Archives for the month of: September, 2017

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.

tal r 1

‘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.

tal r 2

‘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.

tal r 3

‘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.

Advertisements

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.’