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
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*
16 November 2015 § Leave a comment
My paintings have neither objects nor space nor time nor anything – no forms. They are light, lightness, about merging, about formlessness, breaking down form.
Agnes Martin, 1966
Agnes Martin is not for everyone. In sharp contrast to the eye-popping bling of the current The World Goes Pop exhibition a few yards away on the same level of Tate Modern (reviewed here) this is art that is understated and serene. There is nothing here that is brash or demands attention, and its appreciation requires a willingness to take a deep breath and slowly take in what the artist has to offer.
It is however well worth the time and effort. Agnes Martin’s art is about the search for sublime beauty and serenity, she herself states that “art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings.”
Working in the second half of the 20th Century, her early career covered the era when Abstract Expressionism was overtaken by Minimalism. She is often considered as a pivot between the two – her fine-lined grids, bands and square blocks of pale color fusing the emotional resonance of the former with the sparce purity of the latter.
The show is laid out chronologically, and begins with her highly derivative early “biomorphic” works reminiscent of artists like Joan Miró and Mark Rothko. Seeing her work in Taos in 1957, the dealer Betty Parsons however saw something in Martin’s talent and persuaded her to move to New York.
It was here she fraternised with, and was influenced by, artists like Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, and Robert Rauschenberg in the hot-bed of art that was the Lower East side at that time. She made sculptural assemblages using found objects such as boat spikes and nails and began to depict simple geometric forms such as squares, rectangles and circles as well as a range of linear marks and dots, often repeated across the surface.
By the early 1960s, Martin’s geometric compositions had evolved into what would later be seen as her signature style: the square grid. The beauty in this simplicity is seen in works like Friendship – where gold leaf is incised to produce a grid of tiny rectangles. Referring to these paintings, the critic Lucy Lippard described them as ‘legendary examples of an unrepetitive use of a repetitive medium’.
By 1967 however, fighting against mental illness, Martin left New York in search of solitude and settled in New Mexico for a self-imposed five year break from painting. When she did start again the grids are replaced by horizontal lines, and the darker tones by palest pink, blue and yellow. The colours are evocative of nature: sunsets, light through the mist, rocks in the sun.
Shown together in their own room here are The Islands I-XII – a spellbinding series of 12 near white paintings from 1979 that Martin considered a single piece These paintings can be seen as Martin’s most silent works and invite concentrated looking over time in order to see their fine lines and subtly nuanced surfaces.
The works convey a contemplative quality, indicating Martin’s interest in East Asian philosophy, and spirituality however knowing about Martin’s schizophrenia it is also clear that this calmness was hard won – the result of a deep inner battle.
Images by Tate and CELLOPHANELAND*