Archives for posts with tag: sculpture
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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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‘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. 

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

 

 

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.