FMP: Visiting London and Going to Exhibitions

I went to London twice to shoot the footage for my film, which was fairly straightforward. I used a small digital camera, the trusty Olympus OM-D, which was great as it takes very high quality video but is also really small and light. I experimented with very static shots as well as taking very long handheld tracking shots through long tunnels. This will all be clearer in the finished film.

While I was there I visited some current exhibitions. First I went to see Eduardo Paolozzi at the Whitechapel Gallery. This was really great, I particularly liked his series of screenprints inspired by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. They are really dense and colourful, I would love to know how on earth he created the designs.

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Eduardo Paolozzi – Wittgenstein in New York

Another really interesting exhibition was by an artist from Ghana, Ibrahim Mahama. I think it is  important to find out about artists who aren’t from the West so this was really fun. His work is mostly made up of found materials, he is sort of like the Rauschenberg of Ghana. My favourite piece I saw in London was this work by him called Non Orientable Nkansa, which is made out of boxes used by shoeshine guys on the streets in Ghana. They store all their stuff inside and also use them as a drum to attract more customers. There was so much hidden detail in the work you could look at it for hours, things like pictures of George W Bush pasted on to the boxes. Also the scale of it was pretty overwhelming.

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Finally I also saw the Deutsche Boerse Prize at the Photographer’s Gallery, which is sort of like the Turner Prize of photography. One entry I really liked was the series Imperial Courts by Dana Lixenberg, who photographed people in LA 25 years after the riots.

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My favourite however was the work by the duo Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs. Their work is based on road trips they take as a pair. They have already been to America so they decided to a road trip through a little-seen part of the world, Eurasia, in places like Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The things they found are completely surreal and have made amazing photographs. They show these as slides which I really liked, alongside 16mm films which are very beautiful.

Zaha by Taiyo Onorato and Nico Krebs (2013)

Trip to Copenhagen

As part of the course we went to Copenhagen for five days. It was a really useful trip, especially for the FMP, as I saw loads of art that ties in with my own ideas. It was also nice to go to a great city. Here, in no particular order, is my five works of art that I liked the best.

Bruce Nauman’s creepy dead animal mobile in the Copenhagen Contemporary gallery. Initially I wasn’t particularly impressed, but then found I couldn’t stop watching the weird dead animal casts spinning around. The lighting was really atmospheric. What I liked most was standing in the middle and having the objects float around me; this meant the viewer could literally be inside the work of art.

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Celeste Boursier Mougenot’s From Here to Ear. In this installation there is a very tranquil room full of amped up electric guitars. Lots of zebra finches live in the room and land on the guitars. When they fly off again the guitar strings are plucked. The strings are all tuned into harmony. Again the viewer is physically immersed in the piece. It was such a calming environment and the music the birds played was actually great. I also thought initially from the description that the piece would be completely ridiculous, then sat in the room for half an hour.

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William Kentridge’s installations (these were probably my favourite). I love his drawing style and immersive approach. In the Refusal of Time sound and vision are all around the viewer. There are five different projections which fit together creating a beautiful montage. He is also adept at recreating the effect of early silent films. He has really great themes in his work too. Another great piece was a room mocked up to look like a study in 1912. I also really like the weird melancholic/determined atmosphere of all his work. I was amazed by the Louisiana Museum where his work was being shown.

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Playground by Zhang Yunfeng in the GL Strand museum which consists of loads of screens including televisions, ipads and laptops, which show very short films of him and his friend carrying out bizarre tasks. I loved the montage presentation which shows multiple films, the viewer doesn’t know where to look but eventually adjusts, and then from all the different material a greater picture emerges. The films are also a really weirdly charming evocation of friendship.

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Matisse’s paintings in the National Gallery of Denmark. Matisse I think was probably a better painter than Picasso. In a painting like the Green Stripe the handling of the paint is unmatched today, it is so thick but perfectly juts off the plane and creates this brilliant object that can’t be reproduced photographically, and despite what one would think of as unnatural colours, more or less perfectly evokes the idea of flesh. I also find with Matisse and other French painters from that era I can spend longer looking at one painting than any other work.

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Trip to Berlin

I spent four or five days in Berlin. I saw lots of good stuff.

The Hamburger Bahnhof is probably my favourite of the Berlin Museums. They have a really good permanent collection of post-1960s art, like they have cherrypicked all the best stuff. Of particular note are the giant Anselm Kiefer pictures, though I was not such a fan of the works by Joseph Beuys. I also liked seeing some vintage Rauschenberg and surprisingly the 1972 giant Mao painting by Andy Warhol; I usually think most of the work he made after being shot was pretty terrible, but this one had an interesting scale if you look directly up at it.

placeholderThe Hamburger Bahnhof.

There was also a fantastic temporary exhibition by the lunatic expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. Coming out I am convinced Kirchner is the best of the true German Expressionist gang, he was a true nutcase. Photographs of his house, which he heavily decorated with mock African furniture of his own construction, was a particular highlight.

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Ernst hanging out in his weird house accompanied by friend with a wicked haircut.

Elsewhere at the excellent Bauhaus Museum I saw a really cool small exhibition by the great photographer Lucia Moholy. It turns out she was also the author of a really good early history of photography. The Bauhaus Museum collection is also amazing, a real greatest hits, and it’s a really fun place to hang around.

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Portrait of Florence Henri, 1930 by Lucia Moholy.

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At the Berlinische Galerie I saw an interesting early work by Hannah Hoch, unusually not a collage but a painting. The influence of collage however is still really evident. Hoch had really great painting skills which was interesting to see.

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The Journalists by Hannah Hoch.

A good accompaniment to these grotesques was the installation of the great Ed Kienholz’s immersive sculpture The Art Show. I really loved seeing this, it really was impossible to tell real people apart from the rather disgusting sculptures, and there were so many tiny details to explore as the viewer. I would love to make a piece of work with this immersive quality.

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The Art Show, 1963-77 by Ed Kienholz.

Finally at the Helmut Newton Foundation, possibly the best photography museum in Berlin, I saw pictures by the photographer Alice Springs. My favourites by far were her fantastic pictures of street weirdness in Los Angeles, the bulk of which unfortunately appear not to be on the internet.

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Pictures by Alice Springs.

What I was most enamoured with in Berlin was the city itself. The streets are constantly interesting, there is so much variety and life, and regular people still live in the very centre of town. The atmosphere, especially at night, is fantastic, streetlights seem to stretch off infinitely into the distance and everything is bathed in weird white light. I was also really drawn to the subway, which for long periods travels above ground, and is full of really interesting people.

 

Paris Visit: “Spectaculaire Second Empire” at the Musee D’Orsay

The Musee D’Orsay is probably one of the best museums on earth for it’s collection of 19th century French painting alone. Ingres rubs shoulder with Monet, who collides with Cezanne having a friendly parlance with Van Gogh, who is admiring a giant work by Gustave Courbet. Anyway.

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Cor blimey.

Everybody knows about the amazing permanent collection at the D’Orsay but what I really like is the top notch temporary exhibitions they show. The breadth of the collection allows them to stage massively in depth studies of classic French art, and the exhibition style is very inclusive, featuring pieces of design and photography alongside the paintings.

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This blog post is becoming it’s own blockbuster exhibition. Or blogbuster? Ha ha HA?!

Last time I saw possibly my favourite exhibition ever on prostitution in art, from which I left completely convinced modern art was basically the product of prostitution. Anyway.

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My love for the Musee D’Orsay is ever in the month of May.

This year the big blockbuster is on the French Second Empire, which in some ways is a slightly ignored period. The curators showed off the massive excesses of Louis Napoleon’s France, where 19th century art reached a peak of mannerism via architecture like the famously gaudy L’Opera and the horribly over-academic art of painters like William Bouguereau.

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Cabanel’s Birth of Venus. When seeing this in person I was really struck by just how close to very poor pornography this sort of picture really is. Berger was more or less correct in this regard.

This was all done in a really captivating way, including a room recreating the Salon of 1863 complete with Manet’s Dejeuner sur L’Herbe, and a room recreating some of the massive industrial exhibitions that took place. There were some great obscure pieces, including a room devoted to a hilariously tasteless revival of Greek theatre that took place among the French aristocracy.

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“You looking at me? Eh? EH?”

Not all of the riches were tainted; Ingres’ famous portrait of Madame Moitessier still dazzles, but what was really interesting about the exhibition was that it showed what it was that artists like Manet were rebelling against, namely a horrendously excessive and stuffy imperial society that was limping into a modern world where empires no longer existed. The seeds of revolt were shown in works like Courbet’s portrait of the anarchist theorist PJ Proudhon and some early impressionist pieces. Overall then, another definite success.

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Paris Visit: Centre George Pompidou

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The Pompidou Centre as seen by Brion Gysin.

This museum is amazing. It’s also amazingly hard to get into. The queue goes round and round forever, and once inside you’re into another queue. But I digress.

I spent a few hours in the modern art permanent collection here which was absolutely brilliant.

Ascending the famous escalators one gets a great panoramic view of the city below. This is great considering the giant contribution the city has made to the art inside, a theme which is continued when walking between rooms, Paris always outside through big windows.

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Photo: Paris Digest

On show is the expected classic history of modernism shown through a series of masterpieces. It was great going without knowing what’s on show, every room a new surprise.

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Raoul Hausmann- Mechanical Head

It’s hard to pick highlights, but seeing large Matisse works in the flesh was great, seeing all the Braque/Picasso classical cubist works was great, seeing Hausmann’s famous mechanical head was great. Everything was great.

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Yves Klein- Grande Anthropophagie bleue Hommage a Tennessee Williams

Another big favourite was seeing this huge work by Yves Klein. Yves Klein was an amazing artist, completely nuts. He was a master at Judo, claimed he could fly and invented his own shade of blue, the famous International Klein Blue. His work, and the nouveau realisme movement he founded, tried to find a new realist art away from soviet realism and avant-garde abstraction. He seems like the archetypal dumb modern artist, my-kid-could-have-done-that, but a little more research makes him seem like one of the most intelligent and funny artists of the second half of the 20th century, particularly his photo-backed claim to be able to fly.

Paris Visit: “Uprisings” at the Jeu de Paume

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Photo: Gilles Caron

Located in the Jardin des Tuileries, the Jeu de Paume is one of the main museums in Paris for photography and video art.

The current temporary exhibition “Uprisings” features a more expansive collection of artefacts, including drawings, paintings and mixed media pieces alongside the usual selection of photographs and films.

As the title suggests the exhibition focuses on works that deal with uprisings; the curators have attempted to deal with phenomenons like gesture or thoughts, but inevitably the exhibition quickly becomes dominated by politically themed art.

There were some interesting pieces on show, including Cartier-Bresson’s great photographs of the 1968 Parisian student revolts. I also really liked a piece by Sigmar Polke, an artist whose work I haven’t seen much of. Polke spray painted an image of protesters on to a large sheet made up of different sections of newspaper, with the resultant visual effect gritty and iconic.

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While there were some good works on show, this exhibition left me slightly cold. Despite a large space and lots of rooms, nothing particularly jumps out as really great, and the overall effect feels slightly muddled, the variety of pieces slightly too large for any kind of coherent message.

Exhibition Review: So You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-70

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Image: V&A Museum London

After successful exhibitions on David Bowie and extreme footwear, the V&A has continued to cement its reputation as London’s most fun and forward thinking art museum with a new retrospective on the counterculture of the 1960s.

Running until February, the exhibition collects the work of artists, designers, writers, musicians, scientists and filmmakers into a veritable acid-trip smorgasbord of 1960s objects. Focusing on the 1966-70 period, the curators posit the not exactly revolutionary idea that the social upheavals of the sixties should be celebrated, and continue to impact our lives today.

But despite the well trodden subject it’s brilliant fun. Walking in I was slightly dubious about being given headphones; it was a great surprise to find that these stream a collage of sound that changes as you wander around. This is a great use of technology; without the music the period and exhibits make far less sense.

Despite some kinks (some rooms have external music), the sound feels like more than a gimmick; I found listening to A Change is Gonna Come while viewing American civil rights photographs a genuinely touching moment.

On display are various touchstones aging hippies and young copycats will adore; there are UFO Club posters, remnants of Ken Kesey’s acid tests, and inevitably a monster collection of Beatles artefacts.

A feeling of sensory overload at times may put some visitors off. White cubes are replaced by beautifully decorated pastiche-retro rooms, including a mock record shop and the inevitable Carnaby Street recreation. Everything is very loud, very bright and very busy. Given the subject matter- rock music, neon posters and revolutionary texts – I thought this overload worked well.

The admission is fairly steep at £16, but the avalanche of exhibits could easily allow the best part of a day to be spent exploring. The space itself, a constant flood of music and image, is a fun place to be, especially the penultimate room where Michael Wadleigh’s classic Woodstock plays across 3 huge screens.

It was good to see film used so extensively; screens dotted around display interesting shorts, for instance Paul McCartney’s experimental Grateful Dead documentary. One of my favourite moments was noticing the traffic jam shot from Jean-Luc Godard’s Maoist masterpiece Weekend playing in the consumerism room. Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup also features, a great subtle comment on the impact of the sixties in cinema, which lasted through the next decade until today.

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Bob Dylan and D.A Pennebaker filming “Don’t Look Back”. Image: Time Magazine.

The inclusive approach across the whole exhibition is really refreshing; when so many art exhibitions place work on a pedestal or play to the old stereotypes of high culture, the idea of music, design, fashion and film taking equal roles was fantastic.

Individual items sometimes seem trivial, but the overall effect is better than the sum of its parts. Viewed as a whole the exhibits create a trippy panorama which gives an insight into the period. I didn’t feel anything was regarded too highly, everything is displayed as what it is: pop culture.

Missing was the pop art implied by the occasional appearance of Warhol’s spectre; some of Bridget Riley’s great sixties work could have fitted well. On the other hand almost everything else is on show; my favourite pieces of minutiae were the actual photographs developed in Blowup.

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Poster for the Crazy World of Arthur Brown at the UFO Club. Image: V&A.

Presentation and content, then, are pretty hip. But did the sixties have an impact?

I felt the exhibition was convincing. Perhaps there could have been more acknowledgement of the shortcomings (I still laugh at the number of cropped haircuts in the Woodstock crowd scenes), but I never felt the exhibition was too one sided. The work is left to speak for itself and in an ambiguous final room we are left to decide ourselves. We are reminded that Nixon was elected (twice) and Charles Manson’s haunting eyes appear towards the end. The exhibition title refers to the notoriously sceptical Beatles song, referred back to in several rooms.

There are convincing arguments, Larkin intoning that “sexual intercourse began in 1963” in the first room. Homosexuality was decriminalised, second wave feminism was born and the exhibition points out that California hippie communes led to Silicon Valley, something not often considered. The Beatles LPs took modernism to the masses.

Does putting all this in a museum establishment-ise it? The period is now five decades behind us, but on the other hand some of the pro-LSD and Paris 1968 content still shocks. When subversive work like this is shown in grand museums is it possible the opposite effect happens too? That the museum is demystified?

To me this exhibition worked best as a celebration of cool, as unironic fun, something, possibly the only thing, the sixties can really claim. My only real complaint was the use of Lennon’s immortal dirge Imagine at the end.

In conclusion this exhibition is a real freak-out glut of art and design. For fans of the period it is a must-see; for most others it’s a fun way to tune in, turn on and drop out for an afternoon.