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
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.
The aforementioned Biennial ‘voyages’ actually take the form of six ‘episodes’ namely: Ancient Greece, Chinatown, Children’s Episode, Monuments from the Future and Flashback.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another highlight was Lara Favaretto’s Momentary Monument: The Stone (2016) in Rhiwlas Street, Toxteth – a monument to destroyed community.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
6 July 2016 § Leave a comment
This post also appears in the lifestyle & culture magazine www.cellophaneland.com
Wolfgang Tillmans’ approach to image-making is fascinating in its non-hierarchical approach to both subject and theme. This, along with his constant desire to push the boundaries of photography as an artistic medium, makes him one of the most interesting and innovative artists working today.
A solo show at the Serpentine Galleries in 2010 reinforced his respected position in the field, he has recently held solo exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2015); and the Beyeler Foundation, Basel (2014) whilst a major solo show at the Tate is upcoming in 2017.
He is most definitely therefore well worth catching over in Bethnal Green where Tillmans is having his eighth exhibition at the Maureen Paley Gallery. Featuring new and previously unseen work the show focuses on the visible and invisible borders that define and sometimes control us.
Central to the downstairs gallery is a large and impressive unframed print of The State We’re In, A (2015) that documents the open water of the Atlantic Ocean where international time lines and borders intersect.
This is displayed alongside images made at the Northern and Southern European Observatories that look beyond our national boundaries. Also on show are photographs that study the visual effects of the Sun’s light entering our planet’s atmosphere and an image of human blood flowing through plastic tubes, contained outside of the body during surgery.
In the upstairs gallery a new grouping of tables that follow on from his truth study center series (2005 – ongoing) are installed. Somewhat less impressive is I refuse to be your enemy 2, (2016) which enacts another use of this display format by presenting various sizes of blank office paper from Europe and North America.
Inspired by a workshop that Tillmans gave to students in Iran last year this work examines the similarities in our nationalised forms of printed communication and how these formats can unite rather than divide us. Ummm.
Continuing on this theme of unity over division, examples of Tillmans’ pro-EU poster campaign are presented on the exterior of the gallery. But perhaps we should not talk talk much about those?
Wolfgang Tillmans runs until 31 July 2016.
More information can be found at: www.maureenpaley.com
5 July 2016 § Leave a comment
‘When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they’re really talking about their own affairs’ – Georgia O’Keefe
This post also appears at www.cellophaneland.com
This is the largest exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe ever to take place outside America and the first retrospective in the UK. Given too that there are no works in any British collection this is a rare opportunity to take a close look at the work of one of the most famous of American artists.
Famed for her close up flowers, New York cityscapes and desert landscapes – with or without bleached animal bones – this is somebody has come to represent the crowning achievements of American modernism.
Her journey was a remarkable one and in the Tate’s largely chronological approach we can see her development, from Wisconsin art student, via New York and a relationship with the leading proponent of European modernism, Alfred Stieglitz, before retiring to a ranch in the arid southwest.
The show opens with an impressive reconstruction of her 1916 show at 291 in New York. A group of charcoal sketches, heavily influenced by tutor Arthur Wesley Dow and Kandinsky’s abstract and spiritual approach, were shown to Alfred Stieglitz, the gallery’s influential owner. He spotted her early promise and put the works on show.
O’Keeffe soon moved to the city, and in to a lengthy relationship with Stieglitz. She adopted the philosophies and scientific ideas of the time: theosophy, synesthesia, with the spiritual underpinning her work. She painted abstracts – one of the first Americans to work this way – with an unmistakeable erotic symbolism that Stieglitz drew on to market her in the gallery.
He added his own nude images of her and stated that as a woman she ‘painted from the womb’. O’Keefe distanced herself from this angle, said the eroticism was in the eye of the beholder and from then veered away from abstracts. Even many years later, when artists like Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro claimed her as an early feminist artist, which she obviously was, she sadly continued to avoid and deny this.
It was in New York too that, bored of the city, she began painting her iconic flowers. Despite stating that ‘I hate flowers—I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move’ they are now her most recognisable works. One somehow imagines them to fill the walls, but when seen at the Tate they seem surprisingly small and less impressive than anticipated.
A 1919 trip took her to the desert, which she adored, returning frequently and eventually moving to Santa Fe from New York when Stieglitz died in 1949. There are plenty of these desert landscapes here and the influence of Emily Carr, a Canadian artist that she met, is clear to see. Carr herself was strongly influenced by another Canadian, Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven. All were concerned with the spiritual within the landscape and one wonders how strong this influence was.
In the desert she painted the colourful, arid landscapes. These are often impressive, but also sometimes they miss the bright light and sharpness you would expect – often appearing rather distant and flat. She also painted the weeds and adobe buildings and some of these stand out in the exhibition as more appealing for their simplicity and abstract forms.
She also loved the sun dried animal bones. Perhaps these represented for her the spirituality of the land but these are perhaps the least impressive works. It is all too obvious, especially when skulls are tackily suspended in space within the landscapes.
Fans of O’Keeffe are sure to love this exhibition whilst for others it may show up limitations, but this is still a show to admire. The Tate has put on a wonderful exhibition, which truly does justice to the fascinating works of a remarkable woman and a groundbreaking artist.
For more information visit www.tate.org
4 July 2016 § Leave a comment
“I want there to be a human presence without having to depict it in full” – Cecily Brown
Located mid way on the short stroll between two of St James’ art heavyweights – Christies, King Street and White Cube, Masons Yard – are the two spaces of the Thomas Dane Gallery. It is always well worth dropping by to see the latest exhibition and with artists like Walead Beshty, Michael Landy, Hurvin Anderson and Steve McQueen on the roster there is a good chance you will find something very special.
Showing for the first time at the gallery, we found the wonderful Cecily Brown. She has recently jumped ship from Gagosian no less, a move that shows the growing power of Thomas Dane. Brown is, and has been throughout her career, one of the most engaged and distinctive painters of our time. Her preoccupation has always been the Body – in all its various guises and narratives, fleshy shapes and forms appearing from her many layered works.
Brown’s paintings are immersive and her passion is contagious. She reminds us how great it is to look at art unhurriedly: the pleasure of contemplation and examination. Her paintings reveal themselves slowly, almost ‘continuously’.
Brown often talks about ‘Sublimation’, paraphrasing Francis Bacon who craved “the grin without the cat”, the “sensation” without the “boredom of its conveyance”. Something she calls a ‘Breaking-down’ process.
Recently we discover that Brown has been (re)looking at a particular painting, and has fallen in love with it all over again: Degas’ Young Spartans, from 1860, at London’s National Gallery. She brings Degas’ very recognisable, cluster of bodies, postures and composition into some of the work here.
Crowds are indeed very present for example – in the enigmatic Madrepora, 2015. The ghoulish assembly of The Smugglers, 2015, too could have sprung out of a James Ensor painting.
A series of ‘Dark’ paintings are reminiscent of the Spanish Masters and brings together Brown’s taste for the slightly macabre, or forbidden, with more risqué reclining male nudes.
Spanning both spaces of the gallery, the exhibition includes some of works from the past. These are cleverly hung alongside her sketches and allows us to add some history and context to her work. Her star must surely continue to rise.
Cecily Brown – Madrepora runs until 23 July 2016
For more information visit www.thomasdanegallery.com
29 June 2016 § Leave a comment
“It’s the instantaneous light. If you get it right then you get it in the total present tense – that’s what you’re going for, that’s eternity.” Alex Katz
The new Alex Katz exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries is a combination of two distinct series of work representing two aspects of his work – portraits and landscapes. Entering the gallery we are met with three walls each with one gigantic orange painting.
These are recent portraits of women – each given the subjects first name – Vivien, Anna and Ada (his wife, a frequent subject). They may be named and are ‘of’ somebody but that is as far as Katz wants to take us. These might just as well be still lifes, we are not invited to learn any more about these ladies and there is no narrative. We are simply encouraged to be ‘in the moment’ and the artists wants to see no more or no less that what is right before us.
The subjects are simply dressed, if indeed we see what they are wearing, almost expressionless, and return our gaze. The backgrounds a pure bright orange – they could be ‘Easy Jet’ adverts and indeed the link with advertising is there, Katz heavily influenced by billboards, his paintings characterised by their flatness of colour and fluidity of line.
The artist, now 88, came of age as an artist in 1950s New York, and developed his unique approach to contemporary representational painting during the height of Abstract Expressionism. His work is reminiscent of artists like Tom Wesselman and Andy Warhol but any association to pop art is to be avoided though as gentle and careful brushstrokes energise the caves and bring life to the faces.
The exhibitions title, Quick Light, comes from Katz’s desire to bring the image to us as quickly as possible – as in adverts – removing superfluous detail in order that our brains absorb the image with minimal delay. Like the almost totally two dimensional figures the paint is flat and he is happy to agree with the term ‘aggressive’ in respect of the quick impact that his images have upon us.
The Serpentine has also taken the clever opportunity to present a number of Katz’s landscape paintings in the leafy surroundings of Hyde Park. The central gallery is occupied by several of these, some almost abstract in appearance exemplify his life-long quest to capture the present tense in paint. The largest fill whole walls of the Serpentines sizeable walls.
Reflection is a rohrsach-style mirrored reflection water in blue and black, West 1 features illuminated windows on a black background whilst Black Brook 18, in green and black we guess must be a stream and grass.
They are enigmatic and again Katz gives no story – these are paintings simply of present ‘moments’. Regardless of their scale, he describes these paintings as ‘environmental’ in the way in which they envelop the viewer. Defined by temporal qualities of light, times of the day and the changing of the seasons.
Everything Katz does looks deceptively easy, and thats how he wants it. Seeing that Henri Matisse’s work seemingly required ’no effort’ he was inspired to paint in a similar way. The inspiration of this Serpentine show is seeing another master at the peak of his powers.
Alex Katz: Quick Light is at the Serpentine Gallery until 11 September.
For more information visit www.serpentinegalleries.org
This feature also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
18 June 2016 § Leave a comment
“The longer I spend here, the earthier and more profane the collection gets. Even the religious paintings eventually get down from their high horse and meet you on your level. It’s all sex, death, bowls of fruit and flowers, and the odd landscape. That may sound somewhat dismissive, but it’s kept artists busy for 700 years and continues to do so.” George Shaw
George Shaw has spent the last two years as the latest Associate Artist at the National Gallery. Provided with a studio at the gallery his brief is to produce work that responds to art in the collection. A Turner Prize nominee in 2011, Shaw is well known for his paintings of the decaying and depressing post-war housing estates of Tile Hill, Coventry, where he grew up, and for his idiosyncratic medium – the sticky Humbrol enamel paint.Famously used for children’s Airfix kits, the use of this unusual paint has led to the assumption that he used to paint these models as a child. Shaw quickly puts us straight telling us that he never would have played with such mundane toys “I was upstairs trying to be a Velasquez or a Goya”.Living on a daily basis with artworks that that has admired throughout his career (“I still have my Thames and Hudson book on the National Gallery that my mum gave me for a birthday present in the early eighties” ) his first response to the residency was a series of charcoal sketches -14 self-portraits in the various poses taken up by Christ in traditional Stations of the Cross compositions, followed by other sketches and watercolours of trees.Positioned as the first thing the visitor encounters on entering the exhibition, Shaw encourages us to read his work as carrying other, deeper ideas, rather than being just a ‘rehash’ of traditional landscape imagery. Even woodland in the National Gallery paintings would be redolent with religious meaning – lone trees for example being instantly recognisable by a contemporary spectator as the crosses of Calvary. Indeed in illustration Shaw provides us with a stark and beautiful monochrome watercolour of three bare trees.Alluding to the theme of woodland in the collection, ‘My Back to Nature’ resonates with Shaw’s own experience of walking in the woods as a teenager, with the feeling that “something out of the ordinary could happen at any time there, away from the supervision of adults”. Looking through the National’s collection many of the paintings feature mythical events involving incidents outside the accepted norms of behaviour, including violence, illicit sex, and drunkenness that are in similar locations – woodlands near a town which we perhaps see, idealised, in a misty or hilly backdrop.Like Cézanne’s Bathers, Velázquez’s Venus, and all the other great nudes in these halls, in the pastoral tradition, woods and fields are places of desire and dalliance – scenes of intense human drama. Perhaps the moment has just passed or is just about to happen. For Shaw it is a mark on the ground, trampling of leaves, the torn pages of an porn magazines. The School of Love by Correggio, is of Venus, Mercury and Cupid in a leafy bower – Shaw’s version is a striped mattress discarded in a clearing. In another a tree trunk drips with red paint: someone’s rage or someone’s private message.A year in to his residence Shaw ordered three large canvases – exactly the size of the Titian Metamorphoses in the gallery. His painted responses to them show firstly a dark and erotic clearing, in another the tree assaulted with red paint and finally a Titian-blue tarpaulin, dangling ghost-like from the arm of a tree. It is easy to see the religious parallels: life, death and the resurrection.A kid from a suburban housing estate gets unlimited access to the National Gallery’s collection. This was George Shaw’s dream come true and through this perhaps unlikely interaction comes an inspirational exhibition of a special quality.George Shaw: My Back to Nature, National Gallery London is on until 30 October 2016
For more information visit www.nationalgallery.org.uk
This post also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
26 February 2016 § Leave a comment
Despite the process of photography being somewhat scientific, Gathered Leaves – Photographs by Alex Soth, is on first appearances a slightly surprisingly choice as the latest exhibition at the Science Museum. Alex Soth is a contemporary photographer who takes an innovative aim at documentary photography whilst perhaps another (excellent) current exhibition of early images from photographic pioneer Julia Margaret Cameron also on now at the same venue is more in line with the sort of thing we are expecting at the museum.
What many may not know however is that the Science Museum Group (SMG) has just announced an historic agreement with the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Over 400,000 objects from SMG’s three-million-strong photography collection will be transferred to join the V&A’s existing collection of 500,000 to create the single largest collection on the art of photography in the world in their International Photography Resource Centre.
The collection will comprise encompasses exquisite vintage prints, the world’s first negative, unique daguerreotypes and early colour photographs, as well as important albums, books, cameras and the archives of major photographers. There are also of course major holdings of the worlds top photographers from the dawn of photography right up to to the present day.
Alex Soth is one of those artists featured in the collection and this beautifully presented exhibition, surprisingly his first ever in the UK, is a fitting backdrop to the announcement. Surveying a decade of his work it features Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006) and Broken Manual (2010) as well as the UK premiere of Songbook.
His work is characterised by a lyrical approach to documentary photography and a restless experimentation across the many forms that photography can take: from exhibitions and books, to zines and digital media. Soth, who lives and works in Minnesota, also shares the great American fascination with the open road, bringing a fresh perspective to ideas explored in the twentieth century by artists and writers such as Robert Frank, Stephen Shore and Jack Kerouac.
Throughout the exhibition we are in no doubt that we are looking at the work of an American photographer. We recognise the physical landscapes and wilderness of the USA, from iconic sights like the Niagara Falls through to wild forest. We also see the small rural towns whilst rural and run down suburbs also act as backdrops for his poetic surveys of American life.
For Sleeping by the Mississippi Soth set off with his large format camera to travel its 2000 mile course. He drifts lazily down its course taking in dreamers, visionaries and time worn motels. His camera transports us physically and metaphorically via the moving waters and the wandering imaginations and dreams of the regions residents.
Niagara has of course long been associated with both honeymoons and suicides. Soth refers to its ‘intensified sexuality and unsustainable desire’ and grabs snippets of poetry and evidence of passion, people in bars an wedding venues and juxtaposes them with the grandeur of the flowing falls.
Broken Manual explores the desire to run away from civilisation. Researching the web he discovered a world of communications and manifestos distributed by those who have chosen to withdraw from society: survivalists, monks and hermits.
We see some of the documents and Soths own zines displayed in glazed cabinets in the exhibition space. Soth also created his own survival instructions, the Broken Manual and then went on the road himself in seeking out here people.
He found his recluses in the vast unpopulated expanses of America – from deserts to forests – and photographed them in their solitude, drafted in their settings.
Finally, in Songbook, Soth elucidates modern American life in a timeless black and white. The project emerged from a series of road trips with the writer Brad Zellar. Posing as local newspaper reporters, over the course of two years they attended hundreds of meetings, dances, festivals, and communal gatherings, the resulting stories published as an ad hoc series of ‘dispatches’ from the different states visited.
Soth isolates his photographs from their original news context, and in doing so, evokes a human desire for interaction in an era increasingly defined by virtual social networks. Funny, fragmentary and sad, Songbook is a lyrical meditation on the tension between American individualism and the urge to be united.
Gathered Leaves – Photographs by Alex Soth is on until 28 March 2016
For more information visit www.sciencemuseum.org.uk