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August 03 2012

Art and the hidden depths of the humble public pool

The swimming pool is not just a place of pilgrimage for leading Olympians – it has also inspired some of the 20th century's most memorable art. Artist and novelist Leanne Shapton, herself a former competitive swimmer, chooses 10 of the greatest works of art based around the baths

Drawing for 'Children's Swimming Pool', Leon Kossoff, 1971

Kossoff's charcoal study for his oil painting Children's Swimming Pool, Autumn Afternoon is of a public pool in Willesden, London, near his studio, where he took his son to learn to swim. Kossoff captures the wild energy of an indoor pool overtaken by children during a public session. His vigorous lines, bobbing heads and sharp elbows remind us that as well as being pristine and serene, pools can also be aggressive and feral. The piece is audible, one can imagine the echoing hollers of the children, the heavy odour of chlorine and the lurking verruca.

Nine Swimming Pools, Ed Ruscha, 1968

Among the hundreds of gorgeous photographic images of swimming pools, this grid of colour photos that Ed Ruscha conceived in 1968 stands out as my favourite. The nine pools depicted are glassy, blue and bright, and while they are absent of figures, (only wet footprints leading off a diving board) they shimmer with the American dream. Each photo offers its own condensed version of public or private water; together, they simultaneously deliver the yearning of Sunset Boulevard, the challenge of competition, the seduction of youth, the promise of sunshine, as well as the shallow transience of motel life.

Pool Shapes, Claes Oldenburg, 1964

Oldenburg's palette is consumer goods, and his four bright blue swimming pool designs bluntly and directly convey his interest in the choices we are offered. The piece is a copy of an advertisement with the type removed, and the reframing of these simple diagrams of backyard pools, with their bubbly rounded shapes and shallow steps, is typical of Oldenburg's humour and playfulness. The image appears on the cover of a 1966 catalogue of his early sketches, diagrams and photos, produced by Stockholm's Moderna Museet for an early solo show of his work.

Ellipsis (II), Roni Horn, 1998

Rather than making the tank of water the subject, Roni Horn shifts her focus to the locker room of a swimming pool she loves in Reykavik, Iceland. Her large (8 x 8ft) monochrome grid of 64 iris prints shuffle the viewer through a warren of slick cubicles and halls. In an interview, Horn described the endless tiled surface and peepholed doors as a voyeristic delight, and explained that she "…shot it in a way to bring out more of the sensual aspect to balance against the antiseptic quality of the architecture".

Le bain mystérieux, Giorgio de Chirico, 1938

Giorgio de Chirico's series of bathers and labyrinthine pools, done between 1934 and 1973, began when Jean Cocteau asked the artist to provide illustrations for his book Mythology. He returned to this theme – men, both fully dressed and nude, in and around pools that were connected by twisting canals and surrounded by cabanas – for years after. He always depicted the water as a herringbone parquet, inspired by one day observing sunlight reflected on a highly polished floor. In this series, the founder of metaphysical painting hauntingly evokes dreams of water, submersion and classical Grecian imagery.

Gatsby, Dexter Dalwood, 2009

Pools are often used in literature and film as symbols of hedonism, seduction or danger. In F Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel The Great Gatsby, the pool manifests all three, finally submerging its eponymous hero in its eighth chapter. In his painting Gatsby, Dexter Dalwood, whose subject matter often involves the locations of violent tragedies (other titles: Kurt Cobain's Greenhouse, Sharon Tate's Living Room), gives us the melancholy millionaire Jay Gatsby's sunlit backyard pool in West Egg, and an inflatable red air mattress overtaken by its shadow: a fitting metaphor for Fitzgerald's haunted hero.

New Yorker cover, Richard McGuire, 2008

New York City is not known for abundant outdoor swimming pools, which is why this New Yorker cover illustration, Swim, Swam, Swum, a rendition of the Carmine Street pool in Greenwich Village, is so charming. It showcases the beloved city pool (featured in Martin Scorsese's film Raging Bull and Larry Clark's Kids, and flanked by a 1987 Keith Haring mural). Illustrator Richard McGuire is a master of reductive line. He's a regular New Yorker cover artist, designs toys and games, makes wildly popular comics, children's books and haunting animations, and lives a block from the pool.

Poster for 1972 Olympics, David Hockney, 1972

David Hockney is the undisputed king of swimming pool art. His paintings of Hollywood pools, replete with big splashes, submerged figures and undulating ripples, gave us an iconic Californian landscape that still defines a certain kind of languid and lush west-coast sensuality. My favourite piece of his, however, and one I work beneath every day, is his poster for the 1972 Munich Olympics, which depicts a diver, suspended over a wobbling sunlit grid of aquamarine, the moment before he slices through the water. (Josef Albers and RB Kitaj also did swimming-themed posters in this series.)

Floating Swimming Pool, Rem Koolhaas, 1978

Rem Koolhaas's pool illustrates the last chapter of his book Delirious New York. It's an Orwellian fable about a group of Soviet architecture students who build a vast, floating swimming pool that they propel across the Atlantic by swimming laps. The journey to New York takes 40 years, and the pool's arrival is met with a hostility they had not anticipated. Koolhaas, himself an avid swimmer, satirises the utopian beginnings of Russian constructivism and its slow morph into corporate American modernism with his usual intellect, idealism and rancour.

Aquis Submersus, Max Ernst, 1919

In one of his earliest surrealist pieces, Max Ernst offers us a melancholy and disturbing night swim, though a clock in the sky indicates 4:42 and the shadows cast by a handlebar-moustachioed man are long. A sense of unease and suspense shroud the work. The clock is reflected in the pool as a moon, the lonely buildings around the pool appear empty, the upside-down figure of a swimmer is weirdly still. The painting shares a title with an 1876 novella by Theodor Storm, about a long-thwarted love and the drowning death of a boy, as narrated by a painter.


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June 20 2012

Roni Horn: Selected Drawings 1984 – 2012 / Hauser & Wirth Zürich

The weekend before this year’s Art Basel, the Löwenbräu art center in Zürich (Switzerland) opened its doors so the public could see the renovated and restructured building that houses art galleries and institutions such as Kunsthalle Zürich, Luma Westbau / Pool etc., Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Galerie Bob van Orsouw, Galerie Freymond-Guth, and Hauser & Wirth.

The first exhibitions that Hauser & Wirth presents back in the Löwenbräu are shows with Hans Arp and Roni Horn. The Roni Horn show features selected drawings produced between 1984 and 2012. It’s the first survey exhibition dedicated solely to the pigment drawings of the New York-based artist. The works range from early pieces which showcase Roni Horn’s initial experimentations with pure pigment and varnish to the recent drawings that are composed of separate drawings, or “plates”.

Roni Horn: Selected Drawings 1984 – 2012 / Hauser & Wirth Zürich. Opening, June 10, 2012.

PS: See also: Roni Horn, Louise Bourgeois / Hauser & Wirth Zurich (2006).

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


Press release:

‘If you were to ask me what I do, I would say I draw – this is the primary activity and that all my work has this in common regardless of idiom or material’
– Roni Horn in a letter to Paulo Herkenhoff, 2003

Hauser & Wirth is proud to announce the first survey exhibition dedicated solely to the pigment drawings of New York-based artist Roni Horn. Ranging from early pieces which showcase Horn’s initial experimentations with pure pigment and varnish to new and intricate, large-scale drawings, these works move beyond the limitations of their medium and instead explore the materiality of colour and the sculptural potential of drawing.

In the mid-1980s, Horn made her first drawings using pure pigment and featuring groupings of un-even shapes. Whether semi-conical, semi-pyramidal, or semi-rectangular, the objects waver between easily identifiable geometric forms and abstract volumes. Each is densely filled with powdered pigment in gemlike shades of deep red, bright yellow and brilliant green. The pigment is not painted within the outlines of the shape; instead it is layered thickly on to the paper, mixing in small amounts of turpentine, and then adding varnish little by little in a laborious process which lends physicality and depth to the two-dimensional works.

An important feature of Horn’s work is her sculptural and photographic explorations into the implications of repetition and doubling. Early drawings such as ‘Must 21’ (1985) also represent a two-dimensional investigation into multiplicity, perception and memory. ‘Must 21’ depicts a group of dark grey, tapered cylindrical shapes flecked with green, red and white pigments. Although similar at first glance and placed side-by-side, the shapes are not presented in a progressive or logical sequence. Instead, they have a built-in repetition with minor variations, such as the multicoloured traces of pigment, that require the viewer to commit their time and attention to teasing out the subtle differences.

Horn’s more recent drawings display a significant increase in scale and complexity. Each work is composed of separate drawings, or ‘plates’. Horn first cuts these plates then stitches elements from them together, creating entirely new forms through continuous cutting and pasting. Light pencil marks are dispersed throughout the drawings, indicating the joins of different plates and recording names or random pairings of words. These annotations marked time like a metronome as Horn carried out her exploration of the drawing’s expansive surface. In her essay in ‘Roni Horn aka Roni Horn’, Briony Fer described Horn’s work as ‘complete with missing parts’, capturing ‘the sense of a total object that is all absorbing yet at the same time intractable in some way and, therefore, always incomplete. This refusal to deliver everything easily or quickly forces us to slow down and reflect: to hold on to that tenuous hold’.

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October 15 2011

My Frieze week - in pictures

It's the biggest week in Britain's art calendar when thousands of visitors come to check out the fair and London's galleries unleash their big guns. Art-world figures, including artists Tracey Emin and Polly Morgan, pick their highlights from Frieze 2011 and the dozens of other shows across the capital



September 09 2011

This week's new exhibitions

The World We Live In, Leigh

The Turnpike Gallery celebrates its 40th anniversary with a show of works on loan from the Arts Council Collection, many by artists who have shown at the gallery and most on a theme of urban landscape seemingly relevant to the provincial ambience. Contributions of urban imagery by the likes of George Shaw and Cornelia Parker bring the story up to date, but it's the old hands who make magic out of the mundane, with Frank Auerbach's Euston Steps a coagulated mass of painterly impasto and the local all-time master LS Lowry represented by a gem of a painting, depicting a park surrounded like a cultural oasis by the looming chimneys of factories.

Turnpike Gallery, to 5 Nov

Robert Clark

Yang Fudong, London

Yang Fudong is a supreme stylist. It makes sense that he first learned about cinema, not from movies – which were restricted in China in the 1970s and 1980s – but from books. What his film installations forsake in narrative pep, they make up for in perfectly composed imagery and a heady atmosphere of yearning. The people in his work typically attempt to navigate changing urban and rural worlds, while taking romantic false steps through jarring scenarios. This show premieres a new work alongside his recent Fifth Night from 2010. Here, a stagey street scene is experienced from seven different angles with seven screen projections simultaneously closing in on its players' emotional nuances.

Parasol Unit, N1, Tue to 6 Nov

Skye Sherwin

Mike Kelley, London

Mike Kelley's latest show is sure to tap your inner nerd. The LA-based artist is obsessed with Superman mythology, specifically the bit where our hero discovers that an entire city, Kandor, from his home planet, Krypton, has been miniaturised and preserved in a bell jar, which he then stores in his Arctic hideout, The Fortress Of Solitude. Kelley's celebrated 3D realisations of the various Kandors depicted by DC Comics' illustrators, are like intricate jellies beneath their hand-blown bell jars. For his latest work he turns to the Fortress itself, realising Superman's hideaway as a rocky bunker. His grim, dark cave, concealing a tiny, rose-hued metropolis, speaks of memory's distortions and the past's grip.

Gagosian Britannia Street, WC1, to 22 Oct

Skye Sherwin

Roni Horn, London

Roni Horn's work is famous for its austerity. Her interests, though, are more poetic and personal than her crisply minimalist creations might suggest. It's all about identity, but even her photographs of people are not portraits in the obvious sense. Take her famed You Are The Weather, 100 head shots of a woman bathing in Icelandic pools where the weather is written in her face. Horn has now recreated this work with the same model posed in those hot springs some 15 years on. You might say that it's as much about us as her: what we see in her expressions and her eyes. New, gem-like glass sculptures and large-scale abstract drawings complete the show.

Hauser & Wirth Savile Row, W1, to 22 Oct

Skye Sherwin

Gary Rough, Glasgow

Gary Rough's mixed-media art is deceptively spontaneous. His cut-out texts and scrawled intimacies resemble less the tired mannerisms of urban tagging than the erotic reveries once etched into toilet walls or the heartfelt romanticisms carved into tree bark. His art is one of collaged and doodled mischief, as disarmingly honest as it tends to be apparently irreverent, but it's all painstakingly presented. Rough draws us in with his aesthetic daftness, then twists the emotional screw. It's funny, touching stuff.

Sorcha Dallas, to 7 Oct

Robert Clark

Concept As Concrete Form, Derby

A modest yet wide-ranging survey of concrete poetry, celebrating the role over the last 60 years of Eugen Gomringer. Concerned with the physical presence of texts and how typographical structure can play with or against the content of words, concrete poetry is as much visual art as it is a literary tradition. The concrete poets here, including big names such as Henri Chopin and Dom Sylvester Houedard as well as Gomringer, have reduced texts to an almost primal minimalism. So does the deceptive simplicity displayed add up to innocence or indulgence? Come see.

University of Derby School Of Arts, Design And Technology, Tue to 14 Oct

Robert Clark

Normal Dilworth, Huddersfield

The sculptor Norman Dilworth moved to Amsterdam in the early 1980s, anticipating that the abstract formalism of his work would be marginalised by the British arts scene; in Europe his almost playful sculptural aesthetic could be more warmly embraced. So it's good to see the Wigan-born artist back on home ground. Dilworth's art holds its own through the finely tuned tension between his use of steel and wood and a spirit of improvisation that allows for unforeseen sculptural twists and turns.

Huddersfield Library And Art Gallery, to 27 Nov

Robert Clark

Richard Woods, Bristol

When it comes to skewering design culture mores, Richard Woods is as adept as any Laurence Llewelyn Bowen. His point, however, is that bit sharper than the average home makeover show. Unpicking the wider cultural fantasies and delusions that fuel our taste in wallpaper and bathroom tiles, his latest project tackles the current mania for vintage or retro-styled British decor and the cosy nostalgia of nationalism. Paintings are inspired by mock-Tudor suburbia, with Woods refiguring monochrome timbering as geometric abstractions in union flag patterns. Meanwhile, woodblock prints depict Boy's Own-types hard at carpentry. As far as the fetish for handicraft and vintage odds and ends goes, Hand Painted Table Leg Sculptures say it all. Meanwhile, his dry stone wall looks decidedly precise and industrially made, ready to be wheeled out of the factory and into a contemporary dream-world of bygone days.

Works/Projects, Fri to 19 Nov

Skye Sherwin


guardian.co.uk © 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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