December 20, 2017
If you’re an artist with innovational techniques (think technology or quantum physics) and still don’t have a gallery representation, listen up! MTArt, the first artist agency, could be the ideal place for you to become a greater artist and get recognized.
Founded two years ago, MTArt is the first artist agency (working similarly to more common music or film agencies). Marine Tanguy, the founder, came from a cultural background and always strived to work with artists and help them get known. The result? MTArt Agency!
We met a few months ago at Marine’s artsy flat in London and spoke about MTArt and her latest endeavor, art festival Unfold, that took place in October 2017.
Hi, Marine! So nice to finally meet you! I’ve been following your business, MTArt, for a while now. How did you get an initial idea?
Hi, Daria! I never thought it would become a business really. We created MTArt back in 2015. I always loved contemporary art and especially artists and I always thought how I could find a better supporting system for them. I was a young gallery manager in London when I was 21. So I knew I wanted to work in the industry, but I was not as close to artists as I wanted to be. Something expectable from a traditional art business model. Then, I got a chance to move to LA.
I love Los Angeles! It’s so different from London though…
It was a mind-blowing experience. I looked a lot at music and film agencies, so I thought why can’t something similar work for artists? It got me moving. After raising the capital, we’ve established an artist agency. Our primary focus is not only on works of art, it’s a more grounded approach towards art. It’s about building a visibility, making art more accessible. We want to establish a name of an artist with a significant content. MTArt is an agency that is all about a continuous collaboration with artists on a long-term basis.
How do you find your artists?
We get a lot of submissions via social media, texts, emails… What makes us choose is the degree of innovative techniques and valuable content. Now ‘innovation’ is such a buzz word! What I mean by it, is that every MTArt artist questions the status quo; content is the key.
But when do you say ‘yes, this artist is the one’? What is the selection process?
So, first, we meet the artists and we start testing them. In the agency, we want hard-working and committed people. I know that those who will do very well in the future, can handle stress easily. That is why we look for team players. Artists usually work alone, but during stressful moments they start working as a team.
After we select the artists, we support them for three years. It works like a typical music or film agency in Hollywood. We talk to our artists and try to understand what they want to do in the future, what their aspirations and interests are. Then, all we need to do is complement the artistic vision with exposure. Basically, what we do is accelerating and financing our artists. There’s constantly trust between us. I even have a spare bedroom upstairs so they can always stay for a night or two! ‘laughing’
Sounds very inspirational! And what about your latest endeavor – Unfold Festival? Is it connected to MTArt?
The vision is similar. There were four of us, four co-founders. We all came from different art businesses. The idea was to help people to engage with art in a different way. So, we decided to take art to the streets and new exhibition spaces. Unfold emerged as a street festival during the Frieze Week.
Why did you choose to host the festival during Frieze? Not too crowded?
The timing helped a lot since everyone comes to London in October to see art, but we wanted to do it differently. We did not like putting works under a tent, as it happens in other art fairs. It lessens the experience. We decided to take a historical street in London (Church Street) and enhance it with art. No more walls and psychological barriers that come with gallery spaces. It was all about people being surrounded by art, together with a series of talks and artist studios curated in the main exhibition space.
The wine was blue as well!
Oh yes, my French friends did not approve! ‘laughing’ Very artistic and alternative to a traditional art fair. The crowd was very mixed as well. We had collectors of course, but also people who have never been to an art event before. The partnerships we had (e.g. with Aston Martin) have never taken place with artists. So, we tried to approach new people and get them interested in art.
Unfold was fun. There was wine and art… what not to like?
The festival showed that the content of art was meaningful, but also entertaining. We want people to engage, it’s our main priority.
Will you continue Unfold on an annual basis?
We had another festival, called MELT, last year. It was all about integrating art into urban landscapes. I’ve always attempted such projects to get a conversation going. It’s a way to try new things. Now we commission urban exhibitions, so I want to scale it up. Eventually I would like to have a lot of collaborations coming out of Unfold.
I cannot wait to see these new collaborations! So, what do you think is yet to be done?
What’s lacking is an art and tech festival. A lot of artists are experimenting with these mediums already. We want to create evolution in art and celebrate revolutionary artists, so we hope to do the art and technology festival next year and recognize the artists who are pioneering this new medium.
I can see one of your goals is to attract new people to the arts. Why do you think it can be hard to get new people interested in art?
The art world is considered to be a part of the luxury industry. So, by definition it needs to be exclusive and inaccessible, but that works only for a small percentage of the population. If you think of music and film industries, they focus on entertainment, not luxury. That’s the biggest conflict in the art world. You can’t be luxury and for everyone. I think, we should educate more people about art and get interested in new practices.
Thank you so much for your time, Marine! I hope to see our new projects in London soon.
Thank you, Daria!
October 6, 2017
The South African artist, Jenna Burchell sits opposite me. Despite the fact we are surrounded by the creative bustle of the 1:54 (where she is currently exhibiting), she captivates me by the undeniable devotion she has to her work. Represented by Sulger-Buel Lovell, Burchell is fascinated with the theme of time and has used technology as a way to enhance her subject matter.
Burchell has a particular resonance with technology as her parents migrated from South Africa when she was younger, and thus programs such as Skype were her only forms of communication that produced an emotive response. She explains to me how technology not only helps to reveal previously hidden meanings and emotions but also connects and brings people together.
As a self-proclaimed anti-disciplinary artist, Burchell has designed her language to create a new form of art. When presented with the question of how she would describe her artistic practices, she explained how it is difficult to develop an idea that is unique; one can only improve what has already been conceived. The artist notes how what were once singular disciplines can now be joined and explored together to create something beautiful; for example, science and art can now work together to shape something new. She states passionately, “You must twist the ordinary on its head and question the conventional.” Her outlook of manipulating disciplines and borrowing techniques is especially prominent in her most recent project Songsmith (Cradle of Humankind), nicknamed ‘the singing rocks’ by her audience. Within this project, she has transformed a relatively ordinary historical object into one of beauty and functionality.
The artist has collected some naturally broken fossils and rocks from three ancient sites in South Africa. She then repairs the fractures following the Japanese method of Kintsukuroi in which gold lacquer is inserted into the cracks of the object. As a result, the piece becomes more beautiful from the destruction which it faced; it has been gifted with a new lease of life. Not only does the rock become a form of beauty, but it also encompasses a historical tradition. In this sense, Burchell has connected and interlocked cultures, communities and individuals in a single rock. She captures an essence of humanity, and our desire to be bound together, united as one entity. Her work, therefore, generates a cultural capital in which common ground anchors people.
Although the rocks are incredibly beautiful, they are also functional objects. Jenna Burchell has ingeniously uncovered the poetic voice of the rock by capturing the raw-electromagnetic readings beneath the objects’ original resting place. In essence, when you interact with the piece, the magical sound of the earth echoes around you. Captured entirely by mother nature’s call, the viewer has an undeniably personal and emotional relationship with nature (click here to listen). The enchantment we have with the work is amplified by the different sound each Songsmith produces, based on its weight.
Each Songsmith is a time capsule. The voice of each rock is infused by the place it came from, meaning each song has been sung for 2.2 million years (in the case of those from the Cradle of Humankind). So not only are we connected to nature physically by touching the rock, but we are also teleported 2.2 million back in time. We are part of an unbelievable collective experience; we breathe the same air, walk upon the same soil and are reminded by nature’s melody.
It is important to remember that Burchell would not be able to conceive her artistic concept without technological help. She argues that technology is like “the books of our age,” and in a sense she’s right. In the 21st century, we learn and adapt through the use of technology, so there is no reason not to embrace it. The only way in which this can be reached is through the specific technological technique called Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). The golden band running through each rock also aides our understanding. It is not only compositional but also allows the stone to resonate and the foundation to sing. Without technology, Burchell would not have been able to build the bridge joining humanity and nature together.
Carry with you the beauty of the Songsmith’s and let them be a reminder to interact, connect and build relationships with those around you. Replay the Earth’s song in your head and know that beneath you something genuinely incredible is happening.
Jenna Burchell is exhibiting at the 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in Somerset House, London until the 8th October. Find her on the first floor of the South Wing in room G27.
In 2011 Ryan Stanier launched the Other Art Fair. Eliminating the middleman (galleries), Ryan created a space for artists to come and show their talent. Tremendously popular from the very beginning, the fair attracts more than 40,000 visitors and exhibits over 100 artists. The last London edition opening featured 130 contemporary artists, art investment tours and the much-anticipated Virtual Reality project, Underworld, by the Guardian. I met with Ryan in the hip part of Coven Garden last week to discuss how it all started and what we can expect in the future.
How did you come up with the idea for the Other Art Fair?
I don’t really have an art background. I got interested in art by being constantly surrounded by friends who are artists. And then I saw my friends struggle to produce an exhibition: it could be an amazing show, but nowhere accessible. That was the problem; it is so expensive to rent a space that artists have a little way out. They have little exposure; dealers and publicists don’t usually visit this kind of shows.
I thought, what if I create a show of the kind, but in Central London? It came out naturally, out of love for my friends. And that’s the thing: unless it comes out of your interest and passion, it has low chance to succeed. The material part was completely irrelevant at that stage. I looked for a space for a while, browsing around London, calling agents, and after hundreds of calls, I found one. I set up an informal gallery in Coven Garden in 2009. It was good timing, as after the financial crisis a lot of spaces were empty. We stayed at that place for a while putting up shows, selling art…
I realized after a while that I don’t want to be a gallerist. It wasn’t something I was interested in. My background in events gave me an idea to create a fair for artists, without galleries being involved. And so, the fair for the artists who don’t have an exclusive contract with a gallery was launched.
Did you think about the competition, big shots like Frieze?
Yes, but it’s a completely different market. We created a space where new collectors can come and buy art. We all go to big art fairs, but we don’t buy anything. There’s an experience, for sure. With that in mind, we decided to create something more accessible, more fun, and equally aspirational. We always knew how we are different with a unique position in the market. It’s all about the artists. People like Gordon Ramsey visit, we’ve been working with UBS for a while to create artworks for their offices… We’re also looking to launch an art prize. We promote our artists and a lot of them make contacts through the Other Art Fair. It’s the same cost to rent a stand for everyone, so it comes down to the artists to make the most out of the fair.
How does the selection process work?
The upcoming fair had 1100 applications and we only have 100 slots. There’s a panel that selects artists, simply saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. We’re interested in different types of mediums, so there are no specific selection criteria.
Who is your target customer?
It varies. We try to create a unique experience like nowhere else. We have a guest artist each fair, usually a known figure in the arts. For example, last year we had Tracy Emin create exclusive work for us in editions of 500, 50 pounds each. So, someone who has never bought art before could afford to buy an Emin. More than 50% of our audience has never bought art before, so we’re focusing on this ‘new collector’ type. The Other Art Fair is also interesting, it’s not intimidating. It’s never the same. What breaks all the barriers, I think, is that anyone can talk to artists and not a gallery sales person.
Tell me about your recent partnership with SaatchiArt.
It started last July. SaatchiArt is the biggest platform for artists, so we created the partnership where all the Other Art Fair artists are now available on SaatchiArt all year round. It came from my initial idea of how to help artists sell their work and create opportunities throughout the year.
Your first international edition was in Sydney last year. Why go to Australia first, and not, say, New York?
The city like London has around 30 art fairs a year, New York – twice more. In Sydney, there are only two art fairs every other year and such an enthusiasm for the arts from the public. It was a natural decision.
This year you’re expanding to New York, but not during the Frieze Week. Why?
In London, we run fairs both during the Frieze Week in October and one in the spring. The thing is, we haven’t noticed a large difference in visitor numbers and sales between the two. So, in NY we decided to develop a clear message about who we are and see who is interested in joining. We’re also expanding to Europe next year with 11 art fairs throughout the year.
Do you personally prefer museums or art galleries?
Museums. There’s no pressure and, you know, there are more impressive shows.
Do you have an advice for someone trying it out in the art world?
Don’t get overwhelmed by tradition. Don’t buy into it. Everyone will have to adapt to innovation.
P.S. Keep an eye on the place, in a few years it could be in your town.
I met Touria El Glaoui during the opening of 1:54 art fair this October. Already familiar with Touria’s tremendous success in not only establishing the fair four years ago, but also expanding to New York only two years after the inauguration, I was intrigued to meet her.
Elegant in her long silky dress with a stylish, and warm for English weather, cardigan, Touria made you feel 1:54 was not simply an art fair, but a home. The amiable, pleasant atmosphere of the Somerset House, which you don’t typically find in a large-scale art fair, made me feel like a guest to a home party, rather than a stranger in a museum. There was no sense of pretensiosness.
While we were sipping hot morning coffee and treating ourselves with a warm butter croissant, Touria shared how she built the brand, or better say the platform for contemporary African artists, and what it took to get 1:54 to the level of today.
You earned your MBA in Strategic Management and have an impressive background working both in banking and IT industries. What made you decide to turn to the art one?
I grew up in Morocco in the house of an artist – my father, Hassan El Galoui – and he was the person who gave me my artistic education. For this reason, art – particularly African art – has always been a part of my life. Much later on – in fact, during my career in the IT industry – I was travelling extensively around Africa and the Middle East, and this is when I fully realised how absent African and African diaspora artists were from the international markets in Europe and the US. Having the seen the incredible work being made on the continent, I decided it was time to the bridge the gap and create a platform.
How did you personal background (your farther is a famous artist) influence you throughout your career?
Many of my earliest memories are of my father’s studio with its incredible smell of oil paint. I would spend hours watching him transform his canvases, and the life of an artist became my daily norm. Because of this, my approach to running 1:54 has always been centred on the artist and on maintaining the integrity of the work. I have also organised and co-curated a number of my father’s exhibitions, and have also been working on the catalogue raisonné of his life’s work, and these experiences have certainly shown me much about the realities of being an artist working on the continent verses in Europe and America.
How did the idea for 1:54 come about? What challenges did you face/still facing?
When I established 1:54 back in 2013, the biggest challenge was finding both the interest and the support. This underpinned much of my decision to launch in London. In 2011 I could already see evidence of a growing interest in African and African diaspora art – for example with the Tate launching its two-year African art programme. I will never forget the incredible backing that I received in that first year, yet every year we continue to face the financial challenge of making the fair happen. We are incredible grateful this year to our main sponsor, Floreat, as well as to Christie’s education and the Arts Council England who have both sponsored this year’s FORUM.
Are you planning on expanding the fair to other locations? What’s the importance of having the fair now in both London and NY?
As I said, London was the most obvious ‘home’ for 1:54 for a few reasons, its internationality being one. Once London was up and running, we began to toy with the idea of New York, and began to see that our galleries and collectors were keen to make the move. We first launched as a pop-up edition, in May 2014, but returned again this year to enjoy our second edition. The two fairs are actually quite different due both to the buildings they are housed in as well as the different audiences they attract, and so the importance of having both editions is to widen the diversity and outreach of the fair. It’s very exciting for us when collectors are able to visit both.
Who’s your favourite artist?
This is always such a difficult question! I can never choose and it would be unfair for me to do so. All the artists and galleries that we welcome to each new edition brings something unique to 1:54 and my greatest hope is always that our visitors will explore and appreciate this diversity, and appreciate each artist in their own right.
6. Tell us what is new in this year’s edition of 1:54 art fair.
I am particularly excited about our incredible line up of Special Projects joining us this year. We have 10 in total, and each one is incredibly unique and will add a whole new element to the fair. Zac Ové’s installation, for example, will extend the fair into the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court for the first time ever; Ifeanyi Oganwu’s lounge design – created in collaboration with Phoebe Boswell – and Barthélémy Toguo’s Mobile Cafeteria will introduce vibrant, interactive spaces; and we will also be extending out over the airwaves with a live three-day broadcast by a new music-radio platform, Worldwide FM. Of course the Malick Sidibé exhibition – created in collaboration with Somerset House and MAGNIN-A – is also incredible exciting. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to showcase such an influential African photographer, and to be able to extend the exhibition past the four days of the fair, throughout Somerset House’s winter season.
Who are the artists to watch at 1:54 this year in London?
I want to draw attention to the fact that this year we are delighted to be welcoming 16 Africa-based galleries, of which 6 are from North Africa. Many of these are joining us in London for the first time, including Village Unhu from Harare, Zimbabwe; Mashrabia Gallery of Contemporary Art from Cairo, Egypt; and L’Atelier 21 from Casablanca, Morocco.
What are your future plans for the fair and beyond?
1:54 is constantly evolving, this year we welcome an incredible 40 exhibitors with over 130 artists exhibiting with us this year. Despite this, we want our ethos to stay the same: to create a platform for African and African diaspora artists in the international art market while putting the artist first. In terms of expanding further afield, we first want to ensure that our London and New York editions are as good as they can be.
September 14, 2016
START Art Fair opens its third edition on September 15th in London. Located in the unique Saatchi Gallery, this new (compared to others) art fair is a star on the rise. Apart from featuring and showcasing emerging artists and galleries from all over the world, the fair also stands out for its curatorial projects. This year’s START Projects present works by Iraq-born and Qatari-based artist Mahmoud Obaidi.
The director of START is Niru Ratnam (check out his twitter). A believer in cultural globalization, Ratnam, who previously worked as Head of Development at Art14, brings the multicultural drive and global focus to the fair. We talked about START, London’s art scene and what Brexit could potentially mean for the art world.
What was the initial idea behind START and what is new in its third edition opening next week?
The idea behind START is very simple – an art fair set in a museum-quality location that focuses on emerging artists and new art scenes. There are lots of great art fairs around Europe so we wanted to do something that was a bit different – where you could go to and come away with a series of new discoveries. Ideally we want each visitor to go away with interests in artists and gallerists who they haven’t come across before. In terms of the setting, I wanted to move away from the trade show type venues that most art fairs go for and do something in the type of place that you’d normally visit for an exhibition – hence the Saatchi Gallery is our base.
Apart from its boutique-like setting at Saatchi Gallery, how does START differ from other art fairs happening in London?
We try to have quite a tight focus—on emerging artists and new art scenes. So the emphasis is very much on discovering artists and galleries who are new to you. Lots of these galleries are new to London audiences, so hopefully that gives the fair a little bit of a unique flavour.
START is relatively small scale compared to other art fairs. Would you think of expansion?
I think fair organizers are realizing that viewers, no matter how expert, can only meaningfully look at a certain amount of art and artists at a fair. At a certain point, no matter how good a fair is, it becomes a blur, which means that the good stuff you seen gets forgotten. Also in terms of collectors, it just gets too confusing if there is too much to see.
How do you select artists for START Projects?
Again the emphasis is very much on looking at new art scenes in a bit more depth, so the opportunity to showcase Mahmoud Obaidi’s work in advance of his major museum show in Qatar, introducing him to London audiences at START makes perfect sense. He is exactly the type of artist that START is all about –somebody with a strong reputation in the region where he works but one who deserves recognition on a wider stage — and his participation as both artist and a curator in START Projects emphasizes the important role that established artists play in nurturing emerging talent in new art scenes where there is a relative scarcity of public institutions.
We tend to take each edition one at a time – we’re not a big art fair or organisation that will suddenly roll out three similar fairs around the world. So the main plan is simply to deliver a really great edition again!
What are your views on cultural globalisation being even more pronounced now due to political changes both in the UK and the world?
Do you think London will still remain the heart of the art industry or will it shift in view of Brexit?
China’s recent history is one full of social and political chaos. Chairman Mao Zedong resided as the country’s communist leader for nearly thirty years, responsible for the founding the People’s Republic of China, sending China into a deep economic crisis, and infamously inciting the riotous Cultural Revolution. Chairman Mao had set out to purge the country of what he called “impure elements.” The youth of China backed Mao as they flooded across the country murdering teachers, closing schools, denouncing family members, burning books, and destroying China’s history. Artist were cast out of society and only those who attended nationalized art schools and produced works in a factory-like manner with politically expedient content, were permitted. Today, we see how Chinese artists critique the Cultural Revolution and the Communist Party, shedding light on China’s societal issues, through their creative individuality.
Hung Liu was born shortly after the Chinese Civil War in 1948. She was a prolific student and studied at the best private schools China had to offer. As the Cultural Revolution began, Liu was sent to be “re-educated” in a rural village. Before leaving Beijing, she borrowed a camera from a friend. She used this camera to take photos of villagers, their families, and their day to day struggles. At this point in time, the Cultural Revolution was in full bloom and Chinese culture was being threatened to extinction. Hung Liu’s photographs of those villagers served as a preservation of those individuals and to their culture.
After the Revolution, Liu went on to study fine arts and earned a her graduate degree in Muralist Painting. For three years she painted political propaganda in the Soviet Realist style, all the while secretly painting landscapes with miniature tools and paints she herself had made. Hung Liu desperately wanted artistic freedom and was granted just that when she was given permission to attend the University of California San Diego in 1983.
Liu often paints from photographs of Chinese social outcasts: prostitutes, laborers, and prisoners. The realistic nature and size of her characters reflect her practice in Soviet Realism and Muralism. However, she manipulates the image by running paint down the canvas, which gives the effect of a photograph faded by time. The characters in each piece look as though they are disintegrating right before our eyes; a possible commentary on the lives lost and forgotten during the Cultural Revolution.
Hung Liu recently retired from her position as a professor at Mills College, but she continues to paint and has worldwide exhibitions.
Ma Desheng was a self taught artist, mainly because he was deemed unfit to be trained in fine arts at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Desheng worked as an industrial draftsman and woodblock print artist, using traditional Chinese ink.
Desheng produced a series of images of rock-like figures and portrayals of China’s working class. These images were stark contradictions to the suppressive propaganda that Mao and the Chinese Communist Party were feeding the people.
His early productions were un-romanticized images that displayed the realities of what was happening to China. The dark rigid lines evoke a sense of inner turmoil, similar to that of the artwork of the German artists, Käthe Kollwitz or Edvard Munch.
In 1970, Ma Desheng was influential in the founding of Star Group ( or Xing Xing). This group consisted of self taught, Western-influenced artists who fought for individualism and liberation against the Cultural Revolution. Ma Desheng and the Star Group bravely defied the government when they put on an exhibition of their own work across the street from the National Art Museum in Beijing. It was, of course, shut down by authorities and Ma was arrested for his involvement in organizing such an exhibit.The Star Group went on to lead a rally against the authorities and were successful in opening a second show; some say it was this rally that helped Chinese society become more culturally open.
Not long after Star Group’s second show, Ma Desheng moved to Europe, as did many of the other members. He continues to live and work in Paris, but there is no doubt that his passionate commitment to freedom of expression helped pave the way for future Chinese artists.
One of China’s most well known and successful artists, Zhang Xiaogang, was also a witness to China’s Cultural Revolution. His parents were government officials but were sent away to be “re-educated” at the height of the Revolution—an event that greatly affects his work.
He studied at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts after the Cultural Revolution ended, but his professors were persistent in teaching the style of Soviet Realism. Zhang resisted this style and any philosophy that had to do with collectiveness in society. He founded a group focused on the importance of individualism in philosophy and art called the Southwest Art Group. Though somewhat successful with nearly eighty artists in the group, the Tiananmen Square incident happened not long after and the era of liberal reform ceased completely.
It wasn’t until 1992 when Zhang returned from Germany after 3 months that he knew exactly what he wanted to paint. He stated that he “could see a way to paint the contradictions between the individual and the collective.” His portrayals of those contradictions are what make his paintings so eerily captivating. Most of his work is themed after family photographs but there is always some sort of strange mark or difference in color that makes them unique to one another. The child, who is typically centered, is the most defined. This can be taken as Zhang’s commentary on the youth of the Cultural Revolution and their willingness to disown their families and personal histories.
Zhang Xiaogang’s artwork has shown world wide and he is easily one of the most prominent Chinese contemporary artist of today.
Beijing-based artist, Yue Minjun, also captures that theme of contradiction that Zhang Xiaogang displays. Yue Minjun was born in 1962 and studied oil painting at the Hebei Normal University in 1985. His work is done in a style that has been coined as “Cynical Realism,” and they are iconically uncomfortable. Most of the paintings are self-portraits of the artist with pink skin, laughing maniacally in surreal backgrounds while bent over in an attempt to cover an exposed body, vulnerable in only underwear.
These cartoon like images are politically pointed at the Cultural Revolution and China today. Minjun states that “…laughter is a representation of a state of helplessness, lack of strength and participation, with the absence of our rights that society has imposed on us.” This laughter evokes a strange feeling to the viewer. You feel as if you were looking at someone that had just gone through a mental breakdown and had experienced an intense amount of pain, dehumanized, but has an odd instinct to laugh. It wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to say that, this is how Minjun see’s the China today; as society that has been through so much within recent years but does not know how to deal appropriately with the pain.
The now world renowned artist, Xu Bing, was in high school when the Cultural Revolution broke out. Determined to stay in Beijing and continue his studies, he agreed to use his talents in calligraphy to create political propaganda. After he graduated, he was sent to the countryside to work in the fields and was not able to return until the death of Chairman Mao in 1976. Xu was accepted into Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts the following year to study printmaking.
The relationship between words and interpretation seems to be the core theme in Xu Bing’s work. In his grandiose installation, “Book from the Sky,” large scrolls hang from the ceiling and traditionally bound books and newspapers line the floor and walls, all stamped with woodblocks carved with made-up, nonsensical Chinese characters. The fact that nothing is literally being said in this piece results in many different interpretations. Is the installation a focus on Chinese tradition versus modern art? Is it a questioning of how different cultures perceive one another? Is it a commentary on the manipulation of words to achieve power, like in Mao’s case? Or is it a meaningless study of form and repetition? There are grounds for each of these questions within the piece and its intriguing quality is one of the reasons “Book from Sky” is such an international hit within the art world.
Cai Guo-Qiang is probably best known around the world for his firework show at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but Cai’s artistry goes far beyond his pyrotechnic displays. He studied stage design at the Shanghai Theatre Academy from 1981 through 1985, which is evident in the spatial rendering seen in his large installations, paintings and performance pieces.
One of his most famous pieces was an installation he was commissioned to do for the 48th Venice Biennale, entitled, “Venice’s Rent Collection Courtyard.” The installation consisted of 114 clay sculptures of peasants and laborers interspersed within the gallery’s setting.The piece created quite the stir amongst the art world as it closely resembled the famous Social Realist sculpture “Rent Collection Courtyard”: a highly political series of sculptures created during the Cultural Revolution. The stir wasn’t only because of Cai’s replica of the Chinese classic, but because he choose a material that would cause the sculptures to disintegrate as the show went on; a possible statement on Mao’s promises to the Chinese people and the ephemerality of their political and social structures.
Many of Cai Guo-Qiang works seem to embody a theme of unforeseen fate. In many of his paintings, he will scatter gunpowder on an already painted canvas, and ignite it. The result displays a combination of the controlled color of the actual paint, and the sporadic, random markings of the burnt gunpowder. This theme is also evident in his installation “Head On” where sculptures of wolves take off running and soaring through the air. The momentum of the piece is brutally interrupted as the wolves run, “head on,” into a wall a plexi glass and fall gracelessly to the floor.
It is often said that an artist’s role in society is to be instrument of the time; to reflect society back to itself, to be a catalyst of change, and to articulate culture. It is fair to say that these artists, and many other Chinese artists, are doing just that.
No matter what time of year it is, chances are there is a biennial happening somewhere around the world. During certain years, the art world flocks to major cities like Venice or São Paulo—or remote places like Kassel, Germany or Dakar—to view some of the world’s greatest contemporary art. Since the 1990s these large-scale international contemporary art exhibitions have become the main way of exhibiting and publicizing international contemporary art.
Today, major biennials exist on every continent, everywhere from Sydney to Shanghai, with more than 150 established biennials in total. They have become such a craze that a non-profit called the Biennial Foundation was formed just to monitor their behavior. Confusingly though, not all of these exhibitions happen every two years, some are triennials (Yokohama Triennale) or quadrennials (Copenhagen Arts Festival—formerly the U-turn Quadriennale), but because all of these exhibitions follow the same general structure, they are all grouped under the biennial umbrella. Essentially, what distinguishes biennials from art fairs, like Frieze in London or Art Basel in Miami, is the fact that biennials are much larger, taking place in multiple venues across the given city, and, most importantly, the works displayed are not for sale. Biennials function as temporary exhibitions for contemporary art, not as galleries.
The concept of the biennial has roots in the 19th and early 20th century phenomena of the World’s Fair and Universal Exhibition. The word biennial comes from the Italian word biennale, meaning every other year, and refers to the original biennial—the Venice Biennale. The first Venice Biennale, in 1895, celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of Italy’s King Umberto and Queen Margherita. It was held at the Palazzo dell’ Esposizione, a public space called the Giardini on the Riva degli Schiavoni in Venice. The exhibition was hugely popular, and became a bi-annual (biennial) event. By the early 20th century many different countries had built pavilions in the Giardini to house their country’s art during the exhibition. During the first half of the 20th century, the pavilions featured an assortment of works by the country’s best artists. In the post-war years, the style of the exhibition began to shift towards more curated and thematic displays.
The current global biennial structure was developed in the 1990s. Most biennials follow the general structure of the Venice Biennale, which has both a series of national pavilions that exhibit work from their country’s artists, all with individually curated themes, and a larger overarching exhibition curated by the biennial directors that is often linked to a different theme. As the art world became increasingly globalized in the late 1990s, the biennial phenomenon has also taken on a diplomatic element. These exhibitions bring together works of art from all over the world under one general curatorial theme, which is often connected to international social or political issues. For example, the 2016 Venice Biennale theme is “Reporting from the Front.”
Although the biennial model of contemporary art exhibitions has been debated, the idea of exhibitions that survey global contemporary art have been perceived as largely positive. The growth of biennial culture has been connected with fostering diplomatic relations between nations as well as promoting the growth of cultural tourism. Large-scale biennials draw in hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world, and have certainly helped to generate tourism in previously under-visited destinations. Through these visitors the art displayed at biennials circulates around the world—every visitor returns from biennials with a list of top new artists to watch.
With the increasing globalization of the art world, many biennials focused on non-Western art have emerged since the 1990s. One of the most important of these is DAK’ART, the Dakar Biennale, founded in 1992. This biennial focuses on contemporary African art or works of black artists around the world. It is the largest exposition of contemporary African art and draws in visitors and artists from all over the globe to Senegal. Also, with the growing power of the Asian art market, major biennials are now located in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Japan, which attract hundreds of thousands of visitors. A major exhibition of non-western art is also hosted every two years in Havana, Cuba. While originally dedicated only to Caribbean and Latin American art, the biennial has expanded to include work of artists from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East as well.
While biennials have a long history, they have evolved dramatically in the past thirty years. They have essentially transformed from World’s Fairs into the major place for viewing, circulating, and discussing global contemporary art.
March 11, 2016
The City of Angels, home to celebrities and heat waves, is quickly becoming a major hub for the international contemporary art community. Although it is still somewhat of an underdog when compared to cities like New York City, Paris, and London, Los Angeles is holding its own in the art world.
If ever you find yourself in LA with a need to see some great works of art, this list will point you to some of the best galleries around.
First opened by Randy Sommer and Robert Gunderman in Santa Monica in 1994, ACME is now located on a stretch of Wilshire Boulevard known as “Miracle Mile,” where you can also find LACMA and other galleries amongst some of LA’s famous art deco buildings. ACME exhibitions include a wide range of mediums and prominent artists. Some past shows include; Jennifer Steinkamps inventive digital installation, “It’s a Nice Day for a White Wedding”; Tomory Dodge’s profound series of oil paintings “Outside Therein”; and Carlee Fernandez’ surreal “Installation, 2010.” ACME never fails to showcase pieces that are at the foreground of today’s art world.
The independent nonprofit gallery was founded by artists for artists in order to create a concentrated presence in the art community. They have created programs and platforms for contemporary artists to thrive in and the results are evident in the dynamic work that is produced and shown at LAXART. Last year they had more than twenty rising artists show their work. Among them were Mark Hagen, Kelly Lamb and Alexander May.
One of Culver City’s many galleries, Honor Fraser, stands out as one of the most cutting edge in its exhibitions of installations, digital media, paintings, performances and sculptures. Its exhibitions tend to be more along the lines of street-art and it typically draws in the younger crowd of Culver City. The gallery has shown contemporary work by Rosson Crow, Victoria Fu, and Alexis Smith. Most popular show of last year was definitely KAWS and his installation “Man’s Best Friend.”
Nicodim gallery, which just recently moved to downtown Los Angeles after five years in Culver City, has displayed some very prominent exhibitions. Romanian founder and art dealer, Mihai Nicodim, opened Nicodim in 2006 with the hopes to introduce more European artists to LA. He has been successful in doing just that. Artists like Adrian Gehney, Michael Ceulers and Zsolt Bodoni have shown in the Nicodim Gallery and have brought a vast range of diverse contemporary artists and artworks to LA.
Gallerist Adam Lindemann converted an abandoned warehouse in downtown L.A. into a beautifully spacious gallery. Though sister to Lindemann’s New York Gallery, Venus Over Manhattan, this new gallery is not an extension of the East Coast gallery, but rather a new space for experimentation in large scale artwork that would not be possible in the inevitably smaller Manhattan space.
Founded by painter Noah Davis and The Museum of Contemporary Art, the Underground Museum takes pieces of art found in some of the high-end museums of Los Angeles and shows them in this space, located in a mainly working class neighborhood. Davis says that this new space is not only for him to display his works, but “a place to create crackling dialogues between his work and that of other prominent artists, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.”
The Hammer museum off Wilshire Boulevard in L.A. holds Armand Hammer’s private collection. However, it also has multiple gallery spaces within the museum for temporary exhibits of current artists, like Catherine Opie. The museum partnered up with the University of California, Los Angeles to make sure they are showing the most relevant art. One more thing, it’s free!
LACMA is the largest museum of the western United States with over 120,000 pieces. The museum exhibits many pieces throughout the history of art, ranging from Ancient Art to Contemporary works. Though the museum has pieces from the past, it really strives to represent Los Angeles and its diverse population as well as what is happening in the art world TODAY. Just this past year, they have exhibited some very prolific artists. Exhibitions included James Turrell’s “Breathing Light”; Diane Thaters “The Sympathetic Imagination”; a two-part show featuring multiple Islamic photographers entitled “Islamic Art Now”, and the very popular “Rain Room,” which is a collaborative experimental installation created by Random International.
In the heart of Downtown, kiddie-corner from Frank Gehry’s “Disney Music Hall” is the L.A. Museum of Contemporary Art. The architecture of the building itself is a sight to see, but once you get inside there is an abundance of unique works by revolutionary, Modern and Post Modern artists. The MOCA holds a permanent collection of about 7,000 pieces of art that were created post-1945, including works from Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Franz Kline, Claes Oldenburg Jackson Pollock and many others. Contemporary artists in the permanent collection include Greg Colson, David Hockney and Kim Dingle.
Los Angeles’ biggest & newest museum dedicated to contemporary art opened September, 2015. The Broad, named after its founder, Eli Broad has pieces from Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Robert Rauschenberg, John Baldisseri and many other famous artists for the inaugural exhibition. It’s located in central downtown LA almost exactly across the street from the MOCA.
March 8, 2016
The second installment (see the first one here) of our top contemporary art galleries in London looks at the younger contingent of the spaces that now exist in the city; fresh, dynamic and often left-field channels which keep the arts scene buzzing with new ideas.
In a nutshell: Charles Saatchi may have attacked the White Cube’s namesake white-walled galleries in 2003, saying that they are “antiseptic” and “worryingly” old-fashioned but that did not stop the franchise making its way to the top of London’s contemporary art scene. The White Cube galleries may have even profited from Saatchi’s public diatribe, choosing to stick proudly to their white walls and continue their work, irrespective of his views. With its roots in East London, the first White Cube gallery in Mason’s Yard, associated with the neighbouring Young British Artists, and came to prominence when it gave YBA Tracey Emin one of her first shows. The gallery has, however, somewhat departed from its East-End/YBA origins, accepting the wave of gentrification that has flooded the area. A climactic moment in the franchise’s transformation was the graffitiing of “Yuppies Out” and “Class War” on the Bermondsey branch by anti-gentrification activists, this being the very space that is now one of Europe’s biggest commercial galleries. However, if you can forgive and forget, or don’t care, then the White Cube will provide you with a compelling contemporary program ranging a multitude of disciplines.
Where: Mason’s Yard SW1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday //Bermondsey Street, SE1. Open 10am-6pm Tuesday-Sunday with late opening at 12pm on Sunday. Closed Monday.
In a nutshell: Established in 2010, the gallery’s founders Harry Blain and Graham Southern regularly feature in ArtReview’s top 100 most important people in the contemporary art world. And this is no empty accolade; before launching Blain|Southern, the duo were at the helm of London’s Haunch of Venison gallery which was sold to Christie’s in 2007. Their time at Haunch of Venison allowed them to build up an impressive artists network which, by the time of its initiation, gave Blain|Southern a critical edge, associating with names such as Richard Long and Keith Tyson to name a few. While the gallery is only 6 years old, it has already hosted many acclaimed exhibitions such as the much touted survey of Lucian Freud’s drawings in 2012 – Drawings. And with its setting in Hanover Square being a stones throw from New Bond Street, a.k.a. auction superhighway, the location is a veritable arts hub.
Where: Hanover Square, W1S. Open 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday except early closing at 5pm on Saturday. Closed Sunday.
In a nutshell: Victoria Miro, unofficially crowned one of the “grande dames of the Britart scene” can even boast that she had famous babysitters – Sam Taylor-Wood having done her the honour in Miro’s child-rearing years that “stunted her creativity”. Fast-forward a few years and a few galleries later, and her eponymous franchise has two locations in London as well as others worldwide, representing major contemporary artists such as Chris Ofili and Grayson Perry. In opposition (albeit unintentional) with one of its locations in the exclusive Mayfair area, the gallery’s Wharf Road space was set up in 2000 in Islington, and, like the Whitechapel and White Cube, it’s close proximity to Hoxton quickly linked it with London’s cutting-edge experimental arts scene. The 8,000 sq.ft. space is housed in a beautifully restored ex-furniture factory and has its own garden located next to Regent’s Canal at Wenlock Basin. The spacious and natural(ish) location often lends itself to exhibitions such as Maria Nepomuceno’s The Force (2011), so expect a nice departure from the concrete jungle.
Where: Mayfair, W1 // Wharf Road N1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: Like Blain and Southern, Iwan and Manuela Wirth (two thirds of the gallery’s founding body) have been ranked in the top most influential people in the contemporary art world by ArtReview. The other third of the gallery’s foundation is Ursula Hauser who, together with the Wirth’s, set up their first gallery in Switzerland in 1992 and has since grown into an acclaimed global art franchise. The gallery’s London location has moved around a lot since its inauguration in 2003, from Piccadilly to Cheshire Street in the East End, to Swallow Street, Old Bond Street and finally, Savile Row. The gallery’s punch probably comes from its balanced representation of over fifty emerging artists and industry heavyweights like Louise Bourgeois and Martin Creed. It also gains its reputation from its publishing offshoot, having published over 100 titles since 1992 specialising in modern and contemporary art, such as Phyllida Barlow’s Fifty Years of Drawings (2014). The gallery’s worldwide locations include a fabulous rural setting on a Somerset farm in the West of England.
Where: Savile Row, W1. Open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.
In a nutshell: “WE EXIST FOR U”/ “THE WORLD’S FINEST” shouts the Unit London’s website. This might give you an idea of the gallery’s mission: to show dynamic and forward-thinking artists who are chosen for just those reasons, irrespective of of “reputation, culture or background”. The gallery is run by two young English guys – Johnny Burt and Joe Kennedy – who see social media as a as a “commercial tool”. In fact, their show Paintguide was Instagram-curated and certainly the first of its kind. Now, after 3 years of running Unit, they have buyers all over the world, showing the efficiency of this contemporary marketing method. They represent a roster of British and international artists including the likes of Paul Rousso and Cecile Plaisance. Their all-inclusive outlook could perhaps benefit from a larger female contingent, but the work on display is frequently changing and updating, a process you can follow via their Instagram.
Read our interview with Unit London founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt here.
Where: Soho, W1. Open everyday 11am-7pm.
March 5, 2016
Since its inception in 2009, SPRING/BREAK Art Show has been gaining a steady stream of followers eager to get a look at emerging artists in the New York art scene before their big break – as well as collectors who want to purchase artwork without breaking the bank. Located for the second year at the Skylight at Moynihan Station, the somewhat dilapidated space above the massive post office provides ample potential for unique installations with its wood-paneled former mailing rooms and seemingly randomly placed sinks and bathroom stalls. Considering the pomp-and-circumstance often associated with Armory Arts Week, the art-school qualities of the curator-driven fair can, at times, feel campy or kitsch. However, for those looking to actually understand what they are seeing, the DIY-attitude of the venue lends itself perfectly to discussion, typically with the artists or curators themselves
Azikiwe Mohammed, “A New Davonhaime Thrift Store,” curated by Dustin Yellin
Step into Jimmy’s Thrift, a cozy wood-paneled shop of discarded ephemera in the fictional city of New Davonhaime, which gets its name from the amalgamation of the five most densely populated black cities in the United States (New Orleans, LA, Detroit, MI, Jackson, MS, Birmingham, AL, and Savannah, GA). Playing on the idea of people moving to find a better way of life, artist Azikiwe Mohammed has created a haven for black people, free from the issues surrounding the cities of its real-life inspirations. When I questioned Mohammed about his own inspiration for the project, he answered, “The last few years have been hard for brown folk, so what if there was a place that wasn’t?”
Much like a real shop, Jimmy’s contents change daily as the artist receives or creates more items. The tone varies from playful to serious, with a highlight of the space being the record player of real people discussing the first time they realized they were black. Looking at the eclectic mix of items around the room, it is hard to believe that one person made all of its contents, but each object is integral to the installation. Mohammed commented, “One of the things that was really important to me was to be able to make something that, while I’m controlling all the stories, not everything looks like it’s made by the same person… if I can make stuff that is different enough, then the question isn’t who made it, it’s where did all this come from.
Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos, “MHOAUNTDH,” curated by Amanda Uribe and Ché Morales
Taking the expression “talking with your hands” to a new level, Esmeralda Kosmatopoulos combined the words “mouth” and “hand” to create MHOAUNTDH, an installation emphasizing technology’s impact on -and fusion with- communication. Playing off of Bruce Nauman’s “Fifteen Pairs of Hands,” the artist cast fifteen pairs of hands as if they were texting – a series she titled “15 Pairs of Mouths.” As noted by curator Ché Morales, “We don’t always talk on the phone anymore, we text, so the thumb has replaced our lips.” Other works include “In Conversation,” a series of booth-like structures that play with concepts of language barriers by the audible repetition of Google Translated definitions, seemingly questioning whether or not technology bridges or widens the gap between true understanding.
Alfred Steiner, “LV DIY,” special project by 101/EXHIBIT, curated by Kevin Van Gorp and Shen-Shen Wu
One floor down from Jimmy’s Thrift is a very different kind of store where cardboard boxes from McDonald’s line the walls, surrounding the used clothing scrawled with the universally recognizable LV monogram. This is copyright-lawyer-turned-artist Alfred Steiner’s LV DIY store that parodies the contents, prices, and physical boutique design for Louis Vuitton. According to curator Shen-Shen Wu, the items for sale are more worthy of their price tag than their real world counterparts. “It’s actually more unique than whatever Louis Vuitton is selling, so you can buy a mass-produced item that is branded in a luxury way or you can support an artist who is producing a conceptual art piece.”
What initially appears to be a blatant commentary on mass-production and consumerism is given another level with the book filled with lawsuits involving Louis Vuitton, who, although eager to collaborate with contemporary artists, are notoriously abusive about wielding their intellectual property rights to silence criticism and parody. Luckily, Steiner can provide legal counsel for his own exhibit.
SPRING/BREAK Art Show, March 2-7 2016, 421 Eighth Avenue, Skylight at Moynihan Station (Main Post Office Entrance)