patternsthatconnect

abstract art, a systems view

Posts Tagged ‘ballroom dancing

Waltz, Quickstep, Mondrian and the Endurance of Abstraction

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Mondrian, a keen social dancer, disliked the Waltz. It was romantic, emotional, and the rise and fall and sway seemed to denote the curved line. He preferred the Foxtrot and the rhythms and figures that would later become the Quickstep, modern, all straight lines, abrupt changes of direction, obtuse angles and speed. I could imagine that some social dancers like Mondrian might have expected the new dances to replace the Waltz for ever. However, rather than one replacing another they all carried on being danced, side by side, as it were. Today, no longer new, the Modern Waltz, Modern Foxtrot etc continue to be danced.

Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) Composition C (no.III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935 Oil on canvas, 56.2 x 55.1 cm Private collection, on loan to Tate © 2012 Mondrian/ Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International Washington DC

At the time (not long before Mondrian was in London painting, and dancing, with the Nicholson/Hepworth crowd),  I wonder if it could have seemed like abstraction might replace figurative painting. Now in the modern ‘modern world’ (metamodern possibly), both remain whilst newer art forms than painting are dominant. Like ballroom dancing, painting continues alongside more contemporary practices, and within the (in)discipline of painting representation and abstraction co-exist.

At the Indiscipline of Painting  exhibition at the Mead Gallery some of the abstract paintings on show question the relationship between abstraction and representation. The show as a whole explores the endurance of abstraction (arguably Mondrian’s invention), specifically concentrating on international abstract painting since the sixties. There is an international element to another abstract painting exhibition that opens in February: Mondrian//Nicholson in Parallel at the Courtauld Gallery where the relationship between the these two artists and their work is the theme. For a few weeks the Courtauld exhibition and the Mead Gallery exhibition will be showing in parallel, a short train journey apart.

Seeing them in parallel may give us a detailed view of abstraction since its early days, what has happened and what is now happening to it, especially now that we no longer think of the adventure in terms of linear progression.

At the Indiscipline show, Bernard Frize’s wonderful painting for example, has little continuity with Mondrian, other than its abstractness, neither in the way it looks nor in its attitude.

Bernard Frize, Suite Segond 100 no 3, 1980, Alkyd Urethane lacquer on canvas162 x 130 cmCollection of the artist, courtesy Simon Lee Gallery, London

Has Mondrian’s utopian purity been replaced by its opposite? Instead of painstaking corrections in the search for harmony we have a chance placing of colours skimmed from the top of the paint cans. Mondrian’s dislike of the curve was not shared by other early abstractionists, for Nicholson the circle starts to look like an image of purity, but not here. For Frize it even has a referent, the paint can. Also, long gone is the insistence on red yellow and blue with black and white, and whereas Mondrian and Nicholson thought of their art as ‘spiritual’ and somewhat lofty, Frize’s seems entirely ‘material’ and approaching the trivial. It is matter of fact, mechanical perhaps, yet not quite resigned or cynical. I still have the sense of searching, discovery and playfulness (or possibly gamefulness) that seems to me to be part of what makes abstraction continually new, interesting and endurable. In ballroom dancing, though the steps and figures of each dance were invented long ago, their repetition in each new performance continues to demonstrate the impossibility of repetition. Though I have heard it said that the ‘language’ of abstraction has now been invented, it is still very much alive.

Mondrian//Nicholson in Parallel is showing from 16 February 2012 to 20 May 2012, and The Indiscipline of Painting is at the Mead Gallery until 10 March 2012.

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Mondrian and dance

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Broadway Boogie Woogie, by Piet Mondrian is a clear reference to music and dance. Mondrian was a keen ballroom dancer, and some of his works are named after dances, for example Fox-Trot B, and Fox-Trot-Lozenge-Composition-with-Three-Black-Lines.

I read in one place at least the implication that he was a good dancer, for example that he practised dance steps in his studio and was known as ‘The Dancing Madonna’ in Holland. Then in another place:

He went shopping for painter’s smocks with Naum Gabo’s wife Miriam and danced with Peggy Guggenheim and Virginia Pevsner in the London jazz clubs. His love of jazz and dancing was well known, but Miriam recalled that he “was a terrible dancer… Virginia hated it and I hated it, we had to take turns dancing with him”.

In an article entitled Dancing with Mondrian By Annette Chauncy, published by The International Journal of the Arts in Society, she suggests that the paintings were possibly inspired by the dances, especially the Foxtrot, the Quickstep and the Tango.

I also found this little film clip entitled Mondrian and Dance at the San Fransisco Museum of Modern Art, suggesting that the paintings ‘dance’ more than perhaps we thought.

Written by Andy Parkinson

January 17, 2012 at 8:45 am

Take me out to the ball-room!

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Is it that I am attracted to marginal activities? I usually blog about abstract painting, a marginal activity if ever there was one. What was that article I was reading recently where the author was concerned that contemporary art might go the same way as Jazz: it will always have an audience but it is no longer a motive force for change? But then, how influential are  ‘mainstream’ activities anyway?

Going to Derby train station late on Saturday afternoon we got stuck in the traffic leaving Pride Park football stadium (for American readers that’s soccer – a very mainstream activity here in the UK). There we were, inching our way from one traffic island to another, and for a few moments I could more easily believe that we would be stuck there forever than that the system had within it the seeds of its own transformation. Needless to say, we missed the train. But for all those supporters having been taken to (or having taken themselves to) the ball game, for them half an hour stuck in traffic may have seemed a small price to pay, especially when you win 3 nil.

Later that evening, being taken to the ballroom, a marginal activity if ever there was one, less than £15 for the two of us was a very small price to pay for 3 hours of unalloyed pleasure. As we entered the Regency Ballroom in Sutton in Ashfield, the Terry Peters Big Band were playing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.

The band play here on a regular basis, about once a month on a Saturday night. As usual, they played three 45 minute sets: big band jazz and dance band music, great just to listen to, and even better to dance to. In fact, I can think of nothing more enjoyable than dancing to a 16 piece big band!

They played tunes such as “Just the Thought of You”, “Fascination”, “Fly Me to the Moon”, “Take the ‘A’ Train”, “All That Jazz”, “It Can’t Be Love” and “My Favourite Things”, many of them featuring singer Suzanne, my own favourite being her “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” to jive to and the Jive that immediately followed it: “Clementine” sung by the Band Leader Dennis Halfpenny (complete with dodgy lyrics).

There were modern ballroom Waltzes, Quicksteps and Foxtrots as well as Latin: Cha Cha Cha and Rumba. And where can you go these days to hear the Veleta played live, and dance to it (social version as showed on the link), along with other old-time favourites like St Bernard’s Waltz, Square Tango and the Barn Dance? And where else do you get all ages (more older than younger I admit) enjoying themselves together? And though there is a good licensed bar there’s too much fun to be had dancing than to be getting drunk (a very mainstream activity). I don’t understand why there aren’t queues all the way round the block just to get in!

Michelle and Nathan from M&N Photography were there taking a few photos and they kindly supplied these images and gave me permission to post them here. Their event website is www.michellehowardphotography.com and here’s a link to their facebook page.