Saturday, 9 March 2013

Gaiety Is the Most Outstanding Feature of the Soviet Union:

New Art from Russia is one of the current exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery. Although the exhibition packs a punch in terms of its ability to shock, its arguably only the photography of Boris Mikhailov that really highlights the plight of the poor working classes in the former Soviet states since the break up of the USSR.

These are some of my highlights from Rooms 1 through to 10...

Think Steam Above The Wing Of A Sparrow, wood and paint, 2009, Anna Parkina

Wounded Deer, (lime wood, painted pine and iron), 2012, Gosha Ostretsov

Criminal Government, mixed media, 2008, Gosha Ostretsov
(detail below).


Bedtime Story, (glass, pvc and strings), 2012, Daniel Bragin

Untitled, acrylic on canvas, 2012, Janis Avotins

Principles of Surrender, mixed media, 2010, Nika Neelova

Heart, Organ Of Love (Sometimes My Heart Turns Into A Chicken), mixed media, 2011, Daria Krotova
The other exhibition at the Saatchi is: Breaking The Ice: Moscow Art 1960-80's, which I personally prefer to the other exhibition. These are some of my favourite works from Rooms 11 to 14 upstairs...

Tramway in Moscow, oil on canvas, 1959, Oscar Rabin

Portrait And Flower, oil on canvas on plywood, 1962, Oleg Tselkov

Diptych, oil and mixed media on wooden boards, 1966, Dmitri Plavinsky

McLenin's, light box, 1990 - 91. Malevich - Black Square, oil on canvas, 1987, both by Alexander Kosolapov

Man Ray...

...Portraits is the current ticketed exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery that takes a chronological look at the innovative American artists portrait photography. Each room focuses on work he did in each city at a certain time: starting in New York from 1916 to 1920, then moving through Paris and Hollywood and back to Paris from 1951 to 1976 when he died.

Although some of Man Ray's most pioneering work (such as rayograms) cannot be shown, there are examples of experimental techniques he used on display. These are a selection of my favourite photographs from the show:

A very interesting and alternative self-portrait from 1916...

Self-portrait (1916)
The very famous... 

Le Violon d'ingres (1924)
The combination of two negatives exposed together on the enlarger?

Barbette (1926)

Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller (1929)
Both of these two artworks above and below are good examples of the solarisation technique.

Self-portrait with camera (1930)

Dancing around Duchamp!

The Bride and the Batchelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns is the current exhibition in the Barbican's art gallery. The show explores the legacy that the French born artist Marcel Duchamp (1887 - 1968) left in the USA and more specifically the influence he had on the composer John Cage (1912 - 1992), the choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919 - 2009) and the visual artists Robert Rauschenberg (1925 - 2008) and Jasper Johns (born 1930). With the exception of the latter, the previous three Americans all attended the innovative Black Mountain College in North Carolina and all went on to collaborate later in their careers.

The title of the exhibition is named after the Duchamp artwork The Bride stripped bare by her batchelors, even (1915-23), also known as The Large Glass. The original is not displayed here, but a later version is wonderfully lit with spotlights casting striking colours and shadows through the work. Unfortunately I couldnt include a photo of this artwork, but the following pictures are some of my other highlights from this well curated show...

Bride, oil on canvas, 1912, Marcel Duchamp
Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), oil on canvas, 1912, Marcel Duchamp

Painted Bronze (Ale Cans), bronze & oil paint, 1960-64, Jasper Johns
These two works by Jasper Johns from the 1960's above and below remind me both of Duchamp's readymades that came before and work by Fischli & Weiss after, such as the Untitled (Tate) installation from 1992-2000.

Painted Bronze, bronze & oil paint, 1960-64, Jasper Johns

Portrait of Chess Players, oil on canvas, 1911, Marcel Duchamp

Untitled (Late Kabal American Zephyr), mixed media, 1985, Robert Rauschenberg
For someone who is more interested in visual art, this diverse exhibition offered a great musical and dance-led backdrop to the painting and sculpture. This was especially prevalent on the upper level, where I found myself periodically distracted by the performances on the lower level. I like the idea behind the 'live' piano music by Cage, which was played by 'ghost pianists' so that the two Disklavier piano's seem to be playing by themselves.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Paris 1901

This is the year in the life & work of Pablo Picasso that the Courtauld Gallery focuses on in this excellent exhibition. The show has only paintings from Paris in 1901 when the Spanish artist had a breakthrough year, hence the title Becoming Picasso.

In some of the artworks on display there's a clear link between both what came before and after. One such work is Casagemas in his coffin (below) where I feel there's perhaps the influence of Cezanne and van Gogh in the brushstrokes, before a flat simplication of colour, line and form began soon after. This work depicts how he imagined his dear friend, Carlos Casagemas, looked in his coffin at the funeral Picasso could not attend. This was a suicide that deeply troubled the Spaniard and started his 'blue period.' The subject also cropped up in later works, such as The Three Dancers of 1925.

Casagemas in his coffin, oil on board, 1901

Harlequin & companion, oil on canvas, 1901
It was not long before Picasso's work lost more of its spatial depth, such as in Harlequin & companion (above) and Child with a Dove (below) and the reduction of three dimensions arguably set him on the road towards Cubism. I like these beautiful paintings for their differing use of flat colours inside bold black outlines: bold stunning colours above, soft pastels below.


Child with a Dove, oil on canvas, 1901
Ticket exhibitions at the Courtauld Gallery are normally spread over just two rooms, as is the case here. Becoming Picasso reflects that old adage: 'quality over quantity,' so please dont be put off by the small size of this show. For me this is the best show in London at the moment, and thats before you even look round the impressive permanent collection in the rest of the building.


MERZ!! Its Schwitters in Britain!

The current ticket exhibition at Tate Britain focuses on the late work of the Modernist Kurt Schwitters, particularily his time spent in Britain in the final years before his death here in 1948. The German artist who coined the term Merz is most famous for his pioneering collage works using any materials that he found around him. He was the first artist that I remember inspiring my own work, in a project on urban decay, when I was a 17 year old at college.

The accompanying leaflet includes a quote from him in 1919:
The word Merz denotes essentially the combination of all conceivable materials for artistic purposes, and technically the principle of equal evaluation of the individual materials...
A perambulator wheel, wire-netting, string and cotton wool are factors having equal rights with paint.

The first room briefly runs through his work during the period before he departed Germany for Norway in 1937 when the Nazi party were condemning work such as his as degenerate art. The second room first looks at his work in the three years before he then went onto Britain when the Germans invaded. The room ends with work from his time interned in a camp on the Isle of Man, including the next three works (below) that I kept walking back to look at again:

Untitled (Picture with Wooden Ring), oil & wood on plywood, 1941

Aerated V, oil, wood & ping-pong ball on plywood, 1941
These three artworks, all from 1941, show Schwitters' incredible versatility. With materials in short supply he could use any to create both flat and 3D surfaces, such as in Untitled (Picture with Wooden Ring) and Aerated V (both above) respectively. Untitled (Portrait of Klaus Hinrichsen) (below) is an example of his technical ability to paint representationally.

Untitled (Portrait of Klaus Hinrichsen), oil on wood, 1941
In Untitled (Lovely Portrait) (1942) (below) there is this contrast in one artwork. The beautfully painted face contrasting with the abstract shapes that the figures body merges into.

Untitled (Lovely Portrait), oil on canvas on wood, 1942
I also like the way Schwitters includes cute features in his work, such as the mouse in (the top right hand corner of) Anything with a Stone (1941-44) below:

Anything with a Stone, mixed media, 1941-44
Although I must admit to not being so much of a fan of the free-standing sculptures by Schwitters that I have seen, an exception to this is the strange Dancer (1943) (below):

Dancer, painted bone & plaster, 1943

Untitled (Portrait of George Ainslie Johnston), oil on cardboard, 1946
I like it when artworks have any kind of story behind them, as does Untitled (Portrait of George Ainslie Johnston) (1946) (above). On the paintings descriptive text there's this great quote from Schwitters that shows he still had a sense of humour despite having recently been very ill:
I am painting my doctor, Doctor Johnston, in return for the pains he took to save my life. Now he does not like to sit for me so I play chess with him. That means a double effort...
The problem is: shall I let him win, as his expression is then friendly, but people may think that I am a bad chess player, as the game is pictured in the painting... or shall I let myself win, but then his expression is unfriendly, and people think I am a bad painter!

The last two rooms of the exhibition are devoted to two contemporary artists, Laure Prouvost and Adam Chodzko. Their displayed work responds to Schwitters' history and legacy for their 2011 commission from Tate and Grizedale Arts. Below is a still from the Prouvost installation that included a series of objects and a video. I like some of the interesting and quirky ceramics, but it is the personal, touching, funny and yet slightly disturbing film that lives longer in the memory.

Laure Prouvost commission (2011)