13 January 2016 § Leave a comment
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
24 May 2014 § Leave a comment
To use an old cliche it seems like death was a great career move for the British sculptor Lynn Chadwick. Once acknowledged as a leader of a group of exciting young sculptors that included for example Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, and championed by renowned critic Herbert Read he was touted as a successor to the likes of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. He enjoyed a burst of fame in the 1950’s that culminated in 1956 when he won the International Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale but from that point onwards until his death, aged 88 in 2003, he was largely ignored by the art establishment and unknown by the British public. Until now.
He has enjoyed a recent and highly deserved renaissance, started by his retrospective in the Tate in 2003 and followed by a number of important galleries, that has led to a series of exhibitions this summer. Four of his works were recently installed in front of the RA and now Osborne Samuel May and Blain Southern are featuring extensive solo shows. In addition there are also exhibitions this summer in Berlin and New York.
Blain Southern‘s impressive new Hanover Square space is an ideal venue to enjoy a range of seminal bronzes from the 1950s and 1960s, amongst them Teddy Boy & Girl (1955) – one of the works that earned Chadwick the International Sculpture Prize at the Venice Biennale in 1956 – as well as the monumental Stranger III (1959). These, along with Beast XVI (1959), Black Beast (1960) and Moon of Alabama (1957), serve to illustrate not only Chadwick’s unerring interest in human and animal forms, but the mainstay of his artistic practice; the manner in which he blurred the lines between figuration and abstraction.
Existential angst and despair is his favoured theme. There are howling beasts and attenuated figures with jagged heads, torsos reminiscent of bat wings and spindly, insect-like legs but while Chadwick is best known for his bronze works on occasion also worked with other materials. His group of Formica on wood ‘Pyramid’ and ‘Split’ sculptures – clean geometric shapes produced in 1966 – are shown in the main galleries and are surprisingly fresh and modern. Downstairs a group of welded stainless steel beasts represents Chadwick’s late exploration of the medium of steel in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Make sure to take the opportunity to view this impressive group of works but Chadwick’s new reputation doesn’t come cheap. It will set you back a cool £150k for one of the smaller works climbing to close to a £million for the larger ones. Enjoy the free entry and start saving!
Blain Southern until June 28
Alistair Sooke review in the Telegraph here.
Jackie Wollschläger review in the FT here.
Lynn Chadwick home website here.