Frieze Week Art Fairs

So after four days and five art fairs, here are a few selected highlights…

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First up was Multiplied at Christie’s South Kensington (left) – ‘the UK’s only fair dedicated to contemporary art in editions’, which I have written about for Candid Magazine here (http://www.candidmagazine.com/multiplied-2015-contemporary-editions-fair-christies-16-18-october/).  I was fascinated by the manifold techniques used to reproduce works in multiple – from traditional printmaking practices to modern digital and 3D printing, as well as many combinations of the two.  At TAG Fine Arts, beautiful materials were used to elevate trivial subject matter – Chris Mitton’s crumpled tin can in Carrara marble (right) or David Shrigley’s polished brass tooth.  unnamed-5C&C Gallery in contrast were showing a selection of 3D printed pieces that looked like sculpture (one was based on a large bronze owned by Damien Hirst, another on a hand-painted disposable coffee cup by Paul Wescombe, below left) but were at one remove from the hand of the artist, raising questions about the relative input of artist and machine in the digital printing process.

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Many works were deceptive, appearing to be drawings or paintings but in fact printed – for example, Emma Stibbon’s intaglio prints at Rabley Contemporary (‘Broken Lead’, below right) were created by painting onto a negative which was then exposed onto a light sensitive plate and printed in the traditional way – except that the expressive, painted brushstrokes are still visible so that the precision technique is subverted.  itemsfs_4450Equally deceptive is Susan Collis’ ‘Something’s Gone’ portfolio shown by Used Paper (below left); the effect of spontaneity – a white paint splash – is produced by a time-consuming method of dense cross-hatching in biro, the image then transferred to a plate and printed.2TC_19_06_14-0099_440_599_s

The Made in Arts London stand showing student and graduate work was particularly impressive, more than standing up to the Royal Academy stand opposite.  Anastasia Pudane’s screen prints such as ‘Three Spririts from the Past’ showed her roots in illustration with a nod to Edward Gorey, while Joseph Jackson’s photographic prints of the locations of past crimes on small glass panels reflected his interest in photojournalism and documentary.  Pablo_Bronstein_Chatsworth_GElsewhere I admired Georgie Hopton’s photo-gravure prints – interior scenes with reflections of a nude in a mirror that reminded me of Francesca Woodman – at Galerie Simpson. Meanwhile, Nottingham Contemporary had several Pablo Bronstein hand-coloured etchings from their recent exhibition ‘The Grand Tour: Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth’ which celebrate the architecture in his humorous baroque pastiche style (‘Chatsworth Sauce Tureen in Gold’, above).

unnamedFurther East, at the Old Truman Brewery, there was more innovation – and since stands were dedicated to artists rather than galleries, there was all the more opportunity to find out directly about the techniques used and the ideas behind the work.  Making a bee-line for the tea stand, I realised it was surrounded by an installation piece by IMA Studio, comprised of fluttering pages climbing the walls and gathering in corners like erudite swarms of butterflies (above left).  Numerous times I noted a tendency towards the reinvention of traditional materials: Alex McIntyre’s landscapes (below) are created from a gesso ground – like very fine porcelain plaster which can be rubbed or incised to create textural effects – with the colour infused by a layer of ink washed over the surface and pushed into the marks made.

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Sarah Kudirka’s ‘City Skies: Paint + Polaroids’ used polaroids as the ground for painting little abstract oil studies, the cube format lending a tiled effect when displayed en masse, a mosaic of the ever-evolving city’s rooftops.  ThumbnailKirsten Baskett creates heliogravure prints in Prussian blue on delicate Japanese Kozo paper; ‘Blueprints’ (right) echoes the cyanotype prints of early 19th century photography, capturing obsolete objects such as typewriters so that they appear like a fading memory.  These fragile documents are then encased in clear resin, frozen in time.  unnamed-2There are some really entertaining stands: Elle Kaye’s is packed full of extraordinary taxidermy including several peacocks and a full size zebra (left); meanwhile Carolina Mizrahi presents an entirely putty-pink coloured stand, from her fashion style photographs to the carpet and interior furnishings (below right).

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And so to Frieze…  I will gloss over Mark Leckey’s giant inflatable Felix the Cat at Buchholz Gallery and a giant ostrich/ aubergine sculpture by Darren Bader at Sadie Coles – remnants of the children’s playground approach that seemed to dominate last year (thanks to Carsten Holler).  This year Gagosian’s stand was far more impressive, dedicated to Glenn Brown who investigated the religious across art history with detailed pen and ink drawings of the Virgin and unnamed-1Child after Murillo and a riff on Durer’s drawing of feet with stigmata (left); among these were placed sculptures that appeared to be pure pigment – a 3D painting – some engulfing traditional bronze figures of putti (below right).unnamed

While the motifs used are religious, the colours were inspired by German Expressionists such as Kirchner; of the concept, Brown (quoted in The Art Newspaper) says ‘The idea of the floating form, a figure breaking apart, rotting and decaying, has a spiritual element.  Decay is just a form of change … nothing is ever really lost in this world.’

unnamed-22White Cube showed their usual roster of artists – a predictably Hirst-ian colour chart, an Emin-ified strip of neon amid a bed of barbed wire – within, yes, a white cube space.  Hauser & Wirth presented a forest of small scale sculpture on plinths.  Victoria Miro had some Conrad Shawcross sculptures (left) which would have looked more impressive outside; within a marquee overcrowded by ‘look at me’ canvases and installations, they hardly stood out.  Next door at the Lisson Gallery was one of Anish Kapoor’s dark circular concave voids which I remembered seeing on a larger scale at his RA show.  unnamed-2Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac was showing several Rauschenbergs – acrylic colour over black and white photographic prints on aluminium – and a Tony Cragg sculpture, ‘Runner’, as well as a sculptural painting (there was a definite theme for using paint to create three dimensional effects) by Jason Martin in a piercing Yves Klein blue (right). The Sunday Painter, a Peckham-based gallery, was a welcome addition to the established contemporary scene: they showed just one piece, Samara Scott’s ‘liquid sculpture’, a unnamed-27shallow pool full of colourful rubbish embedded in the floor of the marquee (left).  Scott has described her work as ‘trembling, putrid glitter … like the sewers of a tranny club. Or that horrible festering crustiness of putting eyeliner on in a festival portaloo.”  The new Tracey Emin? More fun than the bed, I thought, although there was a very real danger of my phone becoming part of the art as I avidly instragrammed.

The Frith Street Gallery presented an interesting CP-237-13_72array of work with Tacita Dean’s series of photographs, ‘Blue Line’, and Cornelia Parker’s ‘Black Path’ (right), a grid-like floor sculpture in etiolated black bronze that traces broken paving stones in Giacometti-esque style (this was raised just off the floor, possibly following an ‘accident’ at the Whitworth Gallery opening in which a visitor tripped and hurt her hand).  rimbaud4Other impressive photography appeared courtesy of Anthony Reynolds Gallery with Paul Graham’s photographs from the series ‘A1: The Great North Road’ (1982), and P.P.O.W. Gallery with Carolee Schneeman’s feminist, performative ‘Eye Body Series’ and David Wojnarowicz’s ‘Arthur Rimbaud in New York’ portfolio (above).

unnamed-11Over at Frieze Masters a trend for ‘crossover displays’ combining ancient and modern art on one stand was noticeable.  Axel Vervoordt exhibited a stunning pairing of a Roman bronze torso (left) with abstract Korean paintings such as Kazuo Shiraga’s ‘Seiku (Sacred Dog)’ of 1964, while Hauser & Wirth joined up with Moretti Fine Art to present an enthralling mixture of stand-out pieces from Renaissance memento mori to modern and contemporary art (Henry Moore, Agnes Martin).  The calibre of Frieze Masters is very high; most stands are museum quality in terms of works and presentation.  unnamed-12I particularly enjoyed the combination, at The Fine Art Society, of a small bronze cast of ‘The Sluggard’ by Lord Leighton below a red lustre charger by William de Morgan (right), accompanied by the impressive canvases of Sickert (whose ‘Facade of Saint-Jacques, Dieppe’ has come straight from the brilliant exhibition at Pallant House Gallery), Henry Scott Tuke and others.  There were some stunning drawings and paintings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele at both Richard Nagy and W&K – Wienerroither & Kohlbacher (below left).

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Galleries were clearly making the most of the recent retrospective of Agnes Martin’s work (for instance at Peter Freeman/Georg Laue, where a wall of her small watercolour studies for the pale striped abstracts hung) – and the current Auerbach show at Tate Britain too, with a mini-retrospecive at Marlborough Fine Art.

Photography was again a highlight with Colnaghi/Bernheimer showing a selection of some of the greatest images of Jeanloup Sieff, Horst P. Horst and Norman Parkinson.  Meanwhile, over on the other side of the marquee in the Spotlight section were some noteworthy small displays –Unknown of Boris Mikhailov at Sprovieri, David Goldblatt’s Johannesburg at the Goodman Gallery and Allan Sekula at Christopher Grimes Gallery.  Mikhailov’s ‘Yesterday’s Sandwich’ series (right) of double exposed images from the late 1960s layers the human body with landscapes and objects in colourfully surreal compositions that lie somewhere between the conceptual and documentary – in the artist’s words ‘the montage is an assemblage of elements with conflicting meanings, reflecting the dualism and contradiction of society’.

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The highlight of the fair, however, has to be Helly Nahmad’s stand which recreated the interiors of lunatic asylums (above) such as those that inspired Jean Dubuffet in 1945 as he developed the Art Brut style.  Art Brut, the gallery asserts, ’embraced the outsider, including the primitive, the eccentric, and the untrained’; but the stand’s juxtaposition also questions the moral position of such appropriation – and by extension the position of us as spectators or buyers.  Dubuffet’s works hang opposite, their ‘madness’ neatly contained within canvases on a clean white wall.

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Sluice_ is an art fair for emerging and artist-led projects staged in the Bargehouse at Oxo Tower Wharf; it is an ideal, unrestored venue and the best of the exhibits use this aesthetic dilapidation or are complemented by it.  Up at the top, under the eaves (left), Vacuous presents ‘Unspecified’, loosely grouped around the use of miscellaneous discarded objects, reinterpreted and transformed into ‘art’; so appropriate is this to the space that the work looks site-specific.  unnamed-9Helen McGhie’s ‘Corner(ed)’ (right) layers photographs of crumbling plaster walls and wrinkled skin, musing on ideas of aging and decay.

unnamed-16One floor down, Keran James (at Studio 1.1, left) uses a combination of mirrors and opaque forms to play with space, reiterating imagery of the space itself and reflecting (on) its innate though decaying beauty.  Further along at The Florence Trust William Martin’s ceramic cups – ‘Babel’ – are stacked in precarious towers, their artisan, earthy quality resonating with the worn floorboards on which they stand, throwing long shadows in the afternoon light.  But this is not simply a sculptural exhibit to stare at; the visitor is encouraged to take a cup (with Jenga-like care) and fill it with water from a dispenser, a work usefully entitled ‘Help Yourself’. Audience participation that serves a purpose.

unnamed-10Ceramics reappear downstairs at MADE, where Beth Dary’s porcelain barnacles (right) cling to a steel column as if they had been there for ever, as if the building exists on the edge of the ocean.  Dary also uses materials such as glass, beeswax/encaustic and egg tempera, creating natural forms that, in remaining vulnerable, question the human impact on the environment, a ‘powerful symbol of our fragile yet potent interplay with nature.’

After such a lot of high culture it’s back to nature for me too; having managed to kill a hydrangea in London I have retreated to back to the countryside where the plants thrive and mental struggle goes no further than selecting which vegetable to dig up.

Mayfair Meandering: Avigdor Arikha and Keith Arnatt

Self Portrait hand on head 2003 drypoint

Midway between lunch in Soho and Green Park tube I detoured down Albemarle street on a gallery trawl.  My first port of call was Marlborough Fine Art, where I found a retrospective of Avigdor Arikha’s paintings and works on paper dating from the mid-1960s until his death in 2010 (‘Self-Portrait Hand on Head’, drypoint, 2003, above).  The gallery represents the artist’Samuel Beckett Seated, etching, 1972s estate and has curated a concise exhibition representative of the many different mediums and subjects that attracted Arikha after his return to figuration in 1965.
Having begun as an abstract expressionist in the 1950s this was quite a sudden about-turn, which is attributed to the artist’s friendship with Giacometti whom he met after settling in Paris in 1954.  Certainly Arikha’s etchings and drypoints reflect something of Giacometti’s austerely monochrome style with their layers of nervously jagged marks creating tight and psychologically penetrative portraits.  Robert Hughes described Arikha’s works as having an “air of scrupulous anxiety”.  The adoption of printmaking went hand in hand with Arikha’s return to figuLe Pain 1976 etchingration, as if in turning away from the abstract he felt the need to turn away from the loose painterly qualities of oils to in a definitive and decisive manner. Looking back on his abstract period, Arikha recalled “I was quite successful as an abstractionist. But I started painting my own set of forms over and over again. Finally, it repulsed me.” His portraits – mainly himself, his wife and his great friend Samuel Beckett – are precise, with an intimacy and directness that makes one feel almost uncomfortable (‘Samuel Beckett Seated’, etching, 1972, above right).
Alongside these are studies of trees and flowers in soft drypoint or sugar lift aquatint, and still lifes such as ‘Le Pain’ (etching, 1976, above left) or a pair of shoes that in their isolated centrality seem to deserve the status of ‘portraits’ too.

Jerusalem Bread 1981 oil on canvas

Trees at Evian 1997 Sumi ink

Orange tie folded 1975 watercolour

By the early 1970s, Arikha began painting again, but continued to experiment with different materials.  The greater part of the hang alternates his charcoal drawings – soft, loose, expressive but ascetic portraits – with drawings in Sumi ink, paSleeping nude and indian rug 1985stels and oils that range from the human figure to still life and studies of natural forms (‘Jerusalem Bread’, oil on canvas, 1981; ‘Trees at Evian’, Sumi ink, 1997; and ‘Orange Tie Folded’, watercolour, 1975, above; and ‘Sleeping Nude and Indian Rug, 1985, left).
All have a contemplative stillness that turns the trivial – a piece of toast sitting on the grill, a jacket carelessly strewn or a glimpse through a doorway – into something abundant in meaning.  These are almost surreal in their awkward simplicity, their latent anthropomorphism, speaking of a wealth shared history with poetic concision.

A dead leaf 2002 - pastel on board

A little further up on Grafton Street Spruth Magers is showing the photographer and conceptual artist Keith Arnatt. ‘Absence of the Artist’ focuses on Arnatt’s work between 1967–72, key years in which modernism began to be replaced by a more sceptical post-modernist ‘dematerialisation’.  For Arnatt, at the forefront of this movement, this took the form of site-specific or time-based performances, which he recorded by means of photography.

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As the title suggests, Arnatt’s work questions the role of the artist. “He thought there was a governing idea of art as driven by a central figure – the artist – and he was interested in what happened if you made that person disappear,” explains Matthew Arnatt, the artist’s son.  This is explored in literal terms in ‘Self Burial’ (1969, below) in which a sequence of nine photographs documents the gradual disappearance of the artist into the ground.

self burial 1969Arnatt wrote of this:

An interest in illusion (and delusion), in the sense of creating a false impression runs throughout much of my work. For example, the ‘Self Burial’ photographs create the illusion that something is happening to me’

‘… it is true to say that the apparent absurdity, or silliness, of Self Burial is an important part of what I liked about it … And I also rather liked the slightly Chaplinesque quality of the photographic sequence— the fact that it shows me just standing there whilst something quite alarming seems to be happening to me (a metaphor for my condition as an artist?).’

A Line Made by Walking 1967 Richard Long born 1945 Purchased 1976 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P07149

A self-parody-cum-postmodernist-critique perhaps – but with a good dose of self-indulgent wit. A more interesting investigation of illusion and perception is ‘Mirror lined pit (grass bottom)’ and its companion piece ‘An invisible hole revealed by my own shadow’ (1968-9) which trick the eye, the ‘invisible absence’ of the pit only revealed by the artist’s shadow, which is yet another absence. Performance art – by nature transitory and preserved only through photographs and documentation – gained status during the 1960s and 70s, and Arnatt’s work is closely related to land art such as Richard Long’s ‘A Line Made by Walking’ (1967, above left). In this photographic piece the artist, though absent, records his physical presence within the landscape.  It was a radical new approach and hugely influential in expressing contemporary concerns with impermanence, motion and relativity.

Keith Arnatt ~ Art as An Act of Retraction (Eating His Own Words) -3

While Long’s work is ultimately reflective, and expresses a quietly powerful, elemental dialogue between man and nature, Arnatt takes radical ‘dematerialisation’ to ridiculous levels.  ‘Is it Possible to do Nothing as my Contribution to This Exhibition?’ is a perverse and pointless pseudo-philosophical text. However, on the adjacent wall hang a series of eleven photographs representing Arnatt eating various bits of paper (‘Art as an Act of Retraction’, 1971, above right); the final frame contains the words in list form: ‘Eleven Portraits of the Artist about to eat his own words’.  Perhaps a repentant acknowledgment of the lengthy and pretentious tract…

Absence of the Artist 1968

As a photographer, Arnatt’s talent is undoubted.  And he is at his best here in the witty, quasi-surreal images that hark back to the visual puns of Rene Magritte, such as the eponymous ‘The Absence of the Artist’ (1968, above) – a sign bearing these words, pinned to a stone wall – and ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self’ (1969-72, below).

Portrait of the Artist as a Shadow of his Former Self 1969-72 Keith Arnatt 1930-2008 Presented by the artist 2000 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T07647

The show is sparse.  In fact, any fewer works and it would hardly justify the title of exhibition. Perhaps this is standard for the presentation of ‘conceptual’ art?  But, having first come across his work at The Photographer’s Gallery exhibition in 2007, which considered his later career from 1972-2002, I have always considered Arnatt an inspiring photographer, and while interesting in revealing his early work, this display did not do justice to his considerable talent in this field.

The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize shortlist

The Photographers’ Gallery is holding its annual exhibition of the shortlisted contenders for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize – one of the most prestigious international awards given to a living photographer for a specific body of work.  It’s an impressive line-up this year.  Pure photography forms the core of each individual exhibition (as opposed to the press clippings, video or GPS images that have dominated in past years), with each distinguished by a strong topicality or visual concept and a different style of presentation, bringing in video, text and other modes of display to great effect.

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Nikolai Bakharev’s ‘Relation’ series were taken in Russia in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it was still forbidden to photograph nudity.  He pushed the boundaries of this censorship by approaching holidaymakers at public beaches, and in doing so has created a touching psychological portrait of a people at a certain place and time.  The photographs also reveal specific personal relationships, from the shy awkward youths to long-married couples, to fathers and sons, all captured in this strange dislocated context of semi-nakedness by the beach.  The images are small – little bigger than snapshots – and capture moments of intimacy that seem almost voyeuristic.

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1_36_l-DBPP15-l--l_3245008kZanele Muholi - 'Kekeletso Khena' Cape TownZanele Muholi’s work, ‘Faces and Phases 2006-2014’, is far more overtly political.  She is actively using her art to campaign for the rights of the LGBTI community in South Africa, where there is still widespread abuse and violence towards them.

Zanele Muholi - 'Lungile Cleo Dladla', Joburg from 'Faces and Phases'

This message is powerfully put across in the wall full of unframed black and white portraits, stark yet full of pathos, and accompanied by written testimonies.

 

 

 

 

Also working in South Africa, Mikhail Subotzky and Patrick Waterhouse’s project takes a very different approach.  With an equal interest in social inequalities, their investigation ‘Ponte City’ takes a broader time period and a narrower focus: the eponymous tower block was built in Johannesburg in 1976 for the white elite but by the 1990s was a refuge for immigrants and a beacon of urban decay and illegal activities.

Mikhael Subotzky & Patrick Waterhouse - 'Ponte City from Yeoville Ridge' 2008

The artists build up a picture of the community living within this notorious building by systematically photographing the doors and the views from the windows of each apartment at the same scale and angle.  These images are displayed in tall light boxes reaching up to the gallery ceilings which give the impression of seeing the tower block itself lit up from a distance.

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On the walls alongside, abandoned, squalid interiors are depicted, with found snapshots of the previous tenants in these same rooms pinned or superimposed on top.  Another wall features architectural plans, handwritten statements and visa application forms, knitting together a web of the many individual lives played out within this structure.

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The fourth shortlisted photographer is Viviane Sassen.  Her work, collectively entitled ‘Umbra’, is in contrast predominantly abstract, though figures and landscapes do play a part in some images.

DEFprintUmbra_NAB_VS_2748vbuitsnede-150x140_-392x420Colour predominates, which is a shock to the senses after the monochrome or low key tones of the previous galleries.  But the key to the works is shadow (‘umbra’) which silhouettes forms starkly against strong light, creating not only an almost sculptural aesthetic contrast but also a less direct, but no less powerful, sense of foreboding.  Embodying fear, the unknown, the ‘shadow of death’, the pictures encroach on our subconscious selves and become quite unsettling – a feeling heightened by the hypnotic background soundtrack of recited poetry.

Viviane Sassen 'Coil' from 'Soil' 2014

Sassen’s images do not, however, seem to me to form any cohesive narrative; some are about colour and depth, others the shadowy presence, some are abstract, others figural.  Essentially each stands alone so that as a body of work this seems less successful.  In my view, the ‘simpler’ the story, the more powerful the photographic ensemble – and as some of these photographers show, the ‘simple’ premise in no way lessens the subtlety of perception or force of visual impact.  Quite the opposite.

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