Jean-Michel Basquiat: Barbican

Barbican’s current ‘Boom for Real’ exhibition showcasing the prodigious works of American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat has generated such a buzz that in order to see it, advanced timed booking is now essential. Upon ordering your ticket you are emailed a booking confirmation accompanied by a list of ‘rules’ including “no bags (including handbags)”, “no photography”, “no food or drink”… lets add “no fun” to the list and try and discourage as many potential visitors as possible! The queue for the cloakroom is epic – as unfortunately everyone needs a bag – and you are then informed which route you must take through the exhibition, starting upstairs. At this point my enthusiasm was waning, but the charisma of self-taught Basquiat quickly won me over. The exhibition is arranged chronologically, beginning with his witty New-York graffiti under the pseudonym ‘SAMO©’ and breakthrough exhibition in 1981, where he was singled out by nearly every art critic despite being an unknown artist in a group show. Throughout the late ‘70’s he and other graffiti artists were commissioned to create a series of murals and began selling postcards of their work for $1 outside the Museum of Modern Art. Basquiat even found the courage to sell one to his idol Andy Warhol in a SoHo restaurant which marked the beginning of an artistic collaboration and true friendship, as Warhol returned to painting by hand and Basquiat started to use silkscreen techniques which Warhol was famous for (many of which are on display). Downstairs Basquiat’s larger-scale and more renowned works, as well as lesser known pieces including brown paper envelopes to Lichtenstein and Pollack amongst others offering amusingly reductive summaries of their style of work! The exhibition highlights Basquiat’s knowledge across music; from hip-hop to classical, jazz and blues, western art, reading and historical referencing, as well as political comment on black history and civil rights. Much as a truly enjoyed the exhibition, I left wondering if its formality, works unnaturally displayed behind perspex, ropes and alarms would have jarred with Basquiat himself who seemed to fight against the traditional art world, however given his untimely death at just 27, we will sadly never know.

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Wolfgang Tillmans 2017: Tate Modern

German photographer Wolfgang Tillmans’ work has become increasingly pertinent over the last few years, and following Brexit and the inauguration of Trump, the current exhibition dedicated to his work at Tate Modern feels relevant and timely. Rather than being a retrospective of Tillmans’ career, the majority of the works displayed across thirteen gallery spaces have been produced since 2003, which is when he turned his gaze onto political and social concerns. It comprises 450 images taken in 37 different countries spanning politics, freedom, portraiture, nightlife, and his own experimentation with processes involved in photography and printing. Each image is hung very simply either in plain white frames, pinned or taped to the walls, or held into place with crocodile clips – highlighting their vulnerability and how exposing (and often deeply personal) the photographs in this exhibition are. This is not to say the curation is simple, indeed whole galleries are transformed into installations. Several galleries feature images deliberately placed together unexpectedly to highlight how we experience different aspects of the world simultaneously, there is a recreation of his ‘Truth Study Centre’ project which began in 2005 where images, press cuttings, drawings and other objects are laid out together in contrary ways, as well as ‘Playback Room’ designed specifically for listening to recorded music at almost the same quality it was originally mastered. Images in the final gallery from the recent ‘The State We’re In’ project exploring current global tensions though photographs of the Atlantic ocean, country borders and landscape shots are stunning, but it was the lesser known images from his experimentation with chemicals, light, paper, ink, and the printing process that stole the show for me. These experiments resulted in wonderfully unpredictable effects and abstract images which I was previously unfamiliar with. On display until early June, I’d strongly suggest heading over to Southbank for an aptly-timed, educational visit!

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Magritte: The Pompidou Centre, Paris

An iconic legacy of 1960’s French Prime Minister George Pompidou and architectural anomaly created from glass and steel with suspended escalators and covered in coloured pipes (blue for air, green for water, yellow for electricity and red for passageways), The Pompidou Centre continues to be a thriving arts hub in the centre of Paris. With a permanent museum collection boasting works by Matisse, Picasso, Chagall and Cezane to name a few and host to over thirty temporary exhibitions on its gallery floor each year, I was fortunate enough to visit last week and view their ‘Magritte’ retrospective. The eccentric building feels like an apt home for surrealist Belgian artist Rene Magritte and the hundred or so paintings, drawings and documents collated in this exhibition. His intense interest in philosophy is palpable and evident throughout; from his infamous ‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’ painting inspired by philosopher Michael Foucault’s 1973 publication of the same name to his constant use of motifs and symbolism. The exhibition is separated into five rooms each focusing on a different theme ranging from chance, to words and images, problems and solutions, the allegory of the cave, and curtains and illusionism. Stunning works including ‘The Philosopher’s Lamp’ featuring a portrait of a man whose nose morphs into a pipe alongside a candle melting in controlled swirling motions, ‘Hegel’s Holiday’ highlighting Margitte’s background in graphic design and advertising using the simple shape of an umbrella with a glass of water suspended at its apex, and my personal favourite ‘Decalomania’ showing the outline of a man in a suit and bowler hat against an optimistic background of a blue sky with clouds beautifully reflected next to the same mans’ silhouette yet this suit is transparent allowing you to see the sky through it. Ignore the daytime queues if you’re in Paris and head over in the evening to see this idiosyncratic show before it closes in January.

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Hegel’s Holiday
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Decalomania
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Another of Mgaritte’s simple but effective creations

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Mary Heilmann: Whitechapel Gallery

Few things fill me with genuine contentment more than strolling down a street towards an art gallery on a sunny Sunday afternoon, with a strong black coffee in hand! And that is exactly the position I found myself in last weekend… heading towards Whitechapel Gallery to catch the Mary Heilmann ‘Looking at Pictures’ exhibition on its final day. This retrospective explores the American abstract artists’ past five decades of work, from her early geometric paintings of the 1970’s through to modernday shaped canvases in day-glo colours. It opens with the honest statement that Heilmann studied poetry, ceramics and sculpture in California but failed to make it as a female sculptor, before taking up painting when she moved to New York in 1968 – her background in sculpture and ceramics is immediately apparent as she clearly views canvases as three-dimensional objects often painting their sides, as well as using her fingers to manipulate paints and create textured surfaces. As you move to the upstairs gallery you are greeted by a projected slideshow entitled ‘Her Life’ which shows photographs Heilmann has taken alongside the abstract images she has created in response to them; not only does this help give context to the exhibition but it is also interesting to witness her interpretation of everyday scenes. The final gallery displays more personal works, and also contains examples of Heilmann’s chairs in a variety of pastel colours enabling visitors to sit down and view and discuss her works at a leisurely pace. Some pieces are intensely biographical including ‘311 Castro Street’ which was the artists’ childhood address and ‘Maricopa Highway’ which was a road-trip she regularly took, and one final piece depicting a crashing wave in bold, lush greens and blues offers visitors a final reminder of Heilmann’s distinctly Californian background.

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One of Heilmann’s early abstract works and arguably my favourite piece in the exhibition
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Another early geometric work
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The final galleries showing later works as well as examples of Heilmann’s chairs

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Missoni Art Colour: The Fashion and Textile Museum

The Fashion and Textile Museum has diverged from its usual curatorial style in its current ‘Missoni Art Colour’ exhibition. Unlike the two shows that predate it; ‘Art and Textiles: Marian Clayden’ and ‘Liberty in Fashion’ there is a much stronger focus on art in a traditional sense rather than fashion – notably in 20th century European contemporary art and its undeniable influence on Ottavio and Rosita Missoni. Upon entering the exhibition, you are greeted by a corridor of modernist masterpieces including works by Sonia Delaunay, Gino Severni, Lucio Fontana and Enrico Pampolini amongst others which highlights the impact the colours, shapes and ideas futurist and cubist artists had on the Italian designers. Once you pass through this corridor, the next gallery houses over 40 mannequins, set across seven stepped levels, each dressed in a distinctive Missoni knitted yarn design (dating from 1997 – present day). This astounding display is backed by a simple translucent curtain with spotlights dimming or changing colour every few minutes, which in turn switches your focus to different garments within the display. If this wasn’t enough, this gallery displays previously unseen textile studies, paintings and monumental patchworks of knitted fabrics by Ottavio Missoni which illustrate formative works of their signature graphic style. A staircase behind this presentation leads you to the first floor gallery which contains a collection of sculptures, early digital works and other constructivist art. Each piece explores notions around art and its purpose, form and function, as well as culture and technology in the same way Missoni design did – I particularly appreciated Getulio Alviani’s 1960’s two dimension geometric work created from sixteen squares of aluminium each with a different satin finish positioned side by side, and several of the plastic Bauhaus-esque sculptures. Few exhibitions are quite so true to their title, but this one is literally brimming with Missoni, art and colour!

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Corridor of modernist masterpieces
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The 40 or so mannequins each in a different Missoni design
close up of mannequins
Close up of the mannequins
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Getulio Alviani’s aluminium artwork

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The Summer Exhibition: Royal Academy

Lamentably June’s weather may not be yielding any indication of summer, however The Royal Academy’s annual ‘Summer Exhibition’ which opened on 13th June has denoted the beginning of the season in the art world. Now in its 248th year, the exhibition is something of a London institution and is certainly worth a visit. As you turn off Piccadilly and enter the gallery’s courtyard, you are greeted by Ron Arad’s monumental sculpture ‘Spyre’, an 18 metre tall moving cone with a camera at its apex constantly filming the surrounding area from different angles which is then projected onto Burlington House. This impact is echoed in the stairwell featuring photographic images by Jane and Louise Wilson, and again in the opening gallery (The Central Hall) which includes a huge yellow neon sign ‘Forever’ by Tim Noble and Sue Webster, a hand painted photograph on canvas of Marie Antoinette by Pierre et Gilles, and a stone Petrified Petrol Pump by Allora and Calzadilla amongst others. This years’ show is co-ordinated by Richard Wilson RA, and with a staggering 1,240 works on display it is as vast, densely hung, varied and subjective as ever. The open submission nature of the show ensures that all mediums are represented from watercolour, to etching, engraving, printing, sculpture, installation, photography and digital, from both established artists and emerging talent. The standout piece for me is Katlug Ataman’s digital installation ‘The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci’ created from 10,000 LCD panels which hang above head height, each containing a portrait photograph of someone the Turkish philanthropist knew prior to his death fifteen years ago. Anything controversial is collated in Gallery IX including Michael Stokes explicit clay sculptures, Rachel Maclean’s digital orgy prints, and The Kipper Kids provocative photographic images. I liked the fact that Wilson does not seem to want to provoke or generate conversation by being deliberately shocking, instead he consciously explores the theme of artistic duos in this years’ show. So if London’s skies are going to remain grey I’d suggest heading to the RA for a burst of colour, lightness and humour to fake summer at their aptly titled exhibition!

Tim Noble and Sue Webster
Tim Noble & Sue Webster’s ‘Forever’ neon sign in The Central Hall
Katlug Ataman
Katlung Ataman’s digital installation created from 10,000 LCD panels
Balloon man - Yinke Shonibare
Yinke Shonibare’s ‘Balloon Man’ hovering above other pieces in Gallery VII

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Anthony Cairns: Roman Road Gallery

I popped into Roman Road Gallery only a few months ago to see Thomas Mailaender’s humorous exhibition set against mock brick walls, and returned earlier this week to see the space transformed with bright white walls and deceptively high ceilings showcasing Anthony Cairns work. ‘OSC – Osaka Station City’ is a solo show by the British photographer following his residency at the Benrido Collotype Atelier in Japan, during which he visited Osaka. It comprises a series of five photographic images of the city’s train station, inventively printed on recycled computer punch cards. Four of the images are hung together on one wall, and one larger print is hung alone on the wall opposite. Each of the images is broken into several parts and printed on either twenty-four or forty-eight different punch cards, which Cairns carefully positioned on grey boards and glued into place. The images are all taken at night time in black and white, but are printed on either off-white, pale blue or pale green tinted punch cards – and despite their mono nature each image has managed to sublimely capture the light versus shadow within its composition. Cairns chose punch cards as the repetitive sequence of numbers on them echoes the patterns and recurring shapes and buildings in urban metropolises. This is in turn is nicely paralleled in the Gallery’s surrounding area, as Roman Road features uniform brickwork, shop façades and tower blocks down its entire length and beyond, following its quick reconstruction after the devastation of World War II bombing. A final vitrine displaying twenty-one images each printed on an individual punch card helps give a sense of the project as a whole, and enables you to focus on specific details and other aspects of the train station.

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My favourite image in the exhibition!

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Jaime Pitarch: The Ryder Projects

Having lived in London all my life it’s always fun to stumble across a new museum or gallery, and hidden down a side street a couple of minutes’ walk from Bethnal Green tube station is The Ryder Projects; a year old converted industrial shelter now promoting early and mid-career artists. Here I discovered Jaime Pitarch’s solo show ‘Time Matters’. Although modest, the space has enough height to have impact and the exposed brick, beams and pipework work sympathetically with the pieces on display. As you enter the space a recommissioned set of bedside drawers (part of the artists’ Momentum series) greets you at jaunty angle – now dysfunctional as a piece of furniture Pitarch uses a clever system of balances and imbalances to keep it suspended precariously. What looks like a simple grey woollen blanket is draped on the back wall behind this, however on closer inspection you realise that the green string has been unwoven from the blanket and is gathered in a ball; typically these blankets are used to transport artworks and so the piece introduces discussion about the economics of the art industry. Continuing with the economic theme, a mobile created from wire and small coinage hangs above the other artworks. It is entitled ‘Calderilla’ which is similar the artists’ native Spanish word for ‘small change’ (carderilla) but is also a humorous play on sculptor Alexander Calder’s name, who heavily influenced this piece. A final darkened area at the rear of the space attempts to make the concept of time more tangible, through a video projection and accompanying sound of a needle against a vinyl record covered in dust having been left in a studio over a period of time. All of the pieces are constructed from cheap or disused materials and it is enjoyable to see an artist exploring complex and sophisticated themes including time, value and productivity through simple, everyday objects.

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Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979: Tate Britain

The palpable scent of oranges and a reconstruction of Roelof Louw’s 1967 ‘Soul City’ (A Pyramid of Oranges) sculpture opens Tate Britain’s Conceptual Art in Britain exhibition. This sculpture not only immediately engages visitors’ senses, but also acts a microcosm for the ideas behind conceptual art as a whole; whilst some visitors looked quizzically at the pyramid and others played an active role in changing the molecular form of the sculpture by taking an orange. All of the artworks on display were created between 1964, the year Harold Wilson’s first Labour government was elected, and 1979 when Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives gained power – yet despite nods to contemporary politics in certain works the exhibition failed to offer much explanation or context of the era these pieces were created. Noteworthy exceptions to this do appear in the final gallery with Victor Burgin’s ‘Lei-Feng’ which repeats a Vogue advert nine times with juxtaposed added captions relating to the ideological training of a Chinese soldier under Mao, and Conrad Atkinson’s photographs on the troubles in Northern Ireland. Outside that, the exhibitions’ strength for me lied in its ability to amuse, as I laughed out loud on more than one occasion! Keith Arnatt’s series of eleven black and white photographs entitled ‘Art as an Act of Retraction’ shows the artist with pieces of printed card crumpled in his mouth – symbolically almost eating his own words. Likewise Michael Craig Martin’s ‘An Oak Tree’ simply displays as a glass of water on a glass shelf alongside a series of questions and answers written by the artist in which he maintains that this particular glass of water has transformed into an oak tree with wonderfully hilarious conviction.

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Electronic Superhighway 2016 – 1966: Whitechapel Gallery

The impact technology – and more specifically the internet – has had on art is certainly having a moment. Having already visited ‘Big Bang Data’ at Somerset House, this weekend I explored Whitechapel Gallery’s investigation into this phenomenon at their current ‘Electronic Superhighway’ exhibition. Comprising work from 70 artists over the past five decades, it combines painting, photography, sculpture, installation, immersive video, and interactive ipad and visitor controlled experiences. The ground floor gallery impressed me by not only raising interesting questions and commenting on this topic, but by the quality of the artworks themselves; Douglas Coupland’s ‘Deep Face’ combined black and white photographic portraits with brightly coloured abstract shapes reminiscent of pixels, targets and text redactions obscuring the facial features, as a criticism of Facebook’s development of facial recognition software employed with or without user consent. Likewise Aleksandra Domanovic’s series of five 3D laser cast models of the ‘Belgrade Hand’ each holding a symbol of emancipation or peace were beautiful sculptures outside their political or technological connotations. I also appreciated Oliver Laric’s photographic series ‘Versions (Missile Variations)’ which questions authenticity following a photoshopped image of four missiles being launched rather than one, released as a military hoax by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in 2008. The upstairs galleries present a selection of tech-heavier artworks chosen by Rhizome (a New York based online organisation and archive of Net art) and E.A.T (another New York based interdisciplinary group looking at experiments in art and technology from 1960’s) which explore the evolution of hardware and software – whilst I enjoyed the nostalgic element of seeing 1980’s and ‘90s television screens and computers used in various installations, it was a little niche and IT focused for me. The final piece on display allows the exhibition to end on an artistic high, as Peter Sedgley’s ‘Corona’ uses kinetic lighting to captivatingly alter the mood and feel of his two paintings.

Douglas Coupland
Douglas Coupland’s ‘Deep Face’
Aleksandra
Aleksandra Domanovic’s ‘Belgrade Hand’
Missiles
Oliver Laric’s ‘Versions’
Peter Sedgley’s ‘Corona’

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