Visual Arts

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

Sunday 11 March 2012

Stash All Old Things!

Song Dong: Waste Not, Barbican, London

It would be a mistake to interpret ‘Waste Not’ as a straightforward critique of the materialist ethos of consumer culture, or as drawing a parallel between the drab uniformity of the Maoist era and the homogeneity of globalised consumerism. More profoundly, it hints at the possibility that material abundance can free us from the kind of tyranny that possessions have over us in times of scarcity.

Friday 24 February 2012

Fascination, fear and excitement

Lucian Freud Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London

Freud’s grandfather, Sigmund, attempted to examine and explain the workings of the human mind and helped to expand our understanding of them, including their more disturbing aspects. In a sense, his grandson followed in his footsteps. But instead of using the consulting room and couch, the younger Freud employed the studio and the paintbrush.

Friday 17 February 2012

Can’t see the wood for the trees?

David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, Royal Academy, London

‘Three Trees near Thixendale, Summer 2007’, shows bulging trees leaping out towards us like boxers’ gloved fists punching towards their opponents, while ‘Hawthorn Blossom near Rudston, 2000’, shows these vast shrubs lining the approach to an arch, giving it an air of mystery.

Dirty money?

Not If But When: Culture Beyond Oil, by Platform, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate (2011)

The aim of Culture Beyond Oil, a book produced by the arts and activist organisations Platform, Art Not Oil and Liberate Tate, is to draw attention to cultural sponsorship by the oil industry. The book is a type of intervention that questions the status quo – just like the scenario described above, which was carried out by Liberate Tate in June 2010. What does oil sponsorship reflect of the culture it supports? What does culture do, for oil money? What does oil money do to culture?

Saturday 4 February 2012

A dab hand

Terence Conran – The Way We Live Now, Design Museum, London

The link between science, manufacturing, and the production and development of the day-to-day technology we take for granted, and whose loss we would note very quickly, is not widely recognised. Conran, with his reputation for artistic and profitable practicality as his calling-card, has a vital role in combating two centuries of neglect.

Friday 27 January 2012

McCullin’s War

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin, Imperial War Museum, London

A key characteristic of the exhibition is the lack of colour photos used by Don McCullin during his career. McCullin said himself, ‘I thought that black and white images in war were much more powerful,’ and his photos reinforce this statement.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Red and blue heavens

Royal Manuscripts: The Genius of Illumination, British Library, London

The difference between seeing a manuscript illustration in a book and seeing the real thing is almost absolute. Medieval manuscripts are immensely tactile: the smoothness of the parchment (usually calfskin) on which the hair follicles can sometimes be made out, the richness and vibrancy of the colours based on rare pigments such as lapis lazuli, and above all the astonishing glow of gold leaf.

Wednesday 28 December 2011

The power of artistic orthodoxy

The Mystery of Appearance: Conversations between ten British post-war painters, Haunch of Venison, London

What they did share was a love of representational work and, one suspects, a bloody-minded determination to plough their artistic furrows however unfashionable - or unsettling - they might be. The unique nature of the contributions of each individual artist should be rigorously respected.

Friday 9 December 2011

At home with East End protest

Artist in Residence: Shiraz Bayjoo: Bow Boys' Archive, Whitechapel Gallery, London

Tower Hamlets didn’t suffer so badly from the riots compared to other areas of London, probably because of this tight-knit community of which Bayjoo’s young men are part.

Friday 25 November 2011

Proximity to genius

Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, National Gallery, London

We see Leonardo constantly striving to depict the world more perfectly, by doing things noone had thought possible. Some of the drawings show his fecund imagination in overdrive: he drew and re-drew the same composition, sometimes side by side, sometimes one on top of another. But while Leonardo is well known as scientist and as draftsman, here above all we see him as painter.

Friday 11 November 2011

The middle of nowhere

Arcelormittal Orbit, by Anish Kapoor, Stratford, London

Towers are monuments to our uncertainties. When Johnson talks with hopeful vagueness of the ‘mythic’ nature of towers, the word he is really after is ‘magic.’ The Orbit was designed to make the Olympic Park a ‘must see’ destination; the Orbit, that is to say, is a coercion; all towers are. Towers attempt to convince us that they, and by extension we, stand at the centre of things.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Hearing art

Boxed Tunes: Self-reflexivity in Sound and Art, ICA, London, 19 October 2011

All the artists who spoke treated sound as something other. As a musician, I was surprised by this - perhaps just because I am used to putting sound first, but also perhaps because the visual element of musical performance is and always has been a firmly established part of music: any musical experience always involves seeing things. But the reverse is not the case.

Friday 28 October 2011

Passports to modernity

Interview: Alex Danchev on art manifestos

‘These are living and breathing social documents that talk of human beings speaking to other human beings. The language and mode of expression is radical, bold and strident. And I think it relates to what we’ve already discussed…that artists saw themselves as part of a much bigger change that some sections of society were attempting to bring about.’

Friday 30 September 2011

The hard world of the dance

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement, Royal Academy of Arts, London

Degas was aware of - and took an interest in – the scientific study of the human body which was in progress during his lifetime. The works in this exhibition show Degas’ attempts to try and capture the workings of the skin and bone which are the raw material of human movement.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Asking the right questions

John Cage: Every Day is a Good Day, Hayward Gallery Project Space (Saturday 13 August – Sunday 18 September / John Cage Night, performed by Apartment House, Queen Elizabeth Hall (Tuesday 13 September, 7.30pm)

In the discussion which followed the concert, it was refreshing to hear Philip Thomas and Anton Lukoszevieze (the founder of Apartment House, as well as its cellist) strongly defend Cage as a composer, not just an ideas man, as he is sometimes viewed.

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