How time flies! When I was a student at the Royal College of Art it celebrated its centenary. That the college is now celebrating its 175th anniversary either means that I am a lot older than I thought or that the powers that be at the RCA can’t count. Or that they really like big birthdays. As it turns out, it’s this last option that sees the college celebrating 175 years as an art school a mere sixteen years after celebrating its centenary: the then Government School of Design was founded in 1837, becoming the National Art Training School in 1863 and the Royal College of Art in 1896.
The exhibition charts the history of what is apparently the world’s oldest art and design school in continuous operation and it’s an illustrious and fascinating history. Given the pool of alumni (and staff, past and present) from which the curators could select work, there were always going to be surprises both in terms of inclusions and omissions but this is a show that amply demonstrates the impact of RCA alumni on our cultural and day to day lives.
Elizabeth Price, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 (still), 2012
With the end of the year rapidly approaching and with the start of the academic year having provide rather too hectic for me to manage regular blogging as well, now seems like a good time to close some of the gaps by looking back at some of the art I’ve seen but not written about this in 2012. And where better to start than with the Turner Prize – which in fact I have already written about but for MostlyFilm rather than here – and with the work I correctly predicted would win. Of the work in the Turner Prize exhibition, other than Paul Noble’s Nobson drawings which I’ve seen from time to time over the years that he’s been making them, it was Elizabeth Price’s The Woolworths Choir of 1979 and that I was most familiar with having seen it quite by accident at MOT International earlier in the year. That encounter was an intriguing one; I’d headed to Bond Street to see, I think, Nancy Holt or maybe Jamie Shovlin at Haunch of Venison and had a enough time to spare to pop in to MOT without having checked what was on there.
Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, Serpentine Pavilion, 2012
Not that you’d know it to look out of the window, but it’s summer. And, amongst other things, summer means a new Serpentine Pavilion. In a fit of optimism, this year’s pavilion is open sided so it’s likely that for much of the summer those venturing to see it will find themselves staying close to the middle to avoid the driving rain and quite possibly huddling together for warmth. Ah well…
So, disregarding the disparity between building and climate, is it good architecture? Does it work as a social space? Is that even what it’s for?
Given my recent preoccupation with work that transforms the space its shown in, making us focus on the gallery in a new way, it’s really about time I wrote about Observation Point, Zoe Leonard’s exhibition at Camden Arts Centre. Doubtless I would have written about this sooner, but I kept forgetting to go and see it; I love Camden Arts Centre and it’s really easy to get to for me but somehow those two facts seem to conspire to make me miss show after show there. Thankfully, this is one I didn’t miss.
Pretty much the only thing I knew about the exhibition before hand was that Leonard had turned one of the gallery spaces into a camera obscura. I was slightly worried that making my visit during a late night opening might prove to be a mistake but though the space – and the projected image of the road outside – was dim, it was nonetheless fascinating. Despite the work taking its title from the road the gallery is on, the lens points not at Arkwright Road but at the relentlessly busy Finchley Road to the side of the building. The traffic is constant but the skyline is also arresting with a large crane stretching from the wall onto the floor and across the space.
Of all Gerhard Richter’s work – and his practice is unusually varied – it’s probably his exploration of the relationship between painting and photography that interests me most. But I’d struggle to come up with a body of work by Richter that I don’t like, though I guess the 1980s’ squeegee paintings would probably be on the list if I tried – the colours just don’t work for me – though I love the later squeegee paintings. I’m often unsure quite where I stand when it comes to Richter’s work with mirrors and glass. I like the work, but the paintings are so amazing that the other works can seem irrelevant by comparison. But, like most art, it depends on the context.
Dia:Beacon is an extraordinary place. A former factory converted to display the Dia Art Foundation‘s collection of works from the last half century or so in appropriate surroundings, the industrial architecture is put to good use to provide some unusual and unusually large spaces to show the work. Many of the works housed here can’t easily be accommodated elsewhere. The collection – much of which was acquired in the 1970s and ’80s – contains work by many key late twentieth century artists – primarily but not exclusively American – with industrial scale sculpture particularly well represented; since the 1990s works by other artists of broadly the same generation have been added to the collection including Gerhard Richter’s Six Grey Mirrors.
Dan Graham, Triangular Solid with Circular Inserts, 1989
(installed at Peggy Guggenheim, Venice)
Over the last couple of posts we’ve kind of established that reflections can be confusing and can change the way we experience space. But regular readers must know by now that once I’ve caught hold of a thread I’ll pull at it just that bit longer than is reasonable so today is, um, well, more of the same really. Sorry about that.
Much of Dan Graham’s work, in particular his two-way mirror pavilions – could be seen as architecture as well as art. The pavilions are small glass structures which are usually partly made of mirrored glass which confuses the way the structure reflects the environment it sits in. The effect of this is that people are prone to wandering in and out of view unexpectedly and the space seems to change as one walks round or through the structure.
Daniel Buren, Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, 2011
Art is a window on the world. Well, in the case of Daniel Buren’s Borrowing and Multiplying the Landscape, installed for the opening of Turner Contemporary in Margate last year, it is. Buren’s installation modifies the view of the sea beyond the windows of the gallery foyer by covering much of the glass with coloured tape so that the sea is seen through a circular window cut into the yellow stripes. In a sense the work forms an inverse sun framing, on my visit at least, the greyness of and English summer afternoon. Ah well.
Richard Wilson, 20:50, 1987 (Matt’s Gallery, Martello Street, London)
Art can make us see the world differently. Certainly the way both Gordon Matta-Clark and Richard Wilson have cut away sections of buildings challenges our perception of architecture making us see city spaces differenttly in a literal but nonethheless interesting way.
Wilson’s iinstallation 20:50, a room with a seemingly mirrored surface at roughly waist height, offers a strangely new understanding of the space it’s installed in. For the unsuspecting visitor, the first clue about the nature of the surface is the smell, approaching the room one is greeted with a powerful aroma of oil. Suddenly the title – 20:50 – makes sense: the room is flooded with used engine oil. A walkway leads out into the middle of the space, from which you get to see the features of the room reflected all around you.
Quite high on the list of art I wish I’d seen is Richard Wilson’s installation for the 2007 Liverpool Biennial. Like other works by Wilson, who is probably best known for his installation 20:50 at the Saatchi Gallery (about which more another time, possibly even tomorrow now that it’s in my head), Turning the Place Over was an architectural intervention on an ambitious scale but unlike 20:50 this was a temporary installation made by messing with the fabric of an empty building.
One of my main preoccupations over the last couple of weeks while preparing for the end of year exhibition is how to divide up the space. Obviously for me this involves figuring out where the walls should go and what should go where to make the exhibition make as much sense as possible. But, you know, a bit of literal mindedness and it’s only a small leap from how to divide the studio to Gordon Matta-Clark and the chainsaw and sledgehammer approach to redefining architectural space.
The 1970s may have a lot to answer for in all sorts of ways, but some pretty ground-breaking – or in Matta-Clark’s case building-breaking – art was made then and it’s work that still resonates and that continues to influence subsequent generations of artists.