“Sometimes lo-fi stuff is more immediate": Corinna Spencer interview below.

Peter Wächtler, Untitled (2013)

Posted: October 7th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, watercolour | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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The perversity on display here is not the a tergo position adopted by the blonde mistress or the rake so drunk he has fallen out of the large double bed.

No the perversity is that Wächtler uses a medium as gentle as watercolour to incriminate the bad behaviour of this fornicating sot and his willing accomplice.

Not that getting drunk and having sex is always reprehensible, it’s not. Not unless you do so in the presence of a subordinate, in this case a servant, with no choice but to watch.

These days, in the wake of the Starr Report, it’s hard not to watch. Only just the other week, we had to hear about one of our social betters in the political class, caught up in a sexting scandal.

And while his employer may be half naked and sprawled across the floor, the butler comes out of it little better. To say he’s overdressed for the occasion is putting it mildly.

But his poise, which says, Sir, You Called?, manifests an English class trope in which servile dignity might just give you the upper hand in such situations: an X-rated Jeeves and Wooster.

All the moral authority in this painting is on the butler’s side. The Lord has none of it, and neither does the German artist, who appears to laugh at all concerned.

In fact, he may be more concerned with that sinuous line which snakes down the picture from the raised behind of the mystery blonde through to her paramour’s flailing leg.

There is surely some overlap between the ‘one percent’ (those to blame for all the world’s ills) and those who have the wherewithal and the self-importance to employ a butler.

That could make Wächtler’s watercolours into a political statement in which the laughter cloaks despair. But just remember, that’s a room service trolley and not a barricade.

This painting, along with some equally compelling film and sculpture by the artist, can be seen in A Needle Walks into a Haystack The Old Blind School, Liverpool, until October 26 2014. 

It is part of Liverpool Biennial 2014. There’s a good discussion of the event’s politics with regard to Peter Wächtler on the The Double Negative.


Ernö Goldfinger, Balfron Tower (1968)

Posted: October 6th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: 20th century, architecture | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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It’s been a sheltered low-rise sort of upbringing for this blogger. So the chance to ride a steel elevator up 24 floors to flat 130 of the Balfron Tower was not to be missed.

This masterpiece of social housing is Grade II listed, and the flat in question is a pop up showpiece of 1960s living brought to you for 10 days only by the National Trust.

The Tower is one of those once-seen, never-forgotten, but still out-of-the-way landmarks. Tell someone you’ve visited and you may have to qualify that with a description.

In other words, mention the concrete, the height, the service tower, the streets in the sky. It may trigger the recall of an Oasis video, a Danny Boyle film, a JG Ballard novel.

But you don’t need to be an artiste to recognise the appeal of the building. You just have to love a certain rationalism. The architect loved columns and beams, and to simply show those off.

It seems totally unfair that Ernö Goldfinger had his good name swiped by Ian Fleming for the seventh novel in the James Bond series. The man was a hero not a villain.

Shortly after the completion of his visionary tower block in Poplar, Goldfinger moved in to Flat 130 and, floor by floor, invited round residents for Champagne and consultation.

He moved out circa 1968, at which point the incoming family might well have tricked out the interior in the style you can now find it in thanks to the National Trust.

The 75-minute tour culminates in a fifteen minute opportunity to poke around, with something like envy, among the Beatles records and vintage cereal packets.

Although the inhabitants’ prized posession was the view. Floor to ceiling windows at every available point afforded stunning views across what is now 21st century London.

The balcony is a spot to make inhabitants feel kingly or queenly. And the balustrade doubles as a trough of earth in which they could grow flowers or even vegetables.

Naturally it is made out of concrete, as is most of the building, and yet it makes one feel safe. You wonder how this material got such a bad rap, along with the corresponding Utopian dreams.

If you’re not already booked on to a tour between the 8 and 12 October, bad luck. They are sold out. But Balfron tower and the nearby Lansbury Estate are still worth a look round.


Rachael Champion, Naturally Occurring  Brutalist Structure (2013)

Posted: September 23rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, sculpture | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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An observation: spheres of Perspex and pea shingle have gravity in the same way that planets do. This piece by Rachael Champion has neither colour nor much visual stimuli, yet it has pull.

Taken in isolation, gravel, pebbledash, and industrial tiling are unlovely things. And no one could argue this sculpture has much conventional beauty. But, along with presence, it has something else.

Perhaps what it has is, despite the title, is a tangle with nature. In a tiled surround like this you might expect to find a tree, a shrub, even a piece of topiary. But here we have a man-made boulder.

Were you taking a cigarette break outside the glass atrium of your office block, you would not even know this was a sculpture. Even if you noticed it, my guess is it would non-plus most people.

You wouldn’t even think to vandalise it, let alone steal it. And for this reason if for no other, Champion has solved a couple of perennial issues with public art, if art it really be.

Mind you, the title also suggests we consider this a piece of architecture, a brutalist structure no less. And indeed this piece overwhelms in the same way as, say, the Brighton Centre.

That’s no mean feat for something about 4ft cubed. Champion’s piece threatened to dominate the recent show in which she was included, like a bull in a china shop, or a noisy piece of construction.

And there’s a kind of righteousness about the work of a builder. He or she (usually he) feels no need to justify what they do, not even when they wake you at 8am on a Saturday.

Every project completed, no matter how ugly or beautiful, has a clear use and a value agreed upon in advance. If artists like Champion want some of that, who can blame them?

Naturally Occurring  Brutalist Structure was in Trade at pop up gallery Castor Projects between 29/08 and 10/09. See more by the artist on her website.


Alan Magee, Return to glory (2014)

Posted: September 10th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, painting, sculpture | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

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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.

This work was in Trade at pop up gallery Castor Projects between 29/08 and 10/09. See more by the artist on his website.


Photos: Museo Nacional de Escultura

Posted: September 3rd, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: religious, sculpture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | No Comments »

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A National Sculpture Museum is to be found in a small city, some 200 km north of Madrid. But don’t expect too much marble, bronze or mixed media here in Valladolid. During their golden age, Spain’s sculptors worked in wood.

intense wood

Presenting exhibit A: close up of a sizeable tiered seating arrangement for a church choir. Its makers really haven’t missed a trick, covering each surface with narrative carving and embellishing wherever possible. It’s overwhelming.

sybills

Most often they would paint their creations to make polychromes. Here are two sybils, perhaps dreaming of a future on a fairground ride or a carnival float. Polychromes are carried to the street during Holy Week here.

levi

Levi, son of Jacob. My biblical knowledge is pretty inadequate, but since all his many brothers were all quite hirsute, he caught my eye. He looks like he’s getting riled by a refereeing decision, and somehow you feel his pain.

flagellant

But I jest. They take their religion seriously in this part of the world. Here’s a flagellant getting down to business. I take back what I said about mixed-media. Those are real cords of rope. There’s very little heroic about polychromes.

crucifixion

Here’s the man behind the plan. I’ve not seen such a mannered crucifixion anywhere else. Just look at the tension in those feet. I think this is 15th century. Well before the German Expressionists, at any rate.

catafalque

Contrast the delicate pillow with the flowing gore. This sculpture was perhaps the centrepiece of The Sacred Made Real at the National Gallery back in 2009. It’s by Gregorio Fernández, who we can call a wound fetishist.

ecce homo

This is by Pedro de Mena. Critics will argue that it is kitsch. And indeed, to be any more kitsch you would need to remake it with wax. But the seventeenth century’s most fiercely held beliefs reverberate throughout this museum.

thorn

This piece by Juan de Juni is pretty mannerist, but the forms have been compacted rather than stretched. This burly witness of Christ’s death has enough delicacy to show us a single murderous thorn. His expression is priceless.

san pedro

This Saint Peter, again by Fernández, offers a little light relief with his rosy cheeks and curly beard. It serves as an example to suggest that, as mediums go, wood carries less gravitas than stone or metal. I wonder why. Answers in the comments box, please . . .

Visit the Museum website and consider a tip to Valladolid: museoescultura.mcu.es


Simon Lewandowski, 100 Things With Handles (2008)

Posted: August 19th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments »

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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.

100 Things with Handles could be seen at APT Gallery, Deptford, London as part of group show Morphisisation (7th -17th August 2014). Lewandowski’s website can be found here.


Photostory: Ryan Gander at Manchester Art Gallery

Posted: July 14th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: conceptual art, sculpture | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

Ryan Gander is an artist who embodies the dictum by Jasper Johns, which goes: ”Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”. His work is multi-faceted.

Consider this homemade calendar for example. Populated by jottings from Gander’s notebooks, it comes with an evocative and seeming arbitrary title: And what if no one believes the truth?

Gander D

More jottings, this time from a theoretical art world dinner party. The artist seemed to expect us to pick up and examine his power seating plan. The invigilators were not so keen.

Gander F

More discarded art could be found nearby. Though you could easily miss this ‘quarter centi-dollar’. Glueing coins to the floor was a prank much loved by Gander’s father.

But as with all works here, the object is layered with conceptual difference. We are invited to believe this is a coin from the future, 2032, when today’s quarters will be worth $25.

Gander H

As someone who’s worked on a few public sector ad campaigns before, I was very taken and taken in by Gander’s 30″ spot for a fictitious government department of the imagination.

It was put together by Kirke and Hodgson with Gander playing the role of client. Certainly it must have been the strangest brief this small agency has had the pleasure to work on.

Gander I

One of the frustrations of this show was a lack of unifying aesthetic. It leaves a disparate impression in the mind’s eye and, if anything, gazes back at you (through conceptual shades).

Really! Below you can see Magnus Opus. It consists of two animatronic eyes with which you can interact. Noisy, googly, broadly humorous, they look, but are no lookers.

Gander B

More cartoonery was to be found on an adjacent wall. Tintin fans will recognise these emotive dazed stars from any of the hero’s tales. Gander isolates them and puts in quote marks.

But in fact, this piece is incredibly complex, comparing reactions to Tintin’s abandoned final tale, from the point of view of creator, central character and the civilian identity of Hergé.

Gander C

Gander is to be applauded for not wanting to make the same work twice, but he rarely hits the same note twice. There are a few chords in this show, but is there a coherent tune?

How do you compare a knowing slice of cartoon history with the innocent response to his wife’s desire for a designer lamp. Gander made the light below from junk.

Gander L

So even this has a backstory. There’s not a piece here in Manchester which I didn’t like in one way or another; as a show not sure. But coherent tunes are probably old hat anyway.

Ryan Gander: Make every show like it’s your last is at Manchester Art Gallery until September 14 2014. My review for the Arts Desk can be found here.


Photodiary: Franz West at The Hepworth Wakefield

Posted: June 24th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: installation art, sculpture | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.


Photodiary: Whitstable Biennale 2014

Posted: June 8th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: contemporary art, installation art, sound art, video installation | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | No Comments »

whitstabke biennale

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.

mark aerial waller

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.

rachel ruepke

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.

john walter

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.

laura wilson

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.

arka

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.

jeremy millar

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.

rosa ainley

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.

das hund

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.

fish and chips

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.


The Martin Creed Band @ Brighton Festival

Posted: May 12th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

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Martin Creed has some good tunes. No, really. For the week following his gig in Brighton, there are still one or two which bounce around between the ears.

His lyrics are to the point. Highlight of the show was a rendition of the alphabet, from “a-a a a a-a-a-a” through to “z-z z z z-z-z-z”. Creed’s lively sense of fun is not news.

But to say the Martin Creed Band were contenders for all time favourite musical act would be somewhat pretentious. Even buying a CD from the merch stand would seem strange.

Conceptual music is generally bad news. “Ideas, sugar, are not sexy,” to quote a character in a story by Amy Hempel. This holds true in music, surely. Possibly in art blogs too.

Art itself, by contrast, is a vast playground of ideas. And no one knows this better than Creed. Whether stacking objects according to size or turning a light on and off, the idea is all.

This systematic artist is the least likely musician. But you could argue that a few rock myths find their way in, that happily enough Creed loses a bit of control.

His angular powerpop seems like a matter of taste rather than deliberation. And one thinks of some of Creed’s Scottish compatriots, that whole Glasgow heritage.

In fact, the Pastels (named after an art material) once released an example of system pop worthy of Kraftwerk, the  Ramones, or anyone else to whom you’d want to compare Creed.

So, it is not hard to locate him in the tradition of bands who shambled into the indie charts three decades ago and learned just enough of their instruments to get up on stage.

But Creed is making things difficult for himself with both harmonica licks and guitar solos. If he is not careful he could get misled by his growing technical skills.

Whereas art has good ideas, music has a wealth of magic and pomp. You cannot strap on an electric guitar without buying into these. Creed even plays a chord midair at one point.

Or did my eyes deceive me? Certainly the visual element was strong, with this unorthodox frontman opting for tartan trousers and a garish tank top. He must have known.

So in contrast to the glam posturings of David Lemalas or Nice Style, from the early 70s, here is an artist who apparently sets out to reject the trappings of rock and roll.

The stage, however, owns him. Swapping guitars from a rack of three or introducing his band, Creed becomes every frontman in the history of rock. It’s a curious thing.

The Martin Creed Band played Brighton Dome Studio Theatre on 06 May 2014.



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