1 March 2017

Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932

The histories and stories told in this exhibition are too vast to reflect in something like a review - how to outline how a country of hundreds of millions of people can undergo a complete change of regime, a change of collective psyche. A total cultural revolution touches the life of every citizen, and the power of image was a major tool in promoting ideology in every aspect of life.

The RA has collected work from individual, collective and famed artists, and artefacts from unknown workers. There is a progression through time, with no starting echo of what had just come before. From a century on, this is what ideology looks like when the state is attempting not just mind control but aesthetic control also. The glorification of the noble worker, the forward-looking mechanisation and communist ideals of course masked the terrible human cost which artists portrayed at their peril.

What a sense of the energy of the beginnings of the start of the twentieth century and really the start of the modern world. There are too many highlights to note, but a couple of days on from visiting, the works I am still thinking about include Promenade by Mark Chagall. I thought this painting would be much smaller, and somehow much less...Soviet. Seeing it deep within context makes the flight of fantasy seem even more magical at a time when such individualist expression was seen as decadent. The sense of folk art it evokes is also reminiscent of the work artists were at the time also referring to a supposed golden and pure peasant past.

Promenade, Mark Chagall, 1917-18, 

Tram conductor by Alexander Samokhvalov, another glorification of the nobility of the worker, is stunning. The figure is oddly illuminated in a neon blue cast by the new electrification and modernity. Sturdy and imposing, she carries out her duties like a queen of this new world.

Tram conductor, Alexander Samokhvalov, 1928

Personally I tend not to partake of audio guides at galleries, as I prefer listening to my own thoughts and having unmediated discoveries, and so I don't know if the RA provides apt music in their guides. Photographs of composers put in mind that the perfect accompaniment to the exhibition would be some of the relentless symphonies of Shostakovitch and the magical inventiveness of Prokofiev. Occasionally in museums, perhaps amongst the harpsichords, a little appropriate music is quietly played in the background, adding atmosphere and context. In this vast exhibition, covering such traumatic years in Russian history, image was the medium used to reiterate message, through paintings, photography, film and artefacts, and yet music is also an intrinsic part of such culture. Once noted, its absence seems almost like an omission.

A peddled flying machine is such an idealistic enterprise. It rotates in its room at the RA, beautifully lit to cast shadows. Thoughts of insects, bird skeletons, Michelangelo, eccentric Victorians. A chance remark by another visitor who told me he had just visited a futuristic exhibition in Tokyo with similar structures, evoking alien creatures. In an exhibition so bound with a sense of place and time, Letatlin speaks of the shared push to the future and the space race which was to come later, once so many millions of people had paid so very dearly in transforming the soul of a country.

Image result for royal academy russian revolution flying machine
Letatlin, Vladimir Tatlin, 1930-32

Revolution: Russian Art 1917–1932
Royal Academy
11th February - 17th April 2017 



27th February 2017

17 February 2017

teamLab: Transcending Boundaries

My sister and I have a private phrase between us - "Fuck off and write your own novel!" How we laugh. It's such a great antidote to critique or indeed criticism to creative efforts by those who have not really put themselves through all those processes of actually producing something and putting it out there.

Why does there always have to be criticism? Why cannot people for once just accept that something is as it is, sit back and enjoy it without making unwelcome comments and suggestions?

Clearly there are actually reasons.

However, once in a while, there comes along a thing that is so disarming, that all those thoughts and ideas, all the alternatives that come to mind about different approaches, or what I might have done, and so on, just melt away, and you can sit back and enjoy an experience for what it is.

It's probably too late to book Transcending Boundaries by teamLab (although people were successfully turning up when we were there for returns and slipped in). Yes, I had criticisms, questions, alternative views. You get twenty minutes inside, and feel rushed when alerted that time is up, and that it would be frankly lovely to stay for a while more.

Lights, colours, flowers, butterflies, all gently moving around you, responding to your presence, seeming to land upon you.

Comments rise, but I let them go and let it be. Yes, with that opportunity and those resources, I may well have done it differently, but this time I'm happy to enjoy it and go off to write my own novel.

Transcending Boundaries
Pace Gallery
25th January - 11th March 2017


17th February 2017

16 June 2016

Tate Modern Switch House - A New Context for Art Discourse

Initially we are all interested in this new space for art, rather than the art itself. Naturally there is some very distracting art in the Switch House, but more of that another time, except to say that there is a wonderful amount of Louise Bourgeois, which is obviously a good thing. The Turbine Hall itself is still a thrill. If you are a grown-up visiting Tate Modern and go in a side door rather than down the slope into the vast entrance, then you have grown up the wrong way, as the people have got so used to flying that they would rather waste their window seat reading the paper than experiencing the awe of the world spreading out below them, or passing through grey clouds to the sparkly azure side. Well, perhaps the Turbine Hall is not quite such an exhilarating phenomenon, but it is still a vast post-industrial wonder. Although not quite vast enough, as the new extension, the Switch House, indicates.

The new building has a lot of needs to fulfil, to accommodate visitors to what is the most visited art museum anywhere, to make spaces to show work, and to provide a contemporary setting for art which can also evolve as culture moves on in time. It also has to be something of an iconic structure, in sympathy with its surroundings and the older power station. It's a wonderful and welcome addition to what is becoming a very cluttered part of London - since TM came along, other blocks have sprung up next to it, offices and flats, oppressively crammed together, and often with odd angles jutting out.

Architects Herzog & de Meuron have created a building which is exactly right for Britain and for London - it speaks of so many layers of history in its bricks, but is totally now in its twisty shape - a computer age monolith. Inside it's all about the view, at each level, and especially the top 10th floor where there is a balcony to walk completely around - this must be the best complete and free view of London - and the views are new, that slight different angle which allows for different aspects. Through the nearby blocks, the City looks a bit manic, those odd-shaped office blocks almost spilling out into the Thames. There are higher views, but this is a complete London from it's ancient epicentre. I think I could live on this floor, endlessly understanding the changing skies and weather.

Views are not add-ons, the long banks of windows so integral to the structure both inside and out. And the interior is not exactly white-cube neutral, but a warm concrete with wooden floors that still smell of shavings. Visible metals echo the industrial heritage of the Turbine Hall side, and generous floors of gallery spaces look moveable to adapt for differently shaped exhibitions. Art-wise, Tate haven't fully moved in to this space as yet, but can surely now accommodate the streams of visitors that come.

There are plenty of issues to discuss about Tate and the curatorial choices made, the choices of artists, the factory-warehouse industrial ethos, the way they describe and interpret, and so on. I think, however, that they missed a trick in the Switch House - the layout continues the endless conveyor belt approach of the Turbine Hall, an exhausting trawl through what is often an educational experience rather than one which allows the art to create its own atmosphere. Tate are very aware that they are a public space, but to be a centre of discourse, where artists can arrange meetings, where tutors and mentors can conduct classes, where artists and others come to work, write and think, there ought to be many more places with tables and chairs available. Not just cafes, the odd bench, or the members room, but places where people can stay for hours, being creative, being productive, without being shuffled on, endlessly directed and curated.

Tate Modern


13 June 2016

30-Second Architecture Edited by Edward Denison - book

It really does take just about thirty seconds to read through each section summary of fifty key principles of architecture. Of course, you can spend longer in examining the illustrations or following further references. The success of the presentation lies in the effective level of condensing expertise without infantilising the reader.

A useful reference guide even for those for some knowledge of architecture: for those wishing to learn, points are clearly made, examples are aptly chosen, and there are clear directions for further in-depth study.

Profiles of significant architects and buildings add context and the guide works like a readable, illustrated glossary. Definitions of terms reveal such mysteries as the flying buttress – an arch which carries the thrust from a wall onto an external support, and an elevation, a drawing which depicts accurate dimensions of a façade. Insights into the way architects think include concepts such as the solid-void, the relationship between built and open space. This stylish book makes for enjoyable and educational browsing.

30-Second Architecture
Edited by Edward Denison
Ivy Press
ISBN 9781782400400

Review: The Good Book Guide, Eleanor MacFarlane 2014

21st Century Design By Marcus Fairs - book

Here at the beginning of the 21st century, design and ideas can be disseminated in moments, entering the global consciousness. Yet despite such a broad platform, it is still individual creativity and bright sparks which drive designers. The scope of these contemporary designs is vast, ranging from architecture to lighting to domestic objects to logos to packaging and more. 

New materials and processes broaden the field, making sophisticated use of recycled materials, such as skips remade as gardens, or odd glowing balloon lights made from animal off-cuts. Rapid prototyping also makes all sorts of intricate constructions now producible in complex skeletal furniture.

Design remakes and rethinks the ordinary in surprising ways. This is an exciting read, packed with brilliant memorable ideas. Some may already be familiar in corporate use, others speak of a bright future when designs become borrowed and spread out. Some products seem faddy and unlikely to catch on – a table that converts into a skirt, anyone? In cutting edge buildings and interiors we may experience use-friendly technology incorporated within the best of modern aesthetics. A catalogue of what is going on now which may design our lives tomorrow.

21st Century Design
By Marcus Fairs
Carlton Books
ISBN 9781847327499

Review: The Good Book Guide, Eleanor MacFarlane 2014

7 February 2016

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse: Royal Academy

It's really all about the Monet, but that's not a criticism. This exhibition focusses upon a particular time, especially in France, when the domestic garden emerged along with the middle classes - in other words, instead of a garden being a functional kitchen plot or a grand extension to palatial estate, people had the time to nurture a garden for pleasure and leisure. In the mid 19th century technology and travel also saw crazes for collecting plants, ferns and water lilies, at astronomical prices.

Gustav Klimt, Flower Garden, 1907

Photography was also entering into the visual consciousness, and so painters had new areas to explore - light and colour, freeing themselves from representation. Many artists put as much creative energy into gardening as painting, finding it a reflexive process, and more, we can see an evolution towards abstraction in this collection from 1840 to 1920.

But it's beauty really which these paintings are about, beauty in flowers, in sunshine and shade. This exhibition bombards with beauty and suggests to the other senses, fragrance, breezes, birdsong and other delights. Actually it's partly an exhibition that makes one wonder what art is for, or what the experience of art can be. Do artists intrigue and seduce through beauty, or go the other way. Why shouldn't art be gorgeous?

Perhaps here we see the garden become the new landscape, planted, managed and nurtured by artists, and then painted, a whole created world within a frame.

Wassily Kandinsky, Murnau the Garden II, 1910

There is a narrative in this exhibition which represents a clear chapter in the history of art. It begins and ends with Monet, although there are plenty of other star paintings and new discoveries along the way. Such an exhibition is bound to be the requisite blockbuster - 35,000 tickets have already be sold which means that views of the paintings are often obscured by other viewers. Most of these Impressionist-type paintings require some distance for the best effect and focus, and sadly, especially in the case of the wonderful, epic, awesome, ambitious Monet triptych which is the highlight, it is just not possible to stand back far enough from these works to see them properly.

Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse
Royal Academy
30th January - 20th April 2016 



7th February 2016

15 December 2015

Europe 1600 - 1815 V&A

Sometimes when writing a review, I find I just have to give in and say Wow. Lucky enough to be able to go through these newly opened galleries at the press view, both visitors and museum staff were wowed by the substantial treasures in display.

How often we are told that certain oversized and overblown works were commissioned in order to impress - giant mirrors or cabinets, large and impractical decorative objects. Well, they still impress with awesome skill in ambitious scale.

Normally I write a review very soon after seeing exhibitions, but this time I waited to see if other thoughts occurred. It's like reviewing a whole fabulous new museum of a time when much was hand made, and yet the beginnings of mass production and exotic imports saw craft skills in full bloom, seeking to impress with flamboyant solidity.

Critique of the work is not really possible, but critique of the V&A's museum practice, upon reflection, comes out as top notch. The most sophisticated research results in a seamless journey through time. Information is there to check, but doesn't get in the way or impose upon the work. Lighting adds atmosphere and drama, and seats allow contemplation. There is so much work here, a really generous store of treasures that is nonetheless not crammed in.

The wonder is where all this stuff been until now. We know that national museums have most of their objects in archive or storage. Some items are rotated and displayed eventually, or in special displays, while other never make it into public view, perhaps because their time never quite comes, or because they may be too fragile. This new permanent section of the V&A raises the tantalising prospect that there are still plenty of high quality pieces lurking in the shadows, waiting for the limelight of public viewing.

1600 - 1815 is a large scope of time and history. The more you bring to this exhibition, knowledge of music, social history, European history, diseases, culture, literature,,,the richer it will be. These are the props and aesthetics of life before modern times, and sparks the imagination and sensibilities of what life would be like in that other place - the exuberant grandeur of the past.

Europe 1600-1815


15th December 2015

19 October 2015

Ai Weiwei: Royal Academy

Ai Weiwei is perfectly transparent about his processes and the layers of meanings intended in his works, and yet they still manage to be mysterious and to take you to different parts of mind and feeling.

There is a gut reaction to his works: the scale, the materiality, the meticulous detailing, the hundreds and thousands of invisible hours inherent in his multitude pieces. There is beauty and grace, in the Chinese traditions he reconfigures. It's all there in front of you, making you feel and think.

Multitude is so often the vehicle of Ai Weiwei's art, in actual reality in works, and yet the most obvious metaphor. Straight is a powerful, sobering and heart rending memorial to the thousands of people, mainly children, who died in the Sichuan earthquake in 2008, not documented by the authorities, but by a project of the artist. Yet another multitude of people we never knew or heard of in a place we will never visit or know. This piece, in the transubstantiation of metal rods retrieved and straightened out from the debris of the disaster, speaks so clearly of irretrievable loss, that there can never be too many people on this planet, and that each individual is a precious life and soul.

There is so often deep sadness and anger in the works, and they are the more powerful that those drives are restrained and matched by tireless restraint. They don't shout and splash themselves around; they are built up, piece by piece, action by action, into beautiful aesthetic form, containing all those paradoxical emotions. Even in ignorance of the political context of the works, they are powerful and moving, and speak across cultures.

The crabs/Harmony piece, a corner pile of crab creatures, is almost unspeakably sad.

Sadness and yet strength. Making something beautiful out of an ugly and Kafkaesque situation. It's a triumph in a way, but at such a terrible cost.

Works manage to balance exactly the political intent with other concerns about humanity and history and time. The wooden bed-frame compressed into the rubble of AWW's demolished studio suggests layers of suffocating centuries.

I'm not going to describe the pieces - I actually went to a talk just before the exhibition which did just that - thus somewhat denying me the delicious element of surprise. However, they were better than described. It's hard to explain the visceral feeling some art conveys, and the psychological and emotional field which is created by seeing them. Ai Weiwei's works are not just important because they are political or successful, but because they are beautiful, imaginative, enjoyable and memorable. Go if you can.

Ai Weiwei
Royal Academy
19th September to 13th December 2015


15 October 2015

Carsten Höller: Decision

Why am I not having fun in this place designated for fun?

Carsten Höller is an artist whose contribution to culture is a playful approach within art institutions – they are delighted to have his works – it gives them edge and makes them interactive and groovy: technicians get to flex their expertise in realising the actualities of construction and installation. That only leaves the audience.

I walk through a metal corridor construction, unnerved by the darkness and echoes, the entrance to a Haunted House at a funfair. Actually I didn’t notice there was a choice of doorways, but it all ends up at the same place anyway.

Research into Höller’s background reveals that he was a research entomologist, specialising in insects' olfactory communication strategies, work in which he has a doctorate and continued working in into his 30’s – he is now early 50’s. This nugget of insight is key to understanding Höller’s approach – we are all as insects implicated in his experiments: setting up and testing interaction rather than any interest in emotional or intellectual responses. Höller says that he does not visit his exhibitions while they are open to the public, and so one wonders what the artist/scientist gleans from how people actually react.

Somebody else rotates the giant mushroom mobile. Well, that’s it, like Alice in Wonderland without the fiction.

What is interaction in a gallery – perhaps a truly engaging painting that cannot be touched may in effect be more interactive than any device available for handling because of the communication between artist and viewer through the medium of the artwork. Decision relies on a block naivety in the audience who are expected to have their minds blown and their perceptions revolutionised, as if they have never encountered ideas before. Where is the intervention of the artist – where is the interpretation, the vision, or the reflection where works deepen the more they are considered?

Beds that may or may not move a bit. A really exciting concept to read about.

Hayward’s curator Ralph Rugoff says of Höller’s slides that because of their context within a gallery, the viewer is offered more than one experience that if they were in a fairground. This disingenuous viewpoint disregards the problematic complexity of FUN, as if there were no childhood trauma or personal history trailed in with the audience. Not everyone has uncomplicated memories of fun and games, or has their entire paradigm of the world inverted through seeing an upside down reflection.

A wall of changing lights with some codification behind it. What impressive production values!

The exhibition relies upon a crowd response, assuming that everyone has the same inner realities, perhaps like the collective insect mind.

The upside down view helmets with mirrors. They make me smile a bit, as if Carsten Höller has invented upside down!

Decision is an experience of varying quality which allows the viewer to somewhat play around with items which tinker at the edges of ideas of perception. It’s the sort of thing science museums do extremely well, and a kind of exhibition parents love to bring their children along to before they turn into teenagers.

Is this the same exhibition? Still not sure about those two videos about music in Kinshasa. They are just footage. No mediation from the artist.

Resistance to Höller’s enforced fun can grow to indifference then cynicism. Höller keeps on insisting that by altering our perception it will help us to see the real world. The viewer may well be amused, but there just isn’t the depth, abstraction or profundity here to examine why one might have a half-hearted response to overblown claims. His strongest works are diluted in the collective.

What now? Would I like to weigh myself in public, slip into some sort of harness and be swung from a crane for the view, which I can see anyway? And in this skirt?

Decision is weak as science and rather empty as art. Perhaps it’s a candidate for a new definition as gallery installation. All that interesting material and fascinating ideas are now ripe for metamorphoses into art.

A pile of pills. I just can’t pretend to think it’s exciting and dangerous to try one. I am not seduced.

Carsten Höller: Decision
Hayward Gallery
Southbank Centre London
10th June to 6th September 2015


I had written this review for the Frieze Writer's prize - obviously I didn't win that! I found the style I was attempting a bit of a struggle and not quite me - Frieze seems to like a walk through the entire exhibition in print, whereas I prefer to pick out the gist, and not survey or describe particular works.

15th October 2015

7 September 2015

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World

It's a rare treat to see so many Hepworth sculptures all in one place. She is acknowledged as a major figure and influence of 20th century art, and yet some issues remain as to how Tate Britain has chosen to curate and present this retrospective.

The exhibition starts with a strange oxymoron of a statement, about it being a usual view that when Barbara Hepworth and her contemporary Henry Moore started working in the 1920's, it was assumed that artists didn't carve by hand. Really? So soon after the Arts and Crafts movement? Although Futurism and Modernism were embracing mechanism at this time, and although it was more usual to make models, there are plenty of examples of hand carving - not everything was cast. It's such a distraction to be confronted with my own wrong initial double negative assumption.

Naturally it makes sense to show an artist's work in terms of their contemporaries and collaborators, and especially in Hepworth's case the work of her husband the artist Ben Nicholson, with whom she exhibited. Usually in such a major retrospective it would be expected to focus purely on the artist, to have a chance to closely examine a wide range of their work. I don't remember such exhibitions of, for example, Henry Moore's work starting with a mixed room including Hepworth and Jacob Epstein's work by way of explanation or contextual orientation. A retrospective is a chance to see the artist in their own contextual world, somewhat abstracted from other art events apart from those they were directly involved with such as in print or other collaborations.

Barbara Hepworth was a woman artist in what was still frankly largely a man's world. She was an artist of great strength and vision who embraced the challenges of life, of motherhood, who worked through war and marriages and built up a considerable reputation in her lifetime.

She didn't need her artistry to be defined by the work of others then, and she doesn't need it now, and considering her drive and resilience, it is particularly insensitive to contextualise her with work from Moore and Epstein, as comparison to these men plagued and frustrated her professional life.

And so to the work.

Sculpture for a Modern World is well titled, as we see the formation of new ideas, new revelations about what lies within, new geometries and new meanings emerge through Hepworth. What a feel for materials she had, and what exquisite technique. A few of the larger wooden pieces are showing signs of breaking the bounds of her will, time and natural processes distorting the shapes.

Wood has a mind and a will of it's own, with undercurrents of grain and knots and direction. It's a marvel to see Hepworth's balance of mind and matter, as she so often reveals the best of her materials while creating spacey forms.

It's the internal carving and the inserted rods which are still thrilling to contemporary eyes - they still look like work for the future, but perhaps for a future which has already vanished, or which we have since taken a side step away from.

The inner colour is often a blue - a sort of aqua, minty, municipal swimming pool, 1950's plastic earring blue, probably with a touch of green in it. It's space blue. It's a blue which is hard to replicate now, but I wish Tate Britain had been able to paint the walls that blue as a magical and sympathetic setting for these precious forms.

Barbara Hepworth Pelagos 1946

A highlight of the exhibition is a film of Hepworth working in her garden at St Ives. She herself was something of a sculpture.

Barbara Hepworth

Oh yes, you want to touch them, to embrace them really. Barbara Hepworth was an artist with rare sensitivity and strength, and ability to create her true vision. At once delicate, imaginative and intriguing, these shaped blocks point to a future still to be achieved.

Barbara Hepworth Corinthos 1954-5 

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World
Tate Britain
24th June to 25th October 2015


14 July 2015

A Successful Series of Artistic Failures

Art practice is a long game, taking a lifetime. Many artists commit to their practice later in life, perhaps after travelling different paths first – I am one of those – I resisted art classes for years because somewhere in my thinking was the idea that I would be told what to do. Like many people, art for me represented inner freedom, even if that was in the privacy of my own room.

Most of us grow up drawing, perhaps covertly in our bedrooms, like confessing into a secret diary. We obsess over drawing certain ways, perhaps repeating variations on a theme. For me it was drawing a candle stuck in an apple, the wax flowing down in inky rivulets, scrawled in black pen. There was a school corridor where I often sat and drew some intriguing rooftops. Art and drawing becomes a place of connection with the self when all else is in a turmoil of growing up.

As we know, art at school can go either way: either it is not complicated for you to retain your connection with art, or it interferes with you identifying as an artist through judgements and assessments – as if a curriculum had anything to do with art! Those who go straight from school to studying art often come out the other side realising they are spent and need different life experiences in order to enrich their art.

In our statements and CVs we present ourselves as having a constant stream of artistic success, as if gallerists, curators and audiences have ceaselessly and deeply appreciated our work and found it of intrinsic cultural value. Perhaps that’s so for the odd few, but seldom talked about much these days is the inner struggle of artists – what is discussed are the very real difficulties of getting work shown and supporting ourselves.

What of that creative, artistic impulse, so often subsumed in daily life. Even if the art practice really takes off, similar issues remain – instead of constantly pushing, artists can feel almost ridden by extrinsic expectations, perhaps to repeat work they are known for. Many artists support themselves through allied professions: we all have different ways of making it up as we go along.

But what of the art stored under the bed, stashed in boxes, unappreciated, unexhibited, unrealised ideas, or perhaps already framed: all dressed up with nowhere to go. What of the secret and private struggles to keep that connection with the self, with the inner freedom of being an artist. We read of past artists and appreciate that behind their catalogue of successes and achievements were fallow years, failures and challenges with the world and with themselves – through that we understand what creativity is and what commitment to that means.

Creativity is not limited to artists - many people share this struggle with connection to self- expression, that inner dialogue between aspiration and disillusionment. It’s not a shameful secret:  it is ever unfolding creativity over a lifetime.

14th July 2015

21 June 2015

Summer Exhibition 2015: Royal Academy

It's real visual treat to wander through this selected exhibition and allow the eye to settle upon what it seeks. It's a good place to figure out what you look for in art, what your eye is naturally drawn to, and what you find immediately attractive.

Like at an art fair, and as this is a selling exhibition it is a market place of sorts, there is so much competing for attention that there is no time or inclination to allow much time for working out more difficult work that perhaps would be contemplated in a different context. This is an exhibition for liking art, and not bothering too much about what one does not naturally care for. Even then, the sheer volume only allows for a certain amount before visual fatigue sets in. So the pieces remembered after visiting, the pieces that have resonance, have to be a very distinct voice amongst the pleasant cacophony cramming into view. The curation, which includes many styles of work, allows for smaller and quieter pieces, and once again, the art that speaks the most eloquently is not always that which shouts the loudest.

The summer exhibition is very far from being a view of the current state of contemporary art, or at least the cutting edge of that - it is mainly palatable, ownable art, and while that is not at all a criticism, it's worth acknowledging that just because all art made today does not necessarily push the edges of redefining what art can be, neither does that make it redundant. While artists paint, painting is relevant, while artists make prints and draw, that is also the art of today. Much of art is about reiteration, and perhaps finding a new way to intone what has been noticed by generations of artists before.

Some pieces I particularly retained, because of their drama or sheer beauty:

Robin Friend. Exit Test = From the series Flotsam, Vomit & Boon

Clare Crines. Moon Anenome

Scott Mead. Looking Back

David Pearce. A Bend in the Road

Rose Hilton. Red studio 

Barbara Rae RA. colony - January 

Tim Shaw RA. Erebus (Man on Fire version II)

Suzanne Moxhay. Thicket

Carol Hodder. Winter Storm

Frank Bowling RA. Pickerslift

Jim Lambie. Zobop. RA

Jim Lambie's taped staircase is a sheer delight, and manages not to be optically overpowering and distorting. The choice of colours are cheering, and it's a marvellously understated celebratory installation or intervention which has pride of place and makes walking upstairs an event.

Summer Exhibition 2015
Royal Academy
8th June - 16th August 2015 


21st June 2015

10 June 2015

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain: Victoria & Albert Museum

I don't think I've ever yet been to a degree show where there was not at least one installation all about shoes - made of paper, dipped in ceramic, deconstructed, sticking out of walls, and so on. Although shoes in a fine art context do not feature highly in this exhibition - there a couple of shoes embedded in latex, this collection qualifies as high concept wearable art. Shoes particularly pique the imagination and heavily feature in fairy stories and myths across cultures, and are therefore ripe cultural shortcuts. Cinderella can be found in China, Japan and Korea as well as the European Grimm-version. The glass slipper from the latest Cinderella movie sparkles and shines with glittery glamour.

Less a historical review, the V&A have got together dreams and fantasies in footwear from many countries across the centuries. Although shoes in museums often draw the eye, the V&A are showing what might be called extreme versions or treasures of each type. Some are delightful and wearable now, while others truly defy the obvious laws of physics. It seems there is nothing new in shoes - platforms? The Venetians got to a vertiginous 50cm. Heel-less constructions? Marvellous constructs pre-date current on-trend boots by decades. Red soles - done before. Only the impossibly tiny slippers made for bound feet have no place in modern life - thankfully such excruciating and debilitating fashions have gone, although some porn-chic items have alternative purposes.

As well as the treasures, the embroidered and bejewelled shoes, the viewer can't help wondering how those shoes would feel to wear, and often, just how some shoes could possibly worn at all, let alone walk in. The point, of course, is that shoes are not always for such practical purposes as walking, and high status shoes often left the walking to others, while the wearers tottered in these fabulous creations.

Many people confess to having a thing about shoes, whether that is for buying and wearing, or else lusting over. I am reminded of a friend I once had, who had tiny feet - size 2. She sometimes found her husband in their bedroom with all her shoes lined up against the wall, just looking at them. Graduating artists will always find the shoe poignant subject material. If until now you have been a bit shoe-resistant, this exhibition will convince that for as long as people have been wearing shoes, it is clearly a human trait to show off, display wealth and parade their sexuality from the ground up.

Images and credits coming soon - camera misbehaving.

Shoes: Pleasure and Pain
Victoria & Albert Museum
1st April - 19th July 2015



10th June 2015

13 May 2015

On not going to exhibitions

There's always going to be more exhibitions that you miss than you can possibly see, even if you devote yourself to going to art exhibitions.

I don't go to everything I would like to, or intend to. I could write the recent history of art over the last few years through exhibitions I have failed to attend. I live in London and could quite seriously go to several different exhibitions in a day, and never be done. I read the statistics about that somewhere, estimating the sheer number of changing exhibition listings in major cities worldwide, and London came out tops as having the most. It's like a museum of perpetual motion.

As a reviewer/blogger, I get invited to press views, and I am also on gallery invite lists. It's taken me a while to develop a system to keep up to date with all that, which is still evolving. And still I miss exhibitions, including those MUST SEE blockbusters. I rather dislike seeing art at blockbusters, especially when they are busy or on a timed entry. Something in me rebels about being told THIS IS IT in art. In truth I go to exhibitions not to be persuaded, overwhelmed or convinced, but to think my own thoughts and to find new ways of accessing my imagination. Seeing the world anew through an artist's view, discovering a new paradigm or psychological truth, perhaps encountering a considered window to the world through a beautifully developed aesthetic - all these and more are what can happen at an exhibition. Often art is a great tool for reframing in the psychological sense, perhaps easiest explained by incorporating what was previously unbeautiful into the potentially beautiful camp. It takes away assumed judgements by presenting new judgements.

So I don't go to everything, and also miss out on exhibitions I'd really like to see. Nor do I review or write about every exhibition I go to - sometimes I just want to go and look, and allow the voice of critique to take a day off. I often go to a gallery or museum to find a space to myself to think over a problem or issue I have been saving up for such a moment of privacy and atmosphere. So it's not just the art, it's the cultural paradigm that I seek.

No one surely has the time or freedom to live as an omni-exhibition-goer. There are other things in life, and so choosing what to see is another issue, beyond sheer logistics. As an artist myself, when I get to show work in exhibition, one of the criteria I aim for is that the work is not truly representable online or through images - it has to be experienced live, and that people will want to see and experience the work in exhibition. As it is a market of choice, what art is worth experiencing, and what will more or less work through scrolling through a website. A harsh truth.

As readers of books, there is not an expectation to read all books and know all authors, and yet how often in art being an omnivore is a professional expectation. What is art for, for some sort of contemplation, for thinking about, for impact, and not necessarily for rapid consumption.

I often talk to people who feel somewhat guilty about not going to as many exhibitions as they feel they should. To those people I simply say to consider themselves part of a slow art campaign, and that it's alright to take a breath in between art experiences.

13th May 2015

9 May 2015

Neha Choksi: Minds to Lose: Hayward Gallery

I have to declare an interest here as a moving image artist myself. Neha Choksi's work Iceboat does just about everything I look for moving image to do. It's beautiful and mysterious, meaningful without needing explanations, and a journey in the own mind of the viewer. A boat made out of ice, what a fabulous concept, invoking all sorts of narratives and interpretations, some fairy-tale and mythic, and other all too real such as the current precarious and tragic voyages of migrants in the Mediterranean. It is all of these things and more, a dreamed reality, a perfect and mesmerising analogy.

I found the other works less convincingly successful, as there were elements which I felt got in the way of my own imagination. Two other videos required reading the script to truly figure out what was going on - a disappointment to me after the abstract power of Iceboat. Leaf fall is eloquent in its way, but the noise of the leaf clipping seemed inauthentic. Similarly, the ticking noise in Minds to Lose is a bit of a distracting ordeal for the audience wearing headphones.

In Leaf seems appropriate to the overall exhibition, but unoriginal. I would not normally comment on originality, as in art it is surely more about context, reusing and reimagining imagery. However, three painted indoor trees somehow did not have the impact they probably intended, as variation of that are a similar sight in exhibitions and degree shows.

Iceboat remains in my memory.

Neha Choksi, Iceboat, 2012-13 (video still)

Neha Choksi: Minds to Lose
Hayward Gallery
30th April - 14th June 2015



Waterloo Sunset Pavilion 

I admit I hadn't noticed there was a free space at the Hayward before. The signage all over the Southbank Centre is really appalling and favours the intrepid. Even then, wandering where you will can just as easily lead you to a dead end as to some brilliant place which everybody else already seems to know about.

The Waterloo Sunset Pavilion sounds great: Conceived as a ‘drop in centre for children and old people and a space for viewing cartoons’, Dan Graham’s Waterloo Sunset at the Hayward Gallery 2002–03 is a space for social interaction, learning and fun that is open during and in between exhibitions. The space houses six touch-sensitive monitors showing cartoons selected by Dan Graham, artist’s videos from the Arts Council Collection and new media commissions.

It was a chilly Spring day when I visited, and already the Pavilion felt hot, stale and airless. It's a magnificent view over towards the busy Thames, but the room reeks of the old rubber floor tiles. The screens are low and require sitting on blocks and wearing headphones, but the general brightness makes visibility difficult. Overall, it's not inviting and feels like a wasted space. Glass walls invite colour casts. The place could do with the oxygenation of plants, and something like rush flooring would freshen the atmosphere.

The Pavilion needs a makeover.


13th May 2015

31 March 2015

All of This Belongs to You: Victoria & Albert Museum

Nobody needs an excuse to visit the V&A. You can go every day for a year and still make new discoveries. Besides, it's a public space and they can't really keep you out.

Part of the remit of such places nowadays is to re-examine their very meaning. A public gallery and museum isn't just a context for work, it is a whole set or multiplicity of contexts and agendas, which must constantly reflect upon itself.

What does it mean for an object that is part of the collection, how did it get to be there, where was it from, who valued and documented it, what judgements have been made about it over time, have those changed according to changing political or socio-economic shifts, and how do we read and respond to such objects and settings in our current climate. Those sorts of things, and many more - in what circumstance was the object made, was it made as a unique piece or one of many, why was it made, what does it signify, what forces were at play at the time, does it betray a vanished or outmoded attitude, was in made under duress or now unacceptable conditions. Was the object made from rare or everyday materials, was it made by artisan or obsolete methods, was it an object of comfort, or function, to repress, or to display wealth.

How does a museum display and care for the object, what information does it display about it, what objects does it show next to it by way of contrast, juxtaposition or harmony. Is the object ever going to be displayed or will it be stored, or disposed of. If broken, will it be repaired, restored, or perhaps copied for display. Will it be shown with historically accurate fellows, or to explain a development over time. Perhaps the object belonged to a particular person which gives it provenance, or it may be poignantly anonymous. I could go on. I really could.

Who owns the object, was it plundered, saved, bought, and if it now belongs to the nation, who may see it or access it, and if it truly belongs to everyone, what of those who never set foot in such a place as the V&A.

All of This Belongs to You is an exhibition that essentially explores aspects of context through the concept of ownership, or citizenship. Objects are spread throughout the museum, some major commissioned pieces, and some more prosaic objects slotted in to curated galleries.

Jorge Otero-Pailos 
The Ethics of Dust 2015

Architect Jorge Otero-Pailos has made an extraordinary piece, The Ethics of Dust, which uses the latex innards cast of the adjacent Trajan's Column, the enormous piece which is itself a cast-copy. The latex has collected all the dust accumulated inside over more than a century. It's a thrilling work - a rubbing of a shadow, which speaks of so many layers of time and history, of presence and suggestion, of authenticity and revised history.

James Bridle
Five Eyes 2015

James Brindle has the wonderfully sympathetic setting of the tapestry gallery for his piece which takes a form of re-codification of the systematic documentation behind various objects in the gallery. He has his own elegant reasoning and rationale behind his work - creating a programme which re-reads the archive to produce new patterns and to throw up relevant information. The viewer can't read the whole story without taking on the script, but the work immediately shows that reordering and reorganising has taken place. The vintage colours of the cardboard files - many of which are still in use, produce a happy correlation between the installation and the tapestry treasures, as if the installation is a way of documenting or remaking the ancient artefacts in a new form.

The remains of the desktop PC and Mac laptop that Guardian editors destroyed under the watch of GCHQ officials after the Edward Snowden leaks.

The exhibition includes in a remote display one of the most extraordinary objects of our time - the very computer which was used by Edward Snowden to leak documents to the Guardian newspaper, with what looks now like comically scratched hard drives and components - all at once we have a comment on the impact of the internet and the use and abuse of information.

All of this Belongs to You
Victoria & Albert Museum
1st April - 19th July 2015



31st March 2015