Category Archives: Art

London 2016, Day 2, Summer Exhibition

Yesterday was an art and recreation day.  After fitful sleep and early rising, breakfast ensued.  Then a voyage down to Green Park underground and out into the hustle & bustle.  My destination was the Royal Academy of Arts for their annual Summer Exhibition.  This is a riotous celebration of art, with over 1,200 works selected from 12,000 entries by a hanging committee of 10, including architects & artists, sculptors & painters.

Pawn was especially drawn this year by the news that among those selected was Sophie Derrick, six of whose pieces are in Pawn’s collections.  Sophie’s Shift 6 hangs in gallery 11:

There is so much to see in this show, and it fabulously presented.  Here are a few shots to give you an idea of just how dense the show is.  I would draw your attention, however, to how many “red dots” there are!):

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Above overview and detail of The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci, by Kutlug Ataman.  On these hundreds of small LCD screens appear faces of people with whom Sakip Sabanci, a prominent Turkish business tycoon and philanthropist interacted.


138: When They Come Out o Play, Mick Rooney; 143: Apartment, Seung Yeon Choi; 147: Facade, Tom Down; 137: Lesson, Max Renneisen; 144: Princess Aurora, Stella Parsons; 145: I Am Rick, Kirsten Goemaere.


637 (left): How To Operate As A Human Artist, Or The Antichton, Alex Anikina; 638: Jane Eyre – What She Wrought, Charlotte Cory.


599: Snowfields, Nadia Attura; 601: Grand Hotel II, Tracey Emin; 598: Inishowen, Tim Allen; 602: Grand Hotel I, Tracey Emin; 597: Puppet, Stephan Balkenhol; 603: Billiards, Stephan Balkenhol.



576: Solo In Blue, Eileen Cooper; 582: Luna, Eileen Cooper.


963: At The Sign Of The White Horse, Tom Barker.  The text reads, “A charming Georgian tableau, a young woman with a familiar dilemma, has she overpacked?  The coach awaits, Tobys loiter, perhaps the situation will have its benefits.”


1196: Rave In The Basement Of The Elks Lodge, Braddock, Mark Neville; 1197: Shift 6, Sophie Derrick; 1199: Mouthwatering, Oliver Dunsch.


1139: Iggy, Stephen Haines.


1051: David Noble Tractus, John Humphreys.


1109: What Unites Human Beings Is Huge And Wonderful, Bob & Roberta Smith.

More Art In Amsterdam

Busy day at the galleries today, as well as plenty of walking and some shopping and lots of crowds.

First stop today was Hermitage Amsterdam, for the twin exhibitions, Portrait Gallery Of The Golden Age, and Alexander, Napoleon & Josephine.  Since the largest crowds were heading towards the latter, I started with the former.  Glad I did.  I allowed myself almost two hours to stroll, enjoy and learn in these expansive galleries.

This former alms house for “old” women (those over 50) and later for similarly “old” men, built in the 1850s, have been converted into a truly astonishing gallery complex.  The ceilings are high, the rooms are airy, the installations complex and extraordinary.  An astute eye reveals just how flexible the space is, as large “doors,” wide enough to block an entire hallway, can be swung completely out of view.  These doors, acting more like moveable walls, can reshape the gallery the way many museums use velvet ropes or temporary panels.

In this case the exhibit starts in a series of small chambers which give us the back story of Amsterdam society in the 1600s, the civic councils, guilds, guards, etc. and how members of the upper classes moved between these and through them administered the affairs of the city.  These were Calvinists, almost exclusively, although they did tolerate other Protestants, and (to a degree) Jews.  The city was already an international trading hub — several of the street scenes include men in fez or turban — and the burghers wanted to ensure that the populous was more or less happy and content.  Discontent being bad for business.

The entry salon uses an ingenious system of projections onto painted walls to single out four civic leaders who we will follow throughout the rest of the exhibit.  This technique allows the incredibly well written text lead us through about 125 years of history, from the founding of the Dutch Republic through to the end of the 17th century, and, ultimately, into the present day.

The real focus here is on the appetite of the ruling merchant class for portraits of themselves serving the civic good, in groups, thus establishing their rightful place in the social order.  Almost always, especially in the earlier, more rigidly posed portraits, the men (and they are all male in the early years) are shown in two ranks.  These early portraits are of civic guard units — the long bowmen, the cross-bowmen, the pikesmen, etc. — are analogous to more modern military unit portraits.  As time progresses, and civic attention turns to more than just the guard and the protections they offer, to charitable works — alms houses, prisons, hospitals, etc. — we see boards of governors and governesses (yes the ladies do start to appear).


After this introduction, we enter a grand gallery which is hung “salon” style, but here that means only two ranks of paintings, even though the room is over two storeys tall.  Here’s an example:


See, the paintings are just so huge that they couldn’t fit any more!  Each of these is about 20 feet or more long, and, as you can see, about 7 feet tall, or more.  Several of the frames have metal joining plates in the middle of the horizontal segments, as can be seen on both of the paintings closest to us.  By the way, note the two smaller figures to the left of the closest picture.  Those are governesses on this board.  The text explains that the painter was likely not told ahead of time that he was to include them, and so ran out of space.


The large video screen, seen above, is used for a ten minute long explainer, which plays with the other images in the room and quite effectively draws us into the subject.


Here the large, central, gallery is seen from above in the second floor chambers.  There are several openings like this, into the large gallery, which allows for clever interaction between the exhibition content in the two locales.  For example, in one upper gallery, text by the side of an opening tells the viewer to look down into the lower gallery and identify both a woman (to the left in the right-most lower picture, above) and to her daughter in an adjacent (not seen here) portrait.

I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibition, and the creativity of the presentation.  Four stars!

Now, out into the city again, and to find something to eat and maybe some shopping.  Here’s a few snaps, mostly at a flea market, along the way:

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I was about to just head over to Rembrandthuis, but found myself standing right outside of something I’d espied from the tram a few times, DWDD Popup Museum.

I honestly had no idea what it was, but had been intrigued by the idea of a pop-up museum (something I’d like to try some time) and figured, “what the hell?”  Again, it helped that I had a Museumkaart, as DWDD accepted that for free admission, as did all the museums I entered today.

So, what is DWDD?  It’s “De Wereld Draait Door.”  I think it’s something like The World At Your Door, a series of galleries each curated by different person, each from the collection of another major cultural institution in The Netherlands.  I say, “I think…” because there was absolutely no English translation available for any of the exhibit text, catalogue, pamphlets, etc.  So, I was flying blind.

Okay, just checked Wikipedia, which tells me that DWDD, “de wereld draait door,” actually means either “The World keeps turning” or “The World is going crazy,” and is the name of a Dutch television program.  I’ve had a devil of a time learning more about it, but did find this list of curators:

Halina Reijn (Museum de Fundatie), Joost Zwagerman (Gemeentemuseum Den Haag), Marc-Marie Huijbregts (Van Abbemuseum), Pieter van Vollenhoven (Rijksmuseum), Jasper Krabbé (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam), Nico Dijkshoorn (Drents Museum), Herman Pleij (Museum Catharijneconvent), Jan Mulder (Groninger Museum), Cécile Narinx (Centraal Museum) en Fidan Ekiz (Nederlands Fotomuseum).

And this capsule explanation of the project (in a poor Google translation from the Dutch):

The World Keeps Turning tenth anniversary. The moment for a particular idea. Send ten patrons of the much watched television program to ten museums in the Netherlands. Give them free access to repositories and let them choose their own favorite work of art. The result is a unforgettable pop-up exhibition that will take place January 30, 2015 in the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam. A look not only in the treasuries of the ten museums but also in the spirit of the guest curators.

And also this magazine article, which is unfortunately in Dutch, as well:

Anyway, it was a cool, if somewhat mystifying exhibit experience.

After all that, is was back in a big loop around the neighborhood and up to Museum Het Rembrandthuis; The Museum in Rembrandt’s House.  This is the actual house, quite large and grand, in which Rembrandt lived and worked for 20 years, in the mid 17th century.  There’s a lot of artwork up, some of which are by Rembrandt, and some of which were in his rather large collection (he sold other’s art as well).

Here’s a few snaps of his Cabinet of Objects de’Art, which was a large salon on the first floor in which he stored all manner of artwork, books, sketches, models, etc.:

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Also intact is his studio, shown here with his large easel, painting supplies and various tools:

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Finally, the upper level housed Rembrandt’s atelier, the classroom and workshop where he trained his apprentices and they worked for him.  This was also preserved, more or less, and one can take lessons here even today, as several people were:


From here we’re led into a modern annex, which houses both permanent and temporary exhibits.  The temporary exhibit up now is Rembrandt’s Late Pupils, a hat-tip to the larger Late Rembrandt show up at the Rijksmuseum right now.  This was interesting, but a little cramped.  Did enjoy it, however.

Oh, and by the way, no I am not going into “coffee shops” and getting blasted; not that there’s anything wrong with that.  You know, it’s really something; everywhere you go, in some districts, you smell weed.  It’s kind of odd, that smell so distinctive, and so unexpected in such public settings.  But, it’s really only in some places that it’s so pervasive.  Other places one may smell it, but it does stand out.

Okay, that’s all for today.  I had a blast with this all, and again, get a Museumkaart, it’s the way to go!

Museums and musings


Tuesday, 5 May, brought both showers and sun, as well as one big thunderstorm and some extraordinary winds.  Whew!  What a day.  The most serious of the rain found me on line at the van Gogh museum, umbrella at the ready.  Good show, a real mix of Vince’s stuff along with many of his contemporaries, which helps give the entire exhibit shape and meaning, in an art-historical sense.  He and Theo had collected voluminously during the years Theo was selling art, and that formed the backbone of the museum’s collection.  Monet, Seurat, etc. etc. — too many to remember here.

I really liked a couple of the understated pieces,

Small bottle with peonies and blue delphinium (1886)

Small bottle with peonies and blue delphinium (1886)

Sprig of flowering almond in a glass (1888)

Sprig of flowering almond in a glass (1888)

Click the images to see larger versions at the museum site (which is really good, by the way).

Also was moved by this Monet:

The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer (1868)

The Jetty of Boulogne-sur-Mer (1868)

Outside there were pink flower petals everywhere, in blankets, like something right out of an impressionist painting:


Tuesday was Memorial Day, and a bank holiday, so Museumplein was full of people, as were the museums, as one might imagine.  However I was still able to navigate both Museum van Gogh and Stedelijk Museum just fine.

The latter had three special exhibits up, The Oasis of Matisse, Ed Atkins - Recent Ouija and The Stedelijk Museum in the Second World War.  I enjoyed the first immensely, the second somewhat and the third not so much.

The Oasis of Matisse is to that French master similar both in depth and breadth as the van Gogh Museum exhibit was to him.  In a similar approach, most pieces by Matisse in this expansive exhibition is teamed with one or more by a contemporary of his, and the effect is satisfying, informative, engaging and delightful.  We see often times quite similar compositions, scenes or subjects by Matisse and others, and through their work we see his mature and grow; we are given a fuller understanding of the movements underway at the time.  Fauvism is given a better placement in time and place when we see more instances of it, for example.

There is an awful lot to this exhibit; hundreds of items, in all the media in which he worked, and several, via his contemporaries, in which he didn’t.  There are the paintings, and the papercuts, costumes — both as paper maquette and final product — carpets and textiles, stained glass and ceramics, bronzes and works in marble, and notebooks, letters, envelopes and more.  The portion on the ground floor is given to the more manageably sized works, but the real triumph of the exhibit comes on the first floor, in the main gallery, where the largest of the papercuts are displayed; The Parakeet and the Mermaid, and others.

La perruche et la sirène, 1952-53

La perruche et la sirène, 1952-53

Woman in Blue, 1937

Woman in Blue, 1937

I have seen many exhibitions on Matisse, from a major (>400 items) show at MoMA in 1990, to Picasso & Matisse, at the Art Institute just a couple of years ago.  I’ve enjoyed them all, but I feel this one brought more to the table, and I am ever so glad I’ve seen it.  Much gift store shopping ensued. 🙂

It’s worth noting, lest the reader think I’m forking over Euros left and right to see these shows, that I’m not.  I bought a Museumkaart at Gemeente Museum, for about €60 (~ $70) I have a year of free admission to literally dozens of museums throughout the Netherlands, history, art and cultural.  Since the Museumkaart site is not available with an English translation, here’s a link to the Wikipedia page, which lists most of them.  This is like buying an enhanced museum membership in one card.  Easily the best investment I’ve made on this trip.

Enough about yesterday.  Today, Wednesday 6 May, brought more new neighborhoods and shows, and some good fortune…

I’m so excited; I just booked a seat to the opening night of De Nationale Opera production of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini, directed by Terry Gilliam, of all people.  This is a co-production with English National Opera, London, and Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, sung in French but with English and Dutch subtitles.  Ooh, I can’t wait for Saturday!  I was interested in the show already, and then when I went to book tickets, I just happened to notice that Gilliam directs.

My seat is not great, back row of the first balcony, but given that this is the only night I could see it, I’ll take it.  There were only a few seats left.

Today I went to De Dam (Dam Square), and mainly strolled around the whole area from there up to Centraal Station, down through the shopping districts of Nieuwendijk and Kalverstraat, down to Spui.  Dam Square is sort of like Times Square or Trafalgar insofar as it serves as a central plaza — complete with Nationaal Monument and Palace — and as a tourist center.  There’s Madam Tussauds, the Amsterdam Dungeon, and somewhere between 50 and 100 H&Ms.

Here’s a shop front I think some of my friends would like:


The shopping districts are a hoot!  I was looking for some heel inserts to help with my walking pains, and there were like a million shoe shops, but all they sell are Clarks, Nikes and Timberlands.  I did find a “Footlocker” which had some inserts, as well as Nikes and Timberlands, so there’s that.  I had a Dutch pancake, simple (just sugar and syrup), along the way, and did enjoy the World Press Photo 15 exhibition at De Nieuwe Kerk, next door to the Palace.

Final fight for Maidan by Jérôme Sessini

Final fight for Maidan by Jérôme Sessini

Istanbul Protest - Bulent Kilic

Istanbul Protest – Bulent Kilic

Russian Interiors - Andy Rocchelli

Russian Interiors – Andy Rocchelli

Side Effects - Kacper Kowalski

Side Effects – Kacper Kowalski

Okay, that’s almost enough to make me put my camera away.  But I didn’t.  Here’s a couple of snaps from the day:

Athenaeum Boekhandel

Athenaeum Boekhandel

Seafood Bar Spui

Seafood Bar Spui

I was going to walk over to l’Hermitage Amsterdam, but then the skies opened up, so I just hopped on a tram and headed back home, stopping along the way to grab some groceries and liquor for the flat.  The sun did come back out, briefly, around 15:10, but then a nasty thunderstorm, with pouring rain and sleet, came rumbling through, so, instead, I wrote this stuff, had some tea and biscuits, and generally relaxed.

Tomorrow there’ll be time for both Rembrandthuis and l’Hermitage, which are quite near each other, and more wandering.  The weather is supposed to improve, so maybe a canal trip will be in order?

In Den Haag, dag twee

Having recovered somewhat from his jet lag (is that Jet Laag in den Haag? Nee, is jetlag) Pawn has set about the city with a bit more purpose, but somewhat less resolve.

This reminds Pawn of a post his old buddy Dave Malekar wrote some years back, over at 100 Word Rant:

Read Cautiously

You know what’s stupid? The phrase “drink responsibly” is stupid. You know why? Of course you do. It’s stupid because the whole entire point of drinking is to escape responsibility. Like anything else, drinking should be engaged in with unflinching dedication and a wholehearted commitment to getting this damn thing done right. By “right” I mean waking up with teeth that taste like tiny ashtrays and a vague awareness that at some point in the recent past you have done something absolutely unforgivable. Drink responsibly? Then what – nap resolutely? It could probably be done, but what would be the point?
Okay, enough glory reflected from Dave’s wit.  Moving on…
Yesterday there was some purpose, and great resolve; find “Slijterijangel” which translates as “Liquor Store Angel.”  Described thusly on Den Haag Shopping, yet another blog:
In Dutch, they are referred to as ‘de zussen van de slijter’, the liquor store sisters. Aida (22) and Hoda (29) Shojaee are from The Hague. Aida has a management assistant diploma and was trained as a dancer. Hoda studied international business. Together, these strong young women run the trendy Angel liquor store in the heart of the city.
Now anybody who watches weekday morning telly in the states knows that when it comes to alcohol, Hoda should know, am I right?  I’m not sure, since I don’t watch weekday morning telly.  But I do know that any trendy liquor store run by strong women just has to be good, so off I went in search of it.
It’s worth noting that in today’s world of smartphones and GPS this is no longer such a problem.  And sure enough, even though I wandered greatly along the way — stopping to traipse through several shopping districts, have lunch, admire architecture, etc. — I did finally find myself on Spui, and next to a gated and closed shop.  Oh well.  I guess when Den Haag Shopping reported that:
These two women demonstrate an approach and enthusiasm that simply brims with energy. This is even reflected in their opening hours. The store is open no less than seven days a week (six days until 11pm). And it is open even on official holidays, something you don’t see very often.
I didn’t think to ponder what time they might open, something which is also not reflected on their own website.  Oops, not before 2PM it seems.  Do not fret, but enjoy this video, Haarlem Shake in Angel Liquor Store, instead



I ended up shopping at the far more prosaic Gall & Gall, just down Zoutmanstraat from here.

So that was yesterday and this is today, day two in The Hague, and a day embraced with great hope and desire, but little expectation and frail resolve.  Purpose?  Yes, there was the conference to check in with, which was dealt with early.  Then there was the matter of returning to the hotel to scope out plans for attending conference sessions (none today worth the bother) and trying to get in at least a little culture before leaving for Amsterdam in three day’s time (3 May).
The latter greatly assisted by various web searches and map pondering and the like, narrowed down, at least initially, to Gemeente Museum, GEM and Fotomuseum Den Haag, all clustered together not too far northwest of the lovely Hotel Sebel.
Off I went.
I walked.
It bears mentioning that even though I whole heartedly embrace the wonderful public transportation options here — train, tram and bus — I have had spectacularly bad luck with timing.  This has been reflected in walking out the door, a block from the tram stop, on at least four separate occasions so far, only to see the tram already at the stop, and pulling away.  Also in waiting at the Mariahoeven bound 24 stop long enough that three (3) different buses should have come, yet none did (last night).  Today, however, I figured that I would just walk anyway, and then take the tram back (the 17, my tram, stops right in front of the museums).
The draw, for me, at these museums was a massive, sprawling, comprehensive, retrospective, Hollands Deep, on the work of photographer Anton Corbijn.  You may not know him, but you know his work.  He has shot portraits of the famous for decades, album covers for everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Bon Jovi to Johnny Rotten to Kim Wilde, Depeche Mode to Smashing Pumpkins, Nick Cave to the Rolling Stones, Nirvana to Courtney Love, the Bee Gees to Metallica.  His portraits of Miles Davis and Lucien Freud are iconic, as are his many portfolio over the years from Famouz to Star Trak to strippinggirls.
Here’s a few of my faves, snapped in the gallery of Gemeente Museum where Hollands Deep is located:
Nick Cave - London 1988

Nick Cave – London 1988

Tom Waits

Tom Waits

David Bowie

David Bowie

Assorted people from Famouz

Assorted people from Famouz

More people from Famouz

More people from Famouz

Nick Cave - 33 Still Lives (1999)

Nick Cave – 33 Still Lives (1999)

Damien Hirst - Everybody Hurts (2003)

Damien Hirst – Everybody Hurts (2003)

Patti Smith - 33 Still Lives (1999)

Patti Smith – 33 Still Lives (1999)

David Byrne - 33 Still Lives (1999)

David Byrne – 33 Still Lives (1999)

You get the idea.  But wait, there’s more.  The subject is so huge that it spilled into the neighboring Fotomuseum, for the sister exhibition, 1-2-3-4, where there were mostly portfolio of the different musicians he’d worked with, such as:

John Hiatt - LA 1988

John Hiatt – LA 1988

The first time I met Nick - 1982

The first time I met Nick – 1982

Kim Wilde - London 1980

Kim Wilde – London 1980

It bears noting that the catalogues from these exhibits ar extraordinarily well made, with thick pages and exquisite printing.  No, I did not buy them (to haul home) but likely will (once I get back there).  The two volumes, together, weigh about as much as my luggage for this trip. 🙂

Lest you think I saw nothing but Corbijn, here’s some other treasures along the way.  In Gemeente Museum is a stunning gallery full of Francis Bacon’s work, the center of which is occupied by a humongous carousel:

Bacon gallery with carousel - view I

Bacon gallery with carousel – view I

Bacon gallery with carousel - view II

Bacon gallery with carousel – view II

GEM, the modern art museum, currently features and expansive exhibition of Charles Avery’s work, entitled What’s The Matter With Idealism?:

Charles Avery

Charles Avery

Finally, there’s the gift shops.  At Gemeente Museum I grabbed a copy of strippinggirls, a joint effort between Marlene Dumas and Anton Corbijn, in which they went to the strip clubs of Amsterdam, met the performers, and produced both paintings (Dumas) and photographs (Corbijn) of them:

WARM - From Strippinggirls

WARM – From Strippinggirls

Marlene Dumas - strippinggirls

Marlene Dumas – strippinggirls

And lastly, an assortment of postcards from both Gemeente Museum and Fotomuseum, including these two gems:

Iggy Pop & The Stooges

Iggy Pop & The Stooges

Ata Kando - Haute Couture, Paris 1954

Ata Kando – Haute Couture, Paris 1954

But now that I’m back at the hotel, having thoroughly enjoyed my outing, my resolve to do any more is shattered, as my feet are all pain and strain.  No more long treks today.  Perhaps a quick outing to a cafe along Zoutmanstraat for dinner, and then reading in the room, while letting these tired dogs relax a bit.


PS – It’s come to my attention that CNN has a pretty good story up about these shows.

Warhol, Burroughs and Lynch; Oh My!

The Photographer’s Gallery is a true gem of London, and one to which I keep returning.  This trip we find a trio of iconoclastic artists exhibited here who are primarily known for their work outside photography; William S. Burroughs, David Lynch and Andy Warhol.  Of the three, only Warhol based much of his regular art practice on the form.

First, however, we need food, so go to the Coach and Horses, formerly frequented by Jeffrey Bernard, a dissolute and dissipated writer for Private Eye and The Spectator.  They’ve gone all veggie, however, so we quickly flee and find succour at Thai Cottage nearby.  They are renown for having caused a terrorist alert several years ago whilst cooking down chilli peppers for a special condiment.

Once at the gallery, we start at the top, literally, with David Lynch, The Factory Photographs, on Floor 5.  These images, about 90 in total, are from abandoned factory-scapes in Lodz, Poland, England and the US.  All black and white, the mood of these photos seems not the least out of character for Lynch, whose eerie industrial score accompanies the exhibit.

David_Lynch_Factory David_Lynch_Factory_Photo

Floor 4 houses Taking Shots: The Photography Of William S. Burroughs, a collection of the prominent author’s personal photography, collages, constructions and some commercially exhibited works.  Mostly amateur in feeling, one can still see Burroughs literary techniques in visual form here, too.

burroughs-portrait-in-mirror burroughs_collage


The Andy Warhol exhibit, Photographs 1976 – 1987, is much closer to his familiar work than that of Lynch or Burroughs.  Some of Warhol’s most memorable pieces, after all, the boldly coloured portraits of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe or Joan Collins, are based on photographs after all.  Several on exhibit here, such as this piece featuring Jerry Hall, are stitched together (literally, by seamstresses) in arrays of 4, 6 or 10 images:


All in all, a nice day at the gallery.

We followed this up with wanders around Cavendish Square and a visit in a Soho wine bar with friend C, who had come in from Hanwell for the day.  So nice to see her again!

Fool’s Gold

Neither X nor I had been to Saatchi Gallery, nor had A, so there we went on Friday, the 21st. As the title of this post implies, we were in concordance that Mr Saatchi’s wealth exceeds his taste, at least where art is concerned.

Oh, we did all seem to agree on the impactful nature of Marianne Vitale’s Markers (2011):


X liked Kasper Kovitz’s Carnalitos (2010):


A liked Kate Hawkins’ Hans Heights (2012):


I liked some of the Tanyth Berkeley photographs (those reminiscent of Sargent’s work):


Okay? ‘Nuff said…

Art is…

Art is… Industry, Work, Opportunity, Fun, Corrupt, Expensive, Social, Isolated,

Lots of fun today with friend A and her young charges, D (11 year old boy) and F (5 year old girl), the children of friends, whom she minds regularly. We made arrangements to meet at Whitechapel Gallery for the Hannah Höch exhibit. We had also planned to meet sculptor Claire Palfreyman there, from whom Pawn bought a lovely piece a few years back.


We thoroughly enjoyed the Höch exhibit, which focused on the prolific collage artist and original Dada-ist. Seeing how Höch’s work evolved over her life, from the early work in the 19-teens, up through the pre-war and war years, and then on to the end of her life, was like reading a memoir; that closely did her work track her life. Having the young ones along to share that with was instructive, too. Young D, himself an avid drawer, was at first somewhat cold to the work, but as we discussed Höch’s use of humour (he hadn’t quite got it initially) and he looked more closely at the sometimes yellowed paper, he came to appreciate it more and more.

F, however, was more fascinated with her game/camera toy she had brought along. Seems the art was hung just too high for her to see it well, amongst the crowd. Once people had spread out a bit more, though, we convinced her to try looking at the work from a couple paces back, and then she could see it without straining her neck too much. She was also quite good at reading the placards by each piece, which gave her a sense of accomplishment.

One thing which D came to appreciate, especially as we progressed through the galleries which focused on Höch’s war time existence. We talked about the concept of “degenerate” art and how demoralizing it was for artists like Höch to have to essentially hide in their own country during the war. Then the joyous release which followed the end of the war. We talked about the nature of political art, and he contrasted themes of the pre- and post-war work with the apolitical pieces done during the war. One phenomenon we both noted was that within a couple of years of the war’s end, she largely abandoned political themes, seemingly content with the state of things, or disinterested following her wartime cloistering.

The kids were particularly entranced by some of the later work, from the 60s, made with colourful magazine pages.One incorporated the bare bum of a woman on a beach. “Butt Cheeks!” became the repeated exclamation of little F, as she taunted her older, and ever so slightly scandalized, brother.

A helpful gallery staffer insisted on bringing the kids a “family trail” publication, which included materials and instructions of making one’s own photo-collages. A nice gesture, and the kids jumped at it.

As it was approaching our meeting time with Claire, we proceeded down to the street to feed the kids at a nearby café, and wait for her to arrive. Alas, our meal (quite good, at Café Dulcé) came and went and still no Claire. We messaged her, and called, but to no avail.

Back at the gallery we ventured into Kader Attia’s installation, “Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs Ladder.” This is a fabulous assemblage of shelves, books, museum cases, artifacts and such. The focus is putatively on the mythos of discovery and invention, the wonderment which fuels scientific inquiry and artistic endeavour both, that special magic which seems to envelop these pursuits with romantic import so much more than our own prosaic activities.

Kader Attia - jacobs ladder

Floor to ceiling shelves create walls of books — many in foreign languages — on everything from anatomy to philosophy, botany to astrology, phrenology, biology, zoology, travels of discovery and pursuits of wealth and machismo. On the far side of these walls of books, 10 metres on a side, is an opening which leads to an inner core of museum display cases, filled with scientific intruments; telescopes and microscopes, philosopher’s stone, chemistry set artifacts from centuries past, taxidermy samples, more books and illustrations, photographic plates and microscope slides.

kader attia whitechapel

“If you could see inside your own mind, do you think it would look like this?” D asked me, as his little sister sat on a ladder rung thumbing a volume on osteology. I pondered his question for a moment, baffled both at its depth and its obviousness. This young man had succinctly and elegantly distilled my own wonder at the assemblage into one simple thought, masterfully. “Yes,” I answered, “exactly like this, and the cases in the center would hold whatever it was I was thinking about at the moment.” “Right.” said D, happy that he understood things properly.

Finally we gave up on meeting Claire and started to trip up to Vyner street, and our appointment with the fine folk at Degree Art for tea and more new art. On the bus, my phone set to vibrate, and messages suddenly delivered through Whatsapp revealed that as Claire was trying to meet us, she was mugged and robbed just two blocks from Whitechapel! Shaken and dejected, she had gone to police station, and then to her husband’s office and home. Oh how we were all shaken and upset at this news. The kids set to scheming the proper punishment for the perpetrators of such a crime, while I messaged back and forth with her to make sure she was okay.

“Vyner Street has changed so!” A exclaimed as we started down the narrow close from Cambridge Heath Road in north east London. A had sent me when first we met, back in 2010, when I had asked for tips of where to see new work in town. Now, some years later, she didn’t much recognize the place. A few of the old galleries were still extant, such as ¢ell, but many more, like Monica Bobinski, are relocated or gone entirely. Degree themselves have moved from where I first encountered them to a smaller but more flexible space.

Degree are close to my heart in terms of their approach to art and artists. Their focus is on young, emerging, artists, and they work closely with art schools and colleges across southeast England. Please check out their impressive website for more details.

For the second time in as many years, they are hosting X and I for tea, and we rewarded them by dragging A and the kids along, too! 🙂 This is a bit of a shopping trip for me, truth be told, and they likely sense that. I’ve asked to see certain artists’ work which I’ve admired over the past couple of years (since our last visit) but which I’ve hesitated to buy based only on web images. A & X both suspect I’m shopping, and needle me sometimes on my profligate spending on art (tho A has benefited from it, too).

D asks, as we walk down the lane, if I’m planning to buy anything. This sets X and A to scheming, and X instructs D, “If you see me signal, like this,” she drags an index finger across her throat, “then you speak up and say `But daddy, we need new shoes, and we haven’t a thing to eat!’ Can you say that for me?” D and F practice this prank, as we continue towards the gallery.

Once inside, Isobel and Elinor busy themselves with welcomes and can we take your coats and set out glasses of water and such, some sticky buns for the kids. The gallery is a fright; “we are in a bit of a dusty, dishevelled state today!” Isobel had written, earlier, “we are having refurbishments at the gallery, they were due to start next Monday, but they in fact have started earlier.” It was fine, in fact, and amidst the stacks of art, all carefully bundled and wrapped against the dust and disturbance, and the temporarily displaced furniture.

Over to one side a divan was pressed into service as a temporary display easel, and on it were works by the artists I had requested. Last time Degree had brought in Sophie Derrick, a fovourite artist of mine, to have tea with us, along with some of her work. No artists today, however, just the work, which allowed for a less formal, and more frank discussion of the work. Up today were Becky Boston for her underwater photography series, Corrine Perry for her moody monochromatic photo projects, Melancholia and Delirium, and Andrew Newton for his obliterated portraits.

When I left the art for a moment to grab a glass of water from the table, where the kids were industriously working away, D on sketches and F on writing sentences in a workbook, D asked me if I was going to buy anything; “These cakes are quite good, so I think you should buy something.” So much for the scheming.

We had a wonderful time at Degree, and talked widely about art and commerce. A discussed her work — fine art, cartoons, photography — with Elinor, and we all shared links and thoughts on favourite artists, artists’ tools and the like. But finally it was time to go. The kids were prety worked up from the long day, the sugary cakes and all the new experiences. We said our goodbyes and tottered on back down the lane to the heath road, and parted ways. A and the kids to walk to their nearby home, and X & I to north London and the Courtyard Theatre for this evening’s fare.

A bus across to Hackney and then a short stroll brought us to the theatre, but we had hours to spare, and hungry, so went in search of something to eat. Along the way we came across Book Art Bookshop, and couldn’t resist entering. Oh my! What a treat this little shop! Floor to ceiling shelves hold a full collection of handmade, small press and other artist books. We won’t detail all the shopping which ensued, but suffice to say I could have used little D and his plaintiff cries to dissuade me from spending as much as I did!

The shopkeep did recommend a fine place for dinner and cocktails, which we mightily enjoyed. Then back to the theatre for the shows. More on that later…

Art Is Hard

We just have one thing to say to all of you hangers-on out there, living vicariously through us, our intrepid voyagers; Art Is Hard! This is hard work, what with all of the gallery-going-to, art-looking-at, admiring-comment-making, thoughtful-shrug-giving, donation-avoidance-scheming. There’s the endless-queuing, ticket-wrangling, schedule-management, compatriot-negotiation, stealth-cameraphone-operation, snivelling-kid-dodging. Aircraft, buses, water taxi, subway, funicular, skateboard, walking, whatever means of transport is required to get us before art so that we may systematically observe, appreciate, admire, dismiss and glom onto the art which you so desire us to tell you what to think about.

It is hard work, but we do not shrink from it. No, my good friend, we embrace the challenge and rise to it. Or, as is the case today, we ultimately cower and wither from it. Some days it’s just too hard!

Such it turned out to be today.

We started our day rather late. Neither X nor I slept well at all, and X was in bed so late that A, calling at the civilized (to some) hour of 9 said, “Wake her, she must get onto GMT!” To which X replied, “A has put the MEAN back in Greenwich Mean Time!” Indeed, a stern taskmaster is A.

Finally dragged ourselves from the flat near 1pm, and forged a path to the Design Museum for a gander at their new Paul Smith exhibit. Ooph! What a steaming hot load of design was Mr. Smith wielding!! There is a charming little recreation of his original shop stall, “3 x 3 square metres” says he, and it is a cramped little room to navigate, what with all of the too-too visitors holding their iPhones and Androids out at arm’s length to snap photos. How many fashion victims armed with cameraphones does it take to ruin an exhibit? That I’ll leave you to ponder.

Smith in his first stall

Smith in his first stall

Proceeding on from the reproduction of Smith’s original market stall is a recreation of his study, which is festooned with all of the bric-a-brac and detritus of a messy office (the sign of a healthy mind). From there we enter a reproduction of the cutting room, where all the striped designs Smith is so famed for come into being. A sound track of Bowie loops endlessly from one of the many vintage iMacs in the exhibit.

Smith's study

Smith’s study

Thankfully that’s the end of the recreations. They’re fine for what they are, but are more olde-timey anthropology-museumy than a design exhibit calls for. The next gallery displays the results of collaborations Smith has forged with others, such as Mini, the car brand, or John Lobb, the handmade British shoe label. This room brings design alive with result, while the earlier rooms brood with intent. Input: outcome.

One is struck, almost immediately, by the exhibit text; it is all written in the first person, as if by Smith himself (perhaps it is?). This is quite effective, as he is speaking to us as if we are aspiring designers, ourselves, and not just accolytes or interested observers. He pulls us into his passion for good design, and thus allows us to better appreciate the path he has taken, the decisions he has made, but also leaves us room to say, “Aye, but I’d do it a bit different.”

Smith inspiration wall

Smith inspiration wall

Other prominent parts of the exhibit are a large gallery whose walls are simply covered with images, few of them from Smith himself, with which he adorns all of his personal spaces, be they rooms at home, the office or even on the road. These are images which inspire and motivate him. Some are related to friends he has made over a lifetime, such as Patti Smith and David Bowie, Talking Heads, etc., others are famous artists such as Hockney or Warhol, and then there’s the tons of images sent to him, anonymously or not, unbidden, from people all over the world. This includes oil paintings large and small, photographs, and even childrens’ sketches.


Of course there are the clothes, from across his career. Here’s some of my favourites:

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From there we repaired, via a long walk westward along the River Thames, to Tate Modern.


We were too late for it to make sense to pony up the £15 each for both Paul Klee and Richard Hamilton exhibits (that’s £15 each per exhibit, or £60 total) as we would barely have had time to see them. So we decided to be happy with the permanent collection galleries and some special features in those.

There was a great hubbub by the railings over the Turbine Hall, a central and dramatic feature of the converted power plant, and saw that preparations were underway for a runway show (it’s Fashion Week here in London) for Top Shop, we think. There were loads of chairs each with a swag-bag, and glitter and lights and risers and such. A crowd was held back, by red velvet ropes, from entering, and were all gazing at their smart-phones. Smaller gaggles of fashionistas were milling in the hall, and were quite easy to pick out from the rest of the art-loving crowd, including the photographers with their telephoto lenses of obscene dimension hanging about their mid-sections, little stair step units to stand on, the better to capture the perfect runway shot.

We ambled through the galleries and enjoyed the Gerhard Richter “Artist Room,” featuring his “14 Panes of Glass – 2011” and also a gallery devoted to the “Cage Paintings,” six of his large dragged pieces from 2006. What a treat to see them all together in one room, where one can dissolve into them.

Cage (1) - (6) 2006 by Gerhard Richter

Cage (1) – (6) 2006 by Gerhard Richter

A pleasant feature of the Tate regime is that they will put up, next to the traditional item identifier plaques, an extra plaque with the thoughts of a volunteer curator, guide or docent. These folk tend to spend a lot of time with particular pieces in the collection, and their notes are accessible and often elegiac in nature. One wishes more museums offered these insights.

Also enjoyed during this visit were several other classics of the modern collection, such as Picasso and Braque, Bacon and Giacometti, etc. etc.

Okay then, enough fine art, we have a performance to attend — Opus, by Australian cirque group Circa and French musicians Debussy String Quartet. We marched further west along the Thames to Blackfriars bridge, north across the river, and then ducked into the tube station for the Circle Line eastbound, via Liverpool Street and Kings Cross, to Barbican. Once there we were able to flag down a slavic water carrier and slake our formidable thirsts with icy carafes of water and sloshing tumblers of vodka and gin (well, okay, they were Martini glasses). Tapas ensued, and once sated, we repaired to the theatre, still feeling weary from our travels, but somewhat deadened by the booze.

This show is hard to explain, but perhaps a brief excerpt from the programme (Yaron Lifshitz, of Circa) will help:

It began when the perceptive and courageous programmer Marc Cardonnel pulled me aside after a performance of one of our works and mentioned that our creations made him think of Shostakovich.

I replied that Shostakovich is the composer I hold most dear. It is his music that I’d like performed for my funeral… I longed to stage some, or even all, of the string quartets. And so this project was born.

So three of Shostakovich’s string quartets are herein deployed by a rather game quartet of viol players — who are, at times, moved about the stage as if chessmen by the cirque performers — and 14 cirque artists, 6 women and 8 men. These performers are stunning in their physique and their prowess. They mystify and amaze us with both the flexibility and strength of their bodies, their beauty and their guile. The choreography is inspired, if a little gymnastic at times (think Olympic floor exercises, but with 14 people all on the matt at once).

opus--2 opus

The aerials are illuminating and not too rarely seem death defying.

We were more than once left gasping, and I often heard nearby audience members let out a sigh of relief or of shock. Oh, and did I mention these performers were, to a one, absolutely ripped? My god! The abs on one young man looked as if they were appliqués of clay, put there by Michaelangelo as if onto a David. I suggested to X that we wait by the stage door to see if we could meet one of these visions (Saturday night we encountered Saskia Portway — Hippolyta/Titania — taking a post-performance smoke out there) and she replied, “Having a smoke? I doubt it buster. Move along!”

Move along, indeed. My back ached from the hours of walking and standing, not to mention the sideways seating in theatre, but I felt I had no right to complain after what we’d just witnessed these brave and foolish souls perform.

So here’s to Brave And Foolish souls, because Art Is Hard!

Missing, Friends and Night Porters

Monday! What have we today? Juliet Stevenson is performing down the way at the Young Vic in Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days. X simply adores Ms Stevenson, and is crestfallen that there are no tickets for sale online. So we wander down the street to see if she can work her “Poor elderly me” routine on the box office staff. Alas, they prove immune to her valiant attempts. The run is sold out past the time we leave town.

Juliet Stevenson in Beckett's Happy Days

Juliet Stevenson in Beckett’s Happy Days

We then wander up Lower Marsh to Westminster Road to hop a bus to Tate Britain. We’re to meet A there, and artist met some years ago with whom Pawn has kept up. A is preparing to shoot a young couple’s portrait in the style of David Hockney’s Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, and we made plans to meet her at the painting in the Tate’s new Walk Through British Art exhibit (gallery 1960), where it rests near a stunning Francis Bacon triptych and Brancusi and Moore and so much more.

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy

Test photo

Test photo

A looks dashing with her stylish artist hairdo bundled off to the side in a ribbon, and her dangling camera bag. She forces us to pose before the painting, miming that we’re holding the main figures up in our arms, while she backs up to some delicate sculpture or other and dares the guards to restrain her from snapping photo after photo. If she shares any of those, we’ll post them here.

We proceeded to survey the history of British art from 1970 (the next gallery) back to 1930, then crossed over to 1540 and worked our way forward from there. A was quite determined that we do things in proper order, but then couldn’t wait to escape from the 1800s.

A takes photos, that's what she does

A takes photos, that’s what she does

A break for tea and we continued on with Chris Shaw and Moriyama: Before and After Night Porter. This is a brilliant exhibit of photographers Shaw and Daido Moriyama and their separate but similar (philosophically) work. Shaw showed three portfolio, including his suburban housing estate series, Sandy Hill Estate, the wonderful Life As A Night Porter and the new Weeds Of Wallasey. Moriymama’s contribution is more sober and painful. We loved it all.

NightPorter_0006 500

Our art-itites sated, we grabbed the tube up to Euston Square and a quick bite at Crown & Anchor before ducking into New Diorama Theatre for the last of two performances of a new work, Missing by (e)ngineer Theatre Collective.

Missing Poster

Missing Poster

This is a difficult work, and difficult to explain. This young company prides themselves on their deeply collaborative method — the members list themselves as “devisers” in the program — and have brought that to bear fully here. The subject is the title, and has to do with a statistic cited in a news report a few years back, that 275,000 people go missing each year in the UK. This is the population of Plymouth, and a truly daunting number. Now, of course, many if not most return to their homes, families, lives, still others are found dead — murdered, suicide, accident, natural death — but some are never heard from again. This work focuses on a select few cases and recreates, from interviews, the emotional roller-coaster the families and friends of the lost are subjected to.


There is no way in a brief blog post I can convey the intensity of this wallow in pathos. We all were deeply moved and left positive feedback on their questionnaire. The sound was poor — the right speaker kept cutting in and out, and when working sounded blown — but as this seems to be a mid-process workshop phase, one can’t complain too much. I have high hopes for this work, and for the young company behind it.

Stephan Koplowitz: Water Sight, Milwaukee/A Delectable Evening of Imperfection

lines, tides, shores...

lines, tides, shores…

Yet another reason to love Milwaukee — UW-M Peck School of the Arts Summer Dances program.  This year brings us Stephan Koplowitz and Water Sight, Milwaukee.  This suite of site-specific dances comprise two programs, the three movement lines, tides, shores… (above) set in the Cudahy Gardens of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and The Current Past (below) set at the base of the North Point Water Tower on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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