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Archive for the ‘Exhibition Reviews’ Category

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I had great fun at Tate Modern a couple of days ago, courtesy of Robert Morris and Bodyspacemotionthings. The interactive installation, which is essentially a playground made out of plywood, rubber and ropes, first opened in 1971, only to be closed four days later because the crowd went a bit bonkers. This time round, Tate has made some health and safety adjustments, so I didn’t see anyone bounce off the walls or get a splinter in the bum.

It was 5pm. The Turbine Hall was filled with a few children, and a lot of adults. I watched a man in an expensive suit proudly make his way along the balancing beam. French tourists queued up to climb the walls. Everyone was giggling at themselves and each other. Even the gallery assistants seemed more relaxed than normal.

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My friend Gabi was a willing volunteer

 

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It is possibly the least thought-provoking work to be installed in the Turbine Hall so far, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

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Introducing Annette Messager– my new favourite artist. Ok, I’m a little late to the table with this one, since her retrospective at the Hayward Gallery, London, opened at the beginning of March. But I have to say it’s the best exhibition I’ve seen in a long time.

Annette Messager: The Messengers

The striking image used to market the exhibition drew me into the Hayward.

Messager uses all manner of materials – soft toys, stuffed animals, fabrics, photographs and words – to create a feminine, and often strangely beautiful, body of work.

 

The eyes on this promotional poster turned out to be part of a small series, called My Trophies. Messager covers large-scale photographs of parts of the body in doodles, which are reminiscent of tattoos and children’s book illustrations.

Other works worthy of note:

  • Chimaeras – This work meets you at the door, and looks like a spooky nightmare full of evil fairies and bats with human faces.
  • My Vows (Mes voeux)– I have seen this before at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, and it still impresses me now. Hundreds of photos of body parts are hung together to form a circle. The act of layering up the photos makes the chins, ankles, noses and, yes, boobs, seem like a collection of objects.
  • Casino – A sheet of red fabric waves over glowing, aquatic blobs, as if the sea has been turned into a womb. One of the most original works of art I’ve come across.

Annette Messager: The Messengers is on at the Hayward until Monday 25 May.

Read Adrian Searle’s review in the Guardian

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I discovered some art on Friday afternoon after being turfed off the bus three stops before Waterloo (the driver told us the bus “had to” terminate there, instead of at the station – no explanation). Just under the arches, on London’s South Bank, is Topolski Century, a huge panorama reflecting the life and interests of the Polish artist Feliks Topolski.

The word “FREE” written across the window drew me in, and a friendly receptionist explained that the panorama had been closed for a £3m refurbishment. It has only just reopened to the public.

Inside, a 600 ft-long mural snakes around the walls. According to the exhibition guide, it “contains the iconic historic figures and the significant political and significant events he chronicled in a life spanning decades.”

Feliks Topolski was born in Warsaw in 1907 and in 1933 began a series of journeys around Europe. In 1935, he settled in London and became an official war artist. After the war, he travelled to India, Burma, China, Palestine, Syria and Irap. In 1975, he began recording his observations on the panorama.

While the sheer size of the panorama is impressive, and the atmosphere in the exhibition space suitably dark and sombre, I don’t like Topolski’s style of painting. It looks unfinished, and amateur.

And it’s a shame it isn’t easier to make out some of the characters: Winston Churchill, Bob Dylan, Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers, Chairman Mao. Hundreds of influential figures in history.

However, although I didn’t enjoy Topolski’s style, I would recommend a visit to the exhibition. The artist died in London in 1989, but you can still feel his presence in Topolski Century. As if at any given moment, you might stumble across him putting the finishing touches to a portrait of Elvis .

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A new installation by Mircea Cantor featuring two Indian Blue peacocks trapped inside a gilded cage opened at the Camden Arts Centre on Thursday. Since then, animal rights campaigners and art experts have voiced predictable concerns about the animals’ welfare. But cruelty is just one part of the argument against putting animal life in Cantor’s hands. The real problem with this work is its startling lack of originality.

Mircea Cantor: The Need for Uncertainty (2009)

Mircea Cantor: The Need for Uncertainty (2009)

The installation is called The Need for Uncertainty, and, according to the accompanying brochure: “Cantor enacts an extravagant act of displacement that […] is physically and psychologically unsettling.” In other words, by placing peacocks in an art gallery setting, the artist is trying to confound our expectations. Because they’re inside and in Britain, right, not outside in India where they belong.

Using two peacocks to represent displacement is the worst kind of cliché. It is visual laziness. Peacocks are obvious symbols of exoticism and migration, and Cantor does nothing to subvert this. He is also following in a tradition of using animals as artistic metaphors. It has been done before, and to much greater effect.

Just nine years ago, for example, Marco Evaristti placed 10 goldfish into blenders at the Trapholt Art Museum, Denmark, and invited visitors to decide whether to press the “on” button. The Union of the Protection of Animals complained and, after consulting a veterinarian, local police removed the artwork. Yet the courts ruled in favour of the gallery, and the installation was later reinstated.

Evaristti said his goldfish blenders, which caused a public outcry at the time, were meant to highlight “beauty’s transience”. In fact, the installation said more about our relationship with animals, and our sense of superiority over them. The fact that at least five visitors whizzed up goldfish puree speaks volumes. Regardless of whether the artist was right or wrong to create this opportunity in the first place, at least it made a point.

Compared to this, Cantor’s peacocks say very little.

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Russia has given birth to its own art, and its name it non-objectivity. Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1918.

Liubov Popova (1889-1924) and Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) believed art was not just something to look at in a gallery: They believed it had a social purpose. Against the background of the Bolshevik Revolution, the young Russians rejected Realism (their country’s tradition) in favour of a new movement, Constructivism. As this new exhibition at Tate Modern, Defining Constructivism, shows, the Constructivists thought art could do more than just depict subjects as they appear in everyday life – it could contribute to and change society.

The first half of the exhibition, curated by Margarita Tupitsyn,  leaves you asking the question, “And how, exactly, does this contribute to society?” Rodchenko’s and Popova’s early experiments with abstraction are too similar to compare and contrast. Most of the work on show appears to be just another example of abstract art – attractive, but arguably meaningless.

However, the second half of the exhibition comes to life, as it shows Rodchenko and Popova’s forays into advertising, textiles, theatre, film and poster design. Both artists, for example, produced propaganda and educational posters. This is where the history of the Russian Revolution seeps into their work. The poster pictured below, in the middle, reads: “The Trade Union is a Blow to Women’s Enslavement, the Trade Union is a Defender of Female Labour.” (c.1925) It was just one of Rodchenko’s many shows of support for the Revolution.

Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism can be seen at Tate Modern, London until 17 May.

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Every three years, Tate Britain holds a Triennial exhibition celebrating current trends in British art. The latest opened on Tuesday and presents new or recent works by 28 British and international artists. It is curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, Gulbenkian Curator of Contemporary Art and the founding director of the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. See previous post for a video of Bourriaud explaining the exhibition’s title, “Altermodern“.

Four hours ago I walked, hood up against the freezing sleet, to Tate Britain to see if it would help me understand the concept of altermodernism. I spent two hours there. I am none the wiser.

Here are some photographs from the exhibition (taken covertly, whenever the gallery stewards looked the other way):

The best bits of the exhibition are:

  1. Ruth Ewan’s ‘Squeezebox Jukebox’ (2009), a massive accordion. I got to Tate Britain just as two volunteers began their daily task of playing songs on it (2pm).
  2. Nathaniel Mellor’s ‘Giantbum’ (2009), a video installation in which a group of actors play explorers, lost inside a giant’s bowels and forced to eat excrement. Round the corner, three talking animatronic heads greet you with crazy eyes (see slideshow above).
  3. A communal beanbag in the first gallery, big enough for a dozen people to slouch on.

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