Superwoman @ GRAD

September 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Russia is famous for a lot of things, feminism, in the UK at least, probably isn’t one of them. However, GRAD Gallery is changing that with its Superwoman exhibition, that presents all things woman during the Soviet era.

The show illustrates the presentation of the Soviet woman from 1917 to 1991. While women have long played second best to men in Western Europe, in Soviet Russia, in many ways, men and women were equal. Russia was the first superpower to allow women to vote in 1917. Moreover, abortion was legalised and maternity leave was also available.

Women were expected to join in with physical work, hence the subtitle for the exhibition ‘Work, Build and Don’t Whine’ – which was taken from a famous poster showing a woman throwing a discuss – definitely not the most graceful or feminine of sporting activities. The Soviet woman became ‘Superwoman’ because not only did she help create the new Soviet Union, but also ran the household and looked after the family.

One of the most note-worthy works in the show is a bronze model of Vera Mukhina’s monument Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, which originally topped the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 Paris World Fair. The monument depicts a proletariat man wielding a hammer and a proletariat woman with a sickle standing side by side. Symbolically, this is a strong statement – how could you have a hammer without a sickle?!

Also on display are propaganda posters, showing women on building sites as well as documentary films. There are also items used in the home as well as collages and sketches of Russian women. On one wall there are a series of Matryoshka dolls, while opposite there are posters that read ‘Let’s liberate women from the kitchen slavery for the work in socialist industry.’

This is a fascinating look at the role of women during the Soviet age.

Superwoman: Work, Build and Don’t Whine is on display at GRAD until 15 October

Murakami @ Galerie Perrotin, Paris

September 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

Galerie Perrotin in Paris is quite possibly the most beautiful commercial gallery space I have ever visited. The building which is housed in le Marais invites its visitors inside with two grand staircases up to a sumptuous two-storey white building, covered with greenery. Currently its insides are playing host to Takashi Murakami, an artist who has been showing in the space for the past two decades.

Learning the Magic of Painting boasts over 40 artworks from sculpture, painting and even handbags. The show is bright and vibrant, with Murakami’s recognisable Japanese characters and motifs visible from the outset. However, among the bright yellows, pinks and oranges are dark pieces. Whole canvases are painted black and embossed with skulls.

The exhibition title comes from a quote from the Japanese artist: ‘ever since I started studying painting at 19 to this day, at 54, I have been, and still am, in the middle of learning the magic of painting.’ His oeuvre is certainly magical, cartoon like characters dominate the gallery in a multitude of different guises.

Amongst Murakami’s subjects are dozens of arhats, the name of Buddha’s followers. Buddhism is also present in his circular ‘enso’ paintings, which portray skulls and flowers. The artist is not just inspired by religion. On show are a series of paintings inspired by Francis Bacon in the form of distorted, pained figures.

Interestingly, one of the final galleries showcases a series of pastel canvases alongside one-off Murakami handbags. A surprising but fun end to a spectacular exhibition.

Learning the Magic of Painting is on display until 23 December

Barjeel Art Foundation @ Whitechapel

September 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

The final show in Whitechapel’s four part exhibition of contemporary art from the Middle East is probably both the most interesting and the most frustrating. Over the past year the gallery has played host to the Barjeel Art Foundation in a bid to introduce Londoners to modern and contemporary art from the Arab world.

This final installment instantly feels contemporary. Where the early shows comprised of paintings hung on dark walls, this display is white, bright and airy. However, there is a sense that the staging of this last show may have been an after thought. The viewer cannot move around the gallery easily. There is no flow, the one-room exhibition is disjointed. In the space of just one room is film, sculpture and photography cramped closely together. There is almost a fear that one might fall over and damage a valuable artwork.

Imperfect Chronology: Mapping the Contemporary II concerns itself with geography, travel and statehood. On display are many works by artist’s that have been removed from their homeland. Among the most memorable works is a large tapestry by Etel Adnan who has just had a show at Serpentine Gallery as well has a proposed crystal monument for Cairo’s Tahrir Square by Iman Issa.

My personal favourite work in this show was made up on two white doves. The birds had documents pasted onto them, which, if I recall correctly, were documents that husbands had issued their wives allowing them to travel, and did not look too dissimilar to my own customs forms from a trip I had made earlier this year to Beirut.

Also on show in this cramped space was a hovering reconstruction of a Lebanese building, with a large cactus underneath, as well as a model of a red boardroom, complete with luxurious velvet chairs.

While I think that this series of exhibitions has been wonderful, I can’t help but think that it would have had more of an impact if the four parts were shown all at once across a bigger space. It seems a great shame to me that the displays have been relegated to a space far away at the top of the gallery. Regardless, this final concluding show simply cannot be missed and I urge everyone to make a visit.

Barjeel Art Foundation Collection Imperfect Chronology – Mapping the Contemporary II is on display at Whitechapel until 8 January 2017

Edel Adnan @ Serpentine Sackler

August 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

The work inside Edel Adnan’s Serpentine show is bright and colourful. It doesn’t scream for joy, but it certainly does not appear to be at all woeful. It comes as a surprise then, that it has been titled ‘The Weight of the World’, a term that comes with a lot of negative connotations.

Adnan is more famous for her political writing than her artwork, which may explain the title to her first UK solo show. Adnan was born in 1920s Beirut and has spent her life between, France, Lebanon and the USA. Her writing is apparent in the show, with many stretches of folded card displayed in glass cases. Scrawled upon this paper is writing in both arabic and english, which has then been painted over with striped washes of colour. Although I cannot read Arabic, I can read English, and the political nature of the work is clear in writings about the Ottoman treatment of the Armenians and Greeks at the beginning of the twentieth-century, one can only imagine what Adnan has written about in Arabic.

However, you would be wrong to think that this show is anything but heavy. In fact, Adnan has even explained that her paintings reflect an ‘immense love for the world.’ Perhaps the artist’s political writings have been a plea to others to respect the earth that she loves. Previously she has written about the Vietnam War, yet the images appear free of any pain or suffering. Her palette is soft and airy. Interestingly, not one work is figurative, yet there are dozens upon dozens of landscapes and seascapes, visions into an idyllic world. Beside her concertina’d cards of words, are the same folded origami pieces with endless green hills.

Also on display is tapestry and drawing – still just as calm as the paintings. Adnan’s work does not provoke, it does not shout, it is completely undisturbed, exactly what you need when you can feel the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Edel Adnan: The Weight of the World is on display at Serpentine Sackler until 11 September

Bhupen Khakhar @ Tate Modern

August 7, 2016 § Leave a comment

I recently made a late night trip to Tate Modern. My list of things to see was probably half a mile long. The whole museum has been completely re-hung and one probably needs a week to explore it all fully. The display, which impressed me most however, is the current retrospective of late Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar.

The show is aptly titled ‘You Can’t Please all’, and this exhibition has received mixed reviews, however I thought it was fantastic. I hate the to use the word ‘exotic’ to describe non-EuroAmerican art, but that is the only way I can truly describe the vibrant, lux colours spread luminously across the artist’s canvases. Khakhar is a master colourist, using the most striking shades of blues and greens that I think I have ever seen in paint. Born in 1934 in Bombay, the artist started off as an accountant, painting on the side and didn’t give up accountancy until well into his 50’s.

Khakhar’s work is predominantly figurative and narrative. The artist tells stories with his work, exploring class, politics and sexuality. We are shown weddings, domestic scenes and nature. Included in some of the wall-text are clippings of the artist’s writings, which are extremely witty and add to the viewing experience of his paintings.

Khakhar’s homosexuality is prevalent throughout his oeuvre, with some quite explicit scenes of same-sex encounters on display throughout the last galleries. Of these, the most memorable is an image of two winged angel like men in an amorous encounter, caressing each other against a hot pink backdrop.

The show is extremely emotional and at times heart-wrenchingly sad. The final galleries give an honest look at Khakhar’s battle with cancer. In this room the previously bright colours begin to fade and the backdrops turn black and brown. Khakhar’s figures are shown with sunken eyes, holding guns with deteriorating internal organs. These images are shocking, powerful and incredibly brave.

This show will give you something you won’t expect, something you haven’t seen before. It may not be to your taste, however, it is an intriguing look into the work of an artist not often written about in the UK, and, even if you aren’t moved by it, as Khakhar rightly says you can’t please all.

Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All is on display at Tate Modern until 6 November

Hong Ling @ Brunei Gallery

July 31, 2016 § 1 Comment

Two days ago I graduated with an MA in Contemporary Art and Art Theory of Asia and Africa. While most people were spending most of their special day posing with their family and friends for photographs, I dragged mine into the Brunei Gallery, which I was lucky to have on campus. On display during the ceremonies is a stunning retrospective of Chinese artist Hong Ling, which just happened to be co-curated by one of my tutors, Shane McCausland.

The exhibition, which is spread across two floors, begins with the artist’s earlier work from the 1980s. Here we can see figurative paintings from Hong’s time as an art student in Beijing. While these images are lovely, it is the painting in the centre of the room, which is not from this period that really stands out. This image is a splattering of bright pink, which is intriguing enough to hold the viewer’s attention and lead them downstairs to where the star images of the show hang proudly against the walls.

The lower gallery displays Hong’s work painted from the 1990s onwards. During this time the artist began to travel and settle on Mount Huanghsan in the UNESCO World Heritage Site province of Anhui. These paintings are constructed on a large scale. Landscapes literally take up the whole wall in bright shades of orange, green, pink and blue. The bright shades are especially striking, as they are not what one would normally associate with Chinese artwork. Hong’s paintings seem very busy and extremely rich in texture. Layers upon layer of paint have been applied to the canvases, resulting in a visual display of wilderness and untouched nature.

Yet the artist still pays homage to Chinese tradition. There are a series of paintings that have been hung in a way similar to hanging scrolls, in a series of rainbow colours. The atmosphere given off by the paintings of the gallery also emits a real appreciation and respect for the natural world on display in the paintings. Also included in the show are photographs and sketchbooks, providing the viewer with a deeper understanding of the artist’s preparatory process.

The exhibition is on display long past the graduation ceremonies and I thoroughly encourage everyone to go and see it.

Hong Ling: A Retrospective is on display at Brunei Gallery, SOAS until 24 September

Sursock @ Beirut

July 25, 2016 § 1 Comment

I have just returned from a trip to my mother’s beautiful homeland: Beirut. Of course, no trip would be complete without a visit to a museum or gallery and Lebanon certainly impressed with its stunning Sursock Museum.

The Nicolas Ibrahim Sursock Museum is a glittering white palace. When the sun is up its spectacular façade boasts the best combination of Venetian and Ottoman architecture, while at night its multi-coloured stained glass windows sparkle like magic. The inside of the museum is just as spectacular as its exterior. One can see the best of modern and contemporary Lebanese and Middle Eastern art across the galleries walls from the likes of Paul Guiragossian, Etel Adnan and Saloua Raouda Choucair among many others. Most of the artwork is bright and colourful – dispelling any preconceptions you may have about the Middle East.

The museum is famed for its Salon d’Automne, an open call exhibition much like the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition, which first took place at the Sursock Museum in 1961. For me, the most impressive part of the museum was the Salon Arabe. This room, which is a full of marble columns and keyhole arches sits next to Nicolas Sursock’s office, giving a taste of history in a building that celebrates the new and innovative.

The Sursock Museum is simply gorgeous and a certain must-see for anyone visiting Beirut