Gilbert & George
White Cube, Bermondsey
144 —152 Bermondsey Street , London SE1 3TQ , United Kingdom
July 18, 2014 - September 28, 2014
Scapegoats and Masks
by Keren Goldberg
Posted by Keren Goldberg
| tags: photography mixed-media figurative collage London Art
Over sixty new works comprise Gilbert and George’s new series, Scapegoating Pictures for London. As always, the well-known duo, now in their seventies, are the stars of their digital photomontages, which are dissected in their familiar multi-panel geometrical style, and dominated by menacing red, black, and white colors.
The eccentric British and Italian couple is known to use familiar images from their local neighborhood in East London, where they have lived for the past 45 years. Dominating their current series is a favorite recreational drug of young Shoreditch clubbers: small canisters of nitrous oxide, known as "whippets" or "hippie crack." Gathered by the artists during their early morning walks, these bomb-shaped leftovers of nightly mayhem appear in the images in various formats. Superimposed with views of East End streets, they give the images a paranoid atmosphere of urban apocalypse. On top of this, the artists themselves appear as well, but their iconic tweed suits are replaced by shattered bodies, skeletal remains, and impassive puppet body parts. At times, their faces are masked. Other times, they are just dead scary.
Gilbert & George, BODY POPPERS, 2013, 226 x 317 cm; © 2013 Gilbert & George
In this drug-induced-trip-gone-bad, Islamic motifs, particularly Muslim women dressed in traditional niqabs are infused, culminating in the work BRITAIN (2013), which combines statements calling for an "Islamic state for Britain." Some may find this Islamophobic; some may argue this is a warning call for Britain. Whatever it may be—it is extremely politically incorrect. But Gilbert and George have never adhered to British politeness, with their images of naked young boys, their use of their own feces, or their relentless attacks against Christianity. They have never tried to hide their disdain for any kind of religion, and now it’s Islam’s turn.
But rather then being acute critics, holding to either side of the Islam-centered debate, Gilbert and George simply communicate the world around them. This show is reminiscent, in name and content, of London Pictures from 2012, in which the duo used newspaper headlines representing Britain after the 2011 riots, as well as the famous Dirty Words Pictures of 1977, in which they used graffiti taken from the streets near their home. If they are "living sculptures," as they declared themselves shortly after they met in St. Martin's School of Art in 1967, then their neighborhood is their living gallery.
Gilbert & George, NO 33, 2013, 59 7/16 x 50 in. (151 x 127 cm); © 2013 Gilbert & George
One final word on the cult of the artist's personality. With various quotes and manifestos by the artists written on the walls of the gallery, and a documentary film screening in the back room, this show bears slight resemblance to a retrospective. Gilbert and George have always put themselves in the center of their work, but managed to maintain the works, rather than themselves, as the center. While a whole different kind of iconic ritual takes place with the new Marina Abramović piece at the Serpentine Gallery, the uniqueness of the Gilbert and George phenomenon stands out: they are the work, the work is they. The text accompanying the show opens with a quote by Oscar Wilde: "Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth" (1891). Gilbert and George’s personas, as well as the Muslim women’s costumes, are the most authentic things out there. So who is the scapegoat here? Islam? Gilbert and George? No. If anyone, it is probably London.
(Image on top: Gilbert & George, SCAPEGOATING PICTURES FOR LONDON, White Cube Bermondsey, 2014; © Gilbert & George / Photo: Jack Hems)
Alison Jacques Gallery
16-18 Berners Street, London W1, United Kingdom
July 11, 2014 - September 27, 2014
Disintegrating Letters of an Unknown Alphabet
by Thogdin Ripley
Posted by Thogdin Ripley
| tags: surrealism figurative drawing painting
When asked how it felt to be a surrealist in 2002, Dorothea Tanning, Grand Dame of surrealism (read: last surviving surrealist—then 91 years of age) responded “like a fossil,” with all the implications of stone-held lifelessness that description conjures for an art form that was declared definitely dead sixty years prior. Web of Dreams draws its theme from her work with the figure—a broad remit, and ultimately one that serves as a catch-all to present a chronologically wide-ranging sweep through her work, with paintings and drawings concentrated around the mid-50s to the 1980s.
Dorothea Tanning, Tableau vivant (Living Picture), 1954, Oil on canvas, Unframed: 116.6 x 88.8 cm / Framed: 117.8 x 90.5 x 3.2 cm ; Copyright The Estate of Dorothea Tanning
The dream-life represented in these works—unmolested by the logic of the daytime—is, in the main, still as absolutely fresh and un-fossilized as it must have been when she created it: a haunting of the subconscious that may age, but does not necessarily date. Among the human figures to be found amassed here in varying stages of actuality stalks a strange, doe-eyed canine biped, a veristic dream-dog from the pages of a forgotten almanac. It's faded cartoon Americana coughed into the unwaking world, as surprisingly untraditional a dream symbol as its appearance is prochronistic in its apparent subversion of kitsch. The figure returns variously throughout the exhibition. In Tableau Vivant this motley character stares out directly at the viewer, the dish-lenses pleading infinity whilst simultaneously reflecting references from the earliest anthropomorphism. It appears in direct contrast to the realism of the naked female figure that it looms over—supporting, or alternatively encroaching on, menacing. Again and again, Tanning places the viewer in this uncomfortable position; three, or four times removed from reality, one finds oneself staring into the eyes of this beast, puzzling at a loose cipher for every childhood toy, and all the concomitant trust that implies, and feeling oneself reaching for a sense of conscious logic that continues to elude. (In the eponymous painting Web of Dreams, the canine form relaxes on a curved sofa with a proto-Venus, her limbs carrying out to indefinite tangles of flesh, bacon rind against the draped cushions. In the background there seems to be the glow of molten lava). As Tanning is quoted at the entrance to the show: “My dreams are studded with objects that have no relation to anything in the dictionary… I insist words are powerless to describe a slept dream.”
Of the seven large paintings that adorn the main room of the gallery, four feature the strange progress of the toytown dream-dog, whilst the others present Tanning’s reworking of the human form. Of these, Notes for an Apocalypse—which is the central picture of the exhibition both in its placing and its command over the surrounding works—presents the viewer with an unsettling scene: tumbling bodies, reminiscent of antiquity, jostle and fall into darkness, upsetting the clean, flat expanse of a tablecloth that runs uncrumpled along the length of the painting. One holds a nearly hidden ball of fire, and is beset by a lurking, flabby death’s-head. The sense of weight and disaster is palpable. Limbs become liquid. The effect is terrifying.
Dorothea Tanning, Poses en dehors de l'atelier, 1977, Watercolor and graphite on paper, Unframed: 48.3 x 61.6 cm / Framed: 72.5 x 83.8 cm; Copyright The Estate of Dorothea Tanning
Other rooms present smaller ink drawings and sketches, where dancing anatomies, ambiguously meaty, cavort and writhe, their poses suggesting a dance of mad celebration—none more so than in the birthday card to her then-husband, Max Ernst, where within the revelers in the strange conga-line reappears the canine fiend, triumphant over its now-vanquished foe. At their most abstract, these figures come close to resembling the disintegrating letters of an unknown language, some portion of the dream that remains for a few moments on waking—cryptic, indecipherable—before fading entirely.
(Image on top: Dorothea Tanning, Notes for an Apocalypse, 1978, Oil on Canvas, Unframed: 124.3 x 163.5 cm / Framed: 126 x 165 x 3 cm; Courtesy of The Artist and Alison Jacques Gallery)
Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN, United Kingdom
June 18, 2014 - September 7, 2014
Three Exhibitions That Are Shaking Up Colour This Summer
by Phoebe Stubbs
Posted by Phoebe Stubbs
| tags: traditional installation painting color pigment Perception Piet Mondrian
The National Gallery’s summer exhibition Making Colour guides the audience through the spectrum of materials used throughout history to create artists’ pigment—from blues, through reds and oranges, to purples. Each room focuses on a specific colour and the multiple materials used to make it over time, from early earth pigments, through lakes (dyes made into pigment) to the new artificial coal tar derived pigments created around the time of the Impressionists. The function of the works on show seems to be to illustrate different pigments and demonstrate how various materials have faded with time and with exposure to light. The work presented, while beautiful, is therefore scattershot, as the exhibition’s focus is mainly demonstrative—a showcase for the work of the National Gallery’s scientific team whose world-leading work on colour conservation has reshaped the way we are able to see works of historical importance. It is a lesson in scientific art history rather than colour as conceptualized by artists.
There are hints about how external pressures and ideologies have shaped what colours were used— such as the well-worn story of the depiction of the virgin Mary in blue because of the expense of lapis lazuli, as in the dazzling painting of The Virgin Mary by Sassoferrato (1640-50)—but less in the actual exhibition about how and why we see colour at all. The video made to accompany the exhibition, however, beautifully links the show’s focus on colour as material to a consideration of how it is perceived. In doing so, it suggests that with colour’s subjective and shifting nature, our critical faculties are required.
Less than two hours by train from London, at Turner Contemporary in Margate, two concurrent exhibitions explore these other ideas of colour in a surprisingly cohesive way for two such distinct artists. The works on show in Mondrian and Colour and Spencer Finch: The skies can’t keep their secret rely on colour’s less precise elements—namely, its subjective interpretation and perception—and as such take up where the National Gallery’s exhibition leaves off. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries' fascination with the concept of colour arguably gave rise to the biggest shift that painting has ever seen: the move to abstraction. Mondrian and Finch prove to be logical stepping-stones on colour in visual art’s journey.
Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), Molen (Mill); The Red Mill, 1911, Oil on canvas, 150 cm x 86 cm.; Collection Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Netherlands © 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA
Mondrian and Colour is not the show one would expect. The first two rooms are all figurative works ranging from landscapes to portraits, which become increasingly vibrant moving through time. Goethe’s and the theosophist’s influence on Mondrian’s colour palette intensified it, showing how, in Mondrian’s own words, he “forsook natural colour for pure colour.” This shift, like the Impressionists before him, demonstrates that perceptual colour is a strange concept and "representation" of colour is anything but simple matching. His almost alarmingly vivid work The Red Mill (1911) stands out when making the mental leap between his landscapes and grids. The painting is composed of almost entirely blue and red and we get the sense that it depicts both a windmill and pure colour as an idea. In the final room of the exhibition, with clear Cubist influence, Mondrian finally condenses his landscapes into blocks of bright hues, and his grids begin to develop—in his words: “a new way to express the beauty of nature.”
Spencer Finch is an obvious choice to accompany this unusual exhibition of Mondrian’s work. His sculptures, photographs, and paintings often take a seemingly simple or everyday perceptual experience and render it utterly transcendent by revealing its complexity, particularly in regard to colour and quality of light. Walking into the room, we are greeted by the large sculpture Passing Cloud (After Constable) (2014), which hovers in the center. Constructed from photographic filters held in place on fishing wire with clothes pegs, it floats, is translucent, and yet seems to hold onto mass, taking up space but hardly being present at all. No artificial light shines on the cloud. The transient light passing through the giant window above affects the artificial cloud’s presence in the room, making it both glow and contain shadows.
Spencer Finch, Passing Cloud (After Constable) / Thank You, fog, 2014 / 2009, Light fixtures, filters, monofilaments and clothes pins / 60 x Archival Inkjet Photographs; © Photo Stephen White; Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery/Galerie Nordenhake Berlin/Stockholm
Finch’s works often deal with vision and how to represent it—a central idea in visual art—capturing fleeting senses and experiences. In Thank You Fog (2009), a series of photographs of dense trees in fog, Finch directly addresses the sense that in looking your eyes can trick you. The imagery, a dark forest, fades in and out of the pictures as you move along them, recalling the process of images developing in a darkroom. Blacks give way to greys and then greens. The more you look, the more you see. These subtle and elegant expressions of the phenomenon of light as witnessed everyday are shown to be sublime, and for Finch, sight is the miracle celebrated by visual art.
These exhibitions seen together neatly elucidate the link between the stuff of pigment, the light reflected from it, and our brain’s subsequent interpretation of that light on the retina. For the sense of seeing ideas in art form and develop, it’s well worth the journey to Margate.
[Image on top: Sassoferrato, The Virgin in Prayer, 1640-50, Oil on canvas, 73 x 57.7 cm.; CourtesyThe National Gallery, London]
Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX, United Kingdom
June 17, 2014 - September 7, 2014
Naked Ladies and More
by Charlotte Jansen
Posted by Charlotte Jansen
| tags: naked figures body nudes figurative sculpture mixed-media
With the world reeling from recent global events that have severly impacted on our collective conscience—the barrage of scenes of manmade destruction, death, and disaster a vivid testimony of the dark side of humanity—visiting The Human Factor at Hayward Gallery was oddly cathartic.
Of course, the curators were not prophets, but in bringing together twenty-five years of sculpture through twenty-five artists they have created a perspicacious and timely exhibition that reflects on something primordial: the beauty, the hilarity, and the awfulness of being human.
Crudely, the show is split into two "moods" over two floors: "dark" and "light." First we get the darkness —the grotesque and incomprehensible side of the human body and the things it can suffer and enact. Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn’s indelible mannequin sculptures were particularly hard-hitting. He turns texture into meaning, and in the crass way he assembles his sculptural works (dirty-looking plastic vitrines, cheap materials) he conveys the horrific obliteration of life. In 4 Women (2008), female mannequins are referenced by number to roughly printed internet pictures of corpses in increasingly extreme states of decomposure. The final picture is so badly deformed that it no longer resembles a body, but rather the terrible texture of the blue foam that engulfs the mannequins in the vitrine. It’s difficult to look at, especially since Hirschhorn selects images of victims of war and violence.
Urs Fischer, Untitled, 2001, Installation view, The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery 2014; © The Artist / Photo Linda Nylind
Moving upstairs, the tone is suddenly lighter—made so by the appearance of works by Ryan Gander and Urs Fischer, two artists who combine humor and the human form. Fischer has said of his ironic skeleton figures that they are "funny characters" rather than symbols of death. His Skinny Sunrise work is primarily about sending up, as too is his brilliant Untitled (2001), one of the most effective pieces in the show. This wax sculpture of a pinkish, lardy female figure progressively melts during the exhibition; Fischer looks back, towards canons of sculptural practice as protest—quite literally creating a "burning effigy"—and forward with his own humorous questions about the way we portray ourselves and our relationship to our own bodies as we’re affected by time. Maurizio Cattelan’s Him is another piece of black comedy in three dimensions, but it can’t be described without spoiling the effect.
There are some problems with placement here—and this perhaps one of the main criticisms of the show. It’s a difficult task to give each sculpture a correct space, while also adhering to the kind of flow by sentiment the exhibition seems to set out. Instead, it sometimes jumps from one emotion to another; the divisions don’t quite allow enough time to digest the impact of each.
Paul McCarthy, That Girl (T.G. Awake), 2012–2013 (detail), Installation view, The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery 2014; Photo Linday Nylind, © Paul McCarthy
When you walk finally into a further subsection, housing Paul McCarthy’s That Girl (2012–2013), another emotion is introduced: awe (mixed with arousal, and confusion). McCarthy is Frankenstein. His three-part work is just amazing. The sculptures are impossibly life-like; you'll only find clues that they’re fake if you stare inside the ears or scrutinize the fingernails. As an artwork, or simply as a feat of craftsmanship, it’s the highlight of the show. Of course, it’s a naked female body, or rather, three naked female bodies, and that raises all the usual questions—but if we share one thing, it’s a fascination with seeing people in the buff, and here you’ve an excuse to stare at a perfectly molded nipple.
There are many concerns and drives in this all-3D show: too many to grapple with simultaneously. However, the overriding feeling when you leave is that the human form is an astonishing vehicle with huge political, sexual, and economic potential. The Human Factor is a sobering reminder of this, a way to make sense of what’s going on around us, good and bad.
[Image on top: Pierre Huyghe, Liegender Frauenakt (Untilled 2011-2012), 2012, Installation view, The Human Factor, Hayward Gallery; © Photo Linda Nylind]