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?

Maps : Finding ourselves and others

Recently I watched a wonderful programme on Channel 4 TV in the UK called ‘Keeping up with the Khans’ about immigration to the UK, specifically to a town called Sheffield. It had wit and charm and made every person into a human being.

There was one man on the programme from Lebanon. He had a problem finding his country on the map and was surprised to see how small it was.

He then could not find the UK. At first he thought that the USA was the UK. He then pointed to Turkey. He thought the UK was a lot bigger than it is. That thought was shared by another immigrant from the Sudan. He said it must be large because the UK is also called Great Britain, which logically should refer to size.  It seemed a good point. In fact, the UK fits into the state of Texas in the USA, not the USA, but just the state of Texas, about three times!

The  blue is the USA, the black is Texas and then it is enlarged to show the yellow, which is the UK, super-imposed on it to show the size of the UK in proportion to Texas and the USA.

The man from the Lebanon did not seem to realise that the UK is an island, a very small one at that. The man from Sudan had come over from Calais and knew the UK was an island.

Having a sense of the size of countries and the size of continents is very difficult if you haven’t seen comparative maps, if you only see your place in isolation, as it appears on a Sat Nav.

This is a map of the continent of Africa with many other very large countries super-imposed on it.

But on the news earlier the Swedish foreign minister when asked about migrant numbers said that the UK should do more as it is much bigger than Sweden. So I went on Professor Google!

The UK is about 94,000 sq miles (241,000 sq km) with a population of about 100 million and Sweden is about 175,000 sq miles (449,000 sq km) with a population of about 8 million. In my humble arithmetic, Sweden is about 2 times the size of the UK. And that is a foreign minister.

What is going on in our schools worldwide? Are none of us looking at maps? Are none of us seeing maps?

The problem with using Satellite Navigators (Sat Navs) in our cars or on our phones is that there is no context. You do not know where you are!

The algorithms of computers are not knowledge. They tell you what to do next so you don’t have to look or know anything much.

But maps reveal place and context. They also show size.

 

Image result for comparative size of europe and saudi arabia

 

 

This is for anybody that knows the above shapes are  a map of Europe with the Gulf states superimposed on it for size comparison. 

We need to look at maps to see where we are in relation to where other people are. It is a disgrace that our leaders cannot find the countries they are talking about or bombing on a map. They have no idea about where it is and what countries are next to them. Those being talked about or bombed also have little idea of where the place is that is doing that to them. Many political decisions rest on maps and we need to see them and understand ourselves in the context of others.

For instance, there is a mantra that many people repeat about a two state solution in the Middle East. But the areas they tend to talk about doing this to are not contiguous; they are not next to each other. They have no idea where anywhere is or the relation of one place to another or the size of the places and whether they are feasible because they have not looked at maps. Maps of the world. Maps of a region. Maps.

 

size-israel-uk

Comparison of the UK (in white) and Israel and the West Bank (in blue). The West Bank is the size of Dorset, a county (region) in the UK.

Two State Solutions

For instance: When the Muslim people living  in India fought for their own (Muslim) state the British Government  decided that a two state solution would prevent a civil war. There was to be a Muslim state and a Hindu state. in other words two countries based on religious belief. This process, which happened in 1947, was called Partition.

The British ceded the area now known as Pakistan, a huge, vast area, and another large, but smaller area that  was meant to be East Pakistan, as one Muslim state and India as the Hindu state.

However, Pakistan and East Pakistan are not contiguous. They are separated by a vast country, India, of which both the areas of Pakistan and East Pakistan originally formed a part. So of course the two state solution was geographically ungovernable as two countries (India and Pakistan West / East).

This tragic time ended up, instead, becoming a three state solution:

  • India
  • Pakistan,
  • Bangladesh.

Look at the map of the region.

Eight million people died during this partition. Nobody really talks about it.  Fourteen and a half million people were uprooted.

Not thousands, not tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands. 14.5 million moved from one state to the other and 8 million died trying to move in 1947.

The disputed territory of Kashmir between the border of India and Pakistan is huge, 222,000 sq km, the size of the UK

Of course if anybody bothered to look they would also find that Gaza and the West Bank are not contiguous.

  • Maps can be made showing geographical features such as valleys and mountains, oceans and lands.
  • Maps can be made showing political features, the borders and countries of the world.
  • Maps can be made showing population features, density of humans or other species of interest.
  • Maps can be made showing epidemiological features, the spread of diseases or traits.
  • Maps can be made of economic features showing the distribution of wealth or trade or tourism.
  • Maps can be made showing linguist features, the distribution of languages.
  • Maps can be made showing religious distributions or political-religious distributions as some countries are theocracies.

All countries have some theocratic history to them, when they were mainly one religion or another. Some have remained theocratic. My map, below, shows a religious distribution to the best of my colouring in abilities.

Unlike the man from Lebanon trying to find his mother’s house on a world map, you cannot see yourself on a map of the world. You are not the centre of all worlds. You are only the centre of your own selfie.

Maps give us perspective.

I think, in a world of platitudes and political decisions by people who have no idea where we are talking about, or what we are talking about, we need to look at maps.

Here is a map of the world (minus the Artic and Antarctic):

Countries by main religion

The countries in Red are predominantly Christian.

The countries in Green are predominantly Muslim.

The countries in Purple are predominantly Buddhist.

The countries in Yellow are predominantly  Hindu.

The countries in Blue are predominantly Jewish.

A little perspective goes a long way.

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.

Image result for ai weiwei

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.

Image result for ai weiwei

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.

 

 

 

Frieze, London 2015.

Frieze is on, Frieze is on!

I love art fairs where you can see so much in one space. But you need energy!

This year, the opening day (Tuesday 13th Oct) seemed lighter and less crowded. And the place seemed nicer somehow. And the displays seemed airy and spacious.

So much great art (and of course some loud, shouty nonsense) so how to sum up?

Well, there really was an Agnes Martin painting there. I couldn’t believe I could see one so close outside a museum. There was also, like me, part of a family in raptures in front of it (and part of the family not getting it). But more remarkably, on another stand were 17 ‘drawings’ of hers- totally fabulous. Apparently, they are ‘reserved’ for a museum. A bargain.

In the main Frieze, Anthony Reynolds Gallery is showing Paul Graham. Some exquisite and poignant moments captured. Still relevant.

Paul Graham

Ana Lupas– who knew? At P420 Gallery. A Romanian artist, these works are from the 1960s. They are remarkable, beautiful, poignant and political.  I am  new fan. She is a performance artist. Wonderful works.

Image result for ana lupas artist

Ana Lupas

Fernanda Gomes is being shown at Alison Jaques as well as a South American gallery. Very bare; very minimal (very expensive!). Loved it. Wanted some!

Fernanda Gomes

In fact, South American art seems to be way ahead in general. Some lovely works from the 1970s onwards they are finally getting on the art world map. Of course, not all of it is great, but so much is, and so much of the great art in South America is by women. Now there’s a thing.

The Hauser and Wirth stand is superb in the main Frieze tent.

Sarah Lucas at Sadie Coles.

To coincide there have been other events including Jimmie Durham at the Serpentine. Some other openings too; some of very thin work with no truth to it and some that seem to have plagiarised other people’s work. Really bad.

But the main Frieze tent and the Master’s tent have some beautiful works and some wonderful displays.

All of this great art and human enterprise in one place.

Fabulous. Exhausting. Exhilarating. About the best year of Frieze.

If in town, do go see.

 

 

Liam Gillick at Maureen Paley

I think Mr Liam Gillick is an incredibly bright artist. But, somehow, he wears his brightness lightly.

His art is also incredibly bright, brilliantly bright stuff. it is so intelligent. But even though I don’t get all the references, I still enjoy it and that is strange, that it is pleasurable without being obvious. It is witty, without being ‘knowing’ (I don’t like knowing) and joyful.

The current show at Maureen Paley opened last night.. He said that the show has been touring around some strange and not obvious locations. Now we get to see it in London.

The show has the title LIAM GILLICK: THE THOUGHT STYLE MEETS THE THOUGHT COLLECTIVE

The work consists of three rooms with installations, texts, audios or videos. While I realised it was very intellectual, I also just enjoyed it. I think it is meant to be enjoyed. There is even ‘sparkle’ on the floor.

LIAM GILLICK When Do We Need More Tractors (Five Plans), 1999

The sort of wigwam of wood looks like a place to be in, but there is no entrance. He has his meeting places under the perspex fins, a more public space. There is a sense of interaction. I guess there is the interaction of  the maker of the art and the person ‘reading’ the art.

I read the press release before I went. It includes this quote:

“A truly isolated investigator is impossible (…). An isolated investigator without bias and tradition, without forces of mental society acting upon him, and without the effect of the evolution of that society, would be blind and thoughtless. Thinking is a collective activity (…). Its product is a certain picture, which is visible only to anybody who takes part in this social activity, or a thought which is also clear to the members of the collective only. What we do think and how we do see depends on the thought-collective to which we belong” – Ludwik Fleck, 1935

The work looks at this and the interaction between Fleck and Mary Douglas, the anthropologist.  I love Mary Douglas. I quote her in various scenarios. My favourite phrase of hers is ‘dirt is matter in the wrong place’. Brilliant. Well Liam Gillick was interested in this collaboration and in how we do not really invent alone. To quote from a book I am reading (The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey) she quotes Sir William Bragg, a famous scientist saying ‘The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.’  Perhaps that is what post-modernism is saying too. And perhaps it is partly what Gillick’s work is, looking anew and seeing how these ideas are reached. Or that is what I got from it.

That we do not invent alone.

That we are all connected.

That ideas are relationships.

There is also a new and lovely book out of his:

From Nineteen Ninety A to Nineteen Ninety D, published by JRP|Ringier.

At £25 it is worth it. Really.

If you want a meditative moment to reflect on thoughts, cultures, ideas and how we got here, a trip to Bethnal Green may help.

I’m sort of blown away by it. I might not get it all, but I loved it.

A brilliant shiny (sparkly) joyful art. Sheer delight.