Visual Arts

Reviews of exhibitions in London and beyond, as well as books and performances related to the visual arts. 

Sunday 29 December 2013

The power of the playful

The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee - Making Visible, Tate Modern, London

As the varied and sometimes disturbing contents of this selection hints, there was more to Klee’s work than met the eye. He didn’t simply want to be some kind of amusing illustrator. Rather, he envisaged his work to be a reflection of transcendence and we can see him almost striving to get beyond the outward and visible to the inward —the essence of existence — in his ‘Static-Dynamic Gradation’ (1923) and ‘Steps’ (1929).

Saturday 28 December 2013

Mixed visual messages

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900, National Gallery, London

Perhaps the only lesson we can draw from the differing ideals summoned-up in these portraits - and the conflict which would destroy or change those ideals - is that neither presumption nor despair have a place in historical expectation. Human beings - either singly or socially - cannot exist without beliefs, and hopes for their fulfilment, but as to their outcomes; at the risk of suggesting a cliché, they must expect only the unexpected. But then, it is the best clichés that are true - usually.

Artists and gold-diggers

Sarah Lucas: SITUATIONS, Whitechapel Gallery, London

Looking at what’s on offer here, it’s easy to side with those who felt that, at the Momart fire - when, in 2004, a number of famous YBA works were destroyed by a conflagration whilst in storage - those artists got what they deserved for producing meretricious, attention-seeking work with which they could fool the public and make a lot of money whilst doing so. But the option of a simplistic put-down - attractive though it may be - is to be resisted in favour of a deeper analysis

Saturday 9 November 2013

Nostalgia and newness

David Bowie is, V&A, London

Bowie owed his fame, arguably, more to his visual style than his music. His first job after leaving school was working in advertising and, while it’s easy to snipe at the morals and workings of that profession, it’s one which requires mental and visual skills for its practitioners. Bowie built on that early experience.

Friday 19 April 2013

The Batman of Pop Art

Lichtenstein: A Retrospective, Tate Modern, London

Whatever interpretation we place on Lichtenstein’s approach to his work, it is chiefly the early Pop material for which he remains famous and it makes the major visual impact in this exhibition. It leaves us with contradictory emotions.

Monday 1 April 2013

The customary and the disturbing

Man Ray Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London

It is, perhaps, ironic that that Man Ray — who participated in this movement which set out to challenge received social attitudes - could also produce photographs which are eye-catching, yet conventional. Perhaps he deliberately split his work into the customary and the disturbing, maintaining this juxtaposition of radically different things in a Surrealist spirit

Tuesday 26 February 2013

Duchamp, the Joker

The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns part of Dancing Around Duchamp season at the Barbican, London

The Duchamp season at the Barbican is a tribute to the most significant of Duchamp’s reincarnations, his American revival as the godfather of a new and irreverent attitude towards art’s institutionalisation and its obsession with the nature of the medium.

Wednesday 13 February 2013

A deeper realism

Manet: Portraying Life, Royal Academy, London

Manet was too traditional for the supporters of Impressionism, too experimental for the traditionalists.

Light entertainment

Light Show, Hayward Gallery, London

An exhibition of light based art since the 1960s is all about light, kids (no cameras) and action!

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Rethinking art and disability

Unlimited Global Alchemy, Bluecoat, Liverpool, September 2012

The impression that was given by these individuals was that despite their HIV diagnosis, they were getting on with their lives. So I was somewhat confused as to why the Bambanani members saw themselves as ‘disabled’. And this was the first point that came up in the discussion when Gadsden informed us that Nondumiso wasn’t even aware that she had a disability until she had been informed by the artist.

From I-Limbs to iPhones

Superhuman, Wellcome Collection, London

The tour moves on and I’m dragged, kicking and screaming out of my holiday from reality. Or should it be holiday from fantasy. It’s hard to tell how seriously to take the futurist Ray Kurzweil when he talks about humans and technology merging. But Superhuman has certainly made it clear than humans are embracing enhancements and apparently it wont be too long before robots get morals too.

Not just an also-ran

Bronze, Royal Academy, London

At the heart of metal-work lies skilled craft, with its need to mentally master and physically apply scientific knowledge - along with the unavoidable effort this entails. in other words, technical education is involved here and this is something which has, arguably, been neglected by educationalists since the end of the Second World War.

Monday 15 October 2012

Connoisseurship and condescension

Bronze, Royal Academy of Arts, London / Raphael, Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Seeing these two exhibitions within a couple of days of each other was a fascinating contrast in museological approach. Bronze aims to entertain, to impress and even to overwhelm with its accumulation of great works. But it deadens the soul with poor display and foolish presentation. In every respect Raphael is the more worthy exhibition.

Saturday 7 July 2012

A less jaded age

The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

This chain of cosmic interdependency reflected the social hierarchy on earth, so the tombs of emperors and their officials were grandiose in order that their status would be duly acknowledged in the spiritual realm; if they were not, then the ranks of masses beneath them would have faced uncertainty after death, and would have wasted their lives observing official rituals.

Sounds of belonging and loneliness

Dixon Clark Court Symphony, by Sarah Strang with Nathaniel Robin Mann and Daniel Merrill, performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, Union Chapel, London

The experience was enveloping and immersive, very much assisted by the chapel’s booming acoustic, which the musicians played into with glee (memorably, the machine-gun clatter of two snare drums grew into a deafening roar).

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