26 Days in Europe: June 13
Greetings from London. The Grand Tour group recovering just a bit of from jet lag and enjoyed our first full day of devouring British art. It began at 9 am with a talk by Caroline Hancock, curator at the Hayward Gallery, who provided us with a brief history of their exhibition program. Their new director is former Los Angeles Weekly art critic, Ralph Rugoff. Afterwards we saw “Blind Light” the art of Anthony Gormley, an artist whose work centers on his body as subject, object and place. One first glimpses his sculpture outside, as you walk a long the embankment towards the gallery, look up and see solitary naked lead figures precariously perched atop adjacent buildings.
The Hayward show presented a new series of dramatic installations, including a large glass mist filled room that was somewhat disorienting - like dissolving into a cloud of white light. Viewers enter the illuminated space and disappear into the vapor, and your ability to see evaporates.
Gormley has said that “…The body is our first habitation, the building oursecond. I wanted to use the form of this second body, architecture, to make concentrated volumes out of a personal space that carries the memory of an absent self, articulated through measurement… Bodies and buildings, cities and cells, monuments and intimacies, each of the rooms in this piece is someone’s, is connected to the moving body of an individual, alive and breathing.”
The show was a wonderful beginning, and later we saw the ICA exhibit - “Memorial To The Iraq War” where a group of international artists, from the west and the middle east were invited to propose a memorial to a conflict which has not ended. A lunch break was followed by an afternoon viewing the incomparable collection of old master paintings at the National Museum. Bye for now.
Hayward Gallery discussion with curator Caroline Hancock
Anthony Gormley Exhibition: Blind Light
Discussion with Jan Tumlir
London 'Eye' on the Thames
More from London: June 15
Today was a study in stark contrasts as the Art Center group visited the relatively new art area of London called Hoxton, to meet with some of the people behind alternative (i.e., non-commercial) galleries. We visited a small space called Peer, and another called “The Associates” which is a one-year exhibition project run by the artist Ryan Gander. He said that his intention was to offer shows to emerging artists who were unlikely to get into a commercial gallery. When asked on what basis he selected artists, he said that he preferred artists who were shy, self-effacing with good morals – i.e., artists he liked personally - The quality of the artwork seemed of secondary importance. In stark contrast, we next visited the show “Beyond Belief,” at White Cube by Damien Hirst, the undeniably audacious and infamous YBA artist. His art remains about death and here he presented his familiar skinned animals suspended in large tanks of formaldehyde, this time in religious poses (see enclosed is an image of “Saint Sebastion, Exquisite Pain”). His latest attention getting stunt, “For The Love of God,” is a $100 million life size platinum skull set with 8,601 high-quality diamonds and was exhibited in another location requiring reservations.
Next we saw poignant portraits by Alice Neal and large facile expressionist paintings by Armen Eloyan at an elegant new minimalist gallery space designed by Claudio Silvestrin. The afternoon completed at the Barbican where we saw “PANIC ATTACK! ART IN THE PUNK YEARS.” This show surveys a period of economic decline and social upheaval that provoked radical and transgressive art by American and British artists like Victor Burgin, Nan Goldin, Gordon Matta-Clark, Robert Longo, Hannah Wilke, David Wojnarrowicz and Mike Kelley. Like punk music, many of these artists celebrated dissent and drew on imagery of urban alienation.
Thursday was a day of artist studio visits organized by the erudite British writer Christopher Townsend, who wrote the recent book – “New Art From London,” published by Thames & Hudson. We took a long train ride south to meet with German photographer Steffi Krenz whose conceptual images, called “Nonesuch,” capture the banal artifice of a contrived traditional village developed by Prince Charles. Later conversations with artists ShahinAfrasiabi, David Burrow and Robin Klassnik, founder of the influential alternative space – Matt’s Gallery illuminated the undeniable resentment of London’s numerous struggling younger artists towards the enormously successful and internationally celebrated YBA (Young British Artists), who are now firmly established and middle-aged.
Historian, writer, Chris Townsend
White Cube, London
London June 16.2007
Here are a few words and a few images that offer a glimpse of Saturday ,which began for the Grand Tour group with an insider’s tour of the “Learn ToRead” exhibition currently being installed at the Tate Modern. The young and delightfully articulate Associate Curator, Nicholas Cullinan, discussed how the selected works played with language and art reference, (including a piece by Art Center alumnus Frances Stark) as well as how the curators have explored various strategies for assembling and hanging different kinds of exhibitions. Afterwards we moved on for a review of the Tate summer blockbuster – “Dali and Film.”
Our group next traveled to the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park where Tom Morton, (Frieze Magazine editor) explained the possible meanings in Paul Chan’s projected moving silhouettes. The final exhibit of the day was at Gagosian’s big London gallery where we were quite impressed by the visual power in Jeff Koons large new series of paintings called “Hulk Elvis.” In this series Koons knowingly layers a complex mixture of gaudy pop references, realist landscapes, American iconography, gestural drawing, with vividly colored geometric dot patterns. These formalist compositions transcend his familiar banality and clever “bad taste,” through precise execution and rich pictorial invention. After a long and art packed day with no food and endless walking we happily split up into a few groups for a bit of refreshment and conversation.
Paul Chan at Serpentine Gallery
Partial Fine Art Grand Tour Group Photograph
Venice: June 19
Arrived in Italy with a small baggage issue, then settled into the warmth and humidity. Visited the Francoise Pinault Collection, Sequence 1, and prepare for the Biennale tomorrow.
Sequence 1 Exhibition
Venice has been a blur so far for the first day and a half, so easy to get lost! The Francios Pinault collection of modern art is a must see and incredible. We have our first day at the Biennalle tomorrow and I am facing it with mixed feelings. The experience (and hopefully a good portion of the art) will be great, but the crowds and the carnival aspect are a little daunting. A few of us saw three of the smaller pavilions today (Cypris, Estonia, and Albania) and they were fairly interesting. Will keep you posted.
In regards to how the students are reacting to the Grand Tour, I can only really speak for myself, and my observations of the others. It seems to me (through Thea) that the Grand Tour was not only about art viewing, but about many aspects of being an aesthete - namely seeing culture (and spreading ones own), and generally being a rich kid afforded the ability to travel! As for us, many are on a largely art-viewing mission and have been soaking in the culture from our wanderings. I am taking extensive notes on our daily activities/visits with some personal observations. However, I haven't done much sketching, but have made notes on project ideas. Scott and Richard are sketching pretty regularly, and I've seen Trista and Andy taking notes as well.
As for the nationalism of the pavilions, it seems that the majority of the countries are showing artists from that country, the exception being in many of the group shows which tend to me more diverse. This is especially true of the pavilions outside of the main biennale area, which tend to be fairly small and nationalistic. There are also some great shows that are non-country specific, the Bill Viola videos were fairly interesting and the Richard Hamilton show was great - new photo collage prints with painted elements and the inclusion of some of the objects from the photos in the room.
The reason we started with seemingly obscure pavilions were that we're waiting for some of the group to catch up to see the Pallazo Grassi (Francois Pinault collection) - which was really amazing- and we were right near Estonia, Cyprus, etc... Its that simple.
Today we also saw the Venitian masters at the Acadamia - HUGE collection which was great, but overwhelming. Its been hard to keep our art-viewing stamina! Let me know if you have more questions. Hope these emails have been helpful, it is hard to form full sentences, I'm exhausted but still excited. Will include more detail in the future...
June 22, 2007
As for the Bill Viola - the locale was amazing, what seemed to be a small round temple that was very dark. There were three screens that were about four feet by six feet around the room that were projecting small figures in B & W, which would take turns moving toward the camera. When they were about human scale they would move through a sheet of water and as they came to 'our' side of the water they turned to color. Each screen would alternate this event. While the content may have been a fairly simple life/death/religion exploration (with a little over acting and slow motion effects) - the setting made it pretty beautiful. Would probably have fallen way short(er) in a white cube.
The Pinault collection was incredible because of the range of artists and means of production that were included in the show. Many Mike Kelley's (installations, drawings and video), Laura Owens, Anselm Reyles and many more (listed those three because they happened to be my favorites). Seeing the Owens paintings in person was especially enjoyable, because I continue to realize that I really don't like her paintings but respect her immensely as an artist - both for her willingness to explore paint and to take risks. Off to eat now...
Robert Storr, the Director of this year’s Venice Biennale, feels that in the art world there has been a general impulse to separate critical faculties from sensuality, so that in recent years he sees a bias toward the cerebral, as if intensely sensual and emotional art is somehow anti-intellectual. He feels that the notion “that one isn’t thinking while learning the world through the senses is absurd.”
And so he has titled his show – “THINK WITH THE SENSES, feel with the mind: Art in the Present Tense.”
Storr has chosen a group of established artists and younger artists that embodies both values, whose work allows us to engage art on all its complex levels. Naturally, everyone has their own favorites, usually related to one’s own interests. Among the better known artists in his show, I thought the work by Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Sol LeWitt, Jenny Holzer, and the video art of Steve McQueen were all exceptionally strong.
The Venice Biennale is the oldest show of this kind, and it presents a series of national pavilions in a lush park just north of the Piazza San Marco called the Giardini. The United States this time is well represented posthumously by the Puerto Rican born American, Felix Gonzalez-Torres. There were several disappointments; I think that the work offered by the notable German Isa Genzken (cultural trash sculpture), and the Brits frequently outrageous Tracey Emin, were missteps. One test for what matters in art is what stays with you and I feel the work that lingered in my mind most, was the French Pavilion presentation by Sophie Calle. She took a small personal tragedy, a break-up letter she received from her boyfriend, and turned it into an epic multi-media deconstructed melodrama, by having 107 female artist friends interpret it’s contents. From interpretive dance, emotion electronic music, and varied performances the show was insightful, sad, hilarious, and thoughtful.
On Friday we did the quarter-mile-long Arsenale, an old Venetian navy building, that is devoted to an international selection of emerging artists and this part of the biennale was far more disturbing and political, with many artists expressing a sense of despair about the war, terror and wide spread human suffering. But there was also a vibrant show of contemporary African art, “Check List Luanda Pop.” And I was pleased to encounter an old Art Center alumnus, James Drake, who presented a poetic video piece on two plasma screens. I enjoyed an amusing series of five black and white neo-realist like films, each shown in a separate rectangular structure throughout the exhibit, and called “Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest,” by the Chinese artist Yang Fudong.
There were many additional pavilions and shows of note throughout the city and it is all way too much art to comment on here. However, a few highlights - in general we all admired the Mexican pavilion, with digital interactive installations by Raphael Lozano-Hemmer, and two ambitious new photographic constructions by the German Thomas Demand presented at the Fondazione Prada. We will meet him later in Berlin. I was intrigued by the undeniable affinity in the art of Joseph Beuys and Mathew Barney revealed in a small show at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum called “Beuys/Barney - All in the present must be transformed.”
Without a doubt, the surprising hit of Venice for most of us was the ancient Museum Fortuny and the exhibition called “ARTEMPO: Where Time Becomes Art.” An eccentric selection of stuff imaginatively presented - paintings, antiques, sculptures, photographs, video tapestries and enigmatic relics plus a great Turrell that together investigate the nature of time and process… and looks at how the temporal has found expression in and through the language of art. We concluded on Saturday evening with a fascinating discussion of the biennale in the lovely apartment of the German professor and curator, Agnes Kohlmeyer, who has lived in Venice for 22 years and teaches at university.
It will be sad to leave this amazing relic of a city. I will miss the crowded Vaporetos (water taxis), the delicious addictive gelatos consumed as rewards for the endless walking, and of course, the exquisite ornate Byzantine architecture. Apart from the mobs of tourists, it is a city like no other and one feels like you miraculously stepped back in history to another world.
Agnes Kohlmeyer, Discussion with Curator
June 26: Kassel, Germany
Just finished our second day of Documenta 12 and looking forward to the
Skulptur Projekt tomorrow (except for the 7 am train!).
D12 was much larger than I had expected, with 5 different 'pavilions' to see. The strongest in my opinion were the main traditional Documenta building, Museum Fridericianum, and the Neue Galerie. These two spaces were each three stories, and the works were very well curated, with clear relationships becoming evident. The other spaces felt more sporatic, with some great connections, but many areas just feeling thrown together. It was great that there was a reluctance to use too many 'know' artists, so there was a lot of fresh work that we've not been exposed to. However, the down side of this was an abundance of pretty weak work. Another interesting feature of the shows was the overlap of artists from one area to the next - meaning that you wouldn't simply move through rooms seeing one or two artists work together at a time, but would keep seeing certain artists repeated throughout the documenta buildings.
Munster Sculpture Project
Bike touring of sculpture projects
A travel day (by train) to Munster to rent bikes and experience the Sculpture Project. Friday, we're on our way to Berlin, our last destination on the tour.
Documenta: T Brown Performance
Getting to Berlin has been an interesting reintroduction to thge arts community. We began in London with a sort of hand held tour thru personal spaces both figuretively and literally. Small spaces cared for by dedicated people with vested interests in supporting artists they care about. In between was the goliath duo Venice and Kassel. There is a bit of wonderment as you wander about these highly orchestrated fairs but equally a questioning of place and inclusion comes up. They are years in the making and deal with so many different interest you seem so temporary in relation. Its the temporary feeling that while is still present in the small spaces of galleries or familiar museums gets amplified. It is a good reference for how art can be recieved, how much the context can affect the interpretation of the work and how divorced that is from the making. It is good to have the contrast available. Lots of thoughts, lots of work to do.
Our trip to Munster was interesting, riding the bikes was fun, despite the sudden downpours of rain and the busy streets. However, as an exhibition it was extremely difficult to try and experience in a quick one day trip. The city is fairly small, but the sculptures are very spread out and not very well marked on the map, so they tend to take some time to find. A small group of us made a specific route to follow, but ended up getting lost and only seeing about half of what we had planned. However, there were a few memorable pieces, and a great museum in town (the name of which is escaping me right now) with a fantastic permanent collection of paintings and of proposals and mock-ups of past Munster projects.
I think that most of the group has fallen in love with Berlin, it is such a fascinating city. We spent the first few days here walking or biking around with Dave and some of his contacts seeing the architecture, some galleries, and generally experiencing the overall feel of post-wall Berlin. Yesterday we went to Thomas Demand's studio, and that was a great experience. He was very articulate about his work, especially in his explanation of his two shows we had seen in Venice. He must be a good teacher, because he asked the group many pointed questions about the Bienniale, Munster and Documenta, and we had a great conversation with many people contributing.
Today we met with Jorge Heiser from Freize and he gave us an hour and a half talk about the recent history of art here, and then took us around all day to a number of contemporary galleries. He says that there are a huge number of international artists working here in Berlin because of the relatively cheap rent. Many of these artists have no intention necessarily of having a carreer here - they show in other cities - but its price, central location, and artistic community make Berlin a great place for artists to live.