11 October 2015 § Leave a comment
People fleeing from hunger, war and political oppression have always been a staple of the daily news and with the current European crisis refugees are again in the headlines. With Ai Weiwei also now in the media with his latest show at the RA (reviewed here) it seems a particularly apt time to be dipping in to the politically-charged world of William Kentridge.
At the heart of Kentridge’s first solo presentation in London for fifteen years is a new multi-screen film installation entitled More Sweetly Play the Dance. This substantial exhibition also includes another film, monumental ink-on-paper paintings, sculptures and drawings.
This new work is a 45-metre-long frieze that depicts a seemingly endless parade of figures. A combination of dance, shadow puppetry, ballet, theatre, film, and music it features a procession of people, largely in silhouette, moving around us from screen to screen against a bare and evocative landscape, drawn by Kentridge in charcoal.
Made using a unique technique which he has called “poor-man’s animation” it involves working on a single piece of paper in charcoal making an expressive drawing before erasing, adding new elements and erasing again. He then animates the images into a mesmeric whole.
It is a sublime work from an artist at his peak. One moment it appears as a political rally or a stream of refugees, at another a funereal cortege. Figures variously carry flags, play instruments, parade with shadow heads. One figure drags a body whilst another wheels a hospital drip.
Some wear military caps, some are in rags. An animated pair of scissors jerks its way around the screen and skeletons dance. It is bizarre, witty, sad, macabre and yet somehow uplifting. The whole is accompanied by a magical accordion and brass band accompaniment reminiscent of New Orleans Jazz funerals.
This is Mao’s China, communist Russia, black Africa, the Balkans, post-war Europe and todays Middle East all rolled in to one. The casualties of hunger and war, streams of displaced people, human misery in one tragic everlasting parade.
Born in South Africa to parents who were both anti-apartheid lawyers, his father defending Nelson Mandela among others, Kentridge’s studies inevitably took in politics before including art, film and theatre. Although primarily an artist all these influences are deeply imbedded in his work.
Another film installation, based on Mao’s model operas, features an African ballet dancer, file in hand, in front of changing notebooks, maps and images of famine and poverty – cleverly highlighting political posturing as populations suffer.
The main gallery downstairs has a new series of works in which political dictums are interwoven throughout giant ink images of flowers drawn on pages of found political text.
Smaller works on paper span two walls including a sequence of doves flying across a sky of Chinese calligraphy. An adjacent room contains two groups of painted bronze heads that developed through research for Kentridge’s production of Alban Berg’s opera ‘Lulu’.
To coincide with this show the play ‘Ubu and the Truth Commission’ is on at the Coronet London. Both surely are amongst the do-not-miss highlights of the year.
Images by CELLOPHANELAND* and Marian Goodman Gallery.
31 July 2014 § Leave a comment
29 July 2014 § Leave a comment
Despite Kasimir Malevich being widely feted during his lifetime as a leader in non-figurative art exhibitions of work since his death in 1935 have been few and far between. With the location of many works not only behind the iron curtain but considered subversive – the seminal ‘Black Square’ was actually hidden from view until the 1980’s – the opportunity for bringing together a significant body of Malevich’s work has been limited.
This show is quite simply breathtaking. A 2003 Guggenheim-sponsored tour was impressive but this Tate show dwarfs anything previously attempted. An unprecedented international collaboration has brought over 150 major works plus another 150 works on paper, publications and film. It was with great anticipation therefore that we previewed the Tate show, entitled simply Malevich and were not disappointed.
Malevich is of course most famous for one of the defining works of the 20th century – Black Square. This slightly uneven shape painted with a white frame, was created in 1915 roughly contemporaneously with Marcel Duchamp’s groundbreaking readymades. Equally revolutionary it boldly and clearly signalled the end of painting as it was then known.
Bringing an end to centuries of representation this was a giant artistic full stop. He had momentously declared that art was now free of history and was ready for “the beginning of a new culture”. Malevich’s new beginning was Suprematism – a bold visual language of abstract geometric shapes and stark colours and its first exhibition was The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10 (Zero-ten).
The Tate has recreated this momentous event with by reuniting nine of the remaining twelve known works and rehanging them according to the only black and white photograph of the original exhibition. This small photograph shows, in black and white, two walls densely hung with Black Square positioned in the top corner – taking the traditional place of a typical homes religious icon.
Despite the many missing works the impact upon arriving in this room is huge. Suddenly one is aware of what a massive impact must have been felt one hundred years ago upon arriving at the same viewpoint; an earth-shattering assault on the senses that can never have been previously experienced. The effect is almost as strong today – the black and white works are bold and striking, the others surprisingly colourful.
The remainder of the show necessarily takes a back seat but is still impressive. Starting from his early paintings of Russian landscapes, agricultural workers and religious scenes, the exhibition follows the influence of the French Impressionists, particularly Matisse, and his journey towards abstract painting and his suprematist masterpieces.
In 1913, together with musician Mikhail Matyushin and poet Aleksei Kruchenykh, Malevich produced a manifesto calling for the dissolution of language and the end to rational thought before producing with them the futurist opera Victory Over the Sun. The collaboration helped bring forward ideas to wrest painting away from its duty to render a world of myths, stories and representations.
The exhibition moves in to the Suprematist era with a stunning series of rooms that chronicle the Malevich’s most inventive period. Despite shortages and poor living conditions we see exciting geometric abstracts on the white backgrounds of ‘infinite space’ and a variety of monochromes or bold shapes. Call up to the war however soon slowed down output before the gradually increasing disapproval of the new Soviet leaders of avant-garde art forced him in to abandon painting for teaching and drawing.
Possibly chastened by the Stalinist state in to conforming he later returns to painting combining his early style with the strange introduction of aspects of realism and Renaissance portraiture. It is notable however that many of his last works are not signed but instead feature a tiny black square – the same Black Square that hung over his death bed and led his funeral cortege. Malevich certainly realised that this was his key achievement – an iconic work that symbolised both the end and a new beginning.
Malevich is at Tate Modern, SE1 (020 7887 8888, tate.org.uk) until 26 October 2014
4 December 2012 § Leave a comment
Just in case you hadn’t noticed the long-established Marlborough Gallery (AKA Marlborough Fine Art) has just opened a Contemporary gallery space in Albemarle Street, Mayfair. The Gallery is of course one of the biggest names in the art world – I quote from their website:
” Marlborough Fine Art was founded in 1946 by Frank Lloyd and Harry Fischer who emigrated to England from Vienna, where Lloyd’s family had been antique dealers for three generations and Fischer had dealt in antiquarian books. They first met in 1940, as soldiers in the British army. In 1948 they were joined by a third partner, David Somerset, now the Duke of Beaufort, and chairman of Marlborough Fine Art (London) Ltd.
After the wartime years of recession, London became the principal market for modern art and Marlborough’s role in this changing art world was established. It set standards for exhibitions that were worthy of a modern museum. These were reviewed like museum shows, and the gallery became a focus for collectors, museum directors and connoisseurs as well as history of art students. In 1952 Marlborough was already selling masterpieces of late 19th century including bronzes by Edgar Degas and paintings by Mary Cassatt, Paul Signac, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Alfred Sisley, Auguste Renoir amongst others and drawings by Constantine Guys and Vincent van Gogh.”
Impressive stuff, so one should have high hopes of the new Contemporary branch especially with its director, Andrew Renton, former director of curating at Goldsmiths. The first, rather dry, exhibition from Angela Ferreira linked the Cullinan diamond mine and the Chislehurst caves and commented upon social space and cultural histories.
The latest show is from Koen van der Broek who reduces landscape in to bare minimums, rendering them as almost unrecognisable. He revisits a chicane in a short stretch of LA street from which he has produced just five large canvases using a repeated palette of buff, cream, blue and black. Reminiscent of the American abstract expressionists to which he consciously refers they fill the large upstairs gallery space.
They are undeniably impressive, and interesting to view alongside his earlier work, but van den Broek has been around for some while and is not exactly cutting-edge. Staying dull and safe so far Marlborough Contemporary has not – for me – quite (yet) hit the wow factor that it perhaps had with the modernist artists back in the 1940’s!
Koen van den Broek until 5 January 2013 at Marlborough Contemporary
- Marlborough Fine Art tries to throw off burden of the Rothko scandal (guardian.co.uk)
24 February 2012 § 1 Comment
I’m turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese, I really think so….. It seems that there are all sorts of Japanesey things happening here in London pretty much at the same time – the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern being the highlight of course.
Opening soon Now & Future JAPAN supports orphaned children from the Tsunami and features a work by Yoko Ono repeated from 1966 – Mend Piece – where visitors are invited to join in by repairing broken china. A fund-raising auction takes place alongside – see website for details. Please try to support it.
Meanwhile, starting today at Earls Court, Hyper Japan is UK’s biggest celebration of Japanese ‘culture, cuisine and cool.’ I will try and drop in if only to say konishi wa to Satoshi Miki – director of those unforgettable classics Instant Swamp and Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (see it!) and to check out the World Cosplay Summit (Cosplay being anime/manga/video dressing up – don’t ya just love it!).
Talking about someone who loves dressing up Yayoi Kusama‘s big solo exhibition at Tate Modern kicked off a couple of weeks ago. I do like Kusama, but I was not overly excited about the prospect of some 14 rooms chock full of her trademark spots. However this was a prospect that I has seriously misjudged and Yayoi, bowing deeply, I apologise. Like many, I am sure, I have been far too ready to assign her to the ‘it’s just lots of spots’ category (even the Tate get carried away in the foyer – image above!) but here was a timely reminder of all the wonderful, innovative and varied work that she has made over a long – and still continuing – highly influential career.
A prodigy and already exhibiting in her teens Kusama moved quickly from oils to every variety of works on paper and the first rooms of the exhibition show stunning imagination and variety. Quickly even Japan was too small for her. She soon decided, whilst only still in her mid twenties that ‘For art like mine… questioning what we are and what it means to live and die… [Japan] was too small… My art needed a more unlimited freedom and a wider world.’
So off she went to the USA first having made contact with Georgia O’Keefe – one of the most influential painters of that time: this was no shrinking violet but a hugely determined artist. She quickly switched now from the compulsive and repetitive Infinity Nets to sculpture-making, her Accumulation Sculptures covering everyday objects with repeating forms. Her huge influence on the avant-garde of pop art being clear if I simply tell you that a boat sculpture was exhibited as the ‘One Thousand Boats Show’ in a room pasted on all sides with repeating silkscreen images (of the same boat from above) a full three years before Warhol created his ‘Cow’ wallpaper and that her stuffed objects predated those of Claes Oldenburg.
Her work continued to evolve rapidly. She featured herself in her own collages, photographs and films, putting the artist at the centre of the work – a tactic we are now (overly?) familiar with a la Emin, Abramovic, Gormley etc – but back then highly original. She threw herself in to happenings, performances and installation ‘environments’. As if she had not yet done enough she returned to Japan where she briefly set herself up as an art dealer before, deeply troubled, she checked herself in to an asylum where she remains to this day. As you may have guessed even this did not stop her with production of collages, sculpture, painting and installation still continuing apace.
If anyone has forgotten, or did not realise, just how influential and original Kusama really was then this excellent and comprehensive exhibition is a real must-see. A highly surreal, visual treat right through until the final two room-sized installations; one an infra-red/day-glo world of multi-coloured spots that float before your eyes, the other a mirrored space containing infinitely reflected tiny multi-coloured lights. Dazzling in every way – and the kids will love it too!
Yayoi Kusama at Tate Modern until 5 June 2012
Now & Future JAPAN at 39 Dover Street, London W1S 4NN from 3 – 9 March 2012
Hyper Japan at Earls Court 24 – 26 February 2012
- Yayoi Kusama, Tate Modern, review (telegraph.co.uk)
- Yayoi Kusama arrives at Tate Modern with a polka at Damien Hirst (guardian.co.uk)
29 June 2011 § 1 Comment
I was not a big fan of Emin – or even a small fan for that matter. To me she seems to represent the art worlds version of Big Brother. Here is Emin determined to reveal every personal trait, good, bad and ugly to the public who are determined to lap it all up – the more lascivious or embarrassing the better. Life laid bare as entertainment. Reality TV as art.
Nevertheless I was determined to go to this exhibition with an open mind. She has an army of fans in the art and media and they surely must see something compelling in her work. However the omens were not good. I arrived at the usual ‘opening day’ – the day immediately following the private view – but the exhibition, strangely, was ‘closed for a private event’. I eventually got in the following day.
In the catalogue Emin explains that her art is all about words and as we enter we get an awful lot of them, the first galleries occupied by her blankets and neons. The appliqued blankets are very impressive. Large, colourful and eye-catching they are more powerful as a group than individually with words and phrases used cleverly to illustrate a ‘patchwork of memories’ or concerns in the wider world.
Extending across the room is ‘Knowing the Enemy’ – a partially collapsed pier inspired by a letter written by her father. It is clever and interesting – the broken planking isolating a lonely cabin at the pier’s end. Evocative of longing and loss.
From this point the exhibition sadly goes rapidly downhill. The neons look pretty but putting trite statements like ‘love is all you want’ in neon does not unfortunately make particularly interesting art. A lame film of Emin on horseback wandering around Margate sand is one of several films to avoid. There is a ‘scrap book’ of a room entitled ‘Family and Friends’ with lots of trivial bits and pieces scattered over the wall and reverentially placed in cabinets – I started to try to read and make sense of these sundry fragments but lost the will to live.
In ‘Drawings’ there are various scrawled versions of Tracey masturbating and little else whilst searching desperately for more ‘Room’ topics the Hayward scrape the barrel with ‘Trauma’, ‘Menphis’, ‘Early Work’ (almost non-existent), ‘Sculpture’ (ditto) and ‘Terraces’ (a couple of teddies under benches).
A couple of works were sadly missing – ‘Everyone I ever Slept With’ was destroyed in the Momart fire and ‘Bed’ which Saatchi has kept aside for a 2012 show in Chelsea. Both would have added much to what was ultimately an exhibition rather devoid of strong individual pieces
It is undoubtedly true that many of the works would be lost individually but brought together in to a – sort of – coherent whole they have much more impact. Emin’s art, and life, makes much more sense and the gallery has done a good job of curation. I quite enjoyed the exhibition as an overview of a cultural icon but as for the art I ended up siding with Jake and Dinos Chapman who recently laid in to Emin during an Independent interview (18 June 2011) ‘I cant stand it. It’s art therapy – it doesn’t belong outside her head.’ ‘Tracey draws very badly .. and everybody claps their flippers together.’ The Chapmans incidentally are preparing for an exhibition at White Cube (opening 15 July 2011) where they have worked apart for several months, the results secret to the gallery and each other – now that I will find interesting.
Tracey Emin Love is all you Need. The Hayward Gallery until 19 August 2011
Jake or Dinos Chapman at White Cube Hoxton Square and Masons Yard. 15 July to 17 September 2011
- Emin: loving and dying for her art (independent.co.uk)
- Tracey Emin: ‘art in Britain has never been better’ (telegraph.co.uk)