Back in March this year, I took part in the March for the Alternative along with about 500,000 other people. The march was a protest against the government’s spending cuts, and one of the largest demonstrations ever seen in the UK.
We were very excited to find out recently that one of our placards (the snappily titled March for the Squeezed Bottom, above) had been selected to take part in an exhibition, Nothing in the World But Youth, opening at the Turner Contemporary in Margate in September.You can read about the story behind our placard (and see some photos of me drawing the lettering) over at the Save our Placards blog; but more importantly, the team are still trying to trace the creators of 8 of the 12 placards selected for the exhibition. If you were on the march in March, then do take a look at the slideshow of placards, and get in touch with them if you know who made any of these beauties.
(It goes without saying that I’ll of course be going to Margate to see our placard sharing exhibition space with work by Peter Blake, Sarah Lucas, Andy Warhol and many others, so watch this space come September for more…)
The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is undoubtedly one of the most important arts events of the year, and after several of those who entered the calendar competition told me it was also their cultural highlight of the summer, I knew I should go along and take a look!
I have to admit (shamefaced) to never having been to the Summer Exhibition before, and as such I was curious to see it. The show has often been characterised as occupying the traditional and ‘safe’ end of the contemporary visual arts spectrum, yet it is also something of a phenomenon: the largest open-submission contemporary art exhibition in the world, it has been running since 1768, and this year attracted over 12,000 entries from 27 countries.
Far from being dry or dusty, I found the exhibition to be a hugely inspiring experience. Wandering through the interlinked galleries is like feasting on a delightful smorgasboard of different work, encompassing a huge range of styles and approaches. I loved the presentation style, with works often grouped close together – perhaps most obviously in Gallery III (pictured above) which this year was hung by Christopher Le Brun and Tony Bevan, and which Le Brun describes as ‘a battle of the paintings’. Rather than seeming cluttered or chaotic, the result is a pleasingly exuberant patchwork of art.
For me, the prints and the paintings were the undoubted highlight of this exhibition: I was much less taken with the photography, architecture and sculpture, although I did enjoy the scribbly geometric forms of Anthony Gormley’s Drift, and Jeff Koons’ exuberant Colouring Book. Amongst my favourite spaces were the Small Weston Room, arranged by Olwyn Bowey – a treasure trove of miniature and small scale works – and Room I, hung by Chris Orr, filled with an intriguing range of prints by everyone from Gillian Ayres to Tracy Emin; Keith Coventry to Elizabeth Blackadder, plus vitrines containing artist’s books.
Half the fun of the Summer Exhibition is stumbling upon new talent jostling alongside works by well-known or favourite artists whose style is instantly identifiable, be it Rob Ryan’s magical images or Barbara Rae’s jewel-coloured screen prints. There’s more fun to be had poring over the list of works in the exhibition, which includes prices for the majority of the works, and choosing which ones you might buy for yourself, just supposing you happened to have a small fortune to hand. Altogether, the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition is a most enjoyable experience – certainly this year one of my cultural highlights of the summer too!
Last weekend I visited The Wapping Project for the first time. Built in 1890, this extraordinary and beautiful building was originally the Wapping Hydraulic Power Station, but is now a restaurant and contemporary art space. Some of the machinery from the original power station is still in situ in the very tempting-looking restaurant, which unfortunately I didn’t get chance to sample on this occasion, though I’m looking forward to going back to try it another time. As well as the restaurant, the venue houses the Boiler House – an exhibition/installation space – and an art bookshop housed in a greenhouse,as well as outdoor artworks.
The installation currently in the Boiler House is no less extraordinary than the building itself. Yohji Making Waves is a single-piece, site-specific installation created by fashion designer and artist Yohji Yamamoto, in collaboration with scenographer Masao Nihei. In this work, the cavernous, darkened Boiler House space is flooded with water, and a beautiful, oversized silk wedding dress (an iconic piece taken from the designer’s autumn/winter 1998 collection) is suspended above it, reappearing as a ghostly reflection in the dark, rippling waters. The space is lit by a string of bulbs sending glimmering light out across the water, a haunting soundtrack plays, and visitors can take a closer look at the dress by clambering aboard a small boat, which a boatman rows around the flooded gallery at regular intervals.
There’s something both mesmeric and meditative about this atmospheric installation. But although there’s an eerily beautiful quality to the black depths of the water, and spectral floating dress, there’s also something hugely fun and anarchic about the very idea of flooding a gallery and rowing around it in a boat. In this way, as well as being contemplative, this is an enchantingly playful installation: it’s little wonder that our fellow gallery visitors were beaming with delight as they hopped aboard the little boat and set off across the water.
The installation is the third element of a series of exhibitions devoted to Yamamoto’s work in London this summer: the others, which I haven’t had chance to visit as yet, are Yohji’s Women, an exhibition of photographs at The Wapping Project Bankside, and of course Yohji Yamamoto, a major solo exhibition at the V&A. However, whether or not you’re a fan of Yamamoto, I’d highly recommend visiting this installation: one of the most imaginative and appealing pieces of contemporary art I’ve seen for some time.
It’s surprisingly difficult to find details of the installation online, but it is open daily – Monday – Friday from 12 noon – 10pm and Saturday-Sunday from 10am. Boat rides take place every 15 minutes. The installation is free to enter but a ticket is required for the boat.
Yohji Making Waves is at the Wapping Project until 10 July 2011.
I really enjoyed taking a slow wander around Tate Modern’s Joan Miróexhibition this week. Galleries often describe their exhibitions as a ‘must-see’ but for me, this show really was. I’ve always loved the deep, powerful colours of Miró’s paintings and I’m endlessly intrigued by his spidery, fantastical shapes and symbols, so it’s no wonder that this exhibition has been in my calendar for a while.
This is a very comprehensive retrospective, bringing together more than 150 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints from moments across the six decades of Miró’s career. Interestingly, it also traces the more politically engaged aspects of his work, tracing the development of his artistic practice in relation to political and social upheaval during the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and in Franco’s Spain. In a more straightforward way, however, this work is also a great pleasure simply to explore and experience: for me, the especial highlights were the incredible black and white Barcelona Series, but also the meditative, colour-saturated Bleu triptych.
To celebrate this exhibition at Tate Modern, I’m excited to have a lovely Tate Miró calendar to give away courtesy of Flame Tree Publishing, as well as a beautiful calendar from Tate’s Watercolour exhibition over at Tate Britain, which I blogged about back here.
If you’d like to enter the giveaway to win one of the calendars, simply leave me a comment at the end of this post to tell me what exhibition, event or other cultural happening coming up in the next few months you’ll be putting in your calendar.
As well as telling me what cultural highlight is your ‘must-see’, don’t forget to include whether you would prefer the Watercolour or the Miró calendar. From all the comments, two whinners will be selected at random – each will receive one of the two calendars.
The closing date for the giveaway is Friday 24 June. I’m looking forward to hearing your suggestions!
I had mixed feelings about going to see Tracey Emin’s new solo show, Love is What You Want, at the Hayward Gallery last week. It’s difficult not to feel slightly bored by Emin, who along with her fellow YBAs, often just seems overexposed. Endlessly characterised as making work that is cynical and crass, more concerned with the pursuit of notoriety than artistic integrity, Emin is overdone. Every detail of her life – from the traumatic events of her childhood to her political views – is well-known and well-documented. What is there left to discover about Tracey Emin?
Yet in spite of these misgivings, I also found myself unexpectedly interested in this new opportunity to engage with Emin’s work, as opposed to her media persona – especially given that I hadn’t previously seen much of her work in a gallery setting. Love is What You Want provides the ideal opportunity for a re-appraisal, being a comprehensive and beautifully-curated survey of Emin’s entire career to date, bringing together work in a wide range of different media.
It was this incredible variety of work that initially struck me about this exhibition. Emin is well-known for making certain kinds of work, perhaps most famously her distinctive quilts and other embroidered pieces such as the ‘tent’ Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995. However, there’s a much broader range of work to explore here, from film and video pieces to sculpture to photography to painting to printmaking.
I was also struck by the recurring use of text throughout so many of Emin’s work: this is an exhibition rife with language and storytelling, from the bold, mis-spelled appliquéd slogans of her blankets, to her glitzy neon lettering, to her handwritten texts. It’s interesting that Emin isn’t often thought of as an artist who works with language, given that this exhibition proves her to be a powerful storyteller: as she herself points out ‘it’s my words that actually make my art quite unique’.
Throughout the exhibition, it is clear that Emin’s own life is always the starting point for her art, which is confessional as often as it is confrontational. Although some of the subject matter of these highly personal, hard-hitting works remains for me difficult – pouring over ephemera related to traumatic events such as her botched abortion can’t help but leave the viewer with an uncomfortable (and no doubt, deliberately so) sense of grubby voyeurism – there’s no doubt that these are thought-provoking pieces. However solipsistic and manipulative her work sometimes seems, there is a playful sense of humour at work here too. It’s difficult not to admire Emin’s strikingly irreverent and often self-parodic approach to making art, which certainly sets little store by the conventions of the fine art world.
Ultimately though, it was the jaunty, hand-crafted, down-at-heel yet exuberantly girly aesthetic of Emin’s work which engaged me above and beyond its subject matter. There’s something particularly appealing about the rainbow colours of her blankets and upholstered chairs, the delicate embroidery, the fuzzy quality of the films, the scribbly but elegant handwriting, the cluttered ephemera, and the graceful line drawings. From the ramshackle wooden structures of Knowing My Enemy to her spangly neon lights, the influence of Emin’s upbringing in Margate is clear – this whole show has something of the sleazy faded theatrical glamour of a seaside town.
Although I left this exhibition still with mixed feelings, I also found myself engaged, surprised and unexpectedly intrigued: for me at least, it seems that there is something new to discover in Tracey Emin’s work after all.