24 February 2016 § Leave a comment
I am usually rather sceptical about anything featuring numbered selections. Nowadays hardly anything seems to reach the pages of a magazine or a TV screen without being reduced to a seemingly arbitrary list. At best it can be of modest help where information has been distilled from something extensive or complex but at worst is simply a pointless exercise made with minimal critical judgement. The title of 100 Works Of Art That Will Define Our Age therefore aroused suspicion. How much selection was there? Was there really a nice round number? Could, or should, ’100’ just have been left off?
Numerical gripes aside this is an exceptional book. It is a formidable task to attempt to scroll forwards in time and make a judgement on how a future population will have judged art of the present day or indeed judge the art of your own era. It would also be easy to get bogged down in an almost endless series of semantic or philosophical questions but Grovier however delicately navigates this minefield with humour and skill.
He notes that Vincent Van Gogh’s contemporary view of his own ’Starry Night’ was that it was a dreadful ‘failure’ and by slipping in frequent insights such as this Grovier lets us glimpse at how the defining views of the art of the past and present are ever fluid.
We see how the artists of today continually draw from the past and how meanings flow in two directions. Great art never finishes but instead forever participates having the power to alter the art of the past as well as to influence the future.
Grover actually creates a definition of ‘Our Age’ by selecting art from about 1990 to 2010 leaving a certain amount of critical weight to have already been applied. The notorious Saatchi Sensation exhibition from 1997 already seems an age ago and a handful of works like Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and Marc Quinn’s Self are naturally included. Many others like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project for the Tate Turbine Hall, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present and Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’ seem natural choices, neatly included in sections with titles like ‘Is All Art Nostalgic’ and ‘Can Art and Life ever be in Sync?’.
At the same time one does wonder whether the likes of Jeff Wall, Cristina Iglesias, Walid Raad, Sean Scully and Sheela Gowda really define our age. I dont think so, and it is a stretch to think that as many as a hundred works can possibly define an age. If we look back another thirty years to Pop art how far do we see beyond a handful of names like say, Warhol and Lichtenstein? Who knows even if the period 1990 to 2010 will ever make its mark on history or fade in to a forgotten mist?
However, as one progressed through the book, the pleasure in looking back at some of the great works of our era and reading Grovier’s beautifully written and insightful analyses will dissolve all doubts. It reads easily and gently expands our appreciation of works that we perhaps doubted or misunderstood. It may, or may not, in the end include the works that define our age but perhaps it is best viewed simply as an exemplary record of memorable recent art.
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com
16 November 2015 § Leave a comment
The Newport Street Gallery is the culmination of a long stated Damien Hirst ambition – a desire to publicly show his private collection. It may also be part of an additional desire to prove that an artist can also be a gallerist and curator. Hirst of course broke the mould in 1988 as one of the main mover and shakers behind the notorious Freeze exhibition, where he helped gather together a group of his Goldsmiths art College contemporaries, many of whom later became known as the young British artists (yBa’s).
John Hoyland is perhaps surprising as a choice for the inaugural exhibition at the new space as he and Hirst are not at first glance natural bedfellows. Hoyland, one of Britains foremost abstract (he preferred the term non-figurative) painters, was notoriously anti-conceptual and also felt that artists should be very much ‘hands-on’ and physically creating their own work. Despite Hirst being the antithesis of Hoyland’s ideals the two however became friends with Hirst steadily purchasing dozens of his works.
And what an exhibition it is. Over thirty works pop and sparkle like jewels over the half a dozen airy ‘rooms’ set over two floors. This is a perfect venue for Hoyland’s works, the ‘white cube’ warehouse space a fine foil for the oversized canvases with their gloriously vivid blocks of colour.
Hoyland ‘discovered’ colour in the south of France in the fifties and in the early sixties was heavily influenced by American Abstract Expressionism, having visited New York to seek out artists like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. It is these influences from which Hoyland forged his own path and from this time that the first works in this exhibition were painted.
Arranged largely chronologically we begin with pieces from the sixties – the first room full of vivid red works, the second bright green ones. They are clearly heavily Rothko and Newman influenced, with expansive colour fields – the very earliest like 17.5.64 including biomorphic shapes, which in slightly later works have evolved in to roughly delineated colour blocks or columns. Rather than being flat though, there is a sculptural dimension with influence from his sculptor friend, Anthony Caro.
As we move onwards (and upwards) the soft edges of the colour fields harden whilst surface texture increases. In works like 29.12.66 greys appear, whilst in others there are more colours, diagonals and bolder forms make a more graphic statement.
One rather different work 23.2.71 painted in a pale pink and gold comes from a short period in the early seventies spent in his Wiltshire studio where he used a more delicate palette, but it was not long before he was back to powerful blues and reds alongside other strong colours in works like 29.3.80.
Using diverse means of application these forceful compositions include strong diagonals and fractured patches of colour in heavily textured paint.
Perhaps Hirst has selected Hoyland to avoid the more obvious selection of works from fellow yBa’s for example or perhaps he feels an affinity between this sculptural use of colour and his own spot and spin paintings. In any case this is a successful show in a truly wonderful space. Hopefully soon we can follow a Newport Street Gallery visit with a meal in Pharmacy2 due to open on the top floor in 2016.
For further information, visit: http://www.newportstreetgallery.com
All images by CELLOPHANELAND* and Newport Street Gallery.
29 October 2015 § Leave a comment
Editions are not our favourite form of art. There is the criticism – usually justified – that they are an easy way to maximise profit for both artist and dealer whilst at the same time keeping as many collectors as possible moderately happy.
Rather like Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst has made rather more of a virtue of repetition, a large part of his art involving multiplication even where the work is unique. After all there are of course his spot paintings – an endless repeating mantra of coloured spots, numerous repeated spin paintings, shelves and shelves of pharmecuticals and pills, diamonds by the score, butterflies by the thousand, and even breeding flies.
Yet even with this background, another batch of editioned works does not somehow seem to be an overt case of profiteering. Rather more it is another Hirst statement about the art world and reflects his methodology.
The latest exhibition at Paul Stolper reverts to his fascination with the pharmaceutical industry. Like being cast in to a miniature Alice in Wonderland world of giant ‘Drink me’ potions the gallery features shelves of giant pills, medicine bottles, pharmaceutical boxes, ampoules, syringes, a scalpel, and drug packaging that all play with concepts of scale – the tallest measuring nearly one and a half metres.
“Pills are a brilliant little form, better than any minimalist art. They’re all designed to make you buy them… they come out of flowers, plants, things from the ground, and they make you feel good, you know, to just have a pill, to feel beauty” Hirst says.
A three metre neon sign reading ‘Schizophrenogenesis’, each letter in a different colour, lights the space. Both a warning sign and a beacon, the work entices us into the gallery, where we are confronted by ‘The Cure’; a wall of thirty silkscreen prints, each depicting a two-colour pill set against vibrant backgrounds of pop-candy colours.
This is a playground of pharmaceuticals which further Hirst’s enduring exploration of contemporary belief systems; religion, love, art and medicine. The manipulation of scale, is just one of the techniques employed by the artist to analyse the confident aesthetic of the pharmaceutical industry.
It is all rather clever and it is immensely hard not to succumb to the temptation to touch these beautifully fabricated and highly seductive objects. With prices starting in the low thousands the prices are similarly tempting.
Hirst is an easy target but once again he has his finger on the pulse and even on cruise control has created another excellent body of work.
For more information visit the Paul Stolper Gallery
2 September 2012 § 1 Comment
It seems hard to believe that it is over four months since I was at the Press Preview of Damien Hirst at the Tate. How time (butter)flies. I have been meaning to write up a review ever since then but the thought of doing it is so depressing I have almost daily delayed the act. So here we go. I’ll try and make it and short and painless as possible. And as close to the end of the run so you won’t even be tempted to see how bad it really is.
The first thing that you actually notice is that the Tate have cunningly nicked one of the permanent exhibition areas to create three paid-for shows and so reducing the tally of free-to-view from four to three. Clearly the sneaky idea is to maximise revenue for the Olympics.
And so to the exhibition. I firstly should say that Damien Hirst has an important place in the art work. Almost single-handedly he created the yBa phenomenon and gave British art a kick up the arts that it most definitely needed with his Freeze graduate show. He deserves congratulations. He deserves to be remembered and have a nice big entry in Wikipedia. But he doesn’t deserve this show and neither do we.
The first room at the Tate shows this student work. Interestingly, of the artists at Freeze Hirst was one of the last picked up by a major gallery and its easy to see why with these rough half-formed ideas. He actually called them “embarassing” himself – so why are they here?
The Tate’s excuse is that it is not a highlights show but a mid-career review. So where are the execrable paintings that the the Wallace collection misguidedly showed a couple of years back?
Following his post-student lull we all know how quickly he made up for lost time in the get rich quick world of the 90’s and noughties. He was at the heart of the rise of art as commodity and artist as a brand. An artist who set out, unapologetically, to make shock-art that also made money. Accompanied by the rise of the super-galleries this is an era that much of the art world is trying hard to forget – a time where cash and vulgarity ruled.
Hirst explains: “I always thought it would be great if art galleries were more like the Natural History Museum (London), where you go in and there’s this big wow factor, rather than having to ask yourself, ‘What am I supposed to be thinking?’”
So here you get room after room of “wow factor” art that hits you in the eyes. I won’t bother to describe it all – I’m sure you know them all by now: spots, vitrines, spin paintings, butterflies, anatomical dummies, medicine cabinets. Each is repeated ad nauseum – usually bigger or bolder or with more diamonds stuck on.
The net effect is tedious and repetitious. You come out feeling like you have been slapped around the face or punched in the stomach. Dizzy and slightly nauseous. Note to Tate – must try harder.
That is all you are getting. Just don’t go. Please.
- Damien Hirst inspired by John Noakes’s Blue Peter spin paintings (telegraph.co.uk)
23 February 2012 § Leave a comment
With todays unveiling of the Elmgreen & Dragset sculpture for the fourth plinth – Powerless Structures; fig 101 – the online digital ‘art’ collecting company s[edition] is offering 5000 free ‘editions’ of the sculpture.
For those of you who haven’t heard s[edition] “is a revolutionary new way to collect art by the world’s leading contemporary artists in digital format. Experience a whole new world of art and collecting.” Supposedly this is the way that you can suddenly ‘own’ you own masterworks of contemporary art. They boast that works “that can normally command astronomical prices can be had here [sic] for as little as 4 Euros.” They do not mention that it is up to 500 euros – -hardly good value in my book. And who are these artists that have licenced their work? Surprise, surprise – Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Matt Collishaw for starters, you can guess many of the rest.
Hmm – 4 Euros – spotted the catch yet? Uniquely it can only be used on digital devices accessible from your online vault. Infact all you are doing is paying to use an image. Forgive me for being cynical but wouldn’t most people just find an image somewhere on the web and use it as a screensaver? OK, officially you have to have permission to use some images but still many people will not be too concerned about using any image they find on the web for personal use (and there are plenty of royalty free images around too).
S[edition] cleverly throw around words like ‘own’, ‘collection’, ‘certificate of authenticity’. Art collecting is “instant, affordable, social and enjoyable“. And what happens if you want to sell some of these valuable ‘editions’ that you ‘own’ in your ‘art collection’. You can forget it for now – you cannot sell (or give) them to anyone else. They promise an online marketplace in the future, but don’t expect a queue of takers for those Hirst spots that you thought might look nice on the ipad.
Don’t get seduced in to thinking you are ‘owning’ contemporary art and this is somehow an art ‘collection’. This is throwaway temporary decoration. When I was younger we used to have access to instant, affordable, good value artworks – they were called Athena posters. They are of course now all valueless and discarded. If you want ‘arty’ screen-savers do yourself a favour and save some money – just browse the web!
- S[edition] Art: Collect Boldface Artists, Digitally (apartmenttherapy.com)
- elmgreen & dragset unveiled on 4th plinth trafalgar square (akickupthearts.wordpress.com)
26 December 2011 § Leave a comment
It seems appropriate that three of the most notorious names of recent years have been in the news recently and have appeared there for widely different reasons. Tracey Emin has just been appointed Professor of Drawing at the Royal Academy, Damien Hirst has announced new exhibitions of his entire spot paintings and Banksy has just donated a ‘controversial’ work to the Walker Gallery in Liverpool. Only one should be meaningful to the art world.
Here are three very different artists that have taken key roles within the mass media as representatives of the contemporary art world. Their ‘notoriety’ has been neatly pigeonholed by the press. Tracey Emin for her raw and sexual autobiographical work, the unmade bed, the ‘how can this be art’ tabloid diatribe. She is the bad girl made good. Damien Hirst for his blatant money-making approach and mass-produced work – symbol of the commercialisation of art. The bad boy made rich. Banksy for his anonymous (despite the fact that everyone knows who he is – it’s just that nobody wants to spoil the game) gallery ‘interventions’ and graffiti. The naughty boy turned film producer.
The board of the Royal Academy has just appointed Emin as Professor of Drawing. Although she has been quite cosy with the RA for some years her appointment is a surprise to me. After all she is famously inclusive with her attitude to method – she paints, draws, embroiders, sculpts, etches, assembles, works in neon and much more. She told us for her Hayward solo show that her work ‘is about words’. Her drawing is OK – if you like repeated drawings of Emin masturbating. Actually I am being overly critical – her drawing is quite good but hardly the stuff of RA professorship. This is an appointment that smacks of some combination of internal/external politics, inclusivity (she is the first female professor in RA history) and media attention.
Hirst meanwhile, as commercial as ever, will next month be showing his entire output of spot paintings at 11 Gagosian galleries worldwide when over 300 variations of the painting series that he first produced in 1988 will be shown. He announced them finished in 2008 but (his ‘factory’) continues production, currently working on a painting that contains two million spots. I hope you can contain your excitement – just one of these appalling ‘paintings’ is enough for me. Yawn.
Up in Liverpool, just in time for Christmas, the Walker has announced the permanent loan of a piece by Banksy. Entitled Cardinal Sin an 18th Century replica stone bust has had its face sawn off and glued on is a selection of bathroom tiles. The resulting ‘pixellated’ portrait is a very neat comment on the abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and its on-going cover-up.
The one significant piece of news? Whilst Emin has become part of the establishment and Hirst regurgitates his poorest work (easiest to make?) only Banksy – who I have had mixed feelings about to date – produces something of worth. Further this is his best work to date by far – away from quaint political slogans and clever graffiti he has made a Museum quality work. As he says “The statue? I guess you could call it a Christmas present. “At this time of year it’s easy to forget the true meaning of Christianity – the lies, the corruption, the abuse.” Brilliant. Re-spect.
[ps – apologies for a prolonged absence in December – moving house!]
- Hirst connects dots across New York, Paris, London and more (travelnews.britishairways.com)
- Tracey Emin appointed as RA’s Professor of Drawing (telegraph.co.uk)
11 July 2011 § 2 Comments
Amazingly I have now been blogging my way through the London art scene for a whole year now. I thank all those of you – some 20,000 – who have bothered to read my assorted ramblings.
Meanwhile, thanks to the nice people at WordPress, there are all sorts of reports and analyses to discover what the great British public (clearly in this case a notch above the average!) really are interested in. Which blogs were most read, the search terms you used to find the site and what you had for breakfast? I shall reveal all….
OK, not your breakfasts, but you get my drift – there is an awful lot of analysis available and there are all sorts of statistical traps to tumble in to, the chief one being that any ‘visitor’ analysis reflects what I have actually written about eg: Marc Quinn would not be on the list because I did not write about him. Another problem is that even if I wrote about ‘Picasso’ daily who who click my blog amongst the zillions of Picasso search results? Treat the ‘charts’ below with caution but you never know they may actually reveal something?
1. Most visited and searched of the year, by a mile, was Pordenone Montenari, an unfortunate recluse who was rocketed in to the news by an Indian fund manager who thought that he could make a quick buck by promoting him as a newly discovered genius – he isn’t (image above).
2. I spent a couple of spare hours compiling a brief list of art-related humorous quotes and jokes. Sadly it trounced many deeply considered blogs of serious critical analysis and was second most searched. Oh well…
3. Amazingly Wolf Vostell came in third. I wrote just one feature about him and commented that he was sadly ignored in the annals of post-war art. Obviously not by many hundreds of you! Exhibition curators take note…
4. Ah, then comes the first contemporary artist – clearly it will be Emin, Hirst or Banksy perhaps? No, it is Eugenie Scrase, the oft- ridiculed winner of TV’s School of Saatchi. Ignore the power of TV at your peril. Worth a flutter if she ever gets a solo gallery show.
5 & 6. Perhaps we shall now get on to some serious art? Nope. Next is Ben Wilson the ‘chewing gum artist’. Well, he is quite interesting. Picasso slips meaninglessly in at 6th before the next half-dozen places. These are taken by contemporary artists of which I have featured literally hundreds, many of them mentioned numerous times. I have covered all the emerging artists championed for example by Saatchi and the top commercial galleries. Are these the ‘cream’ of those featured? Is too little being written about them? Should we take more notice of them in the future?
9. Alison Jackson. Hilarious and sometimes disturbing photos that ‘depict our suspicions’. Wry comments on our relationship with celebrity.
10. Wangechi Mutu. Striking paintings and collages referencing cultural identity.
11. Michael Fullerton. A brilliant show at Chisenhale and with work in British Art Now 7, his star is rising fast.
12. Following closely behind was Ida Ekblad, young and inventive Danish multi-media artist.
13. Clare Woods paints the strange, dark world of urban undergrowth.
Following close behind are Littlewhitehead and Toby Ziegler. A little farther back is Damien Hirst – perhaps surprising he’s not higher, but then again he does get rather a lot of column inches written about him.
Biggest surprise? Perhaps the fact that Tracey Emin is not on the list – or in fact even in the top 50 artists – despite the fact that my Love is What You Want Hayward review appears on the first couple of pages on a Google search and that I have featured her regularly when in contrast eg: Olivier and Ekblad I featured just once. Emin perhaps is not what you want?
So there we have it. After a year of careful and deep intellectual musing on the complexities of the contemporary art scene what you really were most interested in were an Italian recluse and a few jokes. Now where did I hear about that one legged, reclusive, dwarf, artist?
10 October 2010 § Leave a comment
Whatever you think of Mr Hirst, there is one thing for sure – he is not going to fade away. His latest exhibition opened last week to reveal some 340 different butterflies (not all on display), each in signed editions of 15 – a grand total of some 5,100 prints. At £3,000 (plus VAT) a pop it is not a bad return for the bad boy of British Art but, on the other hand, it is a relatively modest outlay to get your hands on an attractive original Hirst. It will not make anyone a fast buck, but should also hold its modest value reasonably well.
For someone who suffers from mild Lepidopterphobia (roughly translated as a fear of butterflies), it was with more than a little trepidation that I made my way to the Paul Stolper gallery in a beautiful Bloomsbury Street for the opening of The Souls by Damien Hirst last week. Thankfully my fears were alleviated as soon as I stepped into the beautiful pale, bright room containing floor to ceiling white frames encasing hypnotic shimmering butterflies.
As this was an exhibition of editioned prints, I was prepared for feelings of cynicism but was actually most surprised at how much I genuinely liked them. The four different shapes of butterfly together with the kaleidoscope of 84 different colour combinations were overwhelmingly beautiful. The foil-blocking of each butterfly has been done in three stages and then the base colour print received two more iridescent layers which highlight the detail on the patterned wing or body. Some butterflies comprise three colours, some two and others just one. The striking thing about each however, is that the image changes depending on where you’re standing. Even a matt wing glitters if you move an inch or two to the right or left.
Grouped in sets of four, the layout is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Flowers exhibition first displayed in 1964. You choose a favourite and then upon walking around the gallery, immediately your choice has been superseded with a new favourite – impossible! I expected to stay ten minutes and instead, remained for an hour just gawking at these objects of immense beauty and fragility.
Hirst was as usual confronting the balances between life and death. I, on the other hand, was confronting my secret admiration for these elegant insects. In fact I would love to buy a print if only I could decide which one.
Lost Souls runs until 13 November 2010.
For further information please visit: www.paulstolper.com
- Damien Hirst: The Souls, Paul Stolper Gallery, London (independent.co.uk)
- Why I’ve joined Damien Hirst’s bad taste party (guardian.co.uk)
- Damien Hirst faces new plagiarism claims (telegraph.co.uk)