Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Review of Painter. Mentor. Magician. Otto Mueller and his Network in Wrocław at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin

Painter. Mentor. Magician. Otto Mueller and his Network in Wrocław
Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin
12 October 2018 – 3 March 2019 
Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu
8 April – 30 June 2019

Otto Mueller was born in 1874 in Silesia – then a part of Germany, now a part of Poland. From 1907 to 1919, he lived in Berlin, where, from 1910 until its dissolution in 1913, he was a member of the group of expressionist artists known as Die Brücke. In 1919, Mueller moved to Wrocław (then Breslau), where he taught at the State Academy of Fine Arts and Crafts – deemed to be “the liveliest in Germany” in the 1920s – for more than a decade, until his death in 1930. This exhibition, which shows first at the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin before travelling to the Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, is the outcome of a German-Polish research project, and explores the life and work of Mueller, considering him in the roles of painter, mentor and magician, but it simultaneously celebrates the lively exchange between the two cities up to the end of the second world war – and, indeed, beyond. This is done in part through the contextualising of Mueller’s work alongside that of his contemporaries – from the Bauhaus, der Sturm, and the myriad other movements and schools thriving in the early 1900s – but also by the inclusion of so-called “guest exhibits”, spotlighting works of Polish expressionism and neo-impressionism.

Read the full review here

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Interview: Elmgreen & Dragset

Interview with Elmgreen & Dragset 

Since unveiling a decaying public swimming pool as part of their major overview exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery back in September, Elmgreen & Dragset – the Berlin-based, Scandi artistic duo comprising Michael Elmgreen (b1961, Copenhagen) and Ingar Dragset (b1969, Trondheim) – have been the talk of the town. Their often parodic and playful work, of course, was already familiar to Londoners and tourists alike (even if the artists’ names remained unknown), as their 4.1-metre golden sculpture of a boy on a rocking horse, Powerless Structures, Fig 101, had regally crowned Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth for 18 months from February 2012 – throughout the London Olympic Games – attracting largely positive responses, including from British actress Joanna Lumley, who unveiled the piece, describing herself as ‘thrilled’ to be revealing such a ‘completely unthreatening and adorable creature’ to the public.

Read the full interview here

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Review of Klimt/Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna at the Royal Academy of Arts, London

Klimt/Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna
Royal Academy of Arts, London
4 November 2018 – 3 February 2019

The year 2018 marked the centenary of the deaths of two of Austria’s best-known and best-loved modernist artists – Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Egon Schiele (1890-1918). Although Klimt never formally taught Schiele, the younger man was widely thought of as his protégé, and, by the time of Klimt’s death from pneumonia, following a stroke, in February 1918, Schiele was acknowledged as his successor. Tragically, he, too, was to die, eight months later, in the flu pandemic. Although both artists left behind a great number of paintings, the core of each of their practices was drawing, which constituted a fundamental daily activity for them. Klimt left more than 4,000 drawings – most devoted to women; Schiele, in his short life, created 3,000 drawings and watercolours. The Graphic Art Collection of the Albertina Museum in Vienna, founded in 1776 by Duke Albert of Saxe-Teschen, holds a large number of works on paper by both men, and, for this centennial collaboration with the Royal Academy of Arts – one of many international anniversary exhibitions – 100 drawings have travelled to London, where they are displayed in largely chronological thematic rooms, interweaving the stories and progress of each artist.

Read the full review here

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Review of Gabriele Münter: Painting to the Point at Museum Ludwig, Cologne

Gabriele Münter: Painting to the Point
Museum Ludwig, Cologne
15 September 2018 – 13 January 2019

The German painter Gabriele Münter (1877-1962) holds a special place in my heart, since, at the age of 17, I spent the summer in the small and charming Bavarian Alpine town of Murnau, completing a language course at the Goethe Institute, and there encountered for the first time the work of Münter and her contemporaries. For it was in Murnau that the Berlin-born artist settled in 1909; there that she and Russian émigré artist Wassily Kandinsky lived together in the “Yellow House”, which went on to become the birthplace of the Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider group of expressionist artists); and there that she continued to live until her death, at the age of 85. The Staffelsee (the lake on the shores of which Murnau sits), the onion-shaped dome atop the church tower, and the purple and green Alps in the distance are all sights that warm my heart, much as they must have done Münter’s, given the number of times that she painted them. As soon as I read the announcement about Gabriele Münter: Painting to the Point, at the Museum Ludwig, this exhibition was therefore a must for me. 

Read the full review here

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Feature: Behind the Scenes conserving Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery, London


Published in the Winter 2018 issue of Art Quarterly

Q: Norman Ackroyd


Published in the Winter 2018 issue of Art Quarterly

Review of London 1938: Defending ‘Degenerate’ German Art at the Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee, Berlin

London 1938: Defending ‘Degenerate’ German Art
Liebermann-Villa am Wannsee, Berlin
7 October 2018 – 14 January 2019 

While – and rightly so – much is widely known about the “degenerate art” exhibition staged by the Nazis at the Archaeological Museum in Munich in the summer of 1937, showing around 650 works of art from 20,000 that had been collected, far less is known about the response, which opened at the New Burlington Galleries in London the following July, and showed more than 300 works of art by more than 65 of these “degenerate” German artists. To mark the 80th anniversary of what, according to Barbara Warnock of the Wiener Library in London, remains “the largest exhibition of modern German art that there has ever been in Britain”, the Liebermann-Villa – the villa built by the “degenerate” painter Max Liebermann, as his summer home and “lakeside palace” on the shore of Wannsee, just south-west of Berlin – has mounted an exhibition showcasing 30 of the original works. 

The team has worked closely with the Wiener Library – the world’s oldest archive of material on the Holocaust and the Nazi era – which also staged a small exhibition earlier this year, showing largely archival material and reproductions of some of the key works of art, along with artefacts and documents from its archives telling the story of displaced Jews arriving in Britain before the war. The focus of the exhibition in Berlin, however, lays far more firmly on the stories of the lenders to the 1938 exhibition, drawing on new research on the provenance histories of the works before and after the show.

Read the review here

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Review of Renoir Father and Son: Painting and Cinema at Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Renoir Father and Son: Painting and CinemaMusée d’Orsay, Paris
6 November 2018 – 27 January 2019

Walking into the side galleries in the impressive Musée d’Orsay, Paris, on a wet and windy late-autumn day, there is suddenly the feeling of spring – a girl laughs as she gaily swings back and forth, and a young couple promenade, doe-eyed, enjoying the first throes of young love. In black and white, these scenes play out on a loop on a large screen – extracts from some of the best-known and best-loved early films by the French film director Jean Renoir (1894-1979), while, on the surrounding walls, colour luminesces, as the same – or very similar – scenes are frozen, like screen grabs, on the canvases of his father, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), the impressionist painter. 

And so it goes on for the duration of the exhibition, which fills the galleries along the length of the first floor of the museum: Renoir-father and Renoir-son interspersed and in conversation – repeated motifs, repeated scenery, repeated models. The idea is not to place Jean in his father’s shadow, but to explore the extent to which his father’s legacy, and their close relationship, with Jean’s intimate understanding of his father’s painting process, influenced his directing career – either in terms of deliberately paying homage to, or deliberately seeking to move away from, such ascendancy. As Jean said towards the end of his career: “I have spent my life trying to determine the extent of the influence of my father upon me,” going on to describe his ambivalence and the periods “when I did my utmost to escape from it to dwell upon those when my mind was filled with the precepts I thought I had gleaned from him”.

Read the full review here

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Review of Magical Unicorns at musée de Cluny, Paris

Magical Unicorns
Musée de Cluny, Paris
14 July 2018 – 25 February 2019

One might be forgiven for presuming us to be at the zenith of unicorn mania, with the proliferation of cute, rainbow-coloured stationery items, cuddly toys, horned hoodies and woolly hats for children – and adults (in particular, as a symbol of the LGBTQI community) – not to mention the myriad ranges of bath and shower products, soaps and perfumes. Don’t be fooled, however, for the unicorn as a “brand” has been all the rage since the middle ages, and, in fact, even dates back as far as antiquity, with the Greek physician Ctésias describing the creature, at the end of the fifth century BC, as “a large donkey with a tri-coloured horn”. 

The unicorn’s previous highpoint of popular fame was in the 1500s, however, when, as a symbol of virginity, it was integrated into the religious iconography of the annunciation, where the archangel Gabriel was frequently depicted as a hunter, urging the unicorn forward towards the Virgin Mary. It was also at the start of the 16th century that the Le Viste family, members of which held key positions in the Parisian parliament of the time, commissioned a set of six tapestries – wool and silk on a sumptuous red millefleurs background and boasting about 30 different shades and colours of dye. Rediscovered around 1814, the tapestries came into the collection of the Musée de Cluny in 1882. These tapestries, The Lady and the Unicorn, form the centrepiece of this small but enlightening exhibition, which traces the history of the mythical beast from, well, when it wasn’t considered mythical, to the present day. 

Read the full review here

Monday, 19 November 2018

Review of Lotte Laserstein: Face to Face at the Städel Museum, Frankfurt

Lotte Laserstein: Face to Face
Städel Museum, Frankfurt
19 September 2018 – 17 March 2019

Face to face. An appropriate title for an exhibition so largely comprised of portraits – among them a large proportion of self-portraits. For, surrounded by these canvases of Lotte Laserstein (1898-1993), one feels beset by myriad pairs of eyes. She is usually categorised as an artist of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), alongside her male contemporaries Otto Dix, George Grosz and Christian Schad, but her style is really quite different from theirs – devoid of political satire and containing far more empathy, intimacy, and, dare I say it at the risk of sounding disingenuous, femininity. 

Laserstein grew up in a very female environment, with her mother, her sister, Käte, and her aunt and grandmother, following the death of her father in 1902. Fortunately, there was enough family money for both daughters to study and Laserstein was one of the first generation of women accepted into the Berlin Art Academy, in 1921 – two large charcoal drawings of male nudes evidence that she also attended life classes while there. Bear in mind that she was painting at the same time as, for example, the artists of the expressionist group, Die Brücke, and her style might seem a little old fashioned and venerating of art history – “more academy than avant garde”, as Kolja Reichert wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (23 September 2018). One hypothesis put forward by the exhibition texts is that, belonging to this first generation of educated female artists, she lacked the rebellious streak of many of her male contemporaries, wishing instead to prove her technical ability. Vermeer, for example, was one artist she openly declared to be a great influence on her, and aspects of the Dutch master’s style can be detected, especially, perhaps, in her choice of palette.

Read the full review here