Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Miro: Up Yours to Genre

The Tilled Field, 1923-4, Successio Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London

The Escape Ladder, 1940, Successio Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London

Walking through a Miro exhibition may feel like an epiphany, or if you are particularly susceptible, an existential crisis. A mind-boggling mating of precise lines and cubic shapes, with ferocious intensity and an up-yours-to-genre kind of philosophy, seems to be Joan Miro’s (1893-1983) signature style.
It may be a little bit like deep sea diving. Pings of colour hit you from all sides. Men and women from a post-nuclear freak show sit around a table and discuss Goethe. Creatures are boiled down to their very essence, and pedestrian objects take on a life of their own. And you are left to loiter between an overwhelming desire to stare at his art forever, and an equally intense need to run for your life.
Born in Barcelona to a family of goldsmiths and watchmakers, and heavily influenced all his life by Catalan politics – the declaration of a Catalan Republic of Barcelona in the 1930s, and then General Franco’s dictatorship – Miro’s work shared many Surrealist ideologies. Stubbornly anti-bourgeois, and always in key with the life and work of Catalan peasants, Miro juxtaposed unexpected elements in his paintings and sculptures – a dog, a moon, a ladder, perhaps a woman who looks like one of the Twits, or maybe people with insignificant faces, stick-like bodies, and humungous genitalia.
Nevertheless, Miro steered clear of aligning himself to any particular school of art and continued to experiment all through his life. The exhibition at the Tate Modern shows continuous curiosity, an unwillingness to stick to any one style, and a fevered experimentation, so that each of the twelve rooms of the exhibition and each decade of Miro’s life seems to be a testament to a constantly evolving style. Influenced by Surrealist qualities, Cubist reintegration of geometrical shapes, and a Fauvist fascination with loud colour, Miro’s art stands outside the bounds of all of these schools. Yet, walking through the exhibition, and confronted with pointy breasts and monstrous vaginas, you ask yourself, yikes, did he hate women?
His works show not only towering skill and a strict precision of line and detail, but an utter lack of fear in breaking the “normal” confines of life and art. He blended folklore with philosophy as easily as cruel caricature with the workings of the subconscious mind. As Miro said, “The works must be conceived with fire in the soul, but executed with clinical coolness.”
A philosophy and exhibition not for the fainthearted.

Miro. Tate Modern, Till September 11, 2011
Review published on London Fringe

More Watteau

To go with the exhibition of Watteau's drawings at the Royal Academy, the Wallace Collection at Manchester Square, near Bond Street tube station, are showcasing Watteau's paintings, along with those of some of his followers. Scroll down to read review of Watteau's drawings, or go to London Fringe. All of the following pictures of the paintings housed in the Wallace Collection.

Fete Galante in a Wooded Landscape with the Sculpture of a Seated Nude Woman, 1719-21, Watteau

La Belle Greque, N.Lancret

Monday, 23 May 2011

Mark Leckey and the Fear of Critical Theory

At the risk of sounding brainwashed by a chick-lit, Shopaholic ideology of life, I have to confess that I like beautiful art, difficult as that word is to define. I also like art that is ugly, uncomfortable, or just plain terrifying. And I adore art that is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. What I find less interesting in a piece of art is when it is so cerebral that it forgets to touch the heart. And I have to admit that Mark Leckey’s Samsung refrigerator, as part of his exhibition of installations, art work, and videos at the Serpentine Gallery, just left me cold.
GreenScreen RefrigeratorAction sits in a room the colour of irradiated grass. There are two flat screens on two of the walls, speaking to you with automated, mechanical, repetitive voices, and the centre piece is a Samsung refrigerator, its double doors slightly ajar. And that’s pretty much it. Leckey’s inspiration is to communicate the idea of people being in constant communication with all aspects of their environment. Is the refrigerator asking me to think about brands, our culture of consumerism where it is practically a life imperative to own the next iPhone? Is it speaking to our constant hunger for more – more food, more technology, more busyness? Maybe it is. But when I look at it, the one question it makes me ask is: and…?
One of the most interesting pieces in this exhibition is Leckey’s renowned Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a montage of video footage from the underground club scenes of Britain from the 1970s to the 1990s. The young people in the footage evoke the paranoia, frenzied immortality, and the trance-like quality of acid-infused hope, and at the same time the fevered scenes of British rave culture create a George Orwell-like premonition for a fragmented future. Kurt Cobain couldn’t have injected it with more pain. The totemic quality of dancing to a steady heartbeat could just as much magic a whirling dervish into being, as point to the schizophrenic nature of our lives.
For someone who confesses his distrust of and boredom with critical theory, Leckey certainly makes heavily intellectual art. At the same time, the media love to call him a dandy, a flaneur, with his penchant for pink trousers, floral monochromatic shirts, and desire to come to terms with modern life. He confesses in interviews to be torn between his own “disgusting ambitions” and the need to please people with his art. Having won the Turner Prize in 2008, it is safe to say that he is well on his way to satisfying both. He confesses, though, that maybe he feels sick with the world, and perhaps that is what his art is really about.

Mark Leckey, Sepentine Gallery, Till June 26, 2011
Review published in London Fringe

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Degas' Dancers

La Danse Grecque, 1885-90, Hon. Earle I. Mack Collection

Exhibition coming up at the Royal Academy of Arts in September 2011

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Watteau: Of Wistful Faces and Satin Breeches

Three Studies of a Young Girl Wearing a Hat, 1716. Ann and Gordon Getty Collection

Flemish-born French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), credited with the revival of baroque during the reign of Louis XIV, and flourishing in the use of a style that ultimately gave birth to rococo, had the knack of juxtaposing contradictory elements in his paintings and drawings, which show not only a sparkling wit, but an acute insight into human longing. Restless, unmindful of his future, and inspired by everything from Persian servants to travelling troubadours, Watteau’s artistic ego did not stop him from coming back to a drawing five years on and adding a disparate figure to completely transform his creation.
His simpler red-chalk drawings in the first decade of the eighteenth century made use of elaborately plumed and costumed commedia dell’arte figures to illustrate the performativity of high society. A Barber’s Shop (1709) evokes the social commerce of a hair-dressers, where men in their ornate coats and gloriously slim breeches (think Georgette Heyer at her Regency best) choose lushly powdered wigs and other paraphernalia essential to a gentleman’s comfort. This shop sign, though, is set on the proscenium stage, with tapestry curtains hiding the wings on the side. Many of Watteau’s drawings were not only an early reflection on art about art, but also inspired the popular imagination through decadent fashion plates, and garments named after Watteau.
These drawings gave way to a fuller bodied, more thoughtful, more intimate and probing study of his subjects. While these red-and-black-chalk body lines and postures show the maturing of Watteau’s skills, it is the exquisite expression in the faces of his subjects that really displays Watteau’s heightened engagement with humanity.
In his final years, along with an interest in female and male nudes caught in moments of pensive self-absorption, Watteau’s skill in drawing fete galante was at a peak. This was a style of art that displayed men and women of ton lolling in parks, and living a life of leisure, or, as in the case of The Remedy, a reclining, naked woman waiting for her maid to give her an enema. Yet even in his erotic drawings, and his depictions of noble life, Watteau seemed not to draw the physical beauty of a person, but instead penetrated their thoughts and feelings. It is in the wistful, shy, vivid and vibrant faces of his subjects that Watteau’s keen sensitivity to people, and his trend setting, though short-lived, talent really come to life.

Read review on London Fringe.

Watteau: The Drawings
The Royal Academy of Art
Till June 5, 2011

Monday, 9 May 2011

Proof: Genius and Madness

Photo: Robert Gooch

David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Proof has inspired one of several Hollywood films based on the genius and madness of brilliant minds that dazzle with their grasp of abstraction, but unlike Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind, Proof enters the overlooked and closeted world of female mathematicians. The play opens as Catherine, a young woman shattered by the loss of her father who she has cared for through the last years of his psychosis and his loss of confidence in his mathematical abilities, questions if she has inherited his mania, but if she lacks the elegance of his path-breaking work.
David Hutchinson’s fringe adaptation is set in an intimate theatre space overlaid with synthetic turf that is the front lawn of Catherine and her father’s house. The action centres around the patio, with its lone wicker rocking chair, that becomes the symbol first of Robert’s growing psychosis, then of Catherine’s depression and her tentative relationship with Robert’s doctoral student Hal. In the middle of this turning point in Catherine’s life arrives her controlling sister Claire (embodied to a tee by Amy Burke), who is in turn protective and envious of Catherine’s instability that holds the promise of towering talent when compared to her own normality as a prosaic Currency Analyst.
Hilarious scenes between the sisters complement beautifully Robert’s last years (poignantly brought to life by Marcus Taylor), and Catherine’s inconsolability. Dan Cohen (who would give Hugh Grant a run for his money) shines as the bumbling, awkward drummer who is secretly in love with Catherine, but Holly Easterbrook’s interpretation of Catherine turns her into a petulant teenager, rather than the nuanced Catherine played by Gwyneth Paltrow in the film, her character a mix of acute sensitivity, strength, fragility, and a prickly reluctance to let people in.

Review published in London Fringe, and The London Word