Thursday, 25 November 2010

Corporate sponsorship: a necessary evil

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was now over 6 months ago yet the furore surrounding BP's sponsorship of the Tate already seems long forgotten. The Tate remains a global icon and resolutely refuses to be tainted by the capitalist agenda of an oil giant. Perhaps this signifies that the job of the corporate sponsor is obsolete but far from it. For their generous investment they gain discreet advertising, name association and a venue for corporate entertainment of big cheeses. The public in turn receives a global tourist destination, astounding exhibitions, free entry to an enviable permanent collection and promotion of British art.

In the current climate governmental grants are simply not enough and though the cuts to the DCMS haven't been as harsh as some feared they will still have a knock-on effect throughout the arts industry. If it wasn’t BP sponsoring galleries such as the Tate it would be another corporate heavyweight; their funding has become a necessary evil and beneficial to all. The Tate takes its name from Henry Tate, founder of Tate & Lyle who offered his collection to the nation and a place in which to house it. The company’s alleged murky past in slavery does nothing to abate the flow of visitors, nor to the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Opera House, all of whom BP partners.

Perhaps at times sponsorship can divert attention away from the purpose of the art it sponsors but if anything, the art world enjoys exorcising their democratic right to protest which simply encourages publicity and this can only be a good thing. BP claims their support surmounts to a ‘promoting ideas, inspiring creativity and supporting the social and economic fabric of the UK’ which seems reason enough to accept their funding, at least for the moment. Only when the Tate becomes ‘BP Tate’ displaying petrol pumps in the turbine hall and charging £20 entry should there be any worry. Until this time the arts should continue to take full advantage of the benefits of sponsorship whether it be from oil giants or not.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Francis Alÿs walks the line...

Tate Modern’s exhibition of the simultaneously poetic and political work of Francis Alÿs (b. 1959, Belgium) is not to be missed this summer. The most comprehensive show of the artist’s celebrated work, ‘A Story of Deception’ lends insight into his working method with exquisitely lit vitrines of diagrams for projects, as well as a series of small maquettes on which Alÿs illustrates hypothetical and possibly absurd scenarios with great detail.

Alÿs moved to Mexico City in the 1980s where he has remained since, and began to make work about daily life. ‘Ambulantes’ (1992 - present) is a slide projection comprised of images of people pushing carts loaded with goods, detritus, and even food for sale, exchange, or disposal. These stills within scenarios recall moments of observation, and the countless trajectories of trades people and ordinary denizens of a metropolis, that are often overlooked or ignored.

The theme of walking, which may be considered banal, takes on a central role in ‘The Green Line’ (1995), which chronicles the artist walking along the armistice border, dribbling a can of green paint down the metaphorical line marking the end of the Six Day War between Israel and Jordan in 1967. The meditative and political aspects of Alÿs’s work are also present in ‘The Loop’ (1997), for which Alÿs used his commission fee from an international biennial held in the land bordering San Diego and Tijuana to travel in a loop that avoided the crossing the U.S.-Mexican border.

’When Faith Moves Mountains’ (2002) embodies Alÿs’s reaction to the collapse of the government in Peru in 2000, and depicts 500 Peruvian students simultaneously digging and walking up a sand dune as an illustration of the anticlimactic efforts of Latin American modernization schemes. At the same time, the event may be seen as a success in concerted and active participation with a united focus. Process and progress in medias res take centre stage in this exhibition, and Alÿs’s work continues to prove relevant to our world’s contemporary politics, whilst remaining aesthetically captivating.

- YZ

Thursday, 15 July 2010

New discovery: Culture Label

I recently found this online treasure chest of ‘cultural’ products sourced from 70 museum shops, galleries, artists and cultural institutions around the world. Curated cultural online shopping and so very contemporary. From quirkily designed t-shirts at £15, right up to limited edition Peter Blake prints at £2,000, there is an astonishing array of the eccentric and original. A good place to find presents for your irritatingly trendy skinny-jean-wearing brother (why do boys with legs thinner than my arms insist on wearing these!?) or the artistic bespectacled best friend (Ray Bans obviously).

Friday, 9 July 2010

Saatchi the Artoholic creates MOCA London

My name is Charles Saatchi and I am an Artoholic. A young British artist’s dream is to be ‘Saatchi-ed’. You have succeeded; you will be represented by a super slick dealer and become rich and famous. Now the man that makes this happen, the uber-collector/galleristo/ex-ad man/Mr Nigella Lawson aka Charles Saatchi is to bequeath 200 works (valued at a mere £25m) to the nation to be housed in the Saatchi Gallery which will mutate into MOCA London (Museum of Contemporary Art, London). The works will include seminal pieces by Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, the Chapman Brothers and many more. There has been some debate about the funding of such a museum and various grumblings about potential gaps in the collection but surely another major arts institution in London will only solidify the city’s reputation as a leader in contemporary art?

Yes, there may be gaps (noted: a supreme lack of photography and film) but in time this can be rectified with future government and private funding which will expand the collection. Many major institutions in the UK and abroad were founded on limited private collections and they all happily evolved into their current states – the Tate, The Frick Collection and the Ashmolean Museum to name but a few. MOCA London would join the ranks of other cities which have a museum dedicated to contemporary art including the New Museum in New York and MAXXI in Rome (Tate Modern simply doesn’t count, its name is the massive give away).

I have always regarded the Saatchi Gallery with suspicion because it is essentially one man’s collection, aesthetic and taste resulting in rather odd exhibitions which never quite feel right (just go and see Newspeak…or actually don’t) but the transformation into a public institution would release these 200 works out of this narrow, personal vision and provide a starting point for a magnificent contemporary art collection for the nation. This isn’t simply a lazy-rich-man bequest, which would just be too easy for Saatchi, but an incredible plan to fill a void in London’s contemporary art scene. Why the grumbling? Without Saatchi’s support where would contemporary British art be right now? It would probably still be stuck on this island and largely unknown. We should be gracious in accepting such modest generosity and welcome being 'Saatchi-ed'.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Merce Cunningham - he knew they would not fail him in absentia...

Screenings of the 'Craneway Event' (2009), the 108-minute feature-length film by Tacita Dean (b. 1965), about the late iconic choreographer Merce Cunningham, have concluded on 23 June 2010 at Frith Street Gallery. But the film is simply too special not to mention.

As Cunningham’s last film collaboration, 'Craneway Event' documents his dance company’s rehearsal over three days and across three stages in a former Ford assembly plant in Richmond, California that overlooks the San Francisco Bay. With minimal dialogue, the film’s visual impact is enriched by an unwavering camera that captures the nuances of the dancers’ movements, the ships drifting to and from the nearby port, and the errant pigeon that wanders into the unconventional studio. The huge windows of the 1930s Albert Kahn building allow for morphing angularities of light and shadow to produce a sort of frame within a frame in the film, hinting at the unexpected that is at the core of Cunningham’s ‘events’, often held in atypical dance spaces (like Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003), and re-utilize choreography.

At the heart of the work lies the legendary choreographer himself. Dean’s camera captures the evolution of the performance, and her camera’s poignant glances at the quiet, deeply focused Cunningham, who was 89-years old at the time of filming and confined to a wheelchair, put into perspective a lifetime of work that survives the man himself.

"When Merce died on July 26 [2009], I had just begun editing 'Craneway Event'...Although I lost the pleasure of imagining him watching the film...Merce’s joy in the process was steadfastly there and his enthusiasm seemed to have a directional force. I began to feel that Merce had set up the components that make up the film – the building, the dancers, the light, the ships and the birds, because he knew they would not fail him in absentia."
Tacita Dean, Press Release

- YZ, July 2010

Wednesday, 30 June 2010

A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War by David Boyd Haycock

For anyone with even a vague interest in 20th century British art and history this is an absolute must read. David Boyd Haycock draws on the intense period of artistic development, centred around the Slade, in London before the Great War in 1914. It was a period of great innovation, not only in the visual arts but also in literature, poetry and theatre. The book focuses on five young artists from this period, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Mark Gertler, Richard Nevinson and Dora Carrington. Their artistic progression, youthful angst, love, bohemian fashion, relationships, influences and ambition are explored alongside glimpses of other notable 20th century figures who surrounded them including Virginia Woolf, Roger Fry, Clive Bell, Walter Sickert, Ezra Pound, Rupert Brooke and D.H Lawrence, to name just a few. These brilliant young artists who evolved from the Slade’s second period of a ‘crisis of brilliance’ (the first included Augustus John and Percy Wyndham Lewis) went on to become part of the Futurists, the Vorticists, the periphery of the Bloomsbury Group and the Camden Town Group. Haycock deftly plunges into their world with absorbing detail, from the shock of the first Impressionist Exhibition organised by Roger Fry in 1910, to the suffragette movement and the increasing liberalisation of London to the horror of the First World War and subsequent tragedies. This period in British art is often overlooked or dominated by the Bloomsbury Group because the perpetuating British art movement from that century in the international mind are the over-hyped YBAs. In fact British art in the 20th century is often far more fascinating and this captivating book proves it.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Support Steve McQueen’s 'Queen and Country' stamp campaign!

Commissioned by the Imperial War Museum, Turner prize-winning British artist Steve McQueen was Iraq’s official war artist. Whilst embedded with the army in Iraq McQueen initially wanted to make a documentary of his time there but this plan was thwarted by the powers that be. McQueen subsequently created 'Queen and Country', an homage to those servicemen and women who lost their lives in the conflict. The work consists of sheets of stamps depicting head shots of each person and serves as not only as a poignant reminder of the lives lost in such a (unjust) war but also commemorates their bravery and sacrifice. It raises questions of choice, war, imperialisation, remembrance and also about representations of contemporary conflict.

McQueen has battled tirelessly for these stamps to be made official but the Royal Mail has stubbornly resisted (no doubt influenced by the last government who were presumably trying to shove the Iraq skeleton into its vast collection before scampering into the night after the election) but Iraq is certainly still fresh in many minds and should not be forgotten. We have now been in a state of war for nearly 10 years, an astonishing state of events. The public for one reason or another are unusually sheltered from the reality of war (despite the fact that the internet makes it more accessible than any other, just think of Thomas Hirschhorn’s ‘The Incommensurable Banner’ 2007 which uses gruesome pictures from the internet) as not only is it occurring over 6,000 miles away but life continues as usual. Too often, military deaths are relegated to the back pages.

Show your support and sign the petition to Royal Mail to create the commemorative stamps:

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Instead of the wearisome world cup why don’t you…

View: Francis Alys, A Story of Deception @ Tate Modern

Wander: Along the river by the Southbank Centre

Read: The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Watch: Wimbledon – (1) Roger Federer (Swi) vs. Ilija Bozoljac (Ser)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Conservative vs Coalition Arts?

This is a question that pervades the minds of those in the arts at the moment. Can there be Conservative arts, is it not an oxymoron given their track record? How supportive will the new government be of the arts and what will the actual cuts mean to this valuable sector as a whole? I think it has to be acknowledged that any government in power at the present time, regardless of party politics, would be faced with the unenviable task of imposing severe cuts and sadly the arts is often the first in line. We have already seen Arts Council England being told to prepare for a £19m cut but what is the reality of Conservative-led arts and should we fear it?

The new coalition Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is a golden boy of the Conservative Party, and it has to be said, probably the most good looking minister in the cabinet (hardly much competition there though). He has the classic Tory background but is really rather a closet liberal. Labour never quite got it right with their Culture Secretaries over the years (the only one I can vaguely remember is Chris Smith and even then only that he was grey haired and bespectacled). Hunt has a real chance, to not only make a difference but to be remembered, particularly if he absorbs the Liberal Democrat arts manifesto within his own party’s agenda and manages to cement London's reputation as the centre of the art world during the Oylmpics in 2012. The Conservative manifesto was noticeably lacking when it came to the arts (everyone was more distracted by what colour ties the leaders were wearing for the debates) but Hunt has strong long-term ideas. The main two being, to reform Lottery funding in order to make it more beneficial to the arts, and to encourage more philanthropy. To strengthen his ambitions he needs to take note of the Liberal Democrats, who typical to form, laid out a broad arts policy, including to:

- Introduce a cabinet committee on creativity responsible for securing cross-departmental support and increased levels of joint working, so that creative industries contribute to wider policy objectives.
- Review the points-based visa system to ensure that it doesn’t discriminate against legitimate visiting artists and performers in order to encourage cultural exchange.
- Give more political recognition to individuals and companies who give generously to the arts on a national scale.
- Introduce a new “Paid Internship” enabling hundreds of thousands of young people to work for up to three months with any employer, without cost to the business.

Last week Arts Council England decided where their £19m cut would fall and announced a 0.5% funding cut for each of the 880 frontline arts organisations it regularly gives money to - the small organisations will of course suffer but the cuts are far smaller than had been feared and for a time, will silence the sceptics. ACE also has the added advantage of being able to draw on its £18m reserves. But one must remember that in times of hardship, recession and bleakness some of the best art is produced (YBAs, think Emin’s bed and Damien’s shark) spurred on by some innovative philanthropists (think Saatchi). So, instead of moaning about this unavoidable recession and inevitable art cuts we should look forward to the diversity that will emerge from within its depths and the new generation of philanthropists who will want to support the arts, in conjunction with a coherent coalition government arts policy which one hopes will materialise.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Welcome to the mad house...

The Barbican Art Gallery’s new summer exhibition, The Surreal House, promises just this: a mad, eccentric, mysterious, dream-like dwelling within the gallery space that accommodates works stressing the home and particularly, architecture in relation to Surrealism. Imagine an insane inverted Ikea house. Lurking within the immense abode’s labyrinth of chambers, designed by the award-winning architects Carmody Groarke, are works from a range of Surrealists (and their precursors), architects and contemporary artists who have been inspired by the movement. As the accompanying booklet states, you’ll find in this exhibition that “art imagines the house, film ‘performs’ the house and architecture builds the house.” A very neat summary indeed.

Don’t let the advertising featuring a deathly dull Dali fool you into thinking this is a typical Surrealist show. It exposes work of the over-looked, the forgotten and the contemporary artists who continue the Surrealist legacy. Most notable amongst these are wonderful pieces by the late Louise Bourgeois, a rather timely homage. Then one comes to a set of 13 black and white photographs by the seldom-seen Francesca Woodman with themes of appearance and disappearance, via Rebecca Horn’s startling 'Concert for Anarchy' (1990), an upside down piano where the keys theatrically fall in and out creating eerie sounds throughout the gallery. Noble + Webster’s 'Metal Fucking Rats' (2006) perfectly depicts the humorous goings on in this house, and there are beautiful ceramic sculptures by Rachel Kneebone, which on close inspection, are entangled, sensual, warped ceramic body parts epitomising the themed room, ‘Mad Love’. The fantastically daring house structure created by Carmody Groarke, manages to escape the clutches of the usual modernist trappings of the white box and blocks up some of the gallery’s ugly concrete walls, resulting in a refreshing setting for such a broad range of works and themes. From the mischievous Marcel Duchamp nipple ‘door bell’, 'Priere de Toucher' (1947) to Louise Bourgeois’ 'No Exit' (1989) featuring stairs that go to nowhere, to the final scene of the burning house in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film 'The Sacrifice' (1986), the viewer is taken on a journey of the bizarre, and the amusing, through winding rooms, high ceilings and chambers full to the brim of the unusually uncanny.

There is sadly, however, a notable lack of British Surrealists, except for Christopher Wood (where are Eileen Agar and the indubitable Leonora Carrington?), and perhaps a general lack of cohesion to the exhibition possibly due to the fact that it is simply so enormous. Whilst the link between Surrealism and architecture is undoubtedly illustrated there does appear to be a separation between the art and architecture on show which at times seems to create two separate exhibitions. Perhaps it would have been more relevant to include further architectural references within the context of the surreal house built in the gallery to reinforce the theory behind the entire show. However, the architectural component certainly results in an often under-estimated interpretation of Surrealism including pieces by John Hejduk, Le Corbusier and intriguingly Ferdinand Cheval who turned his dream home into reality. The Barbican Art Gallery has always provided a challenging space for its curators, and they have astutely risen to this challenge by creating a house within, emphasising the nature of Surrealism. It is certainly a mad house, this surreal house, and well worth seeing. God knows what Kevin McCloud and Sarah Beeny would make of it but I suspect that for once, they might be lost for words.

The Surreal House, Barbican Art Gallery, 10th June – 12th September 2010
Tickets: £10 (concessions £8)