Liverpool Biennial 2016

12 July 2016 § Leave a comment

‘… fictions, stories and histories taking viewers on a series of voyages through time and space, drawing on Liverpool’s past, present and future’ – Liverpool Biennial Guide

Liverpool Biennial 2016 Toxteth

If this summary makes this years Liverpool Biennial sound rather complicated, well, actually it is. And that is not all. When you add on exhibitions at the Tate, the John Moores Prize exhibition, Bloomberg Contemporaries and a whole series of fringe events that run alongside then it all becomes rather bewildering.

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The aforementioned Biennial ‘voyages’ actually take the form of six ‘episodes’ namely: Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children’s Episode, Monuments from the Future and Flashback.

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The Tate is a good starting point for all this with a new vision of Ancient Greece. Reflecting on the neoclassical architecture throughout the city contemporary artists have been invited to exhibit alongside exhibits largely taken from the famous Blundell collection of Greek artefacts.

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It is fine, but better is to visit the Tate’s other current exhibitions: the excellent Francis Bacon: Invisible Rooms which has been cleverly placed alongside Maria Lassnig – both using the body, often distorted, deformed, ageing or fragile.

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Across town at the impressive redbrick Victorian Cains Brewery is a selection of episodes arranged around the hall and in to Andrea Angelidakis’ spiral Collider installation. In the centre is the film Dogsy Ma Bone from Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, made with local children over recent months and inspired by Betty Boop’s A Song A Day and Brecht’s Threepenny Opera. The whole looks rather like a student degree show although there are excellent individual works.

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Around the corner at the Blade Factory is a highlight, a ‘Flashback’ from Mark Leckey. His film Dream English Kid draws on scraps of film, TV archive and ephemera, recreating events from his life between the seventies and nineties in a compelling dream-like sequence.

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Another highlight was Lara Favaretto’s Momentary Monument: The Stone (2016) in Rhiwlas Street, Toxteth – a monument to destroyed community.

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Two more ‘ Flashback’ artists are being exhibited at FACT. Lucy Beech’s new film Pharmakon shows downstairs whilst upstairs there are a series of interesting films and installations from Krzysztof Wodiczko, who has been working with the homeless and marginalised.

The Open Eye Gallery at Mann Island has devoted the downstairs gallery to Koki Tanaka’s ‘flashback’ revisiting of an 1985 protest march. It was not particularly gripping, but upstairs were a series of clever, witty and thought-provoking videos by Ramin Heirzadeh, Rokni Haerizadeh & Hesam Rehmanian.

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Up at the historic and important ABC (scandalously being allowed to fall derelict) is a ‘Flashback’ – a rather ponderous film from Giraud & Siboni and a selection of sculptures. Better, and out of the biennial at the adjacent Walker, is the 2016 John Moores Painting Prize exhibition. Won by the likes of Peter Doig, Rose Wylie, Sir Peter Blake and John Hoyland the quality is, as expected, exceptional. Michael Simpson was this years winner of the £25,000 cheque.

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Bloomberg’s New Contemporaries at the Bluecoat was rather disappointing, but at least the courtyard is a great place to relax with a coffee away from the hustle and bustle. Of the associate artists we particularly loved Lindsey Bull at the India Buildings.

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Outside the biennial, as well as the Tate, Walker & Bluecoat why not try going a little farther? There are Sir Peter Blake’s Dazzle Ferry, Crosby Beach for Antony Gormley’s Another Place or the Lady Lever Art Gallery at Port Sunlight

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Whilst the actual biennial ends up as rather a curatorial mess, it really does not matter that much. Ignore the rather muddled theme, just get out and about, explore the city and some great venues – in and out of the biennial. You are sure to find some surprising gems along the way.

Liverpool Biennial is at various venues until  16 October 2016

Jeff Koons: Now – The Newport Street Gallery

18 May 2016 § Leave a comment

This exhibition by Jeff Koons at Damien Hirst‘s new gallery brings together two titans of the commercial art world. Sitting at first and second place of the world’s wealthiest (Hirst usually pips a rapidly closing Koons) they also are head of lists of the most influential living artists.

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Artists, Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst pose during a photocall to launch the Newport Street Gallery in London with Koon’s piece “Play-Doh”.

There are plenty of parallels within their work too. Neither are strangers to the art of appropriation: Koons takes children inflatables and re-constructs them in gleaming painted aluminium, Hirst has enlarged a spastics society figure, Viagra pill and an anatomical model. How about something in a vitrine? Koons is happy to grab ‘ready-made’ basketballs or Hoovers, whilst Hirst takes perhaps severed cows heads, sharks, skulls or pills. All are presented as reflections on life, death, beauty and consumerism.

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Linking them too is a mutual appreciation. Hirst has actually collected Koons’ work for over twelve years and has amassed a significant body of the artists work, some of which is being shown in the UK for the first time within this exhibition.

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Koons is considered to be one of the most significant artists of the last fifty years and it is therefore quite astonishing to say that ‘Now’ is not only the first major UK exhibition to be devoted to the artist since ‘Jeff Koons: Popeye Series’, at the Serpentine in 2009 but the largest one to date. Spanning thirty-five years of the artist’s extraordinary career it features over thirty paintings, works on paper and sculptures dating from 1979 and including works from Inflatables, The New, Equilibrium, Luxury and Degradation, Made in Heaven, Popeye, and Hulk Elvis, amongst others.

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The show begins with an early forerunner of one of Koons’ most enduring themes, the inflatable. Here we see a real inflatable in Flowers from 1979 – small flowers displayed on mirrored floor tiles. It is here presented alongside a number of his iconic Hoover sculptures from the early eighties – unused wall-mounted machines are displayed in acrylic boxes. Two of these Hoovers were actually included for Koons’s first solo show in New York 1980 and part of that installation – originally displayed in the museum’s storefront windows – has been reassembled for this exhibition.

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These works show how Koons revels the everyday. Household goods to children toys and the kitsch are all readily employed in his approach to art, utilising mass market objects to communicate with the widest possible audience. The quotidien and fragile becomes monumental whist the ordinary is elevated to special.

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There are plenty more of his recognisable works. The show continues with examples of his Total Equilibrium tanks where three basketballs are suspended in a vitrine of salt water – an allegory on unattainable states of being.

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Further on a Jim Beam bourbon decanter of china and plastic has been rendered in aluminium. Said to be an “elegy to the age of steam and steel”, Koons’ said of this sculpture  “I wanted to transform it and put it into a different metal but to preserve its soul, and that soul was the alcohol.”

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We continue through most of the major series of Koons’ career. Ignoring the less interesting prints it is the sculptures that  catch the eye – a five-metre high stainless steel Balloon Monkey in blue dating from 2013 occupies the whole of one of the side galleries. An inflatable dolphin and lobster dangle from the ceiling whist another lobster balances  precariously on a chair and a bin. A seal and walrus are squeezed behind stack-away plastic seats.

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The show culminates in the huge and impressive Play-Doh, a three-metre high mountain of brightly coloured kids plasticine, Surprisingly complex to construct it took Koons and his team over ten years to produce, the result so perfect that it is almost impossible to resist grabbing at the apparently squidgy material.

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Only the second exhibition at the Newport Street Gallery space this is another highly impressive exhibition. It confirms that there is more to Koons than simply high kitsch and eye-catching sculptures. There is a strong emotional charge to the work too. We are caught in an irrational and surreal world of fakery, unsure what to make of the oversized objects, impossible poses and improbable materials. At its heart it is an uncanny and unsettling experience. A Night at the Museum is made real – the toys are taking over.

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Jeff Koons: Now is on at the Newport Street Gallery, London until 16 October 2016

For more information visit the Newport Street Gallery

Images courtesy of Damien HirstJeff Koons and the Newport Street Gallery and by CELLOPHANELAND*

This post also appears on CELLOPHANLAND*

Art Visionaries by Mark Gertlein & Annabelle Howard

13 January 2016 § Leave a comment

This post is also published at CELLOPHANELAND* (link here)

Art Visionaries is the latest publication from Laurence King Publishing, specialists in publications on the creative arts. This handsome and substantial softcover carefully lists seventy five of the ‘most influential figures in the history of art’ with an admirable clarity. Each artist is introduced on a double spread with a full page illustration of a key work and then a few hundred words that attempts to explain both their significance and artistic lives.

Art Visionaries by Mark Gertlein & Annabelle Howard Lawrence King PublishingThe copy is well written and one can only admire the self control and skill required to abstract the life of say, Picasso, in to such a brief and highly readable summary. The writers manage to include snippets of interest and plenty of snappy quotes, useful even for those who may feel that they already know these artists well. “Nobody can own this project, nobody can buy the project, nobody can possess the project or charge for tickets” stated Christo & Jean-Claude, whilst Kasimir Malevich observed “I have dragged myself out of the rubbish pool of academic art“.

A further double page spread illustrates more key works with a useful graphic artistic timeline. The extra illustrated pages allocated to each artist are nice but perhaps a double-edged sword. Whilst allowing images of more than one key work it still cuts short a deeper analysis. As an example Gerhard Richter, not unusual as an artist who went through a number of styles in his lifetime, does not get any of his abstract works featured.

Art Visionaries by Mark Gertlein & Annabelle Howard Lawrence King PublishingAlthough it is not immediately clear from either the cover, this is a list of 20th century artists. There is also an almost total absence of artists from China, Africa, Asia and Oceania, along with Native and Folk artists and, although not stated anywhere, this volume therefore represents ’western art’ only. Fine, but really this should be clear in the cover notes or introduction.

To me there was a bias towards American artists and with the exception of Frida Kahlo, Nam Jun Paik, Yayoi Kusama, Mona Hatoum and Gabriel Orozco the remaining entries being Western European and Russian. The Brits do not do so well either – Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and Andy Goldsworthy are the only ones other than Hirst and Whiteread in who make it in.

Art Visionaries by Mark Gertlein & Annabelle Howard Lawrence King PublishingThere were some tough choices at either end of the century. Gaugin & Cezanne for example probably died too early in the 20th century to deserve entry but it is harder with those like Munch, who was a key influence for the Fauvists, exhibited with them and worked until his death in 1944 but perhaps harshly does not find himself included. At the end of the century had the artists working in the 1990’s yet done enough?

Art Visionaries by Mark Gertlein & Annabelle Howard Lawrence King PublishingIt is of course a thankless task to condense a roll call of thousands down to any sort of ‘popularity contest’ and everyone will find some of their favourites excluded and will disagree with some of those included. There are difficult choices, Italian Futurist Filippo Marinetti is featured but Vorticist Wyndham Lewis misses out. Unforgivably Max Ernst doesn’t feature and neither do Man Ray, Kurt Schwitters or John Baldessari – all true visionaries, whilst a number of mediocre but worthy artists are included. Personally I could have done without Rachel Whiteread, Mona Hatoum, Anish Kapoor, Jeff Wall and Sophie Calle. Richard Long is surely better than Andy Goldsworthy and aren’t other Arte Povera artists more deserving than Alighiero Boetti.

Art Visionaries by Mark Gertlein & Annabelle Howard Lawrence King PublishingInterestingly, other than on the cover there is no mention of ’Visionaries’. This is quite a powerful word and implies rather more than a list of big name artists from a specific era. A typical relevant definition is ‘a person with the ability to imagine how a country, society, industry etc will develop in the future’. If that was the case with any of the included artists it was neither evident or elucidated by the text. Despite discovering the fact that the book is actually part of the publishers ‘Visionaries‘ series (Architects, Design, Photography etc that are strangely not mentioned anywhere in the book) the impression is left that the title does not represent any sort of driving force behind the selection process.

Graphic Design Visionaries by Mark Gertlein & Annabelle Howard Lawrence King Publishing

Even if Art Visionaries could have been something more – perhaps a more detailed analysis of those artists like Picasso, Duchamp and Beuys who could have been perhaps considered as most ‘visionary’ – this is nevertheless an excellent, highly enjoyable and nicely designed volume well worth a place on your bookshelf.

For more information visit Laurence King Publishing

30,000 Years of Art – Phaidon

9 January 2016 § Leave a comment

This post is also published at CELLOPHANELAND* (link here)

Our historic – and largely still current – curatorial approach to archaeological and artistic objects has been to divide and classify, to separate and categorise. This has its advantages, but those institutions like the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford where form is privileged over origin, and Tate Modern where there is  a thematic approach, show that alternative strategies can be worthwhile.

By listing artworks without prejudice to civilisations, geographical location, art movements or other artificial categories it takes away the inherent divisiveness of categorisation to allow some remarkable comparisons and invites us to consider links where we had not seen them previously.

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30,000 Years of Art does note a basic classification, e.g. Post-impressionism or Nasca Culture plus a geographical location, but these play second fiddle to a straightforward chronological listing. We therefore find that sharing double page spreads may be Arabic scripts and Chinese brush paintings, the Venus de Milo and a Mayan mural or  a Mexican mask and an Ethiopian stele.

It is in this removal of all art historical classifications and hierarchies that to us is 30,000 Years of Art main achievement. By presenting a thousand masterworks in chronological order it shows what was being created all over the globe at approximately the same time.

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The result is a remarkable insight into the interrelationships between seemingly unrelated cultures and civilisations as well as celebrating the diversity between those that may be considered similar. The resulting timeline of works leads to compelling browsing with the juxtapositions offering intellectual pleasure and a sense of wonder and discovery.

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This is a book that can be a real coffee table book to be dipped in to and enjoyed at leisure, the entries simply and clearly written and easily understood. It can be usefully read chronologically or utilised as a vital reference book taking the reader on a global and historical journey, as a Chinese Shang urn stands next to a Mycenaean vase, and Michelangelo’s Slave is followed by a contemporaneous male sculpture from Nigeria.

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As a research or reference book it would also be useful alongside more comprehensive texts with the arrangement responding to such questions as what were artists creating in China or Africa while Rembrandt was painting self-portraits in Leyden? How were similar subjects – the female form, landscapes, religious scenes – manipulated by artists in Han China or Medieval Europe?

Although the sequence is chronological, the selection of entries for an individual culture comprises an abbreviated history of the art of that people. Thus, while artworks from ancient Greece or the European Renaissance or pre-Columbian Americas are interspersed with contemporaneous works created in Africa, India or Japan, an extraction of the Greek or Renaissance or American works could stand alone as an essential summary of the finest art of that period or culture.

30000 Years of Art, Phaedon

 

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This is a volume that will deserve repeated use and surely is a compelling addition to any collection – or coffee table. Highly recommended.

For more information visit www.phaidon.com

  • 30,0000 Years of Art
  • Phaidon
  • Hardback
  • 297 x 297 mm, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in
  • 1064 pp
  • 1,000 colour illustrations
  • ISBN-13: 9780714847894

Best Album Art – Art Vinyl Awards 2015

9 January 2016 § Leave a comment

This post also appears on CELLOPHANELAND* arts and culture online magazine. Link here.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the decline of the album, and to some extents the CD, has been the loss of the potential space for sleeve artwork. With the rise of vinyl sales during the last century, the artistic potential of the sleeves was not lost on the very best artists and photographers of the period, and many became involved contributing to a very memorable, if narrow, artistic genre.

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Remember the great original Warhol covers for the Stones’ zippered Sticky Fingers and the banana for The Velvet Underground & Nico? The Beatles were of course involved too, with the Peter Blake photograph (not a collage by the way) for Sgt Peppers.

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The Beatles drew in other Pop artists  – Richard Hamilton made his minimalist statement for the ‘White Album’ whilst for David Bowie, Derek Boshier created the striking Lodger designs.

Richard Alvedon, Simon & Garfunkel Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

Top photographers were there too. Robert Mapplethorpe’s image of Patti Smith provided the iconic cover for Horses, Richard Avedon took Simon & Garfunkel’s picture for Bookends and – here’s a little known nugget – Man Ray created a photo collage for Exile on Main Street (below), sadly unused.

Man Ray Exile on Main Street Rolling Stones

This is to barely touch the surface of the phenomenon of album art, something that we thought had gone forever with the apparent demise of vinyl in the 1990’s. Fortunately the death of the album had been greatly exaggerated and sales are now booming again.

Dave Gilmour Rattle that Lock Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

With this resurgence comes a new generation of album artists, designers, prize and inevitably, an awards ceremony. Art Vinyl have a competition that is actually now in its 10th year, with this year’s fifty nominations selected by a panel of music design experts and previous Best Art Vinyl Award winners. In co-operation with Belgraves Hotel they have just revealed the 2015 winners.

Tame Impala Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

David Gilmour’s ‘Rattle That Lock’ album took the top prize with Drenge’s ‘Undertow’ second, and Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’ third. The winners and all of the shortlisted entries are now on display in the window at Belgraves until the end of April.

Not Real Stealing Sheep Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

Jim Lambie, Linden rest and be thankful Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

The artwork covered a wide range of creative disciplines, including fine art, photography, sculpture and computer graphics. Given the august history of album artwork we perhaps should not be surprised that the short list also included two Turner Prize nominees, Mark Wallinger and Jim Lambie (for Linden).

Darkstar Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

David Gilmour’s wining cover was created by The Creative Corporation, in collaboration with Aubrey Powell from the legendary Hipgnosis – a design studio that produced covers for the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and T Rex.

Petite Noire - La Vie Est Belle Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

Petite Noire – La Vie Est Belle

Best Art Vinyl founder Andrew Heeps explains, “This is the first year such an established artist’s record has won Best Art Vinyl, but notably the design team have historically been responsible for so many iconic sleeve designs… It’s interesting that two of the top three are conceptual compositions, using photography as the core of the design.”

Bjork-Vulnicura Art Vinyl & Belgraves Hotel Best Art Vinyl 2015

Bjork – Vulnicura

In January 2016, the winners of the Best Art Vinyl 2015 award will feature in exhibitions in London, Scotland, Italy, Germany and Hungary as well as on www.artvinyl.com.

You can check out the entries on www.artvinyl.com or visit the window installation at the Belgraves Hotel, London Belgravia from 7th Jan 2016

For more information and the 50 nominated Best Art Vinyl 2015 records with designer credits see Artvinyl.com

Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations – The Photographers Gallery

7 January 2016 § Leave a comment

This post is also featured on the online cultural magazine CELLOPHANELAND* – www.cellophaneland.com

Photography has since its invention been primarily seen as a medium which reproduces reality, albeit more or less honestly. There are of course many photographers who are still documenting reality, and in the digital age these resulting images have an ever increasing shape-shifting flexibility transferring with ever-greater ease from the camera to the screen, internet, print, photo-book, advertising hoardings and even T shirts or mugs.

Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations - The Photographers Gallery

There is however an increasing movement of younger photographers who seek to deconstruct, alter and redefine the medium by foregrounding such formal aspects its physical form and the chemical or technical processes involved. Grouped loosely under the term ‘constructed photography’, the work of artists such as Matt Lipps, Walead Beshty, Daniel Gordon and Antonio Marguet makes the scaffolding of the photograph explicit whilst re-building photography as both a physical and technical art.

Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations - The Photographers Gallery

Noemie Goudal is one of the latest wave of these photographers having only graduated from the RCA as recently as 2012. Our attention was originally drawn to her work in an excellent High House Gallery group exhibition Re:Vision at 44AD in Bath and it is a significant comment on her talent that after such a short time The Photographers Gallery has given her a solo exhibition.Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations - The Photographers Gallery

Southern Light Stations continues Goudal’s interest in man made interventions within the natural world. Her practice is to use props, large photographs or constructed photographic sets and rephotograph them within natural settings or other existing backdrops. For one set of images she looks at historic celestial and solar perceptions – the sky once being considered for example as a solid plane. Roughly built circular forms are hung within landscapes, their theatricality clear to see, and photographed.

Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations - The Photographers Gallery

Reflecting a fascination with our relationship to the sky, the exhibition draws upon a rich history of myths, legends, religious symbolism and early scientific theories. Through photographs, stereoscopes and architectural installations, the exhibition aims to explore the intangible nature of celestial space – long considered a mirror of terrestrial turmoil as well as an expression of the sacred.

Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations - The Photographers Gallery

For another series of architectural objects Goudal has digitally manipulated images of concrete buildings before affixing the collaged prints on to wooden constructions. These are then placed within barren landscapes or seascapes and again rephotographed.

Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations - The Photographers Gallery

Moving a work in to position

Both series draw upon the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, highly influential German deadpan photographers – who documented German Industrial architecture with multiple images of similar objects such as water towers. Goudal’s work nevertheless adds to their work, is thought-provoking and fascinating.

Noemie Goudal: Southern Light Stations - The Photographers Gallery

NOÉMIE GOUDAL: SOUTHERN LIGHT STATIONS The Photographers Gallery, London until 10 January 2016.

For more information visit www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk   

James Turrell – The Skyspace Project, Lech

30 December 2015 § Leave a comment

“A Turrell Skyspace is a specifically proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky. Skyspaces can be autonomous structures or integrated into existing architecture. The aperture can be round, ovular or square.” James Turrell

James Turrell is one of the iconic figures of contemporary art, making work that is light based, often turning 2D projection in to 3D reality. Skyspaces combine natural and artificial light to create a spiritual and emotional location for contemplative observation.

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

Hugely respected but largely unknown by the public he recently found increased fame following a video by Drake, a Canadian rapper. Hotline Bling features him dancing in luminous rooms with Turrell-style ganzfeld effects. Turrell responded “While I am truly flattered to learn that Drake fucks with me, I nevertheless wish to make clear that neither I nor any of my woes was involved in any way in the making of the Hotline Bling video.” Bravo.

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

Turrell has placed his artistic heart at an Arizona volcanic feature – the Roden Crater. Spotted while flying his light plane he subsequently purchased the land and has so far spent forty years creating a huge, cosmic observatory, shaping chambers and tunnels to play with the light of the sun, moon and stars.

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

A recent visit to Lech in the Austrian Alps provided an opportunity to take a look at one of his latest Skyspace projects. We recently reviewed his spectacular exhibition at Houghton Hall near Norwich (see review here) and commented upon the seemingly unlikely nature of the co-operation between historic British mansion and Turrell’s conceptual light-based art.

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

The project is actually a new commission derived from a failed attempt to retain Anthony Gormley’s Horizon Field permanently in Lech after its scheduled end in 2012. The organisation that had been formed, The Horizon Field Association (www.horizonfield.com), remained in place with the revised aim of bringing new art to the region and has proposed the Turrell Skyspace in consequence.

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

Once again there is an unlikely home for this latest collaborative venture. The Allmeinde Commongrounds (www.allmeinde.org) is a hard to find building on a side road of a Lech suburb and it is here that an exhibition detailing the project as well as exhibiting some of James Turrell’s work is taking place. A beautiful new Austrian style conversion has been developed both as a concept and a building with a meeting space for art dialogue, a contemporary art & architectural biased library and exhibition space.

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

The first floor features a series of woodblock and aquatint prints of his well known ellipses. “I love the ellipse,” says Turrell. “Planets orbits are elliptical. It’s a very pleasing shape.”

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

There are also one of his hologram series, editions of Roden crater maps and images plus bronze and plaster sculptures of one of his earlier Skyspaces. A film (sadly in German only) plays in a screening room downstairs. All moderately interesting, but the real interest lay in the plans for the potential Skyspace laid out in a ground floor room.

james turrell skyspace

The location is hoped to be up at 1800 metres altitude close to local ski pistes and walking trails. An underground tunnel will lead to a room with an elliptical (again) opening to the sky. Many planning and practical issues have been overcome and construction is planned for 2017. Let us hope that the funding manages to reach its target and we hope to report from Lech in less than two years time!

James Turrell Skyspace Lech

James Turrell, The Skyspace Lech Project can be seen at Allmeine Commongrounds until 2 April 2016

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