Category Archives: Art

Comic Book Heroes, Blake Style

William Blake is a point of pride for the English, and they’re quick to remind you he was an artist as well as poet. I contend he was a man before his time, a comic book maker before comic books existed. The current exhibition of his drawings, prints, books and such at Tate Britain makes my point for me. Pawn attended Sunday along with artist friend J.

Blake was born in London in 1757, in Broad St, Soho, and stayed in that area throughout his life, passing away in 1827. While most American college students know Blake for his poetry, here his work as a print maker is at least as well known, and celebrated. Print making is how he made his living, for the most part, having been trained as an engraver. In 1788 he developed a new technique, Relief Etching, which allowed him to combine text and graphics (sound familiar?) on a single page.

Most of Blakes prints center around biblical themes and stories, and, as such, are somewhat a mystery to me, with my not-so-religious tendencies. I can still enjoy the imagery, of course. Religious stories dovetail with the overwrought nature of Blake’s work. Musculature is always on display, to the point of absurdity at times. Take this example, where even the clutching child is ripped:

The exhibit is expansive, containing tonnes of Blake’s work, including several complete volumes, many of which had previously been rent from their bindings, the better to be displayed as individual pieces. There’s even some discussion of this practice, and rumination upon how the viewing experience is changed when these images are encountered separately, as opposed to turning page after page of them.

One later piece, in the final gallery, is displayed with each page laid out, and a magnifier lens available to place over to aid in the reading. One visitor took this not as a suggestion, but a commandment, and proceeded to go from page to page with the magnifier, reading aloud the text for all to hear. Quite odd, that.

Enough of my prattling, for that matter. Here’s more snaps, cleaned up a bit. Then I’ll leave you to it.

These are from Blake’s Busby Berkeley phase 🙂

As with almost all of the large museum shows this trip, William Blake was heavily attended, the crowds making it quite hard to enjoy the works in many cases. The show, at Tate Britain, runs through 2 February 2020.

Inward and outward gazes — Part II

Okay, I’m back. Also at Royal Academy, alongside Lucian Freud, is Antony Gormly, a farily impressive mid-career retrospective, including some truly humongous works, six of which were commissioned or produced for this show, making full use (and more!) of the large gallery spaces of the RA.

The smallest work, 1999’s Iron Baby, isn’t even “in” the show, as it’s a rather subtle lump of metal on the floor of the RA’s courtyard; a baby, indeed, upon closer inspection.

Iron Baby, 1999, photo by Martin Kennedy https://www.studiointernational.com/images/articles/g/074-gormley-antony-2019/gormley-iron-baby-01-photo-martin-kennedy.jpg

The first room of the exhibit, attended by a crowd exceeding even that in the Freud show, is filled with early works, from the 1970s – 80s. I honestly had a hard time getting to where I could appreciate many of these, for as soon as one could establish enough distance from a piece to properly look at it, someone would step in to fill the void and thus obscure the work. As a result, I adopted the technique of simply trying to see what I could, and take quick snapshots of what I couldn’t properly appreciate, for later viewing. Here’s some of those, in no particular order.

From “Slabworks”, 2019
Crowds around more of “Slabworks,” 2019
A figure silhouetted in toast
“One Apple” Each of the fifty-three lead balls encloses an apple (still inside) from a different stage of growth.
“Subject II” 2019
“Clearing VII” 2019 — 8 km of aluminium tubing, coiled into the gallery space and then allowed to relax.

Now we are into the modern works, and these are huge, and huge crowd pleasers. Just getting around Clearing VII took effort. Not just from clamoring over and around the unspooled tubing, but working through the crowds of onlookers.

The next gallery contained Matrix III, 2019, a massive piece of lightweight construction. Twenty-one room sized cages made of construction steel mesh (“98% recycled” the pamphlet assures us) all intersect in the space above our heads in the large, central gallery. The effect is amazing, and finally calms the crowds somewhat. Some simply lay down on the floor beneath it, staring up, dazed.

One of the most successful, and bewitching, pieces is Lost Horizon, 2019, in which countless of Gormly’s trademark male figures stand in a room, on all surfaces of a room, peering aimlessly out into space.

Two galleries further along, past cases of sketchbooks and drawings (almost impossible to get to and look at) is a confounding pile of metal, piled up just past the entrance to the next gallery. A part of this assemblage opens like a hungry maw into this gallery, providing a path for those adventurous souls. This is Cave, 2019.

The next room, into which one spills if passing thru Cave, (Pawn, by the way, chose not to), is a smaller gallery with a door partially open to view Host, 2019, a large gallery, the floor lined with clay from the seaside, and filled with ocean water. The crowd simply piles up around this doorway, gawking and fumbling with phones.

So what? I love Gormly’s work, in small doses. His human forms are so simple, resonant, and moving in their mute vulnerability. In this exhibit, with the large and imposing works, one sees more than those simple figures. It is wildly successful, as the crowds and their reactions reveal. Matrix III is an amazing accomplishment in realization, and is both jarring and contemplative at once. Host, less so, for me at least; same with Cave. Although the jumble of metal behind Cave is a joy, in its irreverence to the hallowed halls of RA. All in all, I enjoyed this exhibit, but, once again, for the crowds.

Antony Gormly, through 3 December 2019 at the Royal Academy, Picadilly.

Inward and outward gazes — Part I

With a pair of Timed Admissions in hand, Pawn paid a visit to the Royal Academy of Art, in Piccadilly. These two shows — Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits; and Antony Gormly — couldn’t be more different from each other. The former looking, preeminently, inward, the latter outward. But also, in scale; the Freud intimate and close, the Gormly huge and expansive. This post addresses Freud, the next Gormly.

The focus of Lucian Freud: The Self Portraits is on fifty portraits made by the painter during a nearly 70-year career. From the first flat work from 1940, through to the last piece, completed in 2002 (he died in 2011), we see a wide range of works, from drawing to the thick impasto Freud is so well known for. In many cases, through supporting material — sketches, etc. — we see multiple versions of the same piece, whether studies or aborted attempts. Some of the latter are nearly blank canvases, with just an outcropping of paint on an otherwise incomplete background of sketch marks.

Hotel Bedroom, 1954
Sketch for Hotel Bedroom, 1954 (forgive reflections)

While there are fifty pieces in this exhibition, not all are strictly self portraits. Pieces have been included, such as Freddy Standing, 200-2001 and, from the same period, Flora with Blue Toenails, Freud’s own inclusion in the works is limited to his feet, perhaps, or some other reflection in a well placed mirror. Were it not for this being pointed out to us, we may well wonder why these pieces are in this show.

At fifty pieces this is an impressive show, especially as so many of them had to be scouted from private collections. But these represent just a small sample of the self portraits Freud made over the course of so many years. Most, alas, were destroyed.

While several of the pieces are familiar and widely known, as previously mentioned, several are held in private collections, so are less often exhibited. Here’s a few more snaps, mostly of these lesser seen works…

An earlier version of Reflection with Two Choldren (Self Portrait), 1985, we see an intention to depict himself with his hand on his hip, not resting on his waist, as it ultimately ended up (below)
Reflection with Two Choldren (Self Portrait), 1985

I don’t accept the information that I get when I look at myself and that’s where the trouble starts.

Lucian Freud

In this final series, including some of the last self portraits completed (which are preserved) we can see Freud’s acute reckoning with his own aging. (Note: Apologies for the crooked angles, but it was very crowded, and hard to get a good shot sometimes)

That’s all for Freud. More on Gormly in the next post…

Brexit-o-ween

I like my sex like I like my Brexit; hard and fast.

Street saying around Britain

My sex is like Brexit; glacial and unresolved.

Reality around Britain

The whole point of the schedule of Pawn’s current visit to London was to be here for the (latest) deadline of the UK’s execution of its Article 50 withdrawal declaration; Brexit. Brexit deadlines have figured in most of the last several such trips, ever since Pawn’s June/July 2016 visit, during which the ill-fated Brexit vote itself occurred, to such disastrous results. As with previous such deadlines, however, this one, too, has passed without resolution.

I shan’t go delving into the latest hubbub; there’s news channels and such for that. Suffice to say that politicians have learnt there are, in fact, limits to their powers. As for the whole Brexit topic, let’s leave it at this: British divorce from the EU is a worse policy decision than George W Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, but the ultimate effect upon the UK will be more like Bush’s policy’s effect upon Iraq than like its effect upon the USA. While it’s easy to see the Brexit vote as nothing more than the clear expression of the people’s will (it was a referendum, after all) it’s closer to the Bush’s fiasco than that. Bush lied to his own government, his own people, and to the governments and people of US allies in order to win his way. Brexiteers did the same.

Okay, so what does one do when the Brexit ball is kicked down the road? One goes to look at art, that’s what. So on Brexit-o-ween, Pawn proceeded down to Bankside, burrough of Southwark, and Tate Modern. Current shows include Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life, and what I’ve been referring to as a bafflingly comprehensive retrospective of Nam June Paik, the pioneering video artist. The former is big, bold, audience pleasing, and, due to massive phone-weilding crowds, unsatisfying. The latter is smaller, in the scale of its individual pieces, if not its scope, and, blessedly, less cluttered with the zombified masses of people mesmerized by the image in their phone rather than by the actual art in front of them.

One thinks Paik would have preferred it this way, and, for all I know, Eliasson would too?

Pawn witnessed the Paik first, and then the Eliasson, so here’s some snaps of each, in that order. But first, in the spirit of a day “…not spent, but well used up…” (in the words of Gilbert and George) in the pursuit of art, let’s start with a piece of simple graffiti found along the Shoreditch High Street, by Boxpark

The face, dummy, not the scrawl!

Now the Paik…

TV Buddha, 1974
TV Garden, 1974-77
Exposition of Music: Electronic Television exhibition poster, 1963
Robot family, father & mother
Richard Nixon television address, on a timer, first one image is distorted, then the other.
One Candle, (Candle Projection) 1989
Sistine Chapel 1993, shown for the first time since inclusion in German pavilion of the Venice Biennale of that year.

Ed Ruscha has adorned the Artists Rooms, and here’s his 2017 rumination on the US flag:

Ed Ruscha 2017

And now the one photo I took from the Olafur Eliasson exhibition, In Real Life. This exhibit was so totally clogged with people staring into their phone’s camera screens, that it was almost impossible to navigate the space, let alone enjoy any of the artwork. Also contributing to the claustrophobic effect of that was the fact that the hall was crawling with school children. Involving kids in the arts from a young age is to be applauded, but in this case there was far less supervision than required, and kids were slamming into artworks, slapping them (and each other) and careering about the galleries.

So this one photo I took? It’s of Din Blind Passager (your blind passenger) 2010, realized here in a long hallway, running almost the entire length of one of the exhibit hall’s walls. This hallway, narrow enough that one can reach out and touch both walls, has air- and light-lock rooms on each end, is filled with incredibly dense theatrical fog, and illuminated for almost its entire length in a vivid amber colour. Near the far end of the tunnel, the lighting changes to a very bluish white. One can generally only see about 18″ in front of oneself. Pawn took this single photo within this hall, of the unknown woman walking ahead of me:

And, of course, no visit to Tate Modern would be complete without whatever the hell they’ve decided to put in the Turbine Hall. Here it is Kara Walker’s turn. And this completes our tour…

Manifesto! The Velvet Reunion!

As mentioned in an earlier post, this is the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, but it’s also the commemoration of the student uprising of 1974, a full 15 years earlier, and a communist crackdown which followed on the heels of that.

So I went to the National Gallery, and caught my tram, the number 17, suitably enough, on 17 Listopadu, (17 November) street, so named for the more somber commemorative event.

A plaque there reminds us, in English & Czech

This, combined with my early morning hectoring (see a couple of posts down), served to jog my brain’s connective tissues and I suddenly realized why there were no performances at area theatres, etc. this evening.  The Velvet Reunion is today!  That explains those temporary stages I saw being put up in Wenceslas Square yesterday!

Doh!

So I caught my tram up to the Trade Fair Palace, which houses the more modern portion of the Czech National Gallery collection (it’s scattered about among several museums, the main one of which is closed for renovations until 2019).  This building, about a century old, is a functionalist marvel, and pretty darn cool.  Makes a good museum, too.

Turns out that this being the Velvet Reunion day, admissions to national museums is free.  Cool!  Still have to pay for the temporary exhibit I want to attend, but at 150 CK (about $6.50) I don’t mind one bit.  Less than the cost of a matinée at your local movie theater.

And that’s a bargain, since what I’m going to see is the Julian Rosefeldt film Manifesto, as it was intended to be seen, on thirteen separate screens, in one large room, all going at once.  Splendid!!

Those of you who were lucky enough to see this during the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival, or on DVD (Netflix has it, which is how I saw it, thanks to X) you already can imagine where this is going.  For those of you who know not of which I speak, allow me to summarize.  Actually, allow the mystically translated words of the National Gallery serve that purpose:

The 13-channel film installation Manifesto pays homage to the moving tradition and literary beauty of artist manifestos, ultimately questioning the role of the artist in society today. Manifesto draws on the writings of Futurists, Dadaists, Fluxus artists, Suprematists, Situationists, Dogma 95 and other artist groups, and the musings of individual artists, architects, dancers and filmmakers. Passing the ideas of Claes Oldenburg, Yvonne Rainer, Kazimir Malevich, André Breton, Elaine Sturtevant, Sol LeWitt, Jim Jarmusch, and other influencers through his lens, Rosefeldt has edited and reassembled thirteen collages of artists’ manifestos.

Performing this ‘manifesto of manifestos’ as a contemporary call to action, while inhabiting thirteen different personas – among them a school teacher, a puppeteer, a newsreader, a factory worker and a homeless man – Australian actress Cate Blanchett imbues new dramatic life into both famous and lesser known words in unexpected contexts.

In the anteroom of the gallery is an exhibit of manifesti (what is the plural of Manifesto?), many of which are featured in the film.  Here’s some unartful snaps of them; pardon the glare:

No, I didn’t read them all.  But, the photos are actually pretty hi-res, so I probably still can.  I did enjoy listening to the Czech-lish descriptions of them all from the multi-lingual tour guide who’s group was lagging a little behind me as I browsed.  It was especially fun to hear him explain such concepts as Fluxus, Dada and such in the context of today’s “Fake News!” world (his citation, not mine).

Now into the main gallery.  The darkened room is quickly filled with light from a large projection screen, which is filling with licks of flame as the first of the manifestos is spoken in voice over by Ms Blanchett.  I am drawn not to sit before this screen, however, as I want to get a sense of how the whole thing is laid out.  I enter further into the space.  The walls are all blacked out, as are the pillars.  All that’s not black are the screens and the benches before them.

The screens are scattered around the space, and not too close together.  Not all of the screens have sound on all of the time.  Some have sound throughout, but others only have sound at the “golden moment” (as I’ll call it). Back to that shortly.  Each screen is showing a segment in a loop.  All of the loops are the same length, and all have just the right kind of beginning and ending that they loop seamlessly, more or less.  I hadn’t recognized this when seeing them all strung together into a sequence, in the film.  But it becomes quite clear when you’re watching one and all of a sudden realize that you’ve come around full circle.

You can generally hear some sound from other screens around you, but it’s not intrusive.  Some of the characters voices carry more than others.  The high-strung, severe choreographer, for example, can be heard just about anywhere in the space, as can the vagrant with a megaphone atop the ruins.  The mother saying grace (sort of) is fairly quiet, as is the woman saying a eulogy.  But then the Golden Moment arrives.

This moment comes about 2/3 of the way through the loops, I think, but it’s not really clear to me that all of these loops start and end at the same moment; just that they’re synchronized with each other,  That much is clear.  At this moment, every screen is taken up with a close up of Blanchett’s face, who is staring straight into the camera, and speaking in a high-pitched, almost robotic voice.  Each iteration of Blanchett is speaking words which belong with that incarnation’s manifesto, but there is an almost unison effect between them.  As I’ve previously stated, this is the only time when all of the screens have audio, so it can be quite arresting when the stock trader you’ve been watching in relative silence suddenly is starring straight at you and barking out some pith.

I spent over an hour in this space, wandering about, standing and watching, or sitting on a bench.  I loved the entire experience!  The multi-lingual tour group from the outer exhibit found their way around, and tended to sit, as a group, before each screen, whilst the guide flitted about stage whispering to them in different languages.  I noticed one couple, man and woman in their 20s, just sat side-by-side in front of the puppet maker screen for at least four or five loops.  They were enthralled with it (easy to understand).

What a great way to spend part of my Friday!  I love this stuff.

There was a lot more to see in the museum, and I did thoroughly enjoy my visit.  Didn’t even drop any dough in the gift shop, because it wasn’t a gift shop, it was a book shop, and I don’t read Czech! 🙂

More photos from the day later.

O Egg
GREAT EGG!
OUTSTANDING EGG!
BONJOUR!

London Journal, A November Week

Just over a week ago the US held a national election. Then we fled the country.

That’s the simple version of events, but it’s really never the simple version, now is it?

The trip itself was fairly uneventful. Prompt off the ORD runway, quickly through LHR border control, and little turbulence in between.

Our first real encounter with a local was our cabbie on the way from Paddington to our flat in Southbank. Upon hearing our accents he asked if we were happy with our election outcome. Further discussion revealed that he was a firm Brexit supporter, entirely due to immigration fears. Had we told him we intended to settle, however, I’m sure he would have welcomed us, given our colour.

As with our last team visit here, X & I hit the ground running, as it were, with a show our very first night: Wordless! a jazz concert cum lecture put together by illustrator Art Spiegleman and jazz musician Phillip Johnston. It’s a history of the graphic novel layered atop a jazz sextet performance. Great stuff.

He opens with the works of Lynd Ward and moved on to Frans Masereel, H.M Bateman, Otto Nuckel, Milt Gross and Si Lewen. Spiegelman closed with a new, short, autobiographical sequence — Shaping Thought — which he introduced by referring to “America taking a nihilistic mudslide to apocalypse!”

Indeed.

But prior to our theatre experience at Barbican Centre, we stopped in at their Martini bar.

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This garish pod of craft cocktailing is a holdover from the Designing 007 exhibition from a few years back.

designing-007-barbican

Our bartender, a willowy waif, starving artist type with blackened fingertips, stringy hair and not the slightest whiff of pretension about him, took our order (£5 happy hour!) and then tendered his apology thus: “To all of my American customers I say, `I’m sorry’.” He then proceeded to whip up a couple of truly spectacular drinks. Dowsed the ice in a rocks glass with vermouth, chilled the Martini glasses with ice water, added spirits (vodka for X, gin por moi) to each glass after draining off the vermouth, and then stirred with ennui. Finally decanted into the now cold glasses, the drinks were served sans garnish (at our request) and met with accolades by us both. I think it was the ennui that did it.

An inquiry into the cause of the previously mentioned blackening of his fingers revealed him to be an art student, who just that afternoon had been dying paper pulp. Pawn suggested rubber gloves for future such projects.

Saturday, coincidentally enough, was the Lord Mayor’s Show day, which consists of a flotilla up tthe River Thames followed by a procession through the streets of The City, and culminating in fireworks from Victoria Embankment at dusk (an early 5pm here). Despite mist and drizzle we slogged our way across the river and up to Ludgate Circus and got prime viewing just as the procession approached.

The City of London these days most often refers to the financial centre of the country, but has historical roots dating back to Roman times. Indeed the London Wall — remains of the original fortifications of Londinium — define what is also called The Square Mile or, simply, The City. Even as the monarchy arose and various stages of city and state grew around it, The City has remained fiercely independent. The Lord Mayor does, however, extend the occasional invitation to the monarch to come and visit, and this is one such occasion.

The procession is comprised of various guilds and orders, Masons and Joiners, Nurses and Accountants, as well as military units, government bodies, municipal grandees, etc. It was a joyous event, that’s for sure. Here’re some snaps (note: coming soon).

Finally a repast at Slug & Lettuce in St Mary Axe, and a meet-up with our friend A. She had been fighting through obstructed traffic to try to get in some long postponed shopping, and seemed glad for the burger and tea we had waiting for her. Then off to Whitechapel and Thick Time, an exhibition of works by William Kentridge.

X & I had enjoyed a large retrospective of the South African’s work, several years ago, at MoMA in New York. This smaller exhibit focused on recent works, including environments, films, animations, book-arts and studies for an opera, Lulu, which, coincidentally, we were to see in two day’s time. A was tickled to learn that!

There was a lot to like, and some to love, in this compendium. Of particular note was the large installation, The Refusal of Time.

williamkentridge_install-view
This collaboration with a team of artists comprises sound, light, video projection, a large “Breathing Machine” and more. It was truly a stunning, enveloping experience. Other favourites include the many artist books on display and the film Second Hand Reading. The exhibit closed with another installation piece, smaller and more theatrical, Right Into Her Arms, which included footage, imagery, illustrations and sound from the workshop process for Lulu.

installation-view-of-right-into-her-arms
It was wonderful to have this little taste of this work prior to seeing the show.

Surprisingly, no show Saturday. After parting ways with A, we returned home to Southbank and stayed in. This is a fairly nice flat, tucked into a block-long side street, behind the OXO wharf, just west of Blackfriar’s bridge. There’s a Little Waitrose two blocks away, a couple of cafés around the corner, our choice of pubs, even a cake-making school! A damp terrace abuts the lounge through lovely French doors, adding some light and greenery to our stay.

A “Supermoon” hung in the sky as we traipsed uptown to Islington and the Hope Theatre (above the Hope & Anchor pub) for a Sunday performance of Rigor Mortis, an Irish two-hander of recent vintage. Jazz Dancing Criminals brought this stiff little one-act, fire breathing, chest thumping, pogo-sticking, drug addled, funereal farce to the Hope for it’s British premier following a successful run of its earlier “incarnation,” Urbs Intact Manet in Waterford, Ireland.

A drunken tosser has pinched his late friend, casket and all, from the mortuary, he discovers when he awakens, hung over, to the pounding on his door from his equally dissolute mate. They proceed to wok their way through a monumental pile of cocaine and a couple cans of stout as they wake their friend and debate what to do with his remains.

Irreverent, loud and at times barely indecipherable, it was a fun 75 minutes of Irish mayhem. Thumbs Up!


NPG have Picasso Portraits on special showing, so we went and saw it. Lovely stuff, as one might expect. The real treat here, aside from the expected and widely known masterpieces, such as woman with hat and self portraits, were the small sketches from his youngest days.

woman-with-hat-olga-1935 picasso-self-portrait-uncombed-hair
Often meant as throw-away pieces, these are little gems. Whimsical and light. Unfortunately, no good samples on the web to show here.

Lulu, the aforementioned opera directed and designed by William Kentridge, is based upon “the Lulu plays” by Frank Wederkind, by Alban Berg, and completed by Friedrich Cerha (English translation by Richard Stokes). This production originated at Dutch National Opera, and last appeared at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. The fourth producing company is Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Each country providing a new cast, the real attention getter is the stunning, almost literally, as in hit-you-over-the-head, visuals; a combination of projection, props and constantly unfolding set (set design Sabine Theunissen).

Here are a few images from the production (most from ENO, but some from other stagings):

lulu

lulu-kentridge1 lulu-eno-coliseum-778-700x455

lulu-solo

“Solo Performer” Joanne Dudley

Lulu is 3½ hours of discordant music, striking imagery and implausible story, but a wonderful time. The “Solo Performers,” Joanna Dudley and Andrea Fabi nearly stole the show, but Brenda Rae, in the title role, was amazing, as was James Morris as Dr Shön/Jack the Ripper (yes, really).

More to come…

An Embarrassment of Museums

Upon arrival in Brussels, Pawn actually had no plans, save one. Knowing well Pawn’s predilection for Art Nouveau, friend P had recommended a tour of the home of Victor Horta, one of the founders of the movement. Yesterday I went, and I must say it was lovely. Located in Saint Gilles, the museum is a faithful preservation of the home and studio of Horta, built between 1898 – 1906, and modified several times over the ensuing decade, the home & studio occupy two plots of land, side by side, and were mostly separate internally.

horta-ex

As much as possible the preservations, mounted over several years from the 1960s, when the building was saved, up until 2012-14, when the most recent renovations were completed, have kept the furnishings and finishes close to the original. In many cases, Horta designed furnishings have been brought from other properties, as have chandeliers, switch plates, etc. Wallpapers and fabrics have been recreated from designs of the times, etc. The effect is quite complete and one feels totally as though you’re seeing the original thing.

horta4 horta3 horta-stairway

It is breathtaking!

One stunning feature is the sculpture atelier in the basement of the studio, in which we find models and maquettes of many of Horta’s building designs, as well as a large etagere, in which common elements of Horta’s designs are displayed alongside their inspirations from nature — spider’s webs, flowers, plant stems & leaves, birds, skeletons & bones — in such a way that we are drawn to re-imagine these beautiful designs as composites of their constituent natural components.

horta5

Today a journey to the Bozar museum for a large range of exhibits in a grand building designed by none other than Horta himself, in the years between the wars. Pawn took the tram down to Royal Park, and finding the entrance to Borza closed (new security regime…) started to look around for the new route. What’s that sound? A strange, fascinating blend of Hip Hop and Brass Band is bleeding out of the park. A little investigation revealed the Royal Park Music Festival to be underway at the Kiosque do Parc de Bruxelles, having just opened with Wild Board & Bull Brass Band.

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This group, fronted by Herbert Celis, features tenor & baritone sax, trombone, trumpet, bass and drums, and has a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Here’s a clip from YouTube:

Yowzah!! I grabbed a glass of Cava and a seat in the crowd and stayed until the rains started. What a joy, a real find. If someone has tried this combination before, the rich flow and sharp edge, I sure wasn’t aware.

Oh, and I should mention the armed military presence, which one finds at so many events which draw crowds.

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Up with the brolly and down the stairs to the only open entrance to Bozar. One sign makes it clear that one must check bags, and many other signs describe the various exhibitions and ticketing arrangements, but nowhere can one see where to actually get the tickets. Well, carry on. Check the bag in a locker (free) and start to explore. A fine set of photographs by Colin Delfosse, Gbadolite, Versailles in the Jungle, grabbed my eye. Part of the Summer of Photography exhibition. Here’s three:

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But I wasn’t able to look at much more without being able to present a ticket, and finally someone explained to me that I needed to leave the museum(!), go across the street, buy a ticket there, and then return. All of this in a driving rain. Fun.

So, go retrieve my bag from the locker, grab the brolly, cross the street, buy Day Pass ticket (access to all exhibits), cross back, re-enter building, re-check bag…

It was ultimately worth it, as the rest of the exhibits were quite good. I won’t provide full reviews of them all, but at least a list would help:

  • A Lighthouse for Lampedusa
  • Facing The Future: Art In Europe 1945-68
  • After Scale Model: Dwelling In The Work of James Cesebere
  • Dey Your Lane: Lagos Variations
  • The Center For Fine Arts of Victor Horta: A Labyrinth For The Arts
  • Amos Gitai: Chronicle of an Assassination Foretold
  • Vincen Beeckman: The Gang
  • Open Spaces | Secret Places: Works from the Sammlung Verbund, Vienna

You can find information on all of these at Bozar’s website.

I did wander through the entire Labyrinth For The Arts exhibit, camera at the ready, as the exhibit was the building, or parts of it, at least.  There are a handful of thoughtfully arranged drafting tables, festooned with blueprints, photographs and other documents from the period of the construction of the building.  This in the hallways outside the grand theatre.  Here’s some snaps, these first are the entrance doors for the private boxes:

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Here’s some snaps I got in before being told not to (no signs) from Facing The Future .

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I then strolled through the district for a while before coming to the Palace square, and the Royal Museums. I chose Mus̩e Fin-de-Si̬cle and am so glad I did. Here the focus is 1868 Р1914, which happens to line up well with interests of mine, and also with a golden era of Belgian art. No snaps from this (I was a good boy) but here are some from their website and online resources:

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What a joy to see such fine examples of Art Nouveau furniture and fittings! These went well beyond the few styles visible at Horta’s house, and included many lovely examples of pottery, glassware and metal work. Pawn was in heaven!

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In heaven but starving by the time it was over. A wander down into the neighbourhood led to Café Leffe, a brasserie linked to the brewer. A dish of boef carbonnade was just what I needed, and washed down with Leffe Blonde. Yum!

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Okay, home again, blisters on the soles of my feet.

Banksy/Warhol @ MOCO

MOCO is a new Museum of Contemporary Art in Amsterdam, next to van Gogh Museum on Museumplein.  Their inaugural exhibitions are Banksy/Warhol, separately presented, in the most part, but with some overlap.

Pawn has seen several exhibit of Banksy, which is always a little odd, since he’s known primarily as a street artist, a Graffito.  Here, however, we see quite a few of his works on canvas, board, metal and wood.

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There are still samples of his street work, such as these, excised from their original locations:

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As for Warhol, while there are many familiar items on display, the real joy was in seeing some of his drawings and paintings without the Pop-Art angle.

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There is of course much similarity to be drawn between these two artists, and that is where the strength of this paired exhibition lies.  Here are some side-by-side encounters:

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Kate Moss, Gray – Banksy, 2005 Marilyn – Warhol

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The problem with this show, however, lies in the simplistic and sometimes baffling text panels.  One wonders if the curatorial staff has any clue.  Pawn was particularly irked by the panel accompanying Forgive Us Our Trespassing, a Banksy work.  Here is the piece, originally conceived in collaboration with Los Angeles schools students:

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The original version, in LA, was created by the kids placing graffiti on a wall, and then Banksy painting the window frame and praying boy on top of that.  Here, however, is the text the curators chose to place with it:

Like Cardinal Sin, a work with a biblical theme. “Forgive us our trespasses” is the 7th sentence in the English Catholic Lord’s Prayer, or Our Father, the most used prayer in Christian tradition.

Trespassing is also an act and word strongly associated wit Graffiti and street art, as street artists have to trespass private property in order to get a certain tag or artwork on a particular wall.

In this work, Banksy used a very literal approach by depicting a church window, which is tagged on with colors and by different artists.  In front of the work, a boy is praying for forgiveness.

The implication here is that the boy seeks forgiveness for having tagged the window.  To my eyes, however, the boy is seeking forgiveness for having painted the arches on top of the tags.  He has seen beauty in the colours of  the graffiti, and has converted the mess of tags into stained glass.  I think they’ve got it all wrong!

Elevation, Evacuation and Rapture

The day began with a stroll east along the Regent’s Canal to Cambridge Heath and Vyner street, to meet with the lovely ladies of Degree Art, my favourite gallery in London.  Along the way I received an email from Is:

Am currently sitting in the coffee shop on the corner of Vyner St as I had to lend my keys to one of the members of staff yesterday and because of the storms and flooding, the trains are very delayed and everyone is running behind schedule, so if I spot you coming down Vyner Street before I get into the gallery, I might leap out and grab you for a coffee in here!

There had been raging thunderstorms in the overnight.  Nothing too severe to my Midwestern sensibilities, but quite out of the ordinary here.

Sure enough I fond Is sitting in the cafe, and as we waited for the rest to show up, we had a nice chat about art & business.  Then off to the gallery to look over some new artists and confer on recent purchases.  A joined us there, and once all was sorted, she & I said our farewells and hopped a bus down to Millennium bridge and over that to Tate Modern and its new Switch House expansion.

The Switch House represents a significant expansion of the already mammoth Tate complex, and is a stunner.  Rising 10 storeys, just to the south of the Boiler House and Turbine Hall, Switch House springs from large concrete silo bases.  We first queue with many others for one of the four elevators to the observation deck on 10.  Shockingly, each elevator is quite small, claiming a capacity of 17 each, but we figure more like 12.  People pack into each car, often to the point where doors won’t close.  The whole lift situation seems poorly considered.

Here are views from the 10th floor:

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A points out just how new this addition is; the paint is still wet!

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The Shard, commonly known as The Salt Cellar.

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The neighbours likely didn’t expect this level of exposure.

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New Blackfriar’s Bridge.

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St Paul’s, across the Millennium Bridge, Boiler House in the foreground.

Once done on 10, we descended to 9 for the restaurant.  We were seated, ordered a glass of champaign, and made our selections — blue cheese soufflé starter and lemon sole main — when all of a sudden a klaxon sounded and a voice came over the PA, “Please follow your steward’s instruction and evacuate the building by the nearest exit.”

Lovely.

We walked down countless flights of stairs and spilled out into the rear courtyard. Here’s the crowds outside

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We did ultimately get back inside, but had to settle for a rubbish meal at Leon’s.  Here’s some of the art from the permanent and temporary exhibits within:

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We did try to go back up the tower, to the member’s lounge on 8, but the lifts were totally unusable, and after waiting about 15 minutes, we gave up.  Grumpy, we left Tate.  “Coffee and cake!” declared A, and off to Paul, a posh French patisserie,  we went.

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Shortly after we settled in to chairs at Paul, with our coffee and cakes, a downpour ensued.  Everyone in the shop looked on with awe at the sheer volume of water coming down; fists full of rain lashed the windows and overtopped the table umbrellas outside the door.  We hid out there over an hour, waiting for the storm to clear.  I went to find the gents, and what I found was a toilet spewing shit into the air, overwhelmed by the torrents of rain hitting the sewers.

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A long, grueling bus ride up to Camden Town took us to Oxford Arms and Etcetera Theatre for Rubber Duck Theatre’s production of Rapture.  This taut little show envisions a near future in which medical wonders have rendered much disease moot, and with the long lives which ensue, there is now a need to cull the population.  The process by which this happens is the Citizen Review.  Our four protagonists are there to represent, to justify their existence.  A fifth, the auditor, is there to facilitate the process.

I won’t delve further into details, but it was a good and thought provoking piece of social commentary, especially crisp on this night of Brexit.  Kudos to the entire cast, who took on archetypal roles with gusto and nuance (more than was written for them) and found humanity within each of them.