Archives for posts with tag: modernart

The Caged Bird’s Song


This is a magical display. Chris Ofili has created a watercolour which has been woven into a tapestry by Dovecot Tapestry Studio. The tapestry is enormous, a triptych covering a whole wall of the exhibition space, and it’s beautiful. Ofili’s image is rich and bright, reds and oranges bleeding into blues and turquoises and purples. The left and right panels show figures drawing back theatre curtains to show a mythical, watery, tropical scene. A couple sit at the centre of the work underneath a waterfall, him serenading her on a guitar with a still ocean behind them. She’s holding a cocktail glass, into which a nymph or god in a tree pours a sparkling liquid. This heavenly cocktail waiter, it turns out, is Mario Balotelli. The adjacent room shows Ofili’s studies for his watercolour, the most magical of which are those where Balotelli rises from cocktail glasses like a genie robed in smoke. The piece is titled ‘The Caged Bird’s Song’, referring to the first part of the great Maya Angelou’s autobiography. A caged bird is depicted in the right of the work but the whole piece is musical. 


There’s a calmness in the room – I could sit in here for hours, like in the Rothko room at Tate Modern. There’s also a happiness and serenity in the tapestry, as well as a heady tropical expectation in the black storm clouds on the horizon. I’ve never been to Trinidad, where Ofili is based, but there’s a flavour of Caribbean nature in this piece. The couple are under the waterfall, so I doubt the imminent downpour will bother them. The work is so rich, I want to hear the tale of these figures and the myth of this landscape. The medium of tapestry is itself mythical – maybe Arachne wove this. This display doesn’t need a soundscape. You can hear the water through the tapestry. 

Balotelli the genie


From afar, the tapestry looks like a watercolour. The pigments bleed into each other like watered down paint, mixing with the waterfall and the sea. The level of skill in this piece is phenomenal – the weavers have somehow managed to translate water into wool. 

This is a tapestry not a watercolour – how

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.

Richard Mosse uses weaponry to make art. In this installation, he uses a heat sensing camera made in the UK and sold to militaries worldwide, transforming it into an artistic device to document the biggest worldwide movement of people since the Second World War. The opening scenes of life in a refugee camp have no plot and no real action. The screens blur, judder, and change direction. It’s tense and nauseating, a state of transition but also of stagnation. 

After this you have to walk through the curve in the dark, unable to see where you’re going or who else might be there. It’s immersive, a tiny taste of the fear and uncertainty that millions of people worldwide face as they flee into the unknown. 

You’re then met by a huge three screen video installation. The footage is always changing, you’re never quite certain what you’re seeing. The heat seeking camera reduces everyone to the same colour and renders everyone anonymous. Are the refugees being helped out of boats and into boats being rescued or damned? There are little touches of raw humanity, a smile or a tear, interspersed with footage of war planes in empty skies. Shots of people in life jackets with no shoes are shown against scenes of uniformed and armoured soldiers loading missiles on warships. There is no fairness – the perpetrators are safe, and the victims are vulnerable. 

Then you emerge from the darkness into the easy breezy life of the Barbican, and you’re reminded how safe you are, how different your situation is from that of the refugees you’ve just seen. You feel like you’ve somehow ended up on the side of the perpetrators of this violence. 

This is very serious art. It makes you assess your role in worldwide violence. It’s very relevant today as Assad’s chemical weapons and US missile strikes hit Syria. It makes you uncomfortable, and it should. Incoming forces us to stare the refugee crisis in the face. These people are people and we should not turn them away.

Rachel MacLean’s video and print study of social media and all its darkness is a glorious madness. Emoji-yellow Data presides as queen in a post-apocalyptic world, while her plague ridden devotees wait endlessly for her next upload. Ratty, wire-chewing trolls hack her and literally shit all over her feed. It’s not subtle, and it’s brilliant. 

The video installation was funny, gross, and completely disturbing. The scene where hacked Data masturbates using a touch screen while Scam fists her until she bleeds is a gory but accurate allegory for the self indulgence of the internet and the often unrecognised violence prevalent in online behaviour. 

I’m not sure what the printed images added to the installation, other than behaving like adverts for the film, and ironically they made a great Instagram snap. They fitted well but I can’t yet put my finger on why. 

The juvenile and sterile colour scheme of pink, yellow and blue lent an additional discomfort to the whole room – painted like a nursery, but with a sign outside warning parents not to bring their children inside. 

Video and edited photography are the perfect media to explore the phenomena of social media. The sickly brightness and a Disney-esque song sequence fit perfectly around the reference to the sinister, dark side to social media underneath all the airbrushed perfection. The artificial sweetness of the installation made it more palatable; it was bleak but funny. It didn’t offer any solutions – and why should it – but it was a clever addition to the contemporary debate around the safety and trajectory of the internet, while being a jokes way to spend a Saturday afternoon. 

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[Disclaimer – I whizzed round this exhibition because so little of it grabbed me.]

Robert Rauschenberg may have been the father of pop art but I was less than head over heels with this exhibition. His Red Paintings seemed dull rather than revolutionary, and the wall of his collage-esque silkscreens was uninspiring. These were new and innovative when Rauschenberg first made them, but their visual aesthetic is now so ubiquitous that it reminded me of the way we covered our GCSE art sketchbooks with various related images to make them look cool and arty. Although maybe that’s the point – his revolutionary has become our ordinary.

I did enjoy the goat. It’s pleasantly fitting that Rauschenberg really struggled to fit the notoriously stubborn goat into his art. He tried many goat compositions with none of them working, until he rammed it through a tire and voila.

I found the first room  by far the most exciting, showing his experimentation with everyday materials and the role of the artist in the creation of work. Rauschenberg barely contributed physically to the John Cage, Automobile Tire Print (1953), a long thin black tyre tread. Rauschenberg poured the paint, but Cage drove the car and made the image. So who made the work?

I picked out Erased de Kooning Drawing (1953) from afar for the aesthetics of the work, but totally lost my shit when I realised what was going on. Ostensibly just a grubby piece of paper in a gold frame, this is a work of conceptual genius. Rauschenberg had asked de Kooning to make a drawing which Rauschenberg could then erase. This work is a collaboration with de Kooning, or an ex de Kooning, an authorised undoing. A destruction and a creation. I’m still fangirling over this.

I can appreciate that Rauschenberg’s work has incredible artistic value, but alas many of his pieces were just not to my taste. Having said that, his experimental work where there is a blur around the question of markmaker as artist absolutely blew me away. Maybe with a little more understanding I’ll warm to him as an acquired taste.