Inside installation view, Krzysztof
Wednesday, 13 March 2019
ART STUFF - WEEKLY COLUMNS FROM FAD 261-300
299: A Visit to Elephant West
297: What's It Worth at Auction?
Inside installation view, Krzysztof
Polish Roma artist Krzysztof Gil’s ‘Welcome to the Country where the Gypsy Has Been Hunted’* was an interesting and unusual exhibition emerging from his parallel art practice and PhD research into how discrimination against the Roma took place much longer ago than we might suppose. Gil presented drawings in the manner of the Dutch golden age inside a Roma-style shelter with barely enough light to make out that they showed the so-called ‘gypsy hunts’ of the C17th in the Netherlands, when the law enabled such persecution to be treated as a public sport. The audience had to hunt in their turn for what was both disturbing and uncanny. In conversation with the artist Ken Gemes, Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, explained that the move towards ‘othering’ people on a biological basis occurred in the C19th, feeding the notorious atrocities of the C20th. Prior to that, said Gemes, discrimination tended to stem from differences in beliefs, so there was at least the possibility of change. Now it was on the unalterable basis of the body. Consequently, discrimination wasn’t to be tackled positively, by educating others, but negatively - by excluding or eradicating them as having ‘bad blood’. Gemes also proposed an interesting account of why political art mattered: according to him it can give metaphorical heft to both the material developed by academics and the experiences of activists, enabling simpler messages to counter, for example, Trump’s prejudiced sound bites. He cited the 1950’s influence of Turgenev’s ‘Notes of a Hunter’ on the abolition of serfdom in Russia and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ on attitudes towards African Americans, as examples of artists having more practical impact than academics. Let’s hope the show had a little of the same effect.
* l’étrangère gallery, 44a Charlotte St, Shoreditch 16 Nov 2018 – 5 Jan 2019
Outside installation view, Krzysztof
Gil, Welcome to the Country where the
Gypsy Has Been Hunted, 2018. Photo: Andy Keate, Courtesy of l’étrangère
Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head
292: Reserved for London Art Fair (see separate post)
The John Hansard Gallery in Southampton has (to 2 Feb) an unusual exhibition: ‘Space, Light and Time’ is a retrospective not – at least not directly – of seminal British art of the 1980’s and 90’s, but of Edward Woodman’s photographs of the work and the artists involved. It is of interest for four reasons.
First, the images give an excellent account of a wide range of work – mainly sculptural or performative, and almost always photographed in black and white, which maximises the undistracted concentration on form.
Second, the photographs actually stand in for much of the work, which was temporary. The Tate, for example, bought Richard Wilson’s ‘She Came in through the Bathroom Window’ from Matt’s Gallery, but they won’t be able to show it in the original building – in which the windows were relocated to the centre of the room. Woodman’s notably precise view – apparently the only shot he took, after considerable preparation – is the closest we’ll get to what it was like.
Third, we meet the artists in action, as in particularly evocative images of Helen Chadwick (1953 -96).
And fourth, there is a chance – alongside the expected Damien Hirst, Cornelia Parker, Mona Hartoum etc – to (re)discover artists who have fallen from the public eye. I was drawn to Woodman’s Wood, ie the little-known work of Julia Wood. Unfortunately that Woodman was so severely injured in a bike accident in 2000 that his primary practice was cut off. But he has fought through that to make other work and to re-engage recently with his documentation of art, so the show concludes positively – as well as being positively worth seeing.
The actions of Clare Price are visible in her series of rapidly-made paintings ‘Fragility spills’. The works are scaled to the artists body, and we can see, in her words, ‘colours smear push soak float leaving fingered edges and thin wet absent middles like pelts’. Price goes further, however, through two sets of photographic projections at the ASC Gallery (to 20 Dec). In the first, taken remotely, she strikes dance-like poses in front of the works, wearing studio clothes which themselves bear the accidental results of her actions. That suggests an autobiographical angle, confirmed by the photographs’ original publication on a private Instagram account alongside hashtags indicating emotional vulnerability: 'needs', for example, 'fragile' and 'refuge' .
Clare Price as photographed by Benjamin Whitley, 2018
The second set of photographs is a collaboration with Benjamin Whitley: he’s two decades younger than Price, enabling differences in generation and gender to generate an alternate and intimate gaze. Price sees the photographic additions as ‘un-containing’ the self from the constraints of the stretcher, so enabling a ‘spilling forth of affect’ from the paintings. As Stephanie Moran puts it in an attractive accompanying booklet*, Price’s practice proposes that ‘painting has a structure that contains experience’. That suggests, says Cairo Clarke in the booklet’s other text, that Price’s combination of paintings and photographs forms ‘a dance between containment and release’ which emphasises ‘the importance of being an active, conscious body’ when making art. The overall result is a novel presentation – and potential remaking – of the self through the action of painting. That resonates with the growing belief that differences between the sexes, between man and nature, between human and technological, are less fixed than used to be assumed.
* ‘Fragility Spills’, published by Marcelle Joseph’s GIRLPOWER Collection
Art writer and curator Paul Carey-Kent sees a lot of shows: we asked him to jot down whatever came into his head
By way of an interesting reversal of the usual hierarchy, David Ostrowski’s ‘The Thin Red Line’ (to Jan 19) delivers more ‘the show of the book’ than ‘the book of the show’. The German painter is known for canvases which foreground his apparent nonchalance, with just the occasional sprayed gesture on near-empty grounds suggesting a lazy graffitist. The casual yet considered approach extends to the hang at Sprüth Magers, with some paintings obscured by others, and tapestry carpets rolled up: it's more an environment than a set of works. Ostrowski adopts a restricted palette, and here the focus is on red – so much so that an accompanying book with five essays on the colour is an integral part of the show. The writers consider red from various angles. Can it drive you crazy? The mantis shrimp, says Tenzing Barshee, ‘is believed to have the eyes with the widest range of colour reception in the animal kingdom. To me it doesn’t come as a surprise that this animal is extremely aggressive. It speeds towards its prey and punches it so fast that the impact creates underwater light and sound’. Colour psychologist Vanessa Buchner reports that red has the most prominent associative effect: it makes a pleasant person seem more so, but also a disagreeable person even more unappealing. ‘Wearing a red shirt to your next first date’, she judges, assuming her readers are nice, ‘would not be a terrible idea’. It also seems that people playing with red poker chips bet more than those using blue or white chips, perhaps because they seem like the chips of winners; and the Chinese don’t allow red at funerals since it’s the colour of happiness. All of which and plenty more gives substance to a show in which there is artfully little to look at…
Here is an unexpected exhibition in an unexpected location: the impressively refurbished National Army Museum, which reopened last year, is showing some 50 Alfred Munnings paintings*. They were commissioned by Lord Beaverbrook in 1918 as a means of recording the Canadian contribution to the First World War, and have emerged from storage at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in pristine condition for a first viewing since 1919! Munnings’ reputation is as a brilliant – if rather old-fashioned – painter of horses; and a stick in the mud president of the Royal Academy, famous for railing drunkenly against modernism. His work remains popular and fetches good prices, but isn’t really part of the mainstream story of art. The work here is varied, though horses are central, this being the last war for which they were a significant presence: the British Army alone deployed over a million, though they proved less suited to the new trench warfare than to subsidiary operations, such as reconnaissance, transport and the logging for the war effort – led by Canadian lumberjacks and extensively recorded by Munnings. Most of the paintings are relatively bucolic at first glance, and certainly there is no death to be seen. Yet we are kept aware of the martial backdrop, and I was reminded of how Edward Thomas’s great poem ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’ sets the timelessness of ploughing against the trauma of conflict. I was also entertained to find that Munnings actually stated that a cow ‘though not perhaps so beautiful or romantic an animal as a horse, is a better subject for the artist’ – and went so far as to buy one to act as his model. All of which makes for an interesting show – though not one likely to change Munnings’ critical standing.
* ‘Alfred Munnings: War Artist, 1918′ to 3 March 2019
Ceramics and textiles are increasingly accepted as mainstream art materials. Ashtrays and fans, though, are less likely to come to mind than sculptures and wall hangings. But you can see plenty of both currently. The Belmacz Gallery – an unusual space in that it shows another edge-of-art category, jewellery, alongside paintings and installations – is displaying 91 artists’ ashtrays and related smoking artifacts* – either made by them or chosen from their personal collections. It’s great fun, as in the awkward ‘where to stub it out’ conundrum posed by Nigel and Boris above, and in these three uses of unconventional materials:
The Barbican is currently showing perhaps the best-known modern art fans: three of the six which Oskar Kokoschka gave to his lover Alma Mahler (1879-1964), the composer’s widow, which depict aspects of their lives together **.
But the fan and its potential for art is essentially an eastern tradition, so it is appropriate that the Japanese-run White Conduit Project Space *** is showing 50 fans commissioned from contemporary artists.
* The Ashtray Show West at Belmacz Ltd, 45 Davies Street to 12 Jan
** In Modern Couples to 27 Jan at the Barbican Gallery
*** Pacific Breeze at White Conduit Projects, 1 White Conduit Street, Islington: 2 Dec – 13 Jan
Paris Photo takes the photo book very seriously. All the top photographers were there recently, signing their latest. I returned with ‘42nd and Vanderbilt’ by Peter Funch (TBW Books 2017). Its premise is simple: from 2007-16 Funch took photographs at the eponymous, and decidedly anonymous, street corner in New York between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. He then sorted through them to detect recurring characters – in other words, commuters (and there’s too little art consideration of such a big chunk of many people’s lives). Funch’s effort over such a period is astonishing. Already something routine – boring, even – is made interesting, like Roman Opalka painting numbers. And you always get a nice frisson from the ‘compare and contrast’ of similar pictures. Will their clothes change? Not always. Will their gestures recur? Often. Funch previously combined many different people at different times doing the same thing – yawning, for example – at the same place. Now people are just ‘being themselves’ at in the same place at different times (though also, in a way, at the same time). We don’t just fit in with society, we fit in with ourselves. Douglas Coupland, in the book’s essay, suggests that a critique of capitalism is implied – of ‘the way we package and sell ourselves and how we make our peace with our lots in life’ (largely by disappearing into our own worlds as we make the routine journey). Yet I wonder: the construction of a self is vital to happiness, but we can trace back to David Hume the worry that it’s hard to pin down that self. Perhaps it’s just such repetitions and consistencies which provide the grounding for the self to do the interesting stuff. That’s true at home, too: we follow the same routines, but capitalism doesn’t drive that. Seeing an action and expression I think not ‘what a deadening routine’ but ‘ah, that’s him’.
How does a painter currently making her way respond to the life and work of Frida Kahlo? I attended the V&A’s ‘Making Herself Up’ with Emma Cousin, whose paintings recently made a splash at Edel Assanti gallery. We agreed that my question suggests a false division: life and work are integrated in Kahlo’s case. The show combines her paintings with clothes, photographs and intimate possessions which her on-off husband Diego Riviera had sealed for 50 years at the La Casa Azul in Mexico City, after Frida died in 1954. All contributed to Kahlo’s construction and performance of a self through which she generated a charge which carries through into her paintings. Her approach finds a ready parallel in modern women such as Madonna and Tracy Emin. Is it a problem that Frida traded on her beauty? Cousin thought not, as Kahlo had not adopted existing standards, but created her own, embracing her facial hair and mixing and matching European and Mexican influences. Nor did she submit to her physical disabilities, the social constraints on women, or the career disability of being seen as a mere adjunct to the great Diego. Frida composed herself as she would a picture, and turned her photographic self presentation into a daily theatre of beauty and pain. And the paintings stand up well: Emma was drawn to the way Kahlo builds up the substance of flesh, and how she feeds the conventions of ex voto painting into her construction of space. Posthumously, as the sell-out show testifies, Frida Kahlo has succeeded fully in her refusal to go unnoticed.
Ana Mendieta: ‘Self Portrait with Blood’, 1973
Ana Mendieta would have been 70 this month (18 November 1948 – Sept 10 1985) had she not fallen 34 floors to her death at just 36. The turning points of her life are well known: arriving in America as a child refugee from Cuba in 1961; the relationship with her teacher Hans Breder at the University of Iowa; his documentation of her early performances; the prescient integration of her work with the natural world through the mid 70’s; the move to New York in 1978. After an on-off relationship – they were said to be prone to heavy drinking and arguments – she married Carl Andre in January 1985. He was tried for her murder but acquitted in 1988 on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had pushed her out of the window. The verdict continues to split the art world, but there is more consensus on the comparative merits of their work. When she died, Mendieta’s profile was low but Andre’s was towering. Several significant posthumous shows (including one now up in Paris) have revealed the full scope and importance of her work, such that theirs is now seen very much as a marriage of artistic equals. She’s part, I’d say, of a trend: the reputations of Frida Kahlo*, Helen Frankenhaler and Kim Lim all look likely to eclipse long-term those of the husbands – Diego Rivera, Robert Motherwell, William Turnbull – who were more lauded in their lifetimes. And while you couldn’t quite say that of Anni Albers, Lee Krasner or Dorothea Tanning*, their reputations as artists independent of Josef Albers, Jackson Pollock and Max Ernst have soared in recent years.
* the only two of the seven women listed to feature among the 44 in the Barbican’s new show ‘Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde’
Ana Mendieta: ‘Untitled (Blood and Feathers)’, 1974
One of the questions most commonly asked of artists is: how do you know when the work is finished? Evasion or denial characterise most answers, such as ‘when they take it away’ (de Kooning) or ‘What nonsense! To finish it means to be through with it, to kill it, to rid it of its soul’ (Picasso). Collectors have sometimes needed to be on their guard against artists – Degas was notorious – who wish to finish a work after they have sold it…
So it was interesting to come across a comprehensive article by Christophe Van Gerrewey (Forthcoming at http://deappel.nl/en/publications) proposing setting out ‘seven types of unfinishedness:
*Consistent with the foregoing, because the artist’s individual conclusion that it is finished cannot be rationalised
*All works of art are unfinished because they are open to completion in different ways by the viewer: it is only with the audience that they find their true purpose
*Because it is but part of a greater, unfinished – possibly unfinishable project – at one extreme Van Gerrewey cites Jürgen Habermas’ speech ‘Modernity: An Unfinished Project’
*Viewing the artwork as process / concept / method means that the work goes on. Sol LeWitt does not make a wall drawing himself, he provides the instructions to make it so anyone can execute the work anywhere.
*Preferring an aesthetic of unfinishedness – a modern trend valuing the sketch above the worked up version in many cases (though that raises the question: what is the ideal endpoint for a work to be held up against when judging it incomplete?
*‘Unfinished’ as finished: as if an artist releases a work from the studio, then it must by definition be finished, however it may look
*On the basis that the work will always retain latent potential.
Never count someone happy until he dies, Sophocles is reported to have said. And so, until our time comes, we have the imperfect happiness of seven types of unfinishedness. That said, articles on FAD can be altered after publication: I may have further thoughts…
Grace Hartigan: ‘White’, 1951
Around 65 years after its productive highpoint, it’s interesting to speculate how the history of abstract expressionism will look in another 65 years. By the time pop and minimalist tendencies came to be seen as the newer vanguard, the received story concentrated almost entirely on white men: Pollock, Rothko, de Kooning, Newman, Kline, Motherwell…). More recently, black painters have gained increasing attention (say Jack Whitten, Frank Bowling and Sam Gilliam); and among women, Helen Frankenthaler and Joan Mitchell have seen their prices and reputations escalate. Yet the correction may have some way to go, given that plenty of women worked alongside their male peers in developing and exploring what Elaine de Kooning pithily summarised as painting which was ‘an event first and only secondarily an image’. The exhibition ‘The Women of Abstract Expressionism’ suggested a shift when it toured the United States in 2017, reintroducing Grace Hartigan, Judith Godwin, Ethel Schwabacher and others to considerable acclaim. Now ‘Hidden in Plain Site’ (at the Amar Gallery to Dec 13) provides a stimulating chance to see eleven such artists’ work in London. Its curator, John Paul Rollert, has a theory of what happened. The men ‘were happy to divide the spoils of artistic appreciation when there were essentially none to speak of (de Kooning, Fine, Frankenthaler, Thomas, and Hartigan all presented in the 9th Street Show, a legendary 1951 exhibition featuring nearly 60 New York artists in which not a single artwork sold)’. But the minute there was recognition, and money to be made, ‘the women were sidelined’ and ‘newly christened as second-class citizens who were steadily pushed out of the spotlight’. So: how will the cannon look in 2080?
Amaranth Ehrenhalt: ‘Carmona’ 1957
I’ve just returned from the third Biennale to be held in the small (pop 43,000) German town of Halberstadt, 100 miles west of Berlin. It’s quiet, historic and slightly eccentric*, a good setting for 14 projects spread across six sites throughout September on the theme ‘Climates of Change’. The budget was a modest € 50,000, and while it was no surprise to learn that volunteer effort underpins such an event, the effort needed became evident as I toured with the event’s chairwoman, local artist Ilka Leukefeld. For the ambition is international, with an independent curator (London-based Pippa Koszerek) given free rein to initiate several performances and such technically challenging installations as a machine for reproducing a tornado at small scale (Alistair McClymont), an interactive worldwide public broadcasting jukebox (Sara Lehn) and a three screen video programme with randomly alternating use of a single soundtrack (installed in an atmospheric cellar under the town hall, still filled with World War II bomb rubble, by the best-known artist to feature – the German film maker Alexander Kluge). A notable organisational triumph was the agreement of free travel for all visitors on the town’s handy tram network, but I wasn’t surprised to hear of teething problems in setting work up, operational difficulties, late funding decisions and sudden withdrawal of planned venues – all confirming the selfless dedication required to work through such issues. Back at the art, the Italian collective Museo Aero Solar were overseeing the participatory production of a huge balloon made of recycled plastic bags; the Nigerian Eca Eps wove performance, film and installation together impressively to consider the paradoxes of water as life saver and life threatener; and the Slovene Jasmina Cibic’s film ‘Fruits of Our Land’, which bitingly yet entertainingly recreates a 1957 Jugoslav debate about what art works should be commissioned to represent the nation, was well placed in a Town Hall committee room**. Attendance will be modest, but a day at the MKH Biennale does tick the boxes required for a worthwhile biennale: interesting and fresh work presented in the context of a coherent and topical agenda in unusual locations which add to the experience.
* A former monastery in Halberstadt is the site, for example, of a performance of John Cage’s organ work ‘As Slowly as Possible’ which is due to last 639 years, the next change of note being set for September 2020!
** Recent words from President Erdogan chime exactly with Cibic’s implicit critique: he complains that Turkey’s arts have become ‘more Western than the West, at odds with the nation’s values, and unaware of the rich heritage left behind by our ancestors’.
Art and chess have often been linked, most famously via Marcel Duchamp, who was addicted to the game to the extent that not only did he switch his focus from Athena to Caïssa, but it contributed to the failure of his marriage in 1927. According to Man Ray, Duchamp spent so much of the honeymoon studying chess problems that his bride got up when he was asleep and glued the chess pieces to the board. They divorced after three months. Duchamp designed and carved a chess set of his own, and Purling London’s is the latest of several projects over the years which have asked artists to design sets. Much the most interesting is by Tom Hackney, who has since 2009 played on Duchamp’s refusal of art in favour of chess making an ongoing series of apparently abstract paintings which actually represent the moves from games played by him. Duchamp famously saw his readymades as an antidote to purely ‘retinal art’, emphasising the thinking behind what is seen. As Hackney explains, both art and chess can be considered in terms of their retinal and non-retinal characteristics, as the physical placement of the pieces represents the thought-space shared between opponents. ‘The set I have designed’, says Hackney, ‘aims to accentuate this retinal aspect of chess, with the pieces defined by the two primary types of photo-receptor cells found in the eye – cones and rods. As the game progresses the pieces are scattered into disordered configurations and combinations, before being reset into spectral sequence and tonal rank’. The result is the most interestingly coloured pieces since Yoko Ono’s ‘White Chess Set’,1966.
It’s not easy to get a grip on the boggling scale of the British Museum: it has around 8,000,000 items. There’s room to show only some 8,000 at any given time, i.e. 0.1% – but half of them are included in the surprisingly extensive online catalogue. Take masks: a catalogue search on the term yields 9,631 items.
One which appeals to me achieves character in the simplest possible way, by exploiting a coconut shell. It is a late 19th century example from the Idahan Murat – that is, Indonesian hill people, blackened by fire with eyes and mouth cut through. That made me wonder if, narrowing matters down considerably, there were more of these. Indeed there are, although few of the 1,590 objects which depict or use coconut materials are masks…
This three-horned 1980’s mask from the Mexican state of Guanajuato was made for use on the Day of the Dead (now Nov 2 but differently timed during 3,000 years of pre-Colombian observance).
The jauntiest drupe is this recent mask from Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, which wittily retains some shaggy mesocarp as a beard.
Even hairier, though not strictly a mask, is this fabric face made with knotted coconut fibre over a wooden core. It’s a god image made for ritual purposes by Society Islanders in French Polynesia.
Royal*Tunbridge Wells is an attractive town to visit, yet I was surprised by the merits of Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery (even before the major facelift for which it has obtained lottery funding). The permanent collection covers such matters as biscuit manufacture and how to make a cricket ball, and holds the last known wildcat in the south-east (stuffed in 1888). What could be a dull display of a local family tree showcases top notch portraits by Reynolds, Lawrence and Gainsborough. There is, as one would hope, a definitive history and display of Tunbridge Ware – intricate marquetry items mass-manufactured by gluing together long strips of various woods to make the required pattern, then delicately sawing off horizontal slices to decorate the surface of objects. Added to which there are currently two excellent temporary exhibitions. Tracey Rowledge and David Clarke‘s ‘Shelved’ (to 20 Aug) re-presents local items such as worn shoe soles, wooden gazelles from charity shops, and the bases from trophies. Nine such groupings are secreted around several buildings, adding to the adventure. Steffi Klenz’s ‘Staffages’ (to 8 Sept) redeploys the museum’s own objects into constructed photographic scenarios and also allows visitors to make their own arrangements.
* Can you name the nine places in the UK officially holding that honorific? They show a southern bias as well as a recent increase: Kingston upon Thames (from the 10th century), Windsor (12th century), Sutton Coldfield (1528), Leamington Spa (1838), Kensington (1901), Tunbridge Wells (1909), Caernarvon (1963), Wootton Bassett (2011) and Greenwich (2012). Perhaps Irvine in Ayrshire, Nicola Sturgeon’s suitably historic birthplace, should be added to the list, righting the balance somewhat and complicating any Caledonian secession…
The aesthetic appeal of the fragment is well known, and though it tends to arise accidentally in older work it’s not so rare to wonder whether the whole would really have been much better. I was reminded of this when coming across Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s ‘Group of Four Poor Clares’, c 1320-25, at the National Gallery. Not only are they removed from context, two of them are only partial glimpses, making it doubly fragmented. The Poor Clares are members of a contemplative Order of Catholic nuns (officially the Ordo sanctae Clarae), founded by Saints Clare of Assisi and Francis of Assisi in 1212. But the lack of narrative explanation frees things up from what may well have been a more more male-driven narrative, and teasingly suggests that that the same unfortunate Clare may be repeated quarce here. That set me wondering whether nearby paintings might also provide good fragments, should it come to that. Andrea Mantegna’s ‘The Virgin and Child with Saints’, c 1490-1505, is a good candidate on account of the details of drapery and flowers. Moreover, Mantegna will soon share a show with his brother-in-law, Giovanni Bellini, at the gallery (1 October – 27 January). So here’s a snip from the ‘Madonna of the Meadow’ c 1500-05. Both excerpted works are masterpieces, but whether bits and pieces or the whole thing, the double exhibition ought to be good…
Who doesn’t like a good typology? Certainly the Royal Academy hanging committee do, judged by the number in its Summer Exhibition, from which I’ve chosen four. The ideal art typology, I think, looks initially rather too repetitive: it’s only the artist’s attention to detailed individuation which persuades the viewer that there are discriminations to be made. On those grounds, the cornflakes and peach stones are my favourites here…
Mark Beesley: ‘Mock Tudor’
Mark Beesley won the Hugh Casson drawing prize for his pen and crayon on tracing paper depiction of 20 Mock Tudor frontages, which call to mind the typologies of the Bechers even as they channel a quintessentially English form of – bad? – taste.
Peter Randall-Page RA: ‘Peach Stones’
It isn’t immediately obvious that peach stones are markedly different one from another, yet Randall-Page, better known as a sculptor, contrives to make them seem worth looking at in his lino-cut, not to mention setting them up as sly genital substitutes. Talking of which…Cathie Pilkington RA: ‘The Joys of Six’
From objects to actions: Cathie Pilkington’s hand-coloured lithograph is pretty small scale, given that 64 positions are described in the Kama Sutra, but she covers the basics in typically jaunty style. That said, her formally similar set of glass animal images has sold twice as many as this sextet, which may be trickier to hang.
Anne Griffiths: ‘The Taxonomy of the Cornflake’ (detail)
The previously unknown Anne Griffiths has got plenty of press for her arrangement of 84 cornflakes, rather as if they were butterflies, with an elaborate key alongside to give each of them a reference code based on eight factors such as brand, size, colour, and degree of contortion. The alluring T7.922110, for example, is a fairly large single Tesco flake, marked, frilly-edged, teardrop-shaped, bubble-textured and somewhat curled.
The 18th Liverpool Biennial, with 40 artists from 22 countries, steers clear of the standard offerings: there is no central hub; no big ‘wow factor’ work to provide a talking point; and far less use than in previous editions of unusual locations, preference being given to exploiting the existing infrastructure of public arts buildings – so no ‘wow locations’ either.Perhaps the idea is to call attention to Liverpool’s improved infrastructure, which is also sufficient to swallow such major parallel events as the John Moores Painting Prize, Bloomberg Contemporaries and a celebration of current art from Shanghai. That thinking extends to foregrounding existing collections, such as the World Museum’s impressive papier–mâché flowers. And the theme – Beautiful world, where are you? – is pretty loose, allowing for regret for what’s gone and optimism for the future. The result is a quietly democratic and thoughtful Biennial experience, with many of the best work too old to have been influenced by the event: three artists to whom I warmed were in that category…
The Turkish artist, who is also showing at the Chisenhale currently, doesn’t necessarily see The List as art: her purpose is to draw attention to the fate of over 34,000 asylum seekers who have died since 1993 in trying to enter Europe, or within the system for detaining them. She re-presents internet-sourced data to maximise its visibility, here by showing what’s known of date, name, origin and cause of death on a massive advertising hoarding (you can also read the distressing litany of drownings, security force shootings and suicides in detention here). It led to something of a fly posting war, as prior users of the site pulled down sheets, which then had to be replaced.
One modest room in the Victoria Museum is ringed with postcard-sized paintings which the Mexico City-based Belgian has made plein air in the course of travelling to conflict zones to make his renowned film works. And the hauntingly light touch of the paintings in Age Piece is presented as a means of self-discovery by the wall labelling, which sequences them according to how old Alÿs was – from 22 to 59 – at the time of their production.
The veteran French new wave film director has shown regularly in galleries this century. At FACT she combines a monumentally-sized new photograph with a three-screen installation of extracts from previous films, and the beautifully nuanced 1982 short Ulysses, in which she tracks down the subjects in her own photograph from 1954 to inform voice-over reflections on the nature of images and the effects of memory. In a subsequent Q&A, she majored on her passion for heart-shaped potatoes, beaches and cats – which she admires for how people love them but – unlike dogs – cannot tell whether they love them back.
I can’t claim that the combination of art and football in a magazine excited me when the new magazine OOF was announced, but the first two issues have been excellent. The first included articles on Leo Fitzmaurice’s soccer strips made out of cigarette packs; Chris Ofili’s obsession with Mario Balotelli; Hans Ulrich Obrist interviewing Rose Wylie about her football paintings; and how Marcin Dudek’s youthful stint as a KS Cracovia hooligan has fed into his art. The second, out for the World Cup, includes a thorough discussion with Eddie Peake of exactly what his naked five aside matches might mean; an assessment of crowd behaviour as demonstrated by Julie Henry and Debbie Bragg’s riveting film of reactions to a goal; and how Aleksandr Deineka’s still-fresh ‘Football’ (1924) fed into the more formulaic development of ‘socialist realism’ in the USSR. In sum, OOF has unearthed interesting art which just happens to feature football, and has proved commendably international, female and analytical. Moreover, Justin Hammond, who launched the magazine with Time Out’s Eddy Frankel, has converted his J Hammond Projects gallery into a pub of sorts for the duration of the World Cup. There are drinking and match viewing opportunities alongside the art, and a chance to hear how Mark E Smith read the results in 2005. Jurgen Teller, who also features in Issue 2, probably won’t be attending: the photographer, a passionate Germany fan, set up a project in Russia to record himself watching every game his team plays. Alas – perhaps – Germany failed to progress for the first time since 1938, leaving him with blank screens. Oof!
Still from Yuan Goang-Ming: ‘Dwelling’, 2014
London’s Art Night shifts zone each year, encouraging exploration beyond Mayfair (2016) to the East End (2017), the South Bank (this year) and on to Waltham Forest (2019) and Brent (2020). Judged by last year, the free fare on offer on 7-8 July from will be very lively and crowded. With 70-odd projects (12 curated by the Hayward Gallery on the theme of ‘home’), and the South Bank – Vauxhall – Nine Elms areas not easy to traverse, some careful preplanning is advised using the official guide. Here’s what I’m looking forward to most in a geographically feasible order moving west:
* young Dutch artist Puck Verkade presents a video installation at the Oxo Tower which draws pointed parallels between sexual violence and environmental threats, yet does so with whimsical wit (purple number 56 on the official map).
* The Hayward Gallery itself gives you the chance to catch the excellent retrospective of Lee Bul in the main gallery and Yuan Goang-Ming’s three films in the project space before looking at his fourth, projected onto the building. It’s a vision of normality – only underwater and exploding (green 12).
* Jane Bustin has an attractive way of building narrative – including ballet – into abstract painting. Now she branches into a music and dance performance at Marriot County Hall (purple 37)
* The Morley Gallery is showing a brand new two screen film ‘txt??rz’ by 2012 Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price: her striking subject is a contagion of muteness (purple 34). You could warm up for that earlier in the day, incidentally, with a whole Mute show at Amanda Wilkinson’s gallery in Soho. Let’s hear it for the mute!
* Turkish artist Halil Altindere is occupying the British Interplanetary Society (yes, really!) with an extensive installation with film and virtual reality which pretends to take seriously the sarcastic proposal that migrants should be settled on Mars (green 8)
* The Sunday Painter, which started in Peckham but moved to Vauxhall last year, combines the sharp group exhibition ‘The Shape Left By The Body’ with performative readings of – you guessed it – an erotic fiction about liquid PVC (purple 32).
* Tamara Henderson will fill the New Covent Garden Market – it moved to Vauxhall in 1974 and Saturday bring its weekly inoperative night, with a choreographed procession of dressed in costumes made from material found at the market (green 4).
* Another Turner Prize winner, 2004’s Jeremy Deller, brings the Melodians Steel Orchestra UK to Prince of Wales Drive the Nine Elms area, playing a spectacular 53 instruments made from 45 gallon oil drums (green 3).
* DRAF’s film choices at Battersea Power Station’s village hall look interesting: a one hour loop from six artists including David Shrigley, Cyprien Gaillard and Lars Laumann. That also provides a chance to see how the redevelopment of the massive site is going (purple 8). And it’s followed (11pm-4am) by a club night with the Lisson Gallery, with live sets from Haroon Mirza and Hans Berg.
Art Night runs 6pm on Saturday 7 July to 6am on 8 July, but some projects (see the guide) run on through Sunday and a few beyond that.
The community on Mars as imagined by Halil Altindere
Roughly what I didn’t see
Only after I had attended a tea ceremony at Yamamoto Keiko Rochaix (19 Goulston Street to 3 August*) did I receive a beautifully written formal invitation. I replied immediately with my apologies, for such are the paradoxes put in play by Yoi Kawakubo’s solo exhibition ‘I/body/ghost’. Kawakubo explores the nature of phenomena which are hard to pin down with a physical presence, for example by sanding the gallery walls to form charts of share price movements. And he presents the Japanese tea ceremony in a room rendered totally dark. Biscuits and tea are served, as the evidence of taste indicates, and the sounds of what I – new to the ceremony – imagine are its preparation can be heard. There are two things going on here. First, the darkness, which alters the impact of our other senses and made me wonder whether what was said to be there was actually present: I was asked to admire the floral arrangement and calligraphic art which are integral to the setting. Second, there is the ceremony, which has an ancient tradition – originating in peace-making discussions between warlords – and has many precisely defined variants are possible. Both darkness and ceremony are interesting in themselves, but the particular characteristic here was their combination. I was asked to imagine something I had never seen, whereas Japanese participants would have found familiar visuals replaced by a novel foregrounding of sound. Either way, routine perceptions are challenged – which is, after all, just what art is meant to do.
* slots available, £10, between 4pm and 6pm on Saturdays 7, 14, 21 July – contact email@example.com to arrange
Brick sculptures were one characteristic stream of work by Per Kirkeby, who died in May at 79. Michael Werner showed one of his last at Art Basel. The Danish artist, who grew up in the shadow of a brick church, invokes mystical and monumental as well as the everyday and minimal by making buildings without a purpose – there are no entry points. As it happens, Basel had several other interesting works featuring bricks, as if extending the tribute.
Carlier Gebauer showed one of Asta Gröting ‘Berlin Facades’, which – before such scenes disappear as the city redevelops – hauntingly capture the physical impact of war damage on Berlin’s buildings through an exacting silicon casting process for which the artist has set up her own factory.
Two artists used real but distorted bricks interestingly: Elisabetta Benassi arranged misfired examples in the number and formation of a classic sculpture by Carl Andre, undermining its minimlist perfection.
Kate Newby – both at The Sunday Painter’s stand at Liste and now in the London gallery – herself vandalises the bricks in her platforms, which serve as the base for many subtle interventions. Ugo Rondinone and Michael Wilkinson transfer the look of brick into the language of painting.
The former has them painted, somewhat expressively in oil on burlap – yet deadpan and titled just by date – as a way of importing their studied neutrality into the more historically and emotionally charged matter of applying paint.
The latter uses lego bricks to set up a minimalist barrier partly inspired by Pink Floyd’s The Wall . Both depart as suits them from traditional brick colours, something Kirkeby never did.
I’m not sure one could claim that the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (12 June – 19 Aug) is now cool. But in its 250th anniversary year it is no longer so uncool that it is simply ignored. Instead, it is ripe for being subverted. To some extent, lead organiser Grayson Perry does that himself with the riotous and provocative tastelessness of his hang (‘the biggest, brightest and most colourful Summer Exhibition yet’ says the PR). Some contributing artists play along. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Michael Landy’s large drawing, teeming with figures making a sort of salon hang of warning signs, is called ‘Not Fit for Purpose’. Mike Nelson could be playing on both the social standing of the average visitor and the inevitability that many of the 1350 works in the show will be overlooked by placing a homeless person on the grand stairs leading up to the exhibition – or, rather, a suggestion of such made from the telling material of building detritus. My observations confirmed that most people didn’t notice the piece, but those who did were strongly drawn in. The colourfully abstracted architecture of Tal R’s ‘Haus 44’ 2015 looks much more innocuous. I imagine few of those filing past will twig that it introduces a brothel into the polite environs of the Summer Exhibition: it’s one of a series looking at frontages from the sex industry – which Tal likes for how, like much art, ‘you only know if you enter’.
- 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.