Monday, January 27, 2014

Old is New though It is Past

It's funny how looking back on the year, I realised how many exhibitions took place and concurrently, how many I should have visited.
Here are some of the ones I saw but forgot to post the blog about.
And I still intend to write up on that one excellent Picasso exhibition at MAH.

(I don't know why but I can't seem to post the pictures. Will have to add them in at another point).



The Qin exhibition in Berne was surprising for many good and bad reasons. For one thing, I expected that there would be more examples of the warriors on display. Only a handful and by that I mean you could count them on your fingers.
We went on a quiet Tuesday afternoon. The exhibition is best understood either through a guided tour or using one of those audio guides.
At its origin, the warriors were painted in bright, bold colours from lilacs to deep reds.
We saw one or two models of such paintwork. Without a doubt, I preferred them without the paintwork simply because it in no way discusses
What is so incredible is the amount of attention to detail. The horses are well-wroth, these tall, powerful creatures with fearless gazes.
Just as incredible is the manner in which the pieces were made and assembled. It was a chain production where the head was added as the last piece. Each warrior is individual, with facial features distinct from the next.
Military rank was important and this was incorporated into the sculptures - whether it was the kind of body armour the solider wore or the official ornaments which was seen as signs of authority.


The Royal Academy’s annual show had ended by the time I made it to London. Yes, very disappointing, indeed.
Still visible and hanging outside in the Annenberg Courtyards was the El Anatsui installation. The massive sculptural installation "Tsiatsia - searching for connection",  drapes the front of the building like a majestic robe.
The metal glimmers as it quivers slightly in the afternoon breeze. These are old cap lids from beer and soda bottles which have been flattened out into rectangular diskettes and painstakingly sewn together to form this patchwork of swaths of gold interlinked with red, blues and yellows.  It is almost like a distorted, perhaps abstract painting of the continent.

Also outside is the installation “Homeshell” by architectural firm, Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners. It deals with the thorny issue of housing. It was originally part of the Oxley Woods housing development in Milton Keynes but it is now turning a laser-like glare on the city of London. This is a city whose population is forever expanding but which, according to them, does not have sufficient construction projects to meet the demand.
This is a project that looks at the future, to the ever growing demand for a place to call “home” and the troublingly high statistics of those who remain homeless in the country (even though there is allegedly 32,400 hectares of vacant brownfield land in England). The need to provide housing is also about being able to do so at a reduced cost, where the investment matches the needs and means of those who most need it in a way that is both cost effective and easy to build. While the proposal to offer these quick fix (it only takes 48 hours to construct on site), matchbox kind of housing (the 2012 Olympic Velodrome was constructed using this method) may not be to everyone’s taste but in the firm’s opinion, it does offer a valid solution to a growing problem.
These are some of the advantages including the fact that Homeshell is adaptable to any location. Insulshell comes with 25-year warranty and a six decade design life (whatever that means). They also boast that they can build a six-story building in under a month and their system is also adaptable to constructing schools, factories and health centres. It all almost sounds too good to be true.

It was good to see the art selected for the annual competition hanging on the walls of the NPG.
While superlatives like amazing, most intelligent and incredibly ambitious definitely apply, the art on display is also thought-provoking.
This was where Katherine Windsor’s painting hangs. After the controversy surrounding it and the pictures flying over the internet, I thought the painting would be awful but it is so much better to see in real life. There is a great deal of artistry in the work and while I still feel it could have been more flattering (in the painting she does indeed look older than she actually is), it is in fact a very good painting.
The BP Portrait Award this year showcased the paintings of 55 artists from around the world whose works were considered to be the “most outstanding and innovative”. Though there is big prize money to be won, there is something very prestigious about showing your work alongside other artists of varying ages and styles at this acclaimed venue. In a world where the bizarre, outrageous and downright talentless is being praised, it is nice to see that traditional artistry, the harkening back to the original definitions of skill and talent are still being celebrated and valued.
Yes, this is definitely a case of substance over style.
Hoorah for the BP Portrait Awards.
I enjoyed Lionel Smit’sKholiswa”, the tattooed man “Takami Horikoshi” by Colin Davidson and the multiplicity of faces in “Conversations” by David Caldwell. Some other works may not have been to my personal taste but that is the truth about democratic selection, it allows everyone their subjective favourites. Little matter.
I salute all the artists selected.


Museums have always been accused of being a prison for the oeuvres of mostly dead artists. While they are indeed the purveyors the art that is supposed to matter in the future and the strict guardians of artwork made by artists who for the most part, are long dead and gone, they do offer a focal point for contemplation.

Without them, it would be almost impossible to see the work of artists scattered around the world assembled in one location. Instead, these works would likely have been squirrelled away into private collections or stashed in warehouses until an appointed time when they will once again see daylight when they are traded at Christie’s or Sotherby’s or perhaps loaned out for an international exhibition.
The many floors of the Tate have a weaving, almost hypnotic feel to them. Climbing up the innumerable stairs is a slog and not for the unfit. I am glad when I eventually spot the escalators and I jump on it as though I have just finished a marathon.

It is a pleasant surprise to discover the permanent exhibition is free. My intention had been to see at least one of the temporary or travelling shows but in the end, there just wasn’t enough time to see everything.
It is Sunday morning and the high-ceilinged rooms are filled with people, their necks craning as they stare at paintings on the wall, hoping to find relevance in the art by artists like Picasso, Miro and Kadinsky.
Works by Meschac Garba and the Sudanese modernist painter, Ibrahim El Salahi (different floors) were part of the temporary exhibits - which I did not see. One of Garba’s pieces was on display at Unlimited in Art Basel (the colourful and ginormous flag ball which I took a picture of – see below). El Salahi’s exhibition at the Tate is a major retrospective of a career spanning five decades and incorporating over a hundred artworks.
The significance of art is never more evident than when the visitor is moved by works they can study up close rather than on the pages of some glossy art book. 
In the end, I enjoyed seeing works by the old masters, from the Impressionists to the Cubists, to the Expressionists. And I would gladly go there again.
Then I went off and bought a rectangular art pad, walked a few metres and stood in front of the water looking out from the banks of London on a cool but pleasant morning.
What better way is there to spend a Sunday in a cultural city?

Other London sights:
Well, I can't help but mention the sculptures by Sean Henry which I stumbled upon in a swank hotel in London.  His tall, life-like men in painted bronze are intriguing and strangely, essential - yes, odd as that sounds. The scupture, "Man with potential selves" - is as mysterious as it is hypnotic.
This discovery was a very happy accident.

Unfinished business – Belinda Mason
On exhibition on the ground floor of the Palais de Nations (Porte 40) was the photographic works by Australian artist, Belinda Mason, who took photographs of the indigenous populations suffering from various maladies including mental health issues. These photographs were presented using a 3D lenticular format. Very cool.
The exhibition proved insightful as these close-up portraits of Aboriginal men and women was intended to give voice to people who the artist felt were either ignored or poorly assisted by the medical community in their regions. There is something compelling about looking at the face of a person and seeing their struggles and suffering in such an open, raw way.
As you walk by, the images follow you – or more precisely, the picture modifies itself, and the eyes seemingly shift to follow movement. They are in a sense, Mona Lisa like, personal and personable.
It is perhaps no coincidence that the works should be on display during the 24th session of the Human Rights Council where raising awareness and discussing daily human hardships of people around the world. After all, the plight of others is a pre-requisite aspect of their deliberations.

Also on the same floor:

The Andy Warhol Exhibition
I could easily use a whole page just to wax lyrical about an exhibition that incorporates diamonds, screenprint and that involves an iconic artist. But I won’t.
There is much to be said about Warhol – which has already been over said (if truth be told) so I think I will highlight the stuff I didn’t know about the artist.
Born in a country that no longer exists, Warhol is the fourth child of his parents and threw himself into art from a young age. He went off to New York and started off his career as a commercial artist. He was rejected by many galeries and his early works did not sell well. It took several years before he finally made it as a "real" artist.
Just before, he  reached out to artists like Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg, hoping for their support - as they were the only other artists who were going against the Pollock style of abstract art with their "pop art" -  but he was firmly rebuffed.
Indeed, it was the Campbell soup paintings that made the art world sit up and take notice (though at the time of the exhibition, he was mocked or alternatively, ignored). Still, he perserved and became an overnight success!
What is most interesting about the exhibition (aside from the generous application of diamond dust) is the versatility of the artist.
He surprised me and that, any artist can tell you, is always a good thing.