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Tuesday 29 June 2010

Review of Ernesto Neto, The Edges of The World, Hayward Gallery – Southbank Centre, London

Review by Elisa Caldarola

Festival Brazil is a big event running throughout the summer at the Southbank Centre in London. Brazilian artist, Ernesto Neto is one of the most iconic international contemporary visual artists working today. For the festival, he has created The Edges of The World, a multi-senatorial installation that occupies the entire upper floor of Hayward Gallery and branches out into the terraces. Part of the work is an inflatable pool that visitors can actually use (provided that they bring a swimsuit, are older than 8 and taller than 1.10 m), as well as a delicious tropical oasis.

The main body of the work is made entirely out of nylon, possibly Neto’s favourite material. When we go up the stairs to the upper floor, we enter a space where the ceiling, the walls, and even part of the floor are delicately covered in a veil of nylon. We are invited to touch and explore gently. The colours are delicate: mostly pastels, with the exception of some red and yellow areas.

However, when we look more closely, we see the many orifices on the surface of the veil and the tension-less pieces of nylon reveals the sensual content of the work. It is the nylon itself that holds these characteristics. The whole space of the gallery looks like the body of some mysterious creature wearing immense nylon tights. It is an alluring creature that wants to be admired. On a wall there is a city map in relief. Neto sees bodies as if they were cities: topographic concepts replace the usual psychological language to describe the identity of the person inhabiting the body.

There are vertical wooden elements - covered in nylon like everything else, which look like the bones of a large animal. There is a strawberry-like structure, where we can enter and sit. Inside it has a drum we can play with a pendulum-like tool. It produces a deep sound: this is the inside of a hearth. Neto says of the veil structure that it is like skin, the first contact zone between bodies and the world. We are looking at the skin of an animal from the inside, so that we also have access to the internal organs. We can walk inside a multi-coloured intestinal tunnel and then move to an area where the floor has been covered in an apple-green veil of nylon. We are invited to walk barefoot on it, softly. That the work is delicately treated is a condition of its survival. The work is a creature we have to take care of.

My favourite bit is the hidden world beyond the nylon ceiling: we get to see it only if we climb the stairs placed here and there around the exhibition space. From this new viewpoint the ceiling becomes the ground on which a forest of ethereal nylon segments has grown, and only the tips of the large structures below can be seen in this surreal landscape. It is silent and distant, a place for contemplation, totally different from the playground below. Is this the space beyond the skin, a metaphor for the mysterious, alien outer world? Neto’s creature turns immersive again on the terrace, literally so when it invites us to enter the little pool. So don’t forget to go on a sunny day if you want to have all the fun.

Ernesto Neto: The Edges of The World, is at Hayward Gallery until 5 September. Tickets from £11.

All images (c) Steve White.

Monday 28 June 2010

Review of Howard Hodgkin, Time and Place, Modern Art Oxford

Review by Elisa Caldarola

This summer, Modern Art Oxford hosts Time and Place, Howard Hodgkin’s newest exhibition, curated by Director Michael Stanley. It presents twenty-five abstract paintings realized over the last decade. Hodgkin’s is a long and distinguished career: his first solo-shows date back to the 1960s, he won the Turner Prize in 1989 and – having exhibited in some of the major contemporary art institutions – he is recognized as one of the living masters of abstraction. With this show he comes back to the place where in 1976 an important survey was first dedicated to his work (Forty-five paintings 1949-1975). Hodgkin’s paintings explore new directions and are new to the broad public: he is back in Oxford to take stock one more time.

The works on display engage with landscape and natural elements, in contrast to Hodgkin’s earlier paintings, concentrated on portraiture and interiors. However they reveal many of the usual elements of Hodgkin’s style and practice: highly evocative colours, an emotional treatment of light, use of wooden surfaces instead of canvases, and a rigid compositional structure, often dictated by frame-like signs encompassing the central part of the picture. Hodgkin is an atmosphere painter, a Turner of our times, with an exquisite sensitivity for colour and light-properties, and the ability to make his viewers resonate with his palette, evoking various nuances of feelings. This is certainly true of the paintings in the Oxford exhibition.

The aspect that struck me most was the way the pictorial elements acted on the picture’s surface. In Mud (2002) for instance I could see the brown brushstrokes in the middle of the picture just like mud smeared on its surface. It was as if the picture were saying “this looks like what mud does to the grass”, rather than “this looks like mud on the grass”. In Spring Rain (2000-2002) the centre of the picture is dominated by a heavy dark blue splash of colour that pushes a green area towards the left margin of the picture: it was like watching water rapidly accumulating on the ground, filling all the space. Again, at the centre of my attention was the event of the rain, rather than some – no matter how abstracted – depiction of rain falling on a green field. Time and Place came to sound a most appropriate title for the exhibition: events take place in a certain place and at a certain time, a view of a certain scene is frozen in a perpetual present where nothing happens.

There are four big paintings beautifully assembled in the airy and luminous space on the upper floor: the biggest Hodgkin has yet painted. Their titles are taken from the chorus of the American popular song Home, Home on the Range, a musical cliché of the American West. Their scale also evokes the States: it brings to mind many famous episodes in American abstract painting. This is a great shift for an artist who has always stressed his link to classical European easel painting: the broad frame-like brushstrokes on the margins of the pictures and the overlapping planes suggesting depth and temporal continuity are some of the very typical elements that figure in many of Hodgkin’s abstracts. In contrast, two of the four big paintings in Oxford (Where Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word and And the Skies Are Not Cloudy All Day, 2007-2008) dispense of the frame-like element and hardly evoke any scene or landscape. The other two (Home, Home on the Range, Where the Deer and the Antelope Play, 2001-2007) are inspired by the landscapes of the American West, but have an epic character, totally new in a rather intimate painter like Hodgkin. All we can see is huge and vividly coloured brushstrokes, suggesting the width of the scene, and dramatic clashes of colours, recreating a very brightly lit environment. The concentration on the way a certain scene affects the viewer, rather than on how it looks is the element of continuity with previous work. My impression is that instead of depicting, or suggesting, elements typical of a certain place, Hodgkin sought to isolate some elements of the place itself (for example its width and luminosity) and tried to recreate with pictorial means the effect they have on human beings.

Hodgkin’s is an art that explores emotional reactions. It is unlikely that one remains indifferent to these paintings: the painter knows very well which strings to touch in the viewer. Sometimes the paintings play with colouristic effects so obviously that I suspect they might just be a skilfully devised mechanism to evoke specific reactions. Nevertheless irritation is replaced by admiration when I realise how much effort and knowledge it must take to produce works both very intimate and universal.

Howard Hodgkin: Time and Place runs at Modern Art Oxford until 5 September. www.modernartoxford.org.uk

Home, Home on the Range, 2001-2007
Oil on wood
80 1/4 x 105 1/8 inches (203.8 x 267cm)
Hossein and Dalia Fateh
© Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo credit: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

Big Lawn, 2008-2010
Oil on Wood
42 1/4 x 48 1/4 inches (107.3 x 122.6cm)
© Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo credit: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

Snow Cloud, 2009-2010
Oil on wood
17 x 22 1/5 inches (43.2 x 56.5cm)
Monica and Peder Lund, Oslo
© Howard Hodgkin. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo credit: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

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