Posted: December 5th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: abstract art, contemporary art, drawing, Uncategorized | No Comments »
What’s behind a painting or drawing, literally? The reverse of a canvas is a necessary mystery, with its potential for jottings, classifications, signatures and in some cases failed attempts.
In terms of drawing, Serra knows enough about failure. The 14 works made for the Courtauld are to some degree beyond his control. So the rejects “far outweigh” the successes*.
Still, he presents us here with the hint of a reverse side, a see-though,’ canvas’. This is the first time a museum has shown his drawings on transparent Mylar.
You soon realise that behind a contemporary drawing by Serra, you will find only more drawing. Litho crayon sticks to both sides of his material, as it floats in its frame.
They are something to get your head around. The American artist will coat two sheets of Mylar with crayon and then sandwich another sheet between them.
As he applies pressure to the topmost sheet, his ink adheres to both sides of the filling. So when he takes away the outer layers, it reveals an image he may or may not like.
Hard to say what Serra looks for. But on the evidence here it is: density, dirt, and a lack of gestalt forms. It’s as if he comes to the Courtauld Institute to put another full stop on art history.
The artist has hoped these works will leave you feeling hollow to the pit of your stomach. But what this blogger reports is a panicky failure to grasp the process at once, a frustration.
You want to pull apart these frames and see both sides. You want to see the process at work. You want to see the rejects. Despite the transparency of his materials, the mystery is increased.
*According to a fine catalogue essay by Barnaby Wright, which also has interesting things to say about Cezanne’s influence on Serra.
Read on: Time Out saw more menace than mystery in the show. Jonathan Jones in the Guardian likens the work to a black sun.
Richard Serra: Drawings for the Courtauld can be seen at The Courtauld Gallery, London, until 12 January 2014
Posted: December 1st, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: conflict, contemporary art, painting | No Comments »
A queue is a Q is a question. Perhaps ‘what are we waiting for’ or ‘why are we waiting’. The answer will depend on your location, class and political circumstances.
In the West we are on the whole happy to queue for a checkout or a cash point. It is, as Jessica Lack points out in the publication for this show, the sign of a ‘civilised way of life’.
But artist Sara Shamma lines up some 10 characters who would surprise you if you met them at your local post office. They are at times translucent, weightless and ethereal.
So, another question, why might ghosts join a queue? Perhaps the queue in this painting represents the scene of a trauma, such as the flight of Shamma’s Syrian compatriots.
Her monumental work is 17m long and is to be read as a series and a circular one at that. Panel one features a mother and child, panel ten: a child and a foetus.
This loops her sad procession into infinity. It would be interesting to know of the first queue in history, just as it would be frightening to receive advance warning of the last.
There is also a menagerie on this road to ruin: elephant, ostrich, ape and shark alike are in line for a so-called promised land. They give the whole scene a certain freakiness.
But what could be more freaky than the frightened population of one city all packing up, leaving home, and heading for a border. The animals tell it like it is.
Another widespread motif is the ironic balloon. Were it not for the anguished expressions here and there you might conclude this was a carnival.
Many of those faces, however, show the skull beneath the skin. Some are treated with the grainy black and white of newsprint. Some feature thick, expressionistic daubing.
The queue has many facets. Shamma breaks the continuity in panel five by painting a line of faceless figures snaking off to the horizon and back. Newsworthy numbers here.
And in a Dalí-esque touch the artist hints at comfort with a tiny chair suspended above a vast abyss. If society breaks down, this epic painting may come back to you.
Q ends on December 2 2013. So get in line at the Upper Gulbenkian Gallery at the Royal College of Art, London.
Posted: November 20th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: abstract painting, contemporary art | No Comments »
Is the title of this Sean Scully work an imperative? I only ask because gallery visitors can do little else when confronted with this three-panelled masterpiece from the 1980s.
So we stare . . . but whatever we seek, paint is all we might find. Bands of off-white and off-black, inspired by bleached bone and charred wood, line up like blinds or a grille against a window.
Like most of Scully’s work, Stare pulls you towards its own surface and apprehends you there. The only content or subject of the work being colour in horizontal and vertical brushstrokes
It has been suggested that Stare has a gaze of its own. Given the year of its production, the title hints at Orwellian surveillance, but this is in all probability a red herring, nothing to do with abstract art.
So here, rather than Big Bro’, it is the artist who looks at us. And as is quite often said of written texts, this painting allows Scully to read the viewer, rather than vice versa.
(This idea was touted around by Derrida. Although in a recent Q&A with the artist at Pallant, Scully said he read just enough about deconstruction to know he didn’t need to read any more. Well…)
Here’s how the painting reads this viewer. The Long Island beach, said to have thrown up this palette, also makes me think of winter sunlight seen from polluted city streets.
And yet even a darkening sky can give you a sense of infinity; so the same might be said of these arresting brush strokes. Why? Because art, like ourselves, is infinitely expressive.
That’s not to say a proverbial three year old could have made this work. Unless they belong to you in some way, children are much less interesting than artists. Despite what Picasso said.
No, the irresistible appeal of Stare must be the promise that, by complying with its intention, you could share a visionary experience with a gifted artist. But NB: all experiences will be your own.
Sean Scully: Triptychs can be seen at Pallant House, Chichester, UK until 26 January 2014
Posted: November 18th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: aggregation, contemporary art | No Comments »
Seven more days slip by with but a handful of stories to cling to. Click on:
- There’s now a Kafka angle to the Munich art hoard story (interivew with Cornelius Gurlitt)
- Here’s another good Nazi art theft yarn. What became of the Mona Lisa?
- Museum-show of the season is not in a museum at all. A Kick Up the Arts visits Hauser & Wirth
- When was the last time art changed your outlook on life (thanks @TheodoreArt)?
- If you can bear it, here’s how to talk up a $142m dollar sale
- Objects, and ignorance, are both on the rise according to J.J. Charlesworth: a good analysis
- And so the Al-Wakrah sports stadium, now under construction in Qatar, resembles a vagina
- Tyler Green takes you on a road trip with a compendium of highway-inspired art works
- If you suspect algorithms are out to get you, this Kyle Chayka piece is essential reading
- Martin Gayford mines his new book to give us an account of the rivalries which fuelled the renaissance.
Posted: November 14th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | No Comments »
While there may be plenty of government departments in castles all around the world, we are lucky in Britain to broadly avoid that particular Kafkaesque motif.
And yet the darkness of a homegrown bouncy castle made of leather, with its many turrets, and its relentless air pump, is every bit as oppressive as the Czech writer’s elevated seat of bureaucracy.
Dale’s work pushes and it pulls. The only way to confront your fears would be to kick off shoes and leap aboard, but kids of all ages will need restraining. This is only for show.
Indeed, it is one of contemporary sculpture’s great jokes. He presents authority as a funhouse. He brings adult play into the public realm. The UK Parliament, with its green leather, is forever changed.
So what sado-masochistic fantasies do we all work through in our relationships with power? There is little doubt that our bondage to jobs, and to mortgages, etc. must satisfy something in the Id.
That’s why Department… is such a quick get. The words ‘leather bouncy castle’ render it mythic. It feels to have been around forever. It shows a paranoid humour of limitless appeal.
Note also that Cambridge shares some topography with Prague. The highest point in town is Castle Hill, although the Normans failed to build as extensively as the Bohemians and their forebears.
The fenland city is nevertheless dominated by a network of colleges. And one is inclined to observe that most of the machinations which govern life here take place in a cloistered realm.
But to look on the bright side, Dale’s forbidden piece is also a monument to emptiness. There are no lawmakers jumping on that thing, no dons in black gowns flying back and forth like bats.
We should fight paranoia, clearly, so as not to manifest our worst fears. So anything which pulls back the veil or delivers a punchline is to be welcomed. Dale does both. Roll up and laugh out loud.
This work can be seen in Tom Dale: Zero is Immense at Aid & Abet in Cambridge, UK, until Saturday 16th.
Posted: November 11th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: aggregation, contemporary art | No Comments »
Your usual mix of the good, the bad and the trivial (art stories from around the web):
- Look on the bright side of any imminent apocalypse. Colleen Fitzgibbon interviews filmmaker Ben Rivers for BOMB Magazine
- Found poetry of Google autocomplete demonstrates that the hivemind sure has an active muse. Read about it on Hyperallergic
- Here’s a radical public toilet deisgn for the Ichibara arts festival in Japan. For the call of nature look no further than Faith is Torment
- More rad architecture: a glittering pizza oven inspired by the golden age of Italian disco (from Colossal)
- John Lewis Christmas ad flagged up at Fast Company Create (and the bear looks a bit like football manager Harry Redknapp)
- In case you were in any doubt about what a strange place Russia has become, here’s a police choir singing Daft Punk (via Rowan Early)
- Pyotr Pavlensky has clearly not seen the above and as a result nailed a delicate part of his anatomy to Red Square, as the Guardian reports
- And where are the police when you need them; this animated dummy from David Lewandowski must be stopped (thanks @thebenstreet)
- An exhaustive site dedicated to knitting instructions for the scarf or scarves once worn by Tom Baker in Doctor Who. Beyond nerdy (ta @markscottwood)
- Here’s a form of rememberance we can all get behind: deets on Joe Sacco’s 24ft long panorama of the Western Front via @SebastianSmee.
Posted: October 30th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, film installation | No Comments »
It is all very well writing with a skull on your desk (I don’t). But you might still wonder how much thought the saints of old gave to the more practical aspects of death.
Now, however, American artist Baseman brings you right into that seldom-explored margin between death and burial/cremation, via an interview with funeral director Cara Mair.
Mair is a disillusioned embalmer who now runs a holistic service in Brighton. This means she and her team take a greener approach to the presentation and disposal of your loved one.
As might be expected, she is quite at ease talking about decomposition, leakage, physical trauma and sealing eyes and mouths to suggest her own deceased subjects appear to be at peace.
But one thing she cannot do is warm bodies up. Hence the shock many relatives feel when touch a lost family member and feel them as cold as the title of the piece suggests.
So much for the soundtrack. The footage here, running over Mair’s narration, might best be described as a time lapse cloudscape with plenty of visual noise on the film itself.
At times it looks to feature breaking waves. And both clouds and waves pass swiftly; their inexorable motion offers the chance to dream about death as abstraction.
It glows yellow and ends with an abrupt cut at the end of the narration, at which point Mair states in a manner of fact way that death is a termination; there is no afterlife.
The piece is site specific for deconsecrated fishing chapel Fabrica. And yet Mair says religion plays little or no part in her own life, but often plenty in the lives of people she deals with.
You might want her to tell you the opposite, to proffer a ghost story or two, to explain why she sounds so upbeat. But no, she is a realist. Perhaps such a thing is what death should make us all.
Jordan Baseman, A Cold Hand on a Cold Day, can be seen at Fabrica, Brighton, until 24 November 2013.
Posted: October 25th, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: cinema, contemporary art, performance, photography | 1 Comment »
© 1975 Harry Gamboa Jr
Patti Smith, writing in her memoir Just Kids, says that by walking a city you can come to own the very streets. She and lover Robert Mapplethorpe attempted and achieved as much in New York City.
But that was Manhattan and, to point out by way of a cliché, nobody sane walks anywhere in urban sprawl Los Angeles, home of East Coast art ensemble Asco.
Here you see a daring alternative strategy for owning a boulevard. Put bodies on the line, spell out your collective identity, and shoot the entire scene with a cinematic gloss.
Of all the photos shot by Asco in the 1970s, and 1975 is a peak of sorts, the one above is perhaps exhibits the most exemplary mix of horseplay and bad attitude.
And in the same way we project ourselves into certain movies, an Asco photo can make you want to be there. Oh to be young, glamorous, and at large among the bright lights.
But at the time of making, Harry Gamboa Jr., Patssi Valdez, Gronk and Wilie F. Herrón III and their associates were anything but superstars. In Hollywood, Chicano superstars did not exist.
In response Asco made promotional stills for movies that did not exist. The photos, dubbed No Movies, press the same buttons as the real thing. This is conceptual art with magic dust.
Yet the word spelled out above, Spanish for nausea and disgust, becomes a real spell. Here where they own the city, where they own the night, who can say what reconfigurations are taking place?
We now have Chicano A-listers. Uma Thurman, Jessica Alba and Salma Hayek are all of Mexican descent according to IMDB. Say, they would really be great in an Asco No Movie.
ASCO can be seen in Asco: No Movies at Nottingham Contemporary until January 5 2014.
Posted: October 21st, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, sculpture, war art | No Comments »
In terms of medium, Steve McQueen is in unusual territory with his celebrated philatelical artwork Queen and Country. Just don’t expect to see any of this piece come through your letterbox.
179 sheets of stamps now occupy a large filing cabinet at Imperial War Museum North. Visitors can pull out trays and encounter, one by one, British soldiers who departed this world in Iraq.
The scale of the work is both intimate (stamp-sized) and endlessly reverberating (each stamp has been printed up as a sheet of around a hundred).
The other head in each perforated frame is of course Elizabeth II, in regal profile. And by this juxtaposition you realise that McQueen has, for some, brought the war too close to home.
A glance at recent themes used by the Royal Mail is edifying. In 2013 so far we have had Football Heroes, Classic Locomotives and Andy Murray Wimbledon Champion.
We have also had a run of Great Britons, but none were actually killed on their way to assume this status. And surely, who the Royal Mail commemorate is a matter for public debate.
Yet beyond debate is the national pride whipped up on Remembrance Day or, rather, Week. Unlike these stamps, the dread occasion appears to validate and glorify our various illegal wars.
Given all the poppy wearing and flag waving, there is surely a double standard in the decision to exclude named and pictured servicemen and women from circulation in the public realm.
Stamp issue may seem a marginal sphere of activity. But if nothing else, the images on our covers shape or at least reinforce our sense of national identity.
If you don’t think this matters, consider the recent campaign to put Jane Austen on a £10 note and the subsequent vitriol of the backlash against instigator Caroline Criado-Perez.
And take a moment to consider passport design. At the moment British subjects, when called upon to brandish their little red books, are treated to oak leaves, owls and freshwater fish.
Another exhibit up North, the Jeremy Deller production at Manchester City Gallery, did leave me wondering why urban or industrial Britain finds so little representation on our passports.
There are no doubt good reasons for all these decisions and who are we to doubt their wisdom . . . But stamps and passports are vital parts of our social fabric, in other words: a battlefield.
Queen and Country can be seen in Catalyst: Contemporary Art and War at Imperial War Museum North until February 23 2014.
Posted: October 2nd, 2013 | Author: Mark Sheerin | Filed under: contemporary art, sculpture, Uncategorized | No Comments »
This sculpture makes a meal of a piece of gum. It may be marble, but it was once a remnant piece of a habit-forming chew. And now it is the size of a torso.
Visitors may be struck at the muscularity, which marble will always suggest. There is a body trapped in here, perhaps a Michaelangelesque dying slave.
These sinews may be rock hard. But you may still want to chew over the results of this fleshy piece of work, at the risk of breaking a tooth.
The stone comes from the maestro’s onetime favourite quarry at Carrara in Tuscany. I was told it has been chiselled with high pressure water from a 3D map scaled to 0.1 of a micron.
Were the artist to use said technology to render a figure from myth, it might be horribly ernest. Gum reassures us that he is insouciant enough to make contemporary art.
But we can still admire the stone along with the concept. The veins and luminosity are just beautiful. You want to stroke it, but isn’t chewed gum as tactile as it is repellent.
This piece has been splatted on the wall, as if the classical world never happened. Certainly, machine technologies have cut all the traditional craftsmanship out of the equation.
Gum may seem too ephemeral for a lasting statement. But evidence suggests we have been chewing bark, etc, for 5,000 years: a pillar of civilisation. More ancient than the Ancient World.
Schliere (Streak) can be seen in Alex Hoda: D-Construction at Edel Assanti, London, until 26 October 2013.