4 November 2014 § Leave a comment
Visiting one of the big art fairs, such as Frieze or art Basel, it is quickly self-evident that many of those visiting are not always particularly interested in the art. Naturally many are, but around this highly moneyed core orbit the people-watchers, hangers-on and parasites in a desperate see-and-be-seen dance, different groups each with their own specific agenda.
“The big collectors try to get in and out before anyone buys what they are after and certainly before the hoi polloi gets to look. And then you’ve got people who are just there for the social scene. So you have people texting or not paying any attention at all. It is as if the art is not there, or that they think it has no effect on them. But when you stop the moment you can see this weird world that is taking place” say Fischl
It is this world – which he usually desperately avoids – to which Eric Fischl has most recently turned a keenly tuned eye. As a starting point he took hundreds of photographs from which he selected, before editing and manipulating in Photoshop to construct an image to ultimately translate into paint.
As the series has grown so has the complexity of the resonances of the images, individually and in relation to each other. The paintings are a sharp social satire as much as they are a loving tribute to the world the artist knows best: the international art scene.
A keen observer of the relationships between people, and between people and their surroundings Fischl here demonstrates his acute observation of body language and the small details that reflect social relationships. Art fairs are notoriously busy, and these paintings give a sense of the energy and bustle as visitors move amongst the stands, apparently giving as much attention to each other – and to their mobile phones – as to the artworks on display.
Fischl has described this effect: “The space in these paintings is collapsed, cluttered, irrational and aggressive. Those depicted in the scenes seem oblivious to the mania of their condition. What I’ve discovered as I moved into this work is the essentially abstract nature of the art fair spaces. They are nearly cubistic in their flatness and their jarring collaged constructions. Layers of consciousness on top of layers of cross-purposes.”.
Also on show in Victoria Miro’s downstairs gallery are new works from the excellent Wangechi Mutu.
For more information on bothe exhibitions visit http://www.victoria-miro.com/exhibitions/current
16 October 2014 § Leave a comment
For their last exhibition of the current season, and neatly timed to coincide with the seasonal burst of gallery activity that marks the Frieze Art Fair, High House have adventurously selected an emerging young talent. Originally from Oxfordshire, Stephen Goodman is a graduate of Bath, now returning to his home county for this, his first solo show.
Goodman’s abstract paintings are the outcome of an open-ended process, where varied materials such as bitumen oil paint, acrylics and spray paint are combined in a sort of alchemical speculation. Using time, gravity, instability and chance Goodman applies varied materials liberally before allowing them to coagulate – an eventual arrangement being realised through the drying process where chance is allowed to play a large part in the outcome.
The end results are fascinating works that swirl and flow in an apparent 3D effect. Largely featuring combinations of black, white and blue the patterns created hold a significant affiliation with the geological and seismic occurrences of our planet. Goodman infact draws his own parallels to aerial photography of an imagined world that is ficticious and yet somehow familiar, and where he has begun to create his own particular mythology.
He has a particular affinity for Iceland, the place where these internal forces meet the external world in the most spectacular fashion. Here too myths and legends have been created in parallel as a means of human attempts at explanation. Similarly Goodman aims to connect and mediate between these two worlds manipulating his materials in his own attempts to control these conflicting forces.
His canvases hold a captivating beauty that alternately conceal and expose the extreme violence of the processes that they reflect – an eternal duality of destruction and re-creation also reflected in the world around us.
The results are attractive yet enigmatic – we need to be wary of their fragile beauty. Our desire to succumb to their charms is mitigated by our impending realisation of what these marks represent; it is a beauty found at the margins of violence and desire.
Of course time is the ultimate force and its unstoppable power is evident in Goodman’s artwork, as he continually engages with, and manipulates it as an aid for creation. We are unable to control time, but these paintings embrace this lack of control and embrace progression, a natural component of time, and the joy of the unknown.
Shown alongside, and unexpectedly perhaps, complementing Goodman’s work are a small series of beautifully executed works from one of Britain’s Modern masters, David Blackburn. Inspired by the landscape he is now accepted, in his 75th year, as one of the world’s leading exponents in the medium.
For more information please visit www.highhousegallery.com
15 October 2014 § Leave a comment
It is easy to think of Daniel Buren simplistically as the ‘stripe man’. Whilst it is useful for some to remember, and others to denigrate Buren by reference to his trademark wide stripes, there is of course much more to his art than that. As France’s leading conceptual artist he has punctuated the past 50 years with unforgettable interventions, controversial critical texts, thought-provoking public art projects and engaging collaborations.
In the sixties Buren developed a radical form of conceptual art, a ‘degree zero of painting’, creating works which drew attention to the relationship between art and context. Abandoning traditional painting he adopted a wide vertical stripe, used as a ‘visual tool’ to prompt a reading of the work’s surroundings as well as just the work itself. The stripes were variously made with paint, fabric, paper and tape often appearing outside the formal gallery space, made in situ, and responding to a particular location whilst appropriating and colouring the space .
For his latest exhibition at the Baltic Centre the work is best considered in two parts. In the level 3 galleries it is easy to see the development from his earlier, simpler work. The strong colours remain but here are not only stripes but geometric arrangements whilst their structure has also become more sculptural and architectural.
Fibre optic works from the Electric Light series unfurl down the walls, glowing sensuously. There are a selection of reliefs, paintings and sculptures which bend, zig zag or form 3D reliefs cleverly playing with depth, surface, colour and architectural space.
Arguably better still is the second part of the exhibition – a large-scale commission for the Level 4 gallery where Buren has coated the expansive skylight windows in geometric ‘gel’ panels of seven different colours.
The whole space has effectively been appropriated as an architectural canvas for the projected light. I giant kaleidoscope if you like. To heighten the effect a series of angled mirrors have been propped around the floor casting light throughout the space.
During our visit the sun popped back and forth from behind scudding clouds and alternately added even more colour to an already vivid display. One can imagine changing effects and sensations throughout the day.
Further coloured panels were also commissioned for the front of the building with a varying effect either from outdoors as you approach the space or indoors – in particular riding the glass sided lift past the arrangement.
For further information visit www.balticmill.com
4 October 2014 § Leave a comment
The oasis within the Cotswolds contemporary art desert that is High House Gallery has come up with yet another excellent exhibition. Their latest is a solo show from emerging Spanish photographic artist Antonio Marguet, selected to complement the new Photo Oxford fair that runs over the same period.
Whilst Marguet has a background in fine art his works bring together a remarkable range of interdisciplinary skills. He carefully constructs highly theatrical re-presentations of nature and forms by using an eclectic selection of artificial props.
At least part of the pleasure in examining his colourful work lies in the attempt to work out precisely what materials have actually been used. Uncontaminated Bites (2013) for example features a cute pink plastic hamburger-like object with a mustardy-yellow filling that sits adjacent to a balanced and embossed red form. They both stand before a primal and earthy brown mass that looks like (but surely is not) solidified mud. All sit on a mosaic of bathroom tiles.
Other works feature egg-like organic forms in red or blue made from very inorganic-looking materials, assorted frames and block of unidentifiable plastic or foam. Much is made to fit the artist’s imagination, but if sundry objects gleaned from shops and market stalls fit the bill then all the better – not even a worn kitchen dish brush is safe from inclusion in one of Marguet’s unique constructions.
Bizarre and witty captions offer an insight into the thought process behind these striking candy-coloured arrangements: Pending Marshmallow in a Seascape, Postmodern Nude and remote Crocodile Tears are examples..
The delightful range of colours and textures presented within the images immediately invites a tactile response which is firmly denied. These sculptural installations are captured as images before being destroyed. The photograph ultimately therefore becoming the only remaining record of the object. We are left to examine and consider – our imaginations can run wild.
Working at the boundary between sculpture, installation and photography Marguet is fascinated by the use of props and surrogates. Images become objects, the real is concealed and the photograph becomes a mythological or fetishistic object.
Marguet notes ‘Where the image as an object is used to replace or resemble a real thing is what interests me. In particular, I am fascinasted by the implications on how the image become a fetish. Pointing to certain phantasmagoria questions the image as instrument and as a methods of concealment, by which the ‘real’ is hidden and transformed into illusory appearance.’
The particular series exhibited is entitled Toenail Constellations referencing the notion of self-absorption and projection into a deep space of immensity and fantasy. The ‘toenail’ working as a metaphoric surface which is connected to the local, familiar and intimate. Familiarity and strangeness combine.
Marguet’s work has received widespread recognition including selection for the highly respected Catlin Guide and as a Saatchi ‘New Sensation’. On this evidence more well-deserved acclaim and recognition is sure to follow.
A selection of top quality work is being shown alongside and include John Stezaker, Minhong Pyo, Gilbert & George, Julie Cockburn, Tacita Dean, Virgilio Ferrera, Martin Parr and Giacomo Brunelli.
Exhibition runs until 5 October 2014
18 July 2014 § Leave a comment
Adrian Ghenie is one of the chief figures of The Romanian ‘Cluj School’ – comprising artists like Victor Man, Mircea Cantor and Ciprian Muresan – a painter who’s star has been rising exponentially since his relatively recent arrival on the art scene. His latest exhibition, Golems at Pace London, provides ample evidence of why he is so highly regarded.
The golem is an animated anthropomorphic creature from Jewish folklore, created entirely from inanimate material; a doer of terrible deeds. Ghenie’s reference here is the creation of a radical idea in society – in this case Darwin’s – let loose to change the socio-cultural environment. Darwin’s personal story holds a special fascination for Ghenie; the skin condition and vomiting that afflicted him, his luxuriant beard and Victorian attire all afford a rich source of textural possibilities that reveal themselves in this series of portraits.
The exhibition consists of a collection of new figurative works of Charles Darwin shown alongside the ‘Darwin Room’, an installation that consists of an assemblage of meticulously sourced 19th century furniture, wooden floor boards and wall panels. Taking the room’s composition from Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation Ghenie has created a three-dimensional environment that perhaps at first glance resembles a two-dimensional painting. Led in by an assistant with torch one reaches a dark and gloomy and life-sized room that evokes an intriguing physiological atmosphere of anxiety and comfort. The only light is that of the ‘light of reason’ which shines brightly through a small, solitary window – the room therefore a prototypical site for visionary thought within European history.
The installation itself devoid of figures. These are supplied by the impressive artworks in the adjacent room. Portraits of 20th century figures whose actions indelibly changed the course of history are a recurring theme in Ghenie’s work and to him the publication of The Origin of Species represents such an inflection point – his ideas stolen by despots and dictators and misappropriated.
Ghenie presents himself in Self portrait as Charles Darwin, 2014 and he himself becomes the arbiter of scientific change, the cliché of the tortured intellectual, and the anamorphic threat of the Golem; the idea let loose to reek havoc. All of these elements are present in Ghenie’s Bacon-esque brush strokes. He highlights an era that questioned man’s significance, the existence of God, and the question of Creationism —through a use of paint that suggests the anamorphic nature of identity through the evolution of scientific understanding.
These works however are not just introverted intellectual exercise or conceptual navel-gazing, they are visually stunning and beautifully executed. The merging of impressive technique with rigorous artistic thought process provides the viewer with a rich and stimulating experience that will enhance Ghenie’s reputation not only critically but in the auction houses of the future.
Adrian Ghenie – Golems is at Pace London until 25 July 2014
16 June 2014 § Leave a comment
Keith Coventry seems destined to be one of the ‘nearly men’ of British art. Despite being championed by Saatchi and featuring in the Sensation exhibition that helped make the names of many of the YBA’s Coventry has remained stubbornly on the sidelines.
Perhaps his work is either not showy enough or too dry to catch on to popular taste. Nevertheless he has plenty of followers for his intelligent and interesting work.
He is most well known perhaps for his Estate Paintings. Here Coventry famously used the diagrammatic representations of the buildings themselves that, when denuded of the surrounding information, strangely recall the formal aesthetic language of Suprematism – that aimed at the creation of a new, pure, abstract visual language freed from the dull constraints of representation.
As art writer Matthew Collings said “These paintings capture the moment when modernist Utopian dreams — the well-meant belief that peoples’ lives would be bettered by living in clean, modern, high rise buildings, with lifts, way up above the street with plenty of fresh air—evaporated.”
Vigo is showing here his Ontological Pictures (1996 – 2004) – the first show dedicated to this important series – where Coventry has taken the arrow and location symbols that accompany the legend YOU ARE HERE frequently found on those same estate maps, and turning them into wooden models which are then scattered randomly onto the canvas to create the content of the paintings.
In both series the process of isolating and re-contextualizing these specific visual elements has allowed Coventry to, with an extreme economy of expression animated by a subtle, dry wit, throw the ideological and theoretical meanings within those symbols into stark relief. He mocks the utopian social hopes of certain strands of Modernism that conceived high-density urban housing as a solution to a raft of social ills of modern life.
Keith Coventry solo shows don’t come around too often – this is an excellent opportunity to see one the other YBA’s for a change.
13 June 2014 § Leave a comment
‘It’s a simple idea, and it’s perfect for the genre. The newspaper, that man-made butterfly that ends its brief but glorious day-long life in the bin, the gutter, or floating piecemeal through a Tube tunnel, is offered up for the kind of sober contemplation that it rarely, if ever, enjoys.’ Kate Quill (The Times)
Hugh Mendes has been painting images of newspaper clippings for about ten years now. Most recently he has been working on an ongoing, and never ending, series of obituaries where a life is condensed into a few column inches. Locating a hidden melancholy in our society awash with imagery the relentless stream of stories from the press is halted and everyday death is revealed beneath a grand narrative.
A single image, a scrap of newsprint, becomes a heavy token, a memento, even an icon, when rendered in paint. The act of seeing is frozen in time and the act of painting, and therefore sustained concentration, brings a degree of focus and depth to what otherwise would be a fleeting moment in the ephemeral daily press.
Also shown are a series of works commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Great War. Mendes was actually born on Armistice Day in a British military hospital in Germany: his mother a nurse and his father a British Intelligence code breaker. Using the same approach as with his Obituaries series ephemeral newspaper cuttings are elevated to poignant memorials for those who served and died.
A journey in to the Cotswolds is always enjoyable, and this is as good an excuse as any to drop in to High House Gallery – one of the few outposts where you can find real contemporary art outside London.
Hugh Mendes Obituaries & Other Works is at High House until 29 June 2014