Category Archives: Exhibitions

Mona Hatoum’s art is challenging and unnerving. It is also very rewarding.

Mona Hatoum is considered one of the most important artists of her time.  She puts global concerns such as gender, politics and the body under the microscope using unconventional media such as video, installations and video.  The Tate has brought a fantastic show to London that examines her work from the 1980s to modern day.

Through her work Hatoum confronts some of the big injustices of our modern world.  Her art speaks to the individual, asking us to confront our assumptions on big issues, rather than making grandstanding statements to attract the attention of the masses.  Her aim is to engage the viewer, soliciting interpretation and eliciting emotional and physical responses.  Regardless of the theme her work always manages to make us stop and think.  

The exhibition organises her work as a series of ideas side by side, rather than in chronological order, and in so doing emphasises the different ways the artist challenges our assumptions of the world. For me the installations stole the show and Light Sentence (1992) and Impenetrable (2009) particularly stood out.

Light Sentence (1992) occupies a whole room.  It is made up of square wire mesh lockers resembling animal cages with a single light bulb hanging in the middle of the structure.  The installation at first glance is simply intriguing, but the longer one spends in the room the more disoriented and uncertain one feels.  For the room seems to move.  The idea behind the piece is trauma and politics and the title plays on the idea of a lenient term in prison.  It is very disconcerting and very effective.

Impenetrable (2009) is equally intriguing.  From a distance this installation gives the appearance of an ethereal cube suspended in air but as one gets closer the work reveals its menacing aspect.  It is composed of hundreds of barbed wire rods dangling from fishing wire.  It is hostile and threatening evoking associations with conflict, violence, prisons and state authority.  As with many of Hatoum’s works it seems quite innocent initially but is reveals itself to be psychologically charged.

These are typical of Hatoum’s art and clearly demonstrate the most interesting aspect of her work; their effect on the viewer.  They draw you in, play with your perceptions and leave an unsettling feeling.  The exhibition has met with mixed reviews,  however I personally believe it is well worth seeing.
The Mona Hatoum exhibition is currently on at the Tate Modern in London until 21st August 2016.  For more information and tickets visit:  http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

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Under the radar exhibitions in London – Anwar Shemza

Away from London’s headline grabbing exhibitions there are always a wonderful selection of smaller shows; the challenge is how to find them.  The exhibition of Anwar Shemza’s work is a great example of a small under-the-radar show.  His works are bold and colourful and combine Asian and Western influences and this year the Tate Modern has dedicated one of its smaller rooms to his work in a free exhibition.  

Anwar Shemza was already an established artist and writer in his home country when he moved to Britain in 1956 to study art. His relocation changed everything for him and his new life in Britain lead him to completely re-examine his approach to his art; eventually abandoning everything he had done before.  As he adapted himself to his new surrounds and culture he increasingly immersed himself in Islamic art, making a study of its form from different periods.  His new life and studies took him to look for what he called his “own identity”, which manifested itself in an illustrative approach to his work.  He fused Islamic motifs with western abstraction to create rich and complex works, often layering post-war geometric abstraction with Arabic calligraphic forms.  The effects are striking and the exhibition at the Tate provides a rare glance at his vivid and imaginative work.

A selection of the work of Anwar Shemza is on display at The Tate Britain in London until autumn 2016.  For more information about visiting this free exhibition visit:  http://www.tate.org.uk/

Anwar Shemza

Discovering Giorgione and the birth of Venetian Renaissance Painting

For much of history Venice has been associated the arts, culture and trade.  In the late 15th Century the Venetian art scene was highly influential and began to develop a very specific style, which we now call the Venetian School. This style, which had never been seen before and was considered revolutionary at the time, was sensual, poetic and colourful. It is now credited with changing the course of European Art.

A key artist of the time was Giorgione and whilst the name Giorgione probably means very little to most people, he is believed to have been one of the cornerstones of the movement that we now recognise as the Venetian school of Renaissance painting.  This spring the Royal Academy of the Arts in London has dedicated their Sackler Gallery to exploring his works and this influential moment in art history.  

The works of Giorgione are rare and many can not travel. So his influence and the beginnings of the innovations that marked the new era of Venetian art are explored through the work of the artists who were in his circle at the time such as Bellini, Durer, Titian, Cariani and Sebastiano del Piombo, as well as his own.  Together these works map out the development of the key characteristics that we associate with Venetian Renaissance paintings.  We see how these artists start to introduce the idea of capturing a sitter’s mood in their portraits.  Symbolic objects are included in the paintings to try to conveyed the emotional state of the individual, not just their physical attributes.  We also see the introduction of landscapes.  In the early sixteenth century landscapes did not exist as a genre.  Yet, here we see their introduction into portrait painting, initially they are backdrops then they gradually become more prominent in the works until they start to have a direct relationship with the key figures of the painting, as in the Myth of the Birth and Death of Adonis, which is on show in the exhibition.

The exhibition is small but packs a powerful punch and it has been perfectly curated to show how this little known period of art history came to shape the work of some of the most famous names in Renaissance art.

‘In the age of Giorgione’ is showing at the Royal Academy of Art in London until the 5th June 2016.  For more information and tickets visit:  www.royalacademy.org.uk

Giorgione
Knight and Groom

Painting the Modern Garden at The RA in London

“The richness I achieve comes from nature, the source of my inspiration” – Claude Monet

Nature has long been the inspiration of artists.  It’s vibrant colours, varied textures and exuberant characteristics speak a special language to anyone who wishes to listen.  The garden is people’s attempt to bring nature closer, our own interpretation of nature’s glory.  Artists throughout the ages have been fascinated by gardens and it is no real surprise that the Impressionist’s passion for the garden landscape accompanied the gardening fever that swept through society in the 19th century.  It was during this period that there was a great horticultural revolution in which plants shook off the restrictive bonds that had previously bound them to the scientific community.  Information about plants and gardens became more easily accessible and the middle class began to take a real interest in plants and soon gardening as a hobby was born.

The current exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London celebrates the painting of the modern garden and illustrates how gardens have ignited the imagination of artists over the years.  Central to the exhibition are Monet’s works and his gardens, from his early days at Argenteuil in the 1870 until his death at Giverny in Gustav Klint1926.  However the exhibition is not restricted to Monet’s paintings, it explores a wide range of works from many other artists from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century including John Singer Sargent, Karl Nordström, Max Liebermann, Paul Klee, Gustav Klint, Raoul Dufy, Emil Noble and Matisse to name just a few.  

The exhibition is quite simply glorious.  It is immersive and inspiring, transporting us to a place of great beauty and peace.  The big coup of the exhibition is to be found right at the end and oddly enough by the time one reaches the final room most of the crowds have dispersed, leaving the room perfect for reflection and the pure enjoyment of Monet’s enormous Water Lilies panels.  

Monet made many paintings of his water lilies and their pond over the years, he donated 12 magnificent canvasses to France after the war, which are still on display at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris.  However, three of the most beautiful panels from the original scheme, the Agapanthus triptych (1916-1926) were sold off  by Monet’s estate around 1950.  They were purchased separately by 3 American Museums, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Saint Louise Art Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, who have generously lent these great works to the Royal Academy’s exhibition.  It is the first time that these canvasses have been reunited and they make for exceptional viewing.  In the same room, on the opposite wall is the Tate’s own Water-Lilies, Nymphéas.  To see these panels here, together is nothing less than a chance of a lifetime.

As Claude Monet once said: “I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers” 

Painting the Modern Garden:  Monet to Matisse is on until 20th April 2016 at the Royal Academy of Art in London  Click here for more information:  https://www.royalacademy.org.uk

Monet's Water Lilies Agapanthus triptych
Monet’s Water Lilies Agapanthus triptych (1916-1926)

Alexander Calder – art in motion

“Just as one can compose colors, or forms, so one can compose motions.”  Alexander Calder

Even if the name Alexander Calder means nothing to you, it is likely you are familiar with the Flensted mobiles that are sold in museums, galleries and trendy design shops across the world and which imitate his work.

Alexander Calder (1898 – 1976) was an American sculptor who was the first to use wire to create three-dimensional line “drawings” of people, animals, and objects.  Yet today the work of Alexander Calder has been largely forgotten and become critically under appreciated.  The new exhibition at the Tate Modern sets out to rectify this by focusing on Calder’s pioneering approach to sculpture.  He was the first artist to introduce movement into sculpture and by doing so he challenged many traditional assumptions about the medium.   The exhibition puts a spotlight on his work from the 1930s and 1940s, when he created non-mechanized hanging, standing and wall-mounted mobiles, whose movements were driven by natural air currents.

Calder began using wire to produce linear portraits and figurative sculptures in the mid-1920s after he had left Art College and first introduced movement into his work in a performance piece called Calder’s Circus, where he set in motion the many different characters and animals he had created.  Unfortunately Calder’s Circus is not included in the exhibition because it cannot travel, but it is on permanent display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.  Calder later began to produce motorized works which eventually evolved into the hanging pieces we know today as his “mobiles”.  A real turning point for Calder came when he visited Piet Modrian’s studio in Paris in 1930.  What he saw inspired him to move from figuration to abstraction and led him to create what are now considered some of his greatest works.

The exhibition space at the Tate Modern is perfect for Calder’s work; the large airy rooms allow the mobiles to floating in the space they require to show off their inherent beauty.   They move hypnotically, throwing shadows on the white walls and creating a spectral kind of shadow theatre in each gallery.  There are around 100 works spread over 11 galleries and at times if feels as if these eerie, ethereal structures live and breathe the space they occupy.

This is the first major retrospective of Alexander Calder’s work to be held in the UK and it is a delight to see his delicately, balanced arrangements displayed to such great effect.

Alexander Calder – Performing Sculpture is on at the Tate Modern in London until 3rd April 2016.  For more information visit:  http://www.tate.org.uk/

Alexander-Calder-Fishtank

Giacometti – his paintings and sculptures

Giacometti’s paintings and sketches are hauntingly beautiful.  They show the grace of shape and form and clearly demonstrate the shape and form as seen by an artist.  This, as the exhibition explores, is very different from what one sees in real life.

Giacometti is well-known for his sculptures, which are characteristically very tall and thin and since the sale of his 1961 bronze “Walking Man I” to billionaire Lily Safra for £65 million (then $103.4 million), he has become a much sought after celebrity artist.

Giacometti was a painter, a draughtsman and a printmaker, as well as a sculptor and in the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London we meet Giacometti the painter.  The exhibition traces his work from his earliest paintings and sculptures through his time in Paris to his final years.

It is through this work that we get closer to the artist, in his paintings it is easier to see the man and how his life shaped his art.  Giacometti focused on his family and close friends for his paintings. He painted the same subjects over and over again; his brother Diego and his mother were two of his favourite subjects and we encounter their portraits throughout the exhibition.  In fact Giacometti was obsessed by recording how people looked to him.  He was fascinated by what he saw as he created and how it differed from copying exactly what he saw.  He constantly explored what could be copied exactly and what was created by what is seen.  He wanted to understand how to realise the abstract from the imitated form.

There are over sixty works on display, including sculptures and we see how his paintings and sculptures underwent the same treatment;  appearing in isolation, severely attenuated, a result of continuous reworkings.  The results whether they are on canvas or in bronze are the same, simple, beautiful and mesmerizing.

Giacometti – Pure Essence is on at the National Portrait Gallery in London until 10th January 2016.  For more information visit:  http://www.npg.org.uk/

Giacometti Sculpture

A resplendent exhibition about Indian fabric

India instantly conjures up the image of incense, colour, music and a vast wealth of elaborately decorated people, palaces and silk bazaars.  It is a place of cultural diversity and a rich tradition of craftsmanship, held together by an incredibly strong thread of Indianness that keeps the country united.  The craftsmanship of the Indian textile industry has been prized around the globe for centuries and the V&A in London has the greatest collection of India textiles in the world.  For the first time ever it has opened its vaults to bring us a resplendent exhibition about Indian fabric, which looks at India’s different traditions of textile making from the third to the twenty-first century.  In ‘The Fabric of India’ the Victoria and Albert Museum has put on display over 200 examples of fabric.  There are pieces that are over 1,000 years old, others from the seventeenth century that show the opulence of the Mughal court alongside the latest designs and creations from our modern day.

The exhibition showcases the different types of fabrics and craftsmanship found across the sub-continent.  It explores regional handicraft techniques and the individual styles of different areas and cultural groups.  It is a feast for the eyes since almost every region has its own textile speciality, whether it is in weave, dye, print or embroidery and we are shown exquisite examples of Ikat dyeing from Odisha; shal weaving from Kashmir; and block printing from Rajasthan, just to name a few.

Woven into the visual splendour of the exhibition is the complex story of the importance of Indian fabric to the country’s identity.  It is the spinning wheel that is at the centre of India’s national flag and part of the exhibition explores the significance of weaving and cloth to the countries social history by focusing on India’s Independence movement; then there is a whole room dedicated to religion and cloth;  whilst in yet another room the influence of India’s textile design, manufacturing and trade is shown mapped out across the globe; then in the final rooms we get to look at the more recent use of material and fabric in India’s modern art movement, installations and fashion.

The exhibition is a must for anyone with an interest in India; textile design; fashion; or the importance of cloth in India’s social history.  The exhibition shows how India’s tradition of textile making has shaped the nation and the wider world.  It gives us a glimpse at the past, present and future of textiles and introduces us to the new generation of Indian designers who are re-discovering their rich heritage and traditional craftsmanship.  These new artists and designers are re-imagining these older traditions for the modern world and creating a new generation of textiles for the global consumer who eagerly awaits the next new thing.

The Fabric of India exhibition is now on at the Victoria & Albert until 10 January 2016.  For more information about visiting the exhibition go to:  http://www.vam.ac.uk/

Exhibition: Audrey Hepburn

Who can resist the idea of seeing 3 rooms filled with the iconic images of Audrey Hepburn? She must surely be one of the world’s most recognisable female figures, alongside Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy, Elizabeth Taylor and our modern era muse, Kate Moss. 

Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was an actress, model and fashion icon.  Her looks broke the mould and it’s appeal persists today, her silhouette and influence are easily seen in today’s fashion editorials and photoshoots.  Her talent as an actress took her from a humble West End show girl to a Hollywood star.  She made about 30 films during her career and whilst she may not have always chosen the best films, her performances were always outstanding.  She added a unique sense of authenticity and warmth to her characters.

This summer, at London’s National Portrait Gallery, visitors are treated to a glimpse of her life told through images.  From her early years as a chorus dancer on London’s West End stage through to her laters years when she dedicated herself to her charitable work.

The images on display have been carefully selected from a range of sources including the private collections of her sons, Sean Hepburn Ferrer and Luca Dotti.  There are images from her early childhood, her films and some of her most iconic photo shoots.  The names behind the cameras are legends in their own right too, with images taken by leading twentieth-century photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn. 

However, there are large portions of her life that are absent and little to give us any insight into her personal life, with the exception of the final room where there is a small selection of beautiful pictures taken of her on her philanthropic trips in Africa.  In this room too is a wall dedicated to her appearances on the front cover of Life Magazine, this assemblage of images helps to fill-in a little more detail about the trajectory of her career in the public eye.

So whilst we have the opportunity to look once more at one of the world’s most photographed woman, Audrey Hepburn herself evades us.  Rather the exhibition reinforces the mystery that surrounds her as a very private individual and one is struck by just how carefully she managed her image. This does not make the exhibition any less enjoyable, just a little uneventful.  At the same time it is delightful and a lovely way to spend a few hours.

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon is on at the National Portrait Gallery in London until the 18th October 2015. For more information and tickets go to: http://www.npg.org.uk/

Classic portrait of Audrey Hepburn
Classic portrait of Audrey Hepburn

Barbara Hepworth retrospective in London

Hepworth (1903-1975) is best known for her flowing sculptures inspired by organic shapes and contours of nature.  She is considered one of Britain’s most important artists alongside Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Francis Bacon and is credited with helping to pioneer modern art in the country.  The retrospective Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World, takes a look at the woman behind the art and how she rose to be an international figure, whose work is on show around the world.

The high points of the exhibition are definitely concentrated in the final two galleries: Guarea and Pavillion.  Here are the larger sculptures from the mid-1950s and 1960s that exemplify Hepworth’s style, spirit and love of landscape.  The Guarea room houses some of the sculptures she carved from the tropical hardwood, Guarea, many of which were inspired by a trip to Greece after the death of her son.

In the Pavilion room, the Tate has tried to recreate an exhibition space originally designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1965.  Rietveld, an architect, was commissioned to design a space to specifically exhibit sculptures.  Originally in Arnhem’s Sonsbeek Park in Holland, it was inaugurated with an exhibition of Hepworth’s bronzes.  Hepworth loved the space describing the Pavilion as being an ideal setting for her large abstract bronzes.

The preceding galleries act as scene setters, providing insight into her life and showing some of her smaller works alongside those of her contemporaries.  This is interesting to see, but the works that gained her recognition as an internationally acclaimed artist are too few and those that are on display seem suffocated in the Tate’s space.  It is easy to see why she always insisted that her work should be seen outside, ‘allowed to breathe’ outdoors as she put it.

The Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World is on at the Tate Britain in London until 25th October 2015.  For more information visit:  www.tate.org.uk

Other places to see collections of her sculptures include:

Hepworth Wakefield:  http://www.hepworthwakefield.org/ and

The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden:  http://www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-st-ives/barbara-hepworth-museum

Both of the above have gardens and show her work out-of-doors.

Barbara Hepworth

The magical workings of a curious mind – Joseph Cornell’s Wanderlust

Walking into the Wanderlust exhibition is like entering an old curiosity shop full of resplendent, yet commonplace memorabilia. The things we recognise from the world around us have been transformed into ideas, memories, fantasies & dreams.  Each room is filled with creations made from everyday items that in Cornell’s hands have taken on a magical form and curious surreal meaning.  The works are intricate.  The detail and precision of arrangement, extraordinary, which makes this an extremely gratifying exhibition to see.

Born in 1903 in New York, Cornell did not draw, paint or sculpt and declined opportunities to train in traditional artistic methods.  Neither did he travel, preferring instead to be an “armchair voyager”.  Yet, his knowledge of the world was extraordinary and the imagery of travel permeates his works.

Cornell is best known for his boxed assemblages of objects.  These usually take the form of simple shadow boxes with a glass pane in which he arranged eclectic fragments of photographs or objects he collected on his foraging expeditions around New York.  Many of his boxes, such as the famous Medici Slot Machine boxes and the Museum series (1949), are interactive and were meant to be handled.  Although we are denied this pleasure today, it is easy to imagine the joy of handling such objects.

As well as his remarkable boxes, Cornell made assemblages, collages, films and enigmatic objects small enough to fit in the palm

Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell bubble set

of your hand.  In his work he mixed everything together: high-brow art and low-brow culture; the ancient and modern world; science, art and spirituality.  His work followed no particular discipline and he never associated himself with any artistic movement.  Although through his work, he had links with Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Minimalism and was admired by many artists from these movements.  Today his influence is everywhere and you don’t need to have studied art to see where Damian Hirst got some of his ideas.  In fact, Cornell’s art has never been more relevant and scores of modern artists, poets and musicians draw inspiration from this unique American artist.

Put simply the exhibition is a treasure trove of objects and ideas. Through each work one is transported into another world and given the rare privilege of looking at the world through the fascinating lens of an amazing artist.

The Joseph Cornell Wanderlust exhibition is on at The Royal Academy of the Arts in London until 27th September 2015, after which it moves to the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

For more information visit:  www.royalacademy.org.uk and http://www.khm.at/

Boxed assemblages