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!
Having seen copious pictures of Anthea Hamilton’s “butt” sculpture and other increasingly iconic images from this year’s Turner Prize across various arts press, social media and mainstream news, this week I cycled down Embankment to Tate Britain were the annual prize is exhibited. This years’ four finalists reflect the diversity, humour and talent within the British contemporary art world. Opening with Helen Marten’s installations where everyday objects are gathered together in a collage-like fashion, putting familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts and creating a manufactured archaeological site where visitors are encouraged to try and make sense of what is in front of them. Around the next corner you are greeted by Anthea Hamilton’s large-scale bum crack, formally titled ‘Project for a Door (After Gaetano Pesce)’ and I only wish it came to fruition as an entrance for a New York apartment block, alongside her ‘Brick Suit’ set against a backdrop of faux brick wallpaper. The next gallery space hosts Josephine Pryde’s photographic series coupled with a model of a Class 66 diesel locomotive and train-track complete with tags by various graffiti artists from the cities her exhibition has been display at in the past. Her ‘Hands Fur Mich’ photographs are akin to advertising images, focussing on females’ hands holding mobile phones, tablets, ipads and other technology that society is becoming increasingly reliant on. The final gallery is dedicated to Michael Dean’s sculptural works and his compelling ‘United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children’ installation comprising £20,436 in pennies across the gallery floor (the amount the UK government state as the minimum a family need to survive for a year). During installation Dean removed one penny enabling visitors to tangibly visualise what is below the poverty line, creating a powerful close to this years’ exhibition. I left feeling torn between two artists and eager to hear who is announced as 2016’s winner on 5th December.
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.
Directly across the hallway from ‘Performing Sculpture’ at Tate Modern is ‘Performing For The Camera’ – a photography exhibition spanning fourteen galleries and exploring the relationship between photography and performance. Taking a thematic approach the exhibition looks at how the camera has been used as a tool for exploring identity, gender and sexism, race and politics, and manipulated in advertising and by society’s portrayal and construction of themselves from its invention in the 1800’s to contemporary social media. It comprises over 500 images and several stand out; three large black and white images of Ai Wei Wei holding a 2,000 year old Han dynasty urn, dropping the urn, and the urn smashing on the floor, as well as Tomoko Sawada’s ‘ID400’ showing a collection of passport photographs taken by the artist over a 4 year period highlighting her diverse looks and identities yet still being the same person, Jemima Stehli’s ‘Strip’ which depicts the artist taking her clothes off in front of six different subjects who control the camera and timing of photos being taken, and Romain Mader’s ‘Ekaterina’ which humorously discusses Ukranian mail-order-bride tourism through a series of nine staged photographs. Another highlight of the exhibition was being introduced to Japanese photographer Eikoh Hosoe whose collaboration with the dancer Tatsumi Hijikata are documented in wonderful black and white images densely hung against bright red walls. With such a large volume of photographs on display there were bound to be some notable images, however the exhibition as a whole lacked something, and in contrast to the Calder exhibition across the corridor I felt that sculpture ‘performed’ much better than the camera on this occasion.
A “pop” of colour was just what I needed on a grey afternoon as autumn truly begins to kick in… and that’s exactly what ‘The World Goes Pop’ gave me. Each of the ten large galleries in this exhibition is painted a different bright hue; from red, to pink, green, orange, blue, yellow, turquoise and numerous shades in between. Refreshingly all of the big names typically associated with pop art (Warhol, Lichtenstein, Blake, Hamilton and Hockney) are noticeably absent, and instead the focus is on exploring how different cultures and countries such as Romania, Iran and Bratislava contributed to this phenomenon throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s. Many common pop art themes are present including the use of mass produced imagery; most notable in the last gallery which is decorated floor to ceiling with Thomas Bayrle’s ‘The Laughing Cow’ wallpaper and displays a series of instantly recognisable logos by Yugoslavian artist Boris Bucan such as BMW, Pepsi, IBM and Texaco amongst others where the brand has been replaced with the word ‘art’, questioning how far art itself has now become a consumerist product? All of the artists on display have utilised popular global imagery to subtly address tougher issues including war, the role of women and sexual liberation, protest and civil rights. Intelligently any political message does not detract from the works as pieces of art in their own right, and I was particularly drawn to three lacquered car bonnets decorated with shapes evoking female genitalia by Judy Chicago, the only woman on an auto-body course of 250 male students. Whilst some of the pieces were not to my taste, and several are now looking a little dated (particularly those created from plastics and polymers), I certainly appreciated the exhibitions’ efforts to widen the publics gaze at pop art and present previously uncelebrated works.
Three things struck me at Tate Britain’s current Barbara Hepworth exhibition ‘Sculpture for a Modern World’ – 1. Her relationship with the landscape and natures’ influence on her work, 2. Her consistent control over her self-image, and 3. Her commissions filling urban landscapes today. In each of the seven exhibition rooms (carving, studio, international modernism, equilibrium, staging sculpture, guarea tropical hardwood and pavilion) Hepworth’s relationship with nature and particularly the seascape of St Ives in Cornwall is palpable, never more so than in room five where a film entitled ‘Figures in Landscape’ describes the sea hollowing out rocks, beautifully echoing Hepworth’s hollowing out of wood and stone in her sculptures. Likewise the exhibition highlights Hepworth’s constant manipulation of how she and her pieces were portrayed to the public, from early on in her career when she carefully organised photo albums of herself and her pieces in her studio with partner and fellow artist Ben Nicholson, to her close interest in how she was represented in the media as her recognition grew, and by the 1950’s her staging of sculptures and creating collages of false backdrops for her pieces. Finally I was surprised to learn how much her art fills the urban landscape, for example her ‘Winged Figure’ erected on the side of the John Lewis building on London’s Oxford Street in 1963 which I walk pass most days oblivious. I appreciated how the exhibition’s loosely chronological approach allows visitors to follow the evolution of Hepworth’s style and her various spiritual, political and personal influences. I also liked that it celebrates the raw materials themselves; tactile marble, lapis lazuli, alabaster, onyx, anhydrite, ironstone, hoptonwood stone, fossil stone, teak, elm, plane, Burmese wood, African blackwood, and finally bronze (a material little used until the end of Hepworth’s career) are all displayed to great effect.