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.
You may have been lucky enough to embark on the journey of a virtual lifetime by travelling through the extraordinary installations of Mat Collishaw.
Emerging from Goldsmiths College, London in the late 1980’s, Collishaw is a key figure in the important generation of the original Young British Artists. Although the YBA is not something that he particularly dwells on, he has established a provocative and increasingly intricate body of work since his first participation within the group. During his time at Goldsmiths, he started appropriating forensic photography, fuelling his interest in technology and his obsession with “the slightly morbid human fascination with the darker side”. He has exhibited widely internationally since his first solo exhibition in 1990, including at the Centre Georges Pompidou, The New Art Gallery Walsall and The Guildhall Art Gallery, London.
His new exhibition at Blain|Southern, London, titled The Centrifugal Soul, is a fantastical combination of illusion and haunting reality. He attempts to create “images that are awe–inspiring”, enveloping the human conscious into a world that is equally shocking and familiar, governed by our primal urges for visual supremacy. The exhibition is separated into two fragments; a freestanding sculpture based on the model of a zoetrope, and an evocative projection inspired by the Victorian theatrical illusion, Pepper’s Ghost.
Collishaw worked with evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller to produce the centrepiece of the exhibition, The Centrifugal Soul. This sculpture in the form of a zoetrope –a pre-film animation device that simulates the illusion of movement through the use of rapid rotation and stroboscopic light– directly comments on Miller’s theories. Miller postulated that the origins of art derive from our natural instincts of courtship and reproduction, hence why the birds in the sculpture are condemned to repeat a series of seductive routines.
The dancing birds of paradise and bowerbirds not only entice and trick the viewer into entering an optical world, but their aesthetic beauty comments on how humanity has an unquenchable thirst for visual stimulation. We have an undoubtable appetite to be noticed in a visual competition, much like animals do in the courtship rituals they perform. Perhaps The Centrifugal Soul exaggerates how we cannot escape our own primal urges; we must create art as an attempt to articulate our own frustration with courtship and reproduction. Ultimately, the human race, like any other species, has the fundamental goal to reproduce, and if this goal is not reached then the purpose of life is questioned.
Collishaw continues his commentary on the ways in which we consume imagery whilst struggling with our own biological conditioning with Albion, a new installation in the form of a laser scan of ‘The Major Oak’ in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham. This hollowed-out tree trunk is supposedly the hiding place of Robin Hood, and it is because of this mythical significance that the tree and it’s limbs have been supported by an elaborate system of scaffolding. Collishaw’s rendition of ‘The Major Oak’ is a glowing ghost-like skeleton that slowly rotates on its axis. The eerie presence of the tree is a living representation of an object that is eternally trapped to present the illusion of life. The artist states that “the tree is interesting because it wants to die… it has chains internally holding it up. It’s very sad. It becomes a portrait of England -this mythical idea that everyone wants to believe in, which is perhaps something we should let go”.
Collishaw’s intuitive use of one form of illusion to illustrate another, observing how delusion is drawn out from the optical, is an unreserved refection of ourselves. The dying fragments of ‘The Major Oak’ embellish everything that we believe we are; what we perceive through our eyes, the things we consider to be true, the past, and everything we think we want. He therefore not only explores the tension between the beautiful and the wretched, but also how this tension relates to our own origins. The human race is a vacant shell, filled with memories and past experiences that cannot be escaped; the internal chains that support ‘The Major Oak’ are the same supporting elements that sustain our own thoughts and feelings. We all want to believe that there is a component of Robin Hood in us.
Mat Collishaw’s The Centrifugal Soul is on display at Blain|Southern, London until 27th May, 2017.
Since the early 20th century, some artists have been exploring the possibilities of movement by introducing the element of time, reflecting the importance of the modern machine and technology, and exploring the nature of vision in their work –they are kinetic artists. Among them, the most renowned figures are Jean Tinguely and Alexander Calder. Nowadays, Swiss kinetic artist Ralfonso extends this artistic lineage and incorporates motion into his Kinetic, Light, and Interactive sculptures, which are exhibited and installed across the globe, including China, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, France, Germany, Switzerland, USA and Russia.
Ralfonso has been fascinated by mechanics and design ever since he was a very young boy. He then started to design objects and sculptures that had a motion component, which later on became art in motion, or kinetic art. For more than 20 years he has endeavoured to push the boundaries of kinetic art at the intersection of art, mechanics and design. His work is mostly inspired by nature, by the shape and natural interaction of different elements. His sculptures gently move with the wind, with water, through motors, or when pushed by hand, and range in size from 50cm to 15m.
Different from usual sculptures, kinetic sculptures are 4-dimensional with the added dimension of time and the “change over time” element. As our technology advances, kinetic artists nowadays do not only have to engage with motion, but also with other engineering fields. It is imaginably not an easy practice in art. Ralfonso sees that as a major benefit rather than a challenge. He enjoys collaborating with experts in technical fields, as well as developing new interactive public art together with graduate students and their professors in various fields of science and art.
With the help of engineering and technology, Ralfonso designs monumental public outdoor sculptures that are environmentally interactive and can even generate energy. For example, his 8m-tall Cube Tower consists of 5 cubes, all of which move in different directions with the wind due to the wind channels in each cube. Then, the next generation Cube Tower #2 will be constructed with high-efficiency solar panels on all surfaces. So it will generate electricity not only through sun exposure, but also through the rotation of the large cubes.
Ralfonso wants to create interactive and dynamic art –to change the prevailing one-sided, passive viewing of a still piece of sculptural art. All his works create dynamic interactions, where the art and the viewer exchange, react and interact. He strongly believes that art viewing should really be a two-sided communication between the art and the viewer. Therefore, some of his works have transformed from local art to global art, as they are accessible from anywhere in the world.
Meanwhile, Ralfonso co-founded the Kinetic Art Organisation (KAO), a platform and a place for everyone interested in kinetic art to meet, exchange and share information about this art form. KAO has now become the largest kinetic art organisation in the world with over 1,000 members from 60 countries, and has published its first e-book about kinetic art, with new articles by 18 international artists, curators and collectors from all over the world, including the USA, China, Mexico, India, France and Switzerland.
Many of Ralfonso’s works have been installed in public spaces. In his perception, public art should be able to intrigue the public and make them enjoy engaging with it both mentally and physically. His goal is to design truly new, never-seen-before public sculptures, which actually can “see” and “hear” the viewer, and can interact directly with them. Ralfonso, together with a group of graduate students and their professors, are exploring various cutting-edge concepts for his public works, such as augmented and virtual reality, and globally interactive art –which implies that the viewer does not have to be in front of the sculpture but can interact with it via computers and smartphone applications from anywhere in the world at any time. One example is Ex Strata, an interactive light and sound sculpture installed both at Tsinghua University in Beijing and at the NHL campus in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, that can be controlled through the Internet.
On February 2017, KAO held the 3rd bi-annual Kinetic Art Event and Symposium. Meanwhile, Ralfonso has been selected as the master artist for the Putian International Sculpture Exhibition in China and as the Silver Prize winner for the China (Ningbo) Urban Sculpture Design Contest. Ralfonso’s sculptures will be installed in both Chinese cities, adding to his growing list of large public installations across China.
More info: http://www.ralfonso.com
YouTube: Ralfonso – Kinetic, Light & Interactive Sculptures
In Say Hello to English, his second exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery London, multimedia artist Moffat Takadiwa presents a compelling new series of three-dimensional wall hangings, or object sculptures, that aesthetically engage with problematics surrounding postcolonial constructions of Zimbabwean national and cultural identity.
Born in Haroi in 1983, and practicing in the capital city of Harare since graduating (B.A. Hons) from Harare’s Polytechnic University in 2008, Takadiwa has consistently devoted his work to critical explorations of how material, environmental, and social factors impact the reality of contemporary Zimbabwean daily life. In a previous exhibition entitled Across Borders (on display at the What If The World gallery in Cape Town last year), Takadiwa examined the nature of Zimbabwean-Chinese economic and trade relations, and their deleterious effects on the natural Zimbabwean environment. For that show, Takadiwa created a collection of intricate, highly textural wall sculptures using post-consumer waste materials, such as bottle caps and disused computer and laptop parts.
In Say Hello to English, his current exhibition at the Tyburn Gallery, Takadiwa shifts his (and our) gaze to a critical reassessment of post- and neo-colonial aspects of the English language, a legacy of Zimbabwe’s colonial past as the former British Crown colony of Rhodesia. For Takadiwa, the English language is problematic because of its tendency to create class divisions (i.e., English-speaking elites) in Zimbabwean society, and its power to both shape and undermine contemporary constructions of Zimbabwean cultural identity. For Takadiwa, language and culture are inextricably intertwined –especially in the context of post-independence Zimbabwe–, and this standpoint is reflected throughout his oeuvre.
For the sculptural objects on view in Say Hello to English, Takadiwa makes use of a radically different medium to portray his ideas, namely: lettered, Roman-alphabet keys taken from post-consumer laptop and computer keyboards. These computer keys appear to have been woven together like traditional Zimbabwean textiles, but are here recast into a more contemporary, high-tech idiom. In an amusing and daring act of subversion, Takadiwa deconstructs and subverts the English language itself in these objects, by arranging the keys seemingly randomly (in effect scrambling them) so they are not legible in any way. Moreover, the artist has turned most of the lettered keys upside down, so that all viewers can see are their bottom ends, with the lettered crown rendered invisible. This aesthetic strategy powerfully conveys the struggles contemporary Zimbabweans experience with the English language, and how important it is, at least to some extent, to say “goodbye” to English in order to preserve the Bantu languages, as well as other aspects of pre-colonial Zimbabwean culture.
Although all of the works included in the exhibition Say Hello to English deal with problematics surrounding intertextuality, language and culture, one work in particular provides a paradigmatic example of Takadiwa’s philosophy, namely “The Falling of Rhode/sia.” According to the press release issued by the Tyburn Gallery, this work takes its inspiration from the “Rhodes Must Fall” social movement that was formed to contest Western-oriented education in Africa. “The Falling of Rhode/sia” also makes direct reference to the arch-imperialist Cecil B. Rhodes, whose statue at Cape Town University was recently removed from the campus as a result of student protests. In “The Falling of Rhodes/ia,” Takadiwa essentially reimagines Rhodes as a new, post-colonial creature, whose persona is both fierce (signified by the long red tongue and bared claws) and friendly (suggested by the creature’s loose and amorphous shape). For this viewer, Takadiwa’s “fallen,” reincarnated Rhodes is a likeable, positive figure who successfully reconciles Zimbabwe’s colonial past and post-colonial present.
Say Hello to English is on view at the Tyburn Gallery, London until May 6, 2017.
The work of Richard Serra has become synonymous with a fluidity of form and meaning.
Serra, born in 1938 in California, first encountered steel while accompanying his father, a pipe-fitter, to a San Francisco shipyard. Serra said of his experiences at the shipyard: “all the raw material that I needed is contained in the reserve of this memory which has become a reoccurring dream”. And, indeed, metal has recurred throughout the artist’s later works.
Now Serra’s works feature in the collections of world-renowned institutions such as MoMA, Tate Modern and the Guggenheim Bilbao, among others, but this hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of his career, Serra took to working in steel mills on the United States’ West Coast to support himself, becoming increasingly familiar with the raw material that would, from the 1970s onwards, form the basis of his monolithic sculptures.
Although Serra has produced a prolific number of works on paper throughout his formidable career, it is his sculpture which has captured the imagination of both the artistic establishment and the general public alike. His undulating masses of steel, contorted in ways that make them appear almost weightless, seem to defy gravity. The sheet metal that characterises Serra’s work mimics rippling natural forms. To create them, the artist takes many tons of this solid material and transforms them into towering vertical planes.
In his work NJ-2 the viewer becomes immersed in the meandering curves coated with a rusty patina, the amber tones reminiscent of the Golden Gate Bridge of his native San Francisco. The viewer is invited to walk not only around the piece but through it, as if lost or wandering among winding rocky outcrops and crevasses, with snatches of white-hot desert sun penetrating from high above.
Serra’s forms bend and twist, often striking a stark contrast to their environs. These monumental monoliths seem almost malleable and are open to a variety of interpretations. His sculpture is concerned with ineffability and expresses the unsayable through visual means. The works simultaneously point to recognisable forms whilst also bewildering the viewer. It is no surprise, then, that Serra counts Roland Barthes and Gilles Deleuze among his notable influences. The artist’s sculpture transcends pre-existing linguistic systems, stepping outside of the constraints of human language. Serra could be described as reticent: his minimal sculpture gives little away, leaving it to the viewer themselves to derive meaning. His work could be interpreted as the visual counterpart to that of the great philosophers and poets of the twentieth century, who struggled to represent meaning as they negotiated the world.
A key facet of Serra’s sculpture is its relationship to and dependence upon place. This site-specificity quality characterises his art and ascribes meaning to it. In fact, the work’s purpose relies so heavily on its environment that Serra himself said that to remove it from its intended site would be “to destroy it”. This is evident in the case of his infamous commissions for the Federal Plaza in New York City and the California Institute of Technology. Following a controversy, the former was removed while the latter was never installed, and so the works were “lost” or at the very least not realised in their intended capacity. Though the locations of Serra’s pieces vary enormously, ranging from east to west, city to desert, public space to private gallery, the gently undulating yet imposing metal facades, tarnished with a rusty patina formed naturally over several years, remain recognisably Serra nonetheless.
In contrast to Serra’s usual site-specific works, installed in public squares or national parks, three recent works were nestled in a gallery by London’s King’s Cross station. The large-scale steel sculptures, each on display in their own room of the Gagosian gallery, were disconnected from the natural environment and instead presented in a vacuum. Here, prevented from interacting with external influences, their ambiguity and uncertain meaning was intensified. This mode of display bridged the gap between Serra’s site-specific sculptures, created for and bound to their environment, and his two-dimensional canvases displayed on the distraction-free spaces of contemporary art galleries.
At a first glance, Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s current exhibition at Blain|Southern (London) evokes a surprising feeling of nostalgia. The large twisted bronze sculptures remind me of summer evenings spent with my family on holiday in Croatia. My favourite pastime was to wander through markets filled with hand-made goods crafted by the locals. I always found watching the artists sitting at their stalls and contorting thin strands of wire into a menagerie of animals and human figures rather extraordinary and strangely soothing. However, the feeling of nostalgia fades as fast as it emerges, as does the dense blue Adriatic Sea and its warm glow reflecting the summer sun. It is the end of February, it’s freezing cold outside, and I am surrounded by the sterile whiteness of Blain|Southern. The title Sticks with Dicks and Slits could hardly get more literal: the exhibition consists of pairs of gigantic stick figures endowed with humorous genitalia, engaging in actions such as lactating and urinating. This new series of work might seem raw and crude –because, quite frankly, it is—, but it can also be seen as toys with a more playful and whimsical side, its naivety lending a certain charm and innocence to these clumsy figures.
The duo met while studying together at Nottingham Trent University and became friends due to their shared love of music. They have been creating together, as a couple, since then, and have challenged the notion of self-portrait and portraiture throughout their series of well-known light and shadow sculptures. Just as their previous works, these double portraits explore the nature of relationships and identity, but they seem to open up a new chapter which allows us to see a different side of the artists.
In comparison to their self-portraits built from trash and waste, these stick figures are surprisingly light-hearted. Earlier works, such as Wild Mood Swings (2009-2010), Masters of the Universe (2000), and Dirty White Trash (1998) scrutinize certain aspects of human relations, from anger and rejection to pleasure and desire. Dicks and Slits focuses on the cheerful, comical side of Noble and Webster. A lovely Pair (Standing) portrays stick-Noble chasing stick-Webster with an erection, while another figure seems to be urinating on the viewer. While sex and bodily fluids are returning elements in the duo’s work, in this case they are paired with the charm of immaturity. The large stick-figures are celebrating our inner child, and act as a reminder of the joy of not taking ourselves too seriously. Childishness is still often considered an undesirable personality trait, and to portray vulnerability and flaws is rare in a world where the artist is still so often seen as an impeccable genius. Noble and Webster, once again, go against the notion of immaculateness to explore natural human attributes so often condemned.
It is refreshing to see the duo stepping away from their usual light/shadow technique to experiment with new materials and methods. The bronze sculptures seem weightless and spontaneous, and it’s interesting to learn that they use the old and difficult method of lost wax casting to create them. Sprezzatura, to conceal the difficulty of production, was considered as an art form in the Renaissance and it was essential to possess it in order to be acknowledged as a great artist. Noble and Webster have been considered the power couple of the art world, but they divorced in 2013, they said, for the sake of their work. As I see it, these sculptures could be the results of an emotionally exhausting period. It might not be wrong to assume that there’s a parallel between the choice of using the troublesome wax casting technique and the hardships experienced in personal life, which are both being concealed by the overall carefree appearance of the figures. This exhibition marks a new period in their relationship, just as in their professional life. Stick with Dicks and Slits portrays two people co-existing in a harmonious and joyful manner, which is a kind of revelation after the intensity and violence that characterizes most of their earlier works.
I can’t tell whether this exhibition has left a deeper impression on me than the market artists sculpting their wire pieces or not. It is fun, yet I find it a bit superficial. The figures seem to get lost in the sterile whitewash of Blain|Southern gallery. The antiseptic environment doesn’t do justice to the works’ potential, as the figures seem awkwardly out of place. On the one hand, the repetition of the same motifs, although it serves as a link between this new body of works and Noble and Webster’s oeuvre, it also makes things predictable. On the other hand, this exhibition might be just the start of a progress through which we will be able to see the pair’s work developing into something very different.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s Sticks with Dicks and Slits is on view at Blain|Southern, London until 25 March 2017.
March 11, 2017
“I see life as a passageway,
with no fixed beginning or destination”
– Do Ho Suh
Humanity is often focused upon the destination of life rather than the journeys travelled. These journeys are the ones that result in a life worth living, instead of a life in which the centre of attention revolves around the end result. To be obsessed with the end result of an endeavour, as opposed to living in the present, is the very premise that the artist Do Ho Suh (b.1962, Seoul, Korea) challenges in his new exhibition, ‘Passage/s’.
Currently on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London, Suh’s body of work questions the boundaries of identity as well as the global connection between individuals and groups. After growing up in South Korea, the artist has moved and lived in many different countries, immersing himself in the culture of each one of them. In his work he aims to create a global connection between his identity, his previous destination, and his current journey. He establishes that his own understanding of ‘home’ is both a physical structure and a lived emotional experience. In this sense, the physical structure of a ‘home’ can only be described as the building or property in which one has lived, whereas the home as an emotional experience is documented in the adventures and memories of life. I
Beginning upstairs on the First Floor, the visitor is immediately transported into the many ‘homes’ of the artist. Each independent aspect of a home, whether it is a simple light bulb or a complicated fuse box, has been carefully replicated by Suh’s meticulous hand. Polyester, which is both a fluid and a translucent medium, is the main choice of material for Do Ho Suh. He uses to replicate everyday objects, and its translucency amplifies the importance of concentrating upon the ‘passageways’ of life: you must be able to travel through each destination in order to continue growing and developing.
This concept is heightened in ‘Passage’s: The Pram Project’, a video installation recorded from the perspective of three different cameras. Taped from the comfort of his daughters pram, the video removes the viewer from the controlled environment of the gallery, and places them into the charming streets of Islington and Seoul. Surrounded by the child’s adoring laughter and babbling, we are reminded of the innocence of humanity and the importance of ‘home’ as an emotional connection, something which provides stability and safety.
Continuing on the Lower Floor, Do Ho Suh displays large threaded drawings replicating doorways and stairwells. Each entrance has been accurately copied from the multiple buildings in which Suh has lived, exaggerating how the outside exterior of a ‘home’ does not necessarily reflect the individual immersed within it. For example, not everyone who lives in a London home is British – the immersion of cultures is the most important aspect to create a global identity.
The exhibition arguably concludes with the most impressive component of Do Ho Suh’s work. His series ‘Hubs’ occupies the entirety of the Upper Gallery, where nine reproductions of the apartments in which Suh has called ‘home’ are on display. The transient polyester spaces are connected by threaded doorways and moving doors, enticing the viewer to walk through and experience each room. Although interactive, ‘Hubs’ removes the practical function of a home: door hinges and handles remain motionless while electrical outputs and pipes are frozen without power. By referring back to Suh’s original premise of the home as a physical entity, as well as an emotional experience, we are placed in this complex structure as both ‘private’ and ‘public’ viewers. In one way the elongated home visualises the ‘private’ life of an individual, while the ‘public’ global identity seeps into the design through the fragile material.
I encourage you not just to see the exhibition first-hand, but to interact and engage with the artwork. The unfortunate irony of this brilliant collection of work is the influence of present day technology, and our infatuation and dependence upon our mobile phones. The majority of people visiting exhibitions today try to capture every moment and work of art into a single photograph. This degrades the original intentions of Do Ho Suh and his exploration of life as a journey, as a photograph destroys the steps travelled in order to take it. Life is about the experiences seized by your eyes, not the artificial screen of a phone or lens of a camera; rather than living through your phone, live through reality.
Do Ho Suh‘s ‘Passage/s’ is on display at the Victoria Miro Gallery, London until 18th March, 2017.
February 26, 2017
Between the 22 and 26 of February, Madrid is the place to be for those who love contemporary art. There are at least five different art fairs taking place simultaneously, plus many other art-related events that make this one of the most exciting weeks of the year. The only downside of it is that it is virtually impossible to see everything, and so this year we have chosen to visit Art Madrid, the second biggest art fair in the Spanish capital.
In its 12th edition, Art Madrid maintains its multidisciplinary character and puts the emphasis on the quality of the artworks exhibited, as well as on the international appeal of the 43 galleries selected. These are mainly Spanish, but there is also a good number of them that come from all over the world, including Portugal, China, Latvia, Cuba, Costa Rica, Italy or Lebano.
This year the focus is also on the individual work of emerging and mid-career Spanish and Latin American artists. Next to the General Program, the ONE PROJECT Program -curated by Carlos Delgado Mayordomo- presents eight solo-show projects that reflect on the concepts of territory, displacement and identity.
In addition to this, the relationship between art and technology shapes the fair’s Parallel Program of activities, which includes talks, round tables, workshops and other actions. We attended the last event of the series, the presentation of “FILE_GENESIS”, a multimedia project by artist and founder of Harddiskmuseum Solimán López that revolves around the meaning of the image in the digital era, showing how necessary it is to generate a conversation about the ways in which technology affects the art world.
However, painting and sculpture, from the mid-twentieth century to the present, still predominated at Art Madrid this year. Here are some of the highlights from this edition.
Espacio Olvera (Sevilla)
The booth of this Sevillian gallery was one of the first to catch my attention. Selected as a ONE PROJECT, Espacio Olvera showed the work of Mariajosé Gallardo, a fascinating combination of symbolism and a very realistic depiction of plants and animals, painted over golden surfaces that give shape to very powerful artworks. It’s a pity the small space of the booth did not provide enough room for visitors to really appreciate the works.
Galería BAT Alberto Cornejo (Madrid)
Galería BAT presented a really interesting mix of artists working in different media, including bright paintings on an unusual support like methacrylate by Pablo Lambertos. I was particularly drawn to José Ramón Lozano’s oversized celebrity portraits and Byeonghee Bae’s curious series of wooden sculptures entitled Citizens above of building. A few works from the series El Jardín de Fukuoka by Rubén Martín de Lucas -who we recently interviewed– were also present at the gallery’s booth, but he was also one of the best represented artists at the fair thanks to having been selected for the ONE PROJECT program, which allowed him to show the latest developments of his investigation regarding borders and the behaviors of the human population.
3 Punts (Barcelona)
Another gallery with a wide selection of artists was 3 Punts. In this case I particularly liked the intersections between the diverse approaches to sculpture of artists Alejandro Monge, who cracks the perfectly innocent appearance of regular objects to criticize different aspects of society; Gerard Mas, whose wooden figures seem to have a life of their own; and Samuel Salcedo, especially his hyper-realistic, sinister little humans made of resin.
Marc Calzada (Barcelona)
Also from Barcelona, Marc Calzada brought something different to Art Madrid: the work of modern Spanish masters like Antoni Tàpies, Antonio Saura, Miquel Barceló, or Joan Miró. The gallery’s selection of works encapsulated some of the best exponents of Spanish art from the twentieth-century, and included rare items such as a doodle by Miró on a torn piece of cardboad.
Galeria Kreisler (Madrid)
The work of Madrid-based multidisciplinary artist Okuda San Miguel, shown by Galeria Kreisler, stood out as one of the most visually compelling in this edition of Art Madrid. Combining elements of Urban Art and Pop Surrealism, San Miguel has created a very personal, rainbow-colored universe using a huge range of techniques, including mural painting (check out how he transformed a 100-year-old church into a skate park). One of his most interesting works at the fair was ‘Mom’s Bird’ (2016), made of wool on canvas.
Yiri Arts (Taiwan)
The booth of Yiri Arts, a gallery from Taipei, was one of my favourites this year. It featured pieces by four artists, two Spanish (Mónica Subidé and Núria Farré) and two Taiwanese (Chen Yun and Wang Guan-Jhen). Their figurative paintings and small-scale sculptures were among the subtlest and most captivating in the whole fair, and they left me hoping to see more from this gallery in the next edition of Art Madrid.
Art Madrid ’17, Galería de Cristal, CentroCentro Cibeles, 22 – 26 February, 2017.
February 16, 2017
“Cámara de las Maravillas”, the first solo show in Europe by American artist and father of Pop Surrealism Mark Ryden (1963, Medford, Oregon), has brought thousands of people to the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC) in Málaga, Spain, since it opened last December. It is no wonder that it has attracted so much attention, as it puts together 55 works covering 20 years of creation by the artist, including iconic pieces such Incarnation (2009) –the inspiration behind Lady Gaga’s 2010 meat dress-, most of which are kept in private collections.
The 2012 painting The Parlor – Allegory of Magic, Quintessence, and Divine Mystery opens the show, anticipating many of the elements that the visitor is going to encounter throughout the exhibition: a strange assortment of semi-human characters, a theatrical space populated by a myriad of symbols, odd creatures that are often both ridiculous and disturbing, a whole lot of irony and an exquisite technique that dissolves the brushstrokes into a continuous and delicate surface. His meticulous and detailed work brings to mind that of old Venetian masters like Vittore Carpaccio and Giovanni Bellini. While grounded in contemporary pop culture, Ryden’s works are reminiscent of many previous artistic periods and styles, from French Neoclassicism to the Pre-Raphaelites and, of course, also Surrealism.
The earliest work in the exhibition is the painting Saint Barbie (1994), while the most recent, the sculpture Wood Meat Dress (2016), was created especially for the Málaga show. From the young girl worshiping a goddess-like Barbie doll to the eerie, sad-eyed sculpted lady, we are able to observe the evolution of the physiognomy of Ryden’s peculiar female characters through the years.
All the different series that the artist has exhibited in the past –The Meat Show (1998), Bunnies & Bees (2001), Blood (2003), The Tree Show (2007), The Snow Yak Show (2009), The Gay 90’s (2010), The Gay 90’s West (2014), and Dodecahedron (2015)— are represented here, plus the original artwork for the cover of Michael Jacksons’ album Dangerous and three beautiful porcelain figures made in the last five years. However, the works are neither grouped in series nor displayed in chronological order, and this makes the artist’s ultimate concerns and interests, such as Science and the destruction of Nature, even more evident throughout the exhibition.
The big exhibition space of the CAC has been articulated in a way that allows the visitor to see many of the pieces at the same time, encouraging many dialogues and correspondences not also between the works, but also between their magnificent frames. These have never been a secondary element for the artist, who designs many of them himself so they perfectly match and complete each of the paintings.
Adjectives like kitsch, naïve, creepy or sentimental are often used to define Ryden’s aesthetic, but these labels don’t do any justice to the complexity of his work. The best way to approach this cabinet of curiosities is with the eyes of a child, leaving preconceived ideas at home and letting your imagination run free.
“Cámara de las Maravillas” is a real treat, well worth a trip to Málaga. Those who already love the work of Mark Ryden will be delighted to see together such a careful selection of old as well as new pieces, while those unfamiliar with the artist have here a wonderful opportunity to dive into his enigmatic universe, which is very much alive and still evolving.
Mark Ryden’s “Cámara de las Maravillas”, curated by Fernando Francés, is on view at CAC Málaga until March 5, 2017.
February 8, 2017
“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time,” on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, delves into the friendship between Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera. It explores how the lives of these two 20th-century artists briefly intersected, and the ways they drew inspiration from the ancient visual culture of their respective countries.
The exhibition, which is arranged in a very linear manner, compares Picasso’s and Rivera’s artistic trajectories. This allows the visitor to see how both artists progressed through their early academic training, experimented with different stylistic modes, and shared an interest in antiquity. The works reveal that there was a dialogue between these two artists that spanned cultural and geographic boundaries.
The display presents a give-and-take between the two artists: Picasso’s Cubism heavily influencing Rivera’s work when they were both in Paris in 1914, and Rivera’s colorful, hefty figures subtly impacting Picasso’s classical style. The paintings included in the exhibition allow for a great deal of one-to-one comparisons between the two artists. But at times, the artworks are dwarfed by the scale of the galleries, giving the viewer a sense that they may have been better viewed in a smaller gallery space.
The largest and most striking room is at the center of the exhibition. Rivera and Picasso’s images are juxtaposed with ancient sculptures that reveal how their styles absorbed the influence of ancient forms. This was the first time I had ever seen ancient Mesoamerican sculpture displayed in tandem with ancient Classical sculpture. During the interwar years, Rivera reexamined the tradition of Aztec sculpture in his native Mexico which informed the mature style that he is most recognized for. The exhibition includes loans from the Anthropological Museum in Mexico City that are paired with Rivera’s gorgeous Flower Day (1925).
Picasso was in still in Paris between World War I & II, and his more traditional classicizing figures demonstrate his renewed interest in Greco-Roman antiquity and Iberian art. In the exhibition, classical sculpture -mostly loans from the Getty Museum- is juxtaposed with Picasso’s ‘return to order’ paintings such as Etudes (1920) and Three Women at the Spring (1921).
The final rooms explore how Picasso and Rivera’s artistic practices diverged after World War I. Mexico’s Ministry of Education commissioned Rivera to create murals that would unify the nation through revolutionary imagery. Through his study of Pre-Columbian sculpture (and his collection of over 6,000 ceramic and stone figurines) and Aztec creation myths, he imbued his images of a new, modern Mexico with aesthetics of the past. On the other hand, during the 1930s Picasso was revisiting Greek and Roman mythology -especially Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the myth of the Minotaur- and reworking classical tropes of depicting these narratives.
Beyond comparing the two artists’ work, the exhibition aims to stress how Picasso and Rivera were inspired by ancient sources throughout their careers, and how their friendship or artistic rivalry fueled those investigations.
“Picasso & Rivera: Conversations Across Time” is on view at LACMA through May 7th, 2017, and will travel to the Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City in June 2017.