13 January 2016 § Leave a comment
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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.
The 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.
Although 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.
There 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?
It 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.
Interestingly, 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.
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
9 January 2016 § Leave a comment
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 297 x 297 mm, 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 in
- 1064 pp
- 1,000 colour illustrations
- ISBN-13: 9780714847894
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For more information visit www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk
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)