Friday, 31 August 2012

Review of Uncommon Ground at Flowers Kingsland Road

Uncommon Ground
Flowers, 82 Kingsland Road
12 July – 1 September 2012

This year’s summer group show at Flowers brings together the works of 19 international photographers, including three of the gallery’s own (Edward Burtynsky, Nadav Kander, and Robert Polidori), all of whom explore, in one way or another, man’s interventions into his environment. Here, environment is taken quite loosely, and whilst Jason Larkin’s Ascension series (2011), for example, looks at the eponymous island in the South Atlantic Ocean, upon which a forest was planted to encourage rainfall, and Andrea Galvani travels as far as the Arctic Circle to document a scientific experiment upon an iceberg, Simon Roberts’ Protesters occupy Leeds City Council’s annual budget Meeting, 23 February (2011), does just what it says on the tin, representing a chaotic and blurred scene, in a setting where one would otherwise expect civil law and order to be upheld, and Andy Goldsworthy’s Street Dirt – Afternoon, West 57th between 11th and 12th Avenues, New York (2010) takes the land artist’s interventions to an urban space, where his series of 22 black and white prints narrate the creation of a wiggly line of dirt, “drawn” down the centre of the pavement, by a man with a small brush, retreating into the distance.


David Spero 
Pikisaarentie 10 A, Oulu 

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Review of The Fourth Height & Urs Bigler: The Crown at Erarta Gallery

The Fourth Height & Urs Bigler: The Crown
Erarta Gallery
20 July – 31 August 2012

The Fourth Height is a trio of artists, founded in Moscow in 1992 by Katya Kameneva (born 1971), Dina Kim (born 1970), and Gala Smirnskaya (born 1968), and best known for its performance and video works. In their current collaboration for Erarta, a Mayfair gallery which aims to promote Russian art in London, they have worked with Swiss photographer Urs Bigler (born 1981) to produce a series of striking images: political, satirical, and employing their usual visual rhetoric of the feminist movement, but here focusing on the philosophical and geopolitical question of Russia’s uncertain post-Soviet identity and how she might respond to her pivotal position between East and West. This is explored here in various images juxtaposing Russia (modeled by the strong bone-structured Smirnskaya) alongside Asia (the “East”, posed by Kim) and Europe (the “West”, depicted in the guise of our very own Queen, posed by Kameneva). 


The Fourth Height + Urs Bigler
Archival ink jet print
135 x 100cm
Courtesy of Erarta, London.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Review of Klimt Inspired at Lazarides Gallery

Klimt Inspired
Lazarides Gallery
24 August – 1 September 2012

‘To every age its art, to art its freedom.’ This was the foresighted motto of the Secession movement, founded by the pioneer of Viennese Modernism, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), and his contemporaries in 1897, in protest against the conservative view of art held by the establishment of the time. This year sees the 150th anniversary of Klimt’s birth, and, to mark the occasion, numerous museums in the Austrian capital are staging special exhibitions. Not to be left out, London’s Lazarides Gallery has also put together a special celebratory event, in tandem with the Vienna Tourist Board, inviting nine international street artists to produce new works, inspired by Klimt, on large square canvases, during a day-long live event at Grosvenor Gardens earlier in the week. 

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Review of Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye at Tate Modern

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye
Tate Modern
28 June – 14 October 2012

Although best known for his oils on canvas, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was one of the first generation of painters to also dabble in amateur photography. When he died in 1944, he left the contents of his house and studio to the city of Oslo, and this included some 1,100 canvases, 18,000 prints, 4,500 drawings and watercolours, and 183 photographs. 50 of these are on display now, alongside over 60 of his paintings and some lesser-known film work, at Tate Modern.

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Friday, 24 August 2012

Review of Yoko Ono: To the Light at the Serpentine Gallery

Yoko Ono: To the Light
Serpentine Gallery
19 June – 9 September 2012

‘These pieces have no time. Think you are walking in a stone garden, and adding yourself to it.’ (Yoko Ono, To The Light)

With these words, visual and performance artist, filmmaker, poet, musician, writer, and peace activist for over five decades, Yoko Ono (born Tokyo, 1933), describes her first exhibition in a London public institution for over a decade. Certainly, Alexandra Munroe, a catalogue essayist for the show, concurs, suggesting that the Serpentine Gallery’s current exhibition is ‘less a conventional retrospective than an essay reflecting her [Ono’s] ongoing concerns.’ Many of the works included are reprises of earlier pieces, but they remain as resonant today as when they were produced back in the 1960s.

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Yoko Ono
AMAZE, 1971 
Installation View, "This Is Not Here"
Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY, 1971
Photo by Iain Macmillan 
© Yoko Ono

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Review of Martha Rosler: Prototype (God Bless America) at Pippy Houldsworth Gallery

Martha Rosler: Prototype (God Bless America)
Pippy Houldsworth Gallery
5 July – 1 September 2012

Martha Rosler (born Brooklyn, 1943) is a politically motivated artist, whose preferred media span video, photo-text, collage, and performance. She is perhaps best known for her engagement with the feminist art movement of the 1970s, and for her pioneering video work, Semiotics of the Kitchen (1974-5), in which, clad in apron, she stands behind a work surface and proceeds to deliver a parodic cookery demonstration, bringing forth various kitchen utensils, naming then, and exemplifying potential, if not typical, uses, such as banging and clattering to release pent up frustration and anger at the imprisoned role of women at the time. Describing this piece, Rosler has since said: "When the woman speaks, she names her own oppression."


Martha Rosler
Still from Prototype (God Bless America)
© the artist
Courtesy Galerie Nagel

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Review of Ellen von Unwerth: Do Not Disturb at Michael Hoppen Gallery

Ellen von Unwerth: Do Not Disturb
Michael Hoppen Gallery
22 June – 22 August 2012

Ellen von Unwerth (born 1954, Frankfurt) was a fashion model herself for ten years before stepping behind the lens. As a photographer, she shot to fame with her pictures of Claudia Schiffer, for the label Guess, in 1989. Since then, she has become one of the world’s most notable fashion photographers, renowned for her provocative and sexy images of models, movie stars and music celebrities. Her current exhibition, at Michael Hoppen Gallery, is small but deliciously decadent, presenting a series of works, shot at the Madonna Inn, LA, portraying women in seductive poses, luring the onlooker into the fictional world that they create. 


Ellen von Unwerth
Room 666
© Ellen Von Unwerth
Courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Review of Pause: A Showcase of Emerging Fine Art at Blackall Studios, Shoreditch

Pause: A Showcase of Emerging Fine Art
Blackall Studios, Shoreditch
5 – 8 August 2012

For just four days, a collective of fifteen recent graduates from University College Falmouth have reunited to put on a group show, Pause, at Blackall Studios, Shoreditch. Not leaving any space unused, their works cover floor and walls, reach into the corners, stretch up to the ceiling, and extend downstairs, where the basement has been turned into a projection lounge for the video contributions. Although each artist has his or her own individual and idiosyncratic style and medium, there is, nevertheless, something of an overarching theme to this exhibition, both in the exploration of the relationship of the human form to its various natural, and, in some cases, less natural, landscapes (see in particular Mike Davies’ short film work, Headcase), as well as in a meditation on the question of how, and in which ways, fragments might be pieced together.

Take, for instance, Michael Dryden’s Assemblage. An installation of oversized MDF bolts, screws, and tools, painted with blackboard paint, and scratched into with smaller images of similar components, along with numbers, in the style of an IKEA flat pack assembly instruction leaflet. Indeed, on the wall beside the workshop table, is a book of his own versions of such technical drawings, entitled, aptly, Instructions. What one begins to wonder, when looking at this work, is to what extent construction equates with creation, particularly in light of contemporary discussion regarding artists who employ studio hands to put their ideas into practice.

Similar echoes of the process of assemblage are found in Norman Buchan’s Nothing May Come of This, a series of towers built out of cocktail sticks, mostly neatly stacked, but some toppling a little, as if in a game of miniature jenga. Equally on the theme of games, Rhys Partridge’s Playing Cards x 52, painted over in shades of aquamarine, flesh and cream, are grouped seemingly randomly, and displayed like tiles on the wall. On the floor, in the centre of the gallery, a site which did indeed lead to some calamities at the private view, Reece Balfour’s Pool, Reservoir, and Basin, spread out into three different jigsaws made from tessellated trapezoid tiles: prints of his black and white drawings, placed on polystyrene, and protected by glass. The intriguing images, which are repeated over and again, show a boy – Balfour himself – lying, arms above head. Asleep or comatose? It is hard to tell. There is a flavour of the crime scene, and the puzzle could not be more puzzling.

Print works are exhibited by both Becky Lewis, who overlays collage elements with intricate circular linocuts, and Abi Burt, whose delicate etchings are atmospheric and eerie, her tiny figures as spirited as biro doodles, and her backgrounds absorbing. In St Mark’s Tables, she turns to oil on board, but the figures remain as spindly as ever, almost Banksian, with their suggestive outlines and form, and the grey mist in the distance is heavy and thick.

More energetic are the rhapsodies of abstracted colours fusing together on Lizz Dobinson’s canvases. Thick smears of oil and palette knife strokes: an interactive fiesta of colour, form, and movement.

Downstairs, Ed Sanders does something similar with his audio-video projection, Three Piece Round, the soundtrack for which is available on a CD entitled Between Music and Sound – a good description for the ambiguous cacophony: crickets, sounds of the natural world, but music in the background, and, of course, digital composition. The images which accompany this noise are blurred and unfocused too, again asking the visitor to figure out and fit together the pieces in his or her own head.

Probably the final work you will come to, at the very back of the basement, is Norman Buchan’s Learned, Inherited, Imitated, a green felt peg board with deflated balloons pinned to it, and the words IT WAS WHAT IT IS stenciled on to the side. The balloons’ heyday is past, but there they remain, symbolic of what once was, and constituting the outcome of something past. This might, of course, be seen as an apposite summary of the show itself, the conclusion of the group’s BAs, the outcome of their travails, but, if they, along with their audience, can figure it out and piece together the parts, the start, also, of something new.

Artists exhibiting:

Reece Balfour
Charlotte Bownass
Norman Buchan
Abi Burt
Michael Davies
Lizz Dobinson
Michael Dryden
Jonathan Gooch
Sophie Ingram
Hayley Jones
Ellie Lawlor
Becky Lewis
Rhys Partridge
Ed Sanders


Michael Dryden
MDF, blackboard paint
Courtesy: the artist

Michael Dryden
Courtesy: the artist

Rhys Partridge
Playing Cards x 52
mixed media on board
Courtesy: the artist

Abi Burt
St. Mark's Tables
oil on board
Courtesy: the artist

Reece Balfour
Pool (detail)
mixed media
Courtesy: the artist

Monday, 6 August 2012

Review of Jenny Saville at Modern Art Oxford

Jenny Saville
Modern Art Oxford
23 June – 16 September 2012

Jenny Saville (born 1970) is often credited, along with other feminist artists, with a re-appropriation of the female figure, “by shifting the female body’s position as an object of male delectation, and thus, deconstructing the male fantasy projected for centuries on it.”[i] Her paintings of oversized, fleshy, distorted female bodies have been described variously as “embody[ing] disgust,”[ii] constituting “strategic interventions [that] disturb dominant ideals of femininity,”[iii] and as “every woman's nightmare: vast mountains of obesity, flesh run riot, enormous repellent creatures who make even Rubens's chubby femmes fatales look positively gaunt.”[iv] Indeed, Saville herself uses words such as “mutation, transition, ambiguous… anything that is against normality,” continuing “I find the narrow version of normality quite boring. I like extreme humanness.”[v] She also claims that her paintings, despite being figurative, have a landscape quality to them, and it is certainly true that their scale is so overwhelming to the viewer standing before them that she loses her sense of proportion and scale in much the same way that 18th century viewers did when standing before immense and sublime landscapes by artists such as Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840), J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and John Martin (1789-1854).

This summer, Modern Art Oxford is hosting the first solo exhibition of Saville’s work in a UK public gallery, tracing her practice from the early nineties to the present. Her canvases seem almost to expand to fill the gallery walls, reaching from floor to ceiling, and having required disassembling to get them through the low doors.

The upstairs gallery exhibits some of her early work, such as Trace (1993), where the mottled flesh on the back of a large woman is seen, somewhat too close for comfort, with the imprint of a bra, elastic waistband, and knickers, as if recently removed, and just that little bit too small for their model. This fascination with corpulence and marking up the body is something which Saville furthered the following year, in New York City, by spending time observing a plastic surgeon at work. Her experiences of watching this process permeated much of her work for the rest of the decade, and, although the best-known examples are not on show here, we do see elements of the influence in, for example, Ruben’s Flap (1998-1999), a collage-like painting where body parts overlap and immense breasts heave, and Fulcrum (1997-1999), where bodies are piled up in a manner recollecting the concentration camps of World War II, except for the fact that, skewed and foreshortened, they appear almost morbidly obese. The greenish tinge to this work is echoed in a number of others, giving the flesh, in each instance, a repulsive pallor, and yet a simultaneously compelling allure, capturing, at once, both life and death, and the tenuous boundary in between.

Further transgressions are made in Saville’s works depicting transsexuals and intersex subjects, one of which, Passage (2004-2005), is on display here. A male-to-female transition, the model is shown with both a real penis and fake breasts.

As well as her full-bodied images, Saville has also produced a series of works depicting damaged faces, where the subject has clearly undergone some kind of trauma. Entry (2004-2005), for example, shows a scabbing wound, and the vicious red colour of Fig II.23 (1997) vividly evokes a feeling of heat and scorched skin. The glazed gaze piercing outwards from this canvas is another common feature in Saville’s work, repeated in the Stare series of paintings and sketches, of which three are included here. The misty eyes, along with the paint surface, as damaged as the skin it brings to life, suggest head injury. The only matt surface in these works is the hair.

A recent development, or one might say change of direction, in Saville’s work, was prompted by the birth, in fairly quick succession, of her son and daughter. Motherhood imbued her with an incredible new confidence – “I just felt like I was flying!” – and so she began to directly reference art history in her own works. In addition, in an attempt to capture the movement of the wriggling and squirming infants she wanted to depict, and to speed up the process of completing a work (Fulcrum had taken her 18 months, and, as she recognised, 18 months in the life of a baby brings about monumental change!), she turned to drawing rather than painting. And thus were born the works shown in the downstairs gallery at Modern Art, which include Study for Isis and Horus (2011), in which her own and her child’s bodies are superimposed over the Egyptian goddess and her son, again in an almost collage-like manner, and Study for Pentimenti I (2011), which is all about movement and mark-making. The baby’s gripping fingers and curling toes, as he struggles to escape his pregnant mother’s grasp, set it apart from the placid portrayals of the miniature adult infant Christ throughout the early history of Madonna and Child imagery, upon which these sketches are based.

By flouting the “rules” of traditional nude painting, the responses evoked by Saville’s oversized works do indeed engender disgust and repulsion (or what Julia Kristeva would term “the abject”[vi]), but , at the same time, there is, as Saville herself says, a real sense of still “wearing the myths of femininity.” With this comes an inevitable and seductive allure. Her paintings will shock and appal, but intrigue and make you want to go back for more. Humanness, through Saville’s lens, could certainly never become boring.

[i] L. Noël, ‘Jenny Saville: The Body Recovered’ in Concordia Undergraduate Journal of Art History, volume VI (2009-10), (accessed 28 March 2012)

[ii] M. Meagher, ‘Jenny Saville and a Feminist Aesthetics of Disgust’ in Hypatia, vol. 18, no. 4, Women, Art, and Aesthetics (Autumn – Winter 2003), p.24

[iii] F. Lloyd, ‘Painting’ in F. Carson and C. Pajaczkowska (eds.) Feminist Visual Culture (New York: Routledge, 2001), p.48

[iv] C. Henry, ‘Stinging salvos of flesh’ in The Herald (Glasgow) (4 February 1994)

[v] M. J. Castaneda, ‘“So Terribly, Terribly, Terrifically Fat:” Rethinking Jenny Saville’s Groteque Female Bodies,’ a thesis presented to the Department of Art, California State University, Long Beach, August 2009, p.94

[vi] J. Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (translated by L. S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982)


Installation shot of Jenny Saville at Museum of Modern Art, Oxford 
Photographer: Geraint Lewis
Ruben's Flap 

Oil on canvas
120 x 96 in. (304.8 x 243.8 cm)
Private Collection
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Oil on canvas
108 x 144 in. (274.3 x 365.8 cm)
Private Collection
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Oil on canvas
84 x 96 in. (213.4 x 243.8 cm)
Private Collection
Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

Oil on canvas
99 3/8 x 73 5/8 in. (252.3 x 187.3 cm)
Collection Lisa and Steven Tananbaum

Installation shot of Jenny Saville at Museum of Modern Art, Oxford 
Photographer: Geraint Lewis
Red Stare Head I

Oil on canvas
106 1/4 x 86 5/8 in. (270 x 220 cm)
Collection Gina and Stuart Peterson
Red Stare Head II, 2007-2011

Oil on canvas
106 1/4 x 86 5/8 in. (270 x 220 cm)
Collection Gina and Stuart Peterson