Cecily Brown – Madrepora, Thomas Dane, London
4 July 2016 § Leave a comment
“I want there to be a human presence without having to depict it in full” – Cecily Brown
Located mid way on the short stroll between two of St James’ art heavyweights – Christies, King Street and White Cube, Masons Yard – are the two spaces of the Thomas Dane Gallery. It is always well worth dropping by to see the latest exhibition and with artists like Walead Beshty, Michael Landy, Hurvin Anderson and Steve McQueen on the roster there is a good chance you will find something very special.
Showing for the first time at the gallery, we found the wonderful Cecily Brown. She has recently jumped ship from Gagosian no less, a move that shows the growing power of Thomas Dane. Brown is, and has been throughout her career, one of the most engaged and distinctive painters of our time. Her preoccupation has always been the Body – in all its various guises and narratives, fleshy shapes and forms appearing from her many layered works.
Brown’s paintings are immersive and her passion is contagious. She reminds us how great it is to look at art unhurriedly: the pleasure of contemplation and examination. Her paintings reveal themselves slowly, almost ‘continuously’.
Brown often talks about ‘Sublimation’, paraphrasing Francis Bacon who craved “the grin without the cat”, the “sensation” without the “boredom of its conveyance”. Something she calls a ‘Breaking-down’ process.
Recently we discover that Brown has been (re)looking at a particular painting, and has fallen in love with it all over again: Degas’ Young Spartans, from 1860, at London’s National Gallery. She brings Degas’ very recognisable, cluster of bodies, postures and composition into some of the work here.
Crowds are indeed very present for example – in the enigmatic Madrepora, 2015. The ghoulish assembly of The Smugglers, 2015, too could have sprung out of a James Ensor painting.
A series of ‘Dark’ paintings are reminiscent of the Spanish Masters and brings together Brown’s taste for the slightly macabre, or forbidden, with more risqué reclining male nudes.
Spanning both spaces of the gallery, the exhibition includes some of works from the past. These are cleverly hung alongside her sketches and allows us to add some history and context to her work. Her star must surely continue to rise.
Cecily Brown – Madrepora runs until 23 July 2016
For more information visit www.thomasdanegallery.com
Miroslaw Balka DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 25,31m AMSL at White Cube
10 April 2014 § Leave a comment
White Cube’s latest exhibition at their Masons’ Yard space is Miroslaw Balka’s DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 25,31m AMSL. The title refers both to the building’s altitude above sea level and the original German title of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams – the exhibition running concurrently with another at London’s Freud Museum (73,32m AMSL).
The title immediately suggests a connection with mental landscapes whilst – as with his vast steel box construction, How It Is, which occupied the Tate Modern turbine hall a couple of years ago – Balka’s work also is strongly connected with the body, materials and the physical.
The ground floor gallery houses just two minimalist concrete sculptures. The first, entitled 100 x 100 x 20 TTT, is a flat structure from which an internal light shines. Is it a plinth, a grave or perhaps a trapdoor to a subterranean space? Alongside is a trapezohedron, open at one side, that is inspired by the mysterious object in Abrecht Durer’s Melancolia 1 (1514) and matches the magic ‘invisibility’ helmet from Wagner’s Das Rheingold.
In the basement space Balka has installed Above your Head – a steel mesh canopy (chicken wire to you and me) fixed just above head height. He has added to this dim lighting and the whistled soundtrack of the Great Escape theme tune ‘to continue the theme of refuge and confinement’.
This all relates to recurring Balka references that cover topics like Polish history and the holocaust. Unfortunately it doesn’t work. The White Cube space looks like – well – a big space with a chicken wire ceiling and doesn’t invoke the claustrophobia and sense of confinement that it is meant to. The whistled tune is annoying and obvious whilst the ‘escape hatch’ sculpture of the upper gallery is far too simplistic.
The attempt at some sort of mystery supposedly introduced by the enigmatic tarpezohedron seems just a little desperate and the whole is far too literal. Perhaps the second exhibition at the Freud Museum makes more sense, but I won’t personally be finding out.
Miroslaw Balka DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG is at White Cube Masons Yard until until 25 May 2014 and at the Freud Museum until 25 May 2014
josiah mcelheny at white cube masons yard
30 November 2012 § Leave a comment
This exhibition is entitled Interactions of the Abstract Body and is where Josiah McElheny apparently explores how ‘constantly shifting forms of fashion can reveal the core beliefs and assumptions of a given era’. Sorry, not here and not for me.
Upstairs cabinets containing rather beautiful and elegant hand-made glass objects crafted after modernist styles are held in vitrines to represent for example The Space-Age Body (2012) or The Uniform Body (2012). These are impressive works individually and collectively within their vitrines.
However, downstairs are eight carefully crafted wooden sandwich-boards with variously shaped mirrors where, according to White Cube, by “combining a continuous flesh-and-blood performance with static sculpture in the same gallery space McElheny radically fractures the distinction between performance and exhibition”.
Sadly I have news for White Cube – it doesn’t, it’s not radical and anyway it has been done many times before. Lots, and better. This is the sort of thing that you wouldn’t have been surprised to see in 1918 Zurich, 1930’s Paris, 1960’s New York or London Art School graduate shows anytime in the last 20 years. Furthermore the ‘constant presence of a performer’ was a solitary embarrassed student who perfunctorily strolled around with a mirrored sandwich-board for a couple of minutes whist we were there. This supposedly created a ‘shifting other-worldy space’. In your dreams.
On the walls are a few flat, shaped reflecting glass shapes ‘based on designs by Delaunay and Stepanova’ (and Homebase), representing strong women, previously often overlooked in the history of art and fashion. True, and in theory the reflected images of modernist mirrored moving shapes I suppose sounds quite elegant. Unfortunately in the large space that is the ‘Lower ground’ (or ‘basement’ to you and I) gallery the reflections are too distant and space to large to create any meaningful reflections or invoke any sort of ‘complex, intangible sense of space’ that the artist/Press release promises.
Interactions of the Abstract Body is at White Cube Mason’s Yard until 12 January 2013
Images with no figures courtesy of artist and White Cube.
- Cultural shift as White Cube says farewell to Hoxton base (standard.co.uk)
- Antony Gormley’s Model: ‘I’ve made a body you can actually go in’ (guardian.co.uk)
- Antony Gormley: a model of hype? (guardian.co.uk)
jake or dinos chapman – white cube
18 July 2011 § Leave a comment
Correct – Jake or Dinos. Each of the infamous brothers has supposedly worked separately for around a year to each produce their own White Cube exhibition – one at Masons Yard and one at Hoxton. Having only collaborated since graduating from the RCA in 1990 this show is an experimental diversion – Dinos recently said ‘We’re not interested in our similarities between our interests, but the divergencies. This show will be an exemplar of that.’
What you get here is not really a surprise – the brothers have rarely, if at all, moved from their disturbing moral takes on politics, religion and morality and again we see few divergencies. It all starts comfortably enough upstairs at Masons Yard with a deliberately cramped display of forty-seven roughly hewn sculptural works, constructed of thick cardboard and roughly painted in dark shades. Each sits on its own white pedestal. Think Picasso or Schwitters assemblages as made by primary school children, a rethink of modernist sculpture.
Downstairs Dinos (I think, but it really doesn’t matter) really gets going. Uniformed Nazis, flesh stripped off and charred black, sporting deathly grins admire an exhibition of similar, but more monumental works in painted steel whilst randomly buggering or being shat upon by stuffed birds. A reversed and nightmarish version of Entartete Kunst – the Nazis exhibition of forbidden art – but here being enjoyed by the degenerate gurning guards. On the wall original Goya Disasters of War etchings are symbolically drawn over and blackened.
In a separate darkened room a work by Pieter Bruegel (his nickname ‘Hell-Breugel’) has been distorted and defaced with trademark Chapman figures. Breughel was presumably a Chapman influence – filling his paintings with hellish medieval grotesques of his own – so much so that Adrian Searle (in the only review I have read so far – Guardian) hilariously missed the Chapman’s additions!
Over at Hoxton disturbing animal-faced children huddle and admire the paintings – large, brooding Chapmanesque takes on fairy-stories. Childhood stolen and distorted. Upstairs are tableaux of household Catholic shrines, the tacky, gothic statuettes of religious figures in painted plaster are similarly deformed – baby Jesus with swirling tentacles instead of a face, Madonna with stitched-on patches of skin. These are sinister Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ Icons and more wonderful digs at the fakery of religion.
Some hard-boiled art critics have taken to criticising the brothers on the basis that their art no longer shocks. This is just not true – we may have seen it before or suspect what the Chapmans are going to show us but they miss the fact that this is art which gets you on a visceral level. It also pushes and prods us and intellectually challenges us whilst examining the history of art. Some find the Chapmans an easy target and, although I would love them to try something new, I prefer to side with Waldemar Januszczak who finds them amongst the most important artists working today. Love ’em or hate ’em it is a show you should see.
- Jake or Dinos Chapman – picture preview (independent.co.uk)
- Jake or Dinos Chapman – review (guardian.co.uk)
- Jake and Dinos Chapman at the White Cube in pictures (telegraph.co.uk)
tracey emin, love is what you want, at the hayward
29 June 2011 § 1 Comment
I was not a big fan of Emin – or even a small fan for that matter. To me she seems to represent the art worlds version of Big Brother. Here is Emin determined to reveal every personal trait, good, bad and ugly to the public who are determined to lap it all up – the more lascivious or embarrassing the better. Life laid bare as entertainment. Reality TV as art.
Nevertheless I was determined to go to this exhibition with an open mind. She has an army of fans in the art and media and they surely must see something compelling in her work. However the omens were not good. I arrived at the usual ‘opening day’ – the day immediately following the private view – but the exhibition, strangely, was ‘closed for a private event’. I eventually got in the following day.
In the catalogue Emin explains that her art is all about words and as we enter we get an awful lot of them, the first galleries occupied by her blankets and neons. The appliqued blankets are very impressive. Large, colourful and eye-catching they are more powerful as a group than individually with words and phrases used cleverly to illustrate a ‘patchwork of memories’ or concerns in the wider world.
Extending across the room is ‘Knowing the Enemy’ – a partially collapsed pier inspired by a letter written by her father. It is clever and interesting – the broken planking isolating a lonely cabin at the pier’s end. Evocative of longing and loss.
From this point the exhibition sadly goes rapidly downhill. The neons look pretty but putting trite statements like ‘love is all you want’ in neon does not unfortunately make particularly interesting art. A lame film of Emin on horseback wandering around Margate sand is one of several films to avoid. There is a ‘scrap book’ of a room entitled ‘Family and Friends’ with lots of trivial bits and pieces scattered over the wall and reverentially placed in cabinets – I started to try to read and make sense of these sundry fragments but lost the will to live.
In ‘Drawings’ there are various scrawled versions of Tracey masturbating and little else whilst searching desperately for more ‘Room’ topics the Hayward scrape the barrel with ‘Trauma’, ‘Menphis’, ‘Early Work’ (almost non-existent), ‘Sculpture’ (ditto) and ‘Terraces’ (a couple of teddies under benches).
A couple of works were sadly missing – ‘Everyone I ever Slept With’ was destroyed in the Momart fire and ‘Bed’ which Saatchi has kept aside for a 2012 show in Chelsea. Both would have added much to what was ultimately an exhibition rather devoid of strong individual pieces
It is undoubtedly true that many of the works would be lost individually but brought together in to a – sort of – coherent whole they have much more impact. Emin’s art, and life, makes much more sense and the gallery has done a good job of curation. I quite enjoyed the exhibition as an overview of a cultural icon but as for the art I ended up siding with Jake and Dinos Chapman who recently laid in to Emin during an Independent interview (18 June 2011) ‘I cant stand it. It’s art therapy – it doesn’t belong outside her head.’ ‘Tracey draws very badly .. and everybody claps their flippers together.’ The Chapmans incidentally are preparing for an exhibition at White Cube (opening 15 July 2011) where they have worked apart for several months, the results secret to the gallery and each other – now that I will find interesting.
Tracey Emin Love is all you Need. The Hayward Gallery until 19 August 2011
Jake or Dinos Chapman at White Cube Hoxton Square and Masons Yard. 15 July to 17 September 2011
- Emin: loving and dying for her art (independent.co.uk)
- Tracey Emin: ‘art in Britain has never been better’ (telegraph.co.uk)
london art fair 2011
23 January 2011 § 1 Comment
The London Art Fair 2011 kicked off this last week with, let us say, a whimper rather than a bang. Despite being around for some 23 years, it has been on the way down for many years since Frieze stole its thunder a number of years back. Its decline this year was sadly rather evident.
The first thing to strike you was not who was there, but who was not. The big international galleries have long since avoided the fair: White Cube, Hauser & Wirth, Victoria Miro and the like steer well clear. Middle level galleries are now almost completely absent – the likes of Stephen Friedman and Flowers are largely gone. As for small, influential galleries like Carl Freedman – not a chance. Even little West End galleries like John Martin selling popular and easily accessible work – the galleries for who you would imagine this show is perfect are deserting the ship.
So who is left? There was a reasonably good selection of work from Modernist British artists – Ivon Hitchens, Roger Hilton, Alan Davie and the like – shown by galleries such as Anthony Hepworth, Austin Desmond and Richard Green. It was however thoroughly mixed in with contemporary work of generally poor quality from a multiplicity of small galleries – mostly little-known or ‘popping-up’ from unknown origins.
The whole was exhibited in a maze of alleys and passageways that seems ever more confusing and cramped year by year. The balcony stands afford such little viewing space that it is rather like having a gellery on a tube train whilst the Art Projects section showed some dire stuff in an assortment of back rooms.
The supposed ‘VIP’ tickets afforded a slightly more leisurely experience, but unaccompanied by any drinks until 6pm when some mediocre cava appeared in plastic glasses (the fact it was in relatively generous quantity was a minor blessing). As for the supposed ‘VIP room’ – I wont even go there!
Was it really as bad as I make out – probably not and I passed a pleasant enough couple of hours at the fair – but it was all slightly disappointing and not the sort of event to inspire the spending of large amounts of money on high quality art – even if you could find it. The first word from some dealers I spoke to backs up this impression – “the worst year yet”, “no buyers around” and “never again”. Verdict: C minus – could try harder. Will we see anything change next year – nope!
- London art fair opens with political tinge (reuters.com)
- london art fair gets ‘littlewhiteheaded’ (akickupthearts.wordpress.com)
london commercial galleries – top ten
23 September 2010 § 1 Comment
Continuing on from the public gallery top ten here are my commercial gallery selection. This was a much more difficult choice and reflects the fact that curating a commercial gallery is in many ways a harder task. The potential range of art is usually much broader – a good gallerist will need have an eye for the best of these new artists, be able to develop existing ones and at the same time, let us not forget, run a business to make money. They have to curate interesting shows at close intervals in spaces that are often less than ideal. Many galleries can rarely exploit prime locations – with the cost of retail space in London at exorbitant levels – and they will often need to attract visitors to out-of-the-way locations.
There are however plenty of arty masochists willing to give it a go. A guideline figures for the number of London galleries is impossible to nail down – not least because they open and close faster than Wayne Rooneys flies – but it seems to be somewhere between 300 and 500. Picking a random selection and dropping in may seem like one way to look at some art, but it will produce very mixed results. A recent trawl around a series of ‘first Thursday’ galleries in the East End nearly made me slit my wrists in frustration – I found nothing that was close to worthwhile looking at over a period of over three hours. Ultimately only a fine curry and a beer on Brick Lane saved the evening!
My advice? Try sticking to names that you may have heard of or those recommended to you. At the same time why not try popping in to their near neighbours – these galleries may be riding on their famous neighbours coat-tails but are often are looking at the same market and at least can afford similar rents. Many of the best galleries are in small clusters in key areas – Hoxton, Vyner Street and Cork Street for example although some are out on a limb and need extra effort. Some the best are big and international, some are small and inventive. Here is a brief and very flawed guide to my ten favourites:
10. Stephen Friedman. An interesting international roster of established contemporary artists that include Yinka Shonibare, Thomas Hirschhorn, Yoshimoto Nara, Catherine Opie and David Shrigley. An OK gallery space close to Cork Street.
9. Hauser & Wirth. An International giant. Represent the estates of Eva Hesse and Allan Kaprow as well as Henry Moore. Founded in Zurich 1992, the London gallery is in a wonderful historic Sir Edwin Lutyens building on Piccadilly, another branch being on Old Bond Street and yet another opening in Savile Row on 15 October 2010. Important and impressive exhibitions by established artists but are they a little dull?
8. Maureen Paley. Ever black-clad Maureen was one of the first to present contemporary art in the East End. Promotes US and European artists as well as launching new talent from the UK. Gallery artists include Turner winners Tillmans and Wearing plus nominees Gillick and Warren. Always interesting and worth watching her artists.
7. Gagosian. Another international monster founded by Larry Gagosian with seven galleries: four in the USA, two in London, one in Rome and one in Athens. Built on the legacy of the New York School, abstract expressionism and Pop Art it also showed then contemporary artists like Basquiat. Expect museum quality exhibitions that feature artists of the calibre of Twombly, Picasso, Bacon and Warhol.
6. White Cube was set up by Jay Jopling in 1993 and is arguably one of most influential galleries of the past twenty years. Many of the very biggest names in art have appeared here, Hirst and the YBA’s of course amongst others like Kiefer and Orozco. Has very impressive spaces in both Hoxton and St James’s.
5. Timothy Taylor. A lovely space, just next to the exclusive Connaught Hotel (drop in for tea!), they feature a fascinating mix of established names like Arad, Riley and Katz with an, always interesting, selection of contemporary artists like Martin Maloney and Philip Guston. A good place to watch recently emerged talent.
4. Lisson Gallery. An impressive history which it has continued to build upon. Founded in 1967 artists included the likes of Sol LeWitt, Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Art & Language with art that represented an ethos concerning art’s place in a wider cultural and social context. They have continued to feature those like Anish Kapoor and Julian Opie ‘identifying and supporting succeeding generations of artists, each with a radical and distinctive approach to the artistic possibilities of their times.’ Always interesting.
3. 20 Hoxton Square. Facing White Cube across Hoxton Square this gallery ‘is a collaborative project space, operating as a platform for emerging contemporary artists, whilst also acting as a creative hub for independent projects.’ They also have resident artists, a bookshop, screenings, artists talks and performances. Great place to spot emerging artists.
2. Haunch of Venison. Formerly the Museum of Mankind this vast neo-classical space just off Piccadilly includes ten separate gallery spaces. Often featuring multiple exhibitions its artists are contemporary, cutting edge and top notch. The curation is excellent and the space spectacular. Sometimes the vast open areas can overwhelm the art but who can complain when it features wonderful shows like the recent Joana Vasconcelos. Sadly it is all owned by Christies and widely despised in the art world. It loses money hand over fist and may not be here long – enjoy it whilst it lasts!
1. Victoria Miro. A fabulous big white-cubey space, a little out on a limb but near enough to Hoxton and East End galleries. Wonderful artist portfolio includes the likes of Eggleston, Neel, Doig, Ofili, Perry and Elmgreen & Dragset. The current Jacco Olivier is excellent too. Make the effort to get there and drop in to the excellent (charitable foundation) Parasol Unit gallery, next door.
Please suggest your own favourites or tell me who I should have included!
- Victoria Miro | interview (guardian.co.uk)