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Friday 28 May 2010


Big Girls: Large Format Photographs by Women Photographers recently opened in NYC, featuring a variety of compelling large-format photographs by women artists. On view from until 30 July 2010, the exhibition encompasses a host of themes within the theme, including portraiture, figure studies, abstraction, autobiography, and fantasy.

Concurrently, there is also a show on at MoMA Pictures By Women: A History Of Modern Photography that showcases 200 Works by 120 Women Artists. Presenting a chronological suvey of 170 years of photography, this show demonstrates the movement of the genre by opening with early 19th century photography moving right through to decades to the present day. Read more in Aesthetica’s June/July issue.

So, it’s great to see a private gallery celebrating women’s contributions to photography. Ranging in age from their early 20s to their 60s, the artists are Meghan Boody (US), Sandi Haber Fifield (US), Sharon Harper (US), Mona Kuhn (Brazil), Jocelyn Lee (Italy/US), Bea Nettles (US), Heli Rekula (Finland), Melanie Schiff (US), Erin Wahed (Canada) and Pinar Yolaçan (Turkey/US).

“The impetus for the exhibition was to create a showcase around several works collected by the gallery and my personal collection,” says gallerist Rick Wester. “The concept had its genesis in 2002 with the acquisition of Jocelyn Lee’s Untitled (girl with long hair standing in water), and continued to grow over the years.” Works on view range from a site-specific grid installation of 21 photographs by Sandi Haber Fifield, Looking Inward / Looking Out, 2 (2010) that is situated in odd places near the gallery’s ceiling in diagonally opposite corners, to a handmade accordion book, Hair Loss (2007) by Bea Nettles—the long-time doyenne of alternative photographic processes—that documents the loss and eventual re-growth of her hair due to chemotherapy treatments.

Photographs that look to the female figure as symbol and allegory include; Heli Rekula’s Overflow (2004) from the performance series Desire, where the artist photographs herself being showered in a white milklike liquid that forms a second skin over her muscular physique; Pinar Yolaçan will debut two works from her ongoing project, Mother Goddess. Yolaçan looks back in time and creates nearly life size odalisques of large women dressed in skintight, full-length body suits. Based on prehistoric mother goddess figurines excavated in the Hacilar region of Turkey, Yolaçan’s figures are uncomfortable and shocking in the way the body suit both constrains and reveals the model.

Other highlights include Sharon Harper’s large-scale minimalist compositions of the night sky from her Moon Studies and Star Scratches series (2003-2009), and from the youngest contributor to the exhibition, Erin Wahed, saturated prints of otherworldly abstract landscapes.

RWFA is located at 511 West 25th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues in New York City's Chelsea art district. For more information visit www.rickwesterfineart.com

Thursday 27 May 2010

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh

Belgian artist Johan Grimonprez was propelled to international prominence when his highly acclaimed one-hour video Dial H-I-S-T-0-R-Y, a smart, visually complex and imaginatively compelling cultural history of aeroplane hijackings, was first shown at Documenta X in 1997. In 2008, a first version of his new film Doubletake took the Basel art fair by storm.

After recently chatting with Fiona Bradley, the Director of Fruitmarket, this film is critical in understanding the modern world. Grimonprez is a politically engaged artist and really hitting the major topics of today. Read the interview with Fiona in Aesthetica's June/July issue.

This exhibition is the first British gallery showing of Doubletake which, like Dial H-I-S-T-0-R-Y, mixes film, television and documentary footage, fact and fiction, to make a complex blend of meanings and counter-meanings, this time held together by a narrative written by British novelist Tom McCarthy in adaptation of Jorge Luis Borges’s novella The Other where Borges imagines an encounter with his own aging self. The film charts the global rise of fear-as-commodity in a tale of odd couples and double deals that casts Hitchcock’s work and persona as central to and reflective of a world in flux. It skips, or to use Grimonprez’s word zaps, from image to image and from plot to plot, weaving together footage from the kitchen debate between Kruchev and Nixon and the presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy; the space and technology race; Folgers coffee advertisements; episodes from ‘Alfred Hitchcock Presents’; reports of the Cuban Missile Crisis and an account of a fictional encounter between Hitchcock and his double on the set of The Birds.

Doubletake will be shown together with Dial H-I-S-T-0-R-Y and two earlier films, Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter, 1992 and the multi-screen installation It Will Be Alright If You Come Again, Only Next Time Don’t Bring Any Gear, Except A Tea Kettle, 1994. A sustained presentation of the work of this important international artist, the exhibition offers the chance to trace the development of his interest in the power of popular culture to create new mythologies and cultural narratives.

Doubletake is also screening on 2 June 2 at Film Forum - West Houston Street (West of 6th Avenue), with screenings daily at 1:00, 2:45, 4:30, 6:15, 8:00, 10:00. www. filmforum.org

Here’s what The New York Times and Variety had to say:

May be the most intellectually agile of this year's crop of essay films and also the least classifiable… Combines Hitchcockian dread and cold war paranoia in a wry meditation on the rise of the image and the commodification of fear." – Dennis Lim, The New York Times

"Galvanizing, elegant and wildly entertaining. Thoroughly inventive in its experimentation with the line between myth and history. As gripping a suspense movie as one of Hitchcock's own, and shows remarkable breadth of vision." – Robert Koehler, Variety

If you’re in New York or Scotland – it’s really worth seeing. The show runs at the Fruitmarket until 11 July. www.fruitmarket.co.uk

Images (c) Johan Grimonprez

Wednesday 26 May 2010

From Tehran to London: New Painting from Iran

The noise and bustle of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport at five in the morning is a little overwhelming, especially after six peaceful hours snoozing on a flight from London. Only a few years old, but some design flaws are already showing in this sleek building, particularly in the way incoming travellers find themselves in irritatingly long queues. A glass wall brings welcoming family and friends frustratingly close, and as you inch slowly towards the exit you can read improving signs that remind how ‘Respect for Islamic Dress is Respect for the Rights of Women’. Another enormous queue outside siphons off into taxis, and by the time I am on the road to Tehran, dawn has broken.

This was my introduction to Iran early last month as I went to select paintings for an exhibition in Soho. My friend, Aras, had visited her family last summer and returned to London with tales of the great art she had seen in Tehran’s galleries. We were soon thinking about how we could get some to London, and soon after gallerist Jill George had offered her premises for a show. All that remained was to actually see what would be going up on the walls. I was staying with a friend in downtown Tehran, and rolled up as he returned from the local bakery with breakfast. Glasses of hot tea washed down freshly-baked flatbread, cream cheese, honey and fresh walnuts as I enjoyed the calmest moments in four days of running from galleries to studios to artists’ homes to look at paintings.

One question I was asked whilst there was: “What do you like about Tehran?” and this is not an easy one to answer. There is little impressive architecture, and the city is polluted and overcrowded, with something like twice the population of London in a smaller area. But what makes Tehran one of my current favourite cities is the sheer warmth of its people, whose hospitality, charm and generosity belie the general media image of their country abroad. This was my third visit there, and still people looked surprised when they heard of my plans. If having a small exhibition of contemporary Iranian painting helps to undermine such assumptions – and I know I’m reaching for the stars here – then it’ll be even more worthwhile.

After breakfast, we drive across town to Azad Gallery in Yousefabad. This small artist-run basement room has been showing exceptional art in Tehran since 1999 under the Directorship of Rozita Sharafjahan. I wanted to see good painting, and Rozita knew exactly which artists I should consider. Various canvases were assembled from painters Marzieh Bagheri and Azadeh Balouchi, two young women who have been out of college for barely a year and already producing exceptionally confident and accomplished work. I wanted everything they could provide, but had to settle for two from one and three from the other. I was driven by painter Samira Eskandarfar to see her work in her flat: she proudly told me that Tate Modern had just decided to buy one of her video works that day. I saw the studios of Khosro Khosravi, Mohammad Tabatabaie and his wife Masoumeh Bakhtiary, and was struck by how little room they had to produce their magnificent images, and how modestly they wore their abilities. Hamed Sahihi brought canvases into Azad Gallery for me to choose and the resulting selection has only one guiding theme to link the paintings: quality. Everything I have selected – and of course, how could I say otherwise? – can hold its own with the finest market-approved painting from anywhere else in the world, and given that it is the first time most of these painters have shown in London, prices are very cheap.

It was not easy to whittle down all the excellent art I saw to the seven artists who make up the exhibition and, needless to say, Aras and I are already tempted to investigate another show with some of the many accomplished and talented Tehrani artists we could not include this time. Time will tell if we can do this, but a trip around the Tehran art world is a surprising and delightful experience that belies the general, woefully negative impression of Iran that still persists.

By David Gleeson - Guest Blogger & Aesthetica Magazine contributor.

To read more about Middle Eastern Art, read Contemporary Art From the Middle East a feature on Golden Gates, which ran in Paris last October.

From Tehran to London: New Painting from Iran is at Jill George Gallery, 38 Lexington Street, Soho, London W1 until 18 June. Admission free. www.jillgeorgegallery.co.uk

Image Credits
(c) Mohammad Mehdi Tabatabaie
Untitled 2008)
Triptych, oil on canvas
120 x 220 cm

(c)Azadeh Balouchi
Utopia Ophelia (2009)
acrylic on canvas

She Was Alone (2009)
oil on canvas

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