Thursday, 28 June 2018
Photo London 2018 ran 17-20 May.This is my report for Photo Monitor, reformatted.
Two things struck me most about this, the 4th edition of Photo London. First, it was bigger than before, with 144 galleries and 8 large special exhibitions spread around Somerset House, not to mention an extensive talks programme. Hardly any galleries included film, but all the same that’s a lot to absorb in a day! Second, it was as if the Internet didn’t exist: people, landscapes and analogue experimentalism dominated – whether the images were old or new – and works directly related to the online world were pretty much absent. It may be that simply acknowledges the commercial reality of what sells, but it still seemed odd, given how frequently digital and social media drive content in the wider art scene. Setting that aside, however, there was no shortage of interesting material:
Jo Dennis with some of her set of 12 Ladywell Treasures, 2018
When I reported on the Unseen Fair at Amsterdam last year, I kicked off with a picture of British artist Jo Dennis, even though she wasn’t in it! This time she had a solo booth with the Sid Motion gallery, concentrating on her ‘Ladywell Treasures’: images of the paint flaked away from an abandoned swimming pool building in South London, which Dennis then adds to by hand. They’re beautiful abstractions out of dereliction which connect to past experience and to the memory of water. I then noticed that, tied in perhaps to its centrality to environmental concerns, there was plenty of more present and visible water in the Fair…
Andreas Gefeller: Untitled (Swimming pool) Düsseldorf, 2008 at Atlas Gallery
Sticking to swimming pools, German photographer Andreas Gefeller is known for his ‘Supervisions’ series, which combine hundreds of images through which he scans a patch of ground in great detail. Here he applies the approach to water: you can distinguish the component images by the slightly irregular grid made by their edges, some shots being double size to give the rhythm a slightly wavy syncopation – despite which I reckon this took some 15,000 shots.
Edward Burtynsky: Saw Mills #1, Lagos, Nigeria, 2016
If the Fair had a presiding artist, it was probably another photographer famous for taking views from above. The Canadian Edward Burtynsky, honoured as ‘Master of Photography’, showed at a newly huge scale, and ventured into interactive presentation. His photographs of the logging industry in Lagos stun through pattern and content, but the point is that they depict uncontrolled deforestation at the heart of environmental problems.
Tom Bianchi: Polaroid, c 1975 at Fahey/Klein Gallery, Los Angeles
Writer-photographer Tom Bianchi portrayed the subculture of Fire Island when it was the go-to escape from the legal constraints on New York’s gay community. He has recently released new prints from some of the 800 Polaroids he’d kept in a box for 40 years until preparing the 2013 release of the book Tom Bianchi: Fire Island Pines Polaroids 1975–1983 – an evocative time capsule, now bound to be read through the prism of AIDS: Bianchi is himself an HIV Positive activist.
Tom Lovelace: Dazzle Site, Assemblage Three, 2017 at Flowers Gallery, London
Tom Lovelace’s ‘dazzle site’ assemblages reference the camouflaging of warships while drawing a surprising equation between the ripples of water on a lake and the patterns on a steel drain cover. The conjunction arose from the proximity of water and industrial heritage which Lovelace found while on a residency at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and works particularly well in this corner-dwelling version which suggest the prow of a ship.
Berndnaut Smilde: Nimbus Thor, 2014 at Ronchini, London
Ronchini had only three – albeit big – images on their stand, which was refreshing amidst the surfeit. Two were of Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde’s ‘nimbus’ series of indoor clouds of smoke. Note the wet floor of this attractively decrepit building in Ghent. Smilde – who orchestrates the event rather than pressing the camera button – sprays water before activating a smoke machine. That slows the smoke’s dispersion just long enough to allow a rather ominous form to be captured.
Tania Brassesco & Lazlo Passi Norberto: Under the Surface, 2014 at Raffaella De Chirico, Turin
Tania and Lazlo are a collaborative Venetian couple based in New York who create imagined scenarios with particularly thorough intensity: nineteenth century painting meets Gregory Crewdson, perhaps. Here, from the series ‘Behind the Visible’, Tania herself poses on a set constructed to hold a real flood, complete with carp, which made for the Fair’s dreamiest invocation of inundation.
Michael Flomen: From the Web No. 6, 2017 at Duran | Mashaal, Montreal
Michael Flomen – who has long moved in the same Canadian circles as Burtynsky – had a solo booth foregrounding a wide range of his photograms, impressively sized, taken by night and some lit only by fireflies! From the Web No. 6 put me in mind of Sam Francis’ paintings, but results from placing outdated film stock on a spider’s web during rainfall. Hence the silken traces, the surface rivulets, and the dramatic colours triggered by the water interacting with the unpredictable chemicals of the old film.
Helen Sear: Diviner #2 (Minerva), 2017 at Martin Asbæk Gallery, Copenhagen
The Wales / France based Helen Sear showed a figure-sized print of a tree, partly-coloured to indicate the level to which flood water had previously risen. That exposes the skirt-like roots, which anthropomorphise the image as one from a set of water diviners, in this case named for Minerva, Roman goddess of wisdom. Of whom the world has need just now…
Elger Esser: Nereide X, 2012 at Rose Gallery, Los Angeles
Greek mythology this time, in which the Nereids are sea nymphs. This is from a set of twelve shots which the German photographer – and pupil of the Bechers – took at Asnelles in France. There the Channel meets the Atlantic. Never the same wave twice… and I like the apparent perversity of the Nereids hurling themselves against a full wall when there’s a tempting and compositionally effective gap nearby.
José Manuel Ballester: Ur – Lili 2, 2017 at Gallery Pilar Serra, Madrid
Ur – Lili records an installation at the Guggenheim, Bilbao by both its photographer – Spanish artist José Manuel Ballester, who made the flowers – and Fog Sculpture by the Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. There were 2,260 water lilies, each holding news texts between their leaves, and colour coded to include, for example, one black bloom for each of the 33 wars being suffered around the world at the time.
Doug and Mike Starn: Seaweed 2, 2011 at HackelBury Fine Art, London
This enormous – seven feet wide – multi-part image distorts its blown-up seaweed with gelatin coating and abrasion, then allows the plants their influence in the form of the eddying eccentricity of the frame. What I liked most was how the Starns – who are twins working largely on public projects out of a six storey studio – suggest their own tangled relationship through the intertwining of the two strands, something they reference in many of their works.
Daido Moriyama: Artificial Underwater Flower, 1990 at Akio Nagasawa Gallery, Tokyo
Another contemporary great with a heavy presence at the Fair was Daido Moriyama. Naturally I was drawn by now to the typically off kilter image, which arose from him asking a woman at a Tokyo bar to pose with a flower, only for her to drop it into a glass of water and allow him to catch its attempted retrieval. Several artists in the Fair tackled the topical concern of plastic in water, but maybe this was the earliest image which could be retro-linked to that sea pollution agenda.
Jo Dennis: Ladywell Treasures 8, 2018 at Sid Motion Gallery, London
Monday, 25 June 2018
My summary of Basel 2018: the usual excellence at the main fair and museum shows - especially Bruce Nauman (Schaulager and Kunstmuseum), Sam Gilliam (Kunstmuseum) and Raphaela Vogel (Kunsthalle). The Art Parcours presentations and performances around the town were also excellent, notably Keren Cyter's play 'There's no us in masterpiece' and optimally located sculptures by Jessica Stockholder, Pierre Huyghe and Georg Herold. The satellites had a poorer year. The Solo Project did not make it to a tenth year, Liste and Volta were rather variable in quality, Scope bad and newer developments small. That left the 35 gallery-Photo Basel as the most consistent fair outside of Art Basel itself. Overall there was serious work on big issues of our times (eg Theaster Gates and Doreen Garner on race, Richard Mosse and Robert Longo on immigration, Candice Breitz and Puck Verkade on sexual power relations) but such work was very much in the minority. Here are a dozen works which appealed to me from the 290 galleries at the main fair.
Mel Bochner: Do I Have To Draw You A Picture?
2017 - Simon Lee Gallery, London / Hong Kong
2017 - Simon Lee Gallery, London / Hong Kong
There's a teasing self-reference here, as Mel Bochner is known for his depiction of words - which have become ever-more expressively painterly - so we're hardly likely to expect a picture. Lists from a thesaurus or simply 'blah blah blah' are his commonest choices, though, rather than a sentence like this. And it set me thinking: how much work is there at Art Basel which doesn't draw - or even paint - a picture, saleable as that may be? Plenty, of course: I reckon sculpture, abstract painting, photography and film, the most obvious non-conforming categories, make up all least half the work available, which probably mean choosing from 3,000 works...
Loris Gréaud: (I), 2016 - Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin / Paris
The conceptually slippery French multi-media artist Loris Gréaud pretends to present what would presumably have been the heaviest painting in the fair: though a modest 1.3 metres across, it is made of basalt - requiring the booth's wall to be reinforced. Any secrets of the image remain safe, though, behind the curtain carved by Vietnamese craftsmen: perhaps they would relate to Gréaud's 2016 film 'Sculpt', which also had its secretive aspect, being screened in a full-size cinema with only one viewer allowed at a time...
Robert Longo, as much as any current artist, is famous for drawing pictures - such as the monumental charcoals of refugees on view at the Metro Pictures booth. Art Unlimited, though, included this suspended globe studded with 40,000 copper and bronze full metal jacket bullets, a chilling reference to the annual extent of gun-related deaths in the USA - about two thirds are suicide or accident and the rest homicide.
Nick Cave: Soundsuit, 2018 - Jack Shainman Gallery, New York
The latest of Nick Cave's 'Sound Suits' - in mixed media including vintage textile, sequined appliqués, metal and a mannequin - has a soaring presence at over 2.5 metres', largely on account of a head suggesting very high intelligence. The series (so called because the first of them incorporated materials, such as twigs, which would make noises if a putative occupant moved) has been ongoing since 1992. Cave developed the suits as a pointed means of disguising identity, class and race in the wake of the Rodney King beating.
This unusual conjunction came about when Quaytman and Davey were showing along with Vivian Suter in Mexico City and decided that these two works looked better together: a painting on board which was otherwise very much at the simplest and most abstract end of RH Quaytman's practice, which often incorporate hard-to-focus-on stripes along with other elements; and Moyra Davey's exploration of the intimate problems of photographing family members, in this case her niece, whose skeleton-arachnid tattoo fits in perfectly.
Mariko Mori: Plasma Stone I, 2018 - Sean Kelly, New York
The Japanese artist Mariko Mori, in Sean Kelly's words, explores 'questions at the intersection of life, death, reality, and technology'. This opalescent, audience-coloured chunk of dichroic coated layered acrylic is certainly a technological feat of production, but also has a transcendental presence. The title references not blood but the jelly-like phase of matter which is the commonest in the universe, albeit the one fundamental state which - unlike solids, liquids and gases - doesn’t exist on earth in its pure form.
Rashid Johnson: Antoine's Organ, 2016 - Art Unlimited / Hauser & Wirth
Can you see him? This is a detail of Antoine Baldwin playing very stylish piano from inside of Rashid Johnson's immense grid-come-ecosystem of black steel and wood with neon lights, plants, shea butter sculptures, books and videos incorporated. I could have bought it for around $1m, but the knock-on problems of finding a good gardener and pianist put me off...
Miles Aldridge: New Utopias #1, 2018 - Polígrafa Obra Gràfica, Barcelona
Five typically fizzing images by Miles Aldridge, developed with his Spanish gallery, feature 50's-styled women seemingly immune to somewhat odd situations. They're time-consumingly printed non-photographically using an intense dot screen in CMYK with one area in a flat colour (to emphasise the process, says Aldridge), and an appliance printed separately in silver ink. This particular image resonated a little extra with me as burning toast had set off the fire alarm in my hotel a few hours before I saw it...
Alicja Kwade: Treibwerk, 2016 - 303 Gallery, New York
Alicja Kwade is known for distorting everyday objects in order to question the metaphysical reality behind our conventional systems. So money, and the value it achieves, are an obvious fit for her investigations. Her assisted readymade simply adds cogs to a row of eight coins to suggest financial mechanisms at work. When you consider that around €3 so treated was on sale for €7,000, it becomes a working financial mechanism in itself.
Chris Ofili: Black Triangle 2, 2018 - David Zwirner, London / New York / Hong Kong
Despite a career-long interest in the play of pattern, Chris Ofili has built his reputation as a figurative painter. So this powerful oil and charcoal abstract surprised me – though it emerges quite logically from his New York show last year. There, paintings almost merged into a cage-like construction of grids as Ofili asked what is sweeter, 'the song of the uncaged bird, or the song of the caged bird?' That geometry, plus textiles from Trinidad, Ofili’s long-time residence, are evident here, along with what may indeed be a new freedom.
Josh Kline: 20% Gratuity (Applebee's Waitress’ Arm with Checkbook), 2018 - 47 Canal , New York
It was hard not to notice three tables on which Josh Kline had 3D-printed food together with body parts of a waitress - the flesh bearing corporate brands, some of the food naturally coloured and some taking its hue from the waitress's skin. Mark that down as a protest at how jobs define people, and at how low wage jobs critically depends on tips to bring them up to a subsistence level. I’m not sure what bill is being presented here, but the sculptures (in editions of 3) were $50,000 each.
Janice Kerbel: Death! Lust! Deceit! Love! Revenge! and Deceit! Love! Lust! Death! Revenge! (2014) at i8 Gallery, Reykjavik
To return to text as the most obvious way of not drawing a picture, Janice Kerbel's series in letterpress print is pure and impactful: she summarises the imagined plot of an archetypal novel using just five exclamatory words. Those narrative headlines can come in any order, though, so the 2015 Turner Prize nominee has made 120 one-off works - that's 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 possible combinations for the mathematically inclined. Iceland's i8 gallery were showing three of them.
Friday, 8 June 2018
CONTEMPORARILY INFORMED ROMANTICS
Text for a talk on 6 June 2018: Michael Francis Cartwright, Shona Nunan, Jacob Cartwright and Sollai Cartwright in ‘Journeys’ at Australia House, London 5-16 June 2018
|Jacqueline and Jacob, Sollai and Danica, Michael and Shona at the opening|
This is an unusual show. Not historically, but compared with what you might expect to see nowadays. First, it consists of relatively traditional sculptural forms made with classic materials - mainly wood, bronze and marble - in a gathering of considerable scale, expensive to make, and requires considerable commitment. It is well suited to the imposing architecture and remarkable marble floors of Australia House. If I had to summon one presiding spirit for the Nunan-Cartwright family’s work is it would probably be Brancusi (1876-1957), the French-based Romanian who balanced off folk, classical and modern idioms. He brought symbolic forms towards abstraction, but said ‘They are imbeciles who call my work abstract. That which they call abstract is the most realistic, because what is real is not the exterior but the idea, the essence of things’.
The Nunan-Cartwrights use materials for what they are, undisguised – what Henry Moore would have called ‘truth to materials’ is in play. There are plenty of plinths. So, no purely conceptual plays, no artificial colouring, no presentation of art objects as if they weren’t art, no eccentric making out of say – tights as in Sarah Lucas, feathers as in Kate MccGwire or cotton buds as in Sarah Sze. Such approaches may well inform the work – I can easily imagine the family members collecting from nature and setting out their finds in the studio - but they do so in the process, not in the finished presentation.
|Shona Nunan: Earth Guardian, 2015|
Second, it is the work of four individuals but of one family – complete, as Michael and Shona have only two children. And though there are differences, the commonalities are more immediately noticeable: somewhere between figuration and abstraction, engagement with timeless themes, graceful lines. Shona and Michael have said that ‘When we travelled, all of our experiences were about inspiration, reflection, discovery and creative development, from visiting great art galleries to talking about the artists that excited us. So a lot of our influences have come from the same source’. As the show’s text puts it, they are ‘united by a commentary on, and celebration of life, nature and the universe. Collectively, they encourage viewers to consider the myriad of journeys that have informed the sculptures; the journey of the works themselves, from raw material through to creation; but also the journey of a family of sculptors who have continued to inspire one another’.
|Jacob Cartwright: Confluence, 2018|
It's likely, of course, that they will diverge further in time with the natural process of artistic development, but right now there is some unity. There's no sign here of youthful rebellion or even of the parents saying ‘ at my age I’ll do what I like!’ It’s a scenario which might remind us of the medieval tradition of passing crafts down, more than the individualistic assertions of the modern – the more so when we learn that Jacob and Sollai’s grandparents were also artists, and that Jacob has fitted right in even though he has been sculpting for only two years after following a musical path. Every impression is of a very harmonious family, even though they are now spread around Europe: Sollai in Germany, Jacob in Italy, Michael and Shona in France.I'm not surprised to hear that they often share their work in progress online, and meet up frequently as well.
Personally I don’t think it’s good or bad to be ‘out of time’ in those ways. What matters is whether the combination of subject and materials in individual works operates convincingly. So let’s look at a work or two by each, and see what’s going on.
|Michael Francis Cartwright: Cloud over Montefegatasi, 2015|
What strikes me first about the work Michael is showing is the mastery of a wide range of materials and scales. Several sculptures adopt the bipartite form of one material or treatment of it seemingly reflected by or shadowed by another. That put me in mind of a work many of you might have seen on Trafalgar Square in 2001: Rachel Whiteread’s occupation of the fourth plinth with an inverted version, cast in clear resin. But where Whiteread’s ‘reflection’ in Monument read to me as ‘that’s all there is’, Michael’s reads as if indicating that the world you can see is only part of the picture: for example, both Moondance and Astronomer Looking into the Night Sky draw attention to the universe beyond us. Michael’s other big theme here is the cloud – not the obvious form to cast into bronze – as happens at scale in ‘Cloud over Motefegatasi’, bringing what I’d call a light touch to heaviness. In fact they’ve emerged in part from sculptures of boats cresting waves – they are, in a parallel way, about the relationship of cloud to hilltop as much as about the fleeting presence of the cloud. I’m tempted to see such a monumentalising of the cloud as a Vanitas of sorts: where the Dutch golden age painters depicted flowers to remind us of how temporary if is, clouds shift form even faster.
|Shona Nunan: Life, 2018|
Shona provides, if not the figures, then the figure-like forms watching over the show, hieratic, tribal, vertical, and bigger than most people. Of the four, she seems to me the most clearly influenced by native Australian modes of expression, though the family also talk of Papua & New Guinea, the west if Ireland and China as formative influences from their travels. My sense is that it’s people who interest Shona, even if their realism is stripped back to allow the symbolic aspects to come to the fore. Fir example the bronze ‘Life’, which acts as a guardian as we enter the hall, operates as a figure even though you could certainly make a case for most of the forms being plant like – the curls of a fern come to mind. The bud could be a head, the uppermost whorls can read as eyes or arms, the lower as a pregnant belly. I see 'Life' a combination of human and vegetal, a celebration of connectedness and fertility. Hence it is an appropriate title. It’s hard not to be reminded, though, that the human is getting increasingly out of balance with the natural. It's not such a straightforward matter to celebrate our relationship with the natural world life nowadays.
|Jacob Cartwright: The Space Between Us, 2015|
Jacob trained as a musician and composer. He’s worked with photography and made sound installations, but only in the last three years has he arrived at sculpture. Appropriately, perhaps, the work he shows here is the most explicitly about journeys: not only did he have plenty of travel when growing up, as his parents moved from Australia to Asia to Europe with frequent returns by boat to Australia, but his own personal journey to his current artistic expression sounds as if it has been the least straightforward. The boat emerges as his predominant theme here, and they are boats with an evident symbolic significance. ‘Confluence’ is the classic small craft tossed on heavy seas, a sculpture out of Turner’s roiling seascapes. The boat is on the crest of a predicament which is very much present, a point which endlessly disappears into the past of the wave behind and faces up to the future of the wave to come. The title of ‘The Space Between Us’ suggests we see these half-boat forms as people in conversation, and that the negative space becomes a relationship which takes on a presence of its own. That’s confirmed by the male and female markers nailed on to the sides. Relationships, of course, are another kind of journey.
|Sollai Cartwright: Woman Figure, 2017|
Sollai is the son who’s been sculpting for longest, trained in the family way rather than in the formal education system. I think his driver is form rather than people – though as the form is sometimes that of his dancer wife and muse, Danica, there are figures by him here. Jacob also evidences a particular love for marble and its characteristic qualities of light: it makes absolute sense that, though based in Berlin, he makes regular visits to Pietrasanta, Italy, where the best marble can be found. According to no less an authority than Wikipedia ‘the low index of refraction of calcite allows light to penetrate several millimetres into the stone before being scattered out, resulting in the characteristic waxy look which gives ‘life’ to marble sculptures of any kind, which is why many sculptors prefer marble for sculpting’. That’s seen most clearly in how Sollai uses white marble, but I am also drawn to his black marble boat, a new piece made in response to the title of this show, even though it might seems that his father and brother are the main ‘boatmen’. The title ‘Midnight’ indicates that qualities of light – or its absence – are still on Sollai’s mind. This particular boat has waves carved into it, a gently surreal touch which also suggests a notably integrated and holistic conception of the world.
|Sollai Cartwright: Midnight, 2017|
In fact all four relish what I’d call ‘the paradoxes of materials’, the sly interplay between what the depicted thing is made from and what material is used to depict it. Stone or bronze as sea or as cloud, bronze as vegetable as figure, heavy boats lifted on high… I would also group them as ‘contemporarily informed romantics’. Their materials and skills are put in the service of suggesting the grandeur of nature, landscape, the universe, and how humanity can stand in awe of the natural world. That is the classic stance of nineteenth century Romanticism. But now it comes with an awareness of the vulnerability which lies behind that. That would make for that the biggest of the journeys implied by the show’s title, which could cover simply the geographical and artistic journeys of the Nunan-Cartwright family; or the individual journeys of any one of us through life and relationships; or the many difficult journeys of people on the move today in the difficult circumstances of war and migration; or the journey of humankind through history and through our relationships to the earth – as expressed through the materials most elementally present in the planet. We should take the example of the Nunan-Cartwrights’ many journeys to remind us of the need to pay heed to the bigger journey of humanity, our place within it, and our need to act responsibly.
- Paul Carey-Kent
- Southampton, Hampshire, United Kingdom
- I was in my leisure time Editor at Large of Art World magazine (which ran 2007-09) and now write freelance for such as Art Monthly, Frieze, Photomonitor, Elephant and Border Crossings. I have curated 20 shows during 2013-17 with more on the way. Going back a bit my main writing background is poetry. My day job is public sector financial management.