5 March 2020 § Leave a comment
Steve McQueen is now familiar to us for his critically acclaimed films for cinematic release; most specifically the Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave (2013) but he has also made Hunger (2008), Shame (2010) and Widows (2018).
Less widely known, was that well before this, McQueen was a highly regarded visual artist, winning the Turner Prize in 1999. It is this side of his output that brings McQueen to the Tate Modern in an exhibition that features 14 major works spanning film, photography and sculpture.
This is the first survey of his work in the UK for over 20 years, offering a timely opportunity to experience the depth of McQueen’s visual art career in this country for the very first time.
The single sculpture is Weight 2016, a forgettable sculpture first exhibited at the recently closed Reading Gaol. Presenting a gold-plated mosquito net draped over one of the prison’s metal bed-frames to create a shimmering apparition. Weight unsuccessfully ’explores the relation between protection and confinement, the physical and the spiritual’.
Much more interesting are his films, which vary in duration from a few minutes to over 5 hours. They also vary in presentation; some shown in darkened rooms by timed entrance, others on huge projected screens, and yet more on grainy super 8 projected on to the walls.
What all the works in Tate Modern share, are a powerful determination to show life as it is. The human body, including the artists own, are filmed in unflinching detail. As and when required we are exposed to unconfortable intimacy, extreme physical duress, emotional and psychological pressure, all filmed with an often uncomfortable sense of proximity and engagement.
Despite reflecting output over some 25 years, the films are not arranged in any chronological order, and there is tacit encouragement to take in the films in any order in the open plan arrangement of the gallery exhibits as well as to re-view and re-examine them. There are unfortunately significant gaps such as the pre-1999 works created for the Turner Prize and many recent works, but the exhibition nevertheless spans the artists practice well.
One of the first works encountered is Once Upon a Time (2002), replaying the bizarre images sent in to space by NASA in 1977 reflecting a utopian world strangely free of poverty, disease and conflict accompanied by an unintelligible invented language.
Alongside is Static (2009), a deliberately un-static and disorienting close-up portrait of the Statue of Liberty filmed from a moving helicopter.
In the red-tinted short Charlotte (2004) the actress Charlotte Rampling has her eye pushed and prodded by the artist whilst, shown opposite in Cold Breath, McQueen does the same to his own nipple first gently and then with unexpected violence.
The film installation Ashes shows a two-sided story on two sides of a screen. One side is a joyful ride on a fishing boat bobbing in the sunny Caribbean, the other features preparations for a funeral. Ashes, the male subject was sadly caught up in a deadly drugs deal.
The black singer and activist Paul Robeson, or more specifically the record of his 30 year FBI surveillance, is the subject of the mediocre End Credits. Secret documents run on the screen for an unwatchable 5 hours with a deadpan commentary listing all the redactions.
The masterpiece of the exhibition is undoubtedly the dark and intensely claustrophobic Western Deep (2002) – a journey down in to the world’s deepest gold mine. From the start we are plunged into intense darkness with just overbearing sound of the rattling mineshaft lift. In grainy Super 8 faces flicker in and out of the picture before the cage arrives deep underground.
We smell the sweat and feel the heat as the miners labour in the roar of heavy machinery. Sometimes there are sudden silences or bright lights, each as uncomfortable as the intense darkness or unbearable noise. We cannot help but be transported into the daily working hell of the miners. It is a shocking and visceral experience.
McQueen’s work does not always succeed quite enough to engage us in a gallery setting, however you cannot question the commitment of the artist to his expression of the often harsh and troubling realities of life, and the revelations of inequality, untruth or injustice. Even if only part of the exhibition hits home, it is nevertheless essential viewing.
Steve McQueen is at Tate Modern London, until 11 May 2020
Also published on www.cellophaneland.com
For more information visit Tate Modern
16 January 2013 § Leave a comment
A giraffe is a horse designed by committee – or so the maxim goes – and it is clear that the London Art Fair is similarly organised by some sort of dysfunctional gathering. The result here is a multi headed dinosaur of a show that really doesn’t know what it is doing or where it is going.
I went along to the first – ‘VIP’ – day of the LAF 2013 yesterday with hopes that I would be able to discern some sort of improvement for a Fair that has, over a number of years now, tried without success to respond to the threat of Frieze and the booming appeal of international art fairs to the London dealers. I wanted to pick out the highlights and enlighten you dear reader with some delightful imagery from my phone-cam. I failed.
BF (Before Frieze) the fair was no doubt the art fair in London but in recent years has struggled to find a voice. This years is no exception with its identity crisis even more evident. We have a rump of Modernist galleries that occupy the best (?) central locations in the hall whilst generally mediocre contemporary galleries, year on year, steadily push on to their turf. Upstairs on the balcony are the sort of depressing galleries – typically found in coastal tourist spots – offering meaningless ‘contemporary’ work by obscure artists. Pushed off to the side in a strange warren of rooms we then have Art Projects – the ’emerging artists and new work’.
Add on to that Photo 50 – a curated exhibition of contemporary and historical photography, a bunch a galleries offering editions, others with books and publications and you have a mish-mash of a fair that aims to please everyone but appeals to nobody.
The first fair of the year in the art world’s most happening city should be an exciting and appealing event. As the easternmost of London’s fairs dozens of London’s most dynamic galleries and artists are virtually within walking distance, but are they here? No – they wouldn’t be seen dead at this old-fashioned event which promotes some left over bits of Modernist art from mid-level galleries (the best Modernist Galleries now keep well away too!) whilst the young and innovative galleries are shunted off to the side in a subterranean limbo.
As for attracting the big buyers, ‘VIP’ pass holders are offered their own lounge with drinks and canapes. This turns out to be a small sweaty, messy and overcrowded room where the canapes get about four feet past the bar before being hoovered up. I don’t think real VIPs would be impressed.
My personal (and what do I know, but I’m going to say anyway…) tips to LAF. Dump the few modernist galleries. Go contemporary. Focus on something – photography, emerging artists, small galleries – anything. If not the LAF horse is well on its way to the knackers yard to be ground in to Tesco art beef burgers, and that would be a sad loss to London’s limited choice of fairs.
Artists from top: Virgilio Ferreira, Alan Davie, Shih Hsiung Chou, Alex Ball. Other than Alan Davie the artists are amongst those featured in this years excellent Catlin Guide.
- London Art Fair: A varied fair full of adventure (telegraph.co.uk)
17 August 2010 § Leave a comment
The mid-summer lull in the London gallery schedules allows a moment for contemplation on what looks like a very mixed bag of Autumn shows. I just cannot quite work myself up in to a frenzy of excitment about this motley assortment of old hands and uninspiring newcomers.
Starting with public galleries the blockbuster Gaugin will undoubtedly be the major event of 2010 and amazingly his first major UK exhibition for 5o years. The Tate Modern promises that the exhibition will explore ‘the role of the myths around the man.’ Starts 30 September – stick it in the diary! Arrive after the 12 October and see what Ai Weiwei has installed as the 11th Turbine Hall commission. Recently involved in the Beijing Olympic stadium and then almost beaten to death for his political views he has said: ‘Everything is art, everything is politics. You can call it art or you can call it politics, I don’t give a damn.’ Should be interesting.
Over at Tate Britain the schedule, starting 8 September, is totally underwhelming. Eadweard Muybridge (yes, correctly spelt) was a the 19th century photographer who ‘proved that a horse can fly’ with multiple images and anticipated the coming of cinema with the zoopraxiscope. He also travelled and documented America of the time. Just about worth dropping in.
Rachel Whiteread Drawings is the other choice – but why? Her casts of varied spaces, apart from being a direct steal from Bruce Nauman are getting tedious. Now she says this: ‘A lot of the works that I’ve been making over the years have been part of a cyclical process. I often feel a cycle is incomplete and need to tread the same path again.’ So now having run out of (someone else’s) ideas all she can do is more of the same again, but this time in drawings. Keep well away! The Gagosian, Daniels Street, is taking advantage with their own Rachel Whiteread exhibition on the 7 September – and I don’t see any reason to bother with this one either.
The Turner Prize 2010 exhibition is of course at Tate Britain too – from 5 October. Calming down in its old age but an interesting selection. Dexter Dalwood and Angela de la Cruz painting, sound artist Susan Philipsz and the multi-disciplinary Otolith Group. I like Dalwood but the inventive Otolith Group have to be my favourite.
The second part of Newspeak: British Art Now opens at the Satchi on 27 October. Despite the overwhelming mediocrity of the show it is strangely compulsive viewing, and there is a particularly nice cafe. Apart from that I can not wait to update my critics Saatchi league table from my previous posts!
The Royal Academy’s Treasures of Budapest starts on 25 September. Although there will be the opportunity to save the air fare to Budapest it doesn’t seem to be a show-stopper, but worth a visit. It promises Raphael, El Greco, Manet, Monet, Schiele and Picasso amongst others.
Of the smaller Galleries the Camden Arts Centre always seems to have something interesting. On 23 September Rene Daniels’ opens. His interesting work is ‘permeated through and through with writing, word games, literary references, visual puns, and allusions to art movements, institutions, and mass media.’
Of the private galleries Hauser & Wirth’s opens its expansive new Savile Row space on the 15 October with a Fabric Works of Louise Bourgeois – hardly inspirational, but I look forward to seeing the gallery. Of their other exhibitions the Piccadilly branch has the first posthumous show of Jason Rhoades’ opening 24 September. The exhibition features ’1:12 Perfect World’, Rhoades’ scale model of his groundbreaking 1999 exhibition, ‘Perfect World’ in Hamburg. Ho-hum.
At Haunch of Venison there is the strange choice of Loud Flash: British Punk on Paper, starting 24 September, which nevertheless looks like it may be quite interesting. Meanwhile do not miss the excellent Joana Vasconcelos and quirky animal-stuffer Polly Morgan whose exhibitions are currently on until the 25 September!
At the White Cube, Masons yard Christian Marclay opens on the 15 October: ‘Over the past 30 years, Christian Marclay has explored the fusion of fine art and audio cultures, transforming sounds and music into a visible, physical form through performance, collage, sculpture, installation, photography and video.’ Meanwhile over at WC Hoxton on 13 October Mark Bradford’s ‘multi-layered collaged paintings incorporating materials found in the urban environment’. Both may be worth a look but hardly captivating.
The pick of the rest are Jacco Olivier at Victoria Miro from 7 September – Olivier fuses colourful paintings with video – his works are delightful and fascinating. Finally Marina Abramovic is at the Lisson – god knows what we will see from the ‘grandmother of performance art’ but it is well worth a detour!
There we go – the best of the autumn? Not great and, in respect of painting very lop-sided. The public galleries mostly with retrospective painting, the private with, well all sorts from taxidermy to performance but pretty much steering away from anything on canvas . No demand? No talent? Are the private galleries out of sync with what the public wants – or is it the Public galleries? I will leave you to ponder the mystery….
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- Saatchi to Donate His Gallery and Art to Britain (nytimes.com)
- In pictures: 10 Years of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (news.bbc.co.uk)
- Nothing to see here – beyond the blockbuster exhibitions (guardian.co.uk)