October 29, 2014 § Leave a comment
Tracey Emin is probably the marmite of the art world. Everyone has an opinion about her and her work and whether that be good or bad, it cannot be denied that she is arguably the most famous female living British artist.
Emin’s current show at White Cube focuses on the female nude, a subject that historically, would have been painted or sculpted by a male practitioner in a mythological context. The art historical nude would be idealised, hairless and unnaturally beautiful. Emin’s images have only the female form in common. Her figures are not an ideal. They are real. They are self-portraits.
The self-portraits within the show cover many art forms: drawings, paintings, sculpture and embroidery. The painted images are the most striking. Large bodies illustrated in blue gouache cover the walls. The outlines of these paintings are thick and expressive, breaking off from time to time. The work is full of emotion and while the images are by no means technically ‘perfect’, their honesty gives them a sense of power and presence.
While the paintings begin with two tones of colour, and the exhibition progresses, Emin introduces reds and pinks. These colours are associated with femininity yet these images are anything but fragile; they are fuelled with an emotional intensity that is mirrored in her sculptures.
The sculpture on display has been cast in bronze, another historical technique and it appears that the artist has not been looking forward for this latest group of work, but back. Emin has acknowledged that the show is about having to come to terms with ageing. Yet while one might expect someone having difficulty with the process of physically maturing to have a mid-life crisis and revisit their youth, Emin remains true to the subject of her work: herself. The artist continues to present herself as she is at this current moment in time.
Perhaps the work is not as overtly controversial as the installations she is most famous for, but there are still a few neon lights featured within the show. Emin’s approach to art seems to have ‘matured’, just as she has done, but the honesty remains in what may be dubbed the next chapter in her story.
Tracey Emin: The Last Great Adventure Is You is on display at White Cube, Bermondsey until 16th November
October 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
The Victoria Miro Gallery on Wharf Road is situated in a vastly different location to its Mayfair counterpart. The surrounding area is predominantly residential and it appears to be lacking in luxury boutiques and swanky restaurants. In fact, you have to pass a petrol station and a McDonalds to get to it. Yet this unassuming space boasts one of the most beautiful hidden gardens in London that has currently sprouted several pumpkins in time for autumn.
The pumpkins that have emerged in the water garden have been ‘planted’ by Yayoi Kusama. Unlike the majority of the work that the artist is most famous for, these bronze vegetables are not brightly coloured. Instead of trying to grab our attention the squash lies unassumingly with no signs of any added artificial colour. The natural browns of the bronze compliment the brown decking on which they are supported, as well as the dark green leaves of the surrounding vegetation and the lighter shades of algae floating on top of the water’s surface. And, while Kusama has moved away from the bright colours of which she is most famous, the pumpkins are still covered with her trademarks spots, which serve only to compliment the silver orbs that already reside in the garden’s water prior to the growth of the marrows, having been left from an earlier exhibition by the artist in 2008. In short, no location could be better suited to these sculptures.
For us in the west, the pumpkin is eponymous with autumn, colder weather and Halloween. For Kusama however, it has a different meaning. The artist’s family made their living cultivating plant seeds and keeping nurseries. The squash has appeared in her work since 1948 in a variety of different forms, however the new crop at Victoria Miro are the biggest yet. The ones here are huge, almost human height with a much wider girth. In various interviews Kusama has described the humble pumpkin as having a ‘generous unpretentiousness’ and also of being a ’symbol of peace and the sacredness of the bond between nature and humanity.’ This seems to sum up perfectly the experience of being in the water garden at Victoria Miro, which has an air of serenity and calm.
For those looking for a taste of tranquility away from the hustle and bustle of inner city London life I highly suggest you sample Kusama’s pumpkins before they are uprooted at the end of December.
Yayoi Kusama: Bronze Pumpkins are on display at Victoria Miro until 19 December
October 2, 2014 § Leave a comment
Marina Abramovic seems to me to be the sweetheart of the performance art world, despite being controversial, many remain captivated by her work, thus it seems fitting that White Space, the name of her current retrospective-style show at the Lisson Gallery, comes from a performance first realised in 1972, which has its focal point in a recording of the artist saying ‘I love you’, playing on repeat.
The performance was originally performed in Belgrade in a room filled with white paper and is now being repeated for the first time in over thirty years. Stepping inside the room alone was a somewhat relaxing experience. The white paper seemed to move and float around the room with the sound of the record player. The room is bright and light, and a contrast to the somewhat intense experience at the Serpentine earlier this year.
The rest of the work on display however, is not so light, or indeed bright. Other performances on display include two films that are shown in dark rooms. One of these is a film, also from the 1970s, where Abramovic lies down in the middle of a burning star, where the performance ends when the artist is awoken by concerned spectators after falling unconscious.
The other film on display is entitled ‘freeing the memory’ in which the artist is seen on black and white film listing every word she can think of for nearly an hour. This piece has a chant-like quality. Abramovic remains still and expressionless throughout and it is remarkable that she doesn’t seem to tire at all. For the time that I was in the viewing room, the artist listed all kinds of things from the Galapagos Islands to words about love and youth. These all appear quite nice and quaint, however, in other reviews that I have read, it has been noted that Abramovic also managed to recite the names of diseases and political dictators.
The wall art on display mainly comprise photographic stills of the artist during her most famous performances. However, also on display are a series of photographs in which Abramovic has ‘blacked out’ buildings with white correction fluid during her time away from Belgrade, which coincidentally were then literally blacked out by the NATO bombings during the Kosovo war. I found these images particularly moving. Unless you stand very close to the images, it is almost impossible to see that they have been altered then upon closer inspection the effect hits you like a bomb. The artist manages to say so much without saying anything. Also in the exhibition are drawings of plans for the performances on display in the gallery, giving the viewer the opportunity to see some of the thought processes behind the work.
For any Marina fans this show should not be missed – an opportunity to go back to the beginning of the artist’s career.
September 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
Last week I made a trip to the Saatchi Gallery to view Sam Taylor-Johnson’s photographs of Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel’s apartment. It is not a secret that I am a fashion fanatic and I was expecting the images of Chanel’s private rooms to give me a glimpse into the designer’s personal space, thus providing an enriched understanding of her character. However, I left disappointed.
At first, I blamed Taylor-Johnson’s images for my dissatisfaction with the exhibition. Having said that, after waiting a week to think about the display my thoughts have changed and moved away from Chanel altogether. Taylor-Johnson’s images are dark. All the colour has been sucked out of the space and there is more focus on the architectural elements of the apartment than its contents. From these images, someone with no prior knowledge of Chanel may get the impression that she was vapid and flat and that is almost certainly not the case. The photographs are Taylor-Johnson’s interpretations. Perhaps she has depicted the apartment this way to signify the lack of life now that Chanel’s physical presence has left. Nevertheless, it would be hard to argue that these photographs really tell us anything about Chanel herself.
The saying goes that a picture tells a thousand words, but does it really? Throughout my undergraduate degree (in western art history), my tutors always insisted that portraits were rarely an accurate likeness to the sitter. Yes, these images that would have been commissioned by the elite and upper classes would bring some resemblance. Yet they often came with stipulations from the sitter that the artist would have had to follow if he (or she) wanted to be paid. Artists’ log books throughout history show that everything from the way the sitter is dressed to their facial expressions and any attributes that they are holding would all have been discussed in advance. Most of the time, these portraits would have been made to flatter the sitter. Often these images would be circulated as prints and would be the only pictures of rulers that the lower classes would have access to, thus appearances had to be well thought out and complimentary. Taking all this into account, it is more than likely that such images were contrived, not showing the full persona of the sitter, rather what was expected of them.
In terms of artist’s self portraits many art historians would strongly argue that they too, would illustrate themselves in the way in which they would want to be seen. Much like ‘selfies’ today, the artist could alter the way in which they would depict themselves, perhaps by changing their state of dress to that of a wealthier status or by incorporating an emblem of their reigning monarch. Just like we literally ‘filter’ and edit the way we are seen on social media. Thus, in terms of portraits, it is arguable that the image gives a distorted view of the persona that it is depicting.
Consequently, I would like to argue that while an image can indeed tell us about a person, one would probably be best to think about the artist’s intention when producing the picture as the sitter only makes half of the story. It takes at least two to create an image concerning a figure(s), the sitter(s) as well as the artist.
September 17, 2014 § Leave a comment
September not only means the start of the new academic year. While millions of children and students around the world are readying themselves for essays and lectures, the world’s sartorial elite cast their eyes to New York, London, Paris and Milan for a month of four consecutive weeks of fashion. What does this have to do with art I hear you cry? Seemingly little, but as you begin to look behind the surface, you will begin to see that is not the case.
This article was originally inspired by Miley Cyrus, whose name refuses to budge from the covers of tabloid newspapers and glossy magazines for her raunchy antics and questionable dress sense. However she has now delved into the visual arts, having just presented her first art collection ‘dirty hippie’ in collaboration with Jeremy Scott at New York fashion week. Her ‘artwork’ does not consist of the generic paintings one might expect, but accessories, which I suppose we could call sculpture. This leads to asking the age-old question: firstly, what constitutes as art and secondly, how should it be presented?
Surely (and conventionally) a museum or gallery would have been a more appropriate setting for Cyrus’s art, however given the name the singer has made for herself, nothing should really surprise us. Artist-fashion designer collaborations are nothing new. Marina Abramovic has previously collaborated with Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci as has Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton. While this appears to be a new phenomenon, the recent Artist Textiles Exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum proves that these collaborations have been around for nearly a century (beginning their show from the 1920s). While one cannot go around wearing a Picasso painting, the artist did personally approve fabric to be made from his art that people could wear.
Fashion exhibitions are becoming more and more commonplace. While this may be a positive and indeed it must be for museum and visitor numbers, what does it mean for art exhibitions? While I am known amongst friends for constantly spending time in galleries and at exhibitions, it is seldom that people suggest accompanying me. However this is a very different story when a fashion exhibition opens, when I suddenly become very popular. The recent Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which opens at the V&A in London next year, saw record visitor numbers for the museum with people queuing round the block. Where previously very few fashion exhibitions were on offer there are now plenty to choose from and I have also noticed myself writing more and more articles about shows of clothes and style.
While fashion has successfully muscled it’s way into the art world by using its exhibition venues, it is still worth questioning whether it is in fact art at all. Miley Cyrus’s offerings at New York Fashion Week certainly could be argued favourably in this way as she had the intention of creating art. In spite of that, many garments that end up on display in galleries and museums were simply designed to be functioning items of clothing and not lauded over like masterpiece paintings. It is worth considering then, whether that vintage Chanel suit hanging in the museum is an artwork or a highly collectible antique.
September 11, 2014 § Leave a comment
Even after having lived on the outskirts of London my entire life, as venues open and close, there will always be something new to discover. I recently made my first trip to the Fan Museum in Greenwich, which, despite opening two years before I was born, had alluded me until now.
The fan museum is small, sweet, quaint and petite. From the outside it does not have the appearance of a museum at all. However, its door handles that are adorned with fans hint at the content of the building. When I say that the fan motif is everywhere, I mean it. Even the bathroom, which really was very impressive, has been covered with them, even the soap was fan-shaped. I could see that I wasn’t the only fan (pun intended) as an award had been hung proudly on the mirror. I didn’t know bathroom awards existed until now, but trust me when I say; the Fan Museum definitely deserved it.
Moving away from lavatory decoration to the museum’s collection that tells the story of the origins and evolution of the fan throughout history. Though small, this is well displayed across two rooms on the ground floor of the museum. This begins with a series of fan leaves that have been taken and unfolded from their original supports. So intricate are these fans that one would be forgiven for mistaking them for miniature or small-scale oil paintings. In this first room the status associated with the fan is displayed with many fans being adorned with decorations of royal courts from all over Europe as well as other mythical and historical events.
The following room concentrated on the materials that fans have been constructed out of throughout time with fans made out of ivory, tortoiseshell and my favourite, mother of pearl. These are displayed adjacent to fans from all over the world from the orient to the amazon. The viewer leaves this room after being confronted by a cheeky nod to modern fans with the inclusion of a dyson fan.
Upstairs is space for temporary exhibitions, which currently focuses on the history of fans and advertising with the inclusion of fans made out of beer bottles.
This hidden treasure in Greenwich is well worth a visit. I am definitely a fan!
Seduced: Fans & The Art of Advertising is on display at The Fan Museum until 28 September