Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Painter at the Court of Milan

The Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery has been billed as this year's 'hottest ticket in town' and 'must-see show.' As a result of this billing it was somewhat spoilt by the fact that it was so incredibly busy, though I appreciate that this will be the case for such a rare chance to see two thirds of his surviving paintings together. Althought it felt like being in Tate Modern's (permanent) Collection Display's on a Saturday or Sunday mid-afternoon, at least in the Leonardo all the visitors were actually coming in to see the art. It is understandable that the exhibition was 'filled out' by artworks that were not by Leonardo himself, when considering that most of Leonardo's pictures produced in Milan have been attributed to his followers in the past.

My highlights of the show included these works, all by Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) himself, in order of appearance:

Studies of the human skull (1489)

Pen and ink on paper. The Royal Collection © 2011, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Christ as Salvator Mundi (about 1499 onward)

Oil on walnut. Private Collection
(According to an online Telegraph review of the show, this work was only attributed to the hand of Leonardo in summer this year).

'The Burlington House Cartoon' (about 1499-1500)

Charcoal heightened with white chalk on paper, mounted on canvas. The National Gallery, London

Five character studies ('A man tricked by gypsies') (about 1490-3)

Pen and ink on paper. The Royal Collection © 2011, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Friday, 25 November 2011

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement...

...at the Royal Academy has only a few weeks left of its run, so this is the last chance for any Edgar Degas or ballet fans to see it!

As you enter the exhibition there are 3 enchanting projections of the silhouette of one of Degas' dancer sculptures. These are a recreation of when Degas was said to have shown the painter Walter Sickert a wax sculpture he was working on by shining a light on it whilst slowly turning the figure around.

As the subtitle of the exhibition suggests the Royal Academy expresses how Degas attempted to capture his ballet dancers in motion. One such example of this simple and effective capture of movement is Study of Legs (1873) (below).

Although Degas was evidently an accomplished painter, I prefer his chalk pastel observations, whether they are sketches (above) or complete works (below).

Indeed, many consider him one of the masters of the medium. Above is The Red Ballet Skirts (1895-1901). This beautiful artwork has the softness you would expect from pastel, yet it has enough detail and contrast to not lose its shape or form when viewed from distance. Also the fact that Degas used tracing paper in this work, not a surface that is ideal for chalk pastels, just expresses how much he had mastered the medium.

Another medium that Degas had an appropriate interest in was the pioneering work that was being carried out at the time in both photographing and studying movement and then the development of the moving image itself. The English photographer Eadweard J. Muybridge and the French early film-makers the Lumière brothers (Auguste and Louis) arguably inspired Degas to then even pick up a camera himself. Rare existing evidence of this is in Dancer Adjusting Her Shoulder Strap (1895-6) (below), one of 3 of Degas photos on display.


What is Postmodernism?

In the introductory text to their 'Postmodernism: Style and Subversion 1970 - 1990' exhibition, the V and A state that Postmodernism 'defies definition'. In yet another very well curated show at the museum, they do however make a decent attempt at defining the movement.

An understandable starting point for this is the end of Modernism, that the historian Charles Jencks pronounced dead at 3.32pm on 15th March 1972. This is the time that the Modernist Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St.Louis, Missouri (US) was dynamited. Aside from critical theory written by academics, Postmodernism then began as an architectural movement.

The movements acceptance and use of contrasting styles, from classical to modern, is described by the architect Robert Venturi as 'both/and (rather than either/or)'. The latter arguably describes Modernist ideas, either they are Modernist or they are not. The V and A shows a great example of this Postmodern mix of styles with a recreation of Hans Hollein's façade from Strada Novissima, The Presence of the Past (1980) (below). This was part of the Biennale of Architecture in Venice.

Near to a projection of a clip from Ridley Scott's Postmodernist Blade Runner (1982) film are various displays that artists and designers made out of found materials and objects. My favourite of these is Ron Arad's Concrete Stereo (1983) (below), which links in well with the post-apocalyptic feel of the movie nearby.

I like Peter Shire's Bel Air chair (1981-2) designed for Memphis, the Italian design and architecture group. Whilst being typically kitsch for Postmodern design, it does however stay on the right side of 'tasteful' in my opinion.

Frank Schreiner's 'Consumer Rest Chair' (1990) (below), designed for Stiletto, sums up the increasing consumerism in western society in the late Twentieth Century...

...Indeed, the V and A states in its summary of the exhibition:
'as artists and designers embraced the wealth and status of the 1980's, Postmodernism collapsed under the weight of its own success'.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

The creative process is a beautiful thing

'The Power of Making' exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum expresses this by not only showing great ideas that have a successful end result, but also some examples of how problems are solved through innovative design. An example of this is the RepRap open-source, self-replicating 3D printer by Dr Adrian Bowyer of Bath University (below). As well as the ability to create a three dimensional form, it also can reproduce identical machines to itself so the product has great potential for environmental sustainability.

RepRap open-source, self-replicating 3D printer (2007-2011), Dr Adrian Bowyer

One of the fashion designers using science to innovate is Dr Manel Torres, who has developed a new substance of which to create garments that potentially has a smaller enviromental impact than traditional methods of creating fabrics. His 'Fabrican' spray-on dress (below) is sprayed on around a frame or directly onto the body that sets to form this interesting material.

'Fabrican' spray-on dress (2010), Dr Manel Torres

Whilst on the subject of unconventional garment materials, these two dresses below are made from audio cassette tape and dressmakers pins respectively.


'Voidness' woven audio-tape dress (2008) (above) is also sewn together using polyester thread. When the magnetic head from a tape player is dragged along the tape it creates a 'garbled, underwater-like sound'.

'Widow' dressmaker pin dress (2009) by Susie MacMurray

Another interesting idea is this Snowflake Address Christmas Card by the Heatherwick Studio (below). One large piece of paper is folded and the recipient's name & address is cut out, so that it unfolds into a beautiful snowflake. The envelope, recipient's details, stamp and then Christmas card all become one.

Snowflake Address Christmas Card (2009) by the Heatherwick Studio

I like the organic design of these Design MGX Fingerprint lampshades (2007) below, designed by Dan Yeffet, one of which is featured in the exhibition. 

The Wooden Textile by Elisa Strozyk (below) is made of many tessellated triangles of wood that together give the impression that its made from fabric. As it can be manipulated to create different shapes it potentially could have many uses, such as a possible garment design or a lampshade (with the light partially coming through where the wood joins together).

Wooden Textile (2011), Elisa Strozyk

As the visitor enters this exhibition, the first thing they actually see is this huge gorilla (below) made out of coat hangers and wire. This visually striking piece is the 'King Silver' gorilla sculpture (2011) by David Mach RA.

My final highlight of the show was Dave Bradbury's 'Bill Bailey' stone book (2010) (below). When you look closely at this book, it becomes apparent that not just the cover but the whole thing is carved entirely from stone!