Let’s get digital… part 3

In my last two posts I have explored what museums and galleries are doing to engage the public with their collections or artists whilst their physical doors are closed. However, they have also come up with a creative range of digital fundraising initiatives to support the Covid-19 pandemic efforts. Gagosian has started the #GagosianChallenge by releasing a customizable poster designed by Michael Craig Martin, with the words ‘Health Workers Thank You’ on it, and is encouraging people to post their completed versions on Instagram by 11 May. Hauser & Wirth and Rashid Johnson have released the series ‘Untitled Anxious Red Drawings’ online, with a percentage of all sales donated to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. White Cube and Harland Miller launched a coronavirus fundraiser, selling twenty five editions of the artists’ ‘Who Cares Wins’ print for £5,000 each. They all sold out within 24 hours with proceeds split between the National Emergencies Trust in the UK, the New York Community Trust and HandsOn Hong Kong, as well the York Teaching Hospital Charity to support NHS staff in hospitals across Yorkshire, where Miller was born. Damian Hirst has also designed ‘Butterfly Rainbow’ and a limited edition is being produced, which will be sold with all profits going to the NHS. Maureen Paley in conjunction with other galleries and over 200 photographers have donated prints for #photographsforthetrusseltrust, each selling for £100 with proceeds going towards 1,200 food banks which have seen a 300% increase in demand since the pandemic outbreak. Over thirty artists and creatives including Wolfgang Tillmans, Katherine Hamnet, Vivienne Westwood, Polly Nor and Jeffersen Hack have collaborated with Dazed in the #AloneTogether campaign to contribute works to raise funds for Barts Health NHS Trust, which has launched an emergency Covid-19 appeal to support their frontline staff. Tillmans has also enlisted about forty artists, including Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff, Elizabeth Peyton and David Wojanrowicz to donate posters of their works for his #2020Solidarity campaign, which he is paying for printing and distribution of, with the aim of giving informal places of culture, nightlife and music venues at risk of going out of business because of the Covid-19 outbreak, a much needed boost. Art4Changes have collaborated with Roger Ballen, David Datuna, Ultra Violet and other artists to support the Covid-19 crisis by selling artworks, memorabilia, merchandise, music tracks, lectures and books, with all proceeds donated to either the Red Cross, World Health Organisation or Centre for Disease Control in any country the buyer chooses. Outdoor sculpture trail, The Line, has released 100 editions of an Abigail Fallis’ print of her shopping trolley installation, DNA DL90, for £100 each with 30% of profits being donated to Covid-19 frontline workers, and more prints will be released over the coming weeks. Mixed media artist Dan Pearce is reworking iconic film posters to help share NHS messaging in a fun, light-hearted way and is releasing a new reworked A2 poster every week, which will go on sale for £75 each with proceeds going to NHS Charities Together Covid-19 Urgent Appeal. Wimbledon Art Fair will be a purely virtual event this year, and their #ArtSOS running from 14 – 17 May will showcase thought provoking artworks depicting defining moments of the current pandemic, with a percentage of total sales being donated to the NHS and St George’s Hospital in Tooting. Andrew Salgado and Rachel Howard amongst other artists are also donating signed, limited edition posters with a percentage of sales going to The Hospital Rooms via #artistssupportpledge, a charity that transforms impatient health units with contemporary art – and increasingly pertinent in the current circumstances. This is just a handful of the online offerings, so have a look to see what’s out there and maybe even nab yourself a bargain artwork whilst supporting the current pandemic efforts!

Let’s get digital… part 2

In my last post, I looked at what the Nationals and other museums in London are doing to engage audiences during the Covid-19 pandemic, but they’re not the only ones creating new solutions to closed doors – as London gallery innovations bear witness to. Serpentine Galleries are offering digital guides to their current exhibitions, allowing you to explore interactively with additional content, audio, video and curator tours. They are also delivering online Saturday Talks, podcasts and digital commissions as well as offering weekly book recommendations to help keep minds and imaginations going. Gagosian have launched #GagosianSpotlight, a new online artist series, highlighting individual artists, one week at a time, who have had exhibitions affected by the current coronavirus crisis. As well as looking at their practice, it also includes videos, interviews, playlists and other insights into their artists’ inspiration. Sadie Coles have started an #AnswersfromIsolation series posing pertinent questions to their artists including “has the current isolation given you time to do or make something that you might not have”, “tell us about your current projects that have been delayed due to Covid-19”, as well as recipe tips and other insights. Victoria Miro are publishing long reads, hosting online in conversation… with their artists, and have partnered up with nine other contemporary art galleries in Venice to open the ‘virtual’ doors of their storage and allow a rare look behind the scenes; as each week, each gallery will pick an artwork from their store to share on the #VeniceGalleriesView platform. Edel Asanti have launched #ContactlessDeliveries comprising written responses to the global pandemic shared in text or in spoken word films. Each is delivered from a personal perspective and responds to the previous contributor. They have also begun #HomeFires, a series of five minute conversations between the artistic Director and their artists, discussing a recent or ongoing body of work. The Photographers’ Gallery’s #TPGTalks offers a wealth of online podcasts, videos and interviews from photographers, writers and curators drawn from their extensive Talks & Events Programme. The already active digital programme has also collaborated with Fotomuseum Winterhur to launch #ScreenWalks, offering a series of live streamed artist/research led explorations of the cultural sectors online spaces as the physical spaces currently lie redundant due to Covid-19. White Cube have launched an #InTheStudio series where each week a represented artist shares a diary of their activities under lockdown (kicked off by Tracey Emin), and have also started an #InsideWhiteCube post where staff members are introduced and talk about what they are seeing, thinking, reading, watching and listening to during isolation. Lisson Gallery have partnered with Augment, and app whose technology allows people to visualise 3D objects and artworks in augmented reality through their smartphones and tablets. Freelands Foundation have similarly harnessed 3D scanning technology, allowing people to now view their exhibition of four female artists’ works on their website. This is just a selection of what’s out there, and I will endeavour to see what else is going on and what new ideas emerge as the lockdown and social distancing continues.

Let’s get digital!

Whilst museums and galleries are likely to remain closed for the coming months, that doesn’t have to stop you engaging with their collections and what better time to think, innovate, discuss and debate online – when we all likely have some extra time on our hands during the corona-crisis. The National Gallery offer virtual tours via Google Street View, and you can sign up to their newsletter and YouTube channel featuring lunchtime talks, curator and art restoration specials, and snapshots on artists or specific works. The Victoria & Albert Museum is currently airing a six part behind-the-scenes series (Secretes of the Museum) available on BBC iPlayer, has a blog, and vast learning section with educational offerings from primary school age through to museum peer learning. You can still explore the British Museum via Google Street View and over four million objects within its collection online, as well as podcasts offering talks from curators and other staff (the most recent episode focussing on women and how they have shaped the museum since its opening in 1759). Tate have a podcast subscription covering varied subjects ranging from the Art of Love, to the Art of HipHop, Innovation and Remembering as well as Tateshots; approximately six minute short films about artists, their lives and practice, or from curators. Tate Kids also offers an online “make” section, video tours, games, quizzes, accessible information on artists and movements, and a virtual gallery where budding Picasso’s can display their own works. The Natural History Museum also offers virtual tours, and each room featured allows you to zoom in on objects with links to more detailed information about certain specimens. Moving away from the nationals, Somerset House is offering a digital programme of films, podcasts, artist interviews and live streams – and the adjoining Courtald has digitised its collection allowing great online access since its closure for restoration in 2018. The home to the incurably curious (otherwise known as The Wellcome Collection) offers topical articles on Covid-19 as well as a stories section which invites anyone to submit words or pictures which explore the connections between science, medicine, life and art, with its most recent post fittingly a graphic novel about isolation. Barbican have a series of 30 minute podcasts or playlists ranging from Japanese innovators, to masculinity, jazz and autism in the cinema, as well as articles, long reads and videos available. Though the physical doors to our museums might be closed, the digital channels are well and truly open!

 

Sorry we’re closed. A note to coronavirus…

Just a few days into working from home – the new normal – I’ve already begun to reflect and in the current climate of “social distancing” and daily closures I’m beginning to realise how much of my life, hobbies and interests involve outdoor activities or collective pursuits, which up until now I believed to be quite isolated “me time”. Going to yoga is one of them, the other big one is visiting museums, galleries and cultural institutions. This week has been surreal; watching initially commercial galleries such as Sadie Coles, Marian Goodman, White Cube and others close, before public galleries including Camden Arts Centre, The Serpentine, The Hayward, Royal Academy of Arts and Whitechapel Gallery close, and from yesterday the Nationals as the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate Galleries, National Gallery, Natural History Museum, National Trust properties and others all closed their doors to the public – something unprecedented as the British Museum even closed for the first time since World War II. As more borders close across Europe and indeed globally, and consequently objects and artworks remain in limbo, either in exhbitions not being seen by visitors or worse still in secure warehouses waiting to be trasnported, let us be grateful for the access to culture we ordinarily have. Looking ahead to when things return to normality, let us take a moment to apprecaite the work curators and exhbition teams put into planning and executing shows, to registrars and shipping agents for organising the loan of works and their safe and timely transit to borrowing venues, to technicians who skillfully install complex artworks and increasingly interactive engagement tools to accompnay shows. And of course to the often overlooked front of house teams who are the first point of contact and keep all of these instiutions running. Let us hope that the current climate encourages more online engagement via websites, social media and podcasts, and that it can be a opporunity for creating new ways for the public to access and interact with collections. Once open again, let us remember these times and not take for granted what is usually on our doorstep in London (and many other cities), as I have certainly been guilty of.

Anthony Gormley: Royal Academy of Arts

The traditional Georgian architecture of Burlington House isn’t an immediately obvious setting for Anthony Gormley’s large-scale robust metal sculptures and installations, but it certainly works. The dark wood flooring, panelling and high ceilings act as the perfect backdrop to the works on display throughout the main galleries. It is an exhibition that builds momentum, has pace and conversely moments of calm. The first space you enter contains fourteen horizontal and vertical cubic sculptures – “slabworks” – very typical of Gormley and his abstract exploration of the human form and its relationship with the space around it, but dare I say it… nothing spectacular. As you turn the next corner a lower-ceilinged room is filled with arguably the worlds biggest doodle, a sculpture which dominates the space and is almost bursting its way through the floors, ceilings and connecting doorways. It is quite an experience walking around the 8 kilometres of coiled aluminium tube, taking it all in. Another oversized gallery space houses “Matrix III” created from steel mesh ordinarily used to reinforce concrete, but this time formed into a three dimensional structure which suspends from the ceiling. Despite its weight, it somehow looks light as it floats above visitors who are able to walk below and around it. The adjoining gallery spaces contain sketches and preliminary drawings of these two monumental works alongside other works on paper, and having just viewed them I welcomed understanding the process and mechanics behind them. A room filled with metal human forms either standing, floating horizontally from various walls or hanging upside down from the ceiling, oversized metal fruits suspended from a vaulted ceiling in another space, a monolithic sculpture fills another, and finally a reflective space where the gallery floor is filled with seawater make up the rest of the show. The exhibition is as ambitious as you would hope for from Gormley, and certainly put a spring in my autumnal step!

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Trio of female artists: White Cube Bermondsey

A trio of female artists have taken over White Cube Bermondsey for the current exhibitions; Palestinian born and London based Mona Hatoum is shown alongside American artist and activist Harmony Hammond, and Hungarian creative Dora Maurer whose work has spanned five decades. All three women work with different materials and use different mediums in their practice, but complement each other in that all of the works are more complex than they initially seem. Hatoum’s sculptures have a sense of fragility and the impression that they might collapse at any moment, echoing the current political sentiments of many countries. Despite several being constructed from robust materials including steel, concrete, bricks and iron filings – they dangle precariously from the ceiling or are positioned to look like pieces could clash into each other and shatter. Others have more obvious weaknesses including the charred remains of a kitchen, barley held together with chicken wire as the brittle ash could fracture at any moment, or are made from her own hair and nails. Hammond’s works mostly comprise large scale warm-white canvases. These have all been recently produced, but there is also a nod to her earlier feminist works evident in the display of ‘Bag IV’ created in 1971 and made from rags donated by female friends whilst living in New York and taking the form of a handbag which Hammond describes as three-dimensional brush strokes. This sculptural element continues in her newer canvases, which far from being flat surfaces include frayed edges, grommets, pin holes, and evidence of straps all thickly covered in paint. Maura’s paintings in contrast are bold and structured, and play with symmetry and graphics. Far from being simple however, this collection of rectangular and square canvases set at angles are cleverly transformed into seemingly three-dimensional floating forms through the simple use of colour.
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Lee Krasner: Barbican Art Gallery

“Living Colour” is an apt title for the Lee Krasner exhibition currently on display at The Barbican Art Gallery – as colour certainly has a live element to it throughout this retrospective as Krasner has periods where she uses simple charcoal in the 1930’s, experiments with colour in the post-war era, returns to muted shades during a period of chronic insomnia in the late 1950’s and embraces bold colour again in 1960’s and ‘70’s. Often overlooked as Jackson Pollack’s wife, Krasner was a pioneering abstract artist in her own right and I really felt I got a sense of the honest New-Yorker via the chronological journey of this show. Whilst some of the early mosaic works and self-portraits didn’t excite me, her charcoal life drawings begin to highlight her interest in abstraction and you can see the influences of other artists like Matisse and Picasso in these works. In the 1950’s this was developing further as she began incorporating newspaper, photographic paper and even some of Pollack’s test drawings into her colourful painted collage works – as well as increasing the scale and size of the canvas she was using. Following the sudden death of Pollack and a period of insomnia, Krasner created a body of works using a muted shade of umber (Night Journeys) as she painted through the night and refused to work with colour under artificial light. As perhaps sleep returned and her depression faded, colour resurfaced in a big way with vibrant pinks, oranges, blues and greens. A particular favourite was ‘Mister Blue’ created in sweeping blue motions, which made me smile even more when I learnt that Krasner was only 5 feet tall and would have struggled with some of these larger canvases! The final works incorporate more rigid shapes and sharper lines, where she revisits something she did earlier in her career cutting up previous bodies of work and including them in new pieces – again highlighting the “living” nature of her artworks.

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Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago

I was lucky enough to go to Chicago for work last week – for three days – literally a flying visit from the other side of the Atlantic! It was my first visit to the city, and I was struck by how progressive, liberal and balanced it felt with a diverse population of white, black, Hispanic as well as a China Town, Little Italy, Polish Downtown, Greek Town, well dressed professionals, homeless veterans and the buzz and grit of cosmopolitan city life that makes any Londoner feel at home. However, a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) was a powerful reminder of the civil rights and segregation issues which have plagued America, and the Chicago area is no exception. The current exhibitions by Dawoud Bey and Carlos Javier Ortiz & David Schalliol both highlight problems with integration; Bey’s two poignant bodies of work tell the story of three Klu Klux Klan members who bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 killing four fourteen year old African American girls, and the ensuing violence that followed as a consequence. This is revisited in a 2012 series of black and white portraits in which Bey captures images of children the same age as those who had died, alongside portraits of adults at the age the children wold have been in 2013 (the 50th anniversary of the bombs). Bey’s work is coupled with Ortiz and Schalliol’s Chicago Stories, a more contemporary exploration of similar issues via evocative images of isolated buildings and those who live in them which explore the legacy of the Great Migration and the continued demolition and resettlement of African American communities across Chicago’s “black belt” in the south and west of the city where black residents were limited to living, but have since created thriving communities which are now being destroyed. The staff are both helpful and knowledgeable, entrance to both exhibitions is free, and I would highly recommend dropping in before 7 July when the shows close.

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Elmgreen & Dragset: Whitechapel Gallery

I was an Elmgreen & Dragset neophyte until last autumn, then on a work trip to Paris I stumbled across the artistic duo’s 1,000 Starfish installation at Place Vendome. Once back in London I learnt that Whitechapel Gallery was hosting an exhibition dedicated to the Scandinavian pairs’ work, entitled ‘This is How We Bite our Tongue’… and with only a week left until it closes on 13 January, I was given the new year impetus I needed to go and view it! The entire ground floor gallery houses a new commission The Ghost of Whitechapel pool, which depicts a fictional empty swimming pool and using this now abandoned civic space the piece questions local government decisions to cut funding and close these shared spaces. The edges of the pool also play host to numerous other sculptures; a classical inspired male torso toppled over and lying on its side, bronze casts of a Mercedes car seat and cooling boxes, an aluminium meteor on a trampoline, and two urinals connected by interlinked twisted drainpipes. Moving upstairs a series of exhibition wall labels painted directly onto white canvas or carved in white marble pay tribute to artists who have inspired them, and are accompanied by an installation encouraging the public to sit at a desk, have a glass of whiskey and read through the artists’ diary. In the final room of the exhibition, each work features a somewhat anonymous figure, ranging from sculptures of a little boy staring at a rifle, to a pregnant house-maid and a little boy cowering in a fireplace, all finished in matte white with minimal features, to a judicial wig hung on the wall minus a wearer, the outlines of two portraits which were once hung on the wall, and two white pillows cast in bronze with the impressions of the heads previous sleeping there still imprinted into them.

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Modern Couples. Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde: Barbican

After a chilly but beautiful autumnal stroll on Saturday afternoon, I sought warmth at The Barbican and turns out I wasn’t the only one… as the queue for their current exhibition ‘Modern Couples: Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde’ suggested! Spanning both floors of the gallery, it examines almost fifty artistic couples from Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin who were in a relationship from 1882 until 1892 through to Unica Zürn and Hans Bellmer whose relationship lasted from 1953 until 1970, and various heterosexual, homosexual, artistic threesomes and friendships in between. It explores “artists” in the broadest sense, including painters, sculptors, photographers, textile makers, musicians, writers, publishers, furniture designers and architects – and more interestingly the impact they had on each other and society by taking a stance on various civil rights issues. Each section comprises a short summary of the couple alongside a portrait of each artist individually or together as a couple, with Virginia Woolf making two appearances – on the lower level with Vita Sackville-West and on the upper level with Leonard Wolfe. The show includes big name artists such as Salvador DalÍ (and Federico GarcÍa Lorca), Pablo Picasso (and Dora Maar), Frida Kahlo (and Diego Rivera) and Wassily Kandinsky (and Gabriele Münter) but also introduced me to artists I was previously unfamiliar with or highlighted relationships where one partner has certainly hogged the limelight – often unfairly – over the other. The exhibition is certainly tinged with sadness and a sprinkling of madness; numerous tales of forbidden love, age-gaps, and mental health issues as well as Oskar Kokoschka who created a life-size doll of the composer Alma Mahler after jealousy brought an end to their relationship, Marcel Duchamp who sculpted miniature casts of Maria Martins genitals after their illicit affair came to an end, and Lavinia Schulz and Walter Holdt whose relationship came to a horrific close when the dancer and costume designer shot Holdt and then herself.

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