Botticelli @ V&A

May 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

Few would find it difficult to recall Botticelli’s infamous Birth of Venus. There aren’t many works of art that are instantly recognisable to the masses, but this painting is one of the only exceptions. The renaissance masterpiece that celebrates the goddess of love has achieved cult status world over and has now even managed to land it’s own exhibition at one of London’s most celebrated museums without the original painting even being on display.

Botticelli Reimagined tracks the influence of the 1484 from the present day right back to the renaissance age that it was drawn out of. Divided into three sections, the show opens with a video clip from Dr Bond followed by another starring Uma Thurman as Venus in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The first exhibition space is completely black and spacious. Along the walls are photographs by David LaChapelle and Lady Gaga album covers. Behind a corner is a Japanese take, which takes the form of a video game, complete with Hello Kitty. There is also another Asian influence in the form of Yin Xin’s Chinese Venus with black hair and almond eyes. This first installment also features items from fashion history in the form of a Dolce & Gabbanna suit and two stunning Elsa Schiaparelli dresses.

The next room is a little lighter in atmosphere. The black walls turn to greys and pastel shades. They reflect perfectly the Victorian images on display and the soft carpet beneath the viewer’s feet. This middle gallery is poignant as it was the Victorians who ‘discovered’ Botticelli, who had become forgotten in history. This room is covered in pre-Raphaelite languid and ethereal beauty. On show here is artwork from such names as William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. However, it is their female counterpart, Evelyn de Morgan, who really shines here. Her women are breathtaking and honestly, the highlight of the whole exhibition.

The exhibition concludes in fifteenth-century Florence. We may not be able to see Botticelli’s iconic work here in London, but the V&A have got as close to the Italian experience as possible. Here we see paintings from Botticelli’s workshop as well as two original paintings by the master himself.

The V & A exhibition covers all bases from the past through to the present. The show succeeds in showing that Botticelli’s legacy has lived on and has had an influence on all forms of pop culture, from music, art and fashion. I have no doubt that the Florentine master’s name will continue to be remembered for centuries to come.

Botticelli Reimagined is on display at Victoria & Albert museum until 3 July

Giacometti & Klein @ Gagosian

May 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

Alberto Giacometti and Yves Klein are arguably two of the most interesting and most loved artists of the twentieth century. Both Paris-based artists had an interest in the human form. While both men produced artwork at the same time, there is no evidence of the pair ever meeting. While Klein’s widow claims that she did see the two together, the only clear link of the duo ever having any kind of mark on the other is the presentation at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill, of a sketch made by Giacometti in blue biro on top of a newspaper advertisement of an Yves Klein show.

The show at Gagosian is the first time that work by Giacometti and Klein have ever been presented together. It is a spellbinding display of 25 works by each artist shown in dialogue with one another. While one may be forgiven to think that the styles of each artist are very different to each other, they seem to blend together harmoniously in the Mayfair gallery. The shocking blue of Klein’s work appears to seem much calmer when hung behind Giacometti’s elongated bronze figures.

Both Giacometti and Klein were conscious of the effects that the Second World War had on the culture and people of Europe. The curator, Joachim Pissarro has been quoted as saying that ‘both artists, rather than creating something that reflected the chaos, chose to rise above it, transforming and deciphering it into elegant, lyrical matter.’ This is seen with Klein’s playful anthropometric paintings made from the blue imprints of nude ladies onto canvas, juxtaposing the thin, drawn out, serious characters constructed by Giacometti.

My two standout pieces from the show are both sculptural works. The first comes in the form of a sponge painted in the infamous Klein blue. It looks like a human brain, and while this should in theory make the viewer feel ill, it is strangely pleasing to the eye. It does not look real and is just begging to be touched, unfortunately though, it has been protected by a screen of glass. The other object that left its mark on me was made by Giacometti. A sculpture entitled Le Nez, or ‘the nose’ in English comprises a male face with a comically long nose – it reminded me of Pinocchio and the child inside me jumped with glee at the sight of this sculpture.

Not only is the show strangely alluring, it is also a historical first and an absolute must see.

Alberto Giacometti, Yves Klein: In Search of the Absolute is on display at Gagosian, Grosvenor Hill until 11 June

Russian Portraits @ NPG

April 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

I would imagine that most of the visitors to the National Portrait Gallery’s incumbent Russia and The Arts exhibition have not been to Russia, and if they have, even fewer would have seen the paintings in their natural habitat. Unlike many, I have personally been to the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, which makes my response to the display a little different to that of the majority.

The exhibition at NPG consists of portraits of some of the greatest figures in Russian cultural history. Across three galleries one can see the faces of Chekhov, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy and Turgenev. Figures who contributed to the Russia’s cultural atmosphere between the years of 1867 and 1914 and who have a lasting cultural impact internationally.

Amongst the twenty-six portraits on display one can see beautiful paintings moving stylistically from realism to impressionism. The reds transform into blues and the viewer is truly transported to a historic Russia.

My favourite portraits on display were those of poet Anna Akhmatova and her husband Nikolay Gumilyov by Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya. Akhmatova is depicted in profile and displayed alongside the portrait of her husband who does not look towards his wife but to the viewer. The images are lighter in colour than some of the more serious paintings at the beginning of the exhibition, but there is still a sense of uneasiness in the questionable interaction between the two portraits. I was not surprised to later find that the marriage resulted in divorce.

The Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and London’s National Portrait Gallery were both founded in 1856. While the London exhibition is fantastic, I must be honest and say that I was a little disappointed – not because I thought the display was lackluster but because the Tretyakov in Moscow captivated me last year and I only wish more of its wares were on display here in London.

I sincerely encourage anyone interested in Russian culture to visit this exhibition and for those who feel like an international adventure, to personally take a trip to Moscow to explore the Tretyakov Gallery in person.

 

Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky is on display at National Portrait Gallery until 26 June

Ancient Egyptian Beauty @ Two Temple Place

April 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

The Bulldog Trust only holds one exhibition a year at Two Temple Place but it is always spellbinding. The building itself is truly luxurious. Designed by John Loughborough Pearson for William Waldorf Astor, the neo-gothic mansion has been embellished with only the finest decoration from top to bottom. The latest adornments come in the form of the current Beyond Beauty exhibition, which presents the lives of the ancient Egyptians in a fantastically opulent setting.

Beyond Beauty showcases the ancient Egyptians as people who were obsessed with the way they looked. On show is jewelry, make up and clothing. While the objects have been brought to London for this exhibition, many of them have not been in the capital since their exodus from Egypt. The wares on display are made up of the Egyptian relics stored in seven regional museums from all over the UK from Batley, Bexhill, Bolton, Brighton, Macclesfield and Rochdale. While many exhibitions in London often fail to use the collections of museums outside of the city, Two Temple Place often looks all over England in their shows and it has been noted that there are 200 ancient Egyptian collections in Britain, many of which are outside of London.

The artifacts on show span over four millennia from 3,500 BC to 400 AD, having found their way to the UK through the work of a number of Victorian Egyptologists. Not only does the supplementary information provided in the exhibition provide us about the objects but also how they came to be a part of their respective British collections. Interestingly, some of the pieces on display are not ‘ancient’ at all, but forgeries created during the Victorian era to ‘enhance’ or make a collection seem more significant. Regardless of how the objects came to Britain originally their presence in the UK now is noteworthy as they would not be able to leave their native Egypt under the same circumstances today.

The exhibition goes beyond beauty in its presentation of the importance of appearances in the afterlife. The final upstairs galleries have been completely devoted to the preservation of the deceased body in the form of funerary head coverings and mummification. The mummies on display here are presented from every angle so that the viewer can appreciate the decoration of the funerary vessel from many perspectives. Also on show here is the influence that the beauty rituals of the ancient Egyptians had on members of neighboring empires. This can be seen in the form of the golden mummy mask of Titus Flavius Demetrios who was not an Egyptian but a Roman civilian. The gilded mask from around 100 AD shows Demetrios in Egyptian costume, smiling with kohl lined eyes and even the inclusion of false eyelashes.

Two Temple Place illustrates just how similar the preoccupations of the ancient Egyptians were similar to our own. Today we are obsessed with how we look and present ourselves, whether it be through Instagram filters, make up or plastic surgery. It should come as no surprise then that the objects inside the exhibition were owned by regular citizens and not by pharaohs. An interest in exterior appearance was not preserved merely for royalty it seems, but the masses. A visit to the exhibition is well worth a visit before the display returns to its respected repositories around the UK.

 

Beyond Beauty is on display at Two Temple Place until 24 April

Show 1 @ Bump

April 3, 2016 § Leave a comment

If you have been in Soho recently you may have noticed a new gallery pop up on Greek Street called Bump. Inside its doors, the inaugural exhibition from Richard White allows the work of four contemporary artists to interact and bump off of each other.

Show 1 celebrates the concept of chance encounters. Unlike most conventional group shows where each artist is presented individually. The Bump group’s work is all interspersed within one another. They don’t necessarily blend cohesively together either. Ellanah Sadkin’s bright graffiti inspired works are shown beside Toums black and white analogue prints. The juxtaposition between the individual aesthetics of the artists creates an alluring atmosphere that gives the audience the ability to question why certain artworks may be displayed together.

The artists on display have been allowed to bump off of each other randomly in order to create a discourse between works that may not ordinarily be shown or discussed together. The revamped old masterpieces of Magnus Gjoen create a fascinating arena for conversation when paired opposite the faceless figures of Duizer.

Lacking in wall text or explanation, the viewers are able to form their own opinions about the work, while the artwork is also given the opportunity to speak for itself.

I may be a little biased towards the show because I am a friend of the curator. Our meeting in itself was down to chance, sitting on a park bench outside a gallery where I used to intern four years ago. However, I truly believe this show deserves to be seen before it bumps away from Soho.

Show 1 remains on display at Bump Gallery, 14 Greek Street until 4 April

Sterling Ruby @ Spruth Magers

March 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

A certain gallery in Mayfair should be feeling very relieved that I managed to find the time to visit the Sterling Ruby exhibition at Spruth Magers yesterday. I had not seen much that has impressed me recently and if it wasn’t for the show on Grafton Street I would have been posting a negative review of a very bland exhibition today.

The Ruby show at Spruth Magers stands out before you even have a chance to walk through the door. From outside a series of colourful suits entice the viewer into the gallery and out of the London rain. The exhibition is the first presentation of an eight-year survey of the textile and clothing production executed by Sterling Ruby. This is especially interesting, as for many, like myself, it was not the art world that first introduced me to Ruby’s work, but the fashion world, Dior to be precise.

Raf Simons, the former creative director of Dior has a long history of collaborating with Ruby. The artist designed the wall coverings for his first store in Tokyo and collaborated on a complete collection for Fall/Winter 2014. However, it is not high-end luxury fashion on display here, but clothes worn to work in.

Ruby’s first ‘work wear’ suit was made from left over fabric from his sculptural quilt projects and furniture production in 2008. It consisted of a button down shirt and pair of trousers to be worn in the studio. This production of ‘work wear’ soon became part of a routine of garment production made every time the artist finished an artwork.

The clothes are a mix of canvas and heavy weight denim that have been hand-dyed and treated with enzyme washes. Ruby grew up in rural Pennsylvania and has been strongly influenced by Amish quilts, which is visible in the bright yellows and pinks that clash against the cooler shades of blue and black. It is clear that the shirts, trousers, coats, ponchos and bags would easily blend into and camouflage with the interior of the artist’s studio.

The display of suits lined up against the wall of the main gallery with a row of canvas bags lying in front makes the clothes appear like an army going to war. Around the corner there are ponchos that are hung like canvases against the wall. I must admit, that it was not until afterwards that I realised the works were ponchos. I thought they were canvases with holes in, however the idea that these canvases could be worn makes them even more appealing. Also on view is a red apron with various patches sewn on, which is remarkably clean in comparison to the rest of the clothing on show.

Sterling’s suits will not be on display for much longer, so I suggest you take a look inside his wardrobe as quickly as you can!

Sterling Ruby: WORK WEAR is on display at Spruth Magers until 9th April

Imran Qureshi @ Barbican

March 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

Splatters of violent red paint have been thrown along the walls of Barbican’s Curve gallery, disrupting the exhibition of unassuming miniature paintings that are gently dotted around the space. This red paint however, transforms upon closure inspection, and is just what is so brilliant about the newly commissioned work by Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi that is currently on display.

The red paint that I have mentioned looks like blood. It is startling and it is everywhere, floor and walls. Despite the dim lighting of the exhibition space there is no way of ignoring it and at first it is a little alarming. After the initial shock reaction, these spatters of blood turn into beautiful red flowers that have drawn out petals and flecks of white, perhaps to indicate light and life. It seems that red paint has been thrown around the gallery space and then flowers have been formed quickly while the paint dries. This natural imagery is reflected in the miniature paintings that adorn the walls; these have been illuminated with some kind of backlights, giving a magical and mystic feeling to the work.

Qureshi’s miniatures are also natural in nature; most are full of trees and dragonflies. It all sounds quite sweet. However, this is not the case, just like the bloody flowers that have attacked the floor, much of the nature in Qureshi’s images have been disturbed. Red roots wrap themselves around modest trees and some have even fallen over, with insects attacking them in giant swarms. The series begins with a pale colour scheme then ends with the incorporation of black ink. The images seem to follow some sort of narrative, which works well with the curved nature of the gallery, not knowing what may lie behind the bend.

Some critics have suggested that the trees in Qureshi’s paintings are like characters. This is interesting as the artist has stated that he is influenced with everything that is around him, thus, we cannot ignore the violence that is present in his homeland, Pakistan, where he still resides. That being said, it is clear that the artist has a deep love and respect for his country of origin. Each of the miniatures, which he began only in November, follows a 500-year-old Mughal tradition. Unlike most contemporary art that we are accustomed to today, every step in Qureshi’s process is handmade. This suggests a deep love for the craft and history; this is echoed in the name given to the ground of multiple layers of handmade paper that has been glued together called ‘wasli.’ This term ‘wasli’ has come from the term ‘wasil’ which means the moment where you meet your beloved. The beloved is this adorned with tiny brushstrokes of paint using a squirrel-hair brush. Many of the miniatures have been given gold borders that also suggest a sense of significance and fragile beauty.

The miniatures have been hung at various levels. Some are hung along the average viewer’s eye line, yet many lie close to the floor while others look like they would only be visible by giants. Thus at times you are forced to crouch to the ground while at others you are jumping on the top of your toes. I suppose this would make the show accessible to both a toddler and a colossus. Perhaps the hang could be reflecting a horizon line, as the images seem to curve up and down like the curve of the gallery space. This would seem to make sense, as traditionally a curve was used as a horizon line in historical miniature paintings.

Qureshi’s Barbican display is a stimulating experience of delicate nature and shock violence. It is mysterious yet alluring at the same time and simply has to be experienced.

Imran Qureshi: Where the Shadows are so Deep is on display at The Curve, Barbican until 10 July

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