Wednesday, 12 June 2013

London exploits: Whitechapel Gallery and Saatchi exhibitions

A few weeks ago I went to London to ‘help’ hang the third year Fine Art degree students’ exhibition at the Truman Brewery, Brick Lane. I say, ‘help’ when, in fact most of it was hung and looking fabulous by the time I got there (and a good thing too, seeing as I was giving my time for free!) Anyway, those are the circumstances, which meant there was time left over for me to embark on some proper London adventures...drinking....meeting friends and well, seeing some art!

First time on Brick Lane! Busy, but not the same stressful sort of busy that the centre of London feels like. There was some great street art too.

Naturally, as it was my first visit to Brick Lane, it was also therefore my first visit to its’ neighbour the Whitechapel Gallery. A lot bigger than I had thought it would be, it also boasted an impressive art bookshop!

Gert and Uwe Tobias:  paintings, prints and collage at Whitechapel Gallery. Pictured here is one of their massive prints, whose organic, flat and surreal shapes reminded me of the visual shapes, symbols that Miro used in his paintings. Whilst they were fun and colourful (I could imagine would be a source of much delight to some) the work felt a little bit too flat and simple for my liking. The typewriter drawings/collages which were also present in the exhibition were smaller and more understated but in my opinion far more successful. The letters on the typewriter were layered on top of each other creating a surface with much more depth. Along with the introduction of collage in these images, they were a lot more curious looking and intriguing than their large print counterparts.

Karl Blossfeldt: photographs at Whitechapel Gallery
At first this may seem a complete contrast to work downstairs; monochrome, scientific prints of plants. However, I can see a connection with the way in which both Gert and Uwe Tobias and Blossfeldt are both in different ways inspired by organic shapes and forms in nature. Perhaps unintentionally they complement each other rather well. The images in this exhibition were fascinating and many. There was almost too many to see to pay enough time and attention to each image individually and I was surprised as whilst botanical photography was nothing, ‘new’ these images were really interesting, as the sharpness of the photo, its intensity and extreme close-up of its subject matter meant that it really enhanced and emphasised the architectural qualities of plants.  

It seemed that a lot of galleries were between shows when I visited London during these four days so I will have to wait to see the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and Patrick Caulfield at the Tate Britain, which were yet to go up when I was there. Instead, I paid a long overdue visit to the Saatchi Gallery exhibiting, ‘New Art from Russia’ and ‘New Order: British Art Today’. Rather than reviewing both of the exhibitions in their entirety I have chosen to write about a few of the works that stood out to me.

New Art from Russia: Valery Koshlykakov mixed media painting, ‘High-rise on Raushskaya Embankment’ (2006)  

 Koshlykakov’s mixed media paintings depict a dystopian take on classic architecture. Using overlapping cardboard  as a canvas, Koshlykakov’s paintings are notably more temporary  and ‘throw-away’ than the buildings painted on them. This exact contrast between the political symbolism, strength and robustness of the buildings against the fragility of the material it is painted on is the intended reading that the artist was going for. A collapsing utopia, the buildings appear fragmented and melting as though falling into disrepair or becoming held-together by cardboard scaffolding. These paintings are much more abstract close up than maybe one would expect making this work engaging from close-up as well as from afar. I thought it was subtly more subversive than some of the other work in the exhibition some of which was too obvious in the way it was talking about politics or political issues.

Love it or hate it, the one good thing that can be said of the Saatchi Gallery is that it is inherently different to a majority of contemporary art galleries in London in its choosing to display emerging artists at the start of their career and not opting for the, crowd pleasing sell-out shows that the Tate and National Gallery are known for. ’New Order: British Art Today’ does what the Saatchi brand ‘says on the tin’ and presents, in the first of a series of exhibitions, an entire floor of 17 emerging artists who showcase their work. On the whole I found a lot more to be excited about in this show than in the Russian one downstairs, but the painting, with the odd exception, in both exhibitions being amongst the weakest mediums represented.

James Capper ‘Nipper (Long Reach)’ 2012
It was a no-brainer that I would find this piece appealing, so much so that it is the only one I have drawn since in my sketch book. Sculptural and an excellent example of how taking familiar and putting it in a different context can create a new sense of awareness around the chosen object. Apparently the artist also uses some of these objects to draw with? Which also sounds interesting but I could only find images of hydraulic machines that leave traces from where they’ve moved along. I need to research more, but to some extent I’m reluctant to over intellectualise this work when it is intriguing enough as a piece of sculpture in its own right; looking both man made and like some weird creature/insect at the same time (and yes, a recurring theme in my own practice).

Alejandro Guijarro (From top to bottom) ‘Cern I’ 2012 ‘Cambridge II’ 2011 ‘Berkely II’ 2012

So, these are C-type prints; life size photographs of blackboards from different universities who teach quantum mechanics. If you’re like me maybe you’re thinking, so why take photos of the blackboards when you could bring in/recreate the real thing? The illusion and question of whether it is/is it not a blackboard is in itself almost as undecipherable as the symbols on the boards themselves and I suppose on reflection it is that same sense of uncertainty and mystery that is present in the laws of probability and enquiry that surround quantum mechanics (...?). Maybe?!
Or at least a searching for truth is present in both the concept of the illusion of the art image and scientific enquiry. Even formalistically I find these images a joy to look at, each with its own variations and as the catalogue points out they act as an observed and everyday real-life version of a Twombly, Pollock or Rothko. But is the artist trying to draw our attention to the formal qualities of the blackboards or more to the debate of what is art? A shift in thinking from the idea of not being able to create any art that is truly ‘original’ or new when maybe we don’t need to be creating anything new but instead noticing art in the world around us, i.e. we don’t need to create Twombly-like works anymore but may begin to notice Twombly style mark-making around us on walls, blackboards etc. So, there is less emphasis on ‘creating’ the next new thing and more about observing the world around us. That’s my hypothetical thought anyway. I found these images to be intriguing both visually and conceptually.

Nicolas Deshayes ‘Soho Fats’ 2012
Ripples, curves and waves are carved into Styrofoam using a hot wire cutter. At first I thought they were marble or cast from plaster so it was an interesting use of material and created a surface and finish that looked far more polished and precious than the ‘cheap’ throw-away stereotype that surrounds a material like Styrofoam. It actually reminded me of textured ceilings or wallpaper at first, but then I thought maybe it was mimicking the patterns created from the ebb and flow of the tide against the shore. Turns out it is more to do with ‘the human subject and residual traces’ and fat in the title, ‘Soho Fats’ referring to the fats in London’s sewers.  Really? That’s a connection too far methinks. Still, as far as materiality and process go, I thought this work was different and had I given it more thought maybe I’d have eventually come to some connection with human traces, but then does that really matter?

Gert and Uwe Tobias and Karl Blossfeldt are on at Whitechapel Gallery until 14th June
Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union: New Art from Russia has now ended but New Order: British Art Today is on at the Saatchi until 29th September.

1 comment:

  1. Wall art in brick lane is awesome. The two faces are placed in a perfect position.