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June 29 2012

Impressionism, Degas and Shepard Fairey – the week in art

The French avant garde storm London's Royal Academy, plus shows from Peter Blake and Mark Wallinger, Olympic posters and Britain's biggest mural – all in your weekly art dispatch

Exhibition of the week: From Paris: A Taste for Impressionism – Paintings from the Clark

The art of the French avant garde in the 19th century always has the power to startle because it is always underestimated. Newspapers tend to see it as safe; art historians analyse its bourgeois ideology. But the public knows better. The reason Monet, Renoir, Manet and their contemporaries remain so popular is not because people want "safe" art. It is because we can recognise true inspiration when we see it. The impressionists captured the feel of modern life in a way that was unprecedented. There's a lightness and reality to their paintings that is the taste of the world we inhabit. In these paintings, as their contemporary Karl Marx said of modernity, all that is solid melts into air.
Royal Academy, London W1, from 7 July until 23 September

Other exhibitions this week

Richard Wilson
The artist who filled Saatchi's tank with oil offers a sculptural take on a British pop icon, as he recreates the tottering bus from the final moments of the film The Italian Job.
De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, from 7 July until 1 October

Peter Blake
A hero of pop art revisits the music that has inspired him.
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 7 October

Mark Wallinger
This quirky conceptualist always goes his own way – and it's worth following along.
Baltic, Gateshead, until 14 October

Olympic Posters
Chris Ofili's is the best and Tracey Emin's is the silliest, but whose will capture imaginations this summer?
Tate Britain, London SW1, until 23 September

Masterpiece of the week

Hilaire-Germain-Edgar Degas, Young Spartans Exercising

The strange erotic intensity of this history painting by Degas is a clue to the passions that pulse within his later impressionist and post-impressionist works. Near-naked young men and women face each other in tense competition, a fantasy of some athletic sex war. Degas shows a similarly charged sexual obsessiveness in later paintings in the same gallery: through his eyes, even hair-brushing becomes a sadomasochist ritual, and as for an acrobat suspending herself by her teeth ...
National Gallery, London WC2

Image of the week

What we learned this week

That it's possible to redo Van Gogh in dominoes

What a jumbo jet nose, a ginormous megaphone and a bus spray-painted with bubbles have in common

That a contemporary collection of Middle Eastern photography has been acquired for the UK – and about time, too

How beautiful the new Turner, Monet and Twombly show is

What the wild men of Germany, Romania and Croatia look like

And finally

Have you uploaded anything to the Guardian Art and design Flickr page yet?

Or shared any of your art with us?

Have you seen our Tumblr?

Do you follow us on Twitter?

Or on Facebook?

Have you signed up for the Art Weekly newsletter?


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June 28 2012

Artist of the week 196: Amalia Pica

This London-based Argentine's work speaks to us of the missed chances and misunderstandings in both art and life

There may be strings of lights, bunting and music in Amalia Pica's first UK show, but the festive mood comes with a pang. The bright garlands of rainbow bulbs that illuminate the front door and lobby turn plain inside the gallery. In a gigantic poster made from collaged Xeroxes of a blown-up photo, bunting stretched between two people in a lonely field is the only hit of colour in an otherwise black and white landscape. Somewhere out back, the 1990s tune Fiesta is playing. Perhaps you arrived too late, or maybe the party always seems to be happening elsewhere.

For the London-based Argentine, art and life are characterised by gaps and missed signals. What interests Pica is the distance between sender and receiver, the ways we misunderstand or misremember. She addresses the problem of art speaking to people – like the time she used Semaphore flag code to broadcast gobbledygook in the middle of nowhere. And she questions whether art can possibly measure up to what's already out there in the world – as when she faced-off a mountain, holding up a white sheet of paper to its craggy mass. Was she attempting to channel the landscape's power, or offering a white flag of artistic surrender?

Switchboard, a screen-like wall in the middle of her current show that's studded with tin-can telephones, turns a children's game into an allegory of our attempts to communicate. The cans are randomly connected by a cat's cradle of strings hidden inside the wall, so finding the corresponding mouth and earpiece is a halting hit-and-miss process, with most messages going nowhere.

Pica frequently alludes to communal experience, be that a schoolroom or a party. In her recent twist on public art, I am Tower of Hamlets …, a pink marble sculpture of the popular South American Echevaria houseplant has spent the last year travelling through the homes of East End locals. When it returns to the gallery in July, the hardy little statue will conjure fantasies of unknown encounters. Like the lights outside the show, what we remember or imagine is always more colourful than the here and now.

Why we like her: Childhood is important for Pica. In a key early work, Hora Catedra (School Period) from 2002, she drew attention to a cultural confusion rooted in infancy. Most Argentinians believe The House of Tucuman, the site of the declaration of the country's independence, to be yellow, as it's depicted in children's books, when it's actually white. Making the most of this, she flooded the real house with yellow light, for 40 minutes, the duration of a lesson.

School's out: Teaching art classes at primary school sparked Pica's interest in what shapes our preconceptions and limits our imagination. Why, she wondered, did children always draw a house the same way?

Where can I see her? At Chisenhale Gallery, London to 15 July.


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June 27 2012

Let's hear it for Bruce Nauman, sculptor of sound

In his new sound art installation, Days, at the ICA, Nauman sculpts the space with voices, giving sound a physicality that will open your ears to a whole new world of noise

Where are you and what are you doing? What does it feel like? Say you are in a hotel lobby waiting for a lift. You wait for the machinery to ping. Behind you, voices come from the reception desk.

Or you are on a boat on a rough sea. Waves crash against the side, a bird cries above.

Or you are in an English country meadow. It is raining. Water cracks on upturned leaves.

Sorry to wax poetical ... But in all these situations, the experience of being there is defined by sound as well as sight. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, close your eyes and sense the way sound shapes your location and contact with the world.

I am writing this in the ICA in London and when I close my eyes I can still hear Bruce Nauman's audio installation Days. No, wait – they have just turned on the music in the bar, drowning it out with light jazz.

Nauman's work is a room empty except for twin rows of white panels that are in fact funky speakers. What at first seems a babble of noise fills the place, but as you walk down the corridor of sound formed by the speakers, individual voices loom and fade. They are all reciting days of the week. Monday, Tuesday ...

Different voices with American accents, men and women, adults and children, all utter different samples of days of the week ("Monday, Wednesday, Sunday ...") on different schedules. The sounds merge and collide, the crowd of noise is overwhelming yet negotiable: it is a city of sound. Nauman's litany of days evokes a feeling of urgency. I picture the sidewalks of LA or New York, people going to meetings. Crowded diaries. Thursday, Monday ... Red letter days, ordinary days.

But most of all I am aware of Nauman's sound work as a sculpture. Its chronicle of time is mapped across space. The voices of absent people sculpt this room, give the air a solidity. Sound is literally physical, a wave moving through space. In this work, it creates corridors and tunnels to negotiate, invisible walls and roads. It is substantial. This physicality is the fascination of sound art. Nauman is a master of it, and Days works like all his pieces to make you aware of your own body and your ever-changing place in the world. It is calming and provocative at the same time. After experiencing it, I seem to be hearing every city noise more intensely.


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June 25 2012

Master of misery: Edvard Munch at Tate Modern – in pictures

From paintings of vampires, deathbeds and murder sites to self-doubting self-portraits, Edvard Munch dedicated his life to depicting grisly scenes. Here is a selection of works from the man behind The Scream





Edvard Munch: a head for horror

From corpses on the highway to his sister on her deathbed, Edvard Munch was a master of the morbid. At a new Tate retrospective, Adrian Searle even finds his wallpaper terrifying

Hurrying away from the body in the road, the button-eyed murderer looks surprised by how easy it all was. He is heading our way, his eyes fixed on something only he can see. The painting is as quick and careless as the crime itself. Look too long at any bit of this painting, and it quickly falls apart. But this is also what is so good about Edvard Munch's 1919 Murder on the Road. There's not much expression there, the violence already forgotten. It is the record of a man in a rush to be elsewhere. You'd have trouble describing the murderer, except for those eyes – which are in any case just a couple of dots poked into an empty face the colour of the road. He's a sketchy kind of guy.

The whole thing has a penny-dreadful tabloid feel, and Munch might have based it on a grisly story in a Norwegian newspaper. After the mass slaughter of the first world war, and the pandemic of Spanish influenza (which Munch caught, and survived, the same year he painted this), what's one more stupid little killing on a quiet country road?

Munch liked a good murder. A man dies on a couch, blood drooling on to the furniture. His female killer stands across the room against awful green wallpaper, her face a mad scary-movie shriek. The pattern in the wallpaper swarms and roars. You want to get out of there, to be as far away as that hurrying killer on the road. And yet you stay. It is all too horribly compelling.

Munch painted other scenes from this same room: of jealousy and seduction, of silence and something awful about to happen. Each is like a scene from the same grim play, and he would then paint the same sad scene over and over. Six paintings, a bronze sculpture, various drawings, lithographs and photographs all depict a naked woman standing and weeping beside a bed, her head lowered. In each painting, her head is a distraught mess of pigment. I thought of Pierre Bonnard and of Edward Hopper: both succeeded here at what Munch tries and tries and fails to do. Munch's weeping woman is a kind of no one: it is not even clear that she is weeping. Bonnard and Hopper leave you with a sense of an individual in a space.

Even the paintings that are misconceived or a mess are fascinating records of a struggle. To be between greatness and inarticulacy, and to not care either way, takes a perverse sort of courage. At times Munch's paintings show great daring; at others, they become incoherent. Munch was extremely good at doing nasty. You could say he savoured it, and so do we: all those vampires and ruined relationships, horror, illness and death. His appetite for the sanguine is shared by most of us who watch thrillers and crime dramas and read murder stories. How Scandinavian of him, as Björk might sing.

Munch didn't just paint nasty things: it got into the way he painted too, even – perhaps especially – when he painted himself. Unsparing, Munch portrayed himself sick with the Spanish flu, drunk and with the bottles rearing up at him, ill and old and alone, sunken-faced, maundering around a darkened house. He turned himself into a character: melancholy Munch, a man beset by miseries, alcoholism, his own fame and fortune, his conspicuously wayward talent and his endless personal troubles – even though he was once a handsome man (not that the best of looks protect anyone from self-hatred).

Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye tries to make us see Munch as modern in several ways: his repetition and serial repainting, his interest in photography and film, his use of theatrical lighting. He was aware of the opportunities and limits afforded by these different media. We always cast the art of the past in the ways that suit us: there is always new research, and new ways of looking. As it is, legions of artists have taken from him in one way or another. Andy Warhol reworked Munch in electric colour. Jasper Johns has quoted him. Martin Kippenberger, Peter Doig, Marlene Dumas, René Daniëls, Tracey Emin and a host of belated neo-expressionists have sucked his blood. Johns made several beautiful paintings in homage to Munch's late self-portrait Self Portrait Between the Clock and the Bed. Mostly, this consists of stylistic borrowings of his touch and the spatial organisation of his paintings, but it is also (in Doig's case, in particular) a matter of adopting an atmosphere.

These reanimations keep Munch alive for us. He also, endlessly, quoted himself. This was more than just feeding his market – though for a long time he did just that, repainting Puberty four times, The Kiss 11 times, the Sick Child (a painting purportedly of his sister dying of tuberculosis), six times. Which is the authentic Sick Child, or the real Scream? Was this catharsis or copying? Something of both. If there is also a sense of regurgitation, well, there was an element of disgust in much of what he did. What is not modern about Munch is his bohemian misanthropy. Maybe it is his conspicuous misery that feels old-fashioned – though he had much to be miserable about: the premature deaths of his mother and siblings, his failed love affairs and fights (he was shot in the hand), his breakdowns and drinking, his eye problems. Apart from anything else, this misery has no humour in it.

The exhibition makes much of Munch's photography, though he took far fewer photographs than his contemporaries Bonnard or Edouard Vuillard, and used photography much more indirectly than, say, Degas, in the service of his art. These photographs are dim, grey, often uncertain things. A great effort is expended in interpreting their cropped figures, double-exposures and vague terrains. There is a terrific emptiness about the yard beside the house where his mother died, and a lot of self-aggrandising in his self-portraits; he took pictures of himself, sometimes naked, adopting theatrical poses of one sort or another. Their relationship to his art, in any practical sense, is extremely limited, though they obviously held some kind of meaning for him.

The bits of film footage Munch shot are even less convincing. He looms and crouches before the camera, as though uncertain about why he is there or what he should do. The footage is a jumble of street scenes in Germany and Norway, footage of his aunt and sister and his friends, strangers on the street. "In the five minutes and 17 seconds that have survived, we can see his fascination with urban life," the catalogue tells us. Maybe he was just mucking about with a new toy.

What really counts here are the paintings, with their swooning fluidity and their weirdness, their interrupted rhythms, their intimacies and drama. Perhaps what Munch was best at was painting emptiness and waiting, things impending. He may be best known for the Scream, which isn't in the show, but it is not his best painting, and gets in the way of the totality of his achievement.

How modern was Munch? At dusk one evening last week, a man in the street threatened to stab me in the heart. "You're not a man," he said, searching for an insult and looking for a fight. "You're a woman." Hoping he might lose interest, my lover and I turned away and kissed, our faces mashing. After a bit the man wandered off, looking for more suitable victims. He was a sketchy kind of guy. It was a Munch-ish sort of moment.


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Bronze exhibition at Royal Academy shows its mettle

Landmark autumn show to feature 150 works across 6,000 years including the Chimera of Arezzo and Trundholm sun chariot

It was seeing a picture of the Chimera of Arezzo – the mythological lion and goat creature with a serpent's tail – on the spine of a book that first got the six-year-old David Ekserdjian excited about bronze. The scholar and curator's interest eventually resulted in what will be a landmark exhibition bringing together 150 works which span some 6,000 years.

In the Royal Academy's big autumn show simply called Bronze, 150 of the finest bronze works from Africa, Asia and Europe will come to London for a groundbreaking exhibition.

"In terms of intellectual thrill the prospect is entrancing," said Ekserdjian, professor of art history at Leicester university and a former editor of Apollo magazine. "There is nobody in the world who has seen all of these things in the show."

Ekserdjian, who has curated the show with the Royal Academy's Cecilia Treves, brought with him the book that inspired him as a child: CW Ceram's popular history of archaeology, Gods, Graves and Scholars, originally published in 1949, featuring the Etruscan Chimera of Arezzo spread over its front, side and back. The spectacular bronze dated at around 400BC – which will be included the show – depicts a lion with a serpent's tail and a second goat's head sprouting out of the lion's body. "I wondered what the hell was going on," he said. "I remember being gripped by it."

The exhibition will show that bronze is "truly a global art form and there are amazingly great things which have been done all over the world across time".

The Royal Academy has managed to persuade institutions to lend some of their most highly regarded treasures, many leaving their native countries for the first time. The Nordic Trundholm sun chariot, which ranks, said Ekserdjian, as Denmark's biggest national treasure, will be lent by the National Museum in Copenhagen.

Among the exhibition there will be remarkable works which have only recently been found, not least the severed head of King Seuthes III – dating from the early Hellenistic period – which was only discovered in a tomb in central Bulgaria eight years ago. "It is an outstanding work of art," said Ekserdjian.

European Renaissance bronzes will also feature including, from Florence, Giovanni Francesco Rustici's ensemble of St John the Baptist preaching to a Levite and a Pharisee from Florence. Ekserdjian said there would also be outstanding works from Asian and African countries including Cambodia and Nigeria. Almost half the 150 works in the show will be non-European.

He also promised that "not everything in the show is crunchingly, painfully serious – there are things which are fun as well". Such a category might include a bronze sculpture by Jasper Johns of two Ballantine beer cans.

Other more comparatively modern works will include Rodin's The Age of Bronze, lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Brancusi's Danaide from Tate Modern and Picasso's Baboon and Young from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on which you can, by looking closely, see the toy cars that the artist "borrowed" from his son Claude.

The Royal Academy's exhibitions director Kathleen Soriano said the show would explore the beauty and technique involved in the making of bronzes, and while the timing may be tempting fate, she said that in an Olympic year "it feels only right and faintly British that we should celebrate bronze".


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June 23 2012

Art review

Baltic, Gateshead; Serpentine, London

The story is told of a Chinese peasant invited to the emperor's palace to be rewarded for his loyal service. Would he rather be paid in gold or rice? Seeing the emperor at his chessboard, the peasant chooses rice, requesting one grain for the first square, two for the second, four for the third, and so on. Laughing at the man's stupidity, the emperor agrees but is bankrupted by the 64th square as the multiplying reward now totals more than all the rice in China.

Billions of billions – how can one begin to imagine such numbers, in grains of rice or anything else? Mark Wallinger does not flinch from the task. Each work in this marvellous new show attempts to number the numberless, to make visible some unimaginably vast concept all the way from infinity to eternity: and each work makes a piercing metaphor, often humorous, out of failure.

Stretching out before the visitor to the Baltic is an immense checkerboard floor: 65,536 chessboards, to be precise, laid edge to edge. On each square of each board lies a solitary pebble. Grey, cream, the size of a pawn or perhaps a queen, each stone has some visual affinity with the chess set but each is naturally unique; and the same suddenly seems true of each square. No longer just a black or white box, each square becomes a little kingdom for the pebble it contains; and each pebble acquires its own status by the same token. Everything is made to count, separately and together.

The effect from floor level is generalised, a grey miasma stretching into the distance. But from the viewing gallery above, every square has its special graphic distinction. Mathematics is clearly central to the work – from the simple binary opposition of chessboards to the super-perfect numbers involved – but there is a beautiful order in the spectacle itself: the sheer dizzying quantity of it all held in check, piece by piece, a beach contained in a chessboard.

Just beyond, not incidentally, is the sea itself, twinkling and lapping in Wallinger's new film Construction Site, receiving its UK premiere.

Three workmen are building a scaffolding tower on the shingle, a comic proposition in itself. A pole appears from the right, followed ages later by the builder carrying it. A speedboat breezes through as if to mock this slow and Sisyphean labour. There are mishaps and forgotten buckets, and a seagull bursts into the picture just as an ideal symmetry of structure is achieved. Every moment is surprising, a series of sight gags sustained over more than an hour in a masterpiece of comic timing.

This structure looks like a gigantic drawing, or a freestanding frame. It is eventually in such exact alignment with the sea's horizon that the workmen on the top appear to be walking on water. This is not a cinematic trick – transparency is crucial to everything Wallinger makes – just a simple coincidence of different perspectives.

Space swithers between two and three dimensions, the men seem variously giants or midgets, the sea appears flat as a picture; and time becomes mysterious too. No sooner have they finished than the workmen return to dismantle the structure – unless, perhaps, it was the other way round? A palindrome emerges and repeats itself continually, like the tides, transforming boats and buckets into running gags forever.

Construction Site is a most original combination of contemplation piece and absurdist comedy. Every pun – verbal and visual – is deeply intended. Puns, palindromes, mirror images, anagrams and inversions: these are all pivotal to Wallinger's art, succinct devices for multiplying the nuances of meaning.

His work can be extraordinarily condensed, as in the colossal letter "I" adorning the outside of the Baltic on a banner. The simplest expression of the self, I says everything and nothing, describes everyone and no one. It amounts to a universal self-portrait (one sign fits all) while paradoxically denying the possibility of summing oneself up in an image or a word.

Inside, at the opposite extreme, a slideshow is flashing up photographs of the several thousand marks Wallinger has chalked on brick walls all over London in the past few years. "Mark", says the mark, speaking of its maker as well as itself, sending up the narcissism of tagging as well as the futility of trying to leave one's mark upon London. It is the pun simultaneously multiplied and reduced to the absurd.

It would be hard to overstate the subtlety of these two meditations on self-centredness, each stimulating new thoughts long after one leaves the gallery and both achieved with the simplest possible means. No sleight of hand; the separate elements of Wallinger's works are always exposed, one feels, as a matter of principle. That principle may be moral, aesthetic or intellectual but it is generally all three, as in the most powerful piece in this show.

Just outside the central gallery is a vertiginous stairwell that drops 13 landings, a plunge so abrupt you lose all sense of orientation. With the simple addition of a couple of mirrors, one above and one below, Wallinger extends this continuum to infinity. The bottomless hell below reflects the eternal heaven above, on and on in both directions. Which way is up? The viewer stares into this illusion, entirely aware of the mechanics, but overpowered by its vision of an endless fall and the impossible ascent to heaven.

A forest of iron helmets hangs upside down in the antechamber of Yoko Ono's Serpentine Gallery retrospective, conjuring the dead of two world wars. But in their upturned state, they are as reminiscent of cooking pots as dead soldiers; swords may still be beaten into ploughshares.

On either side two films are screening – an eye slowly blinking, a match gradually burning: pause, think, you might prevent disaster in a blink – and on the wall between them is Ono's famous Vietnam poster. "War Is Over" declares the faded headline; "If You Want It" whispers the tiny subtext. Hers may be a voice of perennial hope, but it is not without qualification.

This show breathes the true air of the 60s. It includes the early films of John and Yoko kissing, John breaking into an infectious slo-mo smile, Yoko suffering the clothes to be snipped from her body by strangers in Cut Piece. It has the glass labyrinth in which the wanderer becomes effectively blind and unable to find the way to the dark box at the centre, its hidden message as condensed as a haiku.

With its delicate calligraphy, translucent screens and fragile objects ceremonially presented on plinths, Ono's aesthetic appears strikingly Japanese. But her meanings are, of course, devoutly universal. For some, this will come across as sentimentality, as in her invitation to the public to smile on screen or leave a wish on a tree. But her sincerity is not in doubt.

Ono's gift is for the epigrammatic object or image; the blood-stained letter, the folded coat hanger doubling as forceps (death or birth), her footprints in step with John Lennon's on a sheet of paper, an overwhelming testimony of loss.

But most affecting of all is the remake of Cut Piece from 2003, when Ono was 70. The audience's reverence and obsession are now as much part of the performance as the artist's endurance. With every snip, they get closer to her fame while she remains resolutely dignified. The performance has turned into a life story.


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June 22 2012

This week's new exhibitions

Jenny Saville, Oxford

Jenny Saville's monumental paintings of flesh in the raw have made her one of Britain's best-known artists. Her women's engorged bellies, swollen breasts and thighs, shouting of anguished self-image in bloody gobs of pigment, have garnered her a public following to rival the approval heaped on her by critics. Although she emerged as an almost fully formed star when Saatchi first exhibited her work in the early 1990s, this is her first big public gallery show in her home country. It traces her development as a painter over the course of two decades, from the famed images of unruly, tormented but defiant female flesh, to recent works that see her striking out in fresh directions. New drawings have taken Leonardo's cartoon of The Virgin and Child with St Ann and St John the Baptist, for inspiration. In place of its vision of stoic motherhood, Saville's images are a hectic whirl of energy.

Modern Art Oxford and The Ashmolean Museum Of Art & Archeology, to 26 Sep

Skye Sherwin

Mark Wallinger, Gateshead

A film shows three builders erecting scaffolding on a beach. The camera frames the geometric structure set against the shingle and the background horizon. The builders' white T-shirts interweave with the metallic grey of steel rods that frame a grey-blue sea and sky. The Construction Site receives its UK premiere in this show of Wallinger's intriguing work. There's something about the way Wallinger composes apparent futilities with such systematic earnestness that is in itself convincing. Another classic here, titled 10000000000000000, is of exactly 65,536 (the decimal form of the title's binary number) stones on a chess grid, a reflection of a superperfect number.

BALTIC, to 14 Oct

Robert Clark

Diane Arbus, London

Whether photographing a giant or schoolgirls, Diane Arbus had a genius for revealing her subjects' outre side. The 32 photos here focus on modern tribes, exploring the idea that dressing up or getting into disguise can make you freer to be yourself. It's easy to see her portraits of celebrity lookalikes as an influence on an artist such as Gillian Wearing. There's plenty of strange glamour, from puckish, bare-chested youths in makeup to society dames with matching pillbox hats and elegantly held cigarettes. Arbus probes further, however. Her image of a blind couple, huddled in one another's arms and dwarfed by their bed, or Russian midgets in a sombre living room, speak of tribal tendencies as necessary armour in a tough world.

Timothy Taylor, W1, Tue to 17 Aug

SS

Stanya Kahn, Manchester

Stanya Kahn comes from Los Angeles and it shows. Her videos are all self-consciously faked, every emotion and thought acted up and played out. But you're reminded of the camera's ubiquitous presence; the costumes are tatty and the props throwaway. Kahn navigates this slapstick theatre of the absurd with consummate self-deprecating humour. In Lookin' Good, Feelin' Good she roams the streets dressed as a giant foam penis. For It's Cool, I'm Good she explores LA wrapped in bandages like an escaped hospital patient. In true LA style, the words Cool and Good are taken to mean the opposite of their conventional definitions.

Cornerhouse, to 16 Sep

RC

Madge Gill, London

Madge Gill is one of outsider art's most fascinating figures. A Victorian spiritualist, she began obsessively creating drawings guided by a spirit known as Myrninerest, whose "signature" was often seen in the corner. The repetitive intricacy of her work is tireless: dense squares, cross-hatching and swirling forms, from which spooky, feminine faces peer. Most of Gill's vast output rarely leaves its Newham archive; here Bow Arts redresses the balance with the first of a trio of 10-week shows at the Nunnery.

The Nunnery, E3, to 23 Aug

SS

Erwin Wurm, Liverpool

A grown man entertains himself in private by stuffing red and blue marker pens up each nostril. He grips two photo-film canisters in his clenched eye sockets and, as a finishing touch, his mouth is gagged by holding a stapler like some kind of robotic beak. If all this weren't loony enough, he takes a photograph of the whole grotesque affair and presents the image as a work of art. This is just one of Erwin Wurm's One Minute Sculptures, a series of photo-artwork-performances that he's been working on assiduously since the late 1990s. Other of the 18 works exhibited here show a prone figure half buried by a suitcase and another figure wearing a cardboard box as a regulation uniform. The surprising thing with Wurm is that such dada daftness doesn't look just tiresomely wacky, like so many drunken pranks. Delightfully, it's somehow very sophisticated cultural mischief.

Open Eye Gallery, to 2 Sep

RC

Andrew Kötting & Iain Sinclair, London

Legacy has become the Olympics buzzword, applied before the fact, as if you could reverse time, and projected on to the future. Psychogeographer writer Ian Sinclair and artist-filmmaker Andrew Kötting's latest project sends up the vacuous cultural commissions taking legacy's name in vain to bulldozer so-called wastelands rich with people's history. Exploring the lesser-celebrated side of Britain, last year they took to Blighty's waterways in a swan-shaped pedalo. Their pedal-powered odyssey from Hastings to Hackney is by turns tragi-comic and quietly radical, lit up by folk songs and locals' stories. The results can be seen now in an installation of film, photos and artefacts, to be released in movie form next month.

Dilston Grove, SE16, Wed to 29 Jul

SS


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Exhibitionist: the week's art shows in pictures

From monumental flesh paintings in Oxford to portraits of celebrity lookalikes in London, find out what's happening in art around the country



The New Urban Green exhibition - in pictures

A new photography exhibition in Liverpool celebrates green spaces in urban areas, from gardens in prisons to asylum seekers' allotments to wildflower meadows on housing estates



June 20 2012

Alan Turing: the short, brilliant life and tragic death of an enigma

Codebreaker and mathematician Alan Turing's legacy comes to life in a Science Museum exhibition

A German Enigma coding machine on loan from Mick Jagger and a 1950 computer with less calculating power than a smartphone but which was once the fastest in the world, are among the star objects in a new exhibition at the Science Museum devoted to the short, brilliant life and tragic death of the scientist Alan Turing.

"We are in geek heaven," his nephew Sir John Turing said, surrounded by pieces of computing history which are sacred relics to Turing's admirers, including a computer-controlled tortoise that had enchanted the scientist when he saw it at the museum in the 1951 Festival of Britain. "This exhibition is a great tribute to a very remarkable man," Turing said.

"My father was in awe of him, the word genius was often used in speaking of him in the family," he said, "but he also spoke of his eccentricity, of how he cycled to work at Bletchley wearing a gas mask to control his hayfever so the local people he passed dreaded that a gas attack was imminent."

The exhibition, marking the centenary of Turing's birth, tackles both the traumatic personal life and the brilliant science of the man who was a key member of the codebreaking team at Bletchley Park, and devised the Turing Test which is still the measure of artificial intelligence.

Turing was gay, and in 1952 while working at Manchester University, where he had a relationship with a technician called Arnold Murray, he was arrested and charged with gross indecency. He escaped prison only by agreeing to chemical castration through a year's doses of oestrogen – which curator David Rooney said had a devastating effect on him, mentally and physically. In 1954 he was found dead in his bed, a half eaten apple on the table beside him, according to legend laced with the cyanide which killed him.

His mother insisted that his death was accidental, part of an experiment to silver plate a spoon – he had previously gold plated another piece of cutlery by stripping the gold from a pocket watch – with the chemicals found in a pot on the stove. However the coroner's report, also on display, is unequivocal: Turing had consumed the equivalent of a wine glass of poison and the form records bleakly "the brain smelled of bitter almonds".

The death is wreathed with conspiracy theories, but Rooney's explanation for the apple is pragmatic: not an obsession with the poisoned apple in the Disney film of Snow White, as some have claimed, but a very intelligent man who had it ready to bite into to counteract the appalling taste of the cyanide.

His nephew said both the prosecution and death were devastating for the family, but they were delighted by the formal public apology offered in 2009 by then prime minister Gordon Brown.

The campaign for a posthumous pardon is more problematic he said, speaking as a senior partner at the law firm Clifford Chance.

"So many people were condemned properly under the then law for offences which we now see entirely differently. One would not wish to think that Turing won a pardon merely because he is famous, that might be just a step too far. But the suggestion that there might be some reparation by having him appear on the back of a bank note – that might indeed be good."

The exhibition includes the only surviving parts of one of the 200 bombe machines which ran day and night decoding German messages at sites around the country, each weighing a ton and all broken up for scrap after the war. The components were borrowed from the government intelligence centre at GCHQ after tortuous negotiations. Although visitors will not realise it, a short interview filmed at GCHQ is even more exceptional, the only film for public viewing ever permitted inside the Cheltenham complex.

By 1950 when the Pilot Ace computer, on which Turing did key development work, was finally running at the National Physical Laboratory, he had moved to Manchester, impatient at the slow pace of work in the postwar public sector. It is displayed beside a panel of tattered metal, part of a Comet, the first civilian passenger jet, which exploded over the Mediterranean killing all on board: the computer ran the millions of calculations to work out why.

Rooney says the exhibition is also intended to destroy the impression of Turing as a solitary boffin: it includes many of the people he worked with, who regarded him with awe and affection. When he came to see the computer tortoises in 1951 – they responded to light and scuttled back home when the bulb was switched on in their hutches – he also managed to break a game playing computer by recognising the work of a protege and cracking the algorithm on the spot: the computer flashed both "you've won" and "you've lost" messages at him, and then shut itself down in a sulk.

In an interview filmed for the exhibition his last researcher, Professor Bernard Richards of Manchester University, the man he was due to meet on the day of his death, says: "Turing struck me as a genius. He was on a higher plane."

Codebreaker – Alan Turing's life and legacy, free at the Science Museum, London, until June 2013.


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Andy Warhol: the case against

The Warhol redemption has reached saturation point. We need a break from the man who heralded an era of made-for-market art

Andy Warhol: The Case Against has just opened at Dulwich Picture Gallery. No, it hasn't. The exhibition is called Andy Warhol: The Portfolio. It is a survey of his career as a printmaker. The works come from the collection of the Bank of America, and together they are about as exciting as staring at dollar bills. Which Warhol liked to do, of course.

It starts well, with an image of police violence against civil-rights protesters that typifies the power of Warhol's best work. In the 1960s when he became famous this artist, who boasted of his own passivity, was an all-too-accurate eye, recording the violence of a revolutionary age. Even the flower prints in the first gallery here somehow reek of Vietnam.

Since his death, critics and curators have revealed more and more that is impressive about Warhol. He really did, at his best, have an extraordinary vision of modern life. But the Warhol redemption has reached saturation point. You can feel that in the current Hayward Gallery exhibition Invisible, in which the weakest thing by far is an empty plinth by Warhol. It just seems glib, and so do the prints here.

Even in the first room, by the end of the 60s, Warhol is churning out print runs that recreate his early Campbell's soup paintings. The sweet pedantry of the originals is replaced by glossy production values and easy money. The desire to exploit his own fame is not even concealed. Here we start to see Bad Andy, the source of so much that is cynical and empty in the art of today.

His readiness to turn anything at all into a brightly coloured Warhol print for the art market soon separated my visual and emotional responses. I turned into a caricature of Warhol. Gee, look at those grapes. Wow, Vesuvius erupting ... The impact weakens and dissolves: Warhol really did become totally bland and industrial in his later years. His Ten Portraits of Jews of the Twentieth Century are especially inane.

Turning art into a mass-produced commodity, and the artist into a brand identity, Warhol at his worst anticipated what have become routine artistic strategies in a smoothed-out global art machine. He had a lot of a saving graces – but perhaps it would be good to have a break from Warhol until those can once again be rediscovered with the surprise this exhibition fails to elicit.

To be honest, I feel sorry for Dulwich Picture Gallery. It houses a tremendous collection of European oil paintings. How can it stay "relevant" in a time when the culture seems fixated on contemporary art? It's desperately trying to join in, but iisn't convincing. I think they do art history better and should stick with it.

Out on the lawn are some big colourful sculptures by Phillip Haas that recreate the strange art of Arcimboldo, the Renaissance painter whose heads made of fruit and flowers delighted Renaissance courts and still amaze today. These are fun, but Haas also has some heads in the gallery and these just get in the way of great old paintings. Dulwich is a fine place to contemplate Rembrandt. Why can't that be enough?

• Guardian Extra members can buy 2 admission tickets for the price of 1 to see Andy Warhol: The Portfolios at Dulwich Picture Gallery until 12 August 2012. For more information, go to guardian.co.uk/extra


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June 19 2012

Please don't touch: Eva Rothschild sculptures meet a group of schoolboys – video

What happens when a bunch of boys are left alone in a room full of Eva Rothschild sculptures? The artist found out when she filmed the results for the Whitechapel Gallery's annual Childrens Art Commission



Come Fly with me: Yoko Ono invites you to enter a caption competition

Yoko Ono wants to know what this fly is doing. It's a still from her filmwork Fly, which she made with John Lennon in 1970. The writer of Ono's favourite caption will receive a signed copy of her book Grapefruit



Twilight of the Pharaohs (Le Crépuscule des Pharaons) - review

Exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, offers clues on the battle to control ancient Egypt

The Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris has just launched the Twilight of the Pharaohs (until 23 July). "It was a more glorious period than is generally thought, with relative artistic freedom, an unprecedented diversity of styles and high quality works," says Olivier Perdu, the show's curator.

The 100 or so pieces on show are remarkably accomplished, having integrated all manner of outside influences. The artists were clearly highly skilled, particularly apparent in the portraits and a remarkable selection of royal heads sculpted in stone.

The exhibition focuses on a period of about 1,000 years, starting around the time when the Libyans, already present in the kingdom, seized power and culminating with the Roman conquest in 30BC. The country was over-run several times during this period. The black Kushite pharaohs ruled the country in the 8th and 7th centuries BC and the portrait of a Kushite king may well be Shabaka, the first to control Egypt on a lasting basis.

The face of an Achaimenid sovereign, probably Darius I, was sculpted in white limestone, with a cap on the top of his head and a long beard. Here too is a work of great virtuosity by a Macedonian artist, from the aftermath of Alexander the Great's conquest of Egypt in 332 BC.

It is a pity that these portraits should be so poorly presented and badly lit. The museum, originally a mansion belonging to the Jacquemart-André family, is better suited to showing paintings. The present exhibition brings together a host of masterpieces, most of which are fairly small and are arranged side by side, in series, in no particular chronological order. There is no perspective, no sense of the political, social or cultural context.

This article originally appeared in Le Monde


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June 12 2012

The Gaddafi archives – in pictures

The Gaddafi Archives: Libya Before the Arab Spring is part of the London festival of photography



The Olympics are exposing us as a nation self-obsessed

Plans for the opening ceremony are to be a mixture of celebration and gentle jibes about our nation. But aren't the Games about more than just us?

Patriotism becomes daft when you expect other countries to share your national pride. America nearly got away with it in the age of the moon landings, when children of my generation accepted it as fair enough for the stars and stripes to hang out there in space. But it has been a long time since even the land of Coke could teach the world to sing. Why should the entire world be expected to embrace the British self-love that appears to be at the heart of the Olympics opening ceremony? Are we offering ourselves as the new America, a land so marvellous it can export its self-image?

A billion people around the planet are expected to witness the £27m ceremony conceived by film director Danny Boyle to start the Games. In details announced today, it emerges that he will turn the stadium into a vast model of an ideal and somewhat mythic British countryside. Complete with landmarks like Glastonbury Tor and entitled Green and Pleasant, the spectacle will treat the world to a romantic vision of our national landscape. Real farmyard animals will be grazing; in total there will be 70 sheep, 12 horses, three cows, two goats, 10 chickens, 10 ducks, nine geese and three sheepdogs. There will also be clouds with fake rain in case the night is clear. "If it doesn't rain, we have created our own," said Boyle at the announcement, pointing to four huge clouds hanging from wires over a model of the stadium.

Look, I am not a huge athletics fan. Sometimes I watch the Olympics on TV, sometimes I don't. Is it the done thing to obsess about one's own national identity quite so overtly in the opening ceremony? By the sound of it, though, Boyle's spectacle will be far from complacent: with references to the aftermath of the industrial revolution and a cast that includes NHS nurses, it does sound as though he is offering an alternative, radical style of patriotism, not to mention laughing at national traits and the soggy climate. But radical navel-gazing is navel-gazing nonetheless.

There seems to be a unfortunate blur between this summer's jubilee and the Olympics. It is a culmination of a boom in self-regard that has made modern Britain ever more inward-looking. Waving flags for the jubilee was logical: the Queen is nothing if not British. But the Olympics? Surely, the Games are international.

The British Museum in London currently has a modest display of 12 objects recalling the ancient Greek Olympics. The highlight – which no one who visits London this summer should miss – is the Motya Charioteer, one of the masterpieces of ancient Greek art. Contemplating this sensuous statue of an athlete in a clinging robe, I could not help wishing the British Museum would put on a full-scale show about the history of the Olympics to celebrate us hosting the world's greatest sporting event. Instead, its big exhibition for the Olympic summer, in the same flag-waving mood as Boyle's sceptred-isle landscape, will be about Shakespeare. I am looking forward to it. But then I am British.

Is Britain playing host to the world this summer – or to itself? Why on Earth is the romantic Little England of Boyle's opener the appropriate way to begin a festival celebrating the human planet?

There's something very 1930s about all this. When we remember the Depression, we see the vicious hyper-nationalism of Hitler and Mussolini as nightmares never to be repeated – yet democratic countries too became inward-looking and self-obsessed in that age of austerity. British artists harped on about the landscape. Novelists feasted on British eccentricity. Now, in this new age of austerity, imaginations are once more preoccupied with homegrown qualities and known landscapes. Isn't the Olympics meant to be bigger and more generous than that?


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Soviet stylings: vintage interior design - in pictures

As part of the 2012 Design Basel/Miami Fair, Moscow's Heritage Gallery is exhibiting key furniture pieces representing the best of 20th-century Soviet interior design



June 08 2012

This week's new exhibitions

Nancy Holt, London

Fifty years ago, a group of American artists waved goodbye to the constraints of galleries and the art market, and headed for the wilderness to construct huge earthworks and industrial sculptures. Michael Heizer, for instance, cut deep welts in the Nevada desert; Robert Smithson built his legendary Spiral Jetty in Utah's Great Salt Lake; while his partner, Nancy Holt, left her Sun Tunnels in its desert: giant concrete tubes that frame the heavens. Yet as this show of Holt's photography suggests, the umbilical cord linking land art to the urban art world was never cut. It includes thrilling images of well-known works such as the Sun Tunnels, lying in the sands like a dissembled telescope. It wasn't just America's Big Country that enthralled her either: one rarely seen set of photographs document Holt and Smithson's work in Dartmoor, made while travelling around Britain's ancient stone circles and monoliths.

Haunch Of Venison, W1, to 25 Aug

Skye Sherwin

Isabel Rawsthorne, Walsall

Isabel Rawsthorne is more recognised through the dramatically warped features from Francis Bacon's portraits of her than in the drawings and paintings she pursued during the latter half of the 20th century. Shifting between the postwar bohemia of Paris's Left Bank and the boozy bonhomie of 50s Soho London, Rawsthorne was almost doomed to be overshadowed by such near legendary artists of the time as her friends Bacon and Alberto Giacometti. So this exhibition comes as a long overdue reappraisal of a highly individualistic body of work. Her best embodies a painfully sensitive awareness of physical vulnerability. "A fragile being with a brief existence," as she described her choice subject.

New Art Gallery to 8 Sep

Robert Clark

SNAP 2012, Snape

Now in its second year, Snap, the contemporary art addition to what will be the 64th Aldeburgh classical music festival at Snape Maltings, is pairing younger up-and-comers with established names and a few art-historical greats. One of Ryan Gander's slippery brain-teasing lectures-cum-detective stories kicks off proceedings. There's painting by Glenn Brown, renowned for his fusions of art history with sci-fi fantasy; Maggi Hambling is complementing her semi-abstract, tumultuous seascapes with her first ever sound work, while Gavin Turk's left a white door invitingly open in the middle of a field, like a magic portal. Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Alison Wilding and Sarah Lucas are among the major names with sculptures on site.

Snape Maltings, Sat to 24 Jun

SS

Richard Rigg, Gateshead

Richard Rigg selects structural banalities from our everyday domestic and workaday world, lifts them out of their settings, and recombines them to make sculptural metaphors for states of mind that are surprisingly delightful or distinctly deranged. A mountain cabin contains a mock-up mountainous landscape, its Scottish Highland rocks and earthy dust apparently derived from the Precambrian geological period that predates human life. Thus the almost unimaginable grandeur of nature is shovelled up and deposited for our contemplation in a typically clinical white-cube contemporary art gallery.

BALTIC, to 27 Aug

RC

Lynette Wallworth, London

This year Venus has been passing between Earth and the sun, appearing as a black dot over the blazing centre of our solar system. Only 53 of these "transits" have occurred since 2000 BC, and in the late-18th century one prompted the first international scientific expedition, with boffins taking to the seas to observe its passage. Like those earlier voyagers, Lynette Wallworth looks to the ocean for her transit-referencing work, Coral: Rekindling Venus, installed in over 20 planetariums worldwide. She's replaced the cosmos with an underwater world of endangered creatures filmed in diminishing coral reefs. Accompanying sounds come from Antony And The Johnsons, Gurrumul and Tanya Tagaq Gillis.

Royal Observatory Greenwich, SE10, to 6 Jul

SS

Lis Rhodes And Antonia Hirsch, Glasgow

Two film installations from a genre that used to be called "experimental" but is surely well into its second maturity. Lis Rhodes's aptly titled Dissonance And Disturbance (to 24 Jun) is a cut-up free-associational onslaught in which marks scratched into the film are read as sounds and broadcast as sporadic rhythms of buzzing interference. Meanwhile the visual projections themselves take their cue from this in a sequence of pulsating geometric grids and illegible text fragments. The sensory disorientations of Antonia Hirsch's installation (to 1 Jul) are no less extreme as almost subliminal flashes of light punctuate readings from Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war novel narrated by a ex-soldier who has lost arms, legs and face and experiences the world as a series of distressed abstractions. It's a stream-of-consciousness semi-abstraction show in which the primal sources of thought appear to be plugged into.

Tramway

RC

Wide Open School, Invisible: Art Of The Unseen, London

Wide Open School (Mon to 11 Jul) sounds like a glorious pipe dream of an education system, which no one has had the nerve, or means, to attempt. It will see 100 artists – including Martin Creed, Jeremy Deller and Thomas Hirschhorn – devising and delivering classes, leading workshops and giving lectures. Subjects will take in cloud architecture, Freddie Mercury, deep space, and sex in the colonies. Upstairs at the Hayward, there's "invisible art" (Tue to 5 Aug), from Andy Warhol, Yoko Ono and Maurizio Cattelan. It chronicles over 50 years of the art of the unseen, from Yves Klein's famous empty galleries, purportedly full of invisible energy, to the vibrating walls of Jeppe Hein's Invisible Labyrinth.

Hayward Gallery, SE1

SS

Caroline Achaintre, Sara Barker And Alice Channer, Birmingham

An intriguing grouping of sculptures that all touch on some kind of thematic interface between presence and absence. Sara Barker's precarious architectural constructions, hand-painted spindle-legged armatures, appear to frame a very evocative nothingness. The human subjects in Alice Channer's installations are represented by hand and body smears, slightly alarming imprints on curtains that cannot but invoke Hitchcock. Meanwhile Caroline Achaintre's hauntings tend to be more blunt, lumpen and in-your-face, a bizarre and potent amalgam of horror schlock and oh-so-nice craftiness.

Eastside Projects, to 28 Jul

RC


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Exhibitionist: The week's art shows in pictures

From a survey of invisible art in London to a magic door made by Gavin Turk in Snape Maltings, find out what's happening in art around the country



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