In: Contemporary Art
June 16, 2017
The art of calligraphy dates back to 4000 BC, which is the earliest record of written Chinese characters. Though many might see calligraphy as merely “beautiful writing,” Chinese calligraphy came to be appreciated as one of the highest visual art forms. Many ancient Chinese scholars were devoted to the importance and power of words. They produced a powerful means of expression by combining physical form and abstract concept with just the movement of a brush. A calligrapher’s style became just as revealing as the words they wrote, and the combination of the two created a supremely eloquent form of art. Today, artist Ni Li draws inspiration from calligraphy and brings this ancient art form into our present time by applying it to modern objects and ideas.
Ni Li was born in Shanghai, China in 1989. From a young age, she was introduced to philosophy, literature and calligraphy as part of her formative schooling. She eventually went on to become a well known television host, columnist and journalist for SMG (China’s largest media network). In a recent interview with AXS, she stated that “In my career as a TV talk show host, I interviewed high profile guests from all over the world and being a shy, introverted and sensitive type of person, I eventually realized it wasn’t the right fit for me. Art has always been my way of expressing my true self and connecting with others. As an artist, I also felt it was important for me to do different things and gain new perspectives on life.”
Today, Ni Li lives in Los Angeles and creates mixed-media art that explores the relationship between an ancient art form, calligraphy, and contemporary materials and subjects. The artist’s love and appreciation for the Chinese prose stems from her extensive education in the art form, but it has blossomed into a mode in which her distinctive style expresses her authentic self.
Past projects, such as “Flow” from 2016, encompass Ni Li’s fascination with the old and the new. In this specific series, she used ten bamboo skateboards as scrolls for her wildly written calligraphy. Ni Li pays tribute to legendary ancient calligrapher Huai Su (737-799) by taking excerpts from his works (less than ten of which still exist today), which she combines with quotes from famous Chinese poets such as Li Bai (701-762). Phrases like, “The sounds of torrents and whirlwinds fill the room” and “Under the pen, one only sees the flow of arousing electricity” – taken from Huai Su’s Autobiography – are given a new context when Ni Li’s rapid and rhythmic calligraphy is applied to the skateboards. The ancient words and sentiments of movement are brought into the contemporary world by Ni Li’s use of the characters upon modern objects.
Another recent series, entitled “We Are Parts of the Culture” (which was featured at this year’s LA Art Show in January), expands upon Ni Li’s exploration of the concepts of ancient and contemporary. This project consists of a set of images of nude female models upon which Ni Li’s calligraphy of ancient Chinese poems and aphorisms have been written. The images are giclée printings on watercolor paper which, materially speaking, show the contrast between modern and ancient process of image making.
The use of the female body in this series creates many derivations. It criticizes the lack of representation of women in a historically male-dominated art form, but may be seen as a commentary on the exploitation of the female form as well. In addition, it also uses the female body as a vessel to transmit the ancient into the contemporary. Ni Li has been quoted saying, “As a feminist, I not only pay homage to the female form, but also convey the idea that the human body or even the human self are merely the carrier of the immortal culture and history.”
Since she left her journalistic career behind in order to focus on art back in 2016, Ni Li’s work has been exhibited at the Shanghai 2016 Art Show, the LA Art Show 2017, and Art Expo New York 2017. Her latest projects, “Heart Sutra” and “Untitled”, continue to explore the art of calligraphy from a contemporary perspective.
June 12, 2017
In the world of museum giants, inexhaustible lists of galleries, and raved-about art fairs, art foundations are often hidden gems that not only offer visitors the experience of viewing art and learning more about it, but also actively engage with their community, supporting contemporary artists or preserving the legacy of an individual. While other art institutions or businesses have commercial or collection-building interests, art foundations typically focus more on the development and backing of artists themselves. Here are some of the most reputable and successful art foundations found in Paris.
Fondation Louis Vuitton
Since recently opening in 2014, the Fondation Louis Vuitton has made quite a name for itself in Paris by rising to the top of the city’s cultural ranks. Located just west of the city center, at the Jardin d’Acclimatation in the larger Bois de Boulogne, the foundation is housed within a unique structure designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry. A visit here is worth it just to admire the dazzling building, which has been called “the iceberg” and described as a “glass cloud.” Personally, I had the impression of walking up to a futuristic pirate ship stranded in a lush forest.
Fondation Louis Vuitton was born out of the ambition of the LVMH group to continue with their dedication to support art, culture, and heritage by placing strong roots in western Paris. With just about 4,000 sq.m. of exhibition space, FLV holds a permanent collection of 20th and 21st-century works (150 pieces by 71 artists) and puts on impressive museum-grade temporary exhibitions as well as site-specific installations. In its three years of existence, it has exhibited many of the masters of Modern Art, with landmark exhibitions such as Keys to a Passion and Icons of Modern Art: The Shchukin Collection, as well as displays of Chinese and most recently African art. The foundation also organizes a series of events ranging from dance and music performances to talks and activities for students and children.
Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain
Situated in an industrial-style, entirely transparent glass building by Jean Nouvel, both reflecting its environment and blending with it, the Fondation Cartier has been promoting contemporary art for more than 30 years. Since its opening, the foundation has aimed to stimulate creativity and discovery by revealing young artists to the public and regularly commissioning works for temporary exhibitions or for its own permanent collection, which includes over 1,400 works from 300 artists worldwide.
Fondation Cartier engages in all mediums and forms of artistic expression, from design to photography, from painting to video, and from fashion to performance art. Another unique aspect of their programming, entitled “Nomadic Nights,” places an emphasis on the various forms of performance art including dance, music, film, theater, conferences, installations, and spoken word. After exploring this large variety of activities, visitors can relax in the foundation’s “wild” but carefully curated garden, which mixes diverse flora, art installations, and local cultural heritage dating back to the 18th century.
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson
Opened in 2003, just a year before the death of the iconic photographer, the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson was established to preserve the legacy and complete works of Cartier-Bresson and his wife, Martine Franck. It houses various rare publications, vintage prints, and documents assembled from their lives, and it is regarded today as one of Paris’s central locations for photography: it is a space for education, discussion, and admiration for the photographic medium, as well as a resource and support for contemporary photographers. The foundation also sponsors the Henri-Cartier Bresson Prix, awarded every two years.
Perhaps the most aesthetically modest foundation on this list -white washed interior and all-, but certainly an important cultural gem of the city. It is located along a quiet residential street in an atelier dating back to 1912, where Cartier-Bresson’s famous “The Decisive Moment” (1952) has found a home and where all may come to discover the joy of photography.
Fondation d’entreprise Ricard
The Fondation d’entreprise Ricard, created in 2006, is much smaller than the other foundations on this list; but what it lacks in size and imposing architecture, it makes up for in its rich programme and involvement in the French art community. Situated right off of the Place de la Concorde, it runs very much like any typical contemporary art gallery, with five to six exhibitions a year and free admission. The foundation is dedicated uniquely to the young French art scene, supporting its emergence and promoting its awareness abroad.
In partnership with the reputable contemporary art fair, FIAC, the two organizations have created the program Young Curators Invitational (YCI), where young curators from around the world are invited to participate in the fair by meeting with artists, collectors, gallery representatives, and other critics to discuss the French art scene and other issues in the art world. Additionally, since 1999 Le Prix Ricard has been annually awarded to an emerging artist working or living in France. The winner receives a purchase of one of their works, the chance to exhibit in the Centre Pompidou, and support in producing a personal project abroad.
So whether you are interested in discovering the fresh talent in the French art scene, are yourself an artist or an art professional looking for resources, or want to attend one of the many monthly performances, conferences, or affiliated programs, there is certainly something to be found at the hyper-active Fondation d’entreprise Ricard.
Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent
What would a list of Parisian art and culture be without some fashion? Housed in a traditional Parisian hôtel particulier dating from the Second Empire, at 5 avenue Marceau (just across the street and around the block from the Palais de Tokyo and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris), the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent preserves the legacy of the iconic couturier Yves Saint Laurent. The foundation, whose galleries opened in 2004, occupies the same space that the YSL Haute Couture house operated in from 1974 to its closure in 2002. Its mission is to preserve the 5,000 garments, 15,000 accessories, photographs, sketches, and archives that bear witness to the YSL Haute Couture creative history. The foundation also puts on exhibitions of photography, drawings, paintings, and items from their fashion collection. It also owns and manages the Jardin Majorelle and Berber Museum in Marrakech, Morocco.
The foundation is currently closed for renovations in preparation for the opening of the Musée Yves Saint Laurent on October 3, 2017. This new museum will be dedicated to the life and works of YSL, showing across 450 sq.m. about 50 rotating models with items from the permanent collection as well as providing access to the salons and studio where YSL himself worked. From those who consider Vogue to be their Bible to those who more simply take an interest in design and fashion, this is a place to keep your eye on as October comes around!
At London’s National Gallery, known globally for its collection of masterworks by Late Medieval, Renaissance and Modern painters such as Botticelli, Titian, Vincent van Gogh, and J.M.W. Turner, visitors now have an opportunity to view a major new work by contemporary British artist, Chris Ofili.
In his latest offering – a large-scale, three-paneled wall hanging entitled “The Caged Bird’s Song” (currently on display in an exhibition entitled “Weaving Magic”) – Ofili narratively engages with classical themes of love, tragedy, and paradise, whilst simultaneously exploring how these may be recast into contemporary idioms of black, diasporic identity. The scene itself – a watercolour depiction of two lovers luxuriating in an Arcadian, tropical landscape reminiscent of Ofili’s adopted home, the island of Trinidad – also features a treed, serpent-like man (based on the media-sensationalised character of Italian footballer, Mario Balotelli), who, in the upper centre of the main panel, mischievously disturbs the tranquility of the scene by pouring a green, effervescent, and noxious-looking liquid into a cocktail glass held by the central, female figure.
This female figure is depicted, along with her musical lover, in the tapestry’s lower centre panel, and both are flanked by an additional pair of characters on two far side panels – a female on the left and a male on the right – whose representations directly reflect the title of Ofili’s wall hanging: on the right, we see the male figure carrying a caged songbird (a common sight in Trinidad, according to curator Minna Moore Ede), and on the left, a female figure whose hand dangles a sprig of seeds meant for feeding to the caged bird in order to sweeten its song.
Ofili, who discusses the making of his tapestry in a 15-minute, companion video also shown at the exhibition, says that the title of his wall hanging refers to the late poet Maya Angelou’s 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and that the image of the caged bird provides the “secret” to interpreting his tapestry, namely in its symbolism of the vulnerability and precariousness of humanity in the world. It is also significant that the central figures portrayed in the tapestry are black, and that their physical postures reflect a joyful state of innocence consistent with the tapestry’s paradisaical setting.
“The Caged Bird’s Song” provides viewers with a mural-sized translation of Ofili’s watercolour paintings, from small, preparatory sketches – some of which are also on view at the exhibition – into a large, jewel-toned wall hanging. For the Dovecot Tapestry Studio weavers charged with interpreting and executing Ofili’s design, their challenge was to both reproduce the formal subject matter, and incorporate the fluidity of line, colour runs, blooms, and puddling of watercolour pigments characterising Ofili’s original sketches. All of these watercolour effects are successfully captured throughout the tapestry, especially in the left-hand panel, where threatening blooms of storm clouds hover over the horizon.
Water is a dominant motif in Ofili’s tapestry; representing purity, life, and death, it recurs in his depictions of a waterfall, a sea in the background, an approaching thunderstorm, and a small, serene pool by which the lovers recline. The Dovecot weavers’ interpretation of Ofili’s watercolour effects further underscores the significance of this motif for the narrative, namely that of a paradise on the verge of being lost, flooded, or drowned.
For visitors to the Sunley Room, viewing Ofili’s tapestry is an immersive experience that the artist himself orchestrates with the aid of sophisticated lighting, and ceiling-height images of Indian temple dancers painted onto the surrounding walls of the gallery space. These dancers, depicted in greys and subtle browns, line the walls of the Sunley Room, and are arranged in rows by gender: female dancers appear on the left, while male dancers appear on the right, echoing the female/male couples depicted in the tapestry itself.
These gigantic images provide a neutral background for Ofili’s wall hanging, and they physically encircle the viewer, whose eyes are thus provided with sight lines for traversing the gallery, traveling back and forth from individual temple dancers to the scene depicted in the tapestry. On the far wall of the gallery, “The Caged Bird’s Song” gleams like a vividly-painted altarpiece, and viewers can reflect upon its symbolism and aesthetics from within a quiet, contemplative space that Ofili, in a creative departure from the traditional white cube gallery format, has specifically designed for this purpose.
“The Caged Bird’s Song” represents a three-year collaboration between the artist and the Dovecot Tapestry Studio of Edinburgh, Scotland. The tapestry was commissioned by The Clothworkers’ Company London to celebrate contemporary art in textile, and is on loan to the National Gallery until 28 August 2017. The exhibition is free of charge, and includes a catalogue providing additional information on the inspirations for, and production process of, Ofili’s new work.
May 20, 2017
Photo London is only in its third year, but this sprightly young fair does not disappoint in the quality and breadth of the work on show. Eighty-nine galleries present a diverse array of emerging artists and established names in this four-day festival. Here are some of our favourites.
1. Michael Wolf, ‘Tokyo Compression’
This series of uncomfortable, claustrophobic images depicts one of the many unpleasant realities of life in the metropolis. Catch it on display at the Flowers Gallery booth.
2. Stephen Shore, ‘Warhol and The Factory’ (1965-67)
A vintage series presented by Sprüth Magers Gallery captures glimpses of an “off-duty” Andy Warhol and his companions shot in and around The Factory.
3. Photo London Master of Photography 2017: Taryn Simon
Taryn Simon’s ‘Image Atlas’ is an interactive “work-in-progress” exploring the idea of a universal visual language. Using search engine data from around the world, Simon examines the fluidity of reference and the constant changing of meaning attached to images, in a work that interrogates the impact of censorship on our perception.
4. Discovery Galleries
This year’s edition of Photo London highlights the work of new galleries that are between one and five years old, with sixteen stands making up the ‘Discovery Galleries’.
5. Jacob Aue Sobol’s ‘Road of Bones’, presented by Leica Camera
Shot along the Kolyma Highway in Russia, Jacob Aue Sobol captures life in one of the coldest inhabited regions of the world. Using Leica X and Leica M Monochrom cameras, Sobol starkly portrays the bleakness of an area once notorious for its Gulag camps.
6. Michael Hoppen Gallery
Michael Hoppen Gallery presents an engaging selection including Siân Davey’s series depicting the innocent pleasures of youth over a British summer, and the timely “Brexit Wall” offering photographs capturing the essence of ‘Britishness’.
7. Alison Jacques Gallery
This year’s highlights from Alison Jacques Gallery include lightbox images by Catherine Yass from her ‘Decommissioned’ series and Juergen Teller’s brooding portrait of Kristen Stewart for System Magazine.
8. Galerie Johannes Faber
This Viennese gallery presents a selection of photographs from before the digital age, including works by Man Ray, Germaine Krull, Dennis Hopper and Horst P. Horst, among others. The elegant, more conservative compositions in black and white offer a sobering contrast to the abundance of technology-heavy works across Photo London.
9. Isaac Julien, ‘Looking for Langston’
At the Victoria Miro booth, Isaac Julien combines digital and analogue pre- and post-production techniques in a series of stills from his film ‘Looking for Langston’, which explore black queer identities.
10. Mat Collishaw, ‘Thresholds’
Mat Collishaw debuts his ambitious project ‘Thresholds’. The immersive, multi-sensory installation uses a virtual reality headset to recreate the 1839 exhibition of photography staged by the British Association for the Advancement of Science. In collaboration with Blain|Southern Gallery –which simultaneously displays some of the artist’s recent works in The Centrifugal Soul–, Collishaw uses 21st-century visual technology to bring to life the cutting-edge photographic technology of two centuries ago and introduce virtual reality as part of the evolution of the photographic image. Collishaw’s work juxtaposes the scepticism that photography once faced with our modern anxiety towards new forms of technology and artificial intelligence. If you missed it at Photo London, ‘Thresholds’ will be on display at Somerset House until 11th June.
Can’t afford the price tag of an original print? A strong contingent of publishers, including TASCHEN, teNeues and Thames & Hudson, offer up their latest photography publications in the fair’s central pavilion. Check them out!
Photo London is at Somerset House, The Strand until Sunday 21st May.
You may have been lucky enough to embark on the journey of a virtual lifetime by travelling through the extraordinary installations of Mat Collishaw.
Emerging from Goldsmiths College, London in the late 1980’s, Collishaw is a key figure in the important generation of the original Young British Artists. Although the YBA is not something that he particularly dwells on, he has established a provocative and increasingly intricate body of work since his first participation within the group. During his time at Goldsmiths, he started appropriating forensic photography, fuelling his interest in technology and his obsession with “the slightly morbid human fascination with the darker side”. He has exhibited widely internationally since his first solo exhibition in 1990, including at the Centre Georges Pompidou, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
His new exhibition at Blain|Southern, London, titled The Centrifugal Soul, is a fantastical combination of illusion and haunting reality. He attempts to create “images that are awe–inspiring”, enveloping the human conscious into a world that is equally shocking and familiar, governed by our primal urges for visual supremacy. The exhibition is separated into two fragments; a freestanding sculpture based on the model of a zoetrope, and an evocative projection inspired by the Victorian theatrical illusion, Pepper’s Ghost.
Collishaw worked with evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller to produce the centrepiece of the exhibition, The Centrifugal Soul. This sculpture in the form of a zoetrope –a pre-film animation device that simulates the illusion of movement through the use of rapid rotation and stroboscopic light– directly comments on Miller’s theories. Miller postulated that the origins of art derive from our natural instincts of courtship and reproduction, hence why the birds in the sculpture are condemned to repeat a series of seductive routines.
The dancing birds of paradise and bowerbirds not only entice and trick the viewer into entering an optical world, but their aesthetic beauty comments on how humanity has an unquenchable thirst for visual stimulation. We have an undoubtable appetite to be noticed in a visual competition, much like animals do in the courtship rituals they perform. Perhaps The Centrifugal Soul exaggerates how we cannot escape our own primal urges; we must create art as an attempt to articulate our own frustration with courtship and reproduction. Ultimately, the human race, like any other species, has the fundamental goal to reproduce, and if this goal is not reached then the purpose of life is questioned.
Collishaw continues his commentary on the ways in which we consume imagery whilst struggling with our own biological conditioning with Albion, a new installation in the form of a laser scan of ‘The Major Oak’ in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham. This hollowed-out tree trunk is supposedly the hiding place of Robin Hood, and it is because of this mythical significance that the tree and it’s limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. Collishaw’s rendition of ‘The Major Oak’ is a glowing ghost-like skeleton that slowly rotates on its axis. The eerie presence of the tree is a living representation of an object that is eternally trapped to present the illusion of life. The artist states that “the tree is interesting because it wants to die… it has chains internally holding it up. It’s very sad. It becomes a portrait of England -this mythical idea that everyone wants to believe in, which is perhaps something we should let go”.
Collishaw’s intuitive use of one form of illusion to illustrate another, observing how delusion is drawn out from the optical, is an unreserved refection of ourselves. The dying fragments of ‘The Major Oak’ embellish everything that we believe we are; what we perceive through our eyes, the things we consider to be true, the past, and everything we think we want. He therefore not only explores the tension between the beautiful and the wretched, but also how this tension relates to our own origins. The human race is a vacant shell, filled with memories and past experiences that cannot be escaped; the internal chains that support ‘The Major Oak’ are the same supporting elements that sustain our own thoughts and feelings. We all want to believe that there is a component of Robin Hood in us.
Mat Collishaw’s The Centrifugal Soul is on display at Blain|Southern, London until 27th May, 2017.
Since the early 20th century, some artists have been exploring the possibilities of movement by introducing the element of time, reflecting the importance of the modern machine and technology, and exploring the nature of vision in their work –they are kinetic artists. Among them, the most renowned figures are Jean Tinguely and Alexander Calder. Nowadays, Swiss kinetic artist Ralfonso extends this artistic lineage and incorporates motion into his Kinetic, Light, and Interactive sculptures, which are exhibited and installed across the globe, including China, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Switzerland, USA and Russia.
Ralfonso has been fascinated by mechanics and design ever since he was a very young boy. He then started to design objects and sculptures that had a motion component, which later on became art in motion, or kinetic art. For more than 20 years he has endeavoured to push the boundaries of kinetic art at the intersection of art, mechanics and design. His work is mostly inspired by nature, by the shape and natural interaction of different elements. His sculptures gently move with the wind, with water, through motors, or when pushed by hand, and range in size from 50cm to 15m.
Different from usual sculptures, kinetic sculptures are 4-dimensional with the added dimension of time and the “change over time” element. As our technology advances, kinetic artists nowadays do not only have to engage with motion, but also with other engineering fields. It is imaginably not an easy practice in art. Ralfonso sees that as a major benefit rather than a challenge. He enjoys collaborating with experts in technical fields, as well as developing new interactive public art together with graduate students and their professors in various fields of science and art.
With the help of engineering and technology, Ralfonso designs monumental public outdoor sculptures that are environmentally interactive and can even generate energy. For example, his 8m-tall Cube Tower consists of 5 cubes, all of which move in different directions with the wind due to the wind channels in each cube. Then, the next generation Cube Tower #2 will be constructed with high-efficiency solar panels on all surfaces. So it will generate electricity not only through sun exposure, but also through the rotation of the large cubes.
Ralfonso wants to create interactive and dynamic art –to change the prevailing one-sided, passive viewing of a still piece of sculptural art. All his works create dynamic interactions, where the art and the viewer exchange, react and interact. He strongly believes that art viewing should really be a two-sided communication between the art and the viewer. Therefore, some of his works have transformed from local art to global art, as they are accessible from anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, Ralfonso co-founded the Kinetic Art Organisation (KAO), a platform and a place for everyone interested in kinetic art to meet, exchange and share information about this art form. KAO has now become the largest kinetic art organisation in the world with over 1,000 members from 60 countries, and has published its first e-book about kinetic art, with new articles by 18 international artists, curators and collectors from all over the world, including the USA, China, Mexico, India, France and Switzerland.
Many of Ralfonso’s works have been installed in public spaces. In his perception, public art should be able to intrigue the public and make them enjoy engaging with it both mentally and physically. His goal is to design truly new, never-seen-before public sculptures, which actually can “see” and “hear” the viewer, and can interact directly with them. Ralfonso, together with a group of graduate students and their professors, are exploring various cutting-edge concepts for his public works, such as augmented and virtual reality, and globally interactive art –which implies that the viewer does not have to be in front of the sculpture but can interact with it via computers and smartphone applications from anywhere in the world at any time. One example is Ex Strata, an interactive light and sound sculpture installed both at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the NHL campus in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, that can be controlled through the Internet.
On February 2017, KAO held the 3rd bi-annual Kinetic Art Event and Symposium. Meanwhile, Ralfonso has been selected as the master artist for the Putian International Sculpture Exhibition in China and as the Silver Prize winner for the China (Ningbo) Urban Sculpture Design Contest. Ralfonso’s sculptures will be installed in both Chinese cities, adding to his growing list of large public installations across China.
More info: http://www.ralfonso.com
YouTube: Ralfonso – Kinetic, Light & Interactive Sculptures
Artist Alexa Meade is a painter who does not use a canvas.
Her artistic practice hovers somewhere between painting, installation, and performance art. She paints directly onto the bodies of her live models, using loose brushstrokes to collapse the appearance of depth and make her subjects appear two-dimensional. She then photographs her models, and the still images visually resemble paintings on canvas.
Trompe l’oeil is an artistic technique that artists have been using for centuries to trick the eye into believing that a two-dimensional image looks as real as a three-dimensional one by creating extremely detailed, hyper-realistic depictions of objects. Meade takes the concept of trompe l’oeil and turns it on its head. Once painted, that which is three-dimensional looks as if it was created on a two-dimensional surface. She paints her subjects and their surroundings with heavy, large brushstrokes, which creates an optical illusion that collapses any sense of depth.
Meade is entirely self-taught; as she ruminates on in her TEDx talk “Your body is my canvas,” after earning her degree in political science from Vassar College she made a career path U-turn and ended up teaching herself how to paint in her parent’s basement. At first, she used her own body as her canvas, creating a series of self-portrait photographs of herself covered in angular paint strokes.
These initial works of art were only documented and circulated as photographs. In the past year, the Los Angeles-based artist has broken out of that format and created more interactive works that have appeared at Art Paris Art Fair, Boom Basel in Miami, and the United Nations in New York City. These “Living Paintings” are created on temporary sets in public spaces, where viewers can see Meade painting the model, and then see the finished product. She has had live models pose in gallery settings and has even done a live painting session in the streets of Tokyo as a promotional event for Mini Cooper in 2013.
Meade’s performance art-style displays ride the same wave of Instagram-able art that Pipilotti Rist’s Pixel Forest & Yayoi Kusama’s infinity rooms. This is probably because you can photograph her work from any angle and the illusion still holds up. Her immersive, painted environments simulate the act of walking into a painting. And in some cases, it is her models walk out of their paintings. Her latest collaboration with hip hop dancer Jon Boogz in “The Color of Reality” has the two central dancers move out of their painted space onto the street.
Alexa Meade wants her audiences “to find the strange in the familiar… to look beyond what’s already been brought to light, and to see that there can always be more than meets the eye.”
A mass of colourful figures is scattered across the floor of the Lisson Gallery (London), resembling discarded children’s toys. On closer analysis, it becomes apparent that these “toys”, these silicone figures -the creation of artist Nathalie Djurberg- explore often repressed elements of the human psyche.
The figures are restless and chaotic as they eat, play with, and are tormented by anthropomorphic faeces, which sport human-like facial expressions and sprout cartoon-esque arms and legs. The composition of tiny sculptures creates a sprawling collection of tensions in a dream-like setting where animals wear clothes, houses can move and familiar childhood characters wrestle excrement.
A doorway leads to a darkened, purpose-built room at the back of the gallery where a larger-than-life video projection is accompanied by thumping techno beats composed by musician Hans Berg. Stop-motion animation abruptly juxtaposes debauched imagery with familiar childhood themes, creating an invasive, overwhelming experience that assaults the senses. The aural and visual combine to create a wholly immersive environment. Certainly not what one expects from a visit to the Lisson on a sunny, spring afternoon. This is the sort of art which cannot be read about or viewed in a photograph but needs to be experienced first-hand.
The animation comprises three films shown in a continuous loop, seemingly with no beginning, middle or end, which adds to the intensity of the whole experience. There is no crescendo, only a constant barrage of complex and often troubling imagery.
These claymation films explore the often-repressed elements of sexuality which drive human beings. The first, Delights of an Undirected Mind (2016), presents a melange of fantasy, role-play and sexual awakening, while Worship (2016) explores ideas of voyeurism, scopophilia and exploitation. The third, Dark Side of the Moon (2017), takes on a different tone. Set in a dream-like woodland landscape, the film moves beyond infantile impulses and carnal urges towards connection and emotion.
Video and sound artists Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg have been collaborating since 2004 to produce interdisciplinary works exploring the human condition. The Swedish duo have now brought their distinctive, multi-sensory installations to London in an exhibition that is designed to awaken the audience to the salacious elements of their own subconscious.
Faeces is a recurrent image which pervades Djurberg’s work, yet its purpose is somewhat ambiguous. Perhaps it is intended as a criticism of capitalist society, shown to be literally consuming its own excrement. An obvious conclusion to reach is that they are intended as a condemnation of the state of contemporary art. Perhaps it is a comment on infantile scatological fascination, or simply no more than the result of a feverish nightmare. Regardless of the reading, the installation is designed at first to draw in, then to shock and finally to engage the viewer.
It is Djurberg’s mode of representation, rather than the themes themselves, which makes for particularly harrowing work. The juxtaposition of bodily functions and sexuality with the innocence of childhood is nothing new (ask Freud) and has indeed become a tired trope in art. However, the specific visual language employed by Djurberg to represent this medley of images is particularly uncomfortable. Cherished protagonists from childhood stories, such as My Little Pony, Pinocchio, or the Big Bad Wolf, appear in playful compositions which, on closer inspection, show them in compromising situations. The stop-motion animation and a vibrant colour palette are reminiscent of childhood television programmes. This seemingly innocuous mode of representation is subverted to present the brazenly perverse and depraved tendencies of human nature.
Nathalie Djurberg & Hans Berg’s exhibition Who am I to Judge, or, It Must be Something Delicious (2017) is on at Lisson Gallery, Bell Street, until 6th May 2017.
Back in the day, when it was called Sverdlovsk, Soviet Yekaterinburg was considered a “city of the future”. Not only was it a buzzing industrial giant, but also manifested hopes and dreams of the new country through bold architectural projects. As the USSR named Constructivism its official architectural style, Yekaterinburg turned into the center of avant-garde architecture decades before it even became a thing. Now an open-air museum of Constructivism, Yekaterinburg has more constructivist buildings than any other place in the world. The city is dotted with monuments to Soviet ambitions that let you catch a glimpse into the life of a country that no longer exists.
Commissioned in 1928, this iconic water tower with a once revolutionary design was the first concrete structure built in the Ural region, and at the time of construction had the world’s largest water tank. Designed by 25-year-old architect Moses Reischer to resemble a lighthouse, the 98-foot-tall structure was meant to become the major draw of the Uralmash district. In the 1960s the tower was disconnected from the water supply and soon abandoned altogether. Years of neglect led to a deterioration of the building, and only in 2013, when Yekaterinburg-based architectural group Podelniki took the lead in the preservation project, things started to look up for the white tower. Although its restoration is still a work in progress, the tower is now an attraction open to the public -you may take a tour of the building, look at the city from its observation deck, or visit one of the events the tower hosts.
Madrid Hotel, built in 1934, is a magnificent constructivist building that the city authorities and activists are desperately trying to save. Designed by German architect and Bauhaus graduate Béla Scheffler, it is one of the most recognizable architectural masterpieces in the city thanks to its peculiar red brick color. Originally a purely constructivist building, the hotel has experienced certain changes over the years: in the late 1930s, for instance, its front was embellished to give it a neoclassical touch. Beautifully located at the corner of the First Five-Year Plan Square, the building stretches its wings along two neighbouring streets. Madrid was never the hotel’s official name, it was nicknamed so by the locals. Now it is in a poor condition, but there is a chance that it will host the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art in the future, so there is still hope for it.
Iset Hotel and Chekist Town
Yet another constructivist hotel that actually housed the Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art in 2015, Iset is the central landmark of the housing complex affectionately called by the locals the Chekist Town. Probably the most popular constructivist building in the region, the sickle-shaped Iset Hotel used to be an architectural symbol of the city when it was still called Sverdlovsk. The building had been nearly empty for quite a while until it hosted the Ural Biennial, so perhaps it will become a functioning hotel again. Chekist Town, designed as the NKVD living quarters, comprises a group of residential and non-residential buildings. The project was influenced by an ideological trend of the late 1920’s: in an attempt to renounce all private property and fight inequality, the concept of communal houses for workers was introduced. A distinctive feature of such apartments was the absence of kitchens and bathrooms, as people were supposed to use public baths and eateries. However, later apartments in the building complex were remodeled to include the bathrooms. Chekist Town is also quite a view from above; its geometry, which some say was designed to resemble a hammer, is fascinating to modern viewers.
The Printing House
This giant building with signature ribbon windows and a rounded facade occupies an entire city block. The project for the Ural Worker Printing House was designed by Giorgi Golubev and was meant to become the symbol of constructivist architecture, as well as the largest publishing company in the region. Built in 1934, it housed three newspaper offices, a publishing house, a local office of the TASS photo agency, and a printing house. During World War II, the printing house used to shelter famous Soviet writers, such as Agnia Barto, Alexei Novikov-Priboy, Lev Kassil, and Marietta Shaginyan. In 2010 this drastically underused building played host to the very first Ural Biennial of Contemporary Art and started a new episode in its life. Apart from being a monument of federal importance, it is now home to the biggest nightclub in the city, a hip bookstore, and popular cafes and restaurants.
Built in 1934, Dinamo is the oldest sports complex in the city of Yekaterinburg and one of the few constructivist buildings that has been functioning throughout its 80 years of existence. Designed by Benjamin Sokolov, an acclaimed architect, it is one of the most recognizable constructivist buildings in the world. With its peculiar naval aesthetics and waterfront location, the complex looks like a ship docked amidst the hustle and bustle of the city. The place is surrounded by nearly century-old trees and is a perfect photo op in the summer.
The Gutai movement set about to embody human creativity in material form. With an emphasis on radical experimentation, the movement has come to be associated with North America’s Abstract Expressionism and France’s Art Informel movements.
This Japanese avant-garde collective, which arose with the liberal mood of post-war Japan, is experiencing something of a resurgence. Works by associated artists, which have until recently been overlooked by the art market, are being featured in a number of European exhibitions and are fetching high prices at auction.
Gutai, which translates variously as ‘concrete’ or ‘embodiment’, originated in Osaka, Japan, and came into being in 1954 with the founding of the Gutai Art Association (GAA). The movement’s guiding principle was two-fold, with an emphasis both on the autonomy of the individual artist to be creative and on an international outreach. The global influence of Gutai is evident in the inclusion of works by artists such as Enrico Castellani, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni in the recent Tsuyoshi Maekawa exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in San Francisco.
Born in 1936 in Osaka, Maekawa belongs to the second generation of Gutai artists, having joined the movement in the early 1960s. Following the groups’s disbandment after the death of the its co-founder Yoshihara Jirō in 1972, Maekawa shifted his focus from a radical rejection of artistic practices to a focused experimentation with his chosen materials: oil paint and hessian (burlap).
Maekawa’s work proved to be among the most popular from the Gutai movement. His first solo exhibition was held at the Gutai Pinacotheca, Osaka, as early as 1963, with his work having previously been featured in every Gutai group exhibition since he joined the collective. More recently, Maekawa’s work has appeared in major exhibitions such as ‘Splendid Playground’ at the Guggenheim Museum, New York in 2013 and his work now features in the permanent collections of international institutions including the Tate Modern.
A solo show comprised of Maekawa’s work from the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of Gutai, is currently on display at the Saatchi Gallery, London. The selection of works forms the inaugural exhibition of the Saatchi’s new space SALON, launched in February of this year with the aim of showcasing international artists to new audiences.
The exhibition, a collaboration between Saatchi Gallery and Lévy Gorvy, presents a group of works from Maekawa’s most productive period, including two pieces originally shown at Maekawa’s first solo exhibition, ‘Untitled (A5)’ (1963) and ‘Mountain with Lines’ (1963) and a selection of his work on loan from the Axel Vervoordt Gallery, Antwerp.
The canvases are presented uniformly in the windowless lower-ground floor of the Saatchi Gallery. No context for the works is offered to the visitor because none is needed: Maekawa’s creations can be enjoyed on a purely visual level.
The artist’s work is preoccupied with the dichotomy between flatness and three-dimensionality. The viewer is confronted with undulating folds of hessian cloth and ejaculatory spatters of paint in an explosion of colour, which call attention to the surface of the canvas and undermine the notion of a painting as a two-dimensional plane. That said, Maekawa does not wholly reject the representational, and the viewer could be forgiven for picking out recognisable forms in his Pollock-like canvases.
Many of his compositions seem biological, evocative of flesh wounds or of the human circulatory system. Nonetheless, Maekawa’s primary concern is with the materiality of his work. In the case of an untitled piece from 1967, the smooth surface of the painted hessian rolls is abruptly interrupted by a gap in the composition, emphasising the tactile physical nature of the fabric. Maekawa’s visceral works, punctuated by rips and tears which are sewn and stuck back together again, raise questions about temporality as well as space. The experimental cut-and-stick creation process, resulting in works comprised of fragmented parts, has led his work to be likened to that of Joan Miró, Paul Klee and Alberto Burri.
This Tsuyoshi Maekawa exhibition represents just one facet of the resurgence of interest in Gautai, with exhibitions featuring the work of Kazuo Shiraga (b. 1924) at Lévy Gorvy, Old Bond Street, in February and March, and at the Axel Vervoordt gallery, running concurrently with the Maekawa show at the Saatchi SALON.
Tsuyoshi Maekawa is on display at SALON, Saatchi Gallery, Duke of York Square (London) until 14th May 2017.