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
January 19, 2017
Knock knock! Art news here! London Art Fair 2017 opened to the public and 129 galleries showed some of the most exciting, fresh and sexy art collections! The social confusion of 2015-2016 seems to have created the environment for the most beautiful clarity in art. Art screams at you this year. It wants to be on your wall, not in a museum.
Many young entrepreneurs are now looking to invest in an alternative asset class. They want to use their new fortunes to invest in something that gives them a visual satisfaction. They are aware of the fact that they might discover a new Richter. Galleries are exploiting this feeling with marketing, doing a great job parenting the relationships between young artists and young collectors. Talent is being exploited beautifully and respectfully and not just experimented with.
This year’s London Art Fair enabled collecting at all levels, from museum quality Modern British art to the very new in contemporary art. 17 different countries including China, France, Germany, South Korea and the USA marked the most international edition of the fair to date.
The Fair also welcomed The Lightbox Woking as their 2017 Museum partner, celebrating their 10th anniversary with a curated exhibition of highlights from The Ingram Collection entitled ‘Ten Years: A Century of Art’, situated at the front of the fair.
As new features and highlights for 2017, The London Art Fair offers Modern British art with Waterhouse & Dodd’s debut in the pavilion; new galleries such as Christopher Kingzett Fine Art, Katharine House Gallery, Beaux Arts London and Peter Harrington Gallery. Many contemporary art galleries are making their international debut at the fair, including Pi Artworks (Istanbul/London), Atelier Aki (Seoul) and Victor Lope Arte Contemporaneo (Barcelona). The Art Projects ‘Dialogues’ curated by Miguel Amado, presented a series of five collaborations between galleries encouraging new forms of representation and fostering relationships on a global scale. ‘Stranger Collaborations’ showcases artistic collaborations formed via the internet and is curated by Pryor Behrman in the Art Projects Screening Room. The Fair also highlighted ‘Photo50: Gravitas’ a group of exhibitions of lens-based works curated by Christian Monarchi, founding editor of Photomonitor and contemporary Korean artist Jaye Moon’s LEGO street art sculptures, installed by Hanoi Gallery in locations throughout the Fair.
London retains the status of a global arts hub even post-Brexit and as Sarah Monk, Director of the London Fair, commented: ‘the exhibitors are used to riding out the ups and downs of the economy.’ Indeed, the overall feeling that I got from last year was that art is thriving in today’s context.
Our top pick galleries this year were: Flowers, Waterhouse & Dodd, Tag Fine Art with the Hanbury Collection, Sardac Gallery, GBS Fine Art, Pontone Gallery and of course Hanmi, which was also one of our favorites of last year. Make sure to stop by Skipwiths as well to see amazing Kwang Young Chun, a star on the rise.
There is a radical return to beauty: nature, simplicity, clean shapes and colors and I must emphasize again, a return to sexy! Art this year is refreshing, cool, exciting and it could just turn into a love affair. In a time when experts fail to give the right predictions and answers, when society is at a turning point, art seems to be the way out for life and society. This little black book of the global feeling gathers all the cultural influences, interconnections and togetherness against all odds.
Art is real and real has just got surreally good!
October 29, 2016
The “Kollektsia!” exhibition at the Pompidou Center in Paris was born out of a donation of more than 250 artworks from the Vladimir Potanin Foundation, collectors, artists and their families. While not being too exhaustive, this ensemble of works by major Russian artists adequately offers a panorama of some forty years of contemporary art in the USSR and then in Russia, covering the most important movements. It includes works by confrontational artists created outside official structures, from the Moscow conceptual school to Sots Art, from non-conformism to perestroika (a political reform within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during the 1980s, widely associated with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his glasnost [openess] policy reform).
The first section of the show is dedicated to non-conformist art since the late 1950s when artists revived the aesthetic practices of the avant-garde and sought innovations of their own formal approach. My favourite pieces are the “Milk Box” sculpture (1970) by Igor Shelkovski, a hanging object called “Space-Movement-Infinity” — the first kinetic work in postwar Russian art and some intriguing photographic works by Francisco Infante-Arana. The non-conformist artworks are not following a homogeneous movement with shared objectives. However, as a whole they represent the budding diversified creativity confronting the strictly controlled official structures in art in the USSR.
My favourite section of the exhibition is of the more playful Sots Art, invented by Komar and Melamid to subvert, in a Pop-art way, the codes of the mass propaganda that saturated Soviet life. In contrast to the Pop artists — confronted by a superabundance of consumer goods — Sots artists, such as Alexander Kosolapov, Boris Orlov and Leonid Sokov, sought to demythologize official cliché and the ideological environment of the Soviet society through absurdity and paradox. For instance, the eye- and phone-camera-catching “Malevich-Marlboro Triptych” (1985) by Alexander Kosolapov demonstrates how the artist drew on broad iconographic sources from both Soviet and Western clichés while using an advertising image. On the other hand, Leonid Sokov’s hanging sculpture “Glasses for Every Soviet Person” (1976) delivers ironic humour through simple graphics and raw wooden texture.
Alongside Sots Art, the 1970s brought about Moscow Romantic Conceptualism which accord greater importance to text and language, with artists working at the intersection of poetry, performance and visual art, such as Dmitri Prigov and Andrei Monstyrsky. The latter advocated a conceptual art that reflected the ascendancy of literature in Russian culture. A section of the exhibition pays homage to Dmitri Prigov who was known for writing verse on cans. The conceptualists also embraced the power of text through performance, such as “I Breathe and I Hear” (1983) by Andrei Monstyrsky, who is a part of the Collective Actions group; the group taht has carried out a lot of planned performances.
The onset of perestroika brought an exploding sense of freedom and accelerating artistic processes from the mid-1980s onwards. Following the sudden liberalization, artists were then able to take part in exhibitions and find a place on the international art arena. This period in Russian history not only witnesses the diversifying artistic approaches, but also paved the way for legitimizing of formerly marginalized art. In 1988, a first auction organised by Sotheby’s in Moscow gave a tangible value to unofficial art, and the boundary between official and unofficial abruptly disappeared. In this sense, the impressive “Last Supper” (1989) by Andrei Filippov, with hammers and sickles on a red table, is one of those works marking the end of “unofficial art” while it preceded the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Perhaps some of Yuri Leridrman’s works in 2009 displayed at the exhibition could reflect this lively flourishing of creative energies in post-Soviet era; the artist juxtaposed painted plants onto collage of newspapers, thereby transforming textual material into images.
October 5, 2016
Autumn. The season of cooler weather, multicolored leaves, long strolls in the Heath and marrons glacés, the time when we all start reminiscing about our summer fun and get ready for winter. However, the fall season is not only warmer clothes and hot chocolate, but also the time for major art happenings around the world.
Autumn, and especially October, is the time to follow new fashion trends at fashion weeks in the major cities, and to enjoy weeks of art. The Old World’s art capital – London – started long ago to prepare for the first week of October, aka the busiest and most stressful time in the art world.
The annual arrival of Frieze – the art fair opening in Regent’s Park October 6-8th – and it’s daughter Frieze Masters trigger parallel art happenings, such as the most important contemporary art evening auctions, art festivals, art shows and a myriad of talks and events throughout the capital, in order to benefit from the arrival of the art world’s mighty and try to get a piece of that juicy cake.
Find below a list of TOP artsy things to do this October in London and, believe me, you will want to be one to visit them:
Arguably the most well-known art fair today, though not the most visited one (according to the annual report by ArtVista) Frieze opens for the 13th time this October at Regent’s Park.
Note-by: if you feel unsure about spending 60 pounds on combined ticket to both Frieze&Frieze Masters, make sure to stroll in Regent’s Park – Frieze Sculpture Park is free for all and this year features canonical artists such as Jean Dubuffet, Ed Herring, and Lynn Chadwick just to name a few. The Sculpture Park will be on view for you to visit until January 8th, 2017.
The fair of contemporary African Art, 1:54 will return for the forth time to Somerset House this October. Representing over 50 African countries, 1:54 breaks the traditional approaches to art fairs and delivers a must-see program. The largest edition yet, the fair takes over the whole Somerset House this October and showcases 40 galleries.
Note-by: stop by the open-air installation by Zak Ove at the Somerset House’s courtyard, as well as by the unmissable exhibition of the exceptional Malick Sidibé (Malian photographer) – the exhibition will be on view for you to see up until January 15th, 2017.
Presumably you heard of the name Pollock. Or you heard that one of his paintings titled No 5 (1948) is one of the most expensive paintings in history and was sold for $165.4 million at an auction. Or maybe you didn’t. But the fact is that this exhibition is the first major retrospective of the Abstract Expressionist art movement in the UK in 70 years. Think abstraction, color fields and visual travel. You ought to see it.
Note-by: The most interesting part is the inclusion of not only famous names like Pollock and Rothko in the exhibition, but also of other artists who contributed to the movement.
This must-see exhibition presents just how talented Picasso was. The show will display portraits created during every stage of the artist’s career and will showcase famous masterpieces, as well never seen before works from private collections.
Note-by: the granddaughter of the artist, Diana Widmaier-Picasso, will be in conversation with the director of the National Portrait Gallery, Dr Nicholas Cullinan, on the 6th of October at 7pm, giving her views on Picasso’s portraiture.
Another must-visit show in London focuses on Caravaggio. It is important to note, though, that the primary accent will be given to the influence that the artist had on his contemporaries by showcasing the works of lesser-known artists of the time. So-called Caravaggism will be explored throughout the exhibition and bring together works by Caravaggio and his European followers.
Note-by: The National Gallery created a series of events and talks to introduce visitors to the Caravagesque style and to Caravaggio himself throughout the month of October. If you are a fan of Baroque art, or just a curious soul, make sure to check some of them out.
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?
April 12, 2016
Focusing on actors, dancers, poets, artists and more, the exhibition contains a whirlwind of movements captured in a selection of images where the body becomes art. Organised into different sections such as ‘Staging/Collaboration’, ‘Performing Icons’, ‘Self/Portrait’ and ‘Performing Real Life’, the exhibition looks at the diverse nature of performance. It also contains diverse forms of photography from film to digital and even the inclusion of the ‘selfie’.
‘Performing for the Camera’ shows that performance is much more complex than people might think. Yes, it includes an array of posed models, choreographed dancers and constructed personas, but it also shows more intimate elements that we perhaps do not even realise are a performance. Whether you are vegging out at home, interacting with people around you or developing your identity through your clothes choices, it seems that life, in fact, is a performance and this exhibition captures every element of it.
Photography is a vital tool in the world of art as it preserves the moment before it is lost forever. It can be staged; it can be candid, though it always captures the precise momentum of time. The photographs within the exhibition showcase how our movements and expressions can become a political battle ground and how we can use our bodies to represent higher concepts such as gender inequality or resistance against a political regime.
Highlights of the show included a series of photographs of Ai WeiWei entitled Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn taken in 1995. The photograph depicts Ai WeiWei with an expressionless face looking into the camera and dropping a 2,000 year old urn, thus, allowing it to be smashed to pieces. In this performance, the artist is rebelling against the intense focus China puts on its culture. However, without the aid of photography, this performance would not have been captured. The act of dropping the vase itself would not have taken more than a few seconds, but its significance stretches far beyond its existence and produces a provocative and somewhat empowering effect for both the artist and the spectator, as we witness the artist liberating himself from a symbol of a regime that has limited him so much in both his life and his career as an artist.
Another highlight is the artist Jemima Stehli with her piece Strip from 1999-2000. In these images, Stehli takes an array of somewhat unconventional self-portraits where she performs a strip tease in front of seated male figures, all of whom come from the art world including curators, critics and more. With her back to camera and the male subject looking straight into the lens, Stehli creates a strange yet effective dynamic within her images. It is in fact the man in the photograph who is given the shutter release and therefore is in control of when the images are taken. These challenging photographs capture an array of concepts such as a male gaze, voyeurism and sexuality and the artists’ bold use of her body. The artist both sexualises and desexualises the body in her piece with everything from the use of her sexually charged title, the display of her naked body and the reactions of the male subjects involved.
Both Ai WeiWei’s and Stehli’s pieces are massively contrasting but they also have some similarities at their core which run throughout the whole exhibition. They show the diversity that photography can take, the meaning that one frame can hold and, ultimately, they really do embody the concept ‘an image is worth a thousand words’.
With it being two years since Tate Modern last showcased a photography exhibition, I think, their newest edition definitely showcases the importance and diversity of this art form. Whether we realise it or not we all perform for the camera at some point in our lives: a posed family photo, photographs taken of weddings and celebrations or simply selfies.
‘Performing for the Camera’ brings out elements that I believe most visitors will find a connection with as it also looks at life with the inclusion of celebrity culture, gender, race, sexuality and more. It shows how on some level, even if there is not a camera there to capture the moment, we all interact and engage with performance throughout our lives.
Yes, you didn’t read it wrong – this is about South Korean artists in the Parisian art fair. The art world in Paris has welcomed spring with Art Paris Art Fair which gathers 143 galleries from 20 countries, including Azerbaijan, Colombia and Iran for the first time. The fair presents art from the post-war period to the present, with South Korea as the guest of honour this year. Almost 70 Korean artists are represented by galleries both from Korea and around 20 Western galleries. In fact, the Korean art scene and markets has been growing drastically with multiplied global market share during recent years. By observation, the work of South Korean artists is generally well received by fair-goers while these following artists have particularly intrigued both the French (majority) and international audience.
- Choi Jeong Hwa
Being one of the most internationally renowned artists from South Korea, Choi Jeong Hwa’s art consists of cultural icons and materials from our daily life, such as soda bottles, shopping bags, and colourful plastic dishes. He is also known for large-scale installations that trump the hierarchy of museum. At the fair Park Ryu Sook Gallery from Seoul presents a moving installation titled Breathing Flower that catches much attention from fair-goers as the large red flower opens and closes with air being pumped in and released at intervals.
- Chun Kwang Young
Generally recognised as a pioneer in contemporary Korean art, Chun Kwang Young’s art employs traditional Korean technique and material but expressed in visual language of our time. Hundreds of small shapes wrapped in tinted antique mulberry paper are inspired by the artist’s childhood nostalgia as they resemble bundles of paper packages of traditional medicinal herbs. His work can be seen at several gallery booths including Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts, Omer Tiroche Contemporary Art, Park Ryu Sook Gallery, Sundaram Tagore Gallery. Among these, Sundaram Tagore Gallery has brought various new site-specific works – a series of colourful and greatly tactile wall reliefs, which make it worth visiting the booth.
While Kálmán Makláry Fine Arts is displaying only one piece by the artist, it is still recommended to visit the booth to check out the work of a younger South Korean artist, Ilhwa Kim, whose work has visibly been influenced by Chun Kwang Young’s while demonstrating his own style and technique, using another traditional material – handmade Korean paper, Hanji.
- Bahk Seon-Ghi
At the booths of 313 Art Project, Galerie Paris-Beijing and Galerie Andres Thalmann, you can discover and be amazed by the artist’s suspended charcoal installations. Started to concentrate on working with charcoal in the late 1980s, Bahk Seon-Ghi wants to express nature which he has been in close contact since his childhood. His work made up of subtle and humble small pieces of charcoal is very visually appealing.
- Kim Joon
This Seoul-based artist explores tattoo culture using digital prints made with 3-D imaging. Desire, memory and youth are illustrated through digital mediums of porcelain and tattoos. Park Ryu Sook Gallery has brought the artist’s latest series Somebody of startling images of misplaced and intertwined body parts. Though not much my cup of tea, it exposes the hidden desire or the human and the society. I personally prefer Kim Joon’s series of porcelain in shapes of broken human bodies imprinted with brand logos, such as Absolut in Drunken-Absolut Vodka, 2011 as presented at Sundaram Tagore Gallery’s booth.
- Kim Tschang Yeul
Living and working in both Paris and Seoul, Kim Tschang Yeul, at an age of 87, has spent much of his career painting water drops. He drills into the expression of the forms and meanings of this object. At the booths of both Baudoin Lebon, Paris and Park Ryu Sook Gallery are some latest important pieces of this distinguished artist, visually vivid water drops lying on backdrops subtly inscribed with characters from the Korean language.
Art Paris Art Fair at Grand Palais, Paris, 31 March – 3 April, 2016
Anselm Kiefer once said, “art is difficult, it’s not entertainment.” Indeed, when I first encountered Kiefer’s art at his retrospective in Royal Academy of Arts in London in late 2014, I found his art almost unbearably heavy and dark. His first retrospective in France is happening right now, and gave me a better understanding of his art.
Now held at Centre Pompidou in Paris, the retrospective showcases 150 works by this 70-year-old German artist who emerged in the art scene of post-war Germany in 1969, spanning almost half of a century. Organized chronologically and thematically into 13 sections, the retrospective exhibits around 60 selected paintings alongside drawings, installations, artist’s books and 40 “display cases” of micro-fragmented environments or ruins consisting of broken machinery, rusty metal, old photographs and filmstrips.
Firstly, the large-scale installation in the Forum of Centre Pompidou, Steigend, steigend, sinke niede [In climbing, climbing towards the heights, fall into the abyss] with materials resembling hundreds of filmstrips, symbolizes the exhibition as a film running backwards, which simultaneously echoes the perpetual theme of memory in the art of Anselm Kiefer.
“Memory”, “history” and “myth” are some of the keywords to understanding Kiefer’s art as he is one of the first artists in post-war Germany to look into Nazi history by means of his art. In 1969, the artist made a series of photographic self-portraits in which he performed the Hitler salute, dressing in his father’s old Nazi army uniform. In the painting Notung, the sword bears Kiefer’s fascination with the Germanic heroes who are part of the national identity. It is also stained with blood, simultaneously becoming a witness to the nation’s history of the past century. Representing Germany at the Venice Biennial in 1980, Anselfm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz opened a Pandora’s box by making references to German history – the history that the whole nation wanted to forget. With the series Wege der Weltsweisheit [Ways of Worldly Wisdom], Kiefer insisted on the need to face the Nazi history by painting a web connecting the portraits of German intellectuals with some Nazi figures with a forest at the background representing Germany. In Kiefer’s philosophy, “only by going into the past can you go into the future.”
This links to another significant aspect of Kiefer’s art – the sublime and regenerative power of art. Kiefer explores the role of the artist after Nazism, with a drawn palette superimposed on a ruined landscape in Malen [To Paint]. As the bluish rain showered by the palette seems to be refreshing the burnt field, Kiefer illustrates the power of art to salvage and regenerate from the wreckage. Therefore, one could say Kiefer’s art is bipolar – it bridges joy and hope with gloomy catastrophic ruins.
In the painterly Bose Blumen, the expressive colors of flowering meadows, with references to the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelaire, does not only witness the transformation of Kiefer’s art from monochrome black to a variety of colors, but also denotes cycles of perpetual regeneration as the essence of Kiefer’s artistic philosophy. This is reinforced by the final, site-specific installation, For Madame de Staël: Germany, with cardboard mushrooms indicating various German intellectuals sprouting from sands that are spread over a large gallery space in front of a painting of a dark forest that signifies Germany. With this latest piece indicating transformation and rebirth growing from his nation’s tormented past, Kiefer is determined to emphasize the transcending power of art.
As Kiefer once said art may not be easy, as his art deals with the past, the present and the future in this complicated world. Take a chance to experience and understand Anselm Kiefer’s art at Centre Pompidou until 18th of April, 2016.
On a particularly rainy day in London, I made my way over the slippery cobble stone to Unit London – an artist-led gallery space in the heart of London’s Soho district. Preparing myself to meet two successful art entrepreneurs who became tremendously successful in less than 2 years since the birth of their gallery, I was nervous and excited. The second I entered the gallery, I felt like at home. Needless to say, I don’t live in Soho and don’t have paintings covering every single wall (never say never), but the ambiance, music, and art made me feel relaxed; I could have stayed for hours. Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt, the founders of Unit, are both in their twenties, laid-back and absolutely easy-going. Sitting on the couch (and when do you find a couch in a gallery?), we listened to The Killers while they shared a few inspirational ideas and discussed how they built the Unit brand though their Instagram account.
- Why art ?
Joe: We always had a big passion for art. We are both artists and we’ve known each other since 11. We took the same art class at school, so that’s where it all started. We were also frustrated with the way gallery system works. So we wanted to create something different by making art more accessible. That is the key And the way we’ve done that is in large part by using social media.
Jonny: We always wanted to do business together. We didn’t know it was going to be art. After the university I immersed myself with my own art, tried to build my portfolio, went to galleries for various reasons. At that time, a space became available in West London, and in the spirit of the moment we just went for it. It was a natural progression to start a gallery, though initially it was a pop-up. All was from the artist perspective and, yes, we wanted it to be different.
- Do you still make any art yourselves?
Joe: Managing the gallery is taking over now, so we don’t have time for most things outside of running business, and there’s no time for actually making art. Though we do use our creativity in our shows: curating the space, the marketing, the campaigns…they’re creative processes, so we do feel we’re still creating, just not in a studio.
- When you started off, did you have any connections or was it just the idea?
Joe: We had no contacts to go to, so we just did it the way we saw it and how we believed it should be done. We wanted something different, so we looked at all other galleries that are out there, focusing mostly on the UK, and saw that the majority are not serving talented emerging artists. That traditional contemporary art gallery model… You feel as if you’re not allowed to be there. Stuck in the old ways. All that old pretense that comes with what is essentially a painting on a canvas. And so we wanted to create an environment that was relaxed and friendly, welcoming for people, but at the same time showcasing incredible art. It is quite a simple idea. And it’s rewarding to see that it’s worked until this point.
- How did you start promoting your idea?
Joe: Social media was probably the main channel. We didn’t know anyone at all, so we had to go and create our own audience. Basically shout as loud as we could to anyone who wanted to listen.
Jonny: We opened social media accounts, but at that point you have no followers, you kind of begging your friends to follow and share. We made flyers and walked around a local neighborhood posting flyers late at night … that’s what we had. But it was the first show “Looking for you” that at the time was amazing, and some of those artists we still work with today. It was a good crowd at the end, and we got modest reviews in press, but it was still mostly friends and family, which is expected at the beginning. We ended up doing three shows there, and by the third show we already had our voice. And investing in the social media following was essential, because about year ago that was all we had. Now we have a network, but it is largely because of social media we are where we are today.
Joe: It was always about putting as much as possible into the brand, not the space, because the spaces we’ve had up until this point were pop-up spaces. We were very economical with our finances and were putting all the effort into building the brand, because people will follow the brand. That was the strategy.
- Why call it Unit London?
Joe: We went through a hundred names before we had this one (laughing). It was initially called “The Unit London”, because we wanted to create a collective, like this unit of artists. Then we decided to drop “The”, so it sounds less like a boy-band and more like a gallery. Our slogan is “We Exist for U”, and the U part of it is about us actually engaging with the public in conversation. A lot of the time galleries don’t like actively going out there and finding new networks, but we are eager to engage with people, so when you say “Unit London” the first thing you hear is U. We are trying to build a community around this model.
Jonny: It’s a community of artists, individuals, enthusiasts, collectors, everyone. We’re trying to draw everyone into this network and we are not catering for just a limited niche. Some galleries might invite 30 private collectors to a show, but we are trying to invite and welcome as many people as possible for ours. It all goes back to accessibility; we are not trying to cut out anyone.
Joe: It’s also about educating people who have never been to art galleries, helping them become new collectors. Social media helps to facilitate that, as you can connect with anybody across the world. In fact, some of our biggest clients are people who have never collected art before and they’ve stumbled upon the gallery, either they’ve come to the space or they found us online. They love this journey of discovery and understanding the art world. We try to create an open environment with no boundaries to entry, and new collectors – they are like the life blood of the gallery really.
- What is the difference between a traditional dealer-based gallery and an artist-led space, such as Unit London?
Joe: I think it is more in the way we market our artists and ourselves. We don’t do any of the fairs and we don’t have plans to participate in any right now. We don’t really need to at the moment. We have around 200-300 people every day coming to the gallery and a lot of the galleries don’t have this luxury. A lot of people who come in are just people from the street, who would never think about coming to an art gallery, but because it’s here in Soho and so accessible, people feel free to come in. I think we operate a slightly different model to what other galleries have. Many galleries’ sales revenue would come from art fairs. We get ours from the gallery trade and our marketing techniques.
Jonny: For us that should be the standard. People perceive us as fresh and new, but for us it’s just treating people with respect and not wanting them to feel uncomfortable walking into the gallery. Our door is wide open; music is playing. We constantly get feedback how relaxing and enjoyable people feel here. And it’s quite rare to find this in the industry, which is sad in a way. That’s what motivated us.
- So do you think that’s where the art gallery world is going, shifting from big dealer names to easy-going artist-led spaces?
Joe: That could do. I also think collectors are changing. 50 years ago it was more the elite classes that could buy art but now it’s more the upper working class, entrepreneurs, people who run their own businesses. People who work for their money. They don’t necessarily come from an elite cultural background but they have a lot of money, and they want a more relaxed atmosphere to enjoy amazing art. In that sense, consumers are changing; so that’s where we’ve been able to fit in, cater to that new collector. We are trying to lose that elitist approach, and we have a broad range of prices, so we do cater to different audiences. On our Instagram account, for example, anyone can get involved in the conversation about a piece. Some of our big collectors might comment on Instagram and then we’ll get a young artist from the UK replying to their comment… It’s an open and very public forum, which is a new prospect for this industry – being ultra-responsive, agile and being able to manage the community. For us it’s natural.
- How did you build your artist community?
Jonny: I was doing a blog when I was pursuing my art and writing about other artists that inspired my work. But I also managed to build relationships with those artists. One of them was Ryan Hewett and as a result we managed to get two pieces from him for our first show. We had 6 or 7 good London-based artists to start with and since then it evolved organically. As the brand grows, so do the artists. Now we get a lot of submissions and some of them are really good, but mainly we are on Instagram. Going through timelines and looking at emerging artists.
Joe: We’ve quite a varied roster. Artists come from all different ages, countries, backgrounds, but they’ve a similar aesthetic, which we refer to as Neo-Contemporary or Progressive Contemporary. But it’s also works that are similar to ours and we are so passionate about each artist we represent.
- Do you have a particular medium you tend to showcase in your gallery?
Joe: Not necessarily a medium. We are naturally drawn to dark pieces, as it is more reflective of our own work, like abstract portraiture by Jake Wood-Evans, Henrik Uldalen and Ryan Hewett. We have paintings, sculpture, digital art … what we haven’t done is installations. To be honest, we are not enthused by conceptual art. The artists we represent built their craft over time, there’s a technical ability and skill in the work and that’s what we value.
Jonny: For us it has to be an undeniable talent and skill. We want to be inspired by work we represent and that transmits to people.
- Due to globalization progressing more and more severely and people being online for longer hours, do you think it’s still important to have an actual physical gallery space?
Joe: Absolutely. Art is experiential. We are heavy on social media, but we always use that to market our physical space. Since we started we always had a space for people to visit. A gallery that just lives online doesn’t do the work justice. In a way, it would be a sad world if in 20 years people are sitting in front of screens, clicking on artworks and not going to shows. It’s not the same social experience. For collectors half of the importance of buying a piece is the context of how and where they bought it.
Jonny: Ultimately, social media helped us to attract large crowds of people. Even though we are trying to provide welcoming environment in our gallery, people might feel less intimidated looking through images online. We had people we’ve been talking to online for over a year and then they could do this big step and come to the gallery. One has to come in to fully experience art.
Joe: It’s the same with music. You can listen to it in your headphones, but you still want to go and see concerts. Same with football: If you’re a real fan, there’s never going to be a substitute for going to the game and having that experience. The social element is crucial.
- You represent a number of international artists. Are you thinking about going global and bringing your idea to an international crowd?
Joe: It’s on our radar. Also, a lot of our clients are international, and it makes sense for us to go overseas.
Jonny: Ideally we want our artists in museums. That’s the main goal: to build the brand, but most importantly promote the artists and help them build their careers.
- Who is your favorite artist?
Joe: Lots of favourites…probably Ryan Hewett.
Jonny: Same. He is the first one we started working with and he is a massive talent. He’s constantly evolving his work, that’s what is unique about him. We have a big solo with him at the end of the year as well and it will be the biggest show we’ve ever done.
- Tell us about the first ever Instagram-curated exhibition “Paintguide” that you had last year.
Joe: One of our artists, Henrik Uldalen, has built his own career through Instagram, but he also started another account called Paintguide, where he would share images of other artists that inspired his own work. It took off two years ago and started growing very fast. He invites other artists to takeover his account for a week and share images of other artists that inspire their work. It’s a huge global phenomenon. He wanted to do an exhibition and we thought it would be an amazing collaboration to host at Unit London. It was an incredible show: we had 60 artists and curating that was crazy. During the opening night we had a line around the block and it was testament of the power of Instagram. It was a massive success and the reach was phenomenal.
- Do you have any advice to young entrepreneurs?
Joe: Work very hard. Have a good idea, believe in it and work hard. That’s what we’ve done really. For the past two years, it’s been 24/7 for us. We made our own sacrifices to make it work. So as long as you believe in your vision, you can get there.
Jonny: There isn’t really a secret. We’ve had highs and lows. It sounds cliché, but it is true. There is no substitute for hard work. And when you do get rewards, then you know anything can happen.
Next exhibition at Unit London opens this week:
3rd March | Spring Group exhibition | Featuring a selection of works from the gallery’s most exciting global emerging artists.
February 15, 2016
Last week an exhibition of new work by acclaimed conceptual artist Michael Joo opened at Blain|Southern’s brightly-lit space in London’s Mayfair. The show consists of a dozen or so objects, mostly canvases, that delight and disturb in equal measure. In the gallery’s first room, a series of works depict what looks like cooking experiments gone horribly wrong, with the contours of blackened, shimmering commercial metal baking trays staring back at you, framing your golden reflection with a dark halo of char.
Adjacent to the trays, a slab of roughly textured marble mounted on a steel frame depicts the coloured strata of compressed earth, a build up of land over millennia. Treated with Joo’s preferred chemical compound—silver-nitrate—one side of the billboard-like slab shimmers, reflecting the light and space of the gallery; a sculpture meets painting meets otherworldly window. In the second room, the intrigue of textures, chemically layered materials and shimmering surfaces grows, with floor-to-ceiling paintings mimicking deep, reflective pools of solidified liquid. Upon vast spans of alluring surface quality you detect paint drips, brush strokes, sculptural grooves, bubbles of silver and, your own silhouette hazily reflected back at you.
These mysteriously reflective yet intricately textured surfaces do not let themselves be taken in easily. Needing more than a casual glance or fleeting thought, the works display the enigmatic conceptual complexity, a layering of both material and meaning meaning that Joo is well known for. Addressing common themes of identity, nature, science, politics and experience, his art is not governed by an adherence to one particular medium or form, but ranges whimsically from video and performance to readymade natural objects, to installation work. Consistent in his oeuvre however, is a deep engagement with the idea of process, with transforming materials and dissolving boundaries – whether physical or conceptual, social or natural (“With the best of art, some of the boundaries between I and we and you dissolve”). Originally trained as a scientist, his chemically treated surfaces and material experiments seem more suited to the realm of science than art. Yet without being required to conform to scientific guidelines, Joo is free to give whatever form he wishes to his most experimental ideas.
At Blain | Southern, the multifariously layered paintings articulate Joo’s consistent interest in the transformative processes of energy. Both its modes of transference, its effects and its more mystical, philosophical dimensions pop up throughout his oeuvre, but have here found their most pertinent expressions. The tray paintings for example, directly address energy as the source of human activity; they attempt to capture it, represent and embody it.
As found ‘readymades’, the ordinary trays were each stamped with a numerical value representing the number of calories individuals would expend performing various human actions, such as lie, stand or drive for a single second. The resulting image was then transferred to canvas to create Warhol-esque silkscreens, upon which Joo enacted a number of subsequent painterly processes. In a play upon subjective experience versus quantifiable ‘objective’ data collection, each absurdly specific number represents an individual second of energy transformed. Joo’s artistic process has digested, melted these values inside the second-hand baking trays, each of which has its own history associated with the transformation of ingredients and energy expenditure.
Beyond our scientific, factual understanding of its processes, energy can take on magical proportions in our collective imaginations; a mystical power with flows that govern the potential for alchemy, for divine miracles and spiritual transformations. Two darkly shimmering canvases on either side of a floating wall embody this. Although also revealing precise caloric values indicating amounts of energy transferred, they reference more the sublime than the mundane. Based on Joo’s average measurements of artistic representations, the artist worked out a basal metabolic rate for The Buddha. Using the calculated weight and height — keeping in mind the tradition of Buddhist ascetic monks starving themselves — Joo then gauged the number of calories used per millisecond as a human body either consumes itself (the canvas entitled ‘Give’) or is offered up as sustenance (the canvas entitled ’Take’). The result is a mixture of visceral morbidity with spiritual exaltation, death represented as both the metaphysical journey of the spirit up to God and the plain physical decomposition of the body.
Interestingly, the title of the current show is Radio Halo, after the geological phenomenon that describes spherical areas of discolouration on natural rocks, caused by radioactive isotopes. This is more than a casual reference to nature. You only have to google the term to discover that radio halo’s have come to be of particular interest to supporters of creationism, who call them ’the fingerprints of creation’, supposedly evidence of the myth of a ‘young’, almost instantaneously created earth.
What to make of this reference remains unclear, which is presumably how Joo intended it. Clearly, there is more to his art than meets the eye, although what meets your eyes at Blain | Southern is more than enough to make you want to keep looking. As testimonies to the complex processes carried out upon their surfaces, the visceral works show Joo blurring the lines between nature and culture, science and religion, experience and myth. His enigmatic references lead to extraordinarily open-ended questions; what is the relationship between ‘objective’ measurable data, our subjective human experiences and the ultimately intangible mystery of our final purpose and destination? Joo’s evocative materiality is both the result and the embodiment of these conceptual meditations; his art the physical expression of things we struggle to even give form to in our minds.