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June 20 2012

Peter Duggan's Artoons: Antony Gormley

God gives Antony Gormley's Angel of the North an early shot at fame in cartoonist Peter Duggan's reimagining of the Annunciation



June 12 2012

Fantasy art school: artists reveal their dream teachers

As London's Hayward Gallery launches its month-long alternative art college, Wide Open School, Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley and others tell us who their dream teachers would be. Who would you like to be taught by?

This month, more than 100 artists from 40 countries are heading to London's Southbank to host workshops as part of the Hayward's alternative college of art, Wide Open School. Subjects in the timetable range from dining and singing sessions and sushi-making performance art classes to the Sundown Schoolhouse of Queer Home Economics, plus explorations of time and space, forensics and Freddie Mercury.

As the college swings open its doors, we ask a selection of artists who their dream teachers would be.

Tracey Emin

I would like to have been taught by Simone Weil, Daphne du Maurier and Louise Bourgeois. I think it would have made a wonderful trio of art, literature and philosophy – at school, that is all I needed to be taught.

Tracey Emin will be in conversation with Jeanette Winterson on 26 June.

Michael Landy

I was never taught cricket at school and I've never played it, but I do listen to it on the radio. So I would nominate Geoffrey Boycott, ex-Yorkshire and England cricketer, to teach me the basics about batting and bowling. He would tell me to keep my eye on the ball, and to move either forwards or backwards depending on where the ball pitched, and to keep my head still. We would discuss the finer points of the "corridor of uncertainty" and when I played a bad shot, he would tell me that his mum could have done better than me.

Michael Landy is running a workshop on destruction

Bob and Roberta Smith

I wish I'd been taught by Theodor W Adorno and Walter Benjamin, and at primary school by Michael Rosen, who could have warned me about the dangers of too much entertainment on the 1970s TV programme Play Away.

Bob and Roberta Smith is creating a symphony for the public realm.

Marlene Dumas

Joseph Beuys, because of his postcards with Klaus Staeck and his smile!

An evening with Marlene Dumas takes place on 5 July.

Antony Gormley

David Bohm, the inspirational physicist who developed the implications of Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity. He could have involved me in the participatory activity of holomovement in his understanding of the implicate order of phenomena.

Antony Gormley will be talking to critic and writer Michael Newman about time in art.

Jane and Louise Wilson

We have a great admiration for the teaching profession: it would be difficult to find any other profession with as many valuable, dedicated and creative thinkers who, despite the lack of government support, continue to brilliantly inspire future generations. We attended the same comprehensive school in the 1980s and although they no longer exist any more, reflecting back to that time we would find it really hard to agree upon only one artist we would have both liked to have been taught by. Essentially, there are too many. It would have been fascinating to attend a talk by Professor Mary E King about her book The Power of Nonviolent Action (1988). The book is timely on so many levels despite being written before the collapse of the former Soviet Union. It describes the successful use of non-violent strategies to bring about political change, from the pro-democracy movements in the former Soviet Union to the present-day pro-democracy movements in the Middle East.

Jane and Louise Wilson will be in conversation with Caroline Wilkinson on 13 June.

Thomas Hirschhorn

Joseph Beuys, because he accepted everybody in his class – and would accept me. And because he asserted that every human being is an artist, because he included everyone in his work, because he never "made school" in the sense of creating followers, because his teaching was part of his artistic mission, because of his decisions about his materials, because of his work in public space, because he understood art as something which needs to confront social, economical and political issues. And because he makes me love art.

Thomas Hirschhorn is running a class called Energy: Yes! Quality: No! on 3 July.

Mark Wallinger

Great teachers are those that have such a revelatory impact on their students that it might shape their future destiny. Keats's sonnet, On first looking into Chapman's Homer, expresses his passion for poetry by using imagery of exploration and discovery, which never fails to thrill me. And how exciting would it have been to witness Filippo Brunelleschi demonstrating linear perspective for the first time in his baptistry in Florence. But above all, I wish I could resurrect my junior school teacher Mr Holland, even if he might recognise his idea for parent's open day in my upcoming show at Baltic in Gateshead

Martin Creed

I don't believe in teaching. I think people learn things. Nobody teaches them.

Who is your dream teacher?

Tell us by posting a comment below


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April 27 2012

Gallery as art: Moscow ruin lures Rem Koolhaas

Architect Rem Koolhaas and Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova have unveiled plans for a new space for the Garage art gallery

A ruined Soviet-era restaurant in Moscow's Gorky Park is to become the unlikely new home for one of Russia's hippest contemporary arts centres: the Garage, founded four years ago by the Russian socialite Dasha Zhukova.

Zhukova and the architect Rem Koolhaas have unveiled plans to bring back to life a 1960s prefabricated concrete building that would normally be pulled down. "It is the most exciting and biggest change the Garage has undergone," said Zhukova, revealing the plans at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts on Friday. "I think it will be one of the greatest examples of contemporary architecture in Moscow."

The hunt for a new building began because the lease was ending on the Garage's current home in the constructivist Bakhmetevsky bus garage and the site was due to be developed into a Jewish heritage museum.

"Finding it was a random chance," said Zhukova, the partner of billionaire Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich. "A friend of mine said there was a number of completely destroyed and damaged buildings in the park and that the city was looking to regenerate the park."

The Vremena Goda (Seasons of the Year) building has almost everything against it. Koolhaas said it was "a ruin, almost completely overgrown" on a heavily polluted site. It is also a rectangle, which is "currently not a very popular shape in architecture".

But the project fits into many of the themes and views Koolhaas has been expressing in recent years about modern architecture generally, and art galleries in particular. One thing he is fighting against is size, pointing to London's Serpentine Gallery as an example of small being good. "Art institutions are getting bigger and bigger, culminating in a building you all know [Tate Modern] but scale, for me, is not necessarily productive for art."

He is against the unnecessary destruction of buildings from the 1960s and 70s and does not like "the sterility of the white cube" in many galleries.

Koolhaas, who co-founded the OMA practice in 1975, said much of the neglect in the Vremena Goda was picturesque and he would keep much of the brickwork, tiling and mosaics. "The building is a ruin but it is not a very old ruin and there are still traces of decoration. We were able to convince our client to maintain some of the aesthetic and experiment – we have these traces of Russian history as a partner of the art."

That raises the question of whether non-white walls would fight or distract from the art on them. "That is a very long discussion," said Koolhaas. "I wouldn't propose it if I thought so." Having said that, all the exhibiting walls will be capable of becoming white.

The new 5,400 sq metre Garage Gorky Park is due to open next year with galleries on two levels together with cafe, shop and learning centre. Zhukova said the original plan had been to use a hexagon-shaped pavilion in the park, not far from the restaurant, but it would have taken too long to convert. That will now be phase two of their plans. "The Hexagon is in a much worse state and we've worked so hard over the last four years to build up a community around the Garage and establish an audience – we don't want to be homeless for two or three years."

Money for the Garage is understood to come from Zhukova's billionaire partner Abramovich but she batted away questions about the cost. "We don't talk about the finances," she said.

Zhukova is regularly featured in the British tabloids, probably not through choice, and despite the cynics there are plenty of people who would pay tribute to her achievements in establishing the Garage as a force in contemporary art. Artists to exhibit there include Antony Gormley and Christian Marclay, while at the end of last year it exhibited a major retrospective of the performance artist Marina Abramovic .

Zhukova said the Garage would still host exhibitions rather than developing a permanent collection and her "personal dream" was to have a show by the American sculptor Richard Serra, who makes some of the world's heaviest works of art. "He is an artist I am dying to bring to Moscow but nothing has been confirmed," she said. Whether the floors would take it is another question.


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April 26 2012

The Olympics is about sport not art, so culture needs to drop out of the race

When the best the Cultural Olympiad has to offer is bouncy castles and BMWs, you know it's time for art to take a back seat

A question arises looking at the full programme for the London 2012 festival, and that question is: why? What's all it for? And how does it connect in any interesting way with the Olympics, or use that sporting even to further art?

As far a visual art goes there is nothing odious about the choices made, but nothing very coherent or spectacularly important, either. To be honest, from Jeremy Deller's bouncy Stonehenge touring the nation to an installation by Richard Wilson in Bexhill on Sea, many of the artworks for the festival sound a bit ... cheap and cheerful. A bouncy castle can't cost that much and Wilson is an artist of subtle ephemeral installations. It's hard to see how the festival is raising anyone's game here. Where's the ambition? Oh, there is, and its name is Anish Kapoor ...

Another element of the art programme that adds to the sense of public money being in short supply is that we are supposed to get excited about a display of BMW cars painted by the likes of Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol. This is an innovative and creative contribution to culture how? These painted cars have been around for centuries, and if the London 2012 festival is driven to rely on them as a major part of its programme it is in serious trouble. There is nothing special about a show of these pop art vehicles, nothing cutting edge, and the only explanation I can see is that the organisers are desperately reliant on sponsorship and grateful for BMW's involvement.

It hardly takes a world festival to elicit a new work from Antony Gormley, to take another art element of the programme. But it's time the cultural establishment, which seems endlessly deluded - and by which I mean curators, administrators, and us cultural journalists - woke up to the blindingly obvious fact that when the Olympics opens, we won't be the stars.

I once visited Athens ahead of its Olympics to review its cultural festival. Greece has more reason than most places to make a lot of cultural noise about the Olympics, and did so, with exhibitions on the ancient Greek Olympic games as well as a Gilbert and George show. None of this mattered when the games opened. The BBC did not weave a visit to the wonderful Cycladic art museum into its games coverage. This is about sport, not culture, and after all the fuss, the London 2012 festival implicitly recognises that by foregrounding entertainment (see Stephen Fry at your local comedy club!) and going easy on the brainwork. When it comes to visual art, this makes the whole thing pointless. It will add little to the life of the mind, but may give BMW a boost.


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March 26 2012

Towns clamour to become a Portas pilot

Hundreds of towns are bidding for the funding that will help regenerate their high streets

Large numbers of towns, including many in the north, are vying to become Portas pilots to help rejuvenate struggling high streets.

The 12 chosen towns will share more than £1m of funding and receive advice from the retail guru Mary Portas. It is expected that hundreds of applications will be received before Friday's deadline.

The government said the high streets and town centres are facing "serious challenges from out-of-town shopping centres and the internet."

Between 2000 and 2009, the number of town stores fell by almost 15,000 and there have been further losses since then.

The government argues that high streets are recognised as important hubs of social interaction and cohesion, as well as providers of local jobs. They're a visible indicator of how well, or how badly, a local economy is doing.

The Portas Review, published in December, set out what she thought had led to the decline of the high street and made 28 recommendations about what could be done "to breathe life back into them." She said many high streets had reached crisis point.

Among the recommendations are "town teams" to champion local high streets, business rate concessions for entrepreneurs and penalties for negligent landlords. Portas also urged that betting shops have their own planning classification so their numbers could be monitored more closely.

Among the bidders for the Portas Pilot funding are Lincoln and Market Rasen in Lincolnshire and Rawtenstall north of Manchester and Altrincham south of the city.

On the Wirral, Hoylake is among the bidders along with the seaside town of Crosby in Merseyside, where Antony Gormley's Another Place statues gaze across the sands.

Further north and east, Morpeth in Northumberland is one of the towns that is putting in a bid for the funding.

During a recent visit to Rawtenstall, minister for housing and local government Grant Shapps praised it for its 'unique' high street.

Events have been held, supported by the Association of Town Centre Management, to help towns prepare bids.

Martin Blackwell, chief executive of the ATCM, told The Grocer the government also wanted to ensure those who missed out on pilot funding were not left behind.

"I can't remember anything like it," he said of the level of response. "But of those 300, only 12 are going to get funding and we don't want the other 288 left alienated."

Bids in Cumbria have come from Penrith and Whitehaven. Alan Blacklock, the Whitehaven Chamber of Trade secretary said in an interview with the Whitehaven News: "I would like to think we could get into the top 12, but there are so many other towns in the same boat as us it will no doubt be very competitive." He added that their aim is for Whitehaven to become a better place to visit and shop.

Preston, too, which is celebrating its Guild this year with a programme of cultural events, has joined the bidders.

Mick Lovatt, environment director at the city council in Preston said it had already drawn up plans for further improvement to the city centre which a successful bid could kick-start.

"If we can get this funding," he told the Lancashire Evening Post, "it will allow us to do a lot of the things we want to do with the city centre." He said they are already looking at ways they can work with landlords to dress some of the empty shop units and improve the look of the main shopping areas.

In Lancashire, Chorley, Kirkham and Morecambe have also applied for the pilot status.


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March 12 2012

Artists come together in a Crisis

The Crisis Commission at London's Somerset House will feature new works by artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley and Tracey Emin

A small and poignant bronze sculpture of a young man called Craig – who became homeless after serving in Afghanistan – will greet visitors to a new exhibition to raise awareness and money for the charity Crisis.

The work by Gillian Wearing goes on display at Somerset House in London on 14 March along with new pieces by artists including Antony Gormley, Tracey Emin, Sir Anthony Caro and Jonathan Yeo. All the works will be sold on 3 May, with the money going to the charity for single homeless people, Crisis.

Wearing said she was inspired by the real story of Craig O'Keefe who became homeless after returning from duty in Afghanistan. Eventually, with the help of Veteran's Aid, he managed to get work and a flat and is now a volunteer tutor for Crisis.

"Crisis were great because they really wanted artists to get involved directly with their charity," said Wearing. She was part of a workshop meeting people who work for and used its services. "It wasn't a passive involvement which I really thought was important."

Emin offered four works: two self-portraits and two neon signs saying Trust Me and Trust Yourself. She said they were words we often say to others and to ourselves. "Sometimes such statements need to be reaffirmed. The use of neon makes it all the more positive."

The two self-portraits, Deep Blue III and Deep Blue V, are part of a series Emin created for her forthcoming show at Turner Contemporary in Margate, in which she explores the idea "of the body becoming older, self-loathing and the notion of self-preservation".

Emin said she did not do anything different because the show was for Crisis. "I'm quite impressed at what a big show it is and how serious it is and not just a charity event."

Gormley has made a cast iron sculpture of a person we assume to be homeless. "The most challenging social sculpture of our times is made by the quiet performances of the homeless within the shelter provided by the doorways of the shops of our inner cities."

He said he was trying to evoke a fallen body which is, nevertheless, not at rest. "This exhibition allows one to think about those bodies that have no place. I believe that sculpture can powerfully evoke the nameless, the voiceless and the placeless."

The Crisis Commission show raises money and awareness at a crucial time, says the charity. After years of declining trends, 2010 represented a turning point when all forms of homelessness began to rise. In 2010/11, 3,975 people slept rough in London, an 8% rise on the previous year.

The show runs until 22 April and will also feature work by homeless and vulnerable people who have been helped by Crisis.

The charity's chief executive Leslie Morphy said: "We are thrilled that so many leading contemporary artists are participating in the Crisis Commission. This prestigious event will raise much needed funds for our work and bring a new focus to the worrying current rise in homelessness in society."

Other works in the show include Yinka Shonibare's Homeless Man, 2012, which shows a vibrantly dressed Victorian man weighed down by 11 suitcases. The artist said: "The idea of the work is to suggest that any privileged person can become vulnerable at any time due to circumstances outside of their own personal control, such as illness, death of a relative, war or unfortunate economic circumstances."

The artist Bob and Roberta Smith (also known as Patrick Brill) has made a piece called Kite because of its association with isolation and the elements. "My kite has 'help' written on it. It is a cry for help by the person flying it."

Brill said he was aware of homelessness rising and taught in an art school where some of his students are homeless. "Homelessness is about isolation. Homes are not just roofs and walls – they are networks – about nurture and care."

The show has been curated by Laurence Sillars, chief curator at the Baltic in Gateshead and the cost of creating the works has been met by GlaxoSmithKline. All of them will be auctioned at Christie's on 3 May.


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February 12 2012

Couples get together to collaborate

Sweethearts exhibition gives a unique insight into how relationships are reflected in art

Artist couples have given the world some of its most extraordinary and passionate love stories. The turbulent affairs of Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, and Picasso and Dora Maar have all fascinated generations of admirers.

Now an exhibition is to explore the romances of contemporary couplings. Some of the UK's foremost artists – including several Turner prizewinners and nominees – have been commissioned to collaborate on artworks with their spouses or partners. Antony Gormley and Vicken Parsons, Gary Hume and Georgie Hopton, and Ian Davenport and Sue Arrowsmith are among 10 couples creating a drawing, painting, sculpture or video together.

The exhibition will examine the influence that one artist may exert upon their partner, and the cross-fertilisation of ideas and techniques.

Sweethearts: Artist Couples is being staged by the Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London, co-curated by Houldsworth and Kathy Battista, director of contemporary art at the Sotheby's Institute in New York.

Houldsworth said the dynamic between romantically involved artists always made for interesting results, and singled out Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, and Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. "Creativity, since the advent of modernism, has most often been associated with an individual's solitary struggle for self-expression," she said. "However, the complexities and difficulties of partnerships and collaborations provide a wider and more compelling field of analysis. "

She added: "The artists have never done anything like this in their lives. It's a challenge … so many different issues it brings out. The balance of power in the relationship is quite important. Artists have spent years developing their work, and suddenly having someone else on their individual pieces is very difficult."

Antony Gormley, the 1994 Turner prizewinner whose sculptures explore the human body's relationship to space, is married to Vicken Parsons, a painter of intimate landscapes and interiors. He told the Observer: "Vicken and I have walked, driven, ridden, climbed, dived, flown, worked, talked, eaten, argued, laughed, slept and dreamed together for 30-odd years, but have never made a work that is ours before. It took us ages to agree what to do, our practices are polar opposites. It was a very lovely invitation to actually work together."

Fusing his sculpture and her painting, they are making a series of "balls in the air, molecule-like balls of all sizes", sculpted from multiple layers of PVA (polyvinyl acetate), painted and suspended. Gormley said the challenge has been liberating: "Somehow the marketing of contemporary art plays with the illusion that artists are unique individuals and self-fulfilling creatures – complete rubbish. We all form often very strong bonds with fellow creative spirits, whether we're married to them or not. The life of an artist is a series of often very intense creative encounters. It's something to be celebrated."

Ian Davenport, Sue Arrowsmith's partner for 22 years, was nominated for the Turner prize in 1991 and is renowned for his abstract paintings, which use gravity to spread lines of colour across a tilted canvas. "Your partner is your closest point of reference, but we've never really collaborated [as artists]. We can't really agree on what we have for dinner sometimes," said Davenport.

Arrowsmith photographs abandoned scrubland, projecting images and tracing them in pencil. She spoke of how they tried initially to define "collaboration": "We had different ideas floating around. Ian makes circle paintings. He gave me the image behind my painting."

They wanted to fuse the images but retain the integrity of each – his colour; her black and white. It led to a delicate painting in black acrylic of weeping willow branches cascading down from Davenport's coloured circle. "It maybe pushes you into territory you wouldn't normally go into," said Davenport.

For Gary Hume, a Turner prize nominee who has painted portraits of celebrities such as Kate Moss, collaboration with his painter-photographer wife, Georgie Hopton, has been less smooth. "We've argued more than we've ever argued," he said. In the end, they decided to work separately on a single object: Hopton photographed nasturtiums in a vase, which Hume used as inspiration for three paintings. He gave her a drawing from which she has created a collage.

Hopton said: "He's given me a simple line drawing. I thought I should impose myself on it. I'm not an abstract [artist]. I'm figurative. I've ended up with an abstract collage."

Sweethearts: Artist Couples, will run from 21 March to 21 April.


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January 31 2012

Antony Gormley: don't criminalise squatting

British artist, who inhabited empty factory in 1970s, defends rights of squatters to put unused properties to good use

The artist Antony Gormley put forward a passionate defence of squatting at the launch of an exhibition in aid of the homeless on Tuesday morning.

Gormley, famous for his humanoid sculptures, notably the Angel of the North in Gateshead, said: "I'm very against the criminalisation of squatting – I think it's absolutely criminal that many inner city properties are empty.

"Squatting is a very good way of preserving properties while at the same time putting them to good use. It's a no-brainer that properties that are awaiting renovation or don't have commercial tenants can be of use for creative things, and indeed to provide shelter for the homeless."

The government aims to criminalise squatting in residential properties, with squatters to be fined £5,000 or face a year in jail. Gormley squatted for six years in a factory in King's Cross when he was an art student in the 70s. "I have to say that the landlord of the factory was very, very positive about us being there.

"We had everything we needed including 25,000sq ft of work space. A lot of the artists' space organisation of the 70s was to use unused council and commercial properties for studios and they continued to do incredibly good work. I think it's a principle that should be continued."

Gormley said he applauded the group of young artists called the Da! collective who made headlines in 2008 by squatting in a house worth £6.25m in Mayfair, which they used for art projects, exhibitions, talks and events.

"I think my daughter made the kitchen for that. I think there are a lot of young, energetic but refusing-to-be-entrepreneurial people who want to put these inner city spaces to very good use. The Occupy movement has its university but that's suffering a bit from the chill winds of winter. I think that Mayfair squat, which was also a talk shop and exchange ground for ideas about collective futures, was a great example of what young people are doing today."

Gormley is one of several artists, including Tracey Emin, Gillian Wearing, Jonathan Yeo and Yinka Shonibare, who have created new work that will be exhibited at Somerset House in London from 14 March then auctioned the following month, with the proceeds going to Crisis, the charity for single homeless people. Gormley's piece is called Contract and is "a recumbent body" made of iron and inspired by the homeless people he saw sleeping on the Lincoln memorial on his first trip to Washington.

Gormley said: "It's making reference to the bodies that we see who have fallen out of society or find themselves in the empty forecourts of everything from banks to chip shops. I think it is an indictment of any society that we cannot accommodate those without a place, and the single homeless are particularly vulnerable. They need shelter of every kind, particularly human shelter – a programme of therapeutic help which will enable them to recover their trust in human relationships."


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January 28 2012

Feelgood art: the pick-me-up to get us through an age of anxiety

British artists used to delight in shocking audiences, but now many are involved in projects intended to cheer people up

Young British artists once rocked the world with a volley of pickled animal cadavers, unmade beds and flicking light switches. But now, against the backdrop of a grim economic climate, some of the movement's biggest stars appear to be concentrating on cheering us all up.

Feelgood artwork is everywhere, from the life-affirming London Underground project of Michael Landy, who has invited commuters to log incidents of kindness, to the uplifting public art commissioned for the top of bus shelters to herald the Olympics.

"There is a second world war kind of thing going on about 'keeping the home fires burning' at the moment; a bit of 'keep calm and carry on' art, if you like," said the Turner prize-winning artist Jeremy Deller this weekend as he prepared for the opening of his retrospective show, Joy in People, on London's South Bank next month. However, his own work, as he explains, is not intended as a simple pick-me-up.

"The title of my show is apparently positive, but the show itself isn't all positive. There is anger and there is frustration too," he said.

Other leading artists, such as Martin Creed and Tracey Emin, who established their careers with work on challenging themes, are now producing art that urges their public to think positive thoughts. "Don't Worry", reads Creed's neon work, while several of Emin's recent neon signs are equally direct, reading "Trust Me" and "I Keep Believing in You". The Turner prize-nominated artist Mark Titchner is one of those to contribute to Bus Tops, a Cultural Olympiad project which has seen inspirational digital commands such as "Act or be Acted Upon" and "If you don't like your life, you can change it" adorning London bus shelters.

Much of this work is tongue-in-cheek, or at least invites a few questions, but the overall effect is to emphasise the better things about human existence.

"When times are difficult, values are going to be questioned," said Ralph Rugoff, director of the Hayward Gallery. "You look again at what's important and at what's less important in life. It is usually a time when culture and art can play an important part, whereas in a boom period there is too much focus on the hype around the boom and on all the alluring baubles it holds out before us."

Rugoff, who is staging the Deller show and an exhibition of the wry sketches of David Shrigley, is clear that art should not be regarded as "a nice sedative we can take together … What it can do, though, is function as a catalyst and bring people together. Art can connect them in new ways."

On Tuesday, a group of artists including Gillian Wearing, Antony Gormley, Yinka Shonibare and Jonathan Yeo are to launch a more practical response to the financial slump. The group are staging a major exhibition in London this spring that will raise money for the homelessness charity Crisis. "Art reflects on situations in ways that cold hard facts can't," said Wearing, who won the Turner prize in 1997. "It tries to make sense of the world subjectively, whereas facts tend to ignore our subjectivity."

Her partner is Landy, and she explains that the idea behind his Acts of Kindness on the London Underground came to him before the financial crisis took hold. "For me it was powerful that an artist was working with kindness, something that we easily overlook," she said this weekend. "It actually inspired some works of mine, including the one for the Crisis Commission, where I wanted to look at people who have overcome difficulties in life and have become heroes."

But on the weekend when film-maker Danny Boyle, director of the Olympics opening ceremony, announced his Isle of Wonders theme, Deller for one is decidedly grumpy about the pressure to be jolly in preparation for the summer. "The Olympics, of course, is something that will attempt to brainwash artists into expressing positive things," he said. "Some will. But I am the kind of person who will try and do the opposite. I find these big cultural and sporting events unbearable."

In 2009 Deller invited London Underground staff on the Piccadilly Line to help him produce a booklet of quotes called What is the City But People. The booklet aimed "to generate a more positive atmosphere during peak times", but his best known work also tackles the violent 1984 confrontations between striking miners and police and the Iraq war. His recent work What It Is, the remains of a car destroyed at Al-Mutanabbi book market in Baghdad, will be in the new exhibition.

"Historically, art began by giving people what they needed, as it was tied up with religion. Now it is much more fragmented and it can be about how miserable and rotten things are," he said. His own collaborative work with the public is born of the fact that he is not traditionally trained, Deller suggests, as much as it is due to his belief and interest in people.

"At its simplest, I would say art is another way of looking at life, or perhaps another way of dealing with it."

Deller points out that BritArt started under a Conservative government "in difficult times" and was later "appropriated by the Blair regime".

"At that point it did all become a bit celebratory," he said.

For several young artists the benevolent act of making communal art has become part of the reason for doing it. Max Dovey, 23, is one of the artists featured in the 2012 Catlin guide to the 40 most promising art school graduates. "Apart from one or two notable exceptions, the response by new artists to the recession hasn't been as political or aggressive as one might have expected," said Justin Hammond, who wrote the guide. "Looking at the selected artists, there's a lot of humour running through the work though, and Max Dovey's work is very much about encouraging communication and embracing the idea of community."

"The Emotional Stock Market, which was the piece I did last year, was about trading well-being as a commodity like shares," said Dovey, who is from Bristol and lives and works in south London. "There was a lot of political talk about moving away from gross domestic product to valuing how people were feeling, and my piece was a satire or a comment on that. We tracked the levels of well-being by looking at status updates on Facebook and at Twitter to see how many were happy or sad, and then we traded them in live performance."

Dovey argues that there is a new growth of "careful art" among contemporaries who are making community projects. "Artists don't want to shock or upset. There is more interest in how art makes people feel and the experience of art has become at least as important as the practice of it."


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January 25 2012

Indian art fair draws big names to Delhi

Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Antony Gormley among those seeking a slice of the still booming Indian market

Outside was India: a snarl of traffic, screaming horns, hustling taxi drivers and a single forlorn cow. Inside was calm: glasses of white wine, canapés and, for the first time in the country, the giants of the contemporary art world.

"We've brought Damien [Hirst], Tracey [Emin], Gary [Hume], Mark [Quinn] and Antony [Gormley]," said Graham Steele, director of the London-based White Cube gallery, as he watched a who's who of the south Asian art world file into the first India Art Fair on Wednesday. The event opens to the public on Thursday.

Previously known as the India Art Summit, the fair's new name reflects its growing commercial importance. Ninety-one exhibitors from 20 countries are showing work by more than 1,000 artists, and tens of thousands of visitors are expected.

The event in Delhi has attracted a slew of international artists and dealers, all keen to get a slice of the still booming Indian market. This is the first time White Cube and the Zurich and London-based dealers Hauser & Wirth, as well as Damien Hirst's own Other Criteria gallery, have travelled to Delhi.

Suhel Seth, a Delhi-based analyst and lobbyist, said their presence reflected the growing importance of the Indian market. "This whole fair shows how the best galleries from across the world are making directly for India. The fair is running like clockwork and I've never seen so many chairmen of auction houses," said Seth, who had just paid more than £10,000 for a Hirst print.

Charlotte Nunn, manager of Other Criteria, said India was "relatively unexplored". Prices for Hirst's work on show at the fair ranged from £2,100 to £38,100. Many items featured bright colours – pinks and yellows – and glittering "diamond glass", and had in part had been selected to please Indian tastes, Nunn said.

Experts say art prices in India, as in China, have declined recently after surging through the last decade, but demand remains strong. "There is a serious interest in more cutting-edge Indian contemporary art for the first time," said Abhay Maskara, a dealer based in Mumbai, India's commercial capital. "The big museums are all sending teams. They are actively thinking that they need some Indian element in their collections and that is very new."

One problem remains India's notorious bureaucracy. Many exhibitors had brought works only to show rather than sell, to avoid risk paying punitive duties. Others complained that works had been damaged by customs officers. "It will get better as the art market develops but now you get the feeling there's no concept of 'fragile'," one said.

Beyond the international artists and dealers is a thriving experimental art scene in most major cities. Maskara represents Shine Shivan, from Kerala, in the south of India, who has created a series of vast works out of deer and cow dung.

Shivan, 28, who has exhibited at the Tate Modern as part of a group show in 2010, also works with birds nests, human hair and dentures. "It's the first day and so I'm waiting to see if I will sell. My work is very challenging though. My cow dung sculptures are 15 feet high and cost 600,000 rupees (£7,800)," Shivan said.

Not far from the fair's site in the urban sprawl of Delhi is the Khog International Artists Association, an independent non-profit group founded in 1997 to encouraging avant-garde activities,. where many of India's most famous current contemporary artists started. Pooja Sood, director of the group, said the booming market had advantages and disadvantages. "It was a very impoverished scene before … though when it becomes only about the market I have my reservations," she said. "[However] it's a very exciting time for India artistically and very good to be a part of it."


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December 12 2011

Art Basel Miami Beach 2011: Art Public

The Art Public section of Art Basel Miami Beach presents sculptures, performances and site-specific performances. The 2011 edition was special because it inaugurated a new collaboration with the Bass Museum of Art. This presentation in the public space between the Bass Museum and the Oceanfront with most of the works placed in Collins Park compliments the indoor experience of Art Basel in the Convention Center.

Curated by Christine Y. Kim, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at LACMA and Co-Founder of LAND, Art Public featured work by Darren Bader, Nina Beier, Chakaia Booker, Andrea Bowers and Olga Koumoundouros, Bruce Conner, Kate Costello, Jen DeNike, Gardar Eide Einarsson, Rachel Feinstein, Theaster Gates, Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Thomas Houseago, Richard Hughes, Robert Indiana, Glenn Kaino, Anish Kapoor, Robert Melee, Anthony Pearson, George Rickey, Eva Rothschild, Eduardo Sarabia, Banks Violette, and Zhang Huan.

This video provides you with a walk-through on the last day of Art Basel Miami Beach. VernissageTV also captured the performances of Glenn Kaino and Theaster Gates on the Art Public Opening Night, as well as Jen DeNike’s performance (coming soon). There’s also a video on how to use Gardar Eide Einarsson’s installation (already available on our Members page).

Art Public, Art Basel Miami Beach. Miami Beach, December 4, 2011.

> Right-click (Mac: ctrl-click) this link to download Quicktime video file.


December 08 2011

Opposition to Dow Olympic stadium wrap deal crosses international and political boundaries

Since I lasted posted about the row over London 2012's organisers controversially awarding the Olympic stadium wrap sponsorship deal to Dow Chemical, the Indian government has urged the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to make its displeasure known to Seb and Co, and Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Commttee chairman, has joined Coe and Boris Johnson in echoing Dow's line of defence - that in 1984 it wasn't involved with the company that owned and ran the chemical plant in Bhopal that leaked catastrophically in that year, leading to the deaths of thousands of people.

Anti-Dow ampaigners, of course, think otherwise. They believe that when Dow bought Union Carbide, the firm that did own and run the plant at the time, it also also inherited an obligation to put right the enduring environmental damage the disaster did to Bhopal and its people, up to 25,000 of whom they claim have died as result of it. The IOA has ruled out a boycott by India's athletes, but has noted that pressure for the Dow deal to be dropped has acquired an international dimension. And among London politicians it has also become a bit of a cross-party issue.

Last Friday, marking the disaster's 27th anniversary, a letter organised by Barry Gardiner MP (Brent North) and Labour Friends of India was sent to Coe urging him to review the decision. As you'd expect, most of its signatories were Labourites, including the party's mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone and former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell MP. But it was also signed by senior Lib Dem Simon Hughes MP (Bermondsey), and by four Conservatives members of the Commons including Bob Blackman (Harrow East) and that famously green Tory Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park and North Kingston). Others who put their names to letter included academic Noam Chomsky, actor Martin Sheen, artist Antony Gormley and TV personality Nancy Dell'Olio.

At a press conference held beside the stadium a spokesperson for the Bhopal Medical Appeal said that responsibility for Bhopal and its legacy was being "shifted to the Indian state," by Dow and that "that's what LOCOG is supporting when it supports Dow's statements unquestioningly."

Livingstone accused to Dow of using "every legal manoeuvre to avoid honouring its obligations" and said he didn't want the Olympic stadium becoming "the target of protestors," urging LOCOG to change its position in order to pre-empt this. He added that if elected next May, two months before the start of the games, he would be "looking for a legal challenge to try and drop Dow Chemical" and in the meantime would be "writing personally to Seb Coe to say I think this is a catastrophic error and it isn't going to go away."

He's not far wrong, I'd say. Sir Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, the Olympic host borough in which the stadium stands, is another (Labour) politician to come out against the Dow deal. So has his independent Tower Hamlets counterpart Lutfur Rahman. For more on the issue, catch up with top London blogger and Sunday Express correspondent Ted Jeory's trail blazing coverage, which has now taken him to Bhopal itself. See here and here and here.


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November 21 2011

Tiny Tyneside church beats Canterbury cathedral and Gormley in arts competition

Engraved glass so delicate that frost can change its nature helps scoop top prize for Northumberland. The Northerner's arts monitor Alan Sykes reports

A tiny church high above the Tyne valley has beaten off competition from the likes of Canterbury Cathedral to win this year's Art in a Religious Context award from the charity Art & Christian Enquiry.

The biennial award was made for two commemorative stained glass windows commissioned for St John's church, Healey, in Northumberland, by artists Anne Vibeke Mou and James Hugonin.

Anne Vibeke Mou was born in Denmark and graduated with an MA from the Royal College of Art in 2005 before moving to Newcastle. She has shown in Denmark, Prague and London as well as at the National Glass Centre at Sunderland University. Her work for St John's, which lies between Hexham and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is a sheet of glass covered with thousands of tiny impact marks made by hitting the glass with a tungsten point, creating swirling, cloud-like forms which can be seen from the outside of the church as well as from its interior. A hard frost can affect her window, giving it an extra layer of depth.

James Hugonin was born in county Durham and graduated from the Chelsea School of Art in 1975. He has shown at the Baltic and Kettle's Yard in Cambridge as well as in London, Edinburgh and Germany. He is shortlisted for this year's Northern Art Prize www.northernartprize.org.uk which opens at the Leeds City Art Gallery on November 25th. His window is made of small rectangles of glass, some transparent and some translucent, mainly red, blue, yellow and green. Although totally abstract, a double helix form can be made out in the patterns of colour.

The two windows were commissioned as a memorial to his parents Julian & Virginia Warde-Aldam by local landowner, Hotspur magazine editor and churchwarden Jamie Warde-Aldam, a relation of the Quaker Robert Ormston who built the charming neo-Norman church in 1860 (at the third attempt, the nave having collapsed twice during the building process). Jamie says:

Everyone in the parish is delighted with the award. Working with James and Anne Vibeke on the project for a year has been a deeply rewarding, educational experience. They both have the highest standards, are meticulous in their respective methods and showed a sensitivity to each other's work as well as for the character and fabric of the church. Without their generosity, patience and friendship, this commission would not have happened.



The prize is worth £4,000, with £1,500 each going to the artists and £1,000 to the church. Other finalists for the award included sculptor Antony Gormley, who created another of his human figures, this time made up of old iron nails, for Canterbury Cathedral, Jonathon Parson's grid-like Cruciform Vision for Guildford Cathedral, Thomas Denny's Transfiguration stained glass window for Durham Cathedral, and Katy Armes' NoThing for Hellington Church in Norfolk. The judges were chaired by the Dean of Chichester, the Very Rev Nicholas Frayling.

Laura Moffatt, Director of Art & Christian Enquiry, comments:

This year's ACE Awards have once again revealed the depth and diversity of artistic practice among faith communities in the UK. Our short-lists included an Islamic Hall of Remembrance and a major new stained glass window in a cathedral, as well as some very high quality works of art and architecture in small rural parish churches.


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April 16 2011

Antony Gormley's iron men must be scrapped, demands Lib Dem candidate

Claim that beach sculptures costs £250,000 a year is denied by angry art experts

A prospective councillor in Merseyside has been condemned for talking "rubbish" after he denounced Antony Gormley's "iron men" as a waste of money and called for them to be scrapped.

Moulded from the Angel of the North sculptor's own naked body, the 100 cast iron statues face out to sea along a two-mile stretch of beach in Crosby and have become a leading attraction in the area.

But Jack Colbert, a Lib Dem candidate campaigning for a seat on Sefton council in a ward on the Crosby coast, argues that the statues have lost their appeal to tourists and are expensive to maintain.

"I say get rid of the iron men," Jack Colbert, from Seaforth, said last week. "Jobs and services are more important." He has claimed that the statues, erected in 2005 and titled Another Place, cost £250,000 a year to look after, an assertion denied by the council. "When services such as nursing homes and youth centres are closing due to lack of funding, how can I stand by and let them pay hundreds of thousands for art work," Colbert told the Crosby Herald.

"I sometimes park down by the beach and only ever see a few people down there," he said. "At first they were a novelty; now they are just draining much-needed money. Rather than spending money on metal people, we need to be thinking about real people."

Colbert's claims were countered by Sefton's deputy mayor, Labour's Paul Cummins. "What he said was absolute rubbish. I have spoken to people all over the country who have seen the iron men and really enjoyed them," Cummins said. "After these comments came out I went down to the sea to buy a sandwich and the car park was absolutely full because there were so many people having a look at them. It was also rubbish to say they cost us £250,000. In fact, it doesn't cost us any money. Gormley put something aside for us for that.

"I absolutely love them and my wife loves them. People dress them up and have fun and Gormley loves that too. We love seeing them in the different seasons and different lights. They are part of the community now."

A Conservative councillor for a neighbouring ward, Peter Papworth, has underlined the deputy mayor's defence of the statues: "There is simply no truth in the suggestion that £0.25m has been set aside for this purpose. In fact, not a single penny has been set aside.

"The reverse is actually the case. The deal with Mr Gormley was completed before I rejoined the council four years ago, but I gather that the artist deposited a capital sum with our planning department in case it should become necessary."


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November 05 2010

Picture this

In pictures: The month's best photo exhibitions and books – including works by William Eggleston, Gerda Taro and W Eugene Smith



September 10 2010

David Shrigley saves the arts

Watch a brilliant new film by David Shrigley, part of a new campaign to save the arts from funding cuts



June 23 2010

Jelly, but not as you know it

Bompas and Parr make desserts you won't find at a children's birthday party and cocktails that are far too big for a glass

Next Tuesday, to celebrate the first anniversary of its restored Elizabethan gardens, Kenilworth Castle is laying on a 300-dish, 320,000-calorie dessert course including gold-gilded jelly, nine varieties of custard tarts, 20 sugar sculptures (bears, houses and aviaries with animated birds in them) and a giant sugar punchbowl in the shape of the god Atlas.

The feast is a recreation of a menu served 400 years ago to Elizabeth I. This time around, however, it has not been cooked up in a heavily staffed Elizabethan kitchen, but in the Southwark HQ of two 27-year-old guys – Sam Bompas and Harry Parr – who in three short years have become famous for their jellies, their parties, and their general wacked-out inventiveness. Since 2007, the self-styled culinary architects have pumped a Soho pop-up bar full of gin and tonic mist, created a bowl of punch big enough to row a boat across, and kicked off a 2,000-person architectural jelly food fight under the watchful eyes of Heston Blumenthal, all at the same time as bringing jelly wobbling back into style.

So how did two ex-Etonians with absolutely no formal training in catering become the Blumenthals of the jelly world? After school they set off in different directions – Bompas studied geography at UCL, Parr did architectural training at the Glasgow School of Art and then the Bartlett in London. But shortly before Parr was due to start the last stage of his degree, they decided to "do something fun for the summer", which was initially going to be a jelly stand at Borough Market in London.

"There was no stall selling a healthy, fresh dessert, and we thought of jelly,", says Bompas. "It was always jelly," adds Parr, enthusing about the history and possibilities of his beloved pudding. Borough turned them down, but the pair got a gig handing out jellies at an Innocent Smoothies event in Regent's Park and things unfolded from there.

"We got a little write-up in a paper, and then someone invited us to create a jelly feast for them," says Parr. "We'd never cooked like that before, but we just sort of worked out what they would want, and then worked out how to do it. Once you realise that if you just think about it hard enough, you can work out how to do it, it does boost your confidence." There is clearly, all the same, a certain amount of chaos to proceedings; sometimes the commission precedes the idea, or sometimes the idea precedes the commission but they are still not quite sure how to actually make it work. In the case of the gin and tonic cloud, they had been to see Antony Gormley's Blind Light exhibition, where Gormley filled a room with a mist and visitors walked through it, hardly able to see their hands in front of their face. Bompas and Parr both thought it "would be even better if it was alcohol". They had a hypothetical chat about how you could do it, Bompas mentioned it to "someone with some space" and wham-bam they were booked, "when we really only knew that it should theoretically work, but not if it actually would".

They solve problems by googling them; "Anything you need to know is out there," says Bompas breezily, but Parr's architectural training is obviously also a huge factor, and he provides more of the technical wizardry while Bompas is more likely to be "on the phone all day". They see their complete lack of catering education as an advantage: "If you'd had training you'd always go down one specific route, and actually starting from first principles with everything keeps it interesting," says Parr.

Having worked out how to create jelly moulds using architectural computer software, and a way to make tables move to show off the jelly at its best, they are currently playing around with the idea of pressurised icing sugar in liquid form. "You can ice really accurately over large areas," Parr tells me seriously. After an hour in their company, I am no longer surprised when I ask what they are thinking of icing and the answer is "buildings".

Despite working round the clock and existing on next-to-no sleep, they seem to be having the time of their lives. "It's all a joy," says Bompas. "We're just grinning from ear to ear all the time."


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The many faces (and bodies) of Antony Gormley

He has spent two decades replicating himself in stone and iron, everywhere from New York to Merseyside. And now he's even threatening to put a Gormley in Glasgow

Do you remember grey goo? This was the plague of tiny machines that might one day devour the Earth and everything upon it. If the scientists got it wrong, nothing would remain but these man-made creatures, in their uncountable trillions.

We scoffed, but that was before we saw what Antony Gormley could do. This middle-aged Englishman has spent more than two decades replicating himself in stone, fibreglass and iron. Right now, forgetting about galleries and private collections, he has 131 life-sized copies in Merseyside and New York alone. The biggest and best known Gormley towers 20m over the A1 in Tyne and Wear.

The Angel of the North has no genitals, unlike many of Gormley's other sculptures, but its nickname is all too appropriate. Thanks to the "Gateshead Flasher" and its siblings, we are almost as familiar with Gormley's body as we are with our own. Some lonely art lovers have probably spent more time scrutinising his rough-cast bottoms than they have a living human's. In the world of sculpture, only Michelangelo's David and the Venus de Milo are more gawped at.

You can't entirely blame the artist for using himself as his model. His body, as he puts it, is "the closest experience of matter that I will ever have". But what will future generations make of this cult of the Gormley – assuming his rusty metal goo leaves room for future generations? Ours is a world with many competing notions of beauty, and Gormley does not claim to personify any of them. But will the humans of the 30th century realise that? Or will they snigger at his less-than-perfect body just as modern children giggle at David's dinky winky?

The question gets more urgent by the day. The plague has now reached Edinburgh, where six Gormleys stand in the Water of Leith. The artist has been making threatening noises about Glasgow and the Highlands. His works, he tells us, should last 1,000 years.


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Gormley sets Forth

Antony Gormley's latest sculptural project places six life-size figures between an Edinburgh gallery and the sea



June 15 2010

Ex-Virgin partner to auction British art for charity

Major acts of philanthropy by businesspeople are so rare they should be shouted from the rooftops. As in today's announcement that Robert Devereux, a former partner in the Virgin empire and Richard Branson's brother-in-law, is to sell his collection of British art to set up a charity supporting the arts in Africa. Sotheby's will hold a two-day sale in November of about 400 lots, including work by Patrick Heron, Lucian Freud, Antony Gormley and Gillian Wearing. It is expected to raise about £4m.


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