Musée national Picasso: Paris

Having attempted to visit the Musée national Picasso-Paris on a couple of occasions but defeated by queues, it was third time lucky for me on a drizzly Saturday afternoon pottering around Le Marais! The museum is in the old Hotel Sale building dating back to the 17th century and listed by The Historic Monuments department. It opened as a museum in 1985 following extensive restoration, creating stunning modern gallery spaces whilst being sympathetic to the original architectural features and surviving furnishings. The collection comprises over 5,000 paintings, sculptures, ceramics, prints, engravings, illustrated books as well as an archive of newspaper articles and personal documents associated with the Spanish artist. The vast majority of the collection was acquired through two large donations from Picasso’s heirs, and is currently host to an additional body of work on loan from the Pompidou Centre as part of their 40th anniversary celebrations – offering a full spectrum of Picasso’s myriad styles and techniques. The lead exhibition focusses on the year 1932 during which Picasso dated every painting or sculpture he created, highlighting the strong biographical element in his work. This was also an interesting year with regards the artists’ personal life as many of the portraits painted depict variations of just two women; Dora Marr and Marie-Thérèse Walter, the former a photographer and surrealist artist who was Picasso’s mistress leading to the demise of his marriage to Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, and the latter a seventeen year old additional love interest of the forty-five year old artist! The variable and often contrasting portrayals of these two woman is a good analogy for the multifarious nature of Picasso as an artist, embracing innumerable different styles throughout his career. Ultimately that was what I took away from my visit to this museum – that Picasso was far more than the surrealist painter I was familiar with, but a far more complex and talented creator unafraid to provoke.

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Evans, Janssens and Ortega: White Cube, Bermondsey

Three exhibitions for the price of one! In fact three exhibitions for the price of none if you head over to White Cube Bermondsey who offer free admission and are currently host to three different artists across their north, south and 9x9x9 gallery spaces. The first space you enter off the main corridor contains Cerith Wyn Evans’ huge neon installation ‘Neon Forms (After Noh IV) which is suspended from the ceiling and almost reaches the floor, combining single lines of light amidst chaotic overlapping assemblages. The north gallery space compliments the first show, as Ann Veronica Janssens’ sculptural works similarly play with light and perception; including halogen lamps, venetian blinds covered in gold leaf, reflective and mirrored surfaces and a spillage of glitter across the floor. The final (and largest) south gallery space is dedicated to Damian Ortega which again includes large-scale sculptures and installations alongside two-dimensional pieces. Orange infographics are pinned to the white walls, and although the imagery relates to a camera manual, the workings of a gun, or the planets within the solar system, closer inspection reveals that the labels are philosophical and comment on the impact technology has had on people’s faith and belief. Within these two-dimensional works are a series of industrial and mechanical sculptures such as the coliseum created from concrete blocks in concentric circles, and the clever ‘Deconstructing time’ sculptures which comprise the inner workings of a watch enlarged to an enormous scale and separated across the floor or stacked in free standing towers. The weather may be turning grey and miserable as autumn sets in, but the change in season also initiates the opening of several inspiring exhibitions to keep you indoors and happily distracted from the weather outside – and White Cube’s current offering certainly falls into that category!

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Contact Zone, air blob-no bones: L’etragere Gallery

On a weekend where London’s hosting Fashion Week, Design Week and Open House activities, there is something delectable about escaping the crowds and enjoying some quiet culture rather than squeezing your way through an overcrowded architectural gem, enduring a contrived tour of an institution, or spending so long in a queue outside a venue you fail to see anything at all! So that’s exactly what I did… hidden down a cobbled street off Old Street you’ll find L’etrangere gallery showcasing a changing programme of contemporary art exhibitions. Currently a trio of artists (two from Germany and one from Hungary) are on display in a group show entitled ‘Contact Zone, air blob-no bones’ which mixes sculpture and painting through delicate glassworks alongside industrial ceramic installations. Marie Jeschke and Anja Lager have created a series of glass plates which are balanced against the black floorboards and white walls of the gallery, with sharp irregular edges and decorated with shots of painted colour and small objects. The third artist, Istvan Szabo’s ceramic creations are displayed on the floor enabling visitors to view them from above, and combine pieces of brick, metal, nails and an assortment of other materials found on London streets and scrapyards. The glass plates and ceramics mingle throughout the gallery in much the same way as different materials coalesce within each artwork. The exhibition is certainly challenging for the viewer, but I appreciated the simplicity of their display and the tactile quality of each piece. Fragile materials are fused with durable elements and you find yourself getting closer to the artworks to try and identify what object has been fired, glazed or melted into the original material. Nothing is framed or has straight edges, and this further increases your interest in the process behind how these works are created.

Rob Lye: Dye House 451

Situated on the ground floor of an old Permanite factory down in a side street in Hackney Wick you’ll find Dye House 451, a contemporary art gallery still in its inaugural year dedicated to showcasing works by emerging artists. You enter the current ‘Mute Ottakes’ exhibition by Rob Lye through the side door – a conscious decision by the artist so that the glass doors at the front of the gallery become a window to see the exhibition. Once inside, the floor is covered in black sand which unifies the different rooms within the gallery and also adds both an “audible trace to the spectators movements as they walk through the space” as well as a “visual trace, there is a history imprinted into the sand of previous visitors”. As the show’s title (specifically through the use of the word mute) suggests, this exhibition has been curated around a series of works that focus on sound, or indeed its absence. There is a silent outtake from BS Johnson’s TV programme ‘Fat Man on a Beach’ as a starting point accompanied by a looped piece of music made through degrading tape, three speakers which play a real time feed of the electromagnetic frequencies generated by the wireless router, empty beer bottles on the balcony filled with liquid to differing levels which play the theme tune to ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ if you were to blow over them, and less explicitly the main image ‘Hania swimming’ depicts a woman in a pool distracted by something audible but out of shot. All of these intermingle with the sound of the sand underfoot and are crucial to this exhibition, as the artist puts it “music, sound, silence, the act of listening, etc. it’s everything really”. On until 19th February, I’d strongly recommend a visit for a dose of east London culture.

With thanks to Fred Howell (Director of Dye House 451) for taking the time to meet me, and to Rob Lye (the artist) for kindly answering my questions.

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William Kentridge: Whitechapel Gallery

Despite Brexit, Trump’s victory, and the lamentable loss of David Bowie, Prince and George Michael, 2016 has been culturally rich. It has been a joy reviewing such a plethora of exhibitions across London, Europe and further afield – and it feels odd to now be writing my final piece of the year, but equally a pleasure to end on a high with William Kentridge’s ‘Thick Time’ exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery. The gallery’s spaces are utterly transformed by the South African artists’ six large-scale immersive installations, all recall early cinematography and theatre but explore different themes from the concept of time, to colonialism, revolution, exile and politics (with a notable interest in his native apartheid). Upon entering the darkened space you are greeted by his first creation – a metal megaphone powered by bicycle parts, with its silhouette painted onto the wall behind it. A mechanical cog and churning noise lures you further into the exhibition where you are immersed into a black white projected film of a procession containing choreographed dancing figures who move across each wall of the gallery. Beyond this, Kentridge’s imagination and creativity are palpable in an animated dictionary containing illustrations which evolve with the turn of every page, a mechanical and puppet inspired opera, and even the staircase which cleverly contains a male figure created from black electrical tape up each step! Hand woven tapestries depicting horses galloping across ancient maps of southern Europe, a tribute to French filmmaker George Melies where seven different films exploring the directors experiments all play simultaneously in one room (some played in reverse), and a satirical take on Trotskyist Russia depicting a secretary taking dictation from a megaphone against a backdrop of political slogans all add different layers to the fascinating world Kentridge has created for visitors to explore and moreover get lost in!

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Provoke: LE BAL, Paris

LE BAL is located north of Paris’ city centre in the 18th arrondissement, slightly away from the bustle and colossal national museums such as The Louvre, Musee D’Orsay, Pompidou Centre and Grande Palais, yet has had a significant impact on the photographic community in the three years it has been open. The building possesses an interesting history and feels an apt home for the image-based exhibitions it now hosts; originally ‘Chez Isis’ a 1920’s drinking den, before becoming the city’s largest betting shop, and then a ruin rescued in 2006 and transformed into LE BAL gallery. I visited a couple of weeks’ ago to view the ‘Provoke: Between Protest and Performance’ exhibition examining Japanese photography between 1960 and 1975. This era witnessed an unprecedented rise in Western consumer society, huge transformation of cities, an increase in American military bases – and consequently an identity crisis across Japan manifesting in a protest movement. The focus of this show is on the subversive magazine ‘Provoke’ which only published three issues and was heavily influenced by the emergence of Japanese performance art and protest at this time. The exhibition also introduced me to lesser known but highly influential photographers including Takuma Nakahira, Yutaka Takanashi and Daido Moriyama who not only documented the era but “thought of the camera as a weapon”. The black walls of the ground floor gallery space create an oppressive staging for images depicting protests against the construction of Narin airport, student occupation of universities and local girls mixing with US troops near military bases. The basement gallery in contrast is painted white punctuated with strong vinyl images. Each page of all three publications of Provoke is on display alongside contemporary examples of performance art and film, which help put the magazine into context. All share blurred compositions, abrupt framing and sequential imaging which by the close of the exhibition felt a standardised element of Japanese photography of this era.

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Images of protests against the construction of Narin airport
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Each page of the final issue of Provoke (issue 3) magazine
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One of the accompanying performance art pieces – ’30-Hours Street Play: Knock’ by Shuji Terayama held in various places in the Asagaya neighbourhood in 1975

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Lauren Baker: Hang Up Gallery

Wouldn’t it be great if someone combined a contemporary art gallery with the additional bonus of a licensed bar?! Well someone has, and it can be found in Stoke Newington courtesy of Hang-Up Gallery. The Gallery has been on this site specialising in Banksy sales since 2008, but last week opened a lower-ground space, reached via a secret door and corrugated iron staircase, aptly named ‘the bunker’. Whilst the ground floor gallery continues to be dominated by Banksy’s (though there are other noteworthy artists represented including David Shrigley, Ben Eine, Peter Blake and KAWS amongst others), the bunker is currently host to neon creations by Lauren Baker. Her solo show ‘Lightvisions’ comprises a dozen original hand blown neon artworks and limited edition prints featuring provocative slogans such as ‘Everything is going to be fucking amazing’ and ‘Just kiss me, we can talk later’. These neon statements are an expression of Baker’s thoughts in her own hand-writing and hold different meanings; some highlight her positivity (‘Everything is going to be fucking amazing’ is the artists’ daily mantra!), others are tongue in cheek (‘Be kind to animals of I’ll kill you’), whilst others explore her spirituality or deeper sentiments relating to love and lust (‘You blow my mind’). The nature of these works and the stimulating impact of the light emitted from them lends itself perfectly to its home in a dark basement – or indeed bunker. Baker chose neon as a medium for exactly that reason, admitting to getting “a kick out of the energy that oozes from the glowing tubes” – it also ties back into her spirituality as neon is also reminiscent of the invisible aura of living beings and through neon this becomes more tangible and visible. So as the winter weather kicks in, I’d suggest heading over for a drink, illuminating artworks and a night that might just be ‘fucking amazing’!

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Baker’s tongue in check statement about conservation
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Another of Baker’s neon creations
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The bunker space

Thanks to Lauren Baker for answering my questions, and to Laura at Sprout PR.

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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!

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