Andy Warhol, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe, the young Basquiat was singled out for admiration.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

Between examples of his work we get to learn plenty about the post-punk underground art scene: The Canal Zone, a graffiti covered downtown loft/art space brought him together with collaborators for collage and postcards; the Mudd Club was where he hung out and performed with his band; at Area he hung out with Keith Haring or Madonna whilst dj-ing sets on a Brian Eno created sound system.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat Downtown 81

A key element of the exhibition is a remarkable film, Downtown 81, a chronicle of a day in the in the life of a down and out artist, for which Basquiat was chosen to play the leading role. It is essentially a prescient version of his real life as we see him spraying Samo-tagged graffiti and hawking his art (some of it in the show) around galleries as he visits clubs, watches bands and interacts with the larger than life local characters.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

Glenn 1984 – Jean-Michel Basquiat

If so far we haven’t mentioned his art much, it is with good reason – there is not a lot here. We do see his graffiti, collages, postcards, sketches, polaroids and even his graffiti covered fridge. We also see books, records and photographs as the Barbican outlines his jazz, art and classical influences.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

Jean Michel Basquiat – King Zulu 1986

Where we do see his larger works – vibrant, raw imagery, abounding with fragments of bold capitalised text – they offer insights into both his encyclopaedic interests and his experience as a young black artist with no formal training. New scholarship sheds light on some of his most acclaimed works – sampling from an extraordinary breadth of source material – anatomical drawings to bebop jazz to silent film.

Untitled (Pablo Picasso) 1984 - Jean-Michel Basquiat Boom For Real Barbican Gallery

Untitled (Pablo Picasso) 1984 – Jean-Michel Basquiat

“Untitled” (1981), for example, includes variations of the name Aaron. While Basquiat’s father understood it to be a reference to baseball player Hank Aaron, the Barbican Gallery posits other allusions: a character in Shakespeare’s play “Titus Andronicus,” and the brother of Moses in the Old Testament. Two letters also feature individually, “A” and “O,” and relate to a passage from Revelation that fascinated Basquiat: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.”

Jawbone of an Ass Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

Jawbone of an Ass 1982 – Jean Michel Basquiat

The label for his 1982 painting Jawbone of an Ass, he lists historical figures including Hannibal, Machiavelli, Savonarola, Sappho and Rameses II, is a vision of world history as a ceaseless round of wars. Cartoon monsters with savage teeth express the violence of the painting’s Biblical title. In the bottom right, a black boxer hits a white opponent.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

He worked surrounded by imagery: open books, pages from magazines and photographs laying around him as the TV flickered and jazz music played. He worked rapidly absorbing influences from anything and everything.  Sometimes the resulting art is hard to like, at others remarkably fresh, powerful and multi-layered.

Basquiat_Boom for Real_Barbican Jean Michel Basquiat

“Untitled” (1982) – Jean-Michel Basquiat

Strangely there is nothing here about his heroin addiction and untimely death at just 27, and we do not know if there were lost chances to save him from self-destruction. We are ultimately left to ponder what sort of art this talented and elemental force would have continued to produce if it were not for his tragic end.

Basquiat: Boom for Real is on at the Barbican Gallery in London until 28 January 2018.

All images  © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Licensed by Artestar, New York

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Frieze London 2017

10 October 2017 § Leave a comment

October is the very best time of year to see art in the capital. The city is abuzz with the latest blockbuster shows – 2017 brings Jasper Johns as well as Dali/Duchamp to the Royal Academy, Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Barbican and Rachel Whiteread is showing at the Tate. The commercial galleries have pulled out their biggest names – there are Jean Dubuffet at Pace, Jake & Dinos Chapman at Blain Southern and Anselm Kiefer & Robert Longo at Thaddeus Ropac. Meanwhile all the big names auction houses stage their autumn contemporary sales.

Olafur Eliasson Frieze Art Fair London 2017

Olafur Eliasson

Frieze of course also comes to London, not only with the contemporary focused Frieze Art Fair, but the thriving Frieze Masters event just up the Regents Park footpath. The great and the good of the art world come together with a smattering of celebrity names to see the latest that the art world has to offer.

Matthew Ronay Frieze Art Fair London 2017

Matthew Ronay

Our annual visit to Frieze is always highly anticipated. Not only to admire some great art but to also to discern new trends, see what the big names have on offer admire the most spectacular works – after all this is the biggest fair in the greatest city in the contemporary art world.

Cecily Brown Frieze Art Fair London 2017

Cecily Brown

Yet still, and perhaps because of the anticipation, there is again a tinge of anti-climax. Are we expecting too much or could Frieze do better? Their gallery selection process doesn’t help – preferencing worldwide galleries means we seem to get mediocre work from perhaps Peru or Burkino Fasso at the expense of many excellent local galleries (is this not a London art fair after all?).

Ryan Mosley Frieze Art Fair London

Ryan Mosley

Gone are the bigger artists names and the spectacular and expensive works that graced earlier shows and we now seem to get more mid level and affordable (?) pieces – even from the big name galleries. One is left with the niggling impression that much of the best work is hidden away and that most of the deals are done back at their base.

Cristina Iglesias Frieze Art Fair London

Cristina Iglesias

The curated ‘Sex Work’ exhibition spread through the show failed to stir us and was rather tame. Still, this is the very best contemporary art fair in Britain, there is plenty of good art to be found and new names to be discovered. There is always something to surprise, people to meet and in the end, where else could you for example pick up a free Passport to Antartica?

Billy Childish Frieze Art Fair London

Billy Childish

Amongst our selection of what we noticed at this years fair were: Olafur Eliasson whose colour-shifting balls drew a large crowd whilst Eddie Peake was eye-catching as usual. We loved Ryan Mosley’s newest works, rather more colourful than usual and Mathew Ronay’s curious pastel-coloured and tactile sculptures. On the other hand Jeff Koon’s Glitterball Jesus and Hauser & Wirth’s Bronze Age pseudo museum display failed to inspire.

Eddie Peake Frieze Art Fair London

Eddie Peake

Ai Weiwei Frieze Art Fair London

Ai Weiwei

Kiluandi Kia Henji Frieze Art Fair London

Kiluandi Kia Henji

Anne Hardy Frieze Art Fair London

Anne Hardy

Hauser Wirth Frieze Art Fair London

Hauser & Wirth Bronze Age

Jonathan Gardner Frieze Art Fair London

Jonathan Gardner

Jeff Koons Frieze Art Fair London

Jeff Koons

So, will we go back next year? Of course we will – and we’re looking forward to it already!

akickupthearts were guests of Frieze London

For more information visit www.frieze.com

The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock

4 July 2017 § Leave a comment

This post is also featured at www.cellophaneland.com

Remember that time, not so very long ago, when we all rushed down to the local Boots to drop in our films for printing? From this frustration of impatiently waiting anything from an hour (for those willing to stump up extra) to a week, to see the results of all the careful holiday snapping, lays the foundation of the Polaroid.

The Polaroid Project

Back in 1943 Edwin Land, having been asked by his young daughter why she couldn’t see her photo right away, immediately set to work. Within an hour he had conceived the technology and the story of instant photography had begun.

The Polaroid Project, Timothy White, Untitled 1998 The Polaroid Project

The Polaroid Project Timothy White, Untitled 1998

When the long and painstaking development process (no pun intended), documented in the book by prototypes, models and test images, had been completed, the result was not only scientifically groundbreaking but also heralded a new chapter of artistic expression. The New York Times proclaimed “There is nothing like this in the history of photography…”

The Polaroid Project

Nowadays Instagram is the leading representative of the world of instant imagery. It should therefore not be surprising to know that prominent in the lobby of their California HQ sits a collection of Polaroid cameras, the most noteworthy being the 1977 OneStep featuring the rainbow logo appropriated by Instagram in its own design.

The Polaroid Project

Land had in the seventies already predicted escalating use of cameras saying that they would soon be used ‘All day long…. like a telephone’, whilst probably not anticipating they would often be one and the same apparatus.

Polaroid Project S. B. Walker, Blocked out Polaroid sign, 2011

Polaroid Project S. B. Walker, Blocked out Polaroid sign, 2011

In this lay the recognition that the world, and people, had irrevocably changed; the barrier of subject and photographer had started to disappear in line with Barthes ‘Death of the Author’ and there was a continuous recording of lifes events and expansion of the ‘sharing’ experience. The almost instant sharing of Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat seem to be a natural development of what began with the Polaroid.

Polaroid Project Dennis Hopper, Back Alley 1987

Polaroid Project Dennis Hopper, Back Alley 1987

For the more artistic the new product was impressive but came with many built in limitations. Images were usually of limited size (save by using larger studio-bound cameras), fixed formats, limited camera adjustments. Laboratory colour and exposure manipulation were impossible.

Polaroid Project Barbara Crane, Private View, 1981

Polaroid Project Barbara Crane, Private View, 1981

Despite, or perhaps because of, these very particular restrictions it invited users to become ever more inventive. Artists like Lucas Samaras and Bruce Charlesworth manipulated or separated the emulsion or used repeated exposures. David Hockey used multiple images overlaid or arranged in grids to increase dimensions. Other painted, drew or scratched on and around the developed image.

Polaroid Project Paolo Gioli, 2010

Polaroid Project Paolo Gioli, 2010

Andy Warhol took all his portraits with a Polaroid and incessantly snapped his way around New York, Others like Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, Robert Rauschenberg and Chuck Close often used it, whilst film makers, commercial, advertising and fashion photographers found the instant images essential for planning their shots.

Polaroid Project Toshio Shibata, Untitled (#228), 2003

Polaroid Project Toshio Shibata, Untitled (#228), 2003

It’s colour initially put off many art photographers, black and white being up to then the choice for ‘serious’ practitioners. This however was the era of ever more portable 35mm cameras and also of  photographers like William Eggleston and Stephen Shore and Polaroid were in a perfect position to tap in to the wider acceptance of their casual colour snap-shot aesthetics.

Polaroid Project Mark Klett, Contemplating the view at Muley Point, Utah, 1994, 1994

Polaroid Project Mark Klett, Contemplating the view at Muley Point, Utah, 1994

The Polaroid Project leads us through this story via a series of essays that look for example at Polaroid’s foundation and history, the development of the technology, artistic developments and its relation to social networks and the selfie. They are interspersed with an impressive array of widely varied imagery with plenty of ‘how on earth did they do that?’ moments.

Polaroid Project Victor Landweber, Garbage Candy, 1979

Polaroid Project Victor Landweber, Garbage Candy, 1979

The book is subtitled ‘At the intersection of Art and Technology’ and it is published to accompany a major touring exhibition, so it is not surprising to see that text and  illustrations are geared towards the artistic. Perhaps a future show and accompanying volume can show what the public, as well as industry and business, created with the technology – but that’s yet another story.

Polaroid Project Ellen Carey, Pulls (CMY), 1997

Polaroid Project Ellen Carey, Pulls (CMY), 1997

There is a frequent lament here to the death of Polaroid, tied to the winding up of the company and closure of the factories, but, as with vinyl, this seems hugely premature. Instant film lives on in Fuji and Impossible, as does the use of Land’s cameras. The Polaroid Project itself shows us that interest in this technology and its uniquely ‘authentic’ aesthetic is increasing, whilst here at CELLOPHANELAND* we even have a couple of cameras of our own and Polaroids pinned on the wall. The king is dead – long live the king!

The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology ed. William Ewing and Barbara Hitchcock, published by Thames & Hudson. To purchase (currently at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com

A touring exhibition organised by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography opens at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, Texas June 3 to 3 September 2017 then travels to Europe. fep-photo.org/exhibition/polaroid/

Magnum Manifesto edited by Clément Chéroux

1 July 2017 § Leave a comment

This post also appears on www.cellophaneland.com

Any history of photography would be incomplete without substantial mention of the famed photographic agency Magnum, now celebrating its 70th anniversary. Within its 1947 origins are both the reasons for its success and for its often rocky journey: the diverse founding group included both Robert Capa who represented the ultimate in involved photo-journalism and, at the opposite end of the spectrum Henri Cartier-Bresson whose imagery was detached and artistic. This stylistic inclusivity both made it important but at the same time ensured that members would rarely see eye to eye.

Magnum Manifesto Edited by Clément Chéroux

What they had in common however was a desire to break the traditional model of the photographic business – a system where the publishers had total control. Magnum Photos Inc sought to break this with a disruptive model worthy of Uber. The photographers would take control of their images, owning their rights, dictating editing and presentation and even creating content and photo-essays.

Magnum Manifesto Edited by Clément Chéroux

USA. 1968. Robert KENNEDY funeral train. © Paul Fusco/Magnum Photos

Despite the canny catch-all basis of the business – which included not only photographs but for example printing, cameras, moving images, design, studios, materials and equipment – image quality always remained high in the agenda. Magnum would always stand for intelligence in combining both reporter and artist in the photographer’s role.

GERMANY. West Berlin. Between the Brandenburg Gate and Potsdamer Platz. November 11th, 1989. A young man sits on the wall between East and West Berlin. © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos

The story to be told in the Magnum Manifesto therefore is formidably complex. It is one that includes the Magnum’s founding, its ever-changing membership, the business models, the personal relationships and the artistic and cultural events that shaped the whole. In an often uneasy amalgam, its constituent photographers were often in conflict and a steady intake of new members, carefully screened and slowly inducted, meant an organisation in continuous flux.

USA. New York City, NY. 2014. Cherries spilled on crosswalk. Christopher Anderson Magnum Manifesto

USA. New York City, NY. 2014. Cherries spilled on crosswalk. Christopher Anderson Magnum Manifesto reviewed on wwwcellophaneland.com

Over and above this are of course the photographs from a roll call of the best in the world in all fields – Capa, Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Alec Both, Alex Webb, Eve Arnold and so on. Their archive is represented by a steady stream iconic and event-defining images. These not only represented what was happening in the world but often shaped public opinion and by doing so could be argued to have moulded future events.

AUSTRALIA. South Australia. Adelaide. West Lakes Shore. 2007 © Trent Parke/Magnum Photos

AUSTRALIA. South Australia. Adelaide. West Lakes Shore. 2007 © Trent Parke/Magnum Photos

A deep look into the organisation is therefore so much more than a book of photographs and in fact the anniversary is being marked not just by this hugely impressive book, but by a global programme of events and exhibitions.

USA. NYC. 9/11/2001. People use masks made out of clothing to protect themselves from dust that is thick in the air after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers © Gilles Peress/Magnum Photo

USA. NYC. 9/11/2001. People use masks made out of clothing to protect themselves from dust that is thick in the air after the collapse of the World Trade Center towers © Gilles Peress/Magnum Photo

The title Magnum Manifesto makes it clear that this is not just a photo book featuring their ‘greatest hits’ but a deeper look in to everything that it represents. The book infact takes the opportunity to display plenty of lesser known, but still impressive, works. After some introductory essays, the preface looks at the four founders at the time that they created the organisation – all working busily around the globe in a rapidly changing post war world – before dividing Magnum’s story in to three key periods.

Clement Cheroux Magnum Manifesto

USA. Illinois. Chicago. 1948. Strike captain during protest by the packing house workers, March 1948 © Wayne Miller/Magnum Photos

Human Rights and Wrongs represents the period from its founding until 1968. A time of widespread unrest it was also the time of the UN Declaration of Human Rights – a proclamation with the same values of liberty, equality and dignity espoused by the agency. We see representative images of hunger, postwar Soviet Union, black power, strikes and student riots before a series of longer photo essays that look at universality – a theme that at least partly inspired Edward Steichen’s landmark ‘Family of Man’ exhibition at MoMA in 1955, where nearly a fifth of the images were supplied by Magnum.

FRANCE. Normandy. 1947. Children play among the wreckage of the D Day invasion © David Seymour/Magnum Photos

FRANCE. Normandy. 1947. Children play among the wreckage of the D Day invasion © David Seymour/Magnum Photos

An Inventory of Differences describes the subsequent period, from 1969 to ’89, where the focus became more on differences and otherness. We find the unemployed, deformed, immigrant, minority and marginalised of the world and memorable images like Steve McCurry’s Afghan Refugee. Portfolios include Inge Morath’s Masquerade, Philip Jones Griffiths Immigrants and Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies.

USA. Washington DC. 1967. An American young girl, Jan Rose KASMIR, confronts the American National Guard outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march. This march helped to turn public opinion against the US war in Vietnam © Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

USA. Washington DC. 1967. An American young girl, Jan Rose KASMIR, confronts the American National Guard outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march. This march helped to turn public opinion against the US war in Vietnam © Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos

Finally Stories About Endings shows the postmodern era up to the present day. Cultural expansion led to greater ‘artistic’ output and a flowering of methods of distribution of the imagery – books, exhibitions, gallery displays and the internet. Photographers looked at what was disappearing. We see Martin Parr’s Still Lives and Colonial lives, Thomas Dworzak’s Taliban and Donovan Wylie’s The Maze.

Magnum Manifesto Edited by Clément Chéroux

USA. California. 1967. On the set of”The Planet of the Apes.” © Dennis Stock/Magnum Photos

That the Magnum Manifesto succeeds in its task is great credit to the editor Clément Chéroux who must be commended in producing something that has combined all these aspects in to a cohesive whole. We get a compelling story that draws us through the ups and downs of the organisation even whilst great historic events unfold. We also get enough stunning imagery from the great photographers to realise why Magnum is something unique and special.

An absolutely essential book on the most important photographers collective the world has ever seen.

Magnum Photos’ 70th anniversary will be celebrated with a global programme of events throughout 2017. For more information visit www.magnumphotos.com

To purchase Magnum Manifesto (at a 20% discount) visit www.thamesandhudson.com

The first accompanying exhibition is at the International Center for Photography NY until 3 September 2017 and will then tour internationally.

Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy

14 November 2016 § Leave a comment

Abstract Expressionism was a watershed moment in the evolution of 20th-century art, yet, remarkably, there has been no major survey of the movement since 1959.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock

It is a movement that has been tainted with the political interference of the American Government who sought to position the movement, and by association, the country at the heart of creative and artistic world during the cold war (excellent Independent feature here. Were we all ‘conned’ in to believing that these artists were better or more interesting than they perhaps really were?

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock David Smith

Most emphatically the answer is no. This glorious exhibition should be an eye opener to those who have grown up with a predominance of conceptual, performance and installation art and the idea that painting was deeply unfashionable.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Mark Rothko

The Royal Academy looks at this the “age of anxiety” surrounding the Second World War and the years of free jazz and Beat poetry, artists like Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning broke from accepted conventions to unleash a new confidence in painting.

The scale of the works was a revelation as was their intense spontaneity. At other times they are more contemplative, presenting large fields of colour that border on the sublime. These radical creations redefined the nature of painting, and were intended not simply to be admired from a distance but as two-way encounters between artist and viewer.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Arshile Gorky

The exhibition begins wth some fascinating early smalls scale works from the major players, followed by a room dedicated to Arshile Gorky, an acknowledged forerunner of the movement.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Jackson Pollock

The largest gallery is given over to Jackson Pollock with an impressive display of some rarely lent works.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Clifford Still

‘Gesture as Colour’ is the theme of another room that is once again full rarely lent works. This time by Clyfford Still who employs great fields of colour to evoke dramatic conflicts between man and nature taking place on a monumental scale.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Franz Kline

For ‘The Violent Mark’ we get some fabulous canvases from Franz Kline, before other rooms largely filled with Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Willem de Kooning

Right through the exhibition a series of fine David Smith sculptures effectively tie the rooms together and provide respite from the huge canvases. Appropriately he often said “I belong with the painters” and considered that his work was painting rendered in 3D.

Sadly however, historically peripheral and unfairly overlooked figures remain that way. The RA offers no insightful re-assesment of these artists, especially female. The suspicion remains of establishment misogny and a movement whose defining elements are frozen in time and too well established to even be discussed.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Janet Sobel

We have one abstraction by Janet Sobel, who may have influenced Pollock, there are few by Lee Krasner, Pollock’s wife, whose career was long overshadowed by his. Joan Mitchell is only represented in passing.

Abstract Expressionism Royal Academy Joan Mitchell

Despite this minor criticism this is a tremendous exhibition providing a long overdue look at a movement that has has rather unfairly been deemed unfashionable. Don’t miss.

For more information visit www.royalacademy.org.uk

William Eggleston Portraits at The National Portrait Gallery London

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.

william-eggleston-untitled-1975-girl-on-grass

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

William Eggleston Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery until 23 October 2016

This post also appears on www.cellophaneland.com

Inside – Reading Gaol Open to the Public

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.

Reading Gaol Prison Artangel

 

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.

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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.

Reading Prison Gaol Oscar WildeThe 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Reading Prison Gaol Oscar Wilde

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.

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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.

Reading Prison Gaol Oscar Wilde Nan Goldin

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,

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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.

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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.

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Other thoughtful and interesting contributions come from great names like Wolfgang Tillmans, Richard Hamilton, Roni Horn, Steve McQueen and Doris Salcedo.

Roni Horn Reading Prison Gaol Oscar Wilde

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.

Roni Horn Reading Prison Gaol Oscar Wilde

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

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