Parker Ito @ White Cube, Mason’s Yard

August 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

Uh huh, honey. Three words (words?!), that I never expected to hear inside a gallery. However, the world’s most talked about couple (I’m talking Kimye/Kim Kardashian and Kanye West here), have managed to get themselves featured in the form of West’s music video for Bound 2, inside an art installation at White Cube in Mayfair.

I am almost 100% certain that this exhibition is nothing like anything that you’ve ever seen before. White Cube is playing host to the work of Parker Ito, or rather Parker Cheeto, his alias in a spread of paintings and installations across two floors. The works are continually juxtaposing one another in an almost jarring fashion and I honestly believed it to be a group exhibition until I reread the press release, although it was an easy mistake to make as Ito credits nine other artists for the work. You can get an impression to just how enigmatic the show is just by its title: Maid in Heaven/En Plein Air in Hell (My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Cheeto Problem). The show should give the viewer a headache yet it manages to just about work.

On the ground floor, the viewer enters a gallery of white walls, with hanging tube lights and flowerpots interspersed inside the space. In the centre of the room is a flat screen television, which is playing the Kanye West music video, which makes the already bizarre space seem even stranger. Between the lights are chains hanging down from the ceiling, which apparently had live parrots hanging on them at the private view. The walls then mirror what is lying across the floor and hanging from the ceiling with canvases decorated with mash-ups of flowers, landscapes and chains. It all sounds a little over the top right? Well, it was only a warm up to what was to come downstairs.

As you walk down the stairs you begin to realise that this show is atypical. The walls are no longer white as they have been painted from ground to ceiling and the shiny floor has been replaced with glittery red carpet. The wall paintings are covered with comic book, anime style images. Think pop art that has been injected with a large dose of 21st-century technology. On top of these images, Cheeto, (or Ito?), has scribbled his own thoughts across in white pen. These include such musings as ‘afro girls, plaid pants, #trippy graphics’, ‘a lack of confidence is holding me in life’ and ‘a lil taste of Cheeto in the night.’ The whole experience is mind boggling yet fascinating at the same time. As well as the wall art and hanging lights and chains, large canvases are also being draped from the ceiling. These are decorated on both the front and back and have other images collaged and pasted all over them. My favourite of these is a nod to the ‘love is’ cartoons from the 1970s by Kim Grove Casali.

So much is included in this exhibition that it would be impossible to list it all. It is a captivating and absorbing look inside the head of Parker Ito as well as an homage to contemporary culture and I urge everyone to go and get lost and confused inside the White Cube (which has now become a sort of rainbow cube) as soon as they have the chance.

Maid in Heaven/En Plein Air in Hell (My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Cheeto Problem is on display White Cube, Mason’s Yard until 27 September

Feminism in Contemporary Art

August 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

Warning: This post may be controversial.

A few months ago I was invited to a one-day exhibition of contemporary feminist art consisting of paintings, installations and performances. To be honest I have never quite completely understood the usual approach to feminism in contemporary art. Yes, I am for feminism, however, personally, I do not see how depicting bloodied vaginas and women in uncompromising positions is of any benefit to women. Despite this, I decided to attend the show to see if I would change my mind. I didn’t.

The walls of this particular exhibition were mainly covered with images of breasts and vaginas on the bodies of unidealised and unairbrushed women, often at crude angles with either no face or obscuring the woman’s facial features so as not to be identifiable. This is my main issue with a lot of contemporary feminist art. Why do we need to have women publicly celebrating their genitalia? Furthermore, by obscuring their faces, doesn’t this objectify women even more?

Yes these women are not perfect. Yes society puts pressure on us to look a certain way. And yes it is great that these women have real bodies and real body parts, complete with hair and individuality. However, men are also put under the same scrutiny in our current social climate, but we don’t see male artists reacting in the same way. If a male artist painted a series of images of his penis, I’m almost certain that it would receive a negative reaction. So, why do females feel the need to do so? I do understand that these unshaven bodies may be a reaction to the way the female body has historically been presented in art, as idealised, hairless, mythological nudes. It may even be a reaction to the portrayal of women in modern day porn, but as I said before, men are also presented in an idealised way; they too suffer from pressure to look the same way. It is not just a female problem, so why is it presented as such.

i understand campaigning for women’s rights. I understand empowering women. However walls of vaginas I do not. The suffragettes actually wanted to present themselves as feminine and elegant to oppose the opinion that they were ‘mannish.’ These pioneers of women’s rights would not have dreamed of exposing themselves. Some of my readers may be able to recall Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party of 1979. This work was a made collaboratively by a group of women, celebrating women. As a group, they found and celebrated great women throughout history. This is similar to the work of feminist art historians like Linda Nochlin who actively search for great women artists to add to the canon.

It seems therefore that there is a divide in the way feminists want to approach art. Some, choose to ‘liberate’ women from the generally accepted rules of society by depicting female genitalia, menstruation blood and body hair. This can be said of such artists as Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin. There are others however, who have a different approach. Even as recently as Jess de Wahls Big Swining Ovaries which empowered women through history through her crafted portraits.

Recently, the internet has concerned itself with what it means to be a feminist. I personally have struggled with this in the past, wrongly believing that it was all about burning bras, not shaving, and acting in a masculine fashion. Hopefully this article proves that just as in society there are multiple ways in which we can empower women, so too are there more than one way in art. I am not saying that one approach is ‘more correct’ than the other. While the art in the exhibition was not for me, other feminist art is. For example, I am a huge fan of Shadi Ghadirian and Shirin Neshat. Just as different peoples have different styles when it comes to clothes of music, so too will they in art and in this case, feminism.

Gilbert & George @ White Cube, Bermondsey

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

I currently work across the road from the White Cube on Bermondsey Street at another museum and am often interacting with visitors from the gallery. Most of these visitors come to us enthralled by the current Gilbert and George show at White Cube. However, when I explain to you now that the show is full of bombs, burkas and drugs you may be asking why these visitors always seem to be smiling.

Gilbert and George are an unassuming duo to some yet infamous to others. If the viewer unfamiliar as to what the pair looked like before they saw the exhibition, there is no doubt that they would be able to recognise them after. In over 60 works, the artists appear together in all of them.

The pair, who have been making art together since meeting at St Martin’s in 1967 reflect the environment in which they live: East London. The duo live close to Brick Lane, an area which is fast changing. The show is entitled ‘SCAPEGOATING PICTURES’ which suggests that the contents in the pictures are often aspects of life that are blamed for the wrongdoings of others. This may be true of the nitrous oxide canisters, which the pair have come across in their morning walks, perhaps to explain that it is the people taking these fashionable drugs that are the problem, not the drug itself. In an interview they have likened this to Hogarth’s Rakes Progress but with ‘new-age party drugs instead of booze.’

Similarly, we may question the inclusion of women in burkhas. Gilbert and George state that they are against religion and this is the first time that the pair has used any faith besides Christianity in their work. However, it is interesting that they have chosen to insert the veiled figures in the series given its title, suggesting that they believe these women to be free of fault. This is probably true, yet, if they are against religion, then it would make more sense that they did object to them. That said, across the images, the pair not only give Islam attention, but hurl a string of vulgar insults towards Christianity.

However, it is not all doom and gloom, nor a display full of negativity – after all – why would people constantly be leaving so smiley?! It is this honesty that I find makes the visitors so intrigued. Our world is constantly on edge. Nobody wants to offend, everything must be politically incorrect and we are forever biting our tongues in fear of upsetting someone. Yet Gilbert and George do not shy away from the truth. In fact they have put themselves in every image so you know that they are definitely conscious of the message they are giving. The pair themselves are also very comical: men in their seventies in masks or dressed as skeletons with serious faces. It shouldn’t work after all these years, where the exhibitions are seemingly very similar, but it does and I sincerely hope that they never stop.

You really have to see it to believe it!

Gilbert & George: SCAPEGOATING PICTURES for London is on display at White Cube Bermondsey until 28 September

Curating: Is it a form of art?

August 5, 2014 § 2 Comments

A few days ago a friend asked me to view his blog. He then sent me a link to his tumblr, a website where most people who use it reblog images from others with very little of their own original content. To this I replied that I didn’t see tumblr as blogging as the subject matter is not usually innovative to the person who has just re-blogged it from someone else. However, my friend retorted with: ‘I see curatorship as a form of art.’ This got my thinking about the curators of galleries and exhibitions: are they artists in their own right?

We live in an age today of the ‘super-curator.’ Names such as Hans Ulrich Obrist and Okwui Enwezor are just as recognisable as contemporary artists. They are in high demand across the globe, being flown from city to city to host exhibitions and biennials. Curators are those in charge of arranging exhibitions, they act as the stylists of the art world. Especially in situations where the artist whose work on display is dead, it is worth noting that it is the singly the curator who has command over how an exhibition is presented.

The word ‘curator’ has origins in late Middle English, Old French and Latin, meaning to care. While the role of a curator is to support the artist in their exhibitions, like the artist, their role is also visual, choosing where and how a work is hung, the colour of the walls, and issues surrounding wall text. Unlike gallerists who are chiefly concerned with financial issues, the curator’s job is chiefly aesthetic.

When an exhibition is a success the curator often receives just as much praise as the artist. However, with their visual contribution seemingly secondary to the artwork on display are they artists too? Curators are not solely presenters of art and compilers of temporary exhibitions. Many are attached to institutions, being in charge of over-seeing the care of permanent collections. These curators often have a background in art history and not only present young, new art, but preserve art’s heritage too. In this way many compile books and contribute chapters to literature in order to do so, something that a lot of artist’s don’t do.

After a quick google search into post-graduate degrees in curation, half were MA degrees with the other half being MFA, indicating that those teaching the practice themselves are unsure as to where to place the discipline. I have not yet made my mind up as to where to place curation myself, however, with new art forms emerging almost everyday, it is worth considering if curation is one of them.

Malevich @ Tate Modern

August 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Tate’s incumbent blockbuster exhibition is about Matisse. However, running concurrently is a retrospective of the art of Russian artist Malevich that really ought to have just as much attention from gallery goers.

Kazimir Malevich was born in Kiev, whilst an administrative division of the Russian Empire in 1879. He founded the suprematist movement around 1913 and his seminal work Black Square, was first on display in 1915 at the Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 exhibition in what is now St Petersburg. Thus it seems almost fitting that nearly a century from this date, such a grand show should be hosted to celebrate his life and art with nine works from the original exhibition on display in the gallery.

However, before we get too carried away with Black Square, let us first mention the beginning of the exhibition, which moves chronologically through time. Here we see the artist’s beginnings and experimentations with different styles. We see Malevich play with impressionism, cubism and futurism, emulating other artists, much of which is vastly different from the geometric shapes he is most famous for today.

Following these early works we move into suprematist territory. The paintings no longer hang along one straight line but move about up and down the walls. The most infamous painting, Black Square, hanging high up in a corner of the gallery, as would a speaker be today. Although the original is not on display as it is too fragile to travel, a 1923 copy made by the artist has the same affect. These paintings have been hung exactly as they were in the original 1915 exhibition, thus literally recreating the Russia in which Malevich was working nearly 100 years ago. By placing the painting in the corner, Malevich likened it to Russian Orthodox icons, which were hung in the holy corner of homes. suprematism concerned itself with reduction, white backgrounds with plain shapes in the three primary colours as well as black and white. In 1927, Malevich described suprematism as ‘the primacy of pure feeling in creative art…the visual phenomena of the objective world are…meaningless; the significant thing is feeling.’ While some may ask where is the feeling in a bunch of boxes are, one is reminded that you must be pretty bold to replace an image of a saint with a black square.

Following on from this room we see Malevich’s suprematism on posters as well as crockery. Also on display is a huge collection of work on paper from the Nicholas Khardiev collection, where the viewer can see all the work, which went on behind something seemingly as simple as the black square.

Later on we learn that the artist did not stick with suprematism. In the final few galleries figures are re-introduced. At first the images are faceless and minimal. They are often grouped together in fours and each coloured in singular colours. I personally found these very interesting to look at, however already; others yearn for a return to suprematism, whose hopes are finally crushed in the final gallery when Malevich returns to a socialist realist style favoured by the Russian regime.

The show wonderfully tells about the life of Malevich and with it the birth and death of suprematism, a must see.

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art is on display at Tate Modern until 26 October

Why you should study Art History and what you can do with it

July 28, 2014 § 2 Comments

Having just completed my undergraduate degree in the History of Art I am all too familiar with people asking what benefit the subject is going to have on my future. Given that I am about to continue with post-graduate study in September, I am now permanently prepared with a long list of answers on how to respond to those worrying about what I am going to do with my life after acquiring what they deem to be an useless degree.

Before I even started university people turned their nose up at the idea of me studying Art History and would try to dissuade me from adopting it as a career path. After about the one hundredth scornful remark at a dinner party this week, I have decided to share what it is that I have learnt already and what it is possible to do with a degree in the History of Art.

Art History is often seen as an ‘easy’ subject taken by the privileged or elite who will probably never have to work anyway, the most famous History of Art graduate being Kate Middleton. However, as any of my classmates will tell you that is simply not the case, with most of us having spent many long nights hunched over a book or a laptop struggling to churn out an essay on time with a view to working after graduation.

First of all, I would just like to clarify that just by looking at a painting, History of Art students cannot tell instantaneously what an artist was thinking when they created the image. Art historians are not psychics or mind readers. Furthermore, we also do not know everything about every painting or sculpture ever created in history. That would be like a musician having knowledge of every song, symphony or opera throughout time, regardless of style and genre.

The skills learnt through the study of Art History do not purely lead themselves to the knowledge of painting, sculpture and architecture. History of Art also encompasses photography, performance, film, animation and the decorative arts. Furthermore, how would we know what people looked like without images? Written accounts would give us an idea, however it is in paintings that we recognize figures like Henry VIII. Besides visual skills, politics and a less aesthetic sense of history are prevalent throughout, as are social and cultural history, with my own personal study leading me to study the art of China. Like all humanities degrees, students and graduates possess many transferable skills such as the ability to write a decent essay and conduct research.

In terms of future careers, I will point out the most obvious first: museum and gallery work, conservation, antiques and auction houses. These occupations appear to be what many feel are the only future for Art History graduates besides teaching, which is always dropped into the conversation.

While more ‘practical’ degrees like Economics and Business studies may appear desirable for employability purposes in large financial corporations, History of Art can be of great benefit. Many companies invest in art as financial assets. It is worth mentioning here that during the recession the art market continued to thrive while nearly everything else suffered. A corporate art consultant may act as an advisor on where to invest their money or as an actuary, something that would not be so easy with a Maths degree.

Furthermore, a degree in History of Art could lead onto further study in Law, allowing a graduate to specialize in Art Law involving issues concerning reproduction rights, repatriation and inheritance.

As with all humanities degrees, Art History may lead to careers in journalism, PR, the media and marketing. You may just as well ask what can you do with a degree in English or Philosophy.

I hope this has cleared up the question of what Art Historians are supposed to do with themselves besides teaching or working in galleries. Personally I don’t see why we should be any more worried about future career prospects than graduates of any other subject.

Russian Photography @ Calvert 22

July 23, 2014 § 2 Comments

Calvert 22’s incumbent exhibition title seems to have taken inspiration from the 2012 exhibition of contemporary Russian art at the Saatchi. However Saatchi’s display amassed a variety of different media, with Calvert 22’s ‘Close and Far: Russian Photography Now’ showing purely photography and two films.

The use of the word ‘now’ could be misleading. Many of the images on display are almost a century old. They have been ‘modernised’ for the contemporary viewer with what looks like a bright instagram filter laid over the top. These filters run over the image as though the artist wants to make it explicitly obvious that they have altered the images. It could also perhaps be a sign of respect to the history of the scenes to remind that this is not a true depiction of the past. A further thought to consider is that these photographs were probably taken in black and white, and these bright colours may quite literally be the first time they have been seen in colour.

The subjects of many of these images are groups of figures in traditional and historical costume. Also on display are landscapes both new and old, decorated with modern infrastructure. It may be that the photographers and artists taking part in the show chose to use the filters to bring the older images into a similar context so as not to create the stark contrast that one might have expected to see. The new and old are displayed together as though it were normal to place things a century old alongside something that was taken less than five years ago.

Amongst the figures and buildings are some more obscure subjects. These include probably the most grotesque looking fish that I have ever seen, with wings splayed out, obviously just taken fresh out of the water. However the bright acidic colours make it somewhat appealing in a way that it probably shouldn’t. In one of the landscapes and the catalogue cover is what looks like a giant pear covered in fur, it is probably a variety of tree native to Russia which has been cut in a certain way but its very differentness causes much interest. My personal favourite image looks like the inside of a teenage girls bedroom with walls covered with tear sheets from fashion magazines from floor to ceiling. However among the western images of Vogue covers and American actresses are religious images of saints which look like orthodox icons taken from an iconostasis screen.

Downstairs below the main gallery are two films. One of which appears to be a performance documented from an aerial perspective. The man in the footage is moving slowly into different positions on top of what appears to be an abandoned building in ruins, perhaps as a response to the loss of the old making way for the new. Whatever the meaning behind it, it is intriguing.

This show is definitely different from anything on display at any of the ‘big’ London galleries. For anyone interested in photography or Eastern art I urge you to make a visit.

Close and Far: Russian Photography Now is on display at Calvert 22 until 17 August


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