Have a go at Sensing Spaces at the RA, by AHA alum Annie Gregoire

 

Eduardo Souto de Moura's concrete installation

When you hear the word ‘architecture’, your mind probably conjures images of the shapes of buildings, their facades, interiors, materials and ornament. But hopefully it will also lead you to consider feelings, to think about light, scent, texture, comfort, space, and everything else that is architecture in addition to its aesthetic. This is the principle of the Royal Academy’s recently opened exhibition Sensing Spaces: Architecture Reimagined, and is one that everyone should be urged to consider.

 

The RA has devoted the grand spaces of its main galleries to architectural installations created by 7 architects. Those chosen to exhibit stretched to every corner of the globe, from Burkina Faso, Chile, China, Japan, Ireland and Portugal. It is refreshing to visit n exhibition turning away from the ‘big dogs’ that tend to dominate the British architecture scene. In a setting in which the art lover is so accustomed to just looking, you are now invited to touch, smell, spin, sit, wander, at any pace you choose, and absorb your surroundings.

 

On top of the Portuguese architects' 'Blue Pavillion'

This time, there is no designated route by which to visit each room. As I entered, however, it was  hard to miss the enormous wooden structure designed by the Chilean couple  Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen. Its bold geometry contrasts starkly with the classical interior of the gallery itself in an exciting and arresting way. A little investigation will lead you to the foot of four spiral staircases – choose any one and it will take you to a raised platform. Looking out from the top of this edifice offers a novel and interesting perspective on the space, highlighting the design and ornamentation of the gallery ceiling that you may have never noticed, or certainly will have never seen this close. The installation is enjoyable to explore, and for me its success lies not in creating a space for you to sense but a platform upon which to sense the exhibition space itself.

 

 

Inside Li Xiaodong's hazel labyrinth

Next I found myself transported by the all-surrounding work of Chinese architect Li Xiaodong who creates walls of hazel twigs assembled in a fun but sometimes disorienting maze. The two installations designed by the Grafton Architects from Ireland also totally dominate and transform the spaces they are in, creating fantastic effects by playing with straight lined designs and the interception and transportation of light.

 

Tailored light in an installation by the Grafton Architects

 

Kengo Kuma's magical network of scented bamboo

Scent constitutes an important part of place, experience and memory and this is addressed by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. He has devised two dark rooms in which stand floor-lit lattices of thin bamboo sticks omitting scents that vividly recall his childhood. The final installation is enjoyable and the smell is certainly pleasant, however I found the exploration of scent and memory perhaps a little too obvious in this instance and found myself craving another layer of meaning. In these rooms the viewer must also walk around the sticks which are placed in the centre in an arrangement which confuses the idea of the exhibition a little – the construction operates less as a creation of architectural space and more as a sculpture or piece of installation art. Perhaps this was a deliberate intention to explore the line between architecture and sculpture.

Diébédo Francis Kéré's honeycomb lattice with straws installation
Visitors can contribute a straw to Kéré's installation

The Architect Diébédo Francis Kéré has created a bright and fun tunnel made of honeycomb lattices, very enjoyable to wander through and with the addition of reclining chairs that allow you to stop and consider the space from a different perspective. Kéré, coming originally from a remote village in Burkina Faso, is interested in community and creating architecture that everyone can contribute to and feel part of. He emphasises this in the exhibition by leaving a box of bright coloured plastic straws and inviting visitors to interact with the installation by adding one or two to the lattice. The experience reminded me of contributing a twig or two to a forest stick house (to which any child of the countryside might be able to relate). Kéré’s ideas are engaging and thought-provoking but perhaps more could have been done to add to the visitor experience in this instance.

The exhibition concludes with a video that introduces the figures of the exhibition and runs through a series of their meditations on architecture with a backdrop of film of their work outside of Sensing Spaces (it is a great feature of the exhibition that the installations are accompanied by very basic labels and fantastically little supplementary information that could get in the way of your physical and personal exploration of the spaces) . The video provokes some interesting thoughts on the subject of our environment, as well as demonstrating that the architects featured are indeed exceptional, and have created some of the greatest and most interesting buildings of today.

Sensing Spaces is n innovative and exciting exhibition, though I have to say I was a little disappointed. I think I visited in the hope of being swept away into other dimensions but I was always conscious of being in the gallery. Perhaps this was in part the point of the show – to explore architecture within architecture. The most fantastic element for me was that each visitor is able to respond differently to the spaces; you can wander them alone and reflect on how your environment makes you feel, or use them as a platform for discussion with others. This exhibition explores something I have not encountered in a gallery before,  and if it is encouraging people to think more broadly about architecture and experience then it is a great success.

 

Experience many interesting thoughts on architecture at 'Sensing Spaces'

 

Introducing Pick of the Week: this week by Annie Gregoire

Every Monday on AHA’s blog you will now find Pick of the Week – our recommendations of things you can do to spice up the week ahead, be it with art, music, theatre, travelling, food or anything else! We will review the best exhibitions on show that week, note exciting upcoming events, and maybe inspire you to take a visit somewhere different or try something new – across the UK and the globe.

Pick of the Week will tell you the things to look out for and incorporate into your week, discuss people and places that inspire, or introduce interesting ideas and matters that will offer something to think about in the following days.

There is loads to look forward to to in 2014. In the coming fortnight don’t miss the V&A’s exhibition ‘Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900’, on until 19th Jan. You can even join us for a lecture, lunch and exhibition day for this show on Thursday. There will be opportunity to experience more of the country’s unbelievably rich cultural history – which most of us know embarrassingly little about – and learn about a pivotal period of world history in the British Museum’s ‘Ming: 50 years that changed China’ exhibition that opens in September. With a range of some of the finest and most intriguing objects you will have ever seen on display, it promises to be a sensational show.

A 15th Century Ming Cloisonée Jar © Trustees of the British Museum

Feminist issues remain incredibly important in the modern day but in all the discussion have we forgotten about the men? Grayson Perry, Jon Snow and Billy Bragg, among others, will be at the Southbank Centre’s ‘Being A Man’ festival at the end of the month, where they will be talking about just that. This look to be an exciting event and a platform for the important discussion of what often remains undiscussed. (Being A Man events taking place at Southbank Centre Fri 31 Jan- Sun 2 Feb)

Brazil will be talked about a lot this year and Roche Court arts centre and sculpture park in Wiltshire (a hidden gem of the south) will host an exhibition of new work by David Batchelor – bold and colourful sculpture that reveals his interest in Brazilian concrete art. (David Batchelor: Concretos, 8 Feb – 16 March 2014, Roche Court, Wilts)

Visit the blog on Mondays from now on to discover something to excite and enliven each week!

David Batchelor, "Contretos" at Roche Court. Photo: sculpture.uk.com.

150 years of Munch: not just the man behind The Scream

On a recent trip to Oslo, I visited the 150 year anniversary exhibition of the work of Norway’s most famous artist, Edvard Munch. The exhibition, spread across two of the city’s galleries – the National Gallery and the Munch Museum – is the biggest ever retrospective of the artist’s work. One of four versions of Munch’s world-famous ‘The Scream’ was sold last year at Sotheby’s New York for record $120m. With 250 pictures on display this summer in Oslo,  I was brought to think about the painting, and question how one work might become the focus of so much attention while the rest of the artist’s prolific oeuvre remains relatively unfamiliar.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, Pastel on Cardboard 1985

A painting often misunderstood, The Scream was created as part of a large series which Munch named the Frieze of Life, exploring ideas of love, anxiety and death. This painting, believe it or not, was the final work from the first in the list. It represents despair, which the troubled and morbid Munch believed to be the ultimate outcome of love.

 

Munch suffered terribly from a life illness and loss that began with the death of both his mother and sister from Tuberculosis during his youth. He was the victim of almost constant mental instability, that clearly fuelled his work as an artist. He wrote of the experience in Oslo that led to the creation of The Scream:

I went along the road with two friends—

The sun set

Suddenly the sky became blood—and I felt the breath of sadness

I stopped—leaned against the fence—deathly tired

Clouds over the fjord dripped reeking with blood

My friends went on but I just stood trembling with an open wound

in my breast I heard a huge extraordinary

scream pass through nature.

The title and imagery of the painting would lead most to believe that its representation focuses on the open mouthed figure (perhaps we thought it was the artist himself shrieking, or a figurative image of the suffering human soul). It is therefore interesting to consider that the eponymous ‘scream’ is not a human one, but instead refers to Munch’s dark psychological experience of the surrounding nature.

The work is powerful and eye -catching because of the sheer terror evoked by its bald, androgynous and ghost-like protagonist, surrounded by vivid blues and bloody reds. It has perhaps become so famous because it is such a memorable simple yet horrifying depiction. It conveys universally recognised emotion; the image of the ghoulish face has become globally iconic.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, oil on cardboard, 1893

Despite a $120m price tag for a pastel version, I can confidently say that the scream is far from being the my favourite of Munch’s paintings. Other, equally melancholy works boldly portray scenes of death, love and the suffering of specific emotions.  Thoughtful portraits paint sensitive images of Munch’s acquaintances, whilst group scenes subtly yet powerfully hint on themes of exclusion and loneliness.

Edvard Munch, Jealousy, oil on canvas 1895

But not everything is centred around such dark ideas. My particular favourites of Munch’s works are his depictions of nature, which are detached from his personal suffering and instead illustrate a strong relationship between the artist and the extraordinary Norwegian landscape. His images of moonlight over the fjords embody a strikingly beautiful tranquility, whilst scenes of forests and snow coated paths create boldly atmospheric depictions of the scandinavian surroundings.

Edvard Munch, Moonlight, oil on canvas 1895

A days spent looking at 250 works by Munch may not be the best idea if you are searching for a positive outlook on human existence, but it helped me to discover the great extent of the artist’s works, a powerful painter of both death and love, of the horrifying and the beautiful.

 

AHA tutor Steve Nelson’s wonderful exhibition at The Contemporary Art Society: A review by Annie Gregoire

I was lucky enough to have Steve Nelson as a tutor on my AHA gap year course last summer, and being lead by a working artist offered a fresh perspective on the art we saw in both Rome and Naples. Steve’s love of Italy was infectious, and he taught with such great enthusiasm and knowledge, ensuring that we had the best experience in every city. I remember him showing us the wonders of The Pantheon and its architecture, Caravaggio’s chapel paintings in Rome, and of course will not forget eating and drinking like a local at the cities’ best restaurants and bars!

Steve works in London as a sculptor in mixed media, assembling eclectic objects and materials to create enchanting compositions. He is currently exhibiting a public display of his artwork at the Contemporary Art Society in London which I visited this week.

The Contemporary Art Society exists to promote and encourage appreciation of contemporary art in the UK. It uses mainly donated funds to buy work by current artists and donate it to galleries nationwide, whilst also organising artists’ talks and educational events. In its building on Central Street the society hosts changing exhibitions, and it is here that a number of works by Steve are on display and brightening the walls of the upper floor space.

All the fish in Naples (detail), photograph by Joe Plommer
All the fish in Naples (detail), photograph by Joe Plommer

 

After meeting Steve I had enjoyed browsing images of his work online, but it was such a treat to suddenly be able to see it up close. Much of his work seemed to be the creation of an indescribable curious object; it is captivating and ambiguous, offering many platforms for interpretation. I find his pieces lively, fun, and sometimes humorous, all created by his use of weird and wonderful materials.

Garlik Darlic, photograph by Joe Plommer

 

Reminders of Italy pop up in his works, such as ‘All the Fish in Naples’, and ‘Garlik Darlic’, made from wood covered in Florentine gold leaf. ‘The Holy Family’ is not as we know it from Renaissance Rome but exists here as three different sized pieces of brightly painted wood. His titles offer more opportunities for appreciation and interesting interpretation!

Visit yourself (for free) and have a look! Steve’s project is exhibited at The Contemporary Art Society, 59 Central Street, London until 28th March.

www.contemporaryartsociety.org

www.stephenelson.com

LIGHT SHOW at The Hayward Gallery – AHA alum Annie Gregoire sees what it’s all about

Light Show is the Hayward Gallery’s latest exhibition, showcasing a fantastic selection of artworks all made from the power of electricity. The show displays sculpture and installation featuring bulbs, strip lights, strobe light, mirrors, projection and more to create a journey of sensory excitement through the gallery.

The journey begins with a Leo Villareal’s 2012 Cylinder II, a giant sculpture of LEDs orchestrated by complex computer programming so that they are constantly in flow, creating different patterns and shapes. The work is an engaging spectacle, for me evoking the beauty and movement of a waterfall or snowfall, whilst also suggestive of the millions of changing lights in a busy city.

The viewer is then lead around the space and presented with a number of instillations that occupy entire side rooms. Around every corner there is another piece of excitement, including a room of complete darkness surrounding a large cone of light inviting you to play with the effects of projection, an eery hospital-like space that surrounds the viewer in stark whiteness, and a series of 3 completely red, blue and green rooms that I got stuck in for most of my visit. The curation of the exhibition makes fantastic use of the Hayward’s exhibition halls, and I was struck by a new appreciation of the space whilst walking round.

At one point we queued for ten minutes to enter a dark room in which the viewer is invited to sit and experience the adaptation over 15 minutes of his or her eyes in front of a large light installation. I must admit that there was no revelation in front of my eyes, so either I was too inpatient, or the execution of this piece has not been so successful.

The exhibition is an investigation into how our psychology responds to light and colour, a display of captivating illusions that play with our perception, and a presentation of artworks that require the viewer’s time and interaction to completely reveal themselves.

Light Show is not only about visual experience - Conrad Shawcross's sculpture is 'a metaphor for the discipline of science'

 

Some reviews have criticised Light Show for offering little more than an entertainment, a comment that I agree with in-part, as the exhibition does not offer much that is deeply conceptual or philosophical (although a number of the pieces, such as Conrad Shawcross’s sculpture, do discuss interesting ideas). However, I think it positive that this is a rare example of an exhibition that doesn’t present any over-complex or inaccessible ideas, or claim to be something that it is not. Instead it simply presents every viewer with a chance to interact with, enjoy and be excited by contemporary art.

 Light Show continues at the Hayward Gallery until 28 April 2013

Hidden Treasure in North London: The Estorick Collection

A short 5 minute walk from Highbury & Islington station will bring you to this hidden gem of a gallery; a Grade II listed Georgian building housing a fantastic specialist collection – the only gallery in Britain devoted to Italian modern art.

Eric Estorick (1913-93) was an american writer and political scientist who began collecting works of modern when he settled in England after the Second World War. His discovering Umberto Boccioni’s 1914 book Futurist Painting and Sculpture marked the beginning of his passion for Italian art, which gave rise to this world renowned collection. It has been displayed in major exhibitions around the world including one in the Tate Gallery in the 1956, and in 1994 was moved to its current home in Canonbury Square, Islington.

The refurbished interior of the beautiful Georgian townhouse creates a enchantingly domestic and intimate space for the display of the artworks, which hang in 6 different rooms across 3 floors – there were only 2 other visitors when I was there this week and it felt like I had been privileged with a private viewing of someone’s personal collection.

A great variation of artworks and movements is represented in the collection, including works of impressionism, surrealism, cubism, and futurism, as well as sculpture and a series of sketches, lithographs, and etchings. Including works by Modigliani, de Chirico and Boccioni, it is a diverse and lively collection that offers a taste of what it meant to be producing art in Italy in the first half of the 20th Century.

The gallery’s best known, and perhaps most striking , works come from the Futurist movement. One of my favourite pieces is in this group: Giacomo Balla’s 1912 Hand of the Violinist, a captivating painting, which captures light effects to create an impression of rapid movement.

Giacomo Balla, The Hand of the Violinist, 191

 

The Estorick also hosts temporary exhibitions alongside it’s permanent collection. Currently on display is Giorgio Morandi Lines of Poetry,which features a large number of the artist’s prints depicting rural Italian landscapes, as well as a series of exquisite still life etchings of everyday objects, which Morandi brings to life through his slow and delicate labour.

Also being shown is the exhibition Nino Migliori Imagined Landscapes, a small collection of pieces by the Italian post-war photographer, which includes a series of large-scale reworked polaroids depicting emotive landscapes of the Italian village of Grizzana.

A trip to the Estorick is a fabulous way to spend a free hour or two in London. It hosts a superb and unique collection of art, is tucked away from any crowds of tourists, and has a sweet little cafe (and a lovely courtyard that looks like a great place to meet when the sun comes out)! Plus it is free entry for students, so there’s no reason to not pay a visit.

Nearest Station: Highbury & Islington (Victoria Line, Overground)

Entry (includes temp. exhibitions) : Adults – £5, Cons – £3.50, Students with valid ID – Free

Visit: www.estorickcollection.com

‘A potential piece of yellowism’? More a pointless act of vandalism

Yesterday afternoon I received a phone call from a friend and fellow art lover exclaiming “we have just been evacuated from Tate Modern because someone has defaced a Rothko!”. It was a rather exciting yet upsetting piece of news yet the first thing that came to mind was “why Rothko?”, his paintings often criticised by those who don’t favour their abstraction, but rarely deemed politically or socially motivated to a point that they might provoke vandalism. It now transpires that there was no distinct reason, but that Vladimir Umanets, co-founder of a contemporary movement in Russia named ‘Yellowism’, believes he found “the perfect choice” after arriving in the gallery with intent to write on a painting but without a plan of which painting it would be.

Tim Wright who was in the gallery tweeted this image and wrote: "This guy calmly walked up, took out a marker pen and tagged it. Surreal"

The canvas in question, Black on Maroon, was painted in 1958 as part of Rothko’s Seagram murals,  which were intended for Manhattan’s Four Seasons Restaurant but were instead presented to the Tate by the artist in the late 1960s. On the same day that they were received by the gallery in 1970, the death of the artist was announced. The paintings in the series all use the same sombre palette of dark reds and black, and adopt the compositional feature of uniform rectangular patches. They are displayed together in Tate’s Rothko Room.

The Rothko Room, Tate Modern

Umanets, who has admitted to the act but denies he is a vandal, believes the writing, which says ‘a potential piece of Yellowism’, has “added value” to the piece but the public have been quick to demonstrate their disgust via social media, as one BBC journalist tweets “The defacing of the Rothko is not a work of art – Duchampian or otherwise – it is an act of vandalism.”. However one cynical comic commented, “Defacing Rothko painting more difficult than painting it”.

Some have already formed the opinion that ‘it could be worse’, especially when compared to a woman punching, wiping her bare bottom and attempting to urinate on a $40m Clifford Still in 2011, or the man who in 1972 took a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pieta in belief that he was Christ himself.

Image showing Mary's damaged nose after a Laszlo Toth attacked Michelangelo's Pieta with a 12 pound hammer in 1972

This incident reminds me of something I once read about the artist Edvard Munch, whose life works incidentally are currently on display in the same building. He had expressed the wish for his paintings to live organic lives – to be taken wherever they must be taken and to display the effect of the journey on their physicality, rejecting any conservation and restoration. An art historian commented at a time of similar outrage, when the Scream was famously stolen from Oslo’s Munch Museet, that perhaps the artist would have been quite excited by the event! Yet however there is something much more upsetting, disturbing and offensive about scribbling over an artist’s completed work than the theft of a canvas in tact. Despite his best intentions, it appears to me that Mr Umanets might be just a little mad, and has only wasted his and the gallery’s time. Fortunately, Tate announced today that the work can be fully restored.