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 2013 § 2 Comments
Mark Wallinger, in a ceremony at the Dairy Art Centre in London last night, awarded the Contemporary Art Society annual prize to Elizabeth Price who will produce a work for the Ashmolean Museum. Price will create a significant new moving image piece will be premiered in Oxford on completion.
Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price is an artist who uses images, text and music to explore archives and collections. While her work is informed by mainstream cinema and experimental film, it is mostly concerned with the medium of digital video and its comparative ubiquity in today’s culture.
Price’s commission will explore the archives and collections of the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, looking particularly at photographs of artefacts and documents used historically by curators, anthropologists and archaeologists working in the field, while simultaneously engaging with digital technologies.
Elizabeth Price was visibly delighted at winning the award. “I’m so happy to win this prize. I’m particularly excited about the unique opportunity to work with the collections, and the people at the Ashmolean and Pitt Rivers Museums in Oxford.”
Price beat some fine artists to the award. Other entries were Jess Flood-Paddock for Birmingham Museums, Des Hughes for The Hepworth Wakefield and Lucy McKenzie.
Although not a name that will be familiar to many art lovers the (CAS) has long been doing much important work ‘behind the scenes’ raising money, brokering purchases and awarding commissions. Now in its fifth year, this prestigious £60,000 prize is one of the highest value contemporary art awards in the country.
By means of its annual award CAS has donated many ‘firsts’ to museums across the country throughout its illustrious history, including the first works by Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso and Francis Bacon and, more recently, the first works by Damien Hirst, Elizabeth Price and 2013 Turner Prize nominee Laure Prouvost.
Images: Elizabeth Price, USER GROUP DISCO (2009), HD Video, 15 minutes. © the artist and MOT International. Gifted by the Contemporary Art Society to Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, in 2012.
- Mark Wallinger to present £60,000 Contemporary Art Society award (standard.co.uk)
- Shortlist Announcement | The Contemporary Art Society Annual Award (ultravie.co.uk)
- Sculpture honours museum expert (oxfordmail.co.uk)
- AUDIO: Turner Prize move good – Tate boss (bbc.co.uk)
30 September 2012 § 2 Comments
Following the tragic suicide of Mike Stanley – the dynamic and inspirational director of Modern Art Oxford – I felt that I had to make the quick trip to Oxford for the preview of this, his last exhibition.
On this years Turner Prize committee the 37 year old MAO director was considered to be one of an exciting new breed of adventurous curators, pushing boundaries and not scared of being radical.
The exhibition by Jean-Luc Moulene is typically adventurous. This is an artist with a low public profile in the UK (and probably most places?) but nevertheless well-regarded within the art world. His work encompasses photography, object-making, printing, painting and sketching whilst making complex theoretical examination of the relationship between image and object.
The exhibition looks at some of his work from the last twenty years together with pieces specifically made for the show. It commences in the Upper Galleries of the MAO spaces with a series of closely spaced ‘objects’ (he doesn’t like the connotations of the word ‘sculpture’) surrounded by photographs, collages and drawings. The objects are nondescript bronze and glass ‘knots’ which act as ‘cohesive exploration of the knot as a potential tool for understanding’.
If you did not know what you were in for before arriving you are therefore thrown in at the deep end. ‘The bronze knots are expired whilst the glass knots are inspired’ Moulene states. Aha – obviously! Got it now? No, me neither.
In another work Rich 2010 Moulene places a bottle of water beside a fire. It reacts to the uneveness of the floor and heat of the fire – constantly changing. A diamond on the top suggests a decanter and questions materiality and perceptions of value. Sorry to be a philistine, but I don’t want to read an essay before looking at an artwork.
More interesting are his huge monochromes in the next, darkened, John Piper Gallery. Made from BIC pen ink applied with a palette knife the colour is amazingly vibrant and deep and reflects the blue, black, red and green colours of standard biros. Across the end wall is The Three Graces 2012 – a film work or three nude sisters atop a windy hilltop near Oxford that nicely references the familiar classical subject. Apologies for the absence of photos, but none allowed at the gallery.
This is the (French?) thinking mans artist and whilst a visit to the exhibition may prove moderately engaging to the casual visitor it really requires a background of art theory and a more than passing knowledge of the French philosophers to really enjoy it and for anyone to say that they really understand what Moulene is really up to with these works.
Oh yes, and take a minute to enjoy a coffee on the Richard Woods commissioned furniture in the cafe.
Modern Art Oxford until 25 November 2012
- Turner prize judge Michael Stanley dies aged 37 (telegraph.co.uk)
8 October 2010 § Leave a comment
I could not resist posting details of an upcoming conference. Entitled Boring 2010 it is being organised by James Ward – a DVD distribution manager from Kingston upon Thames. Upon hearing that the London Interesting conference – one of a series on obscure esoteric topics – was being cancelled James decided to go ahead and organise his own somewhat less interesting one.
Being touted as the world’s least interesting conference is however one very good way to make everyone stand up and take note. The Independent for example decided that it was actually so interesting that it set aside two whole pages of the 7 October 2010 issue to report the earth-shattering event. Of subjects reported to be featured this year my personal favourite is on the history of dust, with the reasons for draws in cricket coming in a close second, although to be fair Mr Ward actually aims to put forward the topics as sounding boring but actually that ‘turn out to be really interesting’.
It made me think that one of the artists featured at yesterday’s suitably mediocre private view of Transmission at the Haunch of Venison would be an appropriate candidate for the Boring conference. Katie Paterson was trying rather too hard to be very dull – one of her works for example was a slide archive of the history of darkness over the ages; a box full of black transparencies. Paterson has broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier, mapped all the dead stars, custom-made a light bulb to simulate the experience of moonlight, and buried a nano-sized grain of sand within the Sahara desert. She also laser-beamed the Moonlight Sonata to the moon and back and played the resulting melody back to us. Broken and occasionally distorted it was a rather touching and emotional record of time, distance and loss. Damn it – she was actually quite interesting in the end.
Picking over mind-numbingly dull subjects or the seemingly unimportant minutiae of life has always of course provided rich pickings for many artists. In no particular order and without much thought, time or deep analysis (that would be way too dull of course) here are a few artists that it occurs to me have looked at the plain, boring or mundane and, at least in their minds, made it a little more interesting.
Duchamp (of course he gets a mention again usual) took the ordinary – a urinal, shoe rack, shovel or phial of air, and told us it was art. Malevich meanwhile reduced representation to a plain black, red or white canvas – his ‘zero of form’ , a reduction of representation to the absolute minimum. Many other later artists have created similar monochromes for differing reasons, for example for Robert Rauschenberg with Erased De Kooning it was the symbolic erasure of what the previous drawing represented that was interesting. Yves Klein, being French, used his own home-made blue for his quite interesting monchromes and took over a New York gallery in order to leave it empty (Le Vide). The minimalists reduced everything to the simplest forms to expose the essential – Carl Andre’s infamous Tate ‘pile of bricks’ (Equivalent VIII) perhaps being one example which proved too dull for many.
John Cage’s 4′33″ of course created another big 1950’s landmark for ‘nothingness’ in art – a period of ‘silence’ where a solo pianist played asolutely nothing at all. Warhol was of course a master of repetition and the mundane – eight hours of someone sleeping, in the 1964 film Sleep, probably the most provocatively boring, whilst the pinnacle of his musical dullness was with the band Velvet Underground playing The Nothing Song whilst people did nothing much on film.
In the sixties Fluxus artists like Kaprow and, of course, Lennon (happy birthday) and Ono inspired by the Dadaists held happenings where nothing in particular actually really happened or arranged gatherings where the actual act meeting was the art. Ed Ruscha produced photobooks featuring, for example, seemingly random gasoline stations or parking lots. From this period onwards there is almost too much to mention. Many photographers, like Nan Goldin, have recorded the most mundane aspects of peoples lives – and private lives. Gerhard Richter created paintings that were devoid of any colour, copying mundane photographs or composed of random sweeps of paint. Richard Long walked up and down making marks, Bruce Nauman walked in circles and filmed it or made casts of empty and uninteresting spaces, Joseph Beuys did nothing much at all. Perhaps the ultimate boredom in art prize might go to Martin Creed who won the Turner Prize with a light turning on and off in an empty room.
As far as all of this dull, nothingness goes a lot of people have found it exceedingly interesting. There is actually much more to nothing than there first appears. Any artists will for example know that it is often best to draw the ‘spaces’ of ‘nothing’ than the object itself. Books have been written on it, galleries stuffed with it an even the Pompidou last year ‘filled’ a floor with empty rooms for a retrospective of ‘nothing’. I will quickly conclude, before I get too boring, with some very appropriate Tom Lubbock comments on the Pompidou show from The Independent last year:
Having arrived at emptiness, fill her up again – with meanings. Sometimes the emphasis is on absence, on contemplating nothingness. Sometimes it’s on noticing what you might have overlooked. Perhaps you should notice all the gallery background noises you ignore. Perhaps you should see that art has its environment, which crucially conditions our experience of it. Or perhaps you should be looking at the only exhibits that remain in your empty gallery – yourselves. The empties are always going to be full of something. The art consists of working out what.
Perhaps I will go to Boring 2010 after all….
- Boring Conference 2010: Chairman of the bored (independent.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….
If you liked this post please make a comment or like it. If you like the blog please subscribe for regular updates (top right of page). Many thanks! akuta
- 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)