29 June 2016 § Leave a comment
“It’s the instantaneous light. If you get it right then you get it in the total present tense – that’s what you’re going for, that’s eternity.” Alex Katz
The new Alex Katz exhibition at the Serpentine Galleries is a combination of two distinct series of work representing two aspects of his work – portraits and landscapes. Entering the gallery we are met with three walls each with one gigantic orange painting.
These are recent portraits of women – each given the subjects first name – Vivien, Anna and Ada (his wife, a frequent subject). They may be named and are ‘of’ somebody but that is as far as Katz wants to take us. These might just as well be still lifes, we are not invited to learn any more about these ladies and there is no narrative. We are simply encouraged to be ‘in the moment’ and the artists wants to see no more or no less that what is right before us.
The subjects are simply dressed, if indeed we see what they are wearing, almost expressionless, and return our gaze. The backgrounds a pure bright orange – they could be ‘Easy Jet’ adverts and indeed the link with advertising is there, Katz heavily influenced by billboards, his paintings characterised by their flatness of colour and fluidity of line.
The artist, now 88, came of age as an artist in 1950s New York, and developed his unique approach to contemporary representational painting during the height of Abstract Expressionism. His work is reminiscent of artists like Tom Wesselman and Andy Warhol but any association to pop art is to be avoided though as gentle and careful brushstrokes energise the caves and bring life to the faces.
The exhibitions title, Quick Light, comes from Katz’s desire to bring the image to us as quickly as possible – as in adverts – removing superfluous detail in order that our brains absorb the image with minimal delay. Like the almost totally two dimensional figures the paint is flat and he is happy to agree with the term ‘aggressive’ in respect of the quick impact that his images have upon us.
The Serpentine has also taken the clever opportunity to present a number of Katz’s landscape paintings in the leafy surroundings of Hyde Park. The central gallery is occupied by several of these, some almost abstract in appearance exemplify his life-long quest to capture the present tense in paint. The largest fill whole walls of the Serpentines sizeable walls.
Reflection is a rohrsach-style mirrored reflection water in blue and black, West 1 features illuminated windows on a black background whilst Black Brook 18, in green and black we guess must be a stream and grass.
They are enigmatic and again Katz gives no story – these are paintings simply of present ‘moments’. Regardless of their scale, he describes these paintings as ‘environmental’ in the way in which they envelop the viewer. Defined by temporal qualities of light, times of the day and the changing of the seasons.
Everything Katz does looks deceptively easy, and thats how he wants it. Seeing that Henri Matisse’s work seemingly required ’no effort’ he was inspired to paint in a similar way. The inspiration of this Serpentine show is seeing another master at the peak of his powers.
Alex Katz: Quick Light is at the Serpentine Gallery until 11 September.
For more information visit www.serpentinegalleries.org
This feature also appears on www.cellophaneland.com
21 July 2012 § 1 Comment
This is a must-see for all those who like Yoko Ono. It is also a must-see for those who quite like or even dislike her. For most of her career Ono – in the UK at least – has been pilloried as the woman who broke up the Beatles, ridiculed for being somewhat ‘bonkers’ whilst all the time being disgracefully ignored as a world-class artist.
In recent years she has become more widely recognised for her talents and this exhibition hopefully puts all the negativity behind and reinforces her admission in to the list of the best and most influential of 20th century artists.
One enters the exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery via a lobby where a brief documentary on the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland plays. The creation of this tower of light – first posited in 1965 before being eventually realised in 2007 – neatly encapsulates Ono’s work. Stunningly simple – a single beam of light asks us to reconsider our existence. It asks to appreciate and enjoy the essential purity of life.
These deep messages, simply executed are at the heart of Ono’s genius, regularly and consistently repeated over the last 50 years to a largely unappreciative world. At the Serpentine the works are not ordered chronologically but rather have been assembled thematically, placing works that are similar – or occasionally repeated – together to reinforce the consistency of the work over time whilst at the same time illustrating the variations.
What is most striking is the reminder as to just how ground-breaking she was as a conceptual, video and performance artist. The first room for example has three piles of earth placed simply along the floor whilst either side soldiers helmets, filled with jigsaw pieces of sky, hang from the ceiling. This sort of presentation now almost de rigeur for any student degree show was unheard of in the early 1960’s. Then it was daring, imaginative and new. The whole Fluxus movement, of which she was a vital part, infact ripping up the white cube rule book for what was acceptable as art and its method of presentation.
In subsequent galleries one first encounters a piece of dirty canvas – no longer of course in a frame or on a wall – lying on a floor for us to walk over. There is a mirror ahead so we can see ourselves literally trampling on the previous history of art.
There are more iconic works: bronzes of everyday objects oozing with blood, films in ultra slow motion of eyes blinking or Lennon smiling, a glass maze, words in pencil scrawled on walls on floors asking us to imagine another reality. From the famed Indica Gallery show – where Lennon and Ono met – there is also the famed stepladder with magnifying glass attached leading to a ceiling where the word ‘yes’ is framed. John always said that if it had said ‘no or f**k you’, he would have taken little notice, but the word yes hooked him and changed the rest of his life – for better or worse.
Despite being a little brief and sparse this is a ‘yes’ exhibition which really should make us all appreciate Ono that bit more.
Until 9 September 2012. www.serpentinegallery.org
- Yoko Ono: to the light, Serpentine Gallery – review (standard.co.uk)
- The Guardian profile: Yoko Ono (guardian.co.uk)
- Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT, Serpentine Gallery, London (independent.co.uk)
- Lost in the Yoko Ono labyrinth (guardian.co.uk)
1 July 2011 § Leave a comment
An astonishing 4.3 million (myown total from Sothebys gross results) – around double auction estimates – was raised this afternoon for the upcoming extension to the Serpentine gallery. Forty-six top contemporary artists including the likes of John Baldessari, Olafur Eliasson, Fischli & Weiss, Antony Gormley, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama and Rachel Whiteread had generously donated works to be auctioned alongside Sothebys contemporary art day sale.
Apparently the new space is to be called the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and will be located in Kensington Gardens, a short distance from the current gallery which lies close to the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It is due to open in 2012, and will be renovated and designed by Pritzker-Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid. The plans include an adjoining pavilion to be used as a social space and restaurant.
If it is anywhere near as good as the Serpentine has been over recent years at presenting interesting exhibitions of contemporary art it will be a great new addition to London’s art world. I am looking forward to the opening – oh, and any invitations to the opening party most welcome!
- The Serpentine Gallery Summer party-who wore what (heatworld.com)