Thursday, November 30, 2006

New Contemporaries 06

This year's talent-spotting roundup benefits immensely from being housed in the old school building on Club Row, part of the organisation's new office premises based at Rochelle School, just behind Redchurch Street. It's a large two storey building with several well proportioned rooms, some warreny corridors, an atmospheric upstairs space and just the right level of dishevelment to make art sing. The work this year is the usual mixed up bag of art school obsessions that tends to reflect the movement of the art marfket more generally. So there are abstract/conceptual films (the best being Tom Price's subtle animation of naturalistic heads, like an animated Warhol screen test), colourful blobby paintings, large lumpy sculptures etc etc. There is a definite sense of materials being important once again, with a lot of handmade or hand crafted objects and very very few arm's length dematerialised projects. The Royal College and Goldsmiths dominate procedings as usual.

A few pieces stood out for me: a large unapologetic print of donkeys, the shelf of paper cut out sculptures like the results of a kid's workshop, the animation mentioned above, Jessie Flood-paddock's (great name!) Philip Guston inspired clay sculptures, and finally Laura Morrison's paintings and painted objects (see image above) that struck the right balance between all sorts of different poles (interestingly she is a graduate of the Chelsea Diploma course which had such a good degree show earlier this year, bettering the MA by some distance). The show makes no great claims for itself. It's just a collection of stuff that caught the selectors' eye. But it works as a purely aesthetic experience and resembles nothing so much as a really good disparate MA student exhibition.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

David Smith at Tate Modern

Another panegyric for the Tate I'm afraid: the David Smith exhibition is quite simply a great show. There's plenty of work from all phases of his career, but not too much that you get swamped and end up sick of the stuff. The rooms are nicely sequenced and very carefully hung, with plenty of empty space around the sculptures to enjoy. The ones that demand or suggest a frontal view are placed a few feet in front of plain walls, usually lined up nicely so that you get a sightline from the entrance as you progress through the galleries.

Room 5 is just beautiful, showing the work that he made on a Guggenheim fellowship that is generally considered to be a breakthrough into larger scale and more lyrical pieces. Hudson River Landscape and Australia (pictured above) in particular are just masterpieces!

Compare and contrast with the rather dowdy William Turnbull display in the central atrium at Tate Britain currently, where a whole range of interesting work is lost against the huge scale and distracting walls. Modernist sculpture might have been exactly what the slightly chalky white cube rooms of Tate Modern were designed for.

Perverted drawing

I'll admit that I don't reverently read every word of every press release that I get sent, indeed that sometimes I turn up to an exhibition not knowing the slightest thing about what to expect. I wandered into the Whitechapel a week or two ago sort of by accident, I was passing and thought 'oh well, may as well take a look at the Hans Bellmer show and whatever is downstairs at the same time'. The name Pierre Klossowski was a new one to me, but I guessed that he was someone working in Europe today, producing these very large scale drawings of nudes, sado-masochistic scenes and general perversity in a retro style that recalls Art Deco, Symbolism etc. In addition there were a few fibreglass statues, essentially real life versions of the drawings, that brought to mind the Chapman Brothers in their spooky creepiness. It seemed like the work of a contemporary artist in thrall to the glamour of deviant sexuality (in the strict Freudian sense, I'm not making any moral judgments about this) and probably with half an eye on the lucrative market in semi-erotic wall decoration that keeps the galleries bubbling along.

Anyway, turned out that this Klossowski was the elder brother of Balthus, and lived through the Surrealist era being born in Paris in 1905 and dying as recently as 2001. The pairing with Bellmer upstairs was fairly interesting, if only to bring out the familiar twentieth century themes of the self and its fashionable dissolution through sex (Foucault was a fan apparently, when he could drag himself away from the nightclubs) and power games. The Bellmer show had some good looking drawings which I enjoyed if only to give us a break from his bloody doll's body. I don't know. Surrealism has had a bit of a critical reappraisal lately, from the Hayward show based on Bataille to the Tate Modern rehang and that heavyweight book Art Since 1900 by the October crew - but Hans Bellmer was never the strongest artist and this Klossowski ends up just looking like an enthusiastic amateur. At least Louise Bourgeouis has extended her formal range somewhat over the years and isn't still trying to actually live in the 1930s!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

RIP Arts Council

Victoria Miro was packed out last night at a party that seemed more like a wake, marking the mass defections from ACE visual arts that have occurred recently. Anyone who had any sort of interesting opinion on contemporary art was essentially given the boot, from Marjorie Althorpe-Guyton on downwards. Four out of the five departmental head have left in total (visual art, theatre, dance & literature), alongside Chief Executive Peter Hewitt who is expected to go in 2008, and many others. The atmosphere of anger and despair at all this was palpable, with quite impassioned speeches easily crossing the line of diplomatic discreteness. Put together with the withdrawal of funding from some of our major national gallery spaces (only the interesting ones, the mainstream is free to prosper of course) and the picture is worse than alarming. Why, even Matt’s Gallery – surely the best gallery in London to anyone who knows anything about art – is threatened with closure as ACE has decided it should now be successful enough to earn more of its revenue commercially. But doh! The non-commercial nature of Matt’s has always been its major selling point, right? Who ARE theses people?

Word has it that Chairman Sir Christopher Frayling is playing the role of ineffectual patsy, allowing the ministers to push through their social inclusion agenda at the cost of intellectual rigour, critique, high culture and all that arty farty nonsense… At a recent meeting of the National Council David Lammy MP went so far as to suggest “stretching the content of the arts envelope to include different aspects of social cohesion”. In other words, less cash for contemporary art, more cash for fucking kid’s workshops!

This government started so well, with Chris Smith, free museum entry and all that. But a narrow interpretation of widening participation that is fixated with spoon feeding young people and the socially excluded has brought us to this terrible, frightening situation. Is no one going to stand up for the virtues of hardcore intellectualism? What about aspiration? Why should we only look forward to a culture that gives everyone equal access to dumbed-down spectacu-tainment-style art (Serota’s phrase “experience vs interpretation") when we could be trying to sustain and build the best intellectual climate in the world?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Power 100

We received a nice email from the web editor of Art Review asking us to promote the annual Power 100 list. Cut out their faces and pin to your studio walls, folks, so that you can't fail to recognise the powerful elite pulling the strings that make us all twitch to the beat of the sound of money changing hands. I just thank god that Frieze weekend is over and we can all get back to normal. It isn't natural seeing so many tanned and super-skinny people in London, where we're meant to be bloated and if anything slightly blue in colour. The Power 100 amusingly has Google at number 100 for some reason. Other than that it's the usual list of dealers, curators and collectors, with a few blue chip artists thrown in for luck. Ultimately, it means nothing. None of these people will ever impinge on your pathetic pointless life.

We are obliged to point out that other art magazines are commercially available.
Art Review (new design in the style of GQ, fully downloadable)
Art Monthly (black and white is awlright!)
Frieze (brrrrrrrr)
ArtForum (the oldest and the best)

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fischli & Weiss Tate Modern

I'd love to be one of those cynical hardbitten bloggers who is constantly having a go at the establishment and raving about the state of things. But, I can't help it, the Tate have put on another great exhibition with Fischli & Weiss! Navigating your way round a few black rubber casts, you enter a huge space with double exposure flower photos hung from floor to ceiling, around some impressively large prints of their airport series. The hang really works, and sets the tone for room after room of great work presented just how you might like to see it presented.

The "Suddenly this overview" series of small clay models, for instance, are shown on a forest of white plinths crammed together so that you almost have to force your way through them, bending to read the titles and getting involved with the details of each piece. Must be a nightmare to invigilate. This series is pretty typical of the duo's work. It's like seeing someone's brain being shaken out so that every idea, ideal concept, half remembered image or stereotype falls on to the floor. In fact their practice could be where the rival discourses of visual culture and art theory coincide. You can see it in "Visible world" (which is becoming an old favourite at the Tate now, so many times has it been shown or lent out) the collection of 3000+ archetypal photographs. You can see it in the heterogeneity/indiscriminateness of everything they do.

Their famous chain reaction film is shown together with a documentary about making it (to underline the chronology of their ownership of the much-copied concept?) which is actually great because you can switch screens during the longeurs of a bubbling chemical reaction. And I had never seen the slide projection piece of multilingual questions. Simple but effective.

It's all here: handmade fake studio installation, animal costume films, carved objects, balanced sculpture photos. Plus, in the leaflet, a none too subtle underlining of the fact that (in case anyone should get the wrong idea) they aren't gay! Classic.

Push your way through the crowds flocking to Holler's slides and visit this well presented, inspiring show.
PS Tate gallery press officers can post a cheque to CLAB, PO Box etc etc etc

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Turner Prize exhibition 2006

Reasons why Rebecca Warren should win the Turner this year: her work has been so successful that it has started to stand for success and Warren-ism when in fact it stands for doubt, uncertainty and tentativeness. She has put loads of her brilliant vitrines full (well, hardly full, but you know what I mean) of bits of crap, dust and hair in the Tate show rather than just relying on her figurative sculptures. She's a woman, we need more women to win. She makes great plinths (eat her dirt, Gareth Jones). She is not afraid to take risks by taking something that fell off the side of a sculpture and sticking it on the wall (I once saw her exhibiting the boards that she had been using to stand here clay figures on). It's her turn. Mark Titchner is useless and increasingly megalomaniacal (Rotoreliefs??). Tomma Abts must be rich already from selling paintings, and in fact they're a bit boring aren't they? And who's great idea was it to let Phil Collins build an office in the gallery? Puhlease.

Did you read mad Lynn barber in the Observer spilling the beans on her year as a Turner Prize judge? Apart from the measly £250 travel allowance, what was most notable was that Barber took no interest in the discourse surrounding art, and of course found that she was as ignorant at the end of the year as at the start. She should have spent her £250 on some magazine subscriptions. Hilariously, she also revealed herself to be somewhat racist (by assuming that only people with British sounding names were British, sorry Haluk, Zineb, Zarina, Ergin etc..) and also strangely parochial (she had never previously been east of Hackney or south of Bankside! Predictably she went looking for a painter and found Abts. Ah well. I found it rather sad that she didn't want to engage in the dialogue around art since that's where all the interesting stuff goes on. Consequently she ended up with the opinion that it's all a bit of a fix, when really she was simply not interested in taking part in conversation.

You'll believe a Steamroller can Fly!

After the grand but ultimately rather sedate set of Californian streetlamps at the South London Gallery, it's good that Burden has finally managed to put on a piece with some clout in the UK (remember the model plane machine fiasco at Tate Britain?). On the windswept parade ground at Chelsea College sits a huge set up. 12 tonne yellow steamroller, thick platform of chippings, scaffolding towers and a huge swinging arm with hefty conterweight. Every half hour a guy starts up the engine and slooooowly drives the steamroller around in a big circle. He changes gears, puts his foot down, picks up speed until it must be going at - ooh - 8mph? Then the arm lifts up and he switches off the engine.

The steamroller and driver spin round sedately a couple of times in silence before gently landing and rolling to a halt. Round of applause from gathered audience. This is everything it sets out to be: performance, sculpture, impressive feat of engineering, spectacular event, ridiculous proposition... one of the best things I've seen all year. Also strangely low key, but that's part of the problematic. When resources are poured into getting something done, it gets done, and then the thing doesn't seem like such a big deal after all, although at first it seemed impossible. CLAB would like to personally thank Chris Burden for letting us see a flying steamroller once in our lives! Thanks Chris.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Sarah Kent to go?

As thousands of arts workers surreptitiously scanned the ads in this Monday's Guardian in search of a better paypacket, there it was... the ad that no one ever expected to see in this lifetime. Time Out magazine is looking for a new Visual Arts Editor to sit in Kenty's plush orthopedic throne. The applicant needs to be "a brilliant writer and razor sharp critic with a strong, opinionated voice". A "formidable" contacts book is also required, presumably with a large restaurant section.

Sarah Kent has been at the forefront of the London art scene for decades. Her book "Shark Infested Waters" effectively validated the Saatchi collection in terms of critical writing, and no matter how many reviews in Frieze you get, everyone knows that even a bad write up in Time Out brings in the punters like nothing else. The halcyon days of the late nineties are long gone however and the recent changes to the magazine seem to have dulled the quality of the reviews somewhat. Perhaps some fresh blood will sharpen them up once more. There are no obvious contenders for the job, which requires good art nous as well as the sensibility of a weekly hack... so my money is on an inside candidate possibly Helen Sumpter?