Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Top 2 of 2014

I have lost count. Anyway, who's counting?

A while ago, I was mooching about the Tate Modern when I came across a sculpture (though it turned out the artist didn't like to call them sculptures - 'Never what I do' she declared).

I'd been thinking about making something with a light, sketchy metal frame and this was just what I had in mind.   It was an artist called Gego but I didn't know much about her or him.

I took some rubbish pictures and showed them to the metalwork teacher, who recognised the work and the artist straight away.  

He showed me a way to link metal using hooks and eyes but it wasn't the same as the model in the Tate. I wanted it to stand up by itself, not dangle.


 I went back to the Tate but they'd reorganised and the work had vanished.

But then lo! There was Radical Geometries at the Royal Academy, a great retrospective of South American modern art from the thirties to the fifties - and lo, there was a whole entire room of Gego's work, and more information about her. I really fell in love.

Her real name was Gertrud Goldschmidt. She'd trained as an architect in her homeland of Germany, but had to leave to escape the Nazis, and made a new life in Venezeula.

She worked as an architect, but gradually became interested in drawing lines for their own sake, and not just to create a blueprint for a structure. She moved in and out of 2D and 3D, playing with the lines.

In Venezuela and in South American she was a superstar artist, with her own art museum, but is not so well known in Europe. I think there has been an effort this year to rescue her from obscurity here, which I heartily approve.

Because looking for her work online, I found that there was a whole entire exhibition devoted to her on right now, this very year, which had travelled all the way from Caracas to Hamburg to the UK. Not London, for a change, but Leeds.  At the Henry Moore Institute.

So we visited it, and were blown away.

I'm so glad to have found such an inspirational role model.

Check out more pictures of her work here.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

British Folk Art

One of my favourites was British Folk Art at the Tate Britain, a small but perfectly formed show of genuine artists. People not making things primarily  for fame or fortune or acclaim, but making it for pleasure. Making it because they had to.

There were some spectacular, unselfconscious art works in this show. The outstanding one for me features on the poster - a chicken carved out of bones by a prisoner of war.  Such craftmanship too.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Thumbs down for Anselm

Before I get to the top of my top ten, I was thinking about the one that didn't make the list this year. 
(One on its own, unlike last year - maybe I'm getting better at choosing them.)

That was Anselm Kiefer at the Royal Academy  - I got an impression of the Emperor’s New Clothes from this one.

Kiefer was born in Germany just before the end of the second world war, and grew up in the guilty post war era. In his twenties he painted figures and photographed himself giving the Nazi salute, which made him fairly unpopular in his home country, and gave him a shock value something like the Chapman Brothers’ reputation today. It occurred to me today that Basil Fawlty made much the same point better and was funny about it too.

(Interestingly one of the captions suggested that his reputation was rescued by Jewish art buyers in New York – this was mentioned in an aside, I thought this story would have been worth pursuing.)

 It must have been easier to shock people then. Mimicking the Nazis when people were just recovering from their traumatic history seemed less a thoughtful political statement and more like an adolescent gesture to me. 

The show seemed keen to stress that he is intellectual, weighty, dark. The work was dark and heavy but sometimes the captions made me laugh. The way artspeak ascribes intellectual depth to, you know, normal stuff that normal people do and like.

Like it's more important because an artist is doing it. He likes poetry. But so do lots of people, does that make him an intellectual giant?  He’s into theology and mysticism – or ‘Woo woo’ as one of my friends at Borders called it when we used to buy books for this section. (imagine someone doing an impression of a ghost). 

The work got bigger and bigger. Paintings incorporated straw, mud, bricks, wood. One bit of light relief was a room of paintings sparkling with diamonds. You could see people leaning in too close and setting off beeping sensors, hilarious. 

He makes big books out of lead, and bound some slightly soft porn type watercolour sketches into big journals. He made some linocuts of the Rhine, made into an installation, which was attractive.  He owns a vast private estate in France and fills it up with enormous installations. He is successful, and he has a reputation. 

Hmm.  I don’t know what it is, I just don’t buy it. 

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Shelagh Wakely, Camden Arts Centre

This was a beautiful show of an artist new to me. It was amazing that some of her work survives, as it is so fragile and ephemeral.  There is something delicate about her style. It is the antithesis of the current contemporary art, which is usually so big and bold and in your face. Prints, sculptures made from natural materials, a floor installation of spices (which must have been way ahead of its time.)

I've just had a look for images of her work, but you really need to see it in person to feel the impact. It's beautiful but not simple or graphic, so it doesn't translate to thumbnail photos on a flat screen. 

It was also a pleasure to see something at the Camden Arts Centre. I haven't been there in years, but we used to haunt it as teenagers.

This is a lovely article about the show from the curator, who had the lucky job of sorting through the artist's studio.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Rembrandt & Colour at the National

It was a good year for the National Gallery, but then it always is. (I remember a drawing tutor saying at City Lit that we were London's closest art college to one of the world's greatest art galleries, which must make us one of the greatest art colleges...)

Making Colour- fascinating exhibition on how different pigments were made and used throughout art history, using paintings from the collection to illustrate. Where art meets science.  (A bit naughty that they charged for this show, when it was all work from the permanent collection though.)

Also they ran some research on how people perceive colour at the end, in a short film where you voted on what you could see using a digital keypad.

Rembrandt: The Late Works

I don't know what to say about this, just that it's the kind of thing that makes you realise how lucky you are to live in the world capital of art - you don't need to go anywhere, it all comes to you. Seriously, this was a once in a lifetime show of the great works of a great artist, works borrowed from other galleries which rarely ever leave their homes. Lucky lucky lucky.

And here is Hockney, more articulate than me, on the best drawing in the world, which is by Rembrandt