Posts Tagged ‘Nottingham Contemporary’
Two solo shows at Nottingham Contemporary: Yelena Popova’s After Image and Michael Beutler’s Pump House
Go to Saturation Point website for my review of two very different exhibitions currently on show at Nottingham Contemporary. Michael Beutler’s Pump House and Yelena Popova’s After Image. Whilst they are completely separate shows they do share some things in common, both artists work in their medium’s “expanded field”, Popova being nearest to painting and Beutler nearest to sculpture. Both create installations rather than single art objects and both work in idioms that have roots in twentieth century abstraction, branching out into their own foliage under highly contemporary skies.
Beutler’s amazing labyrinth of hand made walls, tools, furniture and models is a repeat-with-differences of the recent show at Spike Island Bristol. The differences reflect the different spaces, though they are similar in many ways, the link being the architects Caruso St John who transformed the Spike Island space only two years before their design of Nottingham Contemporary. Here are a couple of photos, but really you have to be there to experience it. Continuing in the tradition of the total art experience or Gesamtkunstwerk, it is a delight for all the senses.
Popova’s installation more or less divides into paintings in one gallery and a video piece, a digital animation, in the other. The paintings are at the same time wonderfully fragile, their images in delicate washes only just there, and robust, the heaviness of the linen and and clarity of its weave taking precedence over image, the arrangements of the paintings then becoming more important than any individual one.
In the digital animation This Certifies That, a collaboration between Popova and computer programmer Noel Murphy, multiple images of the Euro banknote, are randomly generated in constantly changing sequences, to the accompaniment of a mesmerising soundtrack by Nottingham based sound artist Rebecca Lee. The words “an excess of images leads to a crash” and “a new sequence begins” can be heard intermittently, perhaps marking the ending and beginning of each sequence. The narrative here references a late 19th Century political conspiracy, led by Leon Warneker, who, working with a loose grouping of anarchists, attempted to crash Russia’s economy by flooding the market with forged banknotes. The work surely also brings to mind the financial crisis of 2007-08 precipitated by the credit crunch. The continuation of the guilloché lines from the video piece into the surrounding space as a wallpaper looks like a ‘pure’ abstract drawing. However, as what you see is always more than just what you see, it is also a reminder of the all-encompassing reality of capitalism as a system, whilst the work as a whole suggests the possibility of the system crashing and something new emerging in its place.
There’s a very attractive monograph/catalogue available for the Popova show, with texts by Brian Dillon and Claire-Louise Bennett. Highly recommended! I wish there had also been a document for Beutler’s Pump House. However, Nottingham Contemporary have uploaded this marvelous video of his talk prior to the show.
I have written a review of these two shows for Saturation Point, click here to read it and I hope to write discussion pieces for Abcrit at a later date.
Both exhibitions are on show until 25 September 2016
The exhibition Somewhat Abstract, drawn from The Arts Council’s national collection, on view at Nottingham Contemporary until 29 June 2014, is abstract to varying degrees, and in a variety of ways. After all, both the following statements hold true, “all art is abstract” and “there is no such thing as abstract art”. Hence, the show’s curator, Alex Farquharson, can say of abstract art that it “is many things, if it can be said to exist at all”.
In the gallery notes we get an excellent discussion of the multiple relationships to the abstract characterised in the show (see fig 1), from work that is downright figurative but that either “verges on the abstract” or that “could not have been made without the knowledge of it” to the work of proponents of ‘pure’ abstraction like Kenneth Martin. There’s the suggestion that even the exemplars of abstraction like Anthony Caro, Bridget Riley and John Hoyland, are more connected to the ‘real world’ than we might once have allowed. I find this argument to be much more convincing in relation to Hepworth, Clough and Paolozzi than I do for Caro, Riley and Hoyland. The reference to landscape made for Hoyland’s magnificent Red Over Yellow, 18.9.73, seems somewhat spurious. The point being made is that the most abstract art may be more figurative than we think and that the old distinction between abstraction and figuration is no longer relevant. Certainly there’s a strong case for seeing ‘nature’ in the most abstract of works, if more in the sense of “the pattern that connects” to quote Gregory Bateson ; or in Bridget Riley’s own words: “I draw from nature, I work with nature, although in completely new terms. For me nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces – an event rather than an appearance”. So whilst there is a deep connection with nature, the work doesn’t become ‘figurative’, as Riley goes on to say: “These forces can only be tackled by treating colour and form as ultimate identities, freeing them from all descriptive or functional roles.”
There are also works that specifically reference abstraction, a relatively new phenomenon in my book, because whilst there have always been “paintings of paintings” and references to art of the past, the paradoxical referencing of a class seems to me to be a postmodern invention. Its power comes from a deliberate confusion of logical types. Abstract or non-representational art’s claim to the status of autonomous object means that it now becomes grist for the mill of representation, leading to the paradoxical position of art that is abstract by being non-abstract, and vice versa. Keith Coventry‘s CrackCity series here is a brilliant example of this. What, at first sight, look like appropriations of Kazimir Malevich‘s white on white paintings, turn out to be representations of the footprints of South London tower blocks, a critical comment on the failure of modernism at the social level, the design of tower blocks clearly sharing in the heritage of Malevich and Russian Constructivism, ending not in utopia but in dysfunction and ugliness.
Perhaps this failure was reflected in the choice by artists such as Kenneth Martin, of a specifically non-utopian abstract art. (Martin preferred the word ‘construction’ which he stated was “the opposite of abstraction”.)
The paintings of Tomma Abts, one of the new generation of abstract artists, recall the constructivist tradition. The contemporary resurgence of abstraction in painting and sculpture is acknowledged in the gallery notes, finding a distinct contrast between the abstract art of the middle half of the twentieth century and that of today, the mid century version being “associated with boldness of scale, conception and execution” (check out the John Hoyland) as opposed to the vulnerability of the more recent return. In Abts’ painting Heit, the scale is modest and the form looks carefully arrived at through multiple iterations. I see it from a distance and could have continued walking past without really seeing it because it absolutely doesn’t “grab my attention”. It is unassuming, reticent even, and it is only as I deliberately get closer to look at it that it discloses itself. Even then, one of its fascinating qualities is the white line that bisects the painting vertically about a third of the way in from the right. It reads like another of the lines on the painting’s surface, in fact hovering above the other lines in a space that projects outward, whilst being clearly the result of placing two stretchers almost together. The presence of the line (I am tempted to see it as a reference to a Barnett Newman ‘zip’) is in fact an absence, like the Lacanian “absent centre” of the subject.
The untitled painting here by Alexis Harding, is also modest in scale, without quite the intimacy of Abts, looks like it is in the process of decomposing, . The impression I have is that the materials have reacted with each other in an unstable way, the abstract grid becoming wonky, out of control in the centre, now resembling a figurative, almost cartoon-like, rendering of a disintegrating net. It’s a wonderful painting and seems to reverse the more familiar sequence of events in which a realistic image becomes increasingly “abstracted”. Here the abstract image becomes figuration.
There’s a strange abstract/figurative relationship in Daniel Sinsel‘s beautifully executed Untitled, where the more realistic the image the more abstract it appears. Perhaps this is the result of the close harmony of form and content, a flattened figure-of-eight arrangement of a piece of cloth, resembling so much the formal, literal, ontology of a painting: two-dimensional, motionless, fabric.
My friend suggests that, with so many outstanding works here, it’s difficult to find one that “stands out”. However, for me, the star of the show is Bridget Riley’s 1962 black and white painting, Movement in Squares. I keep coming back to it for another look, and even back at home much later, I can’t get it out of my head (a non-optical kind of after-image). In viewing this painting I start to become aware of my own movement in the gallery space, attempting to find a position from which to really see this thing and to experience it. The nearest analogy I can find is that of music when it is ‘heard’ not just aurally but when the vibrations are also felt, physically, in the body. Here, seeing is somehow also felt in the body. I have a physical sensation approaching motion sickness (except it’s pleasurable), and observing the reactions of others around me, I sense I am not alone in this. Now, this painting does seem to ‘grab attention’ but it also has amazing subtlety that I fear could be lost in first impressions alone. It’s too easy to let the attention first be ‘grabbed’ and then to allow it to be distracted with something else. This painting deserves prolonged attention. And it’s only then that its nuances are realised. It’s not just that studying the execution of it I note that the nails fixing the board to the support are just visible, protruding slightly above the surface, or that the earlier drawing marks shine around the blocks of black paint, those are mere details, it’s the way the structure takes on different emphases, and even that the squares of black and white start to look like multiple kinds of grey. In fact, now I feel sure that I am seeing colours, yellows greens and then reds and violets, in the pulsating ‘mid’ section (more or less along the golden mean), where the squares become narrow rectangles. I have the strong sense that colours are generated, issuing from the painting into the space in front of it. Admittedly they are faint, like a diffused light, only just perceptible. I absolutely cannot get this from looking at the reproduction, only from standing at a certain point in front of the painting itself. Then, I doubt myself; this subjective experience must indeed be so subjective that it is actually entirely imaginary. So I check it out with someone else, who agrees that they are also seeing colours.
The experience of looking becomes the experience of doubting my senses and then of starting to become conscious of my own process of ‘map making’, at the point just before my own linguistic abstractions start to come into play, which they do almost immediately and I get into a conversation with myself about what’s going on. At this second stage, I am a further step removed from direct experience, commenting upon it and adding meanings. These are my own processes of abstracting: the abstractions of thought.
This exhibition brings to awareness the many uses of the word, ‘abstract’, in art, in thought and in life. It’s as visually interesting as its scope is ambitious, and I know I will be revisiting it many times.
Artists include Tomma Abts, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, David Batchelor, Karla Black, Peter Blake, Zarina Bhimji, Anthony Caro, Helen Chadwick, Prunella Clough, Richard Deacon, Jeremy Deller, Barry Flanagan, Elizabeth Frink, Gilbert and George, Barbara Hepworth, Yoko Ono, Eduardo Paolozzi, Bridget Riley, Walter Sickert, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mark Wallinger, Cathy Wilkes and Rachel Whiteread.
 See Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature, A Necessary Unity (1979)
 From The Eye’s Mind: Bridget Riley, Collected Writings 1965 – 2009, edited by Robert Kudielka, p 110
 See Kenneth Martin: Construction from Within, in The Tradition of Constructivism, edited by Stephen Bann 1974, reprinted 1990
Walking towards Model Studies the Thomas Demand exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary, and having forgotten whose work was on show, I felt sure that I was walking towards an exhibition of abstract paintings.
In fact, they are large photographs of small architectural models. The scale tends to flatten out the space and to produce large areas of lightly modulated colour, hence the resemblance to American abstract paintings of the 50s and 60s. When you get a bit closer the space in the photos becomes more apparent, it reminds me of the space in a cubist paintings now. I can imagine the artist bending a craning to get into the tiny models attempting to experience it for himself, in a way similar to the cubist modelling of space, as experienced in time.
Demand is known for his photographs of life-size models, made by him, of architectural interiors like the Oval Office, paper models which are destroyed after being photographed. In these new works the models he photographed were made by the architect John Lautner (1911 – 1994), and discovered by Demand in the archives of the Getty Research Institute when he was artist-in residence there.
In this short video clip he talks to Alex Farquharson, the Director of Nottingham Contemporary, about how he found these models and about his interest in the status of the model: far from being a diminution of reality modelling is our way of perceiving the world and communicating our experience of it to others. (In NLP we think of models and modelling in a similar way. We make models of how people do what they do well so that we can teach it to others.) It occurred to me that these photographs, themselves 2 dimensional models, document the process of modelling. They show us something of how in modelling we alter scale, freeze time, distort space in order to ‘understand’.
When I was an art student, many years ago, our Aesthetics tutorial group were encouraged to read Against Nature by JK Huysmans, one of those books that I find stays with you for a long time, in that it keeps coming back to memory. I do not know how much that is to do with the brilliance of the book and how much the brilliance of the tutor.
When I was visiting Nottingham Contemporary recently I saw a copy in the book store and wondered why they had it there. Then, when I saw the Klaus Weber exhibition, it became clear.
Sun Press (Against Nature) contains layers of allusion to the natural, and our idea of it. A heliostat on the roof concentrates the sun’s rays to print A Rebours (Against Nature) by JK Huysmans in the gallery below. The ultimate natural force is harnessed to slowly reveal a book that was explicitly a break with the 19th century Naturalist style of literature.
An alternative translation of the book title is “Against the Grain” you can read the whole book here.
Visiting the Klaus Weber show at Nottingham Contemporary the other day I realised that one of the things I like a lot about Nottingham Contemporary is that the gallery attendants talk to you about the art, if you want them to.
I noticed that in this piece one of the heads was missing…
…and I had fallen for the artist’s little joke when I asked the attendant of it had actually been stolen or damaged or if it was part of the piece. You guessed the answer! I asked if she had met the artist, which of course she had, and was able to tell me all about his visit to the gallery.
The exhibition, showing until 8 January 2012, is in two parts: If you leave me I’m not coming is Weber’s solo show, whereas Already there! is Weber’s selection of artifacts from the Science Museum, The Ashmolean Museum, Berlin’s Bode Museum, Archaeological and Zoological collections of University College London and art works mostly from the Tate collection.
Already there! represents our tentative understanding of ourselves – belief systems since discredited or abandoned. The exhibition is perhaps a memento mori of our own scientific and social systems – now the apogee of human achievement. In the future our own artefacts will be just as charged and curious Weber seems to suggest – part of another natural process of decay.
(from the notes on the exhibition web page)
As well as the heads already mentioned If you leave me I’m not coming includes Bee Paintings, looking like abstract paintings of dots and blobs they are actually the record of bee performance,
every year when the bees first leave the hive they perform a ‘cleansing flight’ when they excrete, preferably on clean white surfaces. In this casethey have obligingly decorated Weber’s canvases.
In the little video I have posted here the Bee Paintings can be seen behind the Large Dark Wind Chime (Arab Tritone). What would usually be a small garden ornament, cheerfully making audible the natural force of the wind, is here a gigantic object set in motion by electirc fans and tuned to the “devils music” or the “tritone”. Click on the video clip to hear it.
The video starts with Weber’s massive “windscreen wipers” constantly clearing away the artificial rain that pours down the inside of the gallery window.
Should I be slightly embarrassed by the fact that my introduction to Jean Genet came through the 70’s hit single by David Bowie?
Nottingham Contemporary have a show about him (Genet, that is, not Bowie) running until October.
It is divided into two parts or acts. Act One is an installation by Marc Camille Chaimowicz entitled the Courtesy of Objects, featuring Alberto Giacometti, Tariq Alvi, Lukas Duwenhogger, Mathilda Rachet and Wolfgang Tillmans. I recognised the Genet I knew a bit about, in this exhibition which is about his early life, his books, his homosexuality, his friendship with Giacometti etc.
I did think it a little strange to see Giacometti featured. In my view, he is the major artist here and I wondered if I would simply have preferred a solo show. (Check out this blog about one such show).
Act Two, entitled Prisoners of Love, brings together work by André Acquart, Emory Douglas, Latifa Echakhch, Mona Hatoum, Glenn Ligon, Abdul Hay Mosallam, The Otolith Group, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Carole Roussopoulos, Gil J Wolman and Akram Zaatari. And this was the Jean Genet I knew nothing about. He had engaged in a lot more political activism than I had realised, including the events of 1968, and his support of the Black Panthers.
I found the second part of the exhibition the most interesting and I learned a lot about Genet. I am not sure how much of it I read as ‘art’ though. I felt more like I had visited a museum than an art gallery.
There also seemed to be something incongruous about looking at (wonderful) Emory Douglas Black Panther posters and other images inciting revolt, viewing Gil J Wolman’s ‘Scotch Art’ prints of May ’68 in Paris, watching the Otalith Group’s film set in Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, and then taking a short walk down the steps to drink expensive tea and coffee on the nice terrace of the posh restaurant.