Friday, 28 August 2015

Postcard from Dungeness

The 20ft and 30ft Sound Mirrors at Dungeness
Dungeness, a shingle-beached headland on the coast of Kent, has been on my list of places to visit for years, decades even. So, I was excited to finally get there on a grey and wet August day. (Walking head down in the sometimes driving rain it was difficult to take seriously the designation of Dungeness as the UK's only desert.) The weather did mean that I didn't explore the area as extensively as I would have liked to, but the gloom added to the delicious bleakness of the place.  I did manage to see the key 'sights' - the nuclear power stations, the lighthouses, Derek Jarman's Prospect Cottage and, best of all, the sound mirrors. The sound mirrors were a pre-radar system designed to detect enemy aircraft. Built 1928-30, sound waves were caught by the concave concrete structures and relayed via microphones to an operator. There are 3 mirrors: a 20ft dish, a 30ft dish and a 200ft curved wall. 
A strange and beautiful place.
Watch an extract from the BBC's series Coast in which the mirrors are tested.
Click on images to enlarge.
The old lighthouse and the nuclear power stations
The new lighthouse
The boardwalk to the sea
Shingle, sea, sky
The view to the sea (Click on image to see full panorama)
Power stations and lighthouses (Click on image to see full panorama)
The 30ft Sound Mirror
The 200ft Sound Mirror
All the Sound Mirrors
Prospect Cottage - Derek Jarman's former home

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Bridget Riley - De La Warr Pavilion

Bridget Riley, Streak 2, 1979 (Detail - click to see full image)
Bridget Riley: The Curve Paintings, 1961-2014 is at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill until 6 September 2015.
The three dimensional illusionism of some of the paintings in this excellent exhibition is palpable. The exhibition as a whole eloquently demonstrates the intelligent precision with which Riley manipulates colour and form to astonishing effects. Yet, although these pauntings are evidently the result of careful calculation they are overwhelmingly sensual objects. As Riley acknowledges, in the interesting catalogue discussion with Paul Moorhouse, she has been profoundly influenced by, notably, Seurat, Cezanne, Matisse and the Futurists. Yet a strength of the paintings is that the viewer need not know anything of the theory and knowledge that has informed them to appreciate their visual effects.
The show includes drawings and cartoons for paintings which reveal Riley's meticulous method. Amongst these is Study for 'Kiss', 1961 which Riley identifies as a breakthrough painting in which the curve as an animating and structural element made its debut in her work. The exhibition's title with the career spanning dates '1961-2014' obscures the fact (but which is made clear in the exhibition itself) that for a period of 17 years (1980-1997) the curve was 'banished' from her work in favour of the linear and diagonal. Thus the exhibition effectively shows 2 bodies of work, the optically dazzling and disturbing paintings made between 1961 and 1980 and the more subtle and calm essays in colour and form made between 1997 and 2014. 
It is a terrific show in a wonderful venue (see end of this blog entry) and a neat  complement to the exquisite Bridget Riley: The Stripe Paintings, 1961-2014 shown at David Zwirner last summer. (See blog entry below).
Read reviews/articles by  Geoff Hands, Maggie GrayMark Hudson, and Jonathan Jones
Click on images to enlarge.
Bridget Riley, Study for 'Kiss', 1961
Bridget Riley, Crest, 1964
Bridget Riley, Entice 2, 1974
Bridget Riley, Andante 1, 1980

Bridget Riley, Rêve, 1999

Bridget Riley, Red with Red 1, 2007
Bridget Riley, Rajasthan, 2012 - paint on plaster wall, instalation view

The exhibition venue, the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill is a work of art itself. This remarkable masterpiece of Modernist architecture was designed by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff and opened in 1935. Commissioned through a competition launched by Earl De La Warr, Mayor of Bexhill, 1932-34 and Chairman of the National Labour Party - it was proposed as a socialist pleasure palace by the sea. It is a thrill to visit this unlikely architectural presence in an English seaside resort (indeed, there is precious little such Modernist architecture to be found anywhere in the UK) - and how heartening it is that the building was saved from terminal decline by the enthusiasm of local councillor Jill Theis leading to a refurbishment in 2004-5. 
(No doubt the building is at its best glittering in the sun with  a view across the blue sea to France; on the day I chose to visit the rain poured down, but it was still fabulous.)
Click on images to enlarge.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Postcard from New York, 4: Dia Beacon

Richard Serra
I have been to Art Heaven. Art Heaven is a place called Dia: Beacon and is a 90 minute train ride from Grand Central Station along the Hudson River. The train line follows the water's edge most of the way giving great views of the landscape and the bridges across the river and passes through wonderfully named places including Spuyten Duyvil, Yonkers, Ossining, Garrison, Cold Spring and Breakneck Ridge.
View from the train to Beacon - the Tappan Zee Bridge nr. Tarrytown (?)
Dia: Beacon is housed in a former Nabisco biscuit box-printing factory - and it is huge. The collection is fabulous and each piece is afforded generous space. The work of some 26 artists are currently on show and include many of my all time favourites: Bernd & Hilla Becher, Joseph Beuys, Dan Flavin, Michael Heizer, Robert Irwin, Donald Judd, On Kawara, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Blinky Palermo, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, Richard Serra... I could go on. (See here for the full list of artists.) There is so much here that is so wonderful it is hard to pick out a selection of examples - but, one display does perhaps stand out above all the rest: a whole series of Richard Serra's monumental Torqued Ellipses (picture, top). Two inch thick, rolled-steel plates weighing twenty tons apiece they dwarf the viewer who is able to walk into the intimidating curved spaces and feel the weight of the COR-TEN steel wall all around them. Terrific.
I also particularly enjoyed the beautiful Dan Flavin installation and was powerfully impressed by the scale of Michael Heizer's negative spaces dug into the gallery floor. So much here was just... wonderful. What follows is just a taste - (Click on images to enlarge.)
Dan Flavin
Michael Heizer
Donald Judd
Sol Lewitt
Blinky Palermo
Blinky Palermo
Gerhard Richter
Richard Serra
Robert Smithson
Robert Smithson
(See also: Postcard from New York, 1: Whitney Museum of American Art (+ The High Line); Postcard from New York, 2: MoMA; Postcard from New York, 3: The Guggenheim; click on the index label below to see all Postcards from New York)

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Postcard from New York, 3: The Guggenheim

Frank Lloyd's Wright's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is undeniably an impressive and pleasurable building; however, it is distinctly perverse. In a city defined by the grid and buildings that are essentially stacked cubes the Guggenheim is all curves; it seems to contradict the characteristic horizontality of the Prairie Style with which Wright is most closely associated (though, aguably, it does extend his belief in 'organic' architecture); perhaps most of all it flouts the Modernist architectural ethos of 'form follows function' - how could it have seemed a good idea to construct a building for the display of painting and sculpture as a spiral ramp? 
The interior spaces are beautiful - the building is a sculpture in its own right; as an exhibition space it sort of works but is undeniably problematic.
Currently on show are 2 exhibitions of contemporary work: Storylines,  a selection from the museum's collection organised around the idea of storytelling, and a retrospective survey of Doris Salcedo. Both exhibitions were very interesting but, in my view, Salcedo knocks the socks off everything else. Additionally there is a display of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and early C20 work from the Thannhauser Collection.
Doris Salcedo's work is rooted in her response to the traumas and violence of political oppression particularly in relation to her native Columbia. However, what makes her work so powerful and effective is that its physical form universalises its meanings - that is, you don't need to know anything about Columbian politics to be touched by the poetic images and metaphors of a suffocating loss of liberty.
Doris Salcedo, installation view
Doris Salcedo, Atrabiliaros, 1996 (detail)
Doris Salcedo, Disremembered
Doris Salcedo, Plegaria Muda, 2008-10 (detail)
Where Salcedo's work is visually strong and admirably clear and direct in its emotional imapct, some of the work in Storylines, I felt, suffered from its dependence on (often obscure) references and the necessity for explanations in order to make any sense of the work. However, there is good work here. Below is my top five, in alphabetical order:
Shannon Ebner, Instrumentals, 2013

Iván Navarro, Homeless Lamp, the Juice Sucker, 2004–05

Gabriel Orozco, Astroturf Constellation, 2012

Katie Paterson, Light bulb to Simulate Moonlight, 2008

Natascha Sadr Haghighian, I can't work like this, 2007
Finally, a selection from the Thannhauser Collection:

Paul Cézanne, Still Life: Flask, Glass, and Jug, c1877

Édouard Manet, Before the Mirror, 1876

Pablo Picasso, Woman Ironing, Paris, 1904
(See also: Postcard from New York, 1: Whitney Museum of American Art (+ The High Line); Postcard from New York, 2: MoMA; Postcard from New York, 4: Dia: Beacon; click on the index label below to see all Postcards from New York)