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

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Review of Paula Becker and Otto Modersohn: Art and Life at the Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen

Paula Becker and Otto Modersohn: Art and Life
Paula Modersohn-Becker Museum, Bremen
25 August 2018 – 6 January 2019

As I fall asleep in my narrow, creaking bed, with my close friend and travelling companion in the one beside me, I imagine the myriad conversations that took place in this room more than a century ago – between the artist Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907), whose atelier this was, and her close girlfriend, the sculptor Clara Rilke-Westhoff (1878-1954), as well as with her husband and fellow painter, Otto Modersohn (1865-1943), and Clara’s husband, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). What art critical and philosophical discourses might I have been party to, had I been a fly on the wall all those years previously? Outside the atelier (now a holiday apartment), the village of Worpswede retains the charm that attracted a colony of artists, spearheaded by Fritz Mackensen (1866-1953), to assemble here from 1884, and their varying houses can now be visited as museums and galleries, filled with paintings of the typical cottages with their roofs sloping down to the ground (exemplified by the atelier building itself, although the roof of the studio room was lifted, by Modersohn, to create a well-lit working space for his wife), the surrounding moor, the canal that was built to transport peat excavated from the moor to Bremen (30km to the southwest) on small boats with tar-brown sails, silvery birch trees and endless open skies. 

Read the full review here

Review of A New Spirit Then, A New Spirit Now, 1981-2018 at Almine Rech Gallery

A New Spirit Then, A New Spirit Now, 1981-2018
Almine Rech Gallery, London
2 October – 17 November 2018

In 1981, the Royal Academy of Arts, London, hosted a seminal presentation of 20th-century painting, co-curated by Norman Rosenthal, Christos M Joachimides and Nicholas Serota. At a time when the relevance of figurative painting was in question, these three white male curators put together an equally all-male exhibition, comprising more than 150 works by 38 established and emerging artists, arguing persuasively that there was life in the old dog yet – and, moreover, that an old dog could be taught new tricks. Alongside older generation painters, such as Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning and the godfather of modern painting, Pablo Picasso, the exhibition introduced a number of young unknowns, including Francesco Clemente and Gerhard Richter. 

Now, nearly four decades later, Rosenthal has curated an, albeit significantly condensed, follow-up, revisiting this defining moment in his curatorial career, and re-posing the still-pertinent question about the relevance of painting in an art world so dominated by the conceptual, multimedia, and, increasingly, the virtual. This time, 15 artists have been selected, with a painting each, 13 of them from the original roll call, with two women – Maria Lassnig and Susan Rothenberg – added, Rosenthal says, as a “kind of apology” and to redress the balance (if two out of 15 can be said to do that!). Apart from Picasso’s L’Homme au chapeau de paille (1964), all the works have been made since the first exhibition ended (in fact, all but his and Lassnig’s, since 2000).

Read the full review here

Interview: Marilyn Stafford

Interview: Marilyn Stafford
October 2018

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, in 1925, Marilyn Stafford never intended to become a photographer, yet her career is one of the most distinguished there could be. Having started out almost accidentally photographing Albert Einstein – for friends who were shooting a film and asked her to help them out – she moved to Paris, where her mentors included Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, and where, alongside commissioned fashion photography, she also developed her documentary skills, photographing children living in one of the city’s worst slums (later bulldozed to make way for Paris Opera Bastille). Her onward path took her from Lebanon to India – where she spent several weeks with Indira Gandhi – and later to the London of the Swinging Sixties, where, juggling the challenges of single motherhood, she worked as one of very few women photographers on Fleet Street. Since retiring from photography in 1980, Stafford has lived in the sleepy town of Shoreham-by-Sea on the south coast of England. She is far from absent from the photographic scene, however, and, in 2017, set up the Marilyn Stafford FotoReportage Award, facilitated by FotoDocument and now also supported by Olympus, to help professional female photographers around the world with documentary photo projects addressing social, environmental, economic and cultural issues.

Read the full interview here

Meet the Collectors: Horace Walpole

Published in the autumn 2018 issue of Art Quarterly magazine

Interview: Cathie Pilkington at Pallant House Gallery

Published in the autumn 2018 issue of Art Quarterly magazine

Friday, 7 September 2018

Review of Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
16 June – 4 November 2018

Everyone knows something of the tragic story of Frida Kahlo (1907-54) – the polio, contracted when she was six, which left her right leg thinner than her left and caused her to limp; the accident, when she was 18, the after-effects of which reverberated throughout the rest of her short life, forcing her to undergo multiple operations and spend much time bed bound; her tempestuous relationship and on-off marriage with the Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957); her affairs with Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, as well as with various female friends; her now iconic monobrow and her unconventional and folkloric style of dress – and there is a flourishing yet morbid fascination with her tale. Children around the world wear flowery Frida-style hairpieces; teenage girls have Daft Punk Frida T-shirts; even grown men can be spotted with Frida socks. There are also numerous self-help-style inspirational books in which Kahlo stars as role-model-cum-heroine. 

Thankfully, her artworks are recognisable, too – at least, her self-portraits are known through multiple reproductions, even if often distorted and graphicalised into a contemporary branded derivation. Sadly, encounters with the works themselves are rarer, and, having read reviews of this much-hyped and long-awaited blockbuster exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, they were not something I was especially banking on encountering. The focus is, instead, on Kahlo’s biography and, principally, the treasure trove of artefacts and paraphernalia uncovered, when, in 2004, the seal was broken on the bathroom in her lifelong home Casa Azul (the Blue House, in Coyoacán, south of Mexico City – now the Museo Frida Kahlo), which, for 50 years following her death, had been kept locked, as dictated shortly before his death by Rivera. Nevertheless, true art fans needn’t despair or indeed avoid the exhibition altogether, for there are enough paintings to render the battle with the crowds worthwhile, even if you may ultimately leave with somewhat mixed feelings.

Read the full review here

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Interview with Tamsyn Challenger

Interview with Tamsyn Challenger 

Tamsyn Challenger is an artist whose practice responds to violations of human and women’s rights around the world. Her collective gender-political portrait, 400 Women (2010), was made following a visit to Mexico in 2006, where she met with the mothers and families of women who had been brutally raped and murdered or who had disappeared, in the town of Ciudad Juarez. Her current curatorial venture, Free the Pussy!, at Edinburgh’s Summerhall, comprises works made in response to – and representing the core issues relating to – the arrest in 2012 of Pussy Riot, following their pop-up protest performance, Punk Prayer, at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which attacked the Orthodox church’s support for the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. Featuring works by the likes of Judy Chicago, Yoko Ono and Carolee Schneemann, the exhibition also includes Challenger’s own work, Ducking Stool (2012).

Studio International spoke to Challenger about the origins of the exhibition, the roles of the artist-curator and the female artist in contemporary society, and the need for women to reclaim and own powerful words, such as “pussy” and “cunt”.

Read the full interview here

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Interview with Thierry Oussou

Interview with Thierry Oussou

Thierry Oussou (b1988, Benin) refers to his artistic practice – encompassing paintings, videos, drawings, installations and performances – as “social archaeology”, exploring the relationship between contemporary art and ethnographic objects. It raises questions of authenticity and visibility in relation to heritage and archaeology, especially that of his country of birth, Benin. “I have a desire to document the vanishing before it is completely gone,” Oussou says. “Forgetting and not being aware of your own history can be used as a tool of manipulation by politicians. Thus, I also feel there is a need to save some things just for the sake of knowing.” Having recently taken part in the Berlin Biennale, showing a project concerned with the debate around the repatriation of African artefacts, he also has a solo exhibition at Tiwani Contemporary in London. 

Read the interview here

Monday, 16 July 2018

Review of Patrick Heron at Tate St Ives

Patrick Heron 
Tate St Ives
19 May – 30 September 2018
Turner Contemporary, Margate
19 October 2018 – 6 January 2019

It has been a momentous 12 months for Tate St Ives – reopening in October 2017 following a four-year building project, led by Jamie Fobert Architects, to add nearly 600sq metres of gallery space, doubling the existing area – and, in recognition of this, achieving the accolade, worth £100,000, of Art Fund Museum of the Year 2018. The new four-storey extension, with its tall, sky-lit exhibition space, is currently host to the first major exhibition in two decades of works by the local – and hugely significant postwar British abstract artist – Patrick Heron (1920-99), who always wanted his paintings to be seen at different times of day, in different light, just as they can be here.

Read the full review here

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Interview with RuimteVeldWerk

Interview with RuimteVeldWerk
Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City
Ruimteveldwerk is a collective comprising four architects – twin brothers Brecht and Sander van Duppen (b1987, Leuven), Pieter Brosens (b1976, Antwerp) and Pieter Cloeckaert (b1984, Leuven) – who seek to expand the boundaries of architecture and connect it to urban planning, sociology, history, art and activism. Their participatory, experimental projects involve vulnerable subgroups of society, such as refugees in Oslo, and, for the Bruges Triennial 2018, the elderly residents of the Saint Trudo almshouses. For this project, they have created an offline space in the heart of the courtyard where the residents and visitors alike can enjoy an oasis of peace in the centre of the city, raising questions about the sacred notion of silence – and human interaction – in today’s digital era. 

Read the full interview here

Friday, 6 July 2018

Interview with John Powers

Interview with John Powers
Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City

Inspired by the many almshouses of Bruges – the idea of medieval social housing and a sense of civic ownership that survives to this day – New York-based artist John Powers (b1970, Chicago) further drew on the city’s folkloric story of the beheading of Pieter Lanchals. A confidant of Emperor Maximilian I, Lanchals was decapitated by the people of Bruges and, as a form of punishment and remembrance, Maximilian obliged the city to keep 52 white swans on its canals in perpetuity. Powers’ site-specific work for this year’s triennial is named after the legend and echoes the elegant S-curve of a swan’s neck. 

Studio International spoke to Powers, who expanded on his inspirations, talked about his process of planning and constructing the 15-metre-tall steel tower, and explained how Lanchals fits into his wider practice.

Read the full interview here

Review of Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City

Bruges Triennial 2018: Liquid City
Various locations, Bruges
5 May – 16 September 2018

Having been resuscitated in 2015 for the first time since 1974, this second of the contemporary iterations of the Bruges Triennial, curated once again by Till-Holger Borchert, director of Musea Brugge and head curator of the Groeningemuseum and Arentshuis, and Michel Dewilde, curator of visual arts at the Cultural Centre, Bruges, with invaluable support from Els Wuyts, takes the title of Liquid City. There is a double meaning to this, in that Bruges, of course, is itself a liquid city, known as the Venice of the North for its picturesque canals, but questions are also raised, by the curators and the artists behind the 15 works of public art on display, about how a historic city such as Bruges might become metaphorically liquid, flexible and resilient in an age when nothing seems certain and established ways of thinking are increasingly coming under pressure. The concept itself derives from the Polish sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman (1925-2017), who wrote of a “liquid modernity” and “the growing conviction that change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty”.

Read the full review here

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Review of Beyond Ophelia: A Celebration of Lizzie Siddal, Artist and Poet at Wightwick Manor & Gardens

Beyond Ophelia: A Celebration of Lizzie Siddal, Artist and Poet
Wightwick Manor & Gardens, Wolverhampton
1 March – 24 December 2018

She was described by William Rossetti as “a most beautiful creature with an air between dignity and sweetness with something that exceeded modest self-respect and partook of disdainful reserve,” and is best known as John Everett Millais’ Ophelia (1852) – the girl who caught pneumonia by lying in a cold bath for hours while he painted – and her widower Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s posthumous Beata Beatrix (1863). Lizzie Siddal (1829-62), born Siddall, but persuaded by Rossetti to drop an L for reasons of style and association, was well aware of the conundrum of her situation, valued, as a woman, for her appearance and as a muse for the male artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, while striving to be loved for her character and her own naive artistic abilities. Her incomplete poem, The Lust of the Eyes, begins with the following perceptive lines summing up how it must have felt to be “used” in this way, rather than “nurtured” as a whole woman – and the wife she long waited to become: “I care not for my Lady’s soul / Though I worship before her smile; / I care not where be my Lady’s goal / When her beauty shall lose its wile.”

Read the full review here

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Review of Contemporary Chinese Works on Paper at Ipswich Art Gallery

Contemporary Chinese Works on Paper – A Review
Ipswich Art Gallery
28 April – 17 June 2018

Ipswich might not seem the most obvious place for an exhibition of works on paper by Chinese artists, but resident of nearby Wivenhoe, Robert Priseman, who, in 2012, together with Simon Carter, set up the group Contemporary British Painting (CBP), and, with his wife Ally, is building the Priseman Seabrook Collection, is one of the curators, and the initiative builds on previous undertakings, including the exhibition Contemporary Masters from Britain, which toured 80 works of art from this collection around four Chinese venues between July 2017 and January 2018. This reciprocal relationship offers exciting opportunities for those at the British end, as well as for students, teachers and established artists in various cities and provinces across China. Marco Cali, the second curator, for example, has recently been spending time teaching at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts – taking western methods to the sponge-like Chinese students, and, in turn, gaining eye-opening insight into the course structures and media available in art schools on the other side of the globe. The third curator is Zhang Xing, also a visiting lecturer at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts, who lives in London. 

Read the full review here

Monday, 7 May 2018

Review of three exhibitions of work by Cedric Morris

Cedric Morris at Gainsborough’s House
Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury
10 February – 17 June 2018

Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman
The Garden Museum, London
18 April – 22 July 2018

Cedric Morris: Beyond the Garden Wall
Philip Mould & Company, London
18 April – 22 July 2018

I have to confess that, until recently, I had not heard the name Cedric Morris. I even missed the hype surrounding Philip Mould’s Fake or Fortune television programme about the artist and Lucian Freud in 2016 and the ensuing leap in prices being fetched at auction from c£3,500 in 2014 to almost £57,000 in 2017 – an increase of almost 1,500%. But now, all of a sudden, there are three exhibitions celebrating the work – portraits, landscapes and flower paintings – of this 20th-century British painter, founder (together with his partner and fellow painter Arthur Lett-Haines) of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, tutor of (among many other big names) Lucian Freud and Maggi Hambling, and prize-winning iris-breeder, who described himself as an “artist-plantsman” and is accordingly thus remembered on his humble tombstone in the village churchyard at Hadleigh in Suffolk. It is not an anniversary year, and, seemingly, the exhibition at Gainsborough’s House in Sudbury (near to Benton End in Hadleigh, where Morris and Lett-Haines lived out their final four decades) has no connection to the two others (both in London, one at Philip Mould & Company, the other at the Garden Museum, but also sponsored by Mould). Nevertheless, taken as a trio, these individually small showcases offer a wonderful insight into Morris’s life and work and, hopefully, will go some way towards restoring his somewhat waned reputation.

Read the full review here

Monday, 23 April 2018

Review of Emil Nolde: Colour Is Life at the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin

Emil Nolde: Colour Is Life
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin
14 February – 10 June 2018

If one had to pull out the key themes or threads running through the work of the German expressionist painter and printmaker Emil Nolde (1867-1956), they would certainly include flowers and gardens, dancers and cabaret singers, races and types, religious imagery, and then, and perhaps overarchingly, colour and light. “Colour is strength, strength is life,” he is known to have said, and he certainly used colour as the primary vehicle for expressing himself and bringing his canvases and pages vibrantly to life. So much so, in fact, that entering the first room of the National Gallery of Ireland’s retrospective, which draws its title from this quote, the paintings, set against dark blue (and later red) walls, seem positively to glow, as if lit from within. “Every colour harbours its own soul, delighting or disgusting or stimulating me,” Nolde further wrote. “Yellow can depict happiness and also pain. Red can mean fire, blood or roses; blue can mean silver, the sky or a storm.”

Read the full review here