patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

Rest and motion at Castleford Civic Centre

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Piet Mondrian suggested that humanity seeks rest within motion, or “repose through movement”[1] and he found an example of it in dance, referring possibly to the foxtrot, he said “each movement is immediately neutralized by a countermovement which signifies the search for equilibrium”[2].

Taking part in the ISTD dance medallist competition (ballroom, latin and sequence) at Castleford Civic Centre on 11 March, I thought that my own foxtrot seemed to have too much repose and not enough movement! Maybe I was feeling too relaxed after looking at the Henry Moore reclining figure on the way into the centre.

 

The reclining figure figures a lot in Henry Moore’s oeuvre, and he donated this one in 1980 to Castleford, the town where he was born, the Civic Centre having been officially opened a decade earlier on 24 March 1970.

 

The Civic Centre, a fine example of modernist architecture, designed by Derek Goad, is an optimistic looking building if ever I saw one, even now when it seems to reflect an optimism about the future that is a situated in the modernist period, when perhaps we believed more honestly in “a steady advance from the poor environment of the past to the more pleasant and brighter surroundings of the future”[3]. One of the features of the building is its facing in precast concrete panels manufactured from a limestone aggregate chosen for its weathering properties: “it has been found to get naturally lighter in colour with exposure to the atmosphere so counteracting the darkening process caused by the atmosphere itself”[4]. Apart from the darkening beneath the windows this hope, this countermovement does seem to have been realised.

 

I find it a hopeful place also by association, because of the activity (medallist competition dancing) for which I have been here a few times now. I go in filled with hope anyway! Sometimes I come out feeling even better than when I went in, other times less so. I first started to become interested in the building when I looked across the dancefloor/theatre and saw the wall sculpture, comissioned for the opening in 1970, silent, static, yet visually rhythmic (movement through repose perhaps). The dynamic rhythms of the dancefloor seem to be echoed in the sculptural forms.

The artist is Diana Dean, who was working with abstract geometric form in both painting and sculpture at the time, and the work, made in stainless steel, is entitled Symmetry in Opposition. I could wonder to what extent the title also echoes that idea of equilibrium found in the Mondrian quote above. Dean explained to me that at first the two projected squares were facing inwards with two corners touching, and then this changed to the outward projection which is why she called it Symmetry in Opposition.

Here are some photo’s of what it looked like in 1970.

 

I wonder if I also find Mondrian’s notion of the neutralisation of opposites in the contrast between the stasis of the final form Vs the activity of its making.

Dean moved to Canada in 1975, where she focused on painting and moved away from abstraction, the geometry hidden, as it were, within the structure, supporting the figuration. When I contacted her recently she replied saying “I felt it was quite synchronistic to receive your email this week as I had just begun a portrait painting with geometric patterning appearing in the carpet and all perspective lines in the room going to the left eye of the sitter. Maybe I am moving towards a new form of geometric abstraction again”[5].

A psychological reading might suggest that we are witnessing a “return of the repressed”.

(Thanks to Diana Dean and Derek Goad for supplying information and pictures for this blog post)


[1] Piet Mondrian. ‘Natural Reality and Abstract Reality: an essay in Trialogue Form’ (1919-1920) in Mondrian:

Natural Reality and Abstract Reality edited by Martin James (1995) p.27 quoted in Dancing with Mondrian by Annette Chauncy, in The International Journal of the Arts in Society vol 5, no.3

[2] Piet Mondrian. ‘The New Plastic in Painting’ (1917) in The New Life the New Art – Collected writings of Piet

Mondrian edited by Harry Holtzman & Martin James (1987). P.43, quoted in Dancing with Mondrian by Annette Chauncy, in The International Journal of the Arts in Society vol 5, no.3

[3] Opening ceremony brochure

[4] Opening ceremony brochure

[5] Personal email from the artist

Jack Bush Paintings

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The University of Warwick has an excellent public art collection of over 800 art works. They are often on show right where studying is being done, and you can phone and make an appointment to view specific pieces.

part of the original buildings, designed by the modernist architect Eugene Rosenberg who also selected the first works of the collection, nine in all, two of which were the Jack Bush paintings.

I had learned long ago that there were Jack Bush paintings here but only recently taken the time to go and see them. The only time I had seen any of his paintings in the flesh previously was in a one person show at the Serpentine Gallery in 1980.

Anyway no photographs in this post I am afraid, for copyright reasons, but here are links to photos of the two paintings I saw: Joseph’s Coat and Charcoal Band.

Even more outrageously colourful than I had expected, breathtaking to view, they are hung as a pair, and high up so that perspex cases are not necessary. Climbing the stairs, I got a really good look at them both, Josephs Coat from Bush’s Fringe series, on the left, slightly larger than Charcoal Band, one of his Sash paintings, on the right. They look like oil rather than acrylic colours.

We have the modernist architect Eugene Rosenberg to thank for the selection of these and other colour field paintings in this collection:

I am committed to the belief that the artist has an important contribution to make to architecture. The bond between contemporary art and architecture is not easy to define, but I believe they are complementary – that architecture is enriched by art and that art has something to gain from its architectural setting. If asked why we need art, I could give answers based on philosophy, aesthetics, prestige, but the one I put high on the list is that art should be part of the enjoyment of everyday life.

Written by Andy Parkinson

February 9, 2012 at 8:45 am

The magnificent Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens!

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If the social function of art is to imagine a world different to the present one, isn’t there something artistic about the other world imagined at Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens?
Clement Greenberg made the distinction between art and kitsch and I have no doubt that he would have classified these venues in the latter category. Surely, there is something escapist in any world imagined at a seaside resort. Once it would have been a very modern world. Today it is looking more like a world situated in a past time. And that nostalgia is probably a large part of its attraction.

It is well known that the tower, built between September 1891 and May 1894, was inspired by the (much larger) Eiffel Tower when the Mayor of Blackpool, John Bickerstaffe visited the Great Paris Exhibition in 1889.

It houses the Tower Circus and the Tower Ballroom. Dancing in the ballroom was the purpose of my recent visit.

Here, inside the ballroom, the tower is depicted on a tiled mural, as a prince among towers (all members of the World Federation of Great Towers).

The Winter Gardens is on more or less the same site. It is pictured here with the Tower behind it.

and here with the Tower behind me, as I took the snap

The Winter Gardens houses the Empress Ballroom, and it is even grander than the Tower Ballroom. It is magnificent, whether for competition dancing…                                    or for social dancing…

 

and the Blackpool Sequence Dance Festival 2011 was an amazing event that included both. Here I could easily imagine a world in which harmony prevails, even during those little arguments and stepping on toes, that all dancing couples must experience from time to time.

Industrialism and the Genesis of Modern Architecture (via The Charnel-House)

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Another brilliant post from Ross Wolfe and a continuation of the guest blog post at my site a week or so ago. Here he emphasises the link between modernism and industrialisation, and especially the influence of the machine and the techniques of Taylorism.

Industrialism and the Genesis of Modern Architecture MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE — POSITIVE BASES (CONTINUED) The spatiotemporal properties of architecture that were developed by experiments in abstract art reached their highest expression in the work of Lissitzky and Moholy-Nagy.  Stepping back from our analysis of this development, however, we may witness a crucial conjuncture between the realm of abstract art and the other major positive basis for the existence of modernist architecture — industriali … Read More

via The Charnel-House

…much of which seems to confirm the Ellulian stance I blogged about a short while ago: according to Jacques Ellul, modernist art is either an imitation of technology or a compensation for technology.

Whilst Kandinsky’s treatise Concerning the Spiritual in Art could be seen as a compensation for technology (along with the appreciation of the Theosophy of both Kandinsky and Mondrian), the paintings often turn out to be an imitation of technology.

Ellul suggested that Kandinsky painted like a computer. I think that was unfair, but it is also a point that is difficult to argue against! I think that the same criticism (it was meant as a criticism) could be levelled at a lot of the painters I admire, and the practice I have adopted.

Constructivism casts its shadow in Leeds

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At last I got to see the show Construction and its Shadow at Leeds Art Gallery, that had appeared on the Abstraktion blog a few weeks ago.

constructivism and systems

Constructivism and its Shadow at Leeds Art Gallery, May 2011 - finishing soon

When I mentioned to the museum attendant how good I thought it was she seemed pleased that I liked it (we all like to get a ‘like’ every now and again). She said that most people who comment say that it’s rubbish.

What? Most of this work is ‘old’, the exhibition is a reminder of a tradition. Surely, the fact of abstraction has lost its ability to shock, surprise and elicit “a child could have done that” by now. Especially this work, most of it is quite complex and I would have thought difficult to dismiss. Well, I have been wrong before!

In my continuing quest to see abstract art outside of London, I had a good day in Leeds. At the Constructivism exhibition I was particularly interested in the work by Jeffrey Steele. Later, I noticed that at the seminar I missed, about the influence of the British Constructivist and Systems groups, Jeffrey Steele had been speaking and I wished I had been there.

Jeffrey Steele

Jeffrey Steele, SG 1 62, Oil on Canvas

In the permanent collection of contemporary art (post 1880 I think was their definition) I saw a Robyn Denny that I haven’t seen for ages. When I saw it, I remembered hat I had seen it before, at Leeds many years ago. I also imagined that, back then I saw a big John Hoyland painting, but if I did it wasn’t there today. (Just checking the catalogue I downloaded from the gallery website, there is a Hoyland in their collection. I would have liked to see that)

There were three impressive John Walker paintings, as well as some by Terry Frost (not his best), and one by Gillian Ayres (Helios 1990, not my favourite).

There were some interesting paintings in the other collections, I particularly enjoyed looking at an Ivon Hitchens landscape.

Then, visiting the cafe was an art experience itself, not the food necessarily (which was good and reasonably priced), but the environment of the Tiled Hall

tiles

Tiled Hall 1

tiles etc

Tiled Hall 2

Floor

Tiled Hall 3

tile hall ceiling

Tiled Hall ceiling

tile hall ceiling 2

well, this is definitely the ceiling

On the way out I did wonder whether you could see too much Henry Moore (!)

Leeds

Henry Moore figure outside Leeds Art Gallery, looking away from the gallery

Henry Moore Leeds

Henry Moore figure outside Leeds Art Gallery, looking towards the gallery

perhaps not.

Leeds, Henry Moore Institute

Henry Moore Institute

We did go into the Henry Moore Institute attached to the Gallery (nice building) and looked at interesting photographs and sculptural pieces by Jean-Marc Bustamante, but in a hurry, because it was very nearly 5pm and they were getting ready to close.