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Saturday, 9 July 2011

Sickly Sweet: Caroline McCarthy, Arrangements: Green on Red Gallery, Dublin.


Review by James Merrigan

We could lazily describe Caroline McCarthy’s readymade arrangements as sweet, and stop there, but there is an added dose of the sickly in her current solo show at the Green On Red Gallery, Dublin, which is reminiscent of Pop Art, but more specifically with the American Painter, Wayne Thiebaud (whose pop sensibilities were formed just before the movement began in the 1950s). Thiebaud once said that “Common objects become strangely uncommon when removed from their context and ordinary ways of being seen.” In McCarthy’s drawings and collective object displays there is an accumulation of stuff that add up to a total. An early precursor to this form of representation was the bizarre fruit and vegetable heads of the Renaissance painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, whose work some say was a design of his own mental illness. McCarthy registers peaks and troughs of banality and fantasy through her utilisation of the common or garden household item, that evokes the limp pages of a coffee table home improvement catalogue and the obsessions with home and nesting for ‘thirtysomethings’. There are also moments of nostalgia here in the playful and casual arrangements of objects.

Just inside the small entrance hallway of the Green On Red Gallery the artist’s name and title of show were located above a glass-top table with bright yellow legs. I wasn’t sure if this was one of McCarthy’s arrangements. After a steep stairs climb another nice minimalist table––marble-top this time, sits in the second hallway entrance that leads directly to the first floor gallery. These everyday objects (if we can call anything everyday in the setting of an art gallery) followed me into the gallery where a one-legged table was upturned on a plinth and a red lacquered cabinet acted as a stage for a sweet consortium of red objects framed by a looping, Scalextric-like network of plastic drinking straws (the multicoloured pinstripe type with flexible necks). On the walls a series of large drawings of what looked like aerial view arrangements of more straws, twisted and compartmentalised the blank white of the paper they are drawn on.

The drawings are paired up as Diptychs. A straw outline of a head consistently placed to the left, while the outline of its partner to the right is smashed to smithereens; hence the title of the series Head/ Broken Head. Francis Bacon comes to mind, due in part to the violent titles of the series and the Diptych format; but also McCarthy’s current obsession with furniture design which Bacon was quite good at before he became a painter.

Although the straws are flexible there is not much give in them; they will always be straws no matter what forces you apply to them. So, McCarthy’s practice is not transformative, but a simple act of placing the readymade in space. It is almost like she is juggling a few objects in her hands and allowing chance to control their fall and resting place. Like the clown making balloon animals, they are always more balloon than animal; but that is why they are so infectious.

This idea of festivity and celebration continues in the peculiar hodgepodge tower of primarily red objects entitled Group Coordination (red). I found myself scanning through the objects to find some signifier to create a thread that was not straw bound. McCarthy forces me in this instance to list out the objects: a red cabinet, a plastic pan and shovel, hazard tape, a can of Dunnes Stores chopped tomatoes, a Coca Cola paper cup, a plastic container of Copydex adhesive, a red key ring. a red wire frame bin, red neck ties, red earrings, red clothes pegs, a role of red iridescent wrapping paper, an Arsenal peek cap, a copy of the book of protest songs 33 Revolutions per minute, and the network of straws that joins the objects but not any conceptual dots. This was all topped off by the smell of cherries emanating from a Little Tree car air freshener. What I most enjoyed about this work was the casual fight between the formalism of the red and the offering of some conceptual thread through the book of protest songs; did the artist choose these objects because she wanted to show the viewer something or tell them something. For me, it did both, but by chance and individual take rather than illustrative force feeding by the artist. Dorian Lynskey, the author of 33 Revolutions Per Minute said "I finished it wondering if I had instead composed a eulogy," which was in reference to the “waning faith in hands-on protest” in contemporary youth culture.

On the wall just beyond the pile of red objects there was a relatively small two colour screen print. The print was made up of vertical, two-tone jade green stripes that had pointy eared tops. It looked like a paper sweet bag. The hard thinness of the paper of such bags was imagined through the cleverly simple composition and delicate execution. In this corner of the gallery there was something that squealed of birthday party horns and too much candy floss, more sweet protest than social protest.

On closer inspection it because clear that the previously mentioned leg of the one-legged table, upturned on a plinth was cast in bronze. The top of the leg was polished to a gold brown, and I could not get the image of a shapely glass bottle of Coca Cola in the form, as the colour of the bronze deepened to a cola brown toward the bottom. This was due to the general sugary aftertaste of McCarthy’s straws and high colour objects throughout the gallery.

Inconspicuous cast bronze wall brackets and screws also held a series of different shades and textures of B&Q shelves to the wall. It was all innocuous; you had to be on your game to notice beyond the banality. This display had a subheading of no.1 of 720 variations, which suggested that you could take your pick as to how you would like the shelves arranged as a dedicated and fashionable consumer. In McCarthy’s work you always have to take a second rewarding look.

Caroline McCarthy, Arrangements at Green On Red Gallery Dublin, runs untill 6 August.

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
Installation image from Arrangements, Green On Red Gallery

Friday, 8 July 2011

Seeing Is Believing: Junya Ishigami: Architecture as Air, Curve Gallery, Barbican Art Gallery, London.


Review by Nathan Breeze

The pioneering American engineer Buckminster Fuller once famously asked the question ‘how much does your building weigh?’ This perhaps marked the moment where architects and engineers first started to consider the environmental impact of their buildings. Nowadays concerns about sustainability both in terms of construction and in the maintenance of buildings are defining the construction industry. Had he posed the question in 1982 to the Architects Chamberlin, Powell and Bon, who after 11 years onsite had just completed the Barbican; a mixed-use concrete jungle (and rightly listed cultural treasure) there would no doubt have been some serious head scratching.

By extreme contrast the Barbican’s latest architectural installation entitled Architecture as Air by acclaimed Japanese architect Junya Ishigami weighs a mere 300g. 53 impossibly thin columns support a similarly skinny beam, creating a 3.8 metre high colonnade stretching the length of the Curve gallery. This work is a development of Ishigami’s experimental installation, Architecture as air: study for château la coste, which was first show at the 12th Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2010. After being destroyed by a wondering cat, the installation was awarded the Golden Lion for the best project (for pushing architecture quite literally to its limits) despite lying in spindly pile topped by an apology note.

It is therefore no great surprise that the 15 visitors admitted at any given time are asked to remove their shoes and carefully walk alongside the exhibit. What exactly one is tiptoeing around is not initially clear. As the visitor focuses their eyes on the exhibition thin vertical threads begin to appear before quickly dissolving due to the lack of visual contrast with the white gallery walls. Ignoring the galleries ducts and lighting in the peripheral vision, gradually one begins to pick up the rhythm of the colonnade as well as whisps of the supporting wires that stabilise the columns. Tracing these is impossible, but working down to the floor one can see the wires taped to the floor in 4 places per columns. Initially this suggests there are just 4 wires per column, in reality there are more than 50.

The tape is the only break in the suspension of disbelief; its only role to enable the architect and his team to find the supports again. It is truly astonishing to consider the agonizing intricacy, concentration and superhuman eyesight that have gone into this installation. Looking too hard at the delicate work and it seems to resonate in the surrounding air; Ishigami talks about pursuing an architecture where space and structure cease to be divided. His work combines playful yet simple ideas made possible by rigorous engineering and the controlled manipulation of materials. Reading pages from his book lying at the end of the gallery there are more pages dedicated to calculations and equations than to pretty images and poetic spiel.

Similarly phenomenological was the Balloon project installed in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo in 2007. An enormous aluminium box weighing 1 tonne was filled with helium and gently floated and bounced around the gallery reflective the sky above. Outside of galleries, his most notable permanent project is KAIT, a new studio on the campu s of the Kanagawa Institute of Technology in Toyko. Used by engineering and design students from the Institute alongside members of the community, this large rectangular structure comprises of a forest of 305 individually and thinly proportioned columns of varying widths and clad in glass.

Nature is a consistent source of inspiration in Ishigami’s work. In Architecture as Air he notes the 0.9mm columns are as thick as raindrops and the 0.2mm tension members are as thick as cloud droplets. By building at the scale of nature he seeks to ‘create through architecture the kind of transparency found in nature that until now, architecture has been unable to provide.’

Refreshingly the installation is so transparent that a camera can’t capture it, hopefully encouraging people to come along and struggle to see for themselves.

Architecture as Air is on display in the Curve Gallery until 16 October.

barbican.org.uk
jnyi.jp

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Photo credit: Lyndon Douglas
Courtesy: Barbican Art Gallery

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century, Royal Academy of Arts, London.


Review by Karla Evans

Mounting an exhibition that addresses 75 years worth of work and features over 50 photographers is no meagre task. Compliments then are due to the team behind the Royal Academy of Art’s Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century. Taking visitors from 1914 through 1989, the Academy’s first photography exhibition in many, many years will quash any doubts of a staid historical show and presents some of the most provocative images of the century. What seems nigh on impossible to do without filling the Royal Academy’s entire floor-space, the curators manage to do in a coherent and succinct exhibition of two distinct parts. Firstly, presenting a clear, chronological retelling of Hungary’s conflicted history and secondly, how Hungarian photographers translated the century’s technological advances within the medium of photography through their own unique lens’.

It does of course help that five of the world’s greatest photographers are Hungarian and it is these familiar names —Brassaï, Capa, Kertész, Moholy-Nagy and Munkácsi— who act as the foundation for the show. Appearing at intervals through the exhibition, the five garner many a second look with their instantly recognisable images that range from Brassaï’s celebrity-filled portraits to Capa’s iconic war photography. It is no coincidence that all five fled their home country as Hungary drew closer to communism and it is in Paris, New York and beyond, we see their work evolve.

Andre Kertész, Lászlo Moholy-Nagy and Martin Munkácsi’s are plucked out for their innovative experiments of a medium going through its most dramatic period of change. We see Moholy-Nagy’s dalliance in light sensitive paper, producing delicate photograms and perfectly pitched solarisations. Moholy-Nagy’s Two Nudes, Positive and Two Nudes, Negative beautifully shows his revolutionary creation in which the same image is repeated exactly except for the inversion of colours. The much-referenced Kertész, however, steers away from the technology and flits instead between great stylistic differences, with a body of work alternating from vast Hungarian plains to artful still life compositions not dissimilar to Irving Penn. Kertész appears as a ruthless editor to his images; cropping his photographs to create the best frame or taking pictures from unusual angles to capture the precise moment; a visionary in the medium.

Arguably, it will be Munkácsi who appeals most fondly to magazine-friendly eyes. After his success in using 35mm film to capture motion in sports reportage Munkácsi used the same technique for fashion stories. Being employed by Harper’s Bazaar Munkácsi created whimsical beach shoots of frolicking girls wearing billowing capes that wouldn’t seem out of place in today’s style pages. It is clear to see why Munkácsi is still referred to as one of the founding fathers of fashion photography and has an undeniable association with Bruce Weber and Richard Avedon.

The highlight of the exhibition comes from Brassaï, who gained infamy with his romantic and dreamy scenes of Paris that continue to act as tourists’ inspiration to make pilgrimages to the City of Lights. Brassaï’s 1933 Parisian images (collected in the book, also on show, Paris de Nuit) depict the city as an alluring metropolis of midnight walks along the Seine and bewitching meetings with strangers in underground bars: a beguiling culture seems to open up before your eyes. Brassaï’s artist portraits of Picasso, Matisse and Chagall on show all add to his magnetic aura.

Where Brassaï brings the glamour, Capa brings an unflinching reality. A fearless and dedicated war photographer Capa rarely shied away from conflict with a collection of images taken from the ground in the 1936 Spanish Civil War including the unforgettable Death of a Loyalist Militiaman that appears to document a bullet passing fatally through a soldier. Capa even braved D-Day and joined the US soldiers landing on Omaha Beach, Normandy producing a series of powerful in-action prints that encapsulate his resolute style of photography.

It is worth remembering these five key photographers stand amongst a mix of amateur and professional artists who offer their own insight into Hungary’s defining period of extreme metamorphosis, pre and post communism. They include moments of great beauty from Kata Kálmán’s gritty portraits of weather beaten workers in 1932 and moments of visionary architectural photography and compositional masterminding from Angelo.

This is not a show to view briefly with a mere half-hour to spare but demands time and mind space to soak up the history, and allow a real understanding of the work and great photographers this country produced in the 20th century. The power of the exhibition and its subsequent success begs to ask the question, why the Royal Academy doesn’t consider the medium of photography more often?

Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century is on show at Royal Academy of Art, Sackler Wing of Galleries until 2 October.

royalacademy.org.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
László Fejes
Wedding, Budapest (1965)
Courtesy Hungarian Museum of Photography

BT Northern Ireland Press Photographer of the Year Exhibition 2011, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast




Every year The Northern Ireland Press Photographers Association (NIPPA) launches its search for the best photo journalists across Northern Ireland. Through the BT Northern Ireland Press Photographer of the Year competition, the outstanding work of Northern Ireland’s press photographers is duly recognised and rewarded.

Organised by the NIPPA, the competition attracted almost 400 entries from over 40 photographers across the country. Thirty-seven prizes spanning nine categories, eight merit awards, one runner up and two overall winners were awarded. Charles McQuillan, Pacemaker Press International, won the BT Photographer of the Year award with William Cherry, Press Eye named runner up. The title of BT Provincial Photographer of the Year was awarded to John McVitty, Impartial Reporter based in Fermanagh.

BT Northern Ireland Press Photographer of the Year Exhibition 2011 is on at Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast, until 23 July 2011.

goldenthreadgallery.co.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Images:
John McVitty Brothers in Orange
Charles McQuillan Affair Of The Heart
Charles McQuillan The Frenchman, The Fish Monger & The Cook
Courtesy the artists and Golden Thread Gallery

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Secret Garden: Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011, Designed by Peter Zumthor, Hyde Park, London.


Review by Emily Sack, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

Each year the Serpentine Gallery commissions a new architect to design a summer pavilion for Hyde Park. Such architectural stars as Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and last year, Jean Nouvel have graced the site with stunning creations for public enjoyment.

This year Swiss architect Peter Zumthor created the Hortus Conclusus alongside the Serpentine Gallery. From the exterior, the pavilion is intense and a bit foreboding – the black rectangular mass is pierced by several doorways, yet each appears to lead only into darkness. Walking through the entrances the visitor finds him or herself faced with a corridor with doorways exiting the building and entering the centre courtyard. None of the doorways between the interior and exterior are aligned causing each entrance and exist to have a sense of mystery. The double layer of walls with the dark corridor surrounds the central space of the pavilion – a beautiful courtyard garden.

It is perhaps easiest to classify Zumthor as a new Modernist as his minimalist style and emphasis on materiality harkens back to the architectural giants of the first half of the twentieth century. The most notable comparison relates not to similarities of aesthetics but rather to a related notion of space. Frank Lloyd Wright’s buildings often feature a sense of compression that eventually releases into a space of expansion, and this year’s Serpentine Pavilion induces the same juxtaposition of sensations on visitors.

The interior space of the pavilion is actually quite small, and the central garden takes up a considerable percentage of the space so that visitors are permitted to only circle the perimeter of the interior. The garden is lovely featuring a variety of flora – the mostly green varieties of ferns and leaves are pleasantly interspersed with vibrant reds and purples. A sign on the exterior lists the species incorporated in the garden for those with a keen interest in plants.

Around the interior wall is a continuous bluish-black bench. Silver metallic tables and neutral seating provide a stark contrast with the coarse black walls of the pavilion. From this seating area visitors are confronted with a James Turrell-like experience of viewing the sky isolated from the ground and the horizon. The tops of several trees are visible, but the opening in the pavilion, surrounded by the steeply pitched roof, reveals a rectangle of blue where the clouds pass by and the changing weather conditions can be observed. The seating area of the pavilion is covered so that visitors are protected from the sun and summer showers but are still able to experience nature.

Zumthor’s creation is not meant to necessarily be a beautiful structure, but rather to enclose a beautiful space. The pavilion is meant to serve as a place of isolation from the noise and distraction of the city. The Zen atmosphere of this garden within a garden encourages visitors to sit and enjoy the temporary reprieve from contemporary urban life.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011 is open until 16 October.

serpentinegallery.org

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
Courtesy Peter Zumthor
Photograph: John Offenbach

Emotions for the Advanced: Matters of Life and Death, Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery, Salts Mill, Bradford.


Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery specializes in contemporary jewellery, silver and metalsmithing, showcasing diverse collections by over 70 renowned designers and emerging talents from Britain and abroad. Each year, Kath Libbert travels to Schmuck, the definitive jewellery event in Munich where contemporary art jewellers from around the world exhibit their work to an international audience of gallerists and collectors.Kath uses the experience of Schmuck to inspire her annual summer show, meeting jewellers, and identifying themes. This July, Matters of Life and Death opens at Salts Mill, an exhibition that explores the responses of nine international jewellery artists to the proliferation of natural disasters and man-made destruction in our world. We caught up with Kath to find out what goes on behind the scenes.

Do you go to Schmuck with a theme in mind?
This year I travelled to Munich thinking about humour. I felt that I’d be looking for work that expressed humour. When I got there and explored the various exhibitions however, I discovered other themes that struck me more acutely. I was particularly struck by themes of darkness and found that many jewellers had created collections that dealt with issues of darkness and destruction. This was a complete contrast to last year’s show when I came back inspired by all things floral and went on to curate the exhibition IntoFlora!

Why do you think that these themes are emerging?
Art jewellery is a form that has a particular ability to express the Zeitgeist. In addition it has an added currency and potency because of its connection to the human body. Our concerns about both natural and man-made destruction are reflected in the work that many jewellers are currently making.

How difficult is it to maintain your vision when visiting such a huge exhibition as Schmuck?
It’s important to remain open minded and yet to maintain vision – there are so many beautiful pieces that aren’t necessarily relevant to the theme that is emerging. But I can store them up to use as inspiration for later shows. There are a myriad of other possibilities!

Why not just go to the show, pick out your favourite work and exhibit it all together?
The way I like to work is to find a way of unifying the experience. Curating an exhibition on a particular theme helps greatly with the display and of course also with how we promote the exhibition. As the work we exhibit at the gallery may often be made of unfamiliar or surprising materials, working thematically can give visitors a route into the work, adding interest to what is presented visually. Having a curatorial theme greatly helps highlight what has gone into the making of the work and the themes behind it.

So what will you be bringing from Schmuck to Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery in 2011?
The exhibition that has emerged is called Matters of Life and Death, about big, elemental themes of life and death, creation and destruction with an injection of light-hearted humour to provide contrast or light relief. This reflects the current concerns I mentioned earlier.

Which jewellers’ work struck you in particular?
We will be exhibiting work by Sophie Hanagarth, who is this year’s winner of the Herbert Hofmann prize, the world’s most prestigious contemporary jewellery award. Her Trap collection includes wrought iron bracelets that resemble wolf traps with sharp, articulated claws. Hanagarth calls them jaws, dentures or mouths worn on the arm, and I love the brutality and sensuality of that idea. Some of our collectors are already very excited about Sophie Hanagarth’s work. I was also very struck by Swedish jeweller Agnes Larsson’s work. She creates super statement dramatic neckpieces from carbon and horsehair that explore areas of life and death, darkness and light, surface and depth, fragility and strength. I really liked Bernhard Lehner’s work – he’s a multimedia artist who makes jewellery which he describes as symbolic disarmament – he deconstructs weapons, literally saws them apart, and then reforms them as pieces of provocative jewellery.

And will we be able to see these jewellers’ work in Matters of Life and Death?
Yes, these three jewellers and also collections of work by Akiko Kurihara, Samantha Queen, Angela O’Keefe and Peter Vermandere.

You have become known for a very original and fun-loving curatorial style. What else will be happening as part of Matters of Life and Death?
Well, we will have an interactive element to the exhibition. Visitors will be invited to be photographed wearing pieces that move, excite or even revolt them and to record their response on our Chain of Thought, an installation that will become an integral part of the exhibition. There will also be two provocative videos on show by renown installation artist Gisbert Stach.

Matters of Life and Death runs from 8 July - 25 September.

kathlibbertjewellery.co.uk

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
Courtesy the artist and Kath Libbert Jewellery Gallery.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Postmodernist Appropriation, Ron English: Skin Deep, Lazarides Gallery, London.


Review by Mallory Nanny, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London

In his first UK exhibition, entitled Skin Deep: Post-Instinctual Afterthoughts on Psychological Portraiture, contemporary artist Ron English bridges the gap between high and low art by incorporating mass produced, low brow imagery into traditional high art subjects. Portraits of historical icons like Marilyn Monroe, Ben Franklin and George Washington coexist with those of pop culture characters, Fred Flintstone and the Hulk in this exhibition. English builds each composition using vintage advertisements and cartoon imagery, some of which are found material that he enhances with paint, while others he illustrates in meticulous detail.

The artist reinvents the devotional image of the Madonna and Child by replacing the former with a human-cow hybrid. The seated female nude has the bodily attributes of a woman, but sports a feminized cow’s head. Her two breasts have lost each nipple, but have gained eight teats. The Madonna is posed cradling a peculiar, magenta-coloured version of the infant Christ who desperately tries to latch on to one of Madonna’s udders. The cow, a popular motif repeatedly used by the artist, is now elevated from farm animal to sacred status. While the supernatural green and blue shadows underscore her holy rank, the collaged backdrop of vintage comics and a 1950s brassiere advertisement brings this surrealist, yet high art totem down a notch. Some comic titles read Cowgirl, and Moon Girl, two strong female superheroes whom English may subtly relate to his hybridized Virgin Mary. While the viewer’s interpretation of this work may result in a rather ambiguous reading, the artist’s penchant for using comic illustration proves less satirical and more complex throughout the course of the exhibition.

Throughout his career, English has repeatedly appropriated Picasso’s Guernica (1937), a subject he regards as a contemporary model in art making. The painting that is currently installed at the Lazarides gallery contains skeletal portrayals of the original characters, each reproducing their long-standing gesture of war-torn trauma. Similar to his other work, English embeds other material into the background of this piece as well. A bar of photographic transfers depicting a bird’s eye view of a cityscape stretches across the lower third of the painting. The middle and upper areas are consumed by colourful comic images that English has muted by repainting them in black and white paint to fit the traditional greyscale scheme of the iconic image. He even affixes a photographic portrait of Picasso into the middle section as a way to commemorate the modern master. Lastly, a thin bar of clouds expands across the top of the painting. While the lower and upper areas of the painting seem to suggest the high status of Guernica in the art world, the mass media references would seem, at first, to remove that status from English’s contemporary variation. However, as some of the cartoons included are extracted from the Superman comic series, English most likely makes a statement regarding the glorification of violence in western media. He alludes to the product placement of our globalized marketing culture by treating war as entertainment and entertainment as war.

While the artist shows an obvious inclination to recreate art historical totems, he similarly appropriates pop culture images as well, seen in his innovative take on John Pasche’s iconic Rolling Stones Tongue and Lips. Placed in the centre of the composition, the tongue becomes a human back with legs added underneath. The upper lip is transformed into a figural buttocks and thighs which descend downward into calves. Traditionally, this would have been viewed as the lower lip, yet the plump red shape and white highlights of Pasche’s original still remain to show a striking resemblance. Surrounding the emblem is a rich collage of popular advertisements that have been altered, such as diabetic coke. Ads for fast food, tobacco and marijuana cigarettes merge with images of 1960s musicians, calling to mind the testimonials and trickery that are common in advertising. Because the teeth are still present in English’s revamped lip and tongue logo, he seems to insinuate that our consumption of mass media has actually reversed, and mass media has grown to consume us instead. This is particularly evident in his inclusion of an environmentally-charged sign that reads 'BP covers the earth,' which is accompanied by a BP can pouring oil over the planet. The instantly recognisable fonts and logos of English’s altered brand imagery not only signifies the prominence of these products and images in our globalized economy, but also how it is universally understood among the western public. Although his combinations of consumerist references are often complex, they collectively provide insight in perceiving the bigger scope of his art.

Ron English: Skin Deep: Post-Instinctual Afterthoughts On Psychological Portraiture is on until 23 July.

lazinc.com

Aesthetica Magazine
We hope you enjoying reading the Aesthetica Blog, if you want to explore more of the best in contemporary arts and culture you should read us in print too. In the spirit of celebration, Issue 41 includes a piece on Guggenheimn Bilbao where the Luminous Interval features internationally acclaimed artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith and Damien Hirst, ArtAngel's new commission at MIF, Bruce Nauman's retrospective at The Kunsthalle Mannheim and Cory Arcangel's Pro Tools at the Whitney in NYC. You can buy it today by calling +44(0)1904 479 168. Even better, subscribe to Aesthetica and save 20%. Go on, enjoy!

Image:
© Ron English and Lazarides.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Re-thinking Notions of Authority and Authenticity: November 22, 1948, Marcel van Eeden, Sprüth Magers, London.


Review by Emily Sack, a candidate for the MA in Art History at Richmond the American International University in London.

Paper and pencil are typically supplies associated with schoolwork like arithmetic or a preliminary phase of an artistic work; however, Dutch artist Marcel van Eeden utilizes the ordinary pencil on sketchbook quality paper to create the pieces in the current exhibition November 22, 1948.

Now in the year 2011, 1948 seems awfully long ago, 62 (almost 63) years ago to be precise. The artist's birth falls exactly 17 years after the date named in the title, meaning that van Eeden clearly has no personal memories of the chosen day, enjoying a voyeuristic perspective on the historically imagined events as they unfold.

Each of the dozens of work on display was produced in 2011 and bear the title Untitled. The first room contains several excerpts from the series entitled November 22, 1948 that chronicle the adventures of three of van Eeden’s predominant characters in three diverse locations. The series begins in Zurich, travelling next to Seychelles and lastly to London. As the viewer attempts to understand the unfolding narratives, they move from wall to wall of the gallery space. Significantly, in the middle of the London narrative, the wall ends but instead of simply turning a corner, the viewer must pass by a window with vistas of Piccadilly before resuming the narrative on the centre wall. This break from the fictional event from the past to gaze upon the same location in reality, in the present comes as a shock and temporarily disorients the viewer who previously had been so immersed in the work.

The works have the appearance of black and white comic strips calling immediately to mind the work of Roy Lichtenstein, but despite the shared affinity for frames of comics, the two men work quite differently. Whereas Lichtenstein dramatically increased the scale and isolated the image from the narrative context, van Eeden works on a smaller scale where the aesthetics and story line are integral to the final product. Another point of contrast is the style of rendering – Lichtenstein’s work has the appearance of being machine made based on its precision, but van Eeden’s work is clearly made by hand – a skilled hand albeit, but by hand nonetheless. Each line is visible so that the viewer can actually witness the process of creation from the directionality and pressure of the pencil strokes.

To return to the concept of narrative, though it is an element quite important to the artist, it is not portrayed or developed as in a children’s comic book. Each frame in the series is clearly related to the others, but often the events become jumbled when only one image is meant to represent an entire series of actions. Often the text cuts off, presumably to begin again in the next frame, but then there is not a next frame. The viewer is left with snippets of an exciting adventure tale – as though reading through remnants of a torn graphic novel. This disjointed and at times frustrating jumping narrative reflects the way in which people recall events from their own lives or piecing together memories from other sources. A narrative isn’t always clear, facts don’t always remain correct and generally the mood and feeling of an event pervades over the details.

The second gallery space contains works from three other series by the artist called Category 7: Architecture, Category 3: Art and Category 4: Occultism. The architecture series contains several floor plans and perspective drawings of buildings, though interspersed these relatively commonplace images are rather jarring epitaphs such as “architecture is always serious.” The series based on occultism seems slightly incongruous based on the artist’s predilection for history and events, but on the other hand reflects van Eeden’s interest in the fantastical, not necessarily the supernatural, but rather viewing ordinary circumstances and events through a mystical perspective. Lastly, the art category contains the greatest diversity in style of each of the groupings in the exhibition. Some of the works are signed by characters from the November 22, 1948 series or sought after by those characters. Others represent the small handful of works that use colour. Mysterious orbs seem to hover over multicolour strokes of watercolour.

Marcel van Eeden’s work is impressive and his immensely productive career, with an output of one drawing a day since 1993, demonstrates his versatility, even within a relatively simple medium. The viewer to this exhibition will feel as though they are perhaps detectives attempting to piece together the mysterious events of November 22, 1948 in an adventure seeming to emerge from a combination of historical fiction and graphic novel. Comics are not just for children, and comics are not low-brow entertainment – van Eeden demonstrates the potential of cartoons to merge with fine art.

November 22, 1948 continues at Sprüth Magers London until 13 August.

spruethmagers.com

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Image:
Untitled (2011)
Photography Marcel van Eeden

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