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