In: Mark Rothko

Beginning in the 1940s, a group of painters who we now collectively refer to as The New York School (or Abstract Expressionism artists) broke away from conventional technique and subject matter to better express subjective emotional reality in their art practice. As the name suggest, these paintings were abstract and simultaneously expressed the maker’s inner state of mind and the universal truths of the human condition. Historically speaking, these artists were working in the wake of the Great Depression, experiencing the crisis and aftermath of World War II, and painting in the era of bebop jazz and the Beat poets.

Jackson Pollock at work.

Artists in New York during the mid-20th century were also exposed to the work of many Europeans who sought refuge in the United States during World War II, such as Salvador Dalí, and Max Ernst. The techniques used by these Surrealist artists, like automatic drawing and free improvisation, were an important component of the techniques adopted by Abstract Expressionists. The most widely known artists from this period, Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, embody the two elements that Abstract Expressionist painters chose to explore: gesture and fields of color.

Jackson Pollock used a radical technique consisting in dripping and splashing paint onto a canvas with sticks and the ends of brushes. His paintings are created through dynamic gestures, and the resulting images are highly expressive and dramatic. These pieces are considered the first entirely non-objective works in the history of art. The enormous scale of the images, the lack of subject matter, and the technique he used was shocking and innovative for its time.

Joan Mitchell, ‘Untitled’, 1992. Oil on canvas (diptych), 102 3/8 x 157 1/2 inches (260 x 400.1 cm). Collection of the Joan Mitchell Foundation, New York. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

This type of action painting is based predominantly on spontaneity, which gives the work a level of immediacy. Many other artists besides Pollock used action and gesture to convey  vigorous energy. Instead of letting paint drip onto the canvas, artist Lee Krasner (who also happened to be Pollock’s wife) used traditional brushes but applied paint in a frenzied tangle of lines that seem to explode on the two-dimensional surface. While other gestural painters filled their canvases, Joan Mitchell often chose to leave passages of her works blank, letting her flurries of color have room to breath. Willem de Kooning, who along with Pollock came to embody the popular image of the macho -the hard-drinking archetype of Abstract Expressionism- never truly abandoned real subject matter; his famous Woman series is highly abstracted and violently gestural, but still rooted in reality.

Willem de Kooning, ‘Woman I’, 1952. Oil on canvas, 6′ 3 7/8″ x 58″ (192.7 x 147.3 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. © 2017 The Willem de Kooning Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

In the other side of the spectrum, Mark Rothko’s work explores the emotionalism that can be conveyed through large-scale blocks of color. He was deeply interested in the type of meditative or contemplative response that the juxtaposition of color can elicit from the viewer. Rothko’s paintings usually consist in a couple of flat, large swaths of luminous color. Again, the vast scale of the works is crucial for their effectiveness.

Mark Rothko with one of his works.

The washes or layers of color are supposed to be seen at close proximity so that the viewer would be enveloped in the image. Being surrounded by those fields of color can be a sublime, quasi-religious experience that can only be achieved by pure abstraction.

As Mark Rothko once said, “We assert man’s absolute emotions. We don’t need props or legends. We create images whose realities are self evident. Free ourselves from memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth. Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man or life, we make it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings.”

Other color field artists achieved a similar effect using different methods. Instead of working with conventional brushes, Helen Frankenthaler chose to create fields of color by pouring thinned paint directly onto the canvas, letting it pool in organic shapes.

Helen Frankenthaler, ‘The Bay’, 1963, acrylic on canvas, 6 feet, 8-7/8 inches x 6 feet, 9-7/8 inches (Detroit Institute of Arts).

Barnett Newman interrupted his large swaths of color with ‘zips’, or vertical bands that bisect his canvases, and Clyfford Still used thick impasto paint to juxtapose bright, jagged flashes of color. All of them created images that allow the eye to wander, offering the viewer the opportunity to stop and experience the myriad of feelings that these colors can arouse.

Barnett Newman, ‘Vir Heroicus Sublimis’, 1950-51. Oil on canvas, 7′ 11 3/8″ x 17′ 9 1/4″ (242.2 x 541.7 cm). MoMA, New York. © 2017 Barnett Newman Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

This group of artists shaped a watershed moment in American art. The breakthroughs made by Abstract Expressionist painters effectively shifted the focus of the art world from war-torn Europe to New York City.

frieze-london

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:

1. Frieze Art Fair

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.

2. 1:54 Art Fair

154_fair

1:54 Contemproary Art Fair, Somerset House Courtyard View. Courtesy of Artsy.

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.

3. Abstract Expressionism at RA

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.

4. Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery

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.

5. Beyond Caravaggio at the National Gallery

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.

When Damien Hirst announced his new gallery space in London the question was, who would get the inaugural exhibition? The answer: John Hoyland. Newport Street Gallery is in Vauxhall and it acts as a ‘the realisation of Hirst’s long-term ambition to share his art collection with the public‘. Hirst has made his admiration for Hoyland quite public throughout his career and has been seen affectionately referencing his work, talking about how he is ‘an artist who was never afraid to push the boundaries‘ and how ‘his paintings always feel like a massive celebration of life to me‘.

John_Hoyland_1

John Hoyland Installation View © Kioyar Ltd

Hoyland has often been characterised as one of the leading painters of his generation and his work impacted the world of contemporary art by showing how simple bold colours can have such a powerful visual effect. Up until ‘Power Stations‘, his last solo show was back in 2006 at Tate St. Ives, so I believe Hirst’s selection of artist’s works is particularly powerful as it brings the artist back to the greater art scene.

Hoyland studied at Royal Academy Schools in London before bursting onto the art scene at the forefront of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the midst of the 1960s. Hoyland’s work was mostly influenced by such artists as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, nonetheless, the artist carries his distinct personal style; he totally relies on colour and shape without any distractions.

Hoyland once famously said ‘paintings are there to be experienced … [they] are not to be reasoned with, they are not be understood, they are to be recognised‘ and I think it is very important to adopt this mindset when viewing his pieces. Large scale paintings look striking within vast spaces, therefore, the relationship between the artist’s work and the space they inhabit is perfectly structured. The bold colours light up within the gallery due to high ceilings, allowing the visitor to appreciate the depth of each piece and explore each painting down to the tiniest details. It can be challenging to look at Hoyland, and many people have questioned his integrity as an artist while they struggle to view blocks of colour as being ‘real art’, but thought is the key and you must embody the open and expansive outlook that Hoyland himself seemed to possess.

John_Hoyland_2

John Hoyland, Longspeak 18.4.79 Image © The John Hoyland Estate

Hirst’s selection of the pieces for this exhibition is important because it exposes new works from the artist and gives substantial insight into one of the most important periods of Hoyland’s life and work, from 1964 to 1982. Throughout the gallery, rooms are designed to take the visitor on a journey through colour. The highlight of the exhibition featured a collection of paintings showcasing Hoyland’s use of a colour palette made up of soft, pastel tones such as pink, lilac and white. As Hoyland usually prefers a bolder more striking palette that centers on reds, oranges and greens, this softer use of colour showed a drastically different side to his work.

Showcasing an array of some of Hoyland’s most compelling pieces, The Newport Street Gallery is an absolute must-see. “Power Stations” on view until April 3rd, 2016.

It’s basically impossible to narrow London’s top modern and contemporary galleries down to 10. With the wealth and vibrancy of the arts scene in the British capital, there are too many to mention. Indeed, London has long been a global powerhouse in the modern and contemporary art world, so much so that this list simply sums up the starting points, merely scratching the surface of the city’s endless offerings.

We’ve created two lists examining galleries in London. This first one will guide you through London’s classic and long-established names such as the Tate and Serpentine, whilst the second will focus on London’s more recent additions to the modern and contemporary scene like Blain|Southern and Victoria Miro.

1. Tate Modern

In a nutshell: The Tate is one of the most famous art institutions in the world and, undoubtedly, a force to be reckoned with. Its neat “family” of four British galleries show its dedication to demonstrating the scope of the arts – old and new – and has thus become a household name across the globe. The Tate Modern is arguably its most impressive offering. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, the building was repurposed into a gallery by architects Herzog & de Meuron who decided to reinvent the structure rather than demolish it. Now, with its chimney intact, the Tate’s commanding physical presence on the bank is symbolic of its prevalence in global culture. Its brilliant permanent collection includes world-class works such as David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain (1917). The Tate Modern is known for exhibitions that spectacularly transform its interior such as Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth (2007) which took the form of a long crack in the floor of the gallery’s Turbine Hall. Don’t miss the Thames-view café and the superb bookshop.

Where: Bankside, SE1. Open 10am-6pm everyday with late closing at 10pm on Friday and Saturday.

2. Whitechapel Gallery

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

Whitechapel Gallery facade, with the Tree of Life by Rachel Whiteread.

In a nutshell: Cited by the Independent as “the place to promote a new belief in the good of art”, Whitechapel Gallery was actually one of the first publicly funded galleries in London, and its history is one of education and outreach. What’s more, it organises exhibitions according to local interest. This loyalty to locale make it uniquely personal when considering its international renown. With a penchant for catching up-and-coming artists and catapulting them to recognition, the Whitechapel has premiered the likes of Frida Kahlo and Mark Rothko. It even brands its history as one “of firsts”, having also been the only British gallery to exhibit Picasso’s Guernica during the Spanish Civil War and the first one in the country to produce a major survey of Jackson Pollock’s work. So, you might see the next big thing, perhaps the polar opposite…or something completely unexpected. Such is the Whitechapel, and it is not to be missed.

Where: Tower Hamlets, E1. Open 11am-9pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

3. Saatchi 

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

The Saatchi Gallery at the former Chelsea Barracks in London, UK

In a nutshell: As the urban legend goes, major British art patron Charles Saatchi apparently accidentally destroyed one of Marc Quinn’s legendary Self sculptures – consisting of the artist’s head cast and frozen in his own blood – when the freezer in his house was unplugged during construction works. Saatchi’s reputation precedes him, his name being one so powerful that an attempt to rename the gallery the Museum of Contemporary Art for London in 2010 completely flopped, ‘Saatchi’ enduring as before. Anyway, you must be doing something right if you’ve got a  in your freezer and Saatchi’s art empire is no weak feat; he opened a gallery in order to showcase his personal collection. The gallery boasts its temporary exhibits nearly always being by artists that no-one has heard of, providing a “springboard” to launch careers.  In a similar vein, the Saatchi is currently showing the rare effort of an all-female exhibit – Champagne Life.

Where: King’s Road, SW3. Open 10am-6pm everyday.

4. Gagosian Galleries

Gagosian

In a nutshell: Larry Gagosian’s art empire spans continents and, unsurprisingly, holds a firm base in London with no less than three galleries in the capital. While the galleries roots are in New York and Los Angeles, London was the first international location that was opened by Gagosian. Although that gallery on Haddon Street is now closed, three more have risen from the ashes including one on Britannia Street which started in 2004 with an exceptional opening exhibit of paintings and sculpture from Cy Twombly. Gagosian’s empire is publicly active and always expanding; in Sothebys’ recent Contemporary Sale, the gallery purchased Yves Klein’s Untitled, Anthropometry (1960) for a cool £1,025,000.  Expect a constantly evolving program of contemporary art in sensitively curated interiors from all three galleries which are all located within reasonable distance of each other. And, of course, all three galleries are commercial, so all the art is for sale…

Where: Britannia Street, WC1 // Davies Street, W1 // Grosvenor Hill, W1. All three galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday.

5. The Hayward

Hayward

The Hayward Gallery facade, London, the Uk

In a nutshell: Located on London’s vibrant South Bank (as part of the SouthBank Centre) amongst many other major arts centres, the Hayward’s Brutalist concrete exterior looks like it popped straight out of one of Orwell’s dystopian narratives. The Hayward doesn’t house a permanent collection, however, it hosts three or four major exhibitions each year; one of its many iconic shows having been Martin Creed’s What’s The Point of It? (20140 and Carsten Höller’s Decision (2015). Whilst its output is largely contemporary, the Hayward brands itself as embracing visual arts from all periods and has, in the past, shown work from Leonardo DaVinci and Edvard Munch. The gallery is well-known for doing ‘survey’ shows of contemporary art, including How to Improve the World: 60 Years of British Art from the Art’s Council Collection. The SouthBank centre location sees it sharing a setting with some of London’s other cultural epicentres, such as the Queen Elizabeth Concert Hall, and these make the area the arts hub that it is. As if that weren’t enough, it is adjacent to the Thames and on top of the famous (and luckily still-standing) Undercroft Skatepark so you shouldn’t be stuck for things to do once you finish in the gallery.

Where: Southbank Centre, SE1. The gallery re-opens in 2017. 

6. Serpentine Galleries

Serpentine_Gallery

Serpentine Gallery facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: With two galleries that are within walking distance of each other in the coveted Kensington Gardens of Hyde Park, the Serpentine Galleries are an extremely popular tourist destination. Named after the Serpentine Lake which separates the galleries, you have to cross a bridge to get from one to another if the romance weren’t already enough. They both showcase diverse contemporary art programs, and each space is housed in Grade II listed 19th and 20th century buildings: the original Serpentine in a former tea pavilion (it doesn’t get any more English) and the Serpentine Sackler in an ex-gunpowder store. Every summer the Serpentine commissions a leading architect to design and erect a temporary summer pavilion to be built on its lawn. Each building stays up for three months and, in previous years, has been designed by Pritzker Prize-winning names such as Jean Nouvel – famous for designing numerous iconic galleries worldwide – and Zaha Hadid to name a few.  

Where: Serpentine, Kensington Gardens, W2 // Serpentine Sackler, West Carriage Drive, W2.  Both galleries are open 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

7. ICA

ICA

Institute of Contemporary Art facade, London, the UK

In a nutshell: The Institute of Contemporary Arts is a cultural centre that houses galleries, cinemas, a theatre, a bookshop and a bar. And, located just off Trafalgar Square, it is as geographically central to London as it is to the city’s arts scene. It is a membership institute that promotes and encourages an understanding of radical contemporary art, initiated in 1947 by Londoners in an attempt to endorse an approach that went beyond the traditionalism of the Royal Academy. In the ’70’s the ICA was known for its anarchism, this period is marked by an attack on the director of exhibitions at the time – Norman Rosenthal. In a demonstration of their alternative spirit the ICA decided to keep Rosenthal’s bloodstain and it remains at the institute today, framed and preserved under glass and affectionately signposted ‘This is Norman’s Blood’. Historically, The Independent Group began meeting at the ICA in 1953 which ultimately lead to the launch of British Pop Art. The ICA’s association with events such as this, combined with its history of anarchy (and nonchalance) have made it one of the more exciting, forward-thinking institutions in London today.

Where: Pall Mall, SW1. Open 11am-11pm Tuesday-Sunday. Closed Monday.

Skip to toolbar