Category Archives: minimalism

Review: Modern Times – Responding to Chaos

Exhibition: Modern Times, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, until June 13 2010

Somewhere between art and architecture sits a drawing by minimalist sculptor Fred Sandbeck. His pencil and chalk plan for a Zurich gallery construction hovers in mid air, reminding us of the Utopian potential of pictorial space.

The architectural role of this work would have come as no surprise to El Lissitzky. In the 1920s the Russian artist developed a mysterious term for such constructions of art. He called it Proun.

Given that eight lithographs by the inventor of Proun find their way into this show, the concept appears central to the fantastic selection of drawings here. If so, it is also central to the history of 20th century art proposed by curator Lutz Becker.

If that story begins with Lissitzky and Suprematism, it ends here with the minimalism of Sol Lewitt. By numbering the blocks in his Working Drawing (1996) he produces a piece of deadpan technical drawing, like a terse fullstop on all the preceeding “isms”.

The artist’s line, once a vehicle for representation and then abstract expression, now becomes fully realised as a means for drafting perfect structures in the mind’s eye.

Indeed, abstract expressionism here seems almost a folly. Willem De Kooning’s smudges, Franz Kline’s daubs and Robert Motherwell’s painterly blobs could be a vain rebellion against the spatial powers of the line.

But drawing too can represent chaos, rather than clarity. Night Celebration III by Mark Tobey is an even, methodical scribble which spreads across the surface of a sheet of card like cigarette smoke at a riotous party.

However, the lasting impression from this show is that less equals more. The works are largely monochrome. There are few figurative reference points. For every feat of excess there is a study in restraint.

You come away feeling that in art so much can be achieved with the simplest means. A case in point is Norman McClaren film Horizontal Lines, shown alongside moving image works by Fernand Léger, Hans Richter and Viking Eggeling.

The horizontal lines rise, fall and proliferate as if set in motion by an algorithm, but this is no dry exercise in geometry. The film is also a perfect narrative. It is high drama. Excitement runs thoughout this show like lead through a pencil.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: A Certain Distance, Endless Light – A Project by Felix Gonzalez Torres and William McKeown

Exhibition: A Certain Distance, Endless Light – A Project by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and William McKeown, MIMA, Middlesbrough, until July 4 2010

Energy is the theme of the North-East’s 10th AV Festival and the inclusion of Felix-Gonzalez-Torres looks like a no-brainer.

Some of the Cuban-born artist’s best known works feature lightbulbs on string and six of these pieces have made it into the show at MIMA.

But it was always left to curators to decide how to display his lightstring, so putting together this exhibition was not without a challenge or two.

Also on display is a trademark paper stack piece. Visitors can choose between two ambiguous propositions and take the artwork home with them, sheet by sheet.

Another piece which could follow you home is a mysterious billboard image of birds flying across a cloudy sky. A few of these have been installed around Middlesbrough.

The real lightbulb moment here was to bring William McKeown on board. The Irish painter’s breezy minimalism should set off the pared down work of Gonzalez-Torres.

One gallery has been hung with 70 monochrome watercolours to represent daisies. Another has been filled with a room-like construction built to house a single picture and a drawing. A delicate touch in a delicately balanced show.

Written for Culture24.

Preview: Modern Times at Kettle's Yard

Franciszka Themerson, Gustav Klucis. www.kettlesyard.co.uk

Modern Times – Responding to Chaos, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge, until March 14 2010

Attempts to build a world order invariably result in chaos. Some of the outcomes can be seen at a new exhibition at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge.

Modern Times: Responding to Chaos is the first of a series of shows in which creative protagonists of the 20th and 21st century have been asked to trace a personal journey through recent history.

First up is film-maker and painter Lutz Becker, whose personal responses to chaos are classic documentaries. Art in Revolution (1971) looks at Russian art in the early days of Communism, Swastika (1973) looks at the rise of Nazism in Germany, and Vita Futurista (1987) studies the far right Futurist movement in Italy.

So it’s no surprise that Becker’s curatorial interests take in many artist-made films of the last hundred years. The show includes moving image pieces by Viking Eggeling, Hans Richter, Fernand Léger and even Kazimir Malevich.

But latter-day chaos has also caused a rupture in the most longstanding of art forms, drawing. As film captured slices of reality, artists used the hand-drawn line to pit abstraction against figuration and turn geometry against spontaneous gesture.

Malevich and Eggeling reappear on paper, along with Boccioni, Mondrian, Grosz, Klee, Pollock, de Kooning, Giacometti, Bourgeois, Beuys, Serra, Judd and Twombly.

But what have these exponents of Futurism, Constructvism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and Conceptualism left us with? More chaos, and the 21st century awaits a few comparable responses.

Written for Culture24.