A New Year- catch up

Until the renewal notice came in I forgot that I had not written for so long. The last six months I have written for work (academic papers) but this is for pleasure.

We went to the last week of the Munster Sculpture Show (in Germany- that Munster). It was my first trip there. The show is only on every 10 years so I did not want to wait that long! It was fabulous. I saw some fantastic art.

Pierre Huyghe’s sculpture was superb. We spent ages there, luckily having arrived before it opened that day as the queues when we left were 2-4 hour waits.

Pierre Huyghe

Ayse Erkmen’s submerged bridge, On Water got people crossing from one side to the other, looking as if they were walking on water. Simple and very effective.

 

My other favourite was a performance piece again simple and funny and profound:

Alexandra Pirici’s ‘Leaking Territories’

A small enough town to walk around and see most of it. A wonderful way to spend a few days of your life seeing such wonders.

See you there in 2027!

 

Emma Hart – Mama Mia! Whitechapel Gallery

Quite a while ago I wrote a blog on whether the Max Mara prize for women artists was still needed in these days of supposed equality. Well, judging by the output of one recipient, Emma Hart, it was money well spent.

Emma Hart used the time to be in Italy and learn some new techniques with clay, a speciality of some Italian regions, with techniques such as Majolica. The results are simply stunning. They are recognisably Emma Hart’s work, but on another level.

The room at the Whitechapel Gallery  is in darkness apart from the works. There is a calmness to it, even though the works are full of life.

The works are a series of ‘lightbulbs’ that look like faces and cast shadows like eyes. They have, on many of them, measuring marks making them into measuring jugs. And as you look up and into them a whole world appears, joyful and playful. Some have fans going round by them; shapes of knives and forks and spoons somewhere between domestic and scary.

At the after show dinner Hart gave her speech in Italian. It showed further that she had immersed herself in the experience, which few of us really do when offered such an opportunity. The effect has been to make even bolder work; work that moves from one experience to the experience of a much larger place, pushing back the boundaries. These pieces are museum quality.

The photographs I took do not do them justice. If you can get to the Whitechapel, go see.

Venice Biennale 2017

Just back from Venice Biennale 2017 opening. It continues until November.

La Serenissima, as Venice is known, is a beautiful, magical place, which has slightly lost its way. No longer a vibrant trading post, it is now more a museum piece and tourist spot. It also has some of the worst and most expensive pizzas and pasta in Italy. And more pizza then anyone could possibly want and very few decent restaurants that can cook anything well. Of course there are some, but you have to search for them and we were there for the art!

The Biennale is huge, with a large garden area (the Giardini) with pavilions from countries around the world as well as a large mixed show in one Central Pavilion, and a huge show, curated by Christine Macel, ‘Viva Art Viva’ on the next door site (the Arsenale) as well as other sites around town.

It is usual/pseudo-cool to say ‘not as good as the last venice biennale’, but in fact, I thought it was! But then I think being cool can sometimes turn nasty. The German Pavilion  also thought that with ‘cool’ performers in a sort of indifferent haze, a dystopian  world. A very brave piece of performance work by Anne Imhof called ‘Faust’.

Faust by Anne Imhof

 

 

 

 

 

Anne Imhof- Faust

 

The British Pavillion however, really rocked it for me. Phyllida Barlow’s Folly played on the word Folly, which turns up as bits of falling down ‘ancient’ monuments in the grounds of stately homes as well as folly, being the stupid things we do. It had decay, recycling and play all in one. In spite of it all there was joy. Brilliant.

Folly by Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow- Folly

 

In the Arsenale, Lee Ming Wei’s Mending Project, which is quite an old piece, set a wonderful tone. It looked great and had a relational interaction to it.

Image result for david medalla venice a stitch in time

Also in the Arsanale was my old favourite David Madella. Going back in time to the 70s he ran ‘Exploding Galaxy’ on Parliament Hill in London on Sunday afternoons. If anyone has documentary photos of this he would love to have them.

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David Madella- A stitch in time

 

Another stand out pavilion was from Taiwan with the artist Tehching Hsieh. Again, it was piece from his youth of endurance and also of commitment to art. It had been shown at the Fruit Market in Glasgow, but I had not seen it there. It was wonderful. He wrote a contract to himself that he would clock in every hour for a year. There are photos and a time lapse film of it as well as the object with which he clocked in. It said everything you need to say about work and capitalism in one incredible event.

Tehching Hsieh

Tehching Hsieh- One year performance

Many people were praising the Welsh pavilion. It was a film inspired by finding photos of a German man who had been in a concentration camp for being gay. On his release he started tattooing and piercing himself and taking photos of it. He looked like a normal bloke (actually, he looked like how you imagine an old Nazi) when dressed, but had the most ‘altered’ genitals I have ever seen when undressed. Not for the faint -hearted. The photos were intercut with a very slick film, which I found very old fashioned and all of which left me cold. But if you are thinking of tattooing yourself or piercing your genitals, this may change your mind.

At our favourite off site spot, Fondazione Querini Stampalia,  where last time they had Jimmy Durham, this time they had Hadassah Goldvitch ‘The House of Life’. In fact, running among the tombstones as recounted in the tale here prepared me for the Phyllida Barlow piece, where you are reduced to child-like proportions running between elephant legs.

Hadassa Goldvicht, The House of Life

Hadassah Goldvitch ‘The House of Life’.

Many life enhancing moments and time to be amazed by the many creative outputs. Who knew humans could be so wonderful?

Lucia Nogueira- at Annely Juda/Anthony Reynolds

Image result for lucia nogueira untitled watercolourImage result for lucia nogueira

 

You know the saying: ‘you wait ages for a bus then two come along’?

Quite often I see a show and there may be one stand out piece or even none, in an ordinary mass. Then, in one week  I saw two shows where every piece was perfect and the hang of the show, the design of the show, was sublime so that every piece had its place. The first was Jyll Bradleys’ ‘Currency’. This is the second of the two.

I knew nothing about Lucia Nogueira’s work apart from seeing the front cover of the show at Annely Juda Fine Art in London. So when I walked in the room I was completely blown away.

This is stunning work. Beautiful, poignant, witty and also dark. What more do you want from art?

 

 

Jyll Bradley – at l’etrangere gallery

So I declare self interest, love and deep admiration.  Jyll Bradley makes great art, both in the public sector (Lille and Folkestone Triennial) and in the private gallery space. These are ideas brought to life, creations. They are layered and edgy. They are also very beautiful. Some art is, basically, pants. It is comment, commentary, current and dull saying things about things. This is the stuff itself.  

In the current show there is almost a buzz of sound that radiates out of the work .  Even though they are  completely  still (apart from the film) each piece has some sort of vibrational quality to it. I can’t tell you why. I have had this experience a few times: once thousands of years ago, as a teenager in the old Tate, when there was only the one Tate, in the room of Mark Rothko’s works which I had almost to myself. The works vibrated. Then I had that feeling when walking in to Dia Foundation in NY and then again walking in to the Barnett Newman room at MOMA, NY. Colour and line. Art.

The materials used here are so unusual, carbon paper (who remembers this?) plexiglass (so modern), old hop pole wood, all melded together against themselves, creating spaces, ‘mixing memory and desire’. The film is of a sculpture. Who films a sculpture? Sculptures just are. And then makes the film look like  the sculpture is flowing as water or an ice melt, creating a rainbow myriad as the sun passes through it?

But it is also the entire hang of the show, the creation of space and the works creating space that make this such a wonderful show. Thoughtful, intense, minimal, but very dispersing with the colour radiating outwards, dazzling the senses and yet calming them, allowing you to breathe in the space.

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Brigitte by Jyll Bradley

Everything you want from art.

Go, see.

You can wait a long time to find work of this quality and a show of this sublimeness and amazingly I saw two in one week. This is the first of them.

 

 

 

Jon Thompson; Artist, Curator, Lecturer

Jon Thompson.

If you meet former students of Jon Thompson, the Goldsmiths crowd of the 1980’s, they will all tell you what a brilliant teacher he was. Not gushing. Not always available. Just brilliant, giving remarks and feedback when needed, often at a level that the student didn’t fully comprehend until years later, suddenly a realisation, falling into place.

Everybody will tell you that the show he curated, ‘Falls the Shadow’ was seminal.

At his funeral on Tuesday 22nd March in deepest Kent, UK, many of the art world gathered. The service was wonderful, arranged by Jeremy Ackerman who edited his collected writings and his gallerist Anthony Reynolds. They told of the artist, with Ackerman ending his tale of going to Jon’s studio in Belgium and walking in to see a canvas that almost blinded him with its intensity of colour and Jon saying “Well, what do you think?”.  Anthony Reynolds talked about his giving up painting when he became a lecturer as he found it impossible to do both; painting being so full time. But when he retired suddenly these works appeared, works he must have been planning all those years. “There is only art; the thing itself”. Others told wonderful tales and his family celebrated their wonderful brother and uncle. His partner, Andrew, was too sad to talk.  Andrew Brightman told how he loved an argument, but annoyingly always knew more about any topic than you did, however obscure! His kindness and conviviality, his vast intellect, his art. Sarah Wedderburn read from his essays, words of utter brilliance.

I was lucky enough to sit next to him at a dinner once. As  in life we do not see the future, we do not know when we shall die and I did not realise that this would be the only time I would share such a moment. So I did not record in my mind what we had talked about. I remember talking about a commission he had for work at Broadmoor, a secure facility for severely disturbed and dangerous people. I was fascinated by such a challenge; making work for people who do not know the difference between good and evil, whether there is such a difference. I think a lot of the rest of our conversation was light hearted and fun. I only wish I had met him sooner and that he had lived longer. There was at least another ten years worth of painting in him which we shall now never see.

The art world has lost a master and the world has lost a wonderful soul.

May he be in an heavenly studio full of paint, canvas, delicious food and wonderful wine.

Perfect joy.

 

Max Mara Prize for Women Artists- Still needed after all these years

Whitechapel Art Gallery in London hosted a very exclusive party for the Max Mara Prize for Women Artists 2015-17, the 6th time this prize has been awarded. I did wonder whether there was going to be a goody bag of something Max Mara, one of their coats, perhaps!  But what a fab party.

Then the director of the Whitechapel got up to introduce the proceedings. Iwona Blazwick is a world renowned curator and director. Her speech was on how this prize is still needed. That women make up 70% of the workforce of FTSE 100 companies, but only 7% of board members. That the top prices for art works are all by men. That most galleries have almost all male artists lists. She said it with spirit and wit, but it is very depressing.

I keep hearing people complaining about being discriminated against because of their colour or religion, but 50% of the people of that colour or religion are being doubly discriminated against, usually by members of the group that are complaining that they are being discriminated against. Black men, gay men, religious men, are not immune to being deeply prejudiced against black women, gay women, religious women and all women of any colour, religion or sexuality.

Women are almost invisible in many areas of life. It is unremarkable when a TV programme contains only men and very remarkable (remarked upon) when it contains only women, unless it is a subject only about women such as maternity. But even then men have set themselves up as the masters of gynaecology, obstetrics and reproductive medicine. They have colonised women’s bodies and lives.. I cannot imagine it the other way around, but I think we all need to so that we understand what that is like.

So yes, the Max Mara Prize for Women Artists is needed. It gives the winner 6 months in Italy to be an artist, hopefully free of other financial burdens. Well of course, by the time you have amassed a body of work that is able to be nominated for such a prize you have also amassed a life, such as a home and family which usually, you cannot abandon for 6 months without some complicated arrangements! But it is a wonderful gift, a time of reflection and creation. The result is then displayed at the Whitechapel and in Italy.

The short list comprised some excellent artists. The winner, Emma Hart, was a very well deserved recipient. Her body of work was exceptionally strong among such competition and she has a very good reason to be in Italy to study Majolica (she works in ceramics and photography). So off she will go for a well deserved 6 months free of the usual constraints artists have to juggle to survive, and female artists juggle much more. Really they do. Their work, therefore, should be double the price of equivalent male artists as the production of great work by women is so hard won and rarer due to so many constraints.

Emma Hart  Folkestone Triennial 2014

So thank you to Max Mara and the male director who made the announcement and gave the award and funds for this very needed prize. Thank you very much.

From Monet to Matisse- Painting the Modern Garden – The Royal Academy

We were lucky enough to be invited to the preview on 26th January 2016 of the ‘Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse’ exhibition at the Royal Academy. It is showing works of artists in that period of time painting gardens.

We arrived on time and did the clever thing. We walked straight through the exhibition to the end where the huge triptych of Monet’s that have never been hung together since first painted were situated. We walked in and for a few minutes we were the only two people there.

No guards.

No crowds.

Nobody.

Bliss to be surrounded by the paintings in silence.

Monet at Giverny

Monet at Giverny and us alone in the room to take this photo !

Then we walked back through the show. Many of the Monet’s look great from a distance and quite ugly close up. I like that. I like that something ugly transforms to something beautiful depending on where it is seen.

There was a lovely Matisse, Palm Leaf, Tangier 1912. There were extraordinary Kandiinskys. There were three Paul Klee’s we really fancied having on our walls!  There was a modest and lovely Pissaro of a vegetable garden. And there was an intriguing Maurice Denis of nuns in a garden, a little like a Paradise Garden of Persia. Very unusually in colour and form. Lovely.

There were some extraordinary paintings that I did not like of the foreground, but the effect of the light, as if it was from a backlit theatrical set, was wonderful. But I am not a great fan of most impressionism anymore and I never did like Renoir.

For the most part though it is pretty, but a bit sentimental. Also, it was bereft of female artists. Now surely females were allowed to paint flowers and gardens even if not allowed to paint a (fe/male) nude?  But I am sure that even in the time period of Monet females made and painted gardens. So a lack of female artists does annoy.

The whole felt a bit overwhelming, a bit of a large bouquet with a few rare and precious blooms.

For the Monet it will be a sell out show, so I am very grateful to have seen it in peace. A moment of serenity in a place of beauty. That was his intention after all the bloodshed of the First World War and that is his achievement.

 

Ben Rivers- Camden Art Centre

If you can get to Camden Art Centre in London go!

The current exhibition is by Ben RIvers. I did not know his work until I went to this show. There are videos and a curated room. They are wonderful. Just sit and enjoy. There are so many layers to them and they are a pleasure to watch. They have a resonance with all our lives. They are particular yet universal. Really, really worth seeing. Like an oasis in a desert.

 

Ai WeiWei at the RA

The blockbuster that is the artist Ai Wei Wei is in London at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly. The show opened a while ago, but due to Frieze London being on, there was a chance to see it without the crowds one evening, so I took that chance.

I had liked the ceramic sunflower seeds at Tate Modern a few years back so I was interested to see this show.

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Tate Modern Ai WeiWei

Ai Wei Wei’s work is monumental. There are a few small pieces, but I think the scale of each of the pieces in this show is, generally, too big. I am not a monumental art fan. It has connotations I don’t like. Most of these pieces I thought would be better smaller, quieter. Then we could see the art because when work is on the monumental scale it can become documentary, memorial and historical centrepiece.

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A lot of it is quite literal.

The carpet of metal representing maps of China I found lovely, but I am not sure that is the intention, to be lovely, as the work is made from the rods retrieved after the earthquake where 20 schools capsized in 2008 and thousands of children died. The names of the children are on the wall in a long placard of remembrance; lives, potentials erased. But the work is quite brutalist. I thought about the studio workers having to collect the metal and straighten it, and wondered how they felt.

The bicycle chandelier was very literal and rather kitsch. The wall papers I thought were a bit childish. I could not find a lot to love. I found the fact that many temples had been destroyed and he had rescued the wood and reused it good. I liked the first room of wooden structures and some of the cubes, but in the end, monumental as it was, political as it was,  I found the show quite thin.