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This summer the Grand-Place in the Belgian city of Mons will be transformed into a blaze of yellow, a field of 7,500 sunflowers celebrating the city’s turn as European capital of culture, and the peculiar man who spent 18 months living in the area and failing at yet another chosen career.
This time his failure marked a turning point in the history of art: sacked as a preacher and evangelist working in the Borinage, a tough coalmining region, Vincent van Gogh decided that his future lay in art.
In 1880, not yet even a failed artist, he was living in Cuesmes, a village on the outskirts of Mons in southern Belgium. Images of the battered landscape, poor simple houses and grinding hard work he witnessed would stay with him for life. The Borinage inspired one of his first major works, The Potato Eaters, and its sootily dark palette, though it was not painted until 1885, after he had left the region.
Van Gogh in the Borinage, open from 25 January at BAM, the Beaux Arts Mons gallery, will include scores of paintings by Van Gogh and other artists who inspired him. It will bring together for the first time his early versions – made from prints – of works by Jean-François Millet, whose paintings of peasant life he greatly admired, and his paintings of the same subject made years later in the last months of his life when he was in the asylum at Saint-Rémy.
Imagine yourself strolling through a verdant park, enjoying the pleasant vistas, the richer oxygen, the weird, wrap-around three-dimensionality of it all (so unlike a screen), and then, out of nowhere . . . Zzzzzp. (Ouch!) And a minute later . . . Zzzzzp! (Yeow!) And so on.
Not insects, but words deliver these rousing stings. And their little pricks of poison are felt not on the skin but in that part of the body encrusted with cant and cliché called the brain.
Hello, and thank you, Ian Hamilton Finlay.
Finlay (1925-2006), a Scotsman, is the subject of a small but deeply engaging show at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum this summer. Although most of the work is indoors and on framed pieces of paper, it’s advisable — it’s almost inevitable — that, while viewing it, you imagine yourself wandering through a carefully tended neoclassical garden, receiving Finlay’s verbal (but also graphic and sculptural) stings with varying degrees of dismay, pleasure, and irritation.
Gardening was one of Finlay’s abiding obsessions. The others were classical poetry and philosophy (above all Virgil and his “Eclogues”), the French Revolution, World War II, boating, and the sea. A strange mix, on the face of it, but they all combined symphonically in Finlay’s 5-acre garden, the pungently named “Little Sparta,” in the Pentland Hills, smack bang in the center of southern Scotland.
Woman’s Kimono with Abstract Hemp-Leaf Pattern (Japan, early Shōwa period, c. 1935), silk plain weave, stencil-printed warp and weft (heiyō-gasuri meisen), Costume Council Fund (Photo: © 2014 Museum Associates/LACMA)
Many of us, when we picture kimono, envision the traditional Japanese garment covered in similarly traditional images: blossoming floral motifs, soaring or leaping animals, mountain peaks and cresting seascapes in Ukiyo-e style. But cross-cultural exchange between Japan and the West started in earnest during the Meiji period (1868–1912), causing the spread of different technologies and styles in both directions. By the time the Shōwa period rolled around in 1926, Japanese kimono looked quite different than they once had, with patterns that that were far more abstract and modern.
Opening on Saturday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) exhibition Kimono for a Modern Age surveys this period of Japanese fashion innovation. The show presents 30 never-before-seen kimono from LACMA’s permanent collection. All date to the first half of the 20th century — chronology you might guess just by looking at the garments, which show a strong affinity with modern art of the period.
If you live in the Los Angeles area, you may have noticed, placed surreptitiously between two boutiquey enterprises on Silver Lake Boulevard, a colossal white cage with a twisting skeleton and seemingly organic outgrowth. It takes a moment to process this alien invasion of the everyday space, and much longer to decide what purpose, exactly, the unorthodox form serves.
Well, just to clear things up, two weeks ago it was an observatory, last week it became an architectural musical instrument, and this weekend it will serve as an immersive human-scale birdcage. Yes, you’re looking at the three-dimensional stage of “Vive La Cage,” a three-part performance series that combines elements of dance, architecture, music, astronomy, and, well, human birdwatching.
This weekend, Mishal Hashmi, Janie Sanchez and Filipa Valente collaborate on “Birdcage Express,” a piece that magnifies the daily happenings of a birdcage to a human scale. An immersive 3D projection environment invites viewers to engage with birds on a surreal scale.
“The project was inspired by the form work and scale of La Cage,” the artists explained to The Huffington Post. “We saw this giant Tweety-bird-esque cage and were drawn to the idea of creating a playful, immersive environment that allowed shrunken humans to navigate through a cage full of enormous birds and perch amongst them.”
The Huffington Post
Bill Viola has created a powerful modern altarpiece for St Paul’s Cathedral that perfectly suits the restrained spirituality of this most English of churches.
Coming into Christopher Wren’s great building on a weekday morning when crowded buses surround this London icon, you notice how ascetic its atmosphere is. Greek mosaics and the perfect geometry of a dome that suggests the clockwork universe of Wren’s contemporary Isaac Newton make St Paul’s a place of cool, even philosophical, prayer.
Bloody martyrdoms, harrowing images of saints being crucified upside down or tortured with hot pincers – such gut-wrenching pictures are deliberately sidelined in the temple of reason that is St Paul’s. At least, they were until American visionary Viola unveiled his latest work, a permanent video installation, there on Tuesday.
It has taken more than a decade to agree on, plan and install Viola’s eerie multiscreen work Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), a quest that started when the cathedral’s overseers were struck by his exhibition The Passions at the National Gallery in 2003. This exhibition revealed the depth of his interest in traditional religious art. St Paul’s has a steady programme of commissioning modern works but there simply is no other artist today of Viola’s quality who is so committed to the idea of religious art. He is making a second work for St Paul’s, to be unveiled next year, called Mary. He says he hopes the pieces are not just art but “practical objects of traditional contemplation and devotion”.
Martyrs is a study in suffering and redemption. Four people on four vertical screens undergo extreme fates: one has been buried, another hangs with her wrists and ankles bound, another sits amid flames and a fourth hangs upside down as he is drenched in cascades of water. As these images develop and transform in parallel, it becomes hard to know what is death and what is hope. Soil is whirled off the buried man in an upward band of dust, like the zip in a Barnett Newman painting, until he is born again, looking up into heavenly light. Similarly, the suspended woman endures her pain to raise her eyes to that light in a final deathly pose of triumph.
In Edinburgh, Peter Doig’s imminent exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery is being billed as a kind of homecoming. They even have a “Doig menu” available at the gallery restaurant. Given that he was born in the city, but left when he was two, and that his art has always been informed by his inveterate desire to keep moving from place to place – he currently lives in Trinidad, following two long stints in London separated by a spell in Canada – it must feel odd to suddenly find himself referred to as a Scottish artist.
“It does a bit,” he says, grinning. “When I was growing up, I never felt that I belonged anywhere because we never lived in a house for more than three months. That’s all I knew and that’s why I don’t really belong anywhere. Then again, I do feel Scottish in some way. Maybe it’s to do with visiting my grandparents here every summer as a child, but I am aware of my Scottish ancestry. It’s there all right, but it would be pushing it to label me a Scottish painter. Or, indeed, an anywhere painter.”
Yet a sense of place is one of the key determinants of Doig’s art. Since his move from London to Trinidad in 2002, his paintings have become richer in hue and even more vivid in their evocation of atmosphere and memory, both his own personal memory and that of the artists his work calls to mind, from Cézanne and Daumier to the German expressionists of the 1920s. In one of the smaller rooms, a recent big work, entitled Paragrand, features three silhouetted figures playing cricket, each one receding more into a vivid, indeterminate backdrop where sand, sea and foliage merge into one. It seems to vibrate with intensity even from a distance, a huge, flat swath of shimmering orange at the centre, altering all the other colours around it.
‘Part hallucinatory, part biblical’: Untitled, date unknown by Marcel Storr, a Paris road-sweeper who died in 1976 leaving a hoard of dazzlingly detailed drawings in coloured ink and varnish. Photograph: © Liliane et Bertrand Kempf
The Alternative Guide to the Universe may sound like another of those fun-filled summer shows at which the Hayward Gallery excels – mirrored mazes, crooked houses, cinemas and boating ponds erected for your pleasure on the roof. It’s exactly the opposite. The exhibition presents the visions of 22 people who have imagined another universe, or another way of living in this one, in fantastic detail. The experience is by turns bewildering, charming and oppressive.
Unclassifiable work by unorthodox thinkers: that might be one way of describing the enterprise. Here is an unlicensed architect designing a cathedral composed of every medieval ornament known to man as a symbolic representation of his mother. Here is a dentist-cum-inventor whose system for intergalactic travel is set out in beautiful watercolours in the tradition of William Blake.
The first time I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art was like waking up in fairyland. There is no other museum quite like this palace of wonders on the east side of New York’s Central Park. It magically brings together an ancient Egyptian temple, 18th-century salons and some of the greatest works of Rembrandt and Vermeer, among other delights, in airy, well-lit galleries with regular views of the tree-filled park.
Yet what truly marks this museum out from European cousins such as the Louvre and – until now – London’s National Gallery is that it takes for granted a fact that still causes endless tensions in the UK: the rightful place of modern and contemporary art alongside the treasures of the past.
This season’s big exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is a survey of Andy Warhol’s living artistic influence. This is not an unusual project for a museum whose permanent collection includes, as well as El Greco’s View of Toledo, such modern American masterpieces as White Flag by Jasper Johns.
When I first visited New York, this easy intimacy of old and new transformed my view of art. In Britain, art fans have a habit of being dogmatic “conservatives” or “modernists”. The Metropolitan Museum embodies a much richer way of seeing art: the new grows out of the old, the old is renewed by the visions of today.
But Brits may be about to become Americans, at least in the way we experience art. London’s National Gallery is launching a quite new approach to the relation between art and its history. This museum whose permanent collection culminates around 1900 is adopting an approach that may even make the Metropolitan envious. Its director will be speaking at Frieze Masters, the new art fair from the makers of Frieze that claims to bring together old and new. The NG has thrown its weight behind this venture. Meanwhile, it is about to show the last works of Richard Hamilton and put on its first ever photography exhibition.
Walter De Maria’s “The 2000 Sculpture,” an expansive array of plaster rods laid out in 20 rows 164 feet long, will have the floor, literally, for six months at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Resnick Exhibition Pavilion, starting Oct. 1.
The work may not be familiar to LACMA’s public, but the surroundings are familiar to the work, which occupied the same spot during the summer of 2010, when curators used “The 2000 Sculpture” to help fine-tune the new venue before its opening that fall.
“The sculpture provides an ideal way to test the Resnick Pavilion’s capacity to deal with large-scale work in the context of its architecture,” is how museum director Michael Govan put it at the time, in a post on LACMA’s “Unframed” blog. “The installation of a monumental work as we acclimate this building gives us the chance to test new strategies in anticipation of future projects where we may choose to use the entire space for major installations.”
The J. Paul Getty Trust is gearing up to organise a sequel to its successful collaborative project, “Pacific Standard Time (PST)”, in “five or six years’ time”, says the trust’s chief executive and president James Cuno. “We recognise that [it] is just too good to let drop.” In the meantime, he says, the trust plans to keep the momentum going by organising smaller projects on related themes with “half a dozen cultural institutions”, which are to be announced, under the title “Pacific Standard Time Presents”.
“We are just starting conversations with the lead partners of PST”—the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) and the Hammer Museum—Cuno says. The trust filed a trademark application for the name “Pacific Standard Time Presents” with the US Patent and Trademark Office in April.
The rumour mill in Los Angeles is turning about a possible theme for a sequel. The original event was “ten years in the making”, as Cuno points out, and grew out of a project to rescue and research artists’ archives. Therefore, the Getty has been reluctant to force a theme so early in the planning stages. But there has been speculation that the next collaboration could have a wider geographic sweep, to include other regions in California, or expand further to incorporate the whole of the Pacific Rim. When asked to comment, Cuno says: “We’re just beginning the conversation.”
Helen Stoilas and Javier Pes. Museums
The Art Newspaper