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Monochrome after Van Gogh Sunflowers: 1-12

Sherrie Levine’s show is about art and appropriation. There are bronze casts of works by unknown artists (or at least artists unnamed in this exhibition). There are photographs of reproductions of photographs by Russell Lee. Who made these works? Who do they belong to? Are these authentic artworks?

Complex questions, and Levine’s response leaves me cold. I’m not convinced that reproducing the work of others and saying ‘look, this is appropriation, see how I appropriate’ is enough to make the appropriation ok or worthwhile, and I don’t see what it adds to the debate about appropriation, especially when appropriating stuff that is so often appropriated anyway. Punch up, not down.

Gamelan Figures

Also, I found it boring. I love me some conceptual art, all that shit that makes some people despise contemporary art. But Levine’s Monochromes after Van Gogh Sunflowers: 1-12 is, to me, an oversized Dulux colour chart of Van Gogh’s drabbest colours.

Detail from After Russell Lee: 1-60

Her photo series After Russell Lee: 1-60 interests me a little more. Russell Lee’s photographs of rural American life – generally beaut – are seen by some as exploitative, so maybe there’s a suggestion of ‘how bad is it to reproduce these images when the original artist isn’t exactly clean as a whistle’. It is also conceptually interesting and politically charged for a female artist to work with appropriation of works by famous male artists. But realistically, they’re the same potentially exploitative images. It made me think about rural life in America. It didn’t really make me think about art. Somehow this show didn’t do it for me. If you don’t get to see it today before it closes you’ll survive.

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CN/TW: discussion of domestic violence, Nigella Lawson/Charles Saatchi.

Sophie Neville

As an architecture gallery, Anise Gallery’s show puts buildings at the centre of its response to the ‘Nasty Women’ movement of art and activism, focusing, among other things, on the domestic as an architectural space. Many of the works displayed contemplate violence and the domestic. Theresa Bradbury’s Untitled is a photograph of a naked young woman, smiling coyly at the camera, wallpaper patterns cut into her paper flesh. Wallpaper surfaces again in Rachel Ara’s Cameo series, based on photographs of Nigella Lawson being strangled by Saatchi. Women’s bodies and the home, as pretty and comforting as they may seem, are places of violence.

Theresa Bradbury Untitled

A radical embroidery piece by Sophie Neville in this show reads ‘A WOMAN’S PLACE IS IN THE RIOT’ in cross stitch on an embroidery ring. There’s also an installation of translucent cylinders, based on the shape of an embroidery ring, enclosing Martha Rosler’s seminal video piece Semiotics of the Kitchen, 1975. The supposed primness of embroidery and the notion of the woman’s place being in the home is powerfully disrupted by the sound of Rosler demonstrating the use of various kitchen tools, cutting, grating and sawing.  On the way to this show I listened to a podcast on the politics of textiles in art, and recently I’ve been enjoying Hannah Hill’s radical embroidery on Instagram. I now want to know everything about the politics of needlework (all book suggestions appreciated). Neville’s piece at Anise Gallery is feminine and powerful, it made me laugh and filled me with energy.

Rachel Ara Cameo series

For me the most powerful work was Rachel Ara’s Doom III (The Death of Ana Mendieta). I’ve discussed Ana Mendieta’s story before, pushed to her death from her 34th-floor apartment by her husband, and this work digitally reconstructs her murder scene. Ara depicts the space where Mendieta’s body would have lain as a dip in the ground, a nod a burial plot as well as to Mendieta’s work, used against her as proof that her death was suicide. It’s also an empty space and an empty scene, reflecting the silence that too regularly meets instances of violence against women, especially women of colour.

Section of Rachel Ara’s Doom III (The Death of Ana Mendieta) pls excuse the rubbish quality, couldn’t get rid of the reflection.

This show is open until 18th November 2017 and art sale proceeds (I think it’s 10%) goes to Rape Crisis South London.

‘In Sheep’s Clothing’ by Martin Puryear

Space and material are prominent in Martin Puryear’s peaceful retrospective at Parasol Unit. Brunhild is an enclosed space, but nonetheless conveys openness through the broad curves of its wooden trellis structure. In Sheep’s Clothing and Big Phrygian by contrast have a very solid presence, strong in the space they occupy. In Sheep’s Clothing is hollow, I peered into the small opening and inhaled the fragrance of the pine. Many of the sculptures are wooden, and the iron works look as if they were originally carved in wood then cast. The works generally feel very organic, all handmade with respect for the materials. Puryear’s work respects and reveres craftsmanship and the natural.

‘Brunhild’ by Martin Puryear

The sculptures are motionless but there is a sense of air and movement nonetheless. Night Watch is like a section of a field, long grasses blown in the wind. The inflated shape of Brunhild suggests a breeze. Where Brunhild breathes, however, The Load tightens and encases, hard to place within the exhibition. It shares with Shackled, a heavy iron work, a recognition of human history. 

‘Shackled’ by Martin Puryear

Peacefulness is restored elsewhere with works like Cerulan, a near-perfect circle, almost meditative in its shape and colour.

‘Cerulean’ by Martin Puryear


While Happy Jack needs a bigger room to be fully appreciated, and Puryear’s prints feel hidden in the seperate gallery upstairs, the main galleries of Parasol Unit generally suit these works. It’s less like a white cube than it otherwise might have without the extension of the gallery into the green outside space. Perhaps it’s the presence of Puryear’s works – the outside is contained within them. 

Tal R’s ‘no comment’ comment on sex shops is a reasonably attractive exhibition with no substance. The works are interesting in themselves, but the artist’s decision to paint supposedly unbiased images of sex shops he has never visited across the globe is a dead end. If Tal R is making ‘non-judgemental’ images of sex shops with no comment whatsoever then all he is doing is drawing attention to the existence of sex shops, which everybody knows exist. Thank you for your input.

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‘Allenby’ by Tal R

Ignoring the imposed artificial a-political political element of the show, the works themselves are quite interesting. Tal R’s use of pigment and rabbit skin glue, made much of in the gallery interpretation, makes for richly coloured and glittering canvases. The vibrancy lends a Vegas air to some works, such as Valencia, where a glimmering Wizard of Oz curtain and a glowing chandelier invite the viewer through a doorway at the centre of the painting. The colours are uplifting, and the only monochrome work, Pussy cat, feels very bleak in comparison to the rest.

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‘Valencia’ by Tal R

Formally, the works are varied and engaging. Some, like Allenby and House 44 have a strong sense of perspective, while others like The Pleasure and Babylon are entirely flat, emphasising the plane of the canvas. Tal R renders architectural styles with skill; you can feel the different locations of the paintings. Bar Farao expresses bright, harsh sunlight; heat radiates out of the painting. Whether it’s the Eye of Horus atop the door or just the warmth of the colours, this work feels Mediterranean. There is a strong sense of location in these works.

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‘Bar Farao’ by Tal R

Overall, the formal aspects of the paintings are far superior to the content. These works are not made more interesting by being images of sex shops. This show offers nothing in regards to any current debates around sex, gender, or respectability politics, but uses the existence of the debate to lure people in. Tal R exploits the existence of politically charged spaces and the people within them to add an element of interest to his works. Perhaps next time he should paint pubs.

I’ve always been sceptical when people say they’ve cried in art galleries, their breath literally taken away by a piece of art. I always believed it was at best an exaggeration, at worst a pretension. 

‘Fire’ by Fahrelnissa Zeid


It happened to me yesterday. I walked into a room of Zeid’s glorious abstract paintings, riots of colour, peaceful and dynamic. I stood in front of Fire, 1964, and fought back tears. There is magic in this painting, the rich vibrancy of the blues, the light and depth, the texture of the scratched oil paint, the flash of red flame. It’s like a shower of sparks in a pine forest at dusk.

Next to Fire hangs Puncta Imperica (‘Sea Cave’), 1963. Rounded forms, like rocks worn away by the sea, fill the canvas in blue, orange, green, pink. Looking at this, I can smell the ocean.

Detail from ‘Untitled’ by Fahrelnissa Zeid


This show took my breath away. I will always sing the praises of a smaller space – a blockbuster of 12 rooms leaves me grumpy and exhausted. Five or six rooms is enough to show Zeid’s mastery of colour. Sitting in the middle of a room of her gargantuan abstract, mosaic-like canvases is an act of meditation. Her portraits are potent, her subjects wear clothes that could be made from her canvases.

‘Self-Portrait’ by Fahrelnissa Zeid


As a middle eastern woman, Zeid’s work has a different flavour and feel from most of the art available in museums and galleries. You can feel the difference radiating from the canvases. It is exciting. This is what happens when galleries move away from the white male dominance of art history. The viewer is no longer missing out, deprived of art made outside such a narrow perspective. We can see art history with the blinkers off. 

I managed to avoid most of the history modules during my Russian degree, preferring to read novels and learn about the country through its fiction. I found the Soviet Union aesthetically depressing – drab and dreary run-down buildings, all in grey and red. But the Revolution had always been thrilling to me, the promise of such radical change for the better, the promise of a utopia. I love the art that it produced. I like that when I see an exhibition of Soviet art, there are works by women on the walls, presented as artists in their own right rather than members of an imaginary art movement known as ‘women’s art’, separated from ‘proper art’.

This year is the centenary of the Russian Revolution so London has been inundated with Russian exhibitions. I liked the Royal Academy’s ‘Revolution: Now!’ with all its Kandinsky, Goncharova and Malevich, and I loved the Design Museum’s ‘Imagine Moscow’ for bringing to my attention the Soviet plan to build a building taller than the Empire State, topped with a 100m tall statue of Lenin. I felt something akin to grief when I found out this laughably ridiculous dream never came to fruition.

‘Angels and Airplanes’ by Natalia Goncharova

The British Library’s ‘Hope, Tragedy, Myths’ has been the most politically interesting of the three. It’s more a museum exhibition than an art show, heavy in historical documentation, including Lenin’s handwritten application for a reading pass at the BL. The variety and quantity of the documents – manifestos, diary entries, propaganda posters, maps, letters, decrees – makes clear the confusion and chaos around the Revolution. My personal myth of the glorious Revolution is shattered and I start to understand quite how frenzied and bloody it was.

The show examines mythologies at length. Stalin made serious errors in his various roles under Lenin’s leadership, but once Stalin’s leadership was underway, all his previous roles were mythologised to show him as a hero. Both the Red and White Armies perpetrated myths that they alone were defenders of the people while their opponents were bloodthirsty murderers. A particularly strong curatorial choice was to have audio recordings of diary extracts of soldiers from both the White and Red armies. Both extracts describe the brutality and violence of the other side, and it is horrible listening. A propaganda poster showed Bolshevik soldiers ransacking a village, including killing the villagers’ goose, reminiscent of a grim scene from Isaac Babel’s short stories ‘Red Army’, a copy of which was also on display.

The artworks in the show, as in revolutionary Russia, were largely restricted to propaganda posters and book illustrations, but a couple of others stood out for me. Two lithographs by Natalia Goncharova encapsulate the dichotomy of the times – her mix of angels and architecture is at once mythological and practical, hopeful and destructive. Another image that stands out is The Burial of the Victims of the Revolution by Edward Barnard Lintott. It’s a journalistic watercolour depicting an icy funeral, red flags providing the only colour against a darkening white and grey landscape. It shows the hardship of the Revolution, fighting for change on the ice.

‘Hope, Tragedy, Myths’ is a great show, offering a fairer portrayal of the moods and circumstances in Revolutionary Russia than I’m used to. By including items from other countries where people were in support of the Russian Revolution, the British Library shows Russia as part of a global whole. Communism, after all, is pointless unless it’s global. A pleasant respite from the common portrayal of Russia as isolated in its own Marxist madness. The Revolution is shown as hopeful and desperate. One Red Army soldier wrote in his diary: ‘People have only one way to go – towards the light. And the light is Communism.’

The overload of sound, colour and images in this installation is disorienting.  You’re greeted with a screen of moving shapes, spilling out from the screen onto the walls. The digital blends into the sculptural, the soundscape permeates the whole space and images are huge on the walls.


This installation is bright and unsettling. It’s like being inside a primary-coloured body, or under a microscope. Enormous screen prints in vibrant colours of shapes that could be torsos or maggots or cells cover the walls of the largest space. To get through to other spaces you walk through coloured sheets of transparent plastic, like in an old school butcher’s shop. Through these barriers are more sounds and more screens, showing shapes that change colour and move around, hurting your eyes.


This is a show about the overload of sounds and images we are subject to. Drew talks about ‘the feeling of submersion in social and environmental despair’, which comes across particularly well in the tiny room of speakers and an eye-wateringly bright screen of two circles moving in relation to each other. I didn’t leave feeling unsettled. There was certainly a visual overload, and the words spoken in the installation  made me feel uneasy, but I liked it. I felt I had just seen Good Art, which is always rather uplifting.

 

 

This show of women artists with surrealist practices delighted me. I felt so much more at home here than in the Queer show at Tate.

There’s an enormous sense of reclamation. Women’s bodies are so often the object in art, a way of allowing the male artist to fully express themselves, or as a representation of monstrous form for the male artist to overcome to reach true abstraction (this is plucked from Carol Duncan’s ‘Civilising Rituals’ which is a fantastic educational experience and you should read it, especially the last chapter).

 Corpus, Penelope Slinger

In Dreamers Awake, the body is reclaimed as ours, but not without laying bare some of the pain of being an objectified woman. Mary Ann Caws is quoted on the wall:

There they are, the surrealist women, so shot and painted, so stressed and dismembered, punctured and severed: is it any wonder she has (we have) gone to pieces?

Below this is a masterful demonstration of pain. Penelope Slinger’s Corpus is a collage of an open female corpse, chest, heart and intestines hung on a leafless vine crawling up a derelict building. It’s dark and hauntingly sad, a carcass of a woman. Woman is bound by rope in both Maria Bartuszová’s Rebound Torso and Jo Ann Callis’ Untitled (Tied Up).

Rebound Torso, Maria Bartuszová, and Untitled (Tied Up), Jo Ann Callis

A room of collaborations between Tracy Emin and Louise Bourgeois is a treasure chest. I love it when you can understand a work without any written interpretation, and here is a room of works which reached inside me and spoke truth. It’s all mothers, pain, and women hanging themselves from dicks, so read into that what you will. It was like therapy, a little catharsis to open the show.

Leonora Corrington, Title Unknown

The other works are less raw but still dark and unsettling. Works by Alina Szapocznikow, Rachel Kneebone and Berlinde de Bruyckere show body parts in a mix of comedy and uncanny. I love the creepy, desolate, two-moon landscape of Loie Hollowell’s Body of Water (in Yellow). Sarah Lucas and Mona Hatoum are at their finest funny-at-first-and-then-you-start-to-think. There’s a whole host of Leonora Carrington, whose work I love but until this show I had never seen in real life. I like the immense detail of her work and its illustrative quality. I’m never sure if they’re dream-like or nightmarish.

 

Body of Water (in Yellow), Loie Hollowell

 

Identity underlies many of the works. Elizabeth Jaeger’s works Wrapper, Sleeve, and Cloak show ceramic women’s bodies as costumes draped over stands, waiting to be worn. Gillian Wearing’s portrait of Lily Cole wearing a cracked mask of her own face is unsettling, a beautiful but broken china doll staring at the viewer.

Walking round the gallery I felt an affinity with many of the works on show. I can understand so many of them. It’s empowering to be in a space full of women, and White Cube managed to avoid what so many people and institutions do (‘look at all these ladies doing art, haven’t they done well?’), but instead created a show where women artists demonstrate all their multiplicity and intellectual strength.

Lily Cole, Gillian Wearing

 

 

I was early to meet a friend for this little art trip, so I lurked in the bookshop. I picked up a copy of Matt Houlbrook’s ‘Queer London’. The blurb contained the following line:

He also describes how London shaped the politics of queer life; and how London was in turn shaped by the lives of queer men.

Queer men, everyone. Not queer people, or the queer community, you’ll notice. This level of erasure of queer women (hello) and non-binary folk did not instil me with great hopes for the exhibition. I was livid before I’d even got through the door.

So I went in thinking it’d be a bit shit and fall short of what the British Queer community deserve. Tate seems to be aware of how easy it is to mess up shows like this. The wall text set out a lot of boundaries and caveats – the show looks at the specific time period 1861 – 1967, the dates of the abolition of the death penalty for sodomy and the partial decriminalisation of sex between men respectively. These dates don’t refer to gay women and it was highlighted throughout the show that gay women were largely ignored by the law. This isn’t the Tate’s fault, obviously, but it irks me nonetheless. The text did contain this nice little phrase ‘this is a history punctuated by bonfires and dustbins’, which succinctly encapsulates the violence experienced by the queer community throughout history. But they’ve also claimed that there is ‘little surviving material’ for some aspects of queer life, which increased my apprehension about whose perspectives the show would platform.

Simeon Solomon’s ‘The Bride, the Bridegroom and Sad Love’ 1865

Like queer history, the show focuses mostly on gay men. Tate did well to try to show a diverse view of queer identities, including two lovers identifying as one person, and various relationships of three people or more. But it is largely a show about white cis gay men.
Diversity of experience aside, the multiplicity of feeling in queer life is shown well. Aubrey Beardsley’s uproarious, erotic and high lols drawings depicts men with massive cocks literally bigger than them. Homoeroticism, sex and humour are at the forefront of these images. Compare these to Simeon Solomon’s The Bride, Bridegroom and Sad Love, a devastating drawing showing the heartbreak of a homosexual entering into a heterosexual marriage, and leaving behind former lovers. There’s a richness of sexuality and emotion in the works on show.

Aubrey Beardsley ‘The Lacedaemonian Ambassadors’ 1896

Rooms 3 & 4 are nicely juxtaposed, showing two opposite sides of queerness living side by side. ‘Theatrical types’ in room 4 showcases the camp and the glam of queerness, our love of feathers and tiaras, how the theatrical arena has long been a safe space for queer people. This room, with its costumes and photographs of Vaudeville cross dressing stars, is the art historical equivalent of Pride and Drag Race.

Leaving behind the glitz and glamour, the next room, ‘Bloomsbury and Beyond’, is filled largely with images of domesticity, of afternoon tea and vases of flowers. Ethel Sands’ Tea with Sickert shows a warm domestic scene with the table laid for tea, and is hardly an explicit or erotic depiction of homosexuality. Here is the deeply mundane, sheer normality of queer life. In the words of comedian Susan Calman, it’s not all sex swings and dildos.

Ethel Sands’ ‘Tea with Sickert’ 1911-12

A blockbuster show of Queer Art in a major institution is quite something. Undoubtedly it demonstrates the relatively new openness that surrounds the LGBT+ community, and is something to be celebrated as a mark of ‘how far we’ve come’. It’s also easy to get wrong. Tate has managed OK, there are numerous portrayals of non gay-cis-white-male aspects of queerness, and Tate has addressed some shortfallings directly, such as pointing out Edward Wolfe’s racist exoticisation of his black male models, but failed entirely to reference any gay women of colour. Filling the last room with Hockney and Bacon underlined the prominence of white cis gay artists on the queer art scene. Perhaps this is why I found the show a bit dull. If the remit of the show extended past 1967 maybe Tate would not be able to hide behind history as a reason for omitting aspects of queer life.

 

I like the wetness of Maisie Cousins’ work. The sexuality is so obvious it screams at you. A wet finger enters the petals of a flower, with red flecks like menstrual blood. Viscous, clear liquid dripping off orchids. Turgid flower stems. Cousins doesn’t fuck about.

It’s also gross, with slugs crawling over boobs and ants over fruit, and a video of a millipede squirming around over roses. Bodily-fluid-esque slime mixes with snail slime. The natural grossness that exists in sex is addressed in Cousins’ photographs.

The erect stems of flowers drip with sex much more than the nudes do. A hypersexualised flower next to a natural bum is refreshing – you can see hair where hair normally grows.

The show is pretty and femme. The flowers are pink and white, the walls are bubblegum, and the floor is gold mirror – a little sexy disco grotto. I could see up my own skirt in the reflection from the floor and I spent some time trying to make my own bum mimic the massive bum print on the wall (I had the gallery to myself). I don’t know if that was what the gold mirror floor was there for but I enjoyed it.

Cousins’ work feels very cool. The show is like walking into an uber-femme zine. I am looking forward to seeing how her practice develops as trends change and I suspect she will be leading the charge.