2 September 2016 § Leave a comment
Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is foul and dark latrine,
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In Humanity’s machine.
The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde
For the very first time in its history, Reading Prison – formerly Gaol – has been opened to the public. The National Trust have teamed up with Artangel to allow visitors to tour the corridors and cells best known for incarcerating Oscar Wilde for two traumatic and life-changing years from 1895.
We visited on a warm summers day, with well-lit corridors and cell walls illuminated by bright shafts of sunlight. It was not the best time to experience anything of the misery that prisoners must have endured from the 1840’s right up until its surprisingly recent decommissioning in 2013, but it was not too difficult to imagine the hardships that were endured.
The core of the prison remains largely as it was built, in brick and cast iron, by George Gilbert Scott. As a renowned Victorian Gothic revival architect, he was chiefly associated with the design of churches and cathedrals, but was also architect of iconic buildings like the Midland Grand Hotel at St Pancras Station.
The influence of his church architecture can be seen in occasional gothic motifs and ceiling shapes that define the four brick-built wings. These are arranged in a (religiously influenced?) cross-shape so that the 19th century Governor could easily keep a beady eye on all four wings simultaneously from his central office area.
The prison chapel, most recently doubling as a sports hall, is suitably grand with high ceilings and leaded windows. It also features Oscar Wilde’s wooden cell door -carefully preserved it here stands monumentally atop a concrete plinth crafted to the exact dimensions of his cell. The space once had a sloping floor where the prisoners each had their own cubicle, banned from seeing or communicating with any other inmate. Total silence infact originally reigned throughout with prisoners locked 23 hours a day in single cells, banned from talking – or seeing – others and hooded when moved.
Those more dangerous or unruly were held in the handful of the ‘dark cells’ underground, isolated in the almost unimaginable privations of total darkness and silence. After taking showers in the adjacent area other prisoners were often given a two-minute taste of isolation as a, presumably fairly effective, warning of what would become them should they misbehave.
Wilde’s Cell A3.3 – actually now numbered A2.2 – can also be visited. Identical to every other it has enough space, just, for the single bed and desk that he was allowed. He managed to negotiate a supply of paper from a helpful warden – one sheet at a time – upon which he wrote the reflective De Profundis (From the Depths) – a letter to Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas, the object of the reckless relationship that led to his eventual imprisonment. The brutal regime of Reading broke his will and contributed heavily to his early death.
Readings from De Profundis by, amongst others Patti Smith, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw will also take place, whilst writers including Ai Weiwei have also contributed letters that are on display in the cells.
Alongside the prison tours, arranged by the National Trust, is a very impressive exhibition of contemporary art. Organised by Artangel, who commission ‘art that challenges perceptions, surprises, inspires and wouldn’t be possible within the confines of a gallery.’ They have invited a formidable array of talent to produce work that reacts to the prison environment and its history.
Amongst many highlights are Robert Gober’s meticulously crafted sculptures – a waterfall within a black suit and a stream within the excavated floor of the prison, clearly expressing unfulfilled fantasies of freedom and nature.
Nan Goldin brings her raw and intimate portraits into an appropriately claustrophobic space. She occupies four cells with pieces including The Boy – a cell filled with images of a single male muse, that climb over walls and lay scattered on an iron bedstead,
Marlene Dumas has produced eight new canvases that include Wilde and Bosie as well as chronicling other troubled relationships such as between Jean Genet and two of his lovers and Pier Paolo Pasolini and his mother.
In the centre of the corridors you can help yourself to a free (yes free!) unlimited edition print by Felix Gonzales-Torres alongside cells where his curtains of dangling blue plastic beads (Untitled Water) cleverly subvert the entry to a couple of cells and a blue mirror (Untitled Fear) reflects a troubled interior.
Other thoughtful and interesting contributions come from great names like Wolfgang Tillmans, Richard Hamilton, Roni Horn, Steve McQueen and Doris Salcedo.
It is not often that architecture, culture, history, literature and contemporary art come together in a single event but here www have an exception collaboration between two giants of the arts and culture – the National Trust and Artangel, in a unique environment. They have created a wholly satisfying and integrated whole that should be most definitely experienced while it lasts.
HM Prison Reading is open for tours Friday 9 September – Saturday 29 October 2016
Artists and Writers by Artangel at Reading Prison run from 4 September to 30 October 2016
For more information visit www.artangel.org.uk
This article also appears in www.cellophaneland.com
9 January 2016 § Leave a comment
One of the most unfortunate aspects of the decline of the album, and to some extents the CD, has been the loss of the potential space for sleeve artwork. With the rise of vinyl sales during the last century, the artistic potential of the sleeves was not lost on the very best artists and photographers of the period, and many became involved contributing to a very memorable, if narrow, artistic genre.
Remember the great original Warhol covers for the Stones’ zippered Sticky Fingers and the banana for The Velvet Underground & Nico? The Beatles were of course involved too, with the Peter Blake photograph (not a collage by the way) for Sgt Peppers.
The Beatles drew in other Pop artists – Richard Hamilton made his minimalist statement for the ‘White Album’ whilst for David Bowie, Derek Boshier created the striking Lodger designs.
Top photographers were there too. Robert Mapplethorpe’s image of Patti Smith provided the iconic cover for Horses, Richard Avedon took Simon & Garfunkel’s picture for Bookends and – here’s a little known nugget – Man Ray created a photo collage for Exile on Main Street (below), sadly unused.
This is to barely touch the surface of the phenomenon of album art, something that we thought had gone forever with the apparent demise of vinyl in the 1990’s. Fortunately the death of the album had been greatly exaggerated and sales are now booming again.
With this resurgence comes a new generation of album artists, designers, prize and inevitably, an awards ceremony. Art Vinyl have a competition that is actually now in its 10th year, with this year’s fifty nominations selected by a panel of music design experts and previous Best Art Vinyl Award winners. In co-operation with Belgraves Hotel they have just revealed the 2015 winners.
David Gilmour’s ‘Rattle That Lock’ album took the top prize with Drenge’s ‘Undertow’ second, and Tame Impala’s ‘Currents’ third. The winners and all of the shortlisted entries are now on display in the window at Belgraves until the end of April.
The artwork covered a wide range of creative disciplines, including fine art, photography, sculpture and computer graphics. Given the august history of album artwork we perhaps should not be surprised that the short list also included two Turner Prize nominees, Mark Wallinger and Jim Lambie (for Linden).
David Gilmour’s wining cover was created by The Creative Corporation, in collaboration with Aubrey Powell from the legendary Hipgnosis – a design studio that produced covers for the likes of Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and T Rex.
Best Art Vinyl founder Andrew Heeps explains, “This is the first year such an established artist’s record has won Best Art Vinyl, but notably the design team have historically been responsible for so many iconic sleeve designs… It’s interesting that two of the top three are conceptual compositions, using photography as the core of the design.”
In January 2016, the winners of the Best Art Vinyl 2015 award will feature in exhibitions in London, Scotland, Italy, Germany and Hungary as well as on www.artvinyl.com.
You can check out the entries on www.artvinyl.com or visit the window installation at the Belgraves Hotel, London Belgravia from 7th Jan 2016
For more information and the 50 nominated Best Art Vinyl 2015 records with designer credits see Artvinyl.com
19 November 2015 § Leave a comment
Pop art is very much alive and kicking. The World Goes Pop is currently at the Tate following on the heels of Post Pop: East Meets West at the Saatchi Gallery, the BBC ran a recent series BBC Four Goes Pop, Allen Jones was at the Royal Academy and Richard Hamilton had a solo show at the Tate last year. That is not even to mention continuing interest in other artists like David Hockney on the edges of the movement.
Maybe it is because we are bored of the self referential world of post-modernism or perhaps there is a recognition of the present day relevance of the movement as we fight off an ever increasing barrage of media imagery. It could well be that Pop Art turns out to be modern art’s most influential movement, parodying all this mass media imagery whilst creating a startlingly prescient take on the world of today: the age of consumerism.
Within this apparent surge of interest the work of Derek Boshier has found a new lease of life. Recently featured on BBC4’s ‘What do artists do all day’ (a series that also featured Sir Peter Blake) he now has a solo show at Flowers Gallery which also coincides with the release of an excellent Thames & Hudson monograph (reviewed here).
The Rethink/ Re-entry exhibition features a fascinating range of rarely seen pieces, much from Boshier’s own collection whilst surveying the shifting emphasis of his art in the late sixties and early seventies. It re-examines his work of the period via the extraordinary variety of his practice – assemblages, collages, drawings, films, graphics and prints alongside more recent films and collages.
In thé ground floor gallery we see the sharp political edge of his work in works like The Stun (1979), a spoof tabloid front page bringing together the Queen and Irish Violence with an incisive wit. Meanwhile in Hi Consumers Don’t Forget Nothing Lasts Forever (1978) Boshier takes a wry shot at consumer culture.
Three perspex vitrines take a more conceptual angle and have a distinctly affinity with John Baldessari works of that time. King George V Avenue Cardiff from 1971 for example features a series of red circles and black columns lined in perspective along a found image of a broad street.
Boshier’s provocative and experimental approach was reflected within the gathering punk movement and also appreciated by David Bowie who commissioned him to work on LP sleeves, as well as stage set design. Featuring both on walls and vitrines are original drawings from Boshier’s collaborations with The Clash on graphics for the CLASH 2nd Songbook, and with Bowie for the 1979 album Lodger. He happily told Boshier ‘do what you like’ for the interior of the gatefold sleeve; Boshier obliged with a collage on mortality that Bowie loved.
His versatility continues with a neat Joseph Cornell style box from 1976, State of Mind, that makes a statement both on consumerism and politics combining a toiletry bottle and newspaper cutting featuring strikers.
Downstairs three series of photographed images are a different take on Hockney’s photo collages and Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. From his 1978 Routes series a sequential strip of images introduce time as an element as the camera’s lens takes a ‘stroll’ at three different locations.
In yet another media, film, Boshier’s 1973 Change is also showing, along with three more from 2014. In Change Boshier spliced sequences of still images from an installation at his Whitechapel Gallery retrospective of the same year. It remained unopened for 38 years, until its recent rediscovery provoked his desire to create new films using contemporary digital technologies.
Last but not least are four collaged works from 2014, each edged with his trademark broad black lines.
They look effortless and Boshier reminds us that his talent for drawing, eye for design as well as his desire to make works politically relevant are all still as strong as ever. He remains an important figure not only in the story of Pop Art but also in the contemporary art world.
For more information visit www.flowersgallery.com
Images courtesy of the artist, Flowers Gallery and CELLOPHANELAND*
29 March 2014 § Leave a comment
It is not often that an exhibition impresses as much as this one. The new Richard Hamilton retrospective at Tate Modern, London, is one that could genuinely make the art world reassess just how important and influential a figure was, not only amongst British artists but within 20th century art history in general. The title of Hal Foster’s excellent new book: The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter and Ruscha shows that even this hugely important critic puts Hamilton in the same league as the greatest artists of the late 20th Century and this exhibition reinforces that view.
Hamiltons greatest legacy is of course as the widely acknowledged founder of Pop Art. His collage Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing? is considered the first work of the genre and the groundbreaking exhibition in which it featured – This is Tomorrow at the Whitechapel Gallery – Pop Art’s first exhibition. The movement over the pond followed on later led by the likes of Lichtenstein, Oldenburg and Warhol and was only getting under full steam by the early sixties.
In a note to Alison and Peter Smithson he jotted the following, worth repeating in full as a brilliant example of a memorable, off the cuff, manifesto for a movement: Pop Art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience), Transient (short-term solution), Expendable (easily forgotten), Low Cost, Mass-Produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty, Sexy, Gimmicky, Glamorous, Big Business.
If Hamilton has, up to now, perhaps been less recognised than he should it may be because the British Pop Art scene was quickly submerged by the bigger, brasher and bolder works from the States, his time in history just a brief interlude before being overwhelmed – perhaps by mass production and big business?
The chronological hang at the Tate however allows groups of his early, and later, works to be shown together and lets us better assess Hamilton as an artist. We are first taken though rooms of pieces, often heavily influenced by Marcel Duchamp, who he admired to the point of taking two years out to oversee reproduction of the Brides Stripped Bare… (Large Glass), shown in this show and other works from the 1960 Duchamp retrospective at the Tate.
It moves on past his impressive and telling multiple Marilyn portraits on to a eclectic series of works that often incorporate and pastiche the world of advertising, such as Slip it to Me – a giant American Badge and a number of works where Richard replaces the Ricard of French Pastis fame.
Blink and you miss the tiny Just What is it… before a series of the famous Swingeing London images featuring a handcuffed Mick Jagger – Hamilton often worked in series repeating and varying works as part of his practice.
Later works, often revisiting earlier themes, are hit and miss but it is notable that right in to his eighties he produced dynamic and impressive works that still had the ability to find a target – often political – his Venice Biennale Northern Irish triptych The Citizen/The Subject/The State being particularly noteworthy.
Make sure you visit and perhaps go after 17 April to catch Henri Matisse: The Cut-outs at the same time!
Richard Hamilton is on at the Tate Modern until 26 May 2014
7 August 2011 § Leave a comment
Since I purport to comment on contemporary art I thought it might be useful to post some sort of definition. In an attempt to find any sort of consensus I stumbled across an excellent blog called ART CANON whose tag line is art genres, groups, movements and styles, art critics, historians, philosophers and theorists (Not sure who Jacques Ranciere is, or want a definition Neo Geo? Then this is the site for you!) Here is their entry which takes from Tate and Wiki:
Term loosely used to denote art of the present day and of the relatively recent past, of an innovatory or avant-garde nature. In relation to contemporary art museums, the date of origin for the term contemporary art varies. The Institute of Contemporary Art in London, founded in 1947, champions art from that year onwards. Whereas The New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York chooses the later date of 1977. [Tate]
Contemporary art can be defined variously as art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II. [wikipedia]
Not clear, so perhaps the biggest contemporary art gallery in London – Saatchi – has a good definition? Nope – they don’t even bother. The Tate is the next and it calls itself ‘Modern’ (as many contemporary art galleries do), and if you want to get more confused try the auction houses. Sothebys Contemporary department includes work from ‘the early abstract expressionists to the present day’. Since the term had also been sometimes used in the 1920’s one assumes they refer to the American movement of the mid 1940’s. Christies Contemporary Art is ‘dedicated to art created after 1970… focusing on the various artistic movements of this time, from Minimalism and Conceptualism… ‘ Bonhams do not have a definition and nowadays tend to hold ‘Modern and Contemporary’ sales. None of them help clarify matters by chucking in occasional pre-war works, by Picasso for example, in to their Contemporary sales.
Contemporary art is most normally taken as starting after the end of the modernist period (in which I’d include the abstract expressionists) so I thought a look at writings on post-modernism might help. Post-modernism is also hard to pin down but usually is considered as a movement including most, but all, Contemporary art – and, as the name suggests, succeeding modernism. In Wikipedia’s definition it contradicts its previous entry (quoted by ART CANON above) by now placing the start of Contemporary art as 1950. To confuse matters further some thinkers and philosophers feel that modernism has not ended, or that post-modernism is actually just a part of modernism – but I won’t go in to that!
It is generally accepted however that by 1960, amongst many other influences, the Assemblage art of Robert Rauschenberg, the Fluxus movement and the Pop art of, for example, Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton had at least laid the foundations of what we would now call contemporary art. It is in the end probably impossible to define exactly where modernism ‘died’ – so let’s just settle for somewhere between 1950 and 1980.
In general the main problem lies with using social science to define art history – can the start and end of ‘modernism’ ever be defined? Can anything ever come after post-modernism (or contemporary art)? Would we not be better off just sticking to the ‘isms’ and movements like cubism and Pop art, which have clear styles, aims, practitioners and so on? And so for a definition of contemporary art, I will leave that as a trap for others!
So, does that help? I thought not, but it is nevertheless good to see that – as is often the case in the art world – there is no definitive answer. The moral perhaps is if you want to hold an opinion, or like a work that is ‘unpopular’ – then why the h*ll not!
Homework for tonight:
Terry Smith, What Is Contemporary Art? Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, 344 pp. ISBN: 13-978-0-226-76431-3.
E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion, Phaidon, 1960 386 pp, ISBN: 0-7148-1756-2
Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, Les Presse Du Reel, 1998, 125 pp. ISBN-10: 2840660601
Nelson Goodman, Of Mind and Other Matters, Harvard University Press, 1984, 210 pp. ISBN: 0-674-63126-9
9 September 2010 § Leave a comment
Launching the cover image for his new album Olympia ageing rocker Bryan Ferry demonstrated that he is clearly suffering from more than a little senile dementia. Having studied fine art at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne under Richard Hamilton he seems to have forgotten all that he learnt.
Ferry has chosen Kate Moss to be photographed posing in the style of Eduard Manet’s infamous 1963 painting. He states that ‘Moss was the obvious choice to convey the glamorous notoriety of the original. He adds that ‘Kate has long been the ‘‘femme fatale’’ of our age, as controversial as she is beautiful and the most glamorous female icon since Marilyn Monroe. Olympia was a kind of early pin-up picture and in a sense a forerunner of some 20th century pop art, which I feel strongly connected to.’
It is hard to know where to start in this catalogue of misinterpretation. The original is not a representation of ‘glamour’ in any way. This is a portrait of a prostitute, in her eyes we see contempt for the, assumed, male observer, mixed with melancholy and perhaps boredom. She wears cheap shoes, a shoelace necklace. The emphasis is not on the appeal of ‘Olympia’ but on our perception of her. It is a comment on status, a reflection on Victorian society and values, an examination of the male gaze. The painting is itself a copy of Titian’s Venus of 1538 and in replacing the original virginal and romantic nude goddess with a hooker Manet expected, and duly received, widespread opprobrium. He had however in one fell swoop replaced the classical ‘nude’ with a shockingly ‘naked’ woman and started a continuing debate on sexuality and the male gaze. As one of the most studied paintings in art history, a quick ‘google’ will reveal much more about this fascinating and ground-breaking painting that is well-worth investigating further.
There is more though. Ferry seems to think that Olympia had ‘notoriety’. She had not. The whole idea of the painting was that she was the very opposite – an anonymous and symbolic naked woman. As for a ‘femme fatale’, this should be a ‘dangerous seductress’, leading and tempting men in to danger and despair – both alluring and mysterious. I hardly need to say again that Manet’s Olympia, lying bored and available as she stares scornfully at the male viewer is not the ideal representation of this archetypal persona.
Bryan, bless him, then signs off with an absolute corker. The painting is aparently ‘a forerunner of some 20th century pop art’. Really? If by ‘Pop Art‘ he is referring to the sort of art found on the cover of ‘pop’ albums (I would not put the excellent Roxy Music in that category by the way), then I guess that might be true? Otherwise, I am afraid Mr Ferry is talking out of his arts.
To be fair, before I go, I must quickly say that Ferry is no artistic philistine, and note that he has been observed to be a selective collector with a ‘good eye’ who has accumulated a substantial collection of British 20th century art. His collection incudes works from Bloomsbury group artists like Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant as well as Vorticist Wyndham Lewis and Augustus John. Perhaps he needs to go back to his student notes?
As for the virtues or otherwise of the ubiquitous Kate Moss as either a ‘femme fatale’ or an ‘Olympia’ I leave you to your own decision. I made my choice long ago!
- Kate Moss wows on Bryan Ferry album cover (marieclaire.co.uk)
- Bryan Ferry’s eye for a masterpiece (telegraph.co.uk)
- Jonny Greenwood, Flea, Roxy Music (Including Brian Eno!) Join Bryan Ferry On New Album (stereogum.com)
- RollingStone.com: Exclusive Premiere: Bryan Ferry’s “You Can Dance” Video (rollingstone.com)