Archives for category: art
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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.

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. 

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.

CN/TW: Mention of rape

Picasso by now has been the subject of endless solo shows, you can’t really give him a retrospective – you have to find a theme in his work. This exhibition was a close reading of the Spanish artist’s work on bulls, bullfighting, and the myth of the Minotaur. The show purportedly examines the following Picasso quote: “If all the ways I have been along were marked on a map and joined up with a line, it might represent a Minotaur.”

Commercial galleries like Gagosian don’t tend to have interpretations on the walls explaining or discussing the works like the national institutions do, so in this case it is up to the press release and the viewer (hello) to connect Picasso’s life to the myth of the Minotaur through this selection of works. This quote isn’t sufficient to fully describe the themes of Picasso’s Minotaur work – the exhibition doesn’t reflect the sense of journeying that his words convey. I think the exhibition also needs to be read alongside Picasso’s famously complex (shit) attitude towards women: “For me,” he told his mistress in 1943, “there are only two kinds of women, goddesses and doormats.”

The bull and the Minotaur clearly represent male sexuality and virility, nicely demonstrated in Faune Priape, 1957, a little sculpture of a man/bull with a massive boner approximately the size of the figure’s torso (I wish I could pop a photo here because  it was high lols but they were very strict on the no photography rule). Unusually for any art exhibition there was a lot more male than female nudity, and by ‘male nudity’ I mean copious amounts of aggressively huge dicks and bull testicles.

fig. 1 Pablo Picasso

La femme torero, 1934

The heterosexual masculinity of Picasso’s work plays out in opposition to femininity. There are two female ‘types’ in this show that correspond with two ‘types’ of masculinity. Mostly, the man is the Minotaur, all macho violent strength, and the woman is at best object, at worst victim. There are reams of rapes, women with their heads thrown back and their eyes rolling. Even in the works that depict consensual sex, the woman is lying back, being done – the Minotaur is active and the woman is passive. Minotaure dans une barque sauvant une femme, 1937, could show a Minotaur saving a woman from drowning – he’s carrying a limp female form from the sea into the safety of a boat  – but this surely refers to the myth of Europa, ‘seduced’ (read: raped) by Zeus disguised as a bull. As much as the bull head in this work appears impassive and non-violent, Picasso has made sure to depict the figure’s balls at almost the centre of the work, so there is no avoiding the reference to sexuality.  My copy of Ovid (Raeburn’s translation if  anyone wants to check) describes Europa as a ‘frightened prize’ – this is a rape as much as Picasso’s more overtly violent Minotaur series. FYI Zeus’s bull became the constellation Taurus – the most enduring vision of a bull that we have in Europe is a by-product of a rape. La femme torero, 1934, is another example – the woman Matador is thrown backwards by the bull, penetrated by the bull’s horn (probably a penis metaphor as usual), and she is carried off on the bull’s back, just like Europa. Picasso’s violent bull exists in partnership with his view of a woman as ‘doormat’, as object.

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Deux faunes et une nymphe, 1938

There’s a rare glimpse of woman as Goddess in Deux faunes et une nymphe, 1938. There’s no macho masculinity in the dancing faun, dancing or curtsying in front of a nymph who sits on a throne, wearing a hat that is like a crown. She holds an anchor and looks unimpressed. The second faun is non-threatening, sat quietly in the background with clasped hands. There is a noticeable lack of dick in this work, and therefore a lack of male sexuality. But then, a faun is not a Minotaur – he’s half goat, not half bull. Maybe faced with a Minotaur, with Picasso’s vision of masculinity, this imperial nymph would not remain so composed.

There are a couple of instances of masculine vulnerability in this show. A winged bull in le chaval aile, 1948, stands with his guts spilling out of a hole in his belly, surrounded by three enormous black vultures. The dying bull stands strong and upright, genitals enormous and prominent as usual. In barque de naiades et faune blesse, 1937, a faun slumps on a shore, arrow piercing his torso, with a boatful of women sailing past without assisting. There’s pain, and maybe fear in his face. Again, though, he isn’t a Minotaur. Femininity can only have power in these works when masculinity is lacking – nymphs can sail past a dying faun, but women must be subjected to the will of the Minotaur.

In minotaure aveugle guide par un fillette, 1934-5, a blind Minotaur is guided through the night by a little girl holding a dove. The Minotaur howls in pain at the starry sky, and three sailors watch from the sides of the work. There’s a Paula Rego’s Nursery Rhymes quality to this piece, with its strong shading and assorted cast of characters. It’s quite a theatrical work, the stars and sea look almost like a painted backdrop to the figures. This is the only work in the show that depicts a vulnerable Minotaur, and the girl is the only non Goddess/Doormat female.

For all that I’m not a fan of these views on masculinity and femininity, I loved this show. I love anything mythical and Picasso is generally a delight. The works are absolutely beautiful, my favourite being minotaure aveugle guide par un fillette for its nighttime theatricality. There were a couple of works that seemed a bit out of place (paintings with no Minotaurs or Matadors involved), but the show as a whole was beautiful. There are some examples of Picasso’s ceramics, and I think there’s a lightheartedness in these – wouldn’t it be jokes to eat your breakfast from a plate decorated with bull genitals? – which makes the exhibition a little less serious. It’s a nice warm up for Tate’s blockbuster Picasso show coming up in 2018. I’ll probably be going back.

The Egyptian influence on Alberto Giacometti’s work featured prominently in this exhibition. Looking through books on Egyptology, Giacometti would copy the photographs, often sketching directly over the printed text. I found these drawings appealing – the mix of photograph, text, and sketch is very aesthetically pleasing. It might seem like Giacometti isn’t treating these books with their due deference – you shouldn’t draw on books amirite – but for me his additions liven up otherwise pretty dead-looking academic tomes. 

Across from the display of books are several of Giacometti’s tall, thin human forms with Egyptian-style heavy bases. This is visually different to the influence apparent in The Head of Isabel (the Egyptian), 1936, a white bust of a woman with heavy, structured hair. The visual link to ancient Egyptian statuary lends a serenity and nobility to the figure of Isabel, but the texture of the sculpture is completely different from his tall thin figures. It’s interesting to see how the Egyptian influence carries into Giacometti’s different styles.

This show is curated and interpreted in a way that opened my eyes to Giacometti’s practice; I now understand the work better and like it more as a result. I guess that’s one of the things that good curation can do. Three Men Walking, 1948, Four Women on a Base, 1950, and other groups of tall, elongated figures, are clustered together like a forest of silver birches. From far away they’re almost indistinguishable from one another, they’re melancholy, they somehow feel like they’re standing in the rain. The interpretation points out that these works reflect the post war melancholia of Europe, and his stretched, sad figures, and paintings in muted greys and browns, make sense to me for the first time. There are some visual links between his work and that of Francis Bacon – there’s a similarity in the brush strokes – but Giacometti’s paintings in subdued tones of grey and brown are much calmer, much sadder than Bacon’s red angry monsters.

A video shows Giacometti in action, making a portrait in paint and a sculpture in clay. This was a beautiful insight into the process of his practice, emphasising the time taken in his process. Many of Giacometti’s sculptures feel very energetic, with figures like Walking Man, 1947, striding purposefully forward, so it’s a surprise to see how slow his sculptural process was. His work is not an immediate creation, there’s a huge amount of labour involved. It’s very unpretentious.  

My favourite piece is Tall Thin Head, 1954, a bronze bust that face on is ridiculously slender, but see it side on and it’s a full, bigger than life-size profile. I saw this, or a similar piece, at Gagosian last summer and I loved it then too. I love the way this uses space and perspective – it becomes a different sculpture from every angle.

The Nose, 1947-9, is another highlight. I like a little bit of gruesome and this is very grim. A tortured looking head with a pointed, Pinocchio nose hangs suspended within an oblong box. The nose is superficially funny, poking out of the confines of the box, but when you notice the twisted, downturned mouth, and the cage-like structure within which the head hangs, it becomes more sinister, like a Grimm punishment for lying. Compared to the melancholy drudgery of his standing groups, The Nose is more harrowing, conveying a pain not present in his other figures. 

This show readjusted my view of Giacometti. I now get why he’s so revered, thanks in part to the curation and interpretation (props to Francis Morris and Catherine Grenier), but thanks mostly to seeing so much of his work in one space. God bless the retrospective.