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

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Meet the Collectors: Jim Ede (Kettle's Yard, Cambridge)

Meet the Collectors: Jim Ede (Kettle's Yard, Cambridge)

Published in the spring issue of Art Quarterly

Interview: Chiharu Shiota

Interview with Chiharu Shiota

Published in the spring issue of Art Quarterly

Review of Designing English: Graphics on the Medieval Page at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford

Review of Designing English: Graphics on the Medieval Page at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford

Published in the spring 2018 issue of Art Quarterly

Book Review: Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter

Book Review: Klimt & Rodin: An Artistic Encounter

Published in the spring 2018 issue of Art Quarterly

Preview: The Secret Life of Scissors at the Fashion and Textile Museum, London

Preview: The Secret Life of Scissors at the Fashion and Textile Museum

Published in the spring 2018 issue of Art Quarterly

Friday, 13 April 2018

Interview with Miguel Chevalier

Interview with Miguel Chevalier

Miguel Chevalier: Ubiquity 1
The Mayor Gallery, London 
12 April – 1 June 2018

Miguel Chevalier: Ubiquity 2
Wilmotte Gallery at Lichfield Studios, London
13 April – 15 June 2018

Miguel Chevalier (b1959, Mexico City) is a true pioneer of computer art. He has been using computer science as a means of expression in the field of visual arts since 1978, when, as a student, he managed to negotiate out-of-hours access to use the rather sizeable machines at the Optics Centre at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. In 1983, he spent some time in the new digital department at the Pratt Institute in New York, before returning to Paris to continue his experimentation and, ultimately, win the support of some key curators and critics, who enabled him to show and develop his work.

Chevalier sees his digital and virtual compositions as very much a continuation of art history, throughout which new young generations of artists have sought to experiment and push the boundaries of the possible. More recently, he has begun to create real, physical objects, using techniques such as laser cutting and 3D printing to work backwards from his virtual imaginings. Simultaneously, using touchpads and VR, he creates interactive works that invite viewers to traverse the boundaries of reality, entering a virtual world.

A longstanding interest of Chevalier’s is the development of cities and urban planning. For a double exhibition across London’s Mayor Gallery and Wilmotte Gallery, he is expanding his Méta-cities project to create an immense interactive installation in the latter architectural space and a more domestic representation of the same ideas in the Mayfair space, exploring the many potential scales and instantiations of a digital work. 

Studio International visited Chevalier in his Paris studio to discuss his career, his commitment to the digital as a “very open tool”, and his interest in making the real virtual and the virtual real.

Watch this film interview here

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Review of Marino Marini: Visual Passions at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Marino Marini: Visual Passions
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
27 January – 1 May 2018

Marino Marini (1901-80) is largely synonymous with equestrian sculpture, his depictions of horse and rider having developed, from their first appearance in 1936, to reflect the artist’s changing sociopolitical and philosophical views, as well as his existential anxieties, and epitomised by The Angel of the City (1948), standing proud, horse’s neck and rider’s limbs (all five of them) erect, outside the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on Venice’s Grand Canal. However, as shown by this touring retrospective, which opened last autumn at the Palazzo Fabroni in Pistoia (the Tuscan city where Marini was born) before moving, appropriately to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni), his legacy is far greater than just this. With more than 50 of his works on display, the exhibition has been cleverly and informatively curated so as to place Marini’s work within the wider art-historical context, ranging from early Etruscan sculpture, through 15th-century Florentine works, to Auguste Rodin and even Henry Moore. Each room juxtaposes works by Marini with works by his contemporaries, or those who influenced him, highlighting the development of his thought and practice.

Read the full review here

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Interview with Michele Oka Doner

Interview with Michele Oka Doner

Michele Oka Doner: Bringing the FireDavid Gill Gallery, London
21 March – 25 April 2018

Walking into London’s David Gill Gallery, there is a sense of stillness and peace, the gentle scent of burning wax hovers on the air like in a chapel, and visitors are transported a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Piccadilly’s rush hour. This is the work of Michele Oka Doner (b1945, Miami Beach), who, now in her fifth decade of artistic practice, has a longstanding interest in nature, the elements, ritual and wanting to make people slow down, stop and take a closer look at the world around them. 

Her second solo show at the gallery pivots on a large bronze work, Altar II, a complex cast, jigsawed back together, from an intriguing and manifestly beautiful tree root, which Oka Doner retrieved from the Hudson river, while visiting friends in New York, with the help of a tow truck and a 12-minute gap between trains on the Metro-North line. It is kept company by a number of smaller Burning Bushes and Shaman Sticks, all flickering bright with heavily dripping candles, creating a gentle, almost transcendental, glow. On the walls, there are huge, androgynous, black-and-white figures, printed in relief from ink-infused organic material. Inspired by the myth of Prometheus and the basic attributes that distinguish humanity from any other animal species, Oka Doner believes that all art begins with the sacred, and she relishes the excitement of discovery and transformation, creating something that is ultimately shared.

Oka Doner’s work ranges in scale from jewellery and furniture to set and costume design for the Miami City Ballet, and she has undertaken a number of large-scale public art commissions as well, including Radiant Site at New York’s Herald Square underground station and A Walk on the Beach at Miami international airport. In London for the opening of her exhibition, before heading to Oxford for the launch of a book (she is also a published author), Oka Doner spoke to Studio International about her practice in general and, more specifically, her love of fire and the need to bring it back into her life. 

Watch this interview here

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Interview: Bjarne Melgaard

Bjarne Melgaard: A Contradiction in Terms

‘I don’t do art to make everybody like me and I don’t have any problems with people not liking my work.’ For an artist who has more often than not courted controversy with his paintings, films and installations, this is doubtless a good thing. A lesser character might have kowtowed to criticism and given up his art-making, but not Bjarne Melgaard. ‘I believe in freedom of speech. I don’t see my work as very mainstream, so when I get reactions saying it is stupid, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But I am also entitled to my opinion. As long as you know yourself what you’re doing, and you’re convinced about it, then you can handle anything.’

Melgaard’s current exhibition, which opened on 23 February at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, is by no means as controversial as many of his earlier offerings – which have seen him variously accused of racism, paraphilia and paedophilia. Showing alongside an exhibition of works by Sturtevant, Melgaard’s solo show – his first with the gallery in London – sees the 17th-century Ely Room filled with a suite of 14 new paintings, Bodyparty (Substance Paintings), each 180x180cm. Because of the age of the building, the heavy canvases could not be hung on the walls, and so they stand about, propped up on marble blocks. Melgaard, however, likes this ‘improvised’ feel, echoing the ‘casual easiness’ with which the works stand on the floor in his studio, and describes the whole coming together of the exhibition, proposed to him ‘at very short notice’ by Ropac’s new senior global director, and former director of Serpentine Galleries, Julia Peyton-Jones, as ‘very organic and very fast’.

Read the full interview on the Norwegian Arts website here