It is a quirk of perception that we read this as a city. On the face of it, most of Navarro’s work is comprised of regimented obelisks.
So it’s not like any city you or I might live in. There’s no chaos, no movement and no colour. The columns are as grave as tombstones in a city of the dead.
Yet in its rational structure and the zones we can read as neighbourhoods, we recognise this as a place which the human race might yet spirit into existence.
If architects have, from the renaissance onwards, conceived of buildings in relation to the human form, Navarro throws all that out of a 100th floor window.
There is nothing humanist about this anthill. It is as heavily planned as a city conceived by some ancient people (or perhaps a child). And yet the high rise technology is 21st century.
Something ominous haunts the viewer. In this respect it is like one of de Chirico’s urban dreams. (Navarro has paid tribute to the surreal classicist.)
But no matter how sinister, this vast settlement has pull. The lighting is promising and the canyons of aluminium and zinc impress with their mystery.
There is even a bullring. And with so little else of discernible function, tauromachia assumes a huge importance in the life of this civilization to come.
One imagines it at the heart of an arcane religion. Or as a social device like the lottery in The Lottery in Babylon by Jorge Luis Borges who for some reason comes to mind.
All we know for sure is that this dystopia, which took five years to build, is a piece of timeless bad news. Navarro tells us, in great detail, the worst is still out there, somewhere.
Wall City can be seen in Art of Our Time: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Collections, now showing at the Guggenheim Bilbao until 3 May 2015.
“I like the traditional Chinese philosophy,” says Wang Yuyang, “Because it talks about the relationship between 1 and 0, on and off, black and white, something and nothing…”
You have to imagine that the thirtysomething artist would also like the branch of post-structuralist theory known, confusingly, as deconstruction.
If deconstruction itself has been sparked into life by any one opposition, that might well have to be the porous distinction between speech and writing. The former present, the latter absent.
Wang Yuyang shakes up this distinction by animating the a selection of Chinese books from the neo-gothic university-linked library in Manchester, John Rylands.
The books have been flawlessly recreated in silicon rubber and thank to a regular pulse of air, they now appear to whisper or breath. They are more ‘here’ than ever.
But as anyone who has ever loved a book can testifty, your personal copy can take on a charge after you’ve worked your way through it page by static page. It lives for you.
As such, Wang Yuyang has revealed a truth about the written word. And in another move you might call deconstructive, he has privileged East over West in his choice of volumes.
Theoretical babble aside, only the most casual passerby will not be stopped in their tracks by this installation. See how ghostly those old books are. Even the chairs breathe.
They might remind you that the entire building is a memorial, built for Mr Rylands after his passing by wife Enriqueta. The historical context here is a 19th century death.
Not that we should dwell on that. Rather more pertinent are the loving couples’ respective fortunes. His came from the cotton mills, hers from the sugar plantations.
One could argue that books, certainly written ideas, hastened the end of those particular positions. Down the road in Chetham’s Library Karl Marx would meet with Friedrich Engels.
So it only appears to be a supernatural manifestation or the effect of a cool hallucinogen. Those books you’ve read and believed every word: they’ll still be breathing long after you stop.
Breathing Books can be seen at The John Rylands Library as part of Harmonious Society, the UK’s largest ever exhibition of contemporary Chinese art.
Show runs for the duration of Asia Triennial Manchester which is on until 23 November 2014.
Two disks grace the gallery. One sits on the floor. One hangs on the wall. Looking closer, their outer rims can be identified as hula hoops. But there will be no gyrating here today.
Both hoops have been measured up for a plasterboard inner, and worked over with filler to produce an artwork. So that carpentry and plastering skills more in evidence than chiselling or moulding.
So the productive status of Return to glory is ambiguous. Is it really a work, resulting in a useful end product? Or is it a piece of menial labour? Possibly, only the market decides.
Irish artist Magee is much concerned with these distinctions and points me in the direction of Hannah Arendt for a discussion of work, labour and action.
Returning to the source of distinctions like this, Arendt recalls Aristotle. The Greek would have given citizenship to shepherds and painters, but not peasants or sculptors.
In the ancient world they had contempt for the slave class, and Magee seems to play up to this, as a provocation, with his use of poor materials and trade skills.
If his two hoops are a really a return to glory, it is therefore because one adorns the wall and might be called a painting. Whether or not it would have pleased Aristotle is a moot point.
Unlike the wall-mounted piece, hula hoops are not usually a perfect circle. Where the hoop joins, you can usually find a stiffened flatter piece of tubing, the artist tells me.
So the work on the floor (therefore a scupture) rests on this straight edge. The work on the wall (a painting of sorts) has been filled out with plasterboard to make a perfect circle.
Arendt also notes that in ancient Greece, there was a feeling of arrogance among the painters. She recalls that even as late as the renaissance, sculptors were considered to be servile.
For this reason Magee’s piece is a bold act of resistance. It is both sculpture, painting and, in stepping back from one example of each, a radical piece of curating. Nothing menial about that.
When confronted with a work of contemporary art, it is common to look for a handle. But it is not always easy to get to grips with an abstract sculpture or an assemblage.
You could go to the press release. After all, that’s what a reviewer will do. But then every so often a piece comes along which nullifies the various texts surrounding it.
Such is the case with Lewandowski’s work. It has 100 handles, and so offers 100 points of theoretical contact. They give his assorted items of bric-a-brac an unruly personality.
None of the handles seem to fit. Many clasp objects with no clear function, many are superfluous, and they are all incongruous in some way. Too big, too small, too weird.
For example, he’s screwed a plastic briefcase handle onto a copy of history’s most enduring piece of art criticism: The Lives of the Artists by Giorgio Vasari.
It gives the seminal book a workmanlike appearance. Rather than a dusty tome, it is here an industrious tool. But at the same time, this is absurd. It looks like satire.
There’s also a handle on a colourful globe. This looks like it once belonged to a plastic bucket, as if you might take planet Earth with you to the beach. That’s pretty escapist.
Elsewhere there’s a handle on a giant letter K, which reads to these eyes like a reference to Kafka, who also encourages yet defies the grasp of critics and onlookers.
So the handles hold you, rather than the other way round. They draw you in and sustain your interest as you look around the many curious items in this corner at APT Gallery.
This is a complex installation. You could write a crit about each of the 100 items. They might fill a book, onto which you might propose the artist graft a further handle.
It would be a handle on 100 written handles on 100 actual handles. There is something already quite all-consuming about this series which seems like it could go on forever.
This was my first visit to The Hepworth and I was blown away by a) the David Chipperfield building and b) the setting by the River Calder. Here’s a view from one to the other.
We were here for the biggest every show at the gallery and the UK’s first major survey of work by Franz West. The Austrian artist walks a thin line between the abject and the appealing.
Curators and directors took the brave move to show West alongside the presiding genius of this part of the world. His raw plaster heads might be said to belch and heckle the nearby Hepworths.
This was my favourite piece in the show. It’s just a chair, you might point out, and not a very solid one. But I love the spirit of making do and improvisation. It’s a chair built from hearsay.
This below also tickled me. For reasons best known to the artist, the bottle is wearing a silver mac. Jokes, of the sort which fellow Viennese Freud might have chewed over, abound in this show.
This wall mounted installation was called Personale (1995/7), a cluster of works by other artists. That is, I believe, French Shower by Jason Rhoade, but navigation was an issue.
Beyond the television set you see a handful of West’s much acclaimed ‘adaptives’. Visitors are encouraged to pick these up and explore their weight and dimensions. Radical, huh?
This was just one ingenious element in a much bigger installation with a title translating as pork chops. Like I say, West really does go in for Mitteleuropean drôlerie.
And below you can see Parrhesia (2010) a group of talking heads enjoying some ancient Greek democracy. But “I am a sculptor, not a hewer of ideas,” said West.
So despite his extensive self-directed reading, Wittgenstein and, yes, Freud were not chief materials for this iconoclastic sculptor. Plaster and scrap, on the other hand, were.
In other words he only changed the face of modern sculpture by rolling up his sleeves. As a hopeful hewer of words, the more I think about this show, the better it gets.
Franz West: Where is my Eight? can be seen at The Hepworth Wakefield until 14 September 2014. Read my review on The Arts Desk.
Last Saturday I spent eight or so intense hours hot footing it around a coastal town in South East England in search of the many artworks which make up Whitstable Biennale.
The coach dropped us at the Horsebridge Arts Centre, in which could be seen a wry excavation of 35-year-old television drama ,Sapphire and Steel, in a diverting film by Mark Aerial Waller.
Not so far away, in a sea cadet hall, Rachel Reupke had dramatised the power dynamics in a set of complaint letters. It was a mysterious if not completely opaque bit of performance art.
In a psychedelic beach hut on a westerly beach, John Walter was entertaining guest after guest with G&T plus gypsy tarts. I had no idea if the sun was past the yard arm, but oh well.
On the South Quay I found this sculpture by local stevedores working on behalf of Laura Wilson. Her accompanying film was a poetic slice of everyday life in an industrial zone.
This may look like a scene from Abu Ghraib but in fact it’s a church hall and these hooded figures are art lovers taking in bit of cosmic sound art from The Arka Group. It was hot under there.
In the nearby postal delivery office, Jeremy Millar had built a screening room from fire blankets. The film itself followed a day in the life of a troubled man alone in a stunning marsh landscape.
A community centre called Umbrella Hall was the location for a piece of sound art by Rosa Ainley. It treated the rise and fall of a local Pfizer building and was described, not by me, as a Greek chorus.
Seven pm and the sun was still up. Das Hund played a gig in a boat shed. I guess any old singer can carry a tune, so Samuel Levack’s atonal delivery was all the more impressive.
Forgive the gastroporn but, not having eaten since breakfast, fish and chips on Whitstable beach was just the ticket. It’s a fantastic event and if you can go next weekend, do.
Whitstable Biennale 2014 runs until June 15.
A market in ancient Greece is distinguishable from the art market, but by less than you might think. In both you find the free circulation of ideas along with goods and services.
Like any auction house, the agora was a place of assembly. It had a political role as much as a commercial one and the etym contains the verbs for both “shop” and “speak in public”.
But the marketplace in late capitalism is nothing if not competitive. Perhaps that is why Charlie Billingham has staged a boat race in his bright and cheerful solo show at Ceri Hand.
The boat in shot is one of three. It is in the lead. And if the title is to be heeded, it is taking a left turn. Thus while you shop, Billingham can’t help speaking in public.
And the Greek connection is surely relevant. The sea where this boat sails is a limpid tapestry of a watercolour, made by Billingham during a stay in the Greek Islands.
It was machine stitched in Belgium. Trust a more Northern country to bring in a mercantile context. These are the waters which surround us in the current global economy.
This might be a good time to note the title of the show, Tender. Gentle, yes, but also with a sense of currency. Art can be tender in both senses.
Yet there is something jolly and bracing about this tacking and jibing, etc. The installations take their shape and dimensions from Laser Pico sailing dinghies. Ie; vessels of pleasure.
This motif suggests the optimism of a upcoming artist who enjoys his vocation, also a race of sorts. It results in a vibrant, sunny show in a grey month.
So is it fair to read a political intention into this riot of colour and marine sports? Given the situation in Greece these days, it is hard to get away from that bias.
Fans of austerity, keep heading right. Those who would rather stimulate the arts with funding, or even patronage of any kind, get on board.
In a book you can be fairly sure the Chapmans have read, A Thirst for Annihilation, philosopher Nick Land reports on the encounter between American GIs and the mass graves of the Nazi death camps.
If memory serves me right, many of the liberators, upon encountering piles of unburied bodies, said they experienced a rush-like death wish, a desire to be just so many more nameless bodies.
Such transgressive feelings are, apparently, impossible to recreate in a gallery. But the two enfants terrible have surely tried, having peopled several dioramas with thousands of tiny model corpses.
These museum-like cases, which also feature Nazi soldiers and the cast of a McDonalds Happy Meal, are, rather than annihilating, just plain fun. They are fun in the way Bosch or Breugel are fun.
Which is to say they combine a picture book pleasure with a wealth of comic detail. But the power of these pieces is contained by the glass behind which they sit. There is no leakage.
Humour is everywhere in the current retrospective at Serpentine. You will have heard about the KKK, no doubt. Expect your visit to be joined by a score of Klansmen in rainbow socks and sandals.
It’s the socks which really annoy, as if there were no other viewpoints in art rather than fascist or woolly new age-ism. This blogger is guilty of a bit of that. But it’s not the full story, surely.
Compare the Chapmans’ dioramas to a serious piece of political art and they lose their impact. Alfredo Jaar, for example, has made a devastating film about Rwanda with not a snigger in sight.
Wherever the power lies these days, these pillaging Nazis and totemic fast food clowns are the straw men of contemporary art; they are panto villians rather than an immediate threat.
But, in keeping with the metaphor of seasonal theatre, the Chapman brothers themselves are always “behind you”. Half the works in the retrospective are scruffy cardboard send ups of modernism.
And what can you say about a world in which a stuffed fox is shagging a stuffed hare, which mounts a stuffed rabbit, which is having it away with a rat, who in turn screws an unfortunate mouse.
To suggest the mouse will inherit the earth would be to no doubt invite peals of laughter. There is no getting away from the law of the jungle, the reign of capital or kings.
But what can you do with this art? The closest it gets to transcendence is a grim money shot in an explicit film which is coupled with a children’s choir singing Morning is Broken.
In a several rapid strokes, innuendo intended, the Chapmans reduce religion to the side effect of an onanistic handjob. It is, once again, hard to argue against. The show is a closed circle.
Starting with the holocaust and the ravages of capitalism, here are their glib conclusions. But imagine how limited he might appear had Picasso spent his whole career riffing off Guernica.
Forgive me if I shelter behind a monumental piece of 20th century art to round off my criticisms of Jake and Dinos. But what gets them out of bed in the morning and why not make art about that?
Jake and Dinos Chapman: Come and See is on view at Serpentine Sackler Gallery until 9 Feburary 2014.
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.
Throwing a party, like making art, is one of those activities we can attend to when all of our most basic needs have been satisfied. Food, shelter, art – that is surely the order.
But if we are to suppose that ancient people ever let their hair down, who would decorate the cave? With a bit of help from the shamans, you could say those private views got out of hand.
In latter times, say the last 500 years, art has sobered up but celebration has never fallen out of fashion. It could apply to, say, the reading of a mass in church.
By the by, the first recorded use of the word in English is in a 1580 in love poem, Arcadia by Sir Philip Sydney: “He laboured…to hasten the celebration of their marriage.”
Central to this piece is indeed a plastic bride and groom such as you would find atop a cake. They pose for a strobe flash surrounded by the residue of their bash.
If it is theirs… Other cues lead elsewhere.Pierrot hats and animal masks feature in few weddings. The discarded beach ball suggests that even the honeymoon is already over.
But the party is kept going by a revolving glitter ball and changing filters on a spot light. Strings of fairy lights animate the scene long after the guests have left. It is a lonely sort of installation.
What sets the defining tone for this celebration is a psychedelic and glammy rock soundtrack which beckons you into the party from the moment you step into the gallery.
Most poignant is when Bowie’s Five Years comes across the speakers. This now sounds like a party for the end of the world, or at the very least, glancing at a portrait of Lenin, the end of history.
What can it mean to go home after a party like that, the very last of its kind. In 2013 it looks like Chaimowicz’s empty piece is the celebration of a celebration. Realife (sic) has caught up.
Celebration? Realife can be seen in Glam: The Performance of Style, at Tate Liverpool until 12 May 2013. See gallery website for more details.