There are some days you think might never come. Frankly, recently, I was beginning to think that the day I got back to regular blogging might be one of them but I started today with a new determination. Then I got distracted and by the time I sat down to write I quite foray onto the interwebs provided me with both further distraction in the form of the the news that Margaret Thatcher is finally dead (for real this time, not just yet another Twitter rumour). To mark the occasion – and after the havoc she wreaked through my late teens and twenties, it does need to be marked (and yes, I’d be dusting off my copy of Spike: the Beloved Entertainer if only I had a record deck that worked) – it seems pertinent to write about Marcus Harvey’s Maggie.
Marcus Harvey is undoubtedly best known for another controversial portrait: Myra, a picture of Myra Hindley made using children’s handprints (well, prints from plaster cast hands), caused untold furore when it was shown at the Royal Academy in the Sensation exhibition. His painting Maggie, made nearly a decade and a half later, is rather less well known but equally striking. In my head at least, they are companion pieces: both large scale, black and white paintings made from images widely reproduced in the press and both – arguably, and here I concede there is a difference – portraits of, well, if not actually evil, then of women whose lives one would wish had followed a different path.
Thinking back at work seen over the past few months obviously brings Frieze Art Fair back to mind and thinking about Paul Noble’s work in the Turner Prize 2012 exhibition has made me think about sculpture by someone who I mainly associate with two dimensional work, all of which brings me to Gillian Wearing. I’ve written about Wearing a couple of times on this blog (about her work with the confessions of others and the works for which she becomes other people) but I haven’t mentioned her sculpture, in the main because I find it less interesting, I think. Nonetheless, My Hand, shown at Frieze by Maureen Paley, has stayed in my thoughts for some reason and I now find myself wondering why I find this piece engaging.
Gabriel Orozco, Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe, 1995
While I’m in on a bit of a ‘means of transport as art’ theme I really can’t ignore Gabriel Orozco’s Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe. Living in Berlin while on a DAAD residency in 1995, Orozco got around the city using a yellow Schwalbe scooter. These scooters, made in the former East Germany, were cheap and quite a common sight on the streets of Berlin. Whenever he saw a scooter like his parked, Orozco would pull up next to it and photograph the pair of scooters. He left a note on each of the scooters inviting the owner to bring it to a gathering outside the Neue Nationalgalerie on the anniversary of the reunification of Germany.
George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, 2002-3
The landscapes in George Shaw’s paintings all conceal stories but in this case the narratives are Shaw’s own childhood memories. For the series Scenes from the Passion, Shaw worked from photographs taken within a half mile radius of the house he grew up in. The area is unremarkable and, in Shaw’s paintings, unpopulated. There is a bleakness here but also perhaps a sense of anticipation. Though the area is very specifically the territory of Shaw’s childhood in a way it feels like the paintings depict a kind of everytown. There are certainly scenes here that I can match against my own suburban London upbringing.
Keith Arnatt, Untitled from the series Notes from Jo, 1990-94
Curiosity about others is probably something we all share in one way or another. Whether it’s people-watching at a cafe window or trying to work out what the connection is between those people sitting over there on the bus, it’s hard not to wonder about other people. And the thing we never really know is how other people are at home. Keith Arnatt’s series of photographs Notes from Jo offers a kind of portrait of a marriage. These are notes left by Arnatt’s wife during the early 1990s and documented by him to become a series of photographs. The notes are usually funny, often bossy, sometimes exasperated, occasionally angry; seen together they offer what seems like a hugely affectionate portrait of a marriage with a real sense of two people who care about each one another muddling along together from day to day.
Eve Arnold, One of four girls who shares a flat in Knightsbridge, 1961
The premise of Tate Britain’s exhibition Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930–1980 is an interesting one. How does London look to those who arrive here from elsewhere? These are pictures made by people who were either visitors to London or who had adopted it as their home. The answer is that it looks both familiar and strange but, in the main, I think perhaps the strangeness comes less from the viewpoint being that of a non-Londoner than from the pictures coming from the foreign country that is the past.
The earlier pictures are interesting as history pieces – it’s always fascinating to see that mix of familiar places playing host to people from a different time and there is something great about London fog on film – but it’s the images from the 1960s and ’70s that interested me more. This is the London in was born in and the city of my childhood making the pictures are a stark reminder of quite how much life has changed, and not just in London. In places it feels like the exhibition might just as well be called Another Planet.
The World in London (Park House, Oxford Street), 2012
The World in London, which I wrote about in the previous post, is unusually in that the exhibition is being shown at the same time in two venues in the same city (although the Oxford Street installation will stay on display after the Olympics close on 12 August). Although the design of the two installations is recognisably the same in terms of its graphic identity – which is kept very simple, and although my preference would generally be to see images on white the black background does work reasonably well here – the way the work is shown is rather different and offers two different readings of the collection of photographs.
On Oxford Street, the images are displayed as a grid, albeit an uneven one with some images larger than others, in part because of the range of formats used by the photographers but occasionally determined by the architectural grid of the building. Exhibiting photographs in a grid is a strategy used by Bernd and Hilla Becher who grouped their pictures of industrial buildings together by type and it’s hard not to read grids of photographs as typologies.
Londoners come from anywhere and everywhere. Once you move here, you become a Londoner whether you came here from Surrey or Sudan. With the world coming to London for the Olympic games, The Photographers’ Gallery decided to commission a series of portraits of Londoners for a public art exhibition called The World in London. The aim was to find and photograph a Londoner from each of the 204 countries sending a team to the Olympics. They almost managed it; there are two or three places from which no Londoners have yet been found: American Samoa is one, Nauru another (there may be more that I’ve forgotten about), but the exhibition lives up to its title.
Eugenio Dittborn, The 11th History of the Human Face (500 years) (Airmail painting no.91), 1990
For as long as there’s been an art world, art has travelled. In an increasingly international, multi-centre art world that’s truer than ever and artists working at an international level might have exhibitions in several countries at any one time. For some artists though getting their work out isn’t easy. For Eugenio Dittborn the question of how to get the work out has determined the nature of the work itself. Based in Santiago de Chile, for Dittborn the issue is not just about distance but about the problem of making art while living under a repressive regime and in 1984, with Chile governed by the military, he started to make what he calls Airmail Paintings. Collage-based works, these are made of lightweight, foldable materials and are posted to the galleries that exhibit them – often in segments to be assembled on arrival – with the envelopes becoming part of the work.
Tracey Emin, I didn’t say I couldn’t love you, 2011
I’ll start by owning up to the fact that I wouldn’t have gone to see She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea, Tracey Emin’s exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate, if there hadn’t been a couple of other things on show outside the gallery that I particularly wanted to see. Over the years, Emin has made quite a lot of work I really like but most of it has been video and, with a few exceptions, I’m not crazy about her drawings, prints and paintings. But I was there so it would have been foolhardy not to take a look. I’ve seen enough of Emin’s work to know that at its best it can be genuinely affecting and that sometimes even the small, almost throw-away, drawings can be funny and occasionally hit a nerve or tell some sort of universal truth.