In: Spain

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.

Solimán López, ‘File_Genesis’. Centre de Cultura Contemporánea del Carmen.

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)

Mariajosé Gallardo, ‘Raro’ (detail), 2016.

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)

Rubén Martín de Lucas, ‘Génesis 1.28. Acciones en el Paisaje’, video installation, 2017.

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)

Sculptures by Samuel Salcedo.

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)

Joan Miró, ‘Femme’, 1981.

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)

Okuda San Miguel, ‘Mom’s Bird’, 2016.

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)

Yiri Arts at Art Madrid ’17.

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.

“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.

 

foto-artista-ruben-martin-de-lucas-smallIn 2001, Rubén Martín de Lucas (Madrid, 1977) founded with a group of friends Boa Mistura, a multidisciplinary team that carries out street art-based projects in public spaces all over the world.

I catch up with Rubén –who now works as a solo artist— after a particularly busy summer to talk about one of his most recent projects, Stupid Borders, which deals with the absurd human need to possess the land.

When did you decide that you wanted to be an artist?

It was a visceral decision.

At 16, before I started studying engineering, I used to paint graffiti in the outskirts of Madrid. During my studies I continued painting murals, developing the artistic side of it, and when I was finishing my degree I projected myself into the future, and two things happened. If I thought of myself as an engineer, my guts clenched and I could see a heavy darkness. If I thought of myself as an artist, I could perceive light and I felt free of any tension. So after university I backpacked in India for four months, and when I came back I realised that uncertainty was going to be constantly in my life. That uncertainty, not knowing what I’ll do or where I’ll be tomorrow, has won me over.

How were your beginnings in Boa Mistura?

Simply wonderful, like everything we have done together until now when, due to my personal circumstances, I have decided to step aside to see my children grow up. The beginnings were full of innocence and fun. Then came years of learning and growing, and the project developed like the forging of iron, through fire and hard work, full of difficult and wonderful moments, and always with a dash of good humour.

How was working in such a multidisciplinary team?

Before a studio or a company, Boa Mistura was a group of good friends, and that has enabled its powerful growth. We worked very close together and learned a lot from each other. Except for girlfriends and underwear, we shared everything with each other. There is something very beautiful in sharing an idea, shaping it together, and feeling as if it was yours even if came from somebody else. A dissolution of individual ego takes place in favour of the group and the common good, and that is precious.

How has this collective, urban experience affected your individual work?

The collective experience made me grow both as a person and as an artist.

What I love about urban art is its capacity to reach a really wide audience, to go beyond the limits that museums, galleries and the conventional art circuits impose. It’s necessary to forget the idea of art as lifeless objects contained in museums and to start thinking about it as a process, like that vital attitude so necessary for everyone in every aspect of life.

Stupid Borders. Initial notes.

Stupid Borders. Initial notes.

In your statement you mention that your work revolves around the concept of “associated behavior”. What does this concept entail?

Landscape and what I call “associated behavior” –that behavior and bonds that connect you to a certain place— are at the centre of my work. In Seaside Holidays I focus on holiday landscapes in the Mediterranean coast and on the collective and mimetic behavior that leads people to massively go to those places. In Stupid Borders I study frontiers, the concept of limit and our attitudes towards an Earth that transcends us in age but that we strangely feel the need to possess.

How did you come up with your project Stupid Borders?

It emerged from an invitation by AP Gallery to create a project ad hoc for their space. This gallery has a line of work linked to the landscape and an exceptional location near the mountains of Ayllón (Segovia, Spain). It was just the right time for me to begin developing actions on the landscape and to do more conceptual work. In my notebook I drew a line across a lake. I imagined a lane rope dividing that lake in two, crossing it from side to side. Under that I wrote Stupid Borders. That’s where the project was born.

Then I developed and polished it, and different blocks or sub-projects appeared: Minimal Republics, A Plot on the Moon, and Do Not Enter or I Shoot You.

Do Not Enter or I Shoot You.

Do Not Enter or I Shoot You.

What part of the creative process do you enjoy the most?

The beginning, when there’s just an idea. There’s a special magic when a project is just a sketch in a notebook. At that point I feel a great intellectual pleasure because I imagine all its possibilities and the thousands of shapes that it could adopt. That moment really captivates me. Then there’s a phase of refining it, when you filter and polish, and then comes production to make it real. This last phase is interesting because there are still surprises and problems to overcome, and it counts on one’s previous experience, which is very enriching. Once the piece (or project) is finished, it loses interest to me, as if that idea was already dead. Although it’s precisely then when the idea is passed onto –or revives in— another person.

In Stupid Borders, the documentation that you produce while you work is also exhibited and becomes essential in order to understand your project. Do you think that the educational element is often left aside in contemporary art?

I don’t know. I can’t speak for others. The only thing I can say is that for me that educational element is essential. My work is very conceptually and philosophically charged, and it’s important that the public can get to know that part. My aim is to make us reflect on our behavior and on our way of inhabiting the Earth.

Minimal Republic #2.

Minimal Republic #2.

How do you choose the spaces where you create your Minimal Republics?

My Minimal Republics are set in places where normally no one would live or establish a micro-state. The first three are located in the middle of a rye field, in a fallow land, and the last one floating in a reservoir. Absurd places for absurd nations.

I believe you want Stupid Borders to become a life-long project. Was this decision motivated by the problematic situation of borders nowadays?

Indeed. We perceive borders as real entities. We fight for them. We stop those who want to use their freedom of movement. We believe that a piece of land can be ours… we even believe that the Earth belongs to us, when we’ve been here for barely an instant.

The day we come to realise that we belong to the Earth, and not the other way around, we will start behaving differently. It is essential to understand this. I think that’s where Stupid Borders plays an important role as a means for critical reflection. That’s why I have decided to continue creating Minimal Republics until the time comes when either borders or I cease to exist.

Minimal Republic #5.

Minimal Republic #5.

Which other plans do you have in mind for the future?

I have a notebook full of ideas, some of which will never see the light. There’s a project entitled Overcrowded where I talk about overpopulation as the main problem we face as a species. Another one, Descanso Visual (Visual Rest), where silence is considered an alternative to our hyper stimulated and noisy society. And also Topographies, which explores how moulds or models –words, preconceptions, physical laws, and other representations of reality— confuse us and lead us away from reality itself.

But my true plans for the future include becoming more of a hippy, seeing my children grow up next to my wife, getting away from the city to live closer to the earth, building a house with my own hands, growing my own tomatoes, writing a book, traveling, learning to surf, becoming more humble each day and enjoying each moment, because the future and the past are not easy to live in.


Stupid Borders opens October 28 at Palacio Quintanar in Segovia (Spain).

Bernardí Roig (Palma de Mallorca, 1965) is one of the most important exponents of the current Spanish art scene. I discovered his work in 2013, while visiting the Spanish National Sculpture Museum. Roig’s disturbing white men were placed among Renaissance and Baroque saints and virgins, surprising visitors with their unexpected presence. It was not the first time that the artist had shown his works among those in museums dedicated to other artistic periods. He has even exhibited them inside iconic religious buildings, such as the Cathedral of Burgos.

A sculpture by Bernardí Roig at the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid. Photo Gerardo López López.

A sculpture by Bernardí Roig at the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid. Photo: Gerardo López López.

This enigmatic intrusion into one of my favourite museums was unforgettable. Therefore, I was very excited to encounter Roig’s works again this summer. In this case the location was Sala Alcalá 31, a very singular exhibition room in the heart of Madrid. This wide, vaulted space built in the 1930s, allows artists and curators to create very interesting and often bold displays. Its unconventional architectural structure, which resembles that of a church, has hosted memorable exhibitions. For instance, Brian Eno presented his 77 Million Paintings there in 2014.

Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid. Foto: Pedro Martínez de Albornoz

Sala Alcalá 31, Madrid. Photo: Pedro Martínez de Albornoz

In the case of Roig’s recent solo show, Mind Your Head [Cuidado con la cabeza], light was a crucial element. It created the perfect setting for the sculptures, installations, photographs, objects, videos, and drawings on show. All of them were made during the last two decades, and touched upon many aspects of Roig’s artistic vision.

The mysterious atmosphere of the rooms was striking. It was mainly due to the harsh lighting coming from the fluorescent tubes of some of the artworks. In addition, the building’s theatrical character and the overwhelming presence of white also contributed to create the impression of walking into a sinister alternative reality. Or a place taken from someone’s troubled imagination.

'Fauno in love', 2014. Photo: Guillermo Gumiel.

‘Fauno in love’, 2014. Photo: Guillermo Gumiel.

The first artwork that I encountered was ‘Fauno in love’. It introduced one of the main themes of the exhibition: the limits between human and animal. The idea of the metamorphosis is one of Roig’s recurrent themes, and he has explored it in many of his works. An example can be found in ‘Diana and Actaeon’, a twisted rendition of the classical myth featured in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

'Diana y Acteón', 2005. Image courtesy of Galería Max Estrella.

‘Diana and Actaeon’, 2005. Image courtesy of Galería Max Estrella.

One of my favorite pieces was an installation inspired by Thomas Bernhard’s short story Der Italiener. A life-sized sculpture of a dead ox hanging from the ceiling was its main component. In Roig’s interpretation of this subject, which Rembrandt depicted centuries ago, the animal’s insides are transformed into artificial light. Nearby, a tv monitor showing a clip from an 1971 experimental film based on Bernhard’s work completed the display.

Left: 'GERMANIA', 2015. Right: 'Der Italiener (the ox)', 2011.

Left: ‘GERMANIA’, 2015. Right: ‘Der Italiener (the ox)’, 2011.

Besides the spectacular installations, which definitely make an impression, I was particularly drawn to the series POETS. In these drawings, Roig portrays different figures from the Spanish artistic sphere. They all appear dressed in the same austere white robe, with the word “poet” written on it. Their faces, barely recognisable, are distorted by the artist’s strokes. Last year, Galería Max Estrella exhibited the photographs that preceded this series within the framework of the PHotoEspaña festival.

‘POETS’, 2016.

As curator Fernando Castro Flórez pointed out, the exhibition Mind Your Head acted as a warning: be careful when entering your own mind, as what you see may be difficult to recount. After such an intense and unique experience, I cannot wait to submerge myself again into the fascinating visions that constitute Roig’s obsessions.

If you happen to be in Argentina this summer, do not miss Roig’s exhibition at MUNTREF, in Buenos Aires. To know more about the artist, I recommend watching this interview.


A virtual tour of Bernardí Roig’s exhibition Mind Your Head is available here. You have been warned!

From magazine covers to digital advertising, illustration has endless applications that we consume on a daily basis. Thanks to such events as The London Illustration Fair, this form of art is only becoming more and more popular every year. In Spain, illustrated books are currently capturing the imagination of wider audiences, while the number of exhibitions dedicated to the work of illustrators has multiplied in the past few years. Below is just a small selection of the amazing talent spread throughout the country.

Elena Odriozola

Elena Odriozola, Illustration for 'Frankenstein' (Nórdica Libros, 2013)

Elena Odriozola, Illustration for ‘Frankenstein’ (Nórdica Libros, 2013)

Simple but very powerful compositions and a subtle use of colour are the trademarks of Elena Odriozola’s work. Her beautiful illustrations for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Nórdica Libros, 2013) are one of her most interesting projects so far. She has recently received the 2015 Spanish National Illustration Award for the “capacity for renewal” and the “narrative potential” of her work.

Maria Herreros

Maria Herreros. Illustration for “Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies” (“Marilyn Had Eleven Toes on Her Feet”).

Maria Herreros. Illustration for “Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies” (“Marilyn Had Eleven Toes on Her Feet”).

Maria Herreros’s drawings are full of life and animation. She uses mainly graphite and watercolour to recreate, in her own style, the image of film stars and pop culture icons. She has just published her book Marilyn tenía once dedos en los pies (Marilyn Had Eleven Toes on Her Feet, Lunwerg, 2016), a carefully illustrated collection of Hollywood anecdotes and curiosities that constitutes a unique and fascinating trip through the history of cinema.

Pablo Amargo

Pablo Amargo. Illustrations for The Boston Globe.

Pablo Amargo. Illustrations for The Boston Globe.

Pablo Amargo conceives his illustrations as a poetic clash between image and word. He looks for the unexpected and establishes a certain distance between his visual world and the writings that he illustrates, so the readers can establish their own connections between text and image. I love how he manages to play with visual paradoxes and double meanings through a very clear and direct style. You may have seen his work in The New York Times, The New Yorker, or The Boston Globe, with whom he regularly collaborates.

Fernando Vicente

Fernando Vicente. Illustration for Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” (Nórdica Libros, 2016).

Fernando Vicente. Illustration for Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” (Nórdica Libros, 2016).

Fernando Vicente’s stunningly sophisticated images, particularly his portraits, are some of the most recognisable in Spanish illustration today, although his work first appeared in different magazines during the 1980s. He has reimagined the works of Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, and Emily Brontë, among many others, and has also recently illustrated a book about the Spanish Civil War (La Guerra Civil contada a los jóvenes, Alfaguara, 2015).

Paula Bonet

Paula Bonet, “Please Come Back”.

Paula Bonet, “Please Come Back”.

What I find most interesting about Paula Bonet’s creations is that she is often her own model. Her lively self-portraits are emotionally charged and often illustrate strong human emotions through the use of expressive colours, dark lines, and dramatic gestures. She explores her interest in film in one of her latest projects, 813 (La Galera, 2015), an illustrated homage to François Truffaut.

Oscar Llorens

Oscar Llorens, “Migraine” project.

Oscar Llorens, “Migraine” project.

Oscar Llorens’s work seems to be inspired by street art and technology. His most personal projects usually feature strange, half-animal half-machine creatures that are often suspended in the air. One of these, entitled Migraine, explores the pain and sensations felt by those who suffer from this disorder. Coca Cola, Mercedes, Cirque du Soleil, and Red Bull are among the companies that have chosen Llorens’s intricate designs for their advertising campaigns.

Cinta Arribas

Cinta Arribas. Illustration for the website 0034expat.com.

Cinta Arribas. Illustration for the website 0034expat.com.

Cinta Arribas likes telling stories through her art. Her work is fresh and optimistic, but not in any way naïve. I particularly like her ability to simplify shapes and the eloquence of her characters’ poses and gestures. If you are feeling adventurous, check out her awesome map with all the European St James’ routes to the city of Santiago de Compostela, featured in the book A Map of the World. The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers (Gestalten, 2013).

Carla Fuentes

Carla Fuentes, “MOTELS-2” (2015).

Carla Fuentes, “MOTELS-2” (2015).

What first caught my attention about Carla Fuentes‘s work were her wonderful portraits, in particular those from her recent personal project Los Sentados. Through her very distinctive palette and the spontaneity of her lines Fuentes captures the character not only of people, but also of places. One example of this is her Motels series, inspired by the work of American photographer Stephen Shore.

Jesus Cisneros

Jesus Cisneros. Illustration for Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare” (Castillo, 2015).

Jesus Cisneros. Illustration for Charles and Mary Lamb’s “Tales from Shakespeare” (Castillo, 2015).

Minimalist, enigmatic, and very evocative. Jesus Cisneros’s illustrations take us into a different world, one populated by small characters that seem in complete harmony with their mysterious surroundings. Cisneros’s unique style comes from his exquisite technique and great sensitivity. In his creations, colour becomes particularly relevant through its scarce but significant presence.

 Ricardo Cavolo

Ricardo Cavolo, “Sea Wolf”.

Ricardo Cavolo, “Sea Wolf”.

Ricardo Cavolo’s work is full of detail, symbolism, and eyes, eyes everywhere! He takes inspiration from old school tattoos, art history icons such as Frida Kahlo, and myths from different cultures to create bold and colourful illustrations and murals. If you want to dive into his very personal style, I recommend his book 101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die (Nobrow Press, 2015). A real treat for music lovers!

I first heard about artist Zoulikha Bouabdellah last year, when her installation Silence was removed from the exhibition “Femina ou la Réappropriation des modèles” at the Pavillon Vendôme in Clichy, France, after receiving threats from a Muslim group about the possibility of a violent reaction to the piece. A similar incident surrounding California-based artist Mark Ryden and his painting Rosie’s Tea Party, currently on display at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art, has brought Bouabdellah’s work back to my attention, enabling me to rediscover her often ambiguous point of view. As it turns out, the timing could not have been more perfect: her work is currently featured in three different exhibitions across Spain and will be the object of a solo show in the autumn as well.

Silence Noir, 2016. Image courtesy of MUSAC.

Silence Noir, 2016. Image courtesy of MUSAC.

Her controversial piece Silence can be seen until June 12 at MUSAC (Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León) as part of the group show “Lucy’s Iris”. Bouabdellah usually adapts her works to the different contexts and spaces where they are exhibited, and in this case the installation has been titled Silence Noir. Composed of nine prayer rugs and the same number of pairs of golden shoes, perhaps the colour black has been chosen because of its historical association with Spain and particularly with Castile, the region where this exhibition is taking place. In the Spanish context, I cannot help but associate it with the traditional black outfit –composed of a lace veil (the mantilla) and a high comb (the peineta), as well as the mandatory high heels— still worn today by some women during Holy Week (the week leading to Easter), bullfights and sometimes even weddings (a great example can be found in Francisco de Goya’s 1797 portrait of the Duchess of Alba).

Afrita Hanem - Dentelle VI, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Afrita Hanem – Dentelle VI, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Black lace is used as a sort of camouflage in the series of drawings and prints Afrita Hanem, where the artist reproduces stills from the 1949 Egyptian film of the same name. Filled with double entendres, this film perpetuates the stereotype of the femme fatale, omnipresent both in Eastern and Western traditions.

Born in Moscow in 1977, Bouabdellah grew up in Algiers and moved to France in 1993. Her work explores cultural dualities and identity issues, and although it can be linked to feminist theories, one of its most characteristic qualities is its ambivalence.  As the artist herself states, she seeks “to push forward boundaries, to create interactions between them”. She claims to be a “«second sex», a free-thinker sex” who oscillates between a dominant and a submissive position, constantly alternating between claiming and defying pre-established codes and rules.

Nues Endroit/Nues Envers II, 2014. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Nues Endroit/Nues Envers II, 2014. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

This leads to many of her works not having a direct, clear message. Such is the case of her collage series Nues Endroit/Nues Envers, where the artist cuts two of the most iconic female nudes in art history into oriental, decorative shapes and combines the resulting pieces to create two different images. These kaleidoscopic visions both appeal to the viewer’s curiosity and frustrate any attempt to reconstruct the female bodies, consequently reinforcing their power of attraction. Bouabdellah seems to be visually exploring the Orientalist veil through which many male artists have looked at the female body in order to create the perfect object of desire, whose appeal lies in its inaccessibility.

Venus au miroir II, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

Venus au miroir II, 2016. Image courtesy of Sabrina Amrani and the artist.

“Objets de désir” is precisely the title of Bouabdellah’s current solo show at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid), which includes the aforementioned collage series as well as a video, a sound installation and several drawings and photographs that investigate the distance between the individual who desires and the object of desire itself.

The show focuses particularly on how women have been, and still are, objectified in visual culture. Perhaps one of the most fascinating works present in the exhibition is Venus au miroir, an enigmatic photographic series where the canon of occidental female beauty confronts its own image, leaving us wondering which goddess is the object and which the reflection.

 

If you happen to be in Spain, don’t miss the chance to see some of Bouabdellah’s works! Objects de désir runs at Sabrina Amrani Gallery (Madrid) until 3 June 2016. Lucy’s Iris. Contemporary African Women Artists runs at MUSAC (León) until 12 June 2016. She also participates in the group show Wastelands, curated by Piedad Solans at Es Baluard in Mallorca (until 19 June 2016), and in late October the Centro Atlántico de Arte Moderno – CAAM (Las Palmas, Canary Islands) will also host a retrospective exhibition by the artist.

Europe is a major topic of discussion, now in the eye of the refugee crisis, more than ever. Some people are scared and see the challenges Europe is confronted with, while others are more optimistic and focus on the bonds and the cultural roots European countries share and see this as a chance for European nations to grow closer together. The Victoria & Albert Museum has always had a special role in conveying European history to the public. Therefore, it assumes its role once again now with the opening of the new Europe galleries Europe 1600-1815.

These are a continuation of the Medieval and Renaissance galleries that lead up to 1600, and whereas the galleries from 1600 to 1815 have existed before, they have not been renovated since the 1970s. Therefore, the museum decided that it was time to do so. This was a major project that lasted over five years and was sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund and private funds. Architects ZMMA made a great job in opening up the gallery space and giving the ceiling its original height back, as well as providing more gallery space for the exhibition, by taking back the attached rooms that were previously used for storage. The lead curator for this permanent exhibition is Dr. Lesley Miller and she and her team of restorers, conservators, curators and technicians did an incredible job.

When you walk through the seven galleries you immediately sense that you are in an old historic building, but in very modern rooms. Every transition, from one work to the next and from one room to another, is smooth. The large windows are blocked to not let sunlight in, but the artificial lighting is efficiently pointed towards those objects the curators meant to lead our attention towards. There are little leather sofas scattered around the exhibition for visitors to rest once in a while, again, strategically positioned in front of particularly important work.

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The gallery compromises seven rooms in total, most are long galleries and each one is in a different color and in periodic order. The room in the middle is round and allows a natural short break before visiting the second half of the exhibition. Additionally, you can find some smaller rooms attached to the sides of the galleries, which show us dressing rooms and bedrooms from the time. These are beautiful and richly decorated rooms, entirely reconstructed the way they used to be.

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Room 7 is called Europe and the World, 1600-1720 (the one highlighted in the V&A above), but it is chronologically the first room visitors enter after having visited the Medieval and Renaissance galleries. It is also the first room you see when entering the V&A through its main entrance. Its walls have a deep purple color and it demonstrates to what extent Europe at the time was shaped by trade, colonization, and religious conflicts. It also touches upon the regions colonized by major nations like Portugal and Spain.

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Room 6 is the second room and it is called The Cabinet and displays collections of all sorts of objects that people at the time collected.

Room 5 is called The Rise of France from 1660 to 1720 and contains objects and paintings related to French society, culture and, of course, politics. Particularly memorable here is a very large painting that required seven people to hang it onto the wall. It shows the gardens of a castle designed by the architect of Louis XIV; it is incredibly detailed and it is one of the few objects the V&A acquired while renovating the Europe Galleries, whereas most of the objects were already in its collections.

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Room 4 is the above-mentioned room, the center room of the galleries, round and connecting both long corridors of galleries with each other. It’s main content is a specially commissioned artwork called The Globe, which serves as a space for meeting, discussion and debate. It is also the Enlightenment room; during this time the Enlightenment emerged in Europe and, for example, a controversial Encyclopedia intended to encompass all human knowledge was published. Various objects relating to this theme can be found around The Globe.

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The second-to-last two rooms are called City & Commerce and cover the time period from 1720-1780. Following the French Revolution, wealthy Europeans started enjoying a less formal way of living. During this time, artists and designers developed the Rococo style. Catholicism plays an important role during this time and thus these rooms contain several historic objects from churches.

The last room is called Luxury, Liberty & Power, 1769 to 1815 and it is dominated by Neoclassicism, inspired by the then recent discoveries of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt. Here, France and the French Revolution play an important role, as well as Napoleon’s rise to power, as both movements used the arts to promote their cause.

These galleries are an absolute must-see and on Monday the V&A’s Director Martin Roth hosted a roundtable in honor of the opening of Europe 1600-1815 so stay tuned to hear more about it! But you absolutely have to go see the galleries for yourself.