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May 18 2012

Damien Hirst, Richard Serra and Tracey Emin – the week in art

Damien Hirst's 'proper' paintings go on display, as Tracey Emin re-imagines the London underground map – all in your favourite weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: Damien Hirst

Go on, admit it – you're dying to see this newly revealed batch of Damien Hirst's paintings, the "proper" ones he actually paints himself in his garden shed, with hilarious consequences. The press release confidently places these paintings of his familiar objects in the history of the still life and the painting of the seasons (they were done on summer days). Then you look at the half-baked daub of a bird, a foetus in a jar (or what looks like it) and other stuff on the invitation card and think ... No.

And yet I genuinely want to see these paintings. For one thing, it will complete Hirst's trilogy of exhibitions that add up to a complete artistic autobiogaphy in London this spring. The spot paintings at Gagosian were depressing – the comparison that damns them is with Mondrian. Abstract art is, potentially, just pattern. What makes it more than that? Inner fire, higher purpose. Mondrian possessed that. Hirst's paintings are devoid of it. The difference is invisible yet absolute.

Then came his impressive retrospective at Tate Modern, astutely gathering all that deserves to be remembered of his work. It eloquently disproves those who dismiss Hirst. He is revealed here as an artist driven by a genuine desire to ask the biggest questions about life and death. His early vitrines are genuinely striking and ambitiously metaphysical. Yet they are never quite as metaphysical as they want to be.

I want to thank Mr Hirst for resolving the mixed feelings, from real love to real loathing, that I have experienced in front of his works since the early 1990s. When people disparage him as some kind of worthless fake I am furious at their blindness to his virtues. The Tate show demonstrates he is a real artist, with a vision of modern life. But it does not show him to be a great artist. He's interesting, diverting, but only, in the end, quite good.

Maybe it is because he so longs to be great that Hirst is driven to give up his quite good things and become very bad. His unplugged from-life paintings are genuinely terrible. Ironic defences of them fail because he is too bigheaded to present them as the jokes they actually are. But if you want to be great and you are stuck with quite good, could awfulness lead you to the secret places of genius?

White Cube, Bermondsey, from 23 May until 8 July

Other exhibitions this week

Graphology
Works by Man Ray, Fiona Banner and many more.
The Drawing Room, until 30 June

House 2012
Art festival in Brighton and Hove including artists' open houses and David Batchelor's provocative Skip.
• Various venues until 27 May

Rene Burri
Terrific photojournalist who shows truth can have a style.
Atlas, London until 9 June

The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmorland
Historians have long used the device of "microhistory" to tell big stories through small episodes. This mainstay of modern non-fiction writing has been crying out to be taken up by curators, and this exhibition is essentially a paperback history book re-imagined for the gallery, transporting visitors to the 18th-century age of the Grand Tour through the dramatic story of the "English prize", a ship full of art bought in Italy by English aristocrats that was seized by two French ships in 1779.
Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, until 27 August

Masterpiece of the Week

Richard Serra, Trip Hammer

This is what great modern art looks like. "Looks like" may be the wrong words, as you feel the weight of Serra's precariously balanced mass of steel, sense the danger of it. Serra always makes you aware of the gravity of the situation.

Tate Modern

Image of the week: Tracey Emin's tube map

What we learned this week

Who the new Da Vinci of design is

How the newly reopened Photographers' Gallery is promising exciting times ahead

That Jeremy Deller has been chosen to represent Britain at the 2013 Venice Biennale

Why the Quay brothers want people to get lost in their labyrinth of Leeds for this whole weekend

How a Banksy rat disappeared down a drain – and what it means for the builders who ruined it!

Lastly

Share your artworks with us

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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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May 27 2011

Artists Talk with Richard Serra at Fondation Beyeler

Artists Talk with Richard Serra at Fondation Beyeler, Basel. In this excerpt of Richard Serra’s conversation with Martin Schwander, the world-renowned sculptor talks about how he quit with painting and started to work in three dimensions.

The complete talk (55:47 min.) is available for VernissageTV Members after the jump.

Artists Talk with Richard Serra at Fondation Beyeler. Richard Serra in conversation with Martin Schwander. Riehen (Basel) / Switzerland, May 22, 2011.

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

Complete talk (55:47 min.): ...


May 22 2011

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra at Fondation Beyeler

Constantin Brancusi & Richard Serra at Fondation Beyeler in Riehen, Switzerland, brings together two of the most important sculptors of the 20th century. Both the oeuvre of Constantin Brancusi and the work of Richard Serra are shown in a comprehensive exhibition.

Constantin Brancusi’s work is represented by about 40 exemplary pieces, which are arranged in various thematic groupings. On display are different variants of “The Kiss”, “Children’s Heads”, “Sleeping Muses”, female torsos, and the “Birds in Space”, “Princess X”, “Adam and Eve”, and “Endless Column”.

The Fondation Beyeler selected ten different works from Richard Serra, among them are early pieces in rubber and lead, the steel sculpture “Strike: To Roberta and Rudy”, and the works “Olson” and Fernando Pessoa”.

The exhibition was curated by Oliver Wick, and conceived in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which will present the exhibition from October 10, 2011. The exhibition at Fondation Beyeler runs through August 21, 2011.

Constantin Brancusi and Richard Serra at Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Switzerland. Vernissage, May 21, 2011.

PS: On May 22, 2011, VernissageTV documented an artist talk with Richard Serra (with Martin Schwander) that will be published soon.

PPS: Press release and photo set after the jump.

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

Press release:

The Fondation Beyeler is devoting its large summer exhibition to the art of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) and Richard Serra (b. 1939), two of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century. Brancusi, born in Romania and a resident of Paris from 1904 onwards, reduced forms to the essentials and thus set the cornerstone for abstract sculpture. The American artist Serra redefined the effects of sculpture by means of minimalistic steel pieces which draw the viewer directly into the work. The phenomenon and presence of sculptural form in space are his prime theme. Taken together, the oeuvres of these two pioneers of European and American sculpture cover the period of over one hundred years in which modern sculpture developed.
The essential aspects of Brancusi’s work are illuminated by about 40 exemplary pieces, arranged in the exhibition in various thematic groupings. The selection covers an oeuvre that extends over forty years of Brancusi’s mature work, revolving around the question of reduction of volumes in space and their transcendence in light – an exploration of formal essence and “primal” form, as it were. The sculptor’s concentrated, lifelong concerns are reflected in a small range of sculptural motifs.

Among the ensembles of works on view are different variants of the monolithic piece The Kiss, the poetic Children’s Heads, Sleeping Muses, female torsos, and the renowned Birds in Space, as well as the scandal-triggering Princess X, Adam and Eve, or the iconic Endless Column. In addition, Brancusi’s The Child in the World, a so-called “mobile group”, has been reconstructed out of the original wooden sculptures. In this form of presentation, Brancusi’s pieces condense into what amounts almost to a retrospective in its own right. Special emphasis is placed on the concept of variation and the experience of the different effects of various materials; to this end, marble and bronze pieces are supplemented in the exhibition by a number in wood, cement and plaster. Precisely a play with material qualities, their different surfaces and reflection or absorption of light, are characteristic traits of Brancusi’s search for an artistic ideal. The sculpture groupings are arranged in separate rooms with ample space around them, in order to make their appearance in space perceptible to viewers as an absolute quality. Also, a photo cabinet contains a selection of twenty original photographs that provide insight into Brancusi’s own personal view of his art.

The crucial recognition of an ideal presence in space, the question as to the essence of sculpture, is approached in a different if not less compelling way in ten sculptural works from different phases of Serra’s oeuvre. In addition, a new series of works on paper is on display. The selection of works, again arranged retrospectively, extends from Serra’s early pieces in rubber and lead, such as the Belts, 1966-67, and Lead Props, as well as his characteristic steel sculpture Strike: To Roberta and Rudy 1969-71 and Delineator (1974/75). The “curved piece” Olson, 1986, opens up another facet of Serra’s work. Fernando Pessoa’s, 2007-08, radical reduction stands for developments of recent years and simultaneously delineates an arc back to earlier works like Strike.

Serra himself has repeatedly emphasized his special interest in Brancusi, whose art he was able to study in Brancusi’s reconstructed studio during an extended stay in Paris in 1964/1965. Every day Serra made a series of drawings that gave him access to the logic of his predecessor’s work and enabled him to draw lessons from his sculptural thinking. Later, Serra would even describe Brancusi’s art as an “encyclopedia”, a “handbook of possibilities,” if one that inspired him to quite different sculptural conclusions. In the exhibition, the aesthetic relationships between Brancusi and Serra are visualized in the form of an open-ended, free dialogue between their works – direct juxtapositions that reveal both traits shared in common and striking contrasts alternate with suites of works that reflect the universal force of sculpture and show it in a new light. Especially sculptural volumes that rest in time and space, and simultaneously maintain a precarious equilibrium, link Brancusi and Serra’s singular oeuvres and point to the universality and continuity of sculpture in general.

Brancusi’s sculptural work is on view for the first time in Switzerland in retrospective form. Nor has Serra’s oeuvre previously been represented here so extensively. The installation of Serra’s sculptures at the Fondation Beyeler was an enormous technical challenge, as the static conditions had first to be established. For the installation of Fernando Pessoa alone, about seventy tons of steel, including the sculpture’s weight, had to be moved.
The loans to the exhibition stem from renowned private collections and public museums, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; the Tate, London; the Musée National d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Muzeul de Artǎ, Craiova; the Hamburger Kunsthalle; the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart; the Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg; the Kunstmuseum Basel, and the Kunsthaus Zurich.
Curated by Oliver Wick, the Fondation Beyeler exhibition was conceived in collaboration with the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, which is foreseen as the next venue (October 10, 2011 – April 15, 2012).

The exhibition is accompanied by an abundantly illustrated scholarly catalogue, published in separate German, English and Spanish editions by Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern. It contains essays by Oliver Wick, Friedrich Teja Bach, Alfred Pacquement, and Jacqueline Matisse Monnier, and commentaries by Raphaël Bouvier, Denise Ellenberger, Alexandra Parigoris, Ileana Parvu, Marielle Tabart, Michelle White, and Jon Wood, and biographies of the two artists. 244 pages, 176 illustrations, CHF 68, ISBN 978-3-905632-89-7.

Richard Serra is represented by three outdoor sculptures in Basel and environs: Open Field Vertical / Horizontal Elevations at Wenken Park in Riehen/Basel, installed in 1980 in the context of “Sculpture in the 20th Century,” co-organized by Ernst Beyeler; the steel sculpture Intersection, installed in 1992 on Theaterplatz in Basel city center; and Dirk’s Pod, a steel piece unveiled in 2004 on the Novartis Campus, Basel.


December 07 2009

Into the age of uncertainty

Bigger was better in the noughties – and nothing summed up the art world's decade of bling more aptly than a skull encrusted with diamonds.

The new century never got going till September 2001, with an audacious attack that seemed to change everything. Not long after 9/11 I was in New York, and found myself at an exhibition documenting the disaster. This ramshackle, ad-hoc show included photographs of wrecked lobbies clogged with rubble, a snowfall of dust covering restaurant tables set for lunch, the folded knitwear in a downtown boutique mired in filth. There was amateur footage of the twin towers burning and collapsing, bodies falling through space; this was played and replayed, like a personal trauma running through your head.

It wasn't until 2005 that Gerhard Richter painted one of the only really telling responses to this dismal moment. Called simply September, the painting shows a generic image of the towers, sun-struck in the autumn morning and seething with smoke. There's that characteristic Richter blur: it feels like the mind won't focus. Overlaying the image are a few brusque swipes across the canvas, a gauzy smear of thin white paint, as if something had passed between us and the painting. Impatience, perhaps, or an acknowledgement that painting can't deal with more than appearances.

Tate Modern opened in London in 2000, and that too promised change, though few could predict that the building itself would become a major tourist attraction. Even much of the art, especially in the Turbine Hall, caters to an appetite for spectacle. People got all quasi-religious in front of Olafur Eliasson's 2003 wintry sun, using their bodies to write messages in the mirrored false ceiling. There was too much operatic artifice to Eliasson's work, and not quite enough to Carsten Holler's slides. It seemed that the public wanted excitement, danger, a physical rush that most art doesn't even try to provide. You can't account for the kinds of entertainment people make of the dourest art – whether Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth, her artificial crack that ran the length of the Turbine Hall, or Miroslaw Balka's How It Is, whose darkened space gives ample opportunity for witless use of mobile phone-cams. This year, on Trafalgar Square's Fourth Plinth, Antony Gormley's One and Other turned the audience itself into the spectacle.

Even art's destruction, in the 2004 fire that engulfed a warehouse on the outskirts of London belonging to MoMart, the leading art handlers and storage company, created a frisson of pleasure in some quarters. Jake and Dinos Chapman's Hell, Tracey Emin's tent, as well as many other works owned by Charles Saatchi and – saddest of all – a large chunk of the estate of the painter Patrick Heron, were consumed. The Chapmans rebuilt Hell – and made it much, much worse. The rest was irretrievable.

In October 2003, the first Frieze art fair brought international galleries and collectors to London's Regent's Park. It is hard to underestimate its effect: this was the first credible contemporary art fair in Britain, and chimed with the habits of the art-collecting rich, who prefer to do their shopping en masse at fairs. Over the decade, public and private galleries alike have timed their biggest shows to coincide with the annual fair. While money sloshed through the art world, prices went up, and quality often went down, to the point where a skull covered in diamonds became the most talked about and reproduced work of the decade. Damien Hirst's Beautiful Inside My Head Forever did nothing for me.

Art fairs, it has been said, are the new biennials. Some, like the Liverpool Biennial, which staggered through the decade, make one agree. But the big international circus goes on. The opening days of the Venice Biennale are now written-up as much in terms of parties and celebrities as the art. In 2007, the five–yearly Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and the once-a-decade Munster Sculpture Project followed Venice, and became part of an unseemly Grand Tour, which also took in the Basel art fair. Such migrations across Europe haven't been seen since the 30 years war.

The global art trail

For critics, following this art trail is necessary, not least because of the huge changes brought about by the internet. One's readers are now as likely to be in Berlin or Toronto as the UK, and we often see the same artists, even the same works, in our respective cities. Artists now spend more time in airports than in their studios; it is increasingly impossible to categorise artists as either local or international, whatever that might mean. Events such as the Glasgow International and Manchester International are now must-sees, and the Folkestone Biennial looks like following suit. All have been leaps of faith, and prove that smaller sometimes really is better.

The opening of Baltic in Gateshead, Mima in Middlesbrough and the new Nottingham Contemporary have also bolstered regional fortunes; despite the Baltic's rocky history of directorial changes it has managed to give Tate Liverpool a run for its money. Internationally, the 2006 Berlin Biennial, Of Mice and Men, curated by a team including artist Maurizio Cattelan, managed to acknowledge both the particular history of Berlin and bigger issues about what it means to make art now. This was my biennial of the decade.

In 2004, the Albanian artist Anri Sala made one of the best video shows I have ever seen, in the enormous medieval refectory of the Couvent des Cordeliers in Paris. The works were projected in half-light, on grey felt walls. An undernourished horse waited, at night, by a roadside on the outskirts of Tirana, while traffic roared past. Kids chased crabs across a beach, by torchlight. A DJ on a Tirana rooftop mixed disco beats in the torrential rain, against the backdrop of New Year fireworks exploding over the city. It was impossible not to think of other explosions, and other cities torn apart by war. The show was called Entre Chien et Loup (meaning that at dusk, one can't tell a wolf from a dog). A sort of dreary half-light also permeated two identical East End terrace houses in London's Whitechapel, where German artist Gregor Schneider installed Die Familie Schneider. In each house a woman pottered in the kitchen, a man masturbated behind a shower curtain, a kid with a bin-liner over his head lay in an upstairs bedroom. The men and women were two pairs of twins, and all acted oblivious to visitors. There was something unpleasant down in that basement, but to this day I'm not sure what.

Only one woman, Tomma Abts, won the Turner prize in the noughties (though that may change when this year's winner is announced tonight). Abts' quiet, unsettling abstractions were described, derisorily, by one German critic as the painted equivalent of geometric wallpaper from the old GDR. Sounded pretty good to me, but Abts's introspective, complex little paintings have a strange and mesmerising sense of absorption and contemplative reverie. Who said painting was dead, or could imagine work like this winning the Turner?

Tacita Dean has never won the prize, but went on to win major awards in the US and Germany, the latter just a couple of weeks ago. Dean's 16mm films are just one example of art that has gone to the movies in the last decade. Julian Schnabel has shown himself a far more accomplished film-maker than he is a painter, while artists Douglas Gordon and Phillipe Parreno had a surprise 2005 cinema hit with Zidane, their film about the French footballer. Steve McQueen won the Cannes Golden Camera award in 2008 with Hunger, a moving film about Irish hunger-striker Bobby Sands. Neither film sacrificed the impulses or aesthetics of its director.

Space exploration

The shows that have stayed with me include 2007's Courbet exhibition in Paris and New York, and both Manet and Picasso at the Prado in Madrid; all were exemplary. So, too, was El Greco at the National Gallery, and the current The Sacred Made Real, featuring 17th–century Spanish painting and sculpture. But the work that affected me most was Richard Serra's Promenade at the Grand Palais in Paris last year. Off-vertical steel plates marched through the belle-epoque building, pacing you as much as measuring the space. Promenade slowed you down, stopped you, made you aware of yourself and the place you were in. It wasn't entertainment.


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