Through the trees

Peter Doig, Concrete Cabin, 1994Peter Doig, Concrete Cabin, 1994

Thinking about houses in the middle of nowhere for the previous post started me thinking about a couple of Peter Doig paintings and in particular what gives them a very different feeling to Michael Raedecker’s landscapes. The most obvious difference is in the time of day depicted; these are daytime scenes which makes for a very different feel. And they’re straightforward paintings, whereas part of the strangeness in Raedecker’s scenes comes from  the use of stitch in the paintings. But, of course, it’s more than that.

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After dark

Michael Raedecker, Ins and Outs, 2000

There’s something about houses in the middle of nowhere. In some respects I can see the attraction of living in a modernist box surrounded by trees, although clearly in practice I’d miss the tube and being able to get to galleries and theatres and the cinema and decent shops and, oh, the list goes on but it gets too boring to type. In the end though, surprisingly, it’s not fear of not being in London that’s the biggest factor, it’s the fear of just not knowing what’s out there. Okay, so being in a hermetically sealed glass box might be warm and safe but if you can’t see what’s outside, well, it could be anything.

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Fragments and feathers

Alan Rath, Yes, Yes, Yes!, 2012

Spending a week in New York is a great way to see a lot of art. There’s all the stuff you expect to see of course – great exhibitions at MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim etc – and there are the big name commercial galleries that are always worth a visit and then there are the galleries you just wander into because something catches your eye. By the end of this visit, I felt – as usual, I suppose – that there was so much I’d wanted to see but hadn’t managed to get to. I could happily spend a week wandering round Chelsea and probably the same again elsewhere.

Aware of how little I’d seen I snuck a last quick visit to Chelsea into my final morning, in the main wandeing at random, and just as I really needed to start thinking about getting back to the hostel – oh, this glamorous life! – I spotted Alan Rath’s work in Bryce Wolkowitz and had to take a look.

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Women’s things

Guerrilla Girls, Do women have to be naked…?, 1989

As today is International Women’s Day, it seems like the right time to take a look at women’s place in the art world. It’s the twenty-first century, there are lots of women artists now, right? Well yes. Up to a point. Tacita Dean’s work is in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern at the moment and the big exhibition is of the work of Yayoi Kusama. Perhaps all’s right with the world? Clearly, it wasn’t ever thus.

In 1989 the Guerrilla Girls, an anonymous group of women artists and the self-styled ‘conscience of the art world’, conducted an audit of the work on display on the Modern Art sections of the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The statistics really weren’t good. Only 5% of the artists were female but 85% of the nudes were. No matter how familiar we are with art history and the dominance of male artists, that’s still a pretty shocking figure, especially since the group had specifically restricted their attention to the modern art sections where things might be expected to be a bit less bad. Surely by now things have changed?

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Like a sex machine

Yinka Shonibare MBE, Addio del Passato at James Cohan Gallery

The key characteristic of Yinka Shonibare’s work is his use of Dutch wax fabric. Based on Indonesian batik fabrics but manufactured in Europe by the Dutch, who then exported it to West Africa when it failed to catch on in the Netherlands, and bought by Shonibare from Brixton market in London, the fabric has connotations of colonialism, post-colonialism and the movement of cultures thereby engendered and of the multi-culturalism of contemporary London. Thus it neatly connects the different aspects Shonibare’s own background as a British-born, Nigerian-raised Londoner and has allowed him to build a practice that is simultaneously coherent and diverse and both serious and playful. These complexities and contradictions are reinforced by Shonibare’s adoption of the letters MBE after his name when he was given the honour in 2005: an artist whose work could be seen as commenting on empire accepted and uses an honour that makes him a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

It’s not surprising then the work in Shonibare’s exhibition Addio del Passato at James Cohan Gallery is by turns beautiful and fascinating and very, very funny. Equally unsurprising perhaps is that the work I especially want to write about is all of these things. And also really rather rude…

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Time and tide

Low Tide Wanderings installationThomas Schütte, Low Tide Wanderings, 2001 (installed in Print/Out at MoMA, 2011)

In 2001, with digital practices becoming increasingly widespread in the visual arts, Thomas Schütte decided to use very traditional, analogue image-making as a way of keeping a visual diary. Rather than drawing in sketchbooks, as he usually would, Schütte adopted the more labour-intensive approach of etching. He subsequently produced an edition of 139 prints, one of which is included in the Print/Off at MoMA.

Reading someone else’s diary, a decade after the event, isn’t necessarily that interesting and in part the fascination of this work lies in the installation rather than the images. The prints are suspended on lines criss-crossed through the gallery just above head height (if, like me, you’re quite short).

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Street scenes

Paul Graham, Wall Street 19th April 2010, 12.46.55 pm, 2010

Though my preference is almost always for what might best be termed fine art practices, when it comes to Paul Graham’s work it’s generally been his documentary work that has interested me most and, though his work looks great in galleries, books like Beyond Caring and Troubled Land have moved me more. It’s not that I don’t like Graham’s later work – certainly I found a lot to like in his 2011 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition – it’s just that the books he produced in the 1980s seem exceptional. With this in mind, I approached his exhibition at The Pace Gallery as someone who needed to be won over.

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Dionisio González, Nova Ipiranga III, 2004

My knowledge of the favelas of Brazil is somewhat limited. I imagine them as shanty towns similar to those in other parts of the world with buildings made from whatever is available and built in a ramshackle way. From Dioinisio Gonzáles’s digitally manipulated photographs that looks to be a good guess. Sort of.

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Forty parts of perfect

Janet Cardiff, The Forty Part Motet, 2001

It starts with a bit of whispering and low-level chatter from around the room but gradually the singing starts, quietly at first but quickly getting louder as different voices join in. Before I know it, the room is full of sound. Whether seated in the centre of the oval of speakers – one for each of the forty voices of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium – or wandering among the speakers picking up individual voices, this is not a soundscape it’s possible to experience in the concert hall.

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Laughter and pain

Adel Abdessemed, Mémoire (still), 2012

I should have known from the start that there would be more to Adel Abdessemed’s Mémoire than was apparent at first glance. After all, his work is never quite as it seems and there is almost always a degree of violence and pain somewhere in the work. But watching Mémoire, my first response was laughter. This was a baboon spelling words out on an magnetic whiteboard. Maybe if I watched long enough it would start writing Shakespeare. Isn’t that what monkeys are meant to do given time?

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