Category Archives: Art Reviews

Hands everywhere

During my first swift survey walk through the last years degree show (2016) of the Royal College of Art in London I noticed a curious repetition of a specific motif : The hand . But it wasn’t just a hand that exhibits itself, but a hand that acts, that touches, holds, performs. A hand that encourages empathetic identification.

The hand is one of the the most ancient representational motifs existing in art . Negative and positive handprints have been found in caves and on rocks dating back up to 39 000 years.

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But it has been relatively absent in the art of recent years.  What the hands formed , the  result of their work has been subject of exhibitions, but less the hands themselves.

My thesis now is that there is a renaissance of the representation of hands happening and I see two  contributing factors. 

1. The hand in the viewfinder of our eyes

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The most important factor is the relatively new but omnipresent everyday connection of the hand with the image. Through touchscreen technology the hand is now often and directly physically connected to the image. Today through the use of smartphones and tablets the hand  has become part of  a very large and growing number of images. During our interaction with digital images the hand is often in the foreground or center of the image. One might argue that the hand was also present when in the past we were looking through pages of  museum catalogues or photo books . The difference might be subtle, but then the hand was only active at the edge of the image. Now it is active in its centre. It swipes over, it pinches and double taps. The hand is right in there. Physically. Overall the hand has become a larger part of our daily optical view finder. The heightened frequency of the hands presence is reflected in its taking stage in artworks of recent contemporary artists. And this doesn’t just effect art school graduates.

At the last Turner Prize exhibition at  Tate Britain in London every shortlisted artist had to a larger or smaller degree images or representation of hands present in their work.

2. The making of objects vs the end product

A second factor for the appearance of the hand as a motif is more speculative and more subtle in its arguments: There seems to be a shift of focus in the arts towards “the making”  and away from the “end product”. Artworks now often reflect the way they are made in some way. This is connected to Bertold Brechts ideas about theatre and the importance to show its construction and context within the play. The revival of the collage , of art and crafts and  the return of performance art are all signifier of this trend. In painting abstract process based painting has been all the rage during the last ten years. Marks, material and process have been playing Ping Pong at all the art fairs. It has been young artists that are pushing these interests. My suspicion is that therefore the hand as a central instrument for making art has  become more prominent in artworks.

 

The net as a new model for the world

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I am not too interested in fashion trends in art ,but more in the question why this shift is happening now?

I sense that the world has become more fluid through information technology and social media. Everything is connected with everything it seems. At least it all is caught in the same net.

Water is a better representation of this condition than stone. The fluid closer to it then the solid. Every object is viewed now as more or less part of this net.

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Information in all directions is attached to the object and it is itself information for other connected objects. Its only logical, that objects including artworks are now viewed in this way. So “the making of it”  is the information we want ,we are used to, we want to convey, as it has become the way we see the world.

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Hans Peter Feldmann’s Shadow- scape at Berlins Hamburger Bahnhof

A simple, humble and wonderful installation in the second floor of the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. The balance between mondane plastic objects and their magical shadows is effortless. Maybe a little ‘habitat’ but through it’s simplicity and honesty transgressing Scandinavian bedroom design.

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PURE BEAUTY / John Baldessari at the Tate Modern

Photo courtesy of The Broad Art Foundation Santa Monica

Without any doubt John Baldessari is one great artist : Full of wit ,sensibility, self-critic, humour, intellect, connections, age and political awareness.

He has a great retrospective exhibition at the Tate Modern in London. The parallel running Pop Art exhibition is no rival. In comparison It melts into one colourful heap of plastic.

Baldessaris exhibition is curated in historic order. The beginning at the beginning. I like it as it gives you a very good sense of how his work developed.

I don’t want to go into details about the show. Only show some great pieces. (peaces)

One thing though I could observe which bugged me :  Even the good and aware artists are not entirely free in their choices. The dealers (galerists) and the market definitely have a word to say. You can clearly see the production value rise in the course of the exhibition. The palette changes with the money you have to your disposal. Money changes the art. It doesn’t mean it makes it worse, but it changes it even if you are a  clear, independent and intellectual artists. I am probably only stating the obvious, but I do it anyway.

The question though appears who are you making the work for. I picture the being as a large one eyed woman with a pearl necklace made from factory buildings, private schools, husbands and something small like a screw. Her dress is floaty and beneath you hear the screaming of playing children. She also wears a wig, that is like a flytrap and full of artists sticking to it. Her eyes have fully diluted pupils ,so that you can’t tell their colour.

Markus Vater

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Photo courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery NY

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Detail: Cigar Smoke to Match Clouds that are the same , 1970-1971, photo courtesy of Marian Goodman Gallery NY

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Prima Facie (Third state):From Aghast to Upset, 2005, photo courtesy of Baldessari studio

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from Baldessari Studio Archive

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Anish Kapoor at the Royal Academy

Art for babies / Understanding the sublime


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Baby stacking cups

Before I longwindedly describe my walk through the exhibition at the Royal Academy in London I want to propose a thesis about Anish Kapoors work which before this exhibition hadn’t occurred to me in this intensity.

A lot of his sculpture draws its touching and involving strength through regressing the viewer into a state of perception that is that of a baby or toddler.

This is a surely contestable thesis, but seems as I want to explain in the following have some grip. In other work shown in the exhibition (mostly more recent work)  body experiences are evoked, like menstruation ,ejaculation, wounding or shitting. I felt the need to articulate some of these observations as they have only been marginally mentioned in any of the cultural channels reviewing this exhibition or his work. As I am not a scholar I might be wrong and there are extensive writings about my observation and I want to excuse my ignorance if this is the case.

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“Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers”, 1981. Wood, cement, polystyrene and pigment, 97 x 76.2 x 160cm. Tate. Installed at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2009. Photo: Dave Morgan

The first room of the exhibition contains earlier small works powdered in glowing pigment. The objects seem to be in the room in an virtual manner. The glow and intensity of the pigment almost overrides the 3dimensional character of the objects. The objects aggressively redefine the space that surrounds them. While our perception works hard to comprehend this redefinition of space it knocks down the doors into our subconscious.

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pregnant woman

At the same time the shapes and colours of the objects are very close to shape and colour of toddler and baby toys. It might not be a coincidence that the only other work in the room is a little white bump almost invisibly bulging out of the wall, called ” When I am pregnant” . The objects, shapes and colours are all part of our first experiences as human beings, which makes his sculptures so effective and powerful even or specially to an audience which is not educated in art history.

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“When I was pregnant” by Anish Kapoor

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Breasts

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The next room has a huge concave yellow wall shape. Its size and coloration makes it difficult to decide where the solid carrier of the colour is situated. Foreground and background de-solve.  Another regression into a phase of the early development of our perception. Into a time before we were able to tell the difference between foreground and background ,before we could tell the difference between us and the other.

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‘Yellow’, 1999. Fibreglass and pigment, 6 x 6 x 3 m. Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London.at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2009. Photo: Dave Morgan

What people describe as the experience of the sublime I would rather call an experience of regression. Obviously this regression puts us nearer to the place of nonexistence or being an object rather than a subject. Which maybe could help understanding what people mean when they talk of the sublime and their experience of it.

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Photographs courtesy of the Gladstone Gallery

The room that follows contains a number of concave and convex mirrors. Perfectly crafted. To stay on course of my thesis the mirrors obviously deal with another basic moment in the development of our perception. The discovery of ourselves in relation to our surroundings. A large step from the very early stages dealt with in the first rooms. The shaping of the mirrors creates effects like in a fairground House of Mirrors. Its placing, size and angles are superseding any House of Mirrors though. They are just too well done. But they are noticeably easier to intellectualise than the work in the previous room, which indicates to me that the phase they are regressing to is later and not as deep.

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‘Hive’, 2009. Corten steel, 5.6 x 10.07 x 7.55m. Courtesy of the artist, Lisson Gallery, London, and Gladstone Gallery, New York. installed at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2009. Photo: Dave Morgan

Now I am entering a central circular room which contains a vast rusty sculpture reminding me of some kind of voluptious submarine. When I surround it I find a large vulva like opening. I don’t want to state the obvious, but I am gasping between the legs of a woman out of the perspective of a very small child.

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Courtesy of Lisson Gallery

The next room is exclusively dedicated to sculptures made out of something that looks like raw unburnt clay. In fact it is concrete sausages. Only their colour  is different to shit. Reflecting about it, its obvious that shit is the first sculpture a human being forms. Not with his hands necessarily but it is a deeply sculptural experience. The regression here is into a time when the child is discovering the body and its actions.

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The last of the inner rooms contains a sculpture forming again a kind of vulva connected to an organically shaped tube . Some kind of sexual organ , that is much more of a classical sculpture and lacks a little the regressive and suggestive power of his other work in the exhibition. I am clearly moving away from point of entrance (birth).

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Svayambh by Anish Kapoor

The exhibition is framed by two large and spectacular wax works. They are quite different to the rooms I just described and to stay with my attempt of a basic human interpretation of the works, reflect for me more concepts than actual sculpture. Meet the parents. We have a canon shooting red wax against a wall and a big red wax shape being pulled through doors. The following words come to mind : Ejaculation, birth, foreground, background, active, passive, gun, house, blood, papa, mama.

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‘Shooting into the Corner’, 2008-09. Mixed media, dimensions variable. MAK, Vienna, Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art. Installed at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2009. Photography: Dave Morgan

Although these works are the most spectecular works in the exhibition, I feel they are also the weakest as they refer to art history and art making , without ever superseding their points of reference. ( look at Richard Serra’s splashing of hot fluid metal against a museum wall and at Joseph Beuys wax shapes taken from the negativ spaces under a footbridge  in one of the first Muenster Skulpturen Projekte in the 70ties).

Their regressional power is zero and in this they are substantially different to the rest of the work. They are just too grown up.

Markus Vater

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