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Historic House Museum

FOUND: The Foundling Musuem

I feel I’ve been a little slow on the uptake with summer exhibitions… but so pleased I got to see ‘Found’ at The Foundling Museum last week before it closed on 4th September. Curated by Cornelia Parker, the list of over sixty participating artists’ reads like a who’s who of the contemporary art world including Phyllida Barlow, Mark Wallinger, Richard Wilson, Jeremy Deller, Mona Hatoum, Marin Creed and Gavin Turk amongst others. Inspired by the 18th century tokens mothers left with their babies as a means of identification at the original Foundling Hospital established by the philanthropist Thomas Coram in 1739, all of the artworks within this exhibition are created from found objects kept for their significance. Things get off to a strong start as a trumpeter dressed in typically brightly coloured fabrics by Yinka Shonibare greets visitors in the foyer. A temporary exhibition space in the basement contains over thirty pieces, whilst another fifty are dotted throughout the rest of the building intertwined with the permanent collection and period rooms – and this is where much of the success and indeed joy of the exhibition lies! Moving up the central spiral-stairwell a contemporary painting by Rose Wylie is hung alongside old masters, in the grand Court Room with Rocco ceilings and Hogarth paintings you’ll find Gavin Turks ‘Nomad’ installation of a dirty sleeping bag positioned to echo the shape of a human form sleeping within it, and a small iron sculpture by Anthony Gormley of his own child as a baby is displayed on the floor in a corridor! Despite strong competition from all the artists, I feel the prize for best ‘found’ item should go to Cornelia Parker herself who rescued Jimi Hendrix’s staircase from Handel/Hendrix House in London’s Brook Street following its restoration – and is aptly on display in the basement for this exhibition.

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Yinka Shonibare’s installation that greets you in the foyer
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The beautiful central spiral staircase

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Gallery

Focal Point Gallery: Southend-on-Sea

Anticipating a busy September, I made the wise decision to extend my August bank holiday by taking an extra days’ annual leave yesterday. The proverbial cherry on the top was waking up to glorious sunshine, jumping on a train at Fenchurch Street, and forty-five minutes later arriving on the Essex coast at Leigh-on-Sea. With sun blazing, a still and glistening sea, cobbled streets through the old town with traditional cockles, whelks and eels being sold, I floated my way down the promenade to Southend and its Focal Point Gallery. The contemporary gallery currently has two main exhibitions on display; ‘#75’ and ‘CANWEYE{ }’ by Frances Scott. In an increasingly digital age ‘#75’ refreshingly champions the gallery’s own printed material produced between 2009 – 2016 showcasing posters and tea-towels along one wall alongside three display cabinets brimming with printed artefacts. The gallery also aims to continue producing one unique printed accompaniment to each exhibition, as they have with Dan Fox’s four page essay printed in nine different colours which visitors can take away with them. A corridor decorated with brightly coloured neon posters offering a tongue-in-cheek take on Arts Council demographics (including categories like ‘Bedroom DJ’s’ and ‘Time-Poor Dreamers’) leads you to the next gallery space. As you open the door to a darkened room with wooden scaffolding, a single picture draws you to the far end of the room… and this ink drawing by Derek Jarman entitled ‘Plague Street’ is the impetus for Frances Scott’s video installation. The film is played in a slightly uncomfortable setting and jumps between scenes filmed in Canvey Island (Essex) and Venice (Italy) – its constant shifting of location, use of both analogue and digital techniques as well as archival material make it deliberately difficult to settle as a visitor, whilst still managing to be an enjoyable and interesting experience. I’d certainly advise a visit before the Summer season finishes on 2nd October!

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A snapshot of ‘#75’ showcasing the gallery’s printed matter
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Some of the posters on display within the ‘#75’ exhibition
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A percentage breakdown of Southend’s audiences which have been used to decorate the walls in neon green, pink, yellow and orange posters!

For more information visit their website

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Gallery

David Hockney 82 Portraits and 1 Still-life: The Royal Academy

Painting over 90 canvases is a large project to undertake, let alone complete in just over two years… but that is exactly what David Hockney achieved in recent years, and 82 of these portraits and 1 still-life are currently on display in The Sackler Wing of the Royal Academy. Each portrait shares the same dimensions, is painted in acrylic on canvas, has the same background colours of a turquoise and light blue, and show the subject seated in the same chair – making it obvious why Hockney views them collectively as a single body of work. The portraits are densely hung side by side in three galleries at eye level, and the uniformity of both the paintings and their installation is very intense yet left me cold. Lamentably as I moved from one portrait to the next I started finding the exhibition repetitive, failed to notice subtle differences in posture, facial expression and attire, and was relieved when one of the sitters failed to show up to their appointment forcing Hockney to deviate and paint a still-life of some fruit! Having garnered some more information from the visitor handout I decided to have a second look and certain elements of the project became more interesting; none of the portraits were commissioned so each one is of a family member, friend, fellow artist or associate, and each portrait was executed within three days (the longest amount of time Hockney felt he could ask of anyone). I also enjoyed Hockney’s lampooning of selfies and his refusal to paint any “celebrities”, reaffirming the importance of the painted portrait over a photograph taken on a mobile phone. The project is unarguably an impressive feat and armed with more context it was certainly more engaging on a second loop around the galleries, however on an aesthetic level the exhibition still failed to excite or inspire.

For more information visit their website

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Gallery

Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art: Copenhagen

Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen is unusual as all of its exhibitions are produced, initiated or chosen by artists, with a focus on collective shows by experimental groups or networks. These principles have been present since its conception in 1891 when a handful of artists challenged the juried exhibition at Charlottenborg, and founded this centre as an alternative. True to its original vision the two exhibitions currently on display feature an artistic duo, and heavily experimental and provocative artworks. The ground floor galleries are dedicated to Hesselholdt & Mejlvang’s ‘Native Exotic, Normal’ exhibition which is highly topical in light of Brexit exploring eurocentrism, the Western perception of ‘the other’, and discrimination within everyday life. The first two galleries look at symbolic and contextual meaning through silk coats of arms in pastel colours devoid of any heraldic content, and Danish iconography (including a Klint Lamp, Arne Jacobson chairs and model ship) placed in an unfamiliar gallery context devaluing them dramatically. Another gallery displays what initially appear to be light hearted totempole balloon sculptures – adversely they have caricatures of ‘Hottentots’ (a derogatory word for ‘wild natives’ used by Europeans) at their apex, removing any light-heartedness. Similarly another space contains chains running across its length and breadth with obvious connotations to the slave trade and colonialization, but also to tripwires as the artists hope their work will force people to take a stand. Downstairs, the basement gallery houses ‘Salon Des Refuses’ by Tina Maria Nielsen where the artist has transformed mundane, everyday items (including mobile phones, a ladder, an umbrella, blinds and ostrich eggs) into beautiful bronze, plaster, paraffin and concrete sculptures. In deciding which items to laboriously sculpt, she questions which objects people feel attached to versus those we reject. Unlike upstairs, there is no natural light and the gallery feels deliberately repressive, much like a cellar where things are stored or hidden. The two shows complement each other well and I’d certainly advise a visit if you’re in Copenhagen over the summer.

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Gallery 1 of  the ‘Native, Exotic, Normal’ exhibition showing silk coats of arms devoid of symbolic content
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Another gallery showing the chains running across the length and breadth of the space
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Mobile phone sculptures in bronze by Tina Maria Nielsen
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Ostrich egg sculptures by Tina Maria Nielsen

 For more information visit their website

Categories
Gallery

Berlinishe Gallerie: Berlin, Germany

The Berlinische Gallerie (or Museum of Modern Art in Berlin) is housed in a former 1950’s glass factory and opened as a museum in 2004. Whilst the upstairs galleries showcase German art from the late 19th century Wilhelmine era through to the post war art of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, it was the ground floor exhibition ‘Radically Modern’ examining Berlin’s architecture that really grabbed my attention. The show comprises 300 architectural drawings, photographs, models, collages and aerial shots thoughtfully displayed flat on the floor allowing visitors to experience the sensation of seeing the city from above. Beginning in 1950 and taking a loosely chronological approach, it discusses the post-war boom in construction and architectures’ heavy links with politics; most poignant in the construction of the Berlin wall in 1961. Initiated by a deliberate move away from “the megalomaniac planning under the Nazi dictatorship” it looks at subsequent differences between the Easts’ neo-classical style to try and emphasise the confidence of the new state, versus the Wests’ re-appropriation of 1920’s avant-garde styles. Particular points of interest for me were the desire to destroy rather than preserve older buildings, though two key exceptions can be seen in The Reichstag and Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial chapel. I also enjoyed viewing the construction of the Television Tower which continues to dominate the skyline, as well as city planners’ visions for reunification including a 1960’s Berlin as a “city on electronically operated conveyor belts” and a collage of the “Socialist City Model” seeing city dwellers relaxing by a pool in front of their uniform blocks of flats. In many ways it is a relief that architecture is no longer as explicit a political tool, however this exhibition did highlight modern architects’ reluctance for self-expression and to push boundaries creating their own utopian visions, but today seem more driven by economics instead.

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Gallery

Grayson Perry: The Turner Contemporary, Margate

“Southeastern apologies for the late running of this service…” echoes from the tannoy at St Pancras station, but delays aside, the high-speed link to Margate takes just ninety minutes. Once on the coast you can see The Turner Contemporary less than a kilometre away, along the promenade in its stunning sea-front location. The Gallery is completely free and currently exhibiting a retrospective of Grayson Perry’s work from 1980’s to the present day entitled ‘Provincial Punk’ which nicely encapsulates the artists teasing rebellion. Visitors enter into a room filled with free standing plinths showcasing at least fifteen of Perry’s ceramic pots of various sizes, styles and décor; a highlight for me was one shaped like the European Cup called ‘Football Stands For Everything I Hate’ humorously covered in words like ‘pub bores’, ‘bad tattoo’, ‘hair-gel’, ‘cheap fags’ and more. The next room includes additional ceramics including the powerful and provocative ‘Dolls at Dungeness’ made shortly after the attacks on September 11th 2001 and depicts planes in the sky with buildings and children below, and speech bubbles wording ‘help’, ‘go kill yourself for a virgin fuck’ and ‘testosterone addicts’. It also includes etchings, watercolours, collages, early films, and photographs of his most recent 2015 ‘A House for Essex’ project. Not only does it showcase Perry’s talent, it also highlights his intelligence with influences ranging from English 17th century slipware, to global folk pottery, ancient Greece, Thomas Moore’s Utopia, 19th century commemorative plates, his own childhood and much more. The final room is dedicated to three huge tapestries drawn on photo-shop then made with a computer controlled loom. Most notable is ‘The Walthamstow Tapestry’ which parodies the Bayeux Tapestry and successfully intertwines themes ranging from religion, to identity, class, politics and media amongst others. Artistic merit aside, this exhibition provides a thought provoking and wry commentary on contemporary culture.

For more information visit their website

Images around Margate
Images around Margate