Fischei Weiss, Rock on Top of Another Rock, Serpentine Gallery, London 2013
I’ve written about Rock on Top of Another Rock before but at the time I entirely failed to get round to the follow-up post about its London incarnation so I’m quite pleased to find myself back with it now by a somewhat circuitous route. A recent visit – on a rainy winter afternoon – reminded me quite how much I like the way this work pairs a simple idea with a complex and audacious challenge in terms of sourcing the materials and installing the work. The Ronseal nature of the title imparts a sense of playfulness to what is also in some ways quite a scary piece of sculpture. It’s all a matter of balance.
Fischli Weiss, Roal Admundsen Asks for Directions to The North Pole from Suddenly This Overview, 1981-2006
Sooner or later I’ll change direction, I’m sure, but while I’m on a run of dog-related posts and while I’m drawing on the work I saw in Venice last summer (and autumn, though I managed less actual art that trip) it would seem a shame not to sneak in a post about Suddenly This Overview, Fischli Weiss’s collection of unfired clay sculptures, a body of work that always makes me laugh. I confess I was sure there must be a dog in there somewhere, and of course there is though the Husky in Roal Admundsen Asks for Directions to The North Poleis actually the only one I can come up with.
A simple visual link brings me somewhat unexpectedly from William Wegman to Edward Ruscha, not artists I’ve ever really thought of as in any way connected before. Admittedly, it’s a fairly tenuous connection but it was Wegman’s Spring that brought Ruscha’s Dog back to mind. There are the obvious similarities of dogness and wispy straw like stuff and the colour palette is fairly similar. And of course, as even vaguely regular readers of this blog will be aware, I’m not one to shy away from a link purely on account of its tenuousness. Plus, importantly, I really like Ed Ruscha’s work. Not that pieces like Dog are generally the works that come to mind when I think of Ruscha (which conveniently means he’s likely to crop up in another post sometime soon).
As explorations of the similarity between dog and owner go, Arnatt’s Walking the Dogs is all well and good but the definitive answer is offered, not even a little bit seriously, by some of William Wegman’s pictures. Of all Wegman’s dog pictures – and there are many and they involve some serious posing by the dogs who are both photogenic and apparently very amenable to a bit of dressing up and acting – I think it’s the dog walker ones that make me laugh the most; this is a simple idea, faultlessly realised.
The beauty of Wegman’s work is that it feels like a collaborative practice with his dogs – first Man Ray, then Fay Ray and her off-spring – as partners in picture-making.
Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s The Hamptons has made me start to think about other photographs of dogs and about how they often make me smile. Even the most cursory glance about the place reveals the internet to be all about kittens, but when it comes to actual photographs in actual galleries then I think dogs win out. So in part to get me out of the rut of writing about art I saw last year, here’s some art I saw even longer ago. Admittedly as steps forward go, this may not be a very impressive one but in mitigation, there are some really great art dogs out there and what better way to cheer up this rather rainy January than by looking at pictures one can’t help but find cheering? And what better way to start than with Elliott Erwitt?
Philip-Lorca diCorcia is one of those people whose work I may not always like – although I often – but will always make the time to go and see. If I’m honest though, the press release for East of Eden, which I saw at David Zwirner in Mayfair in the summer, didn’t really excite me. DiCorcia was quoted as saying that the series, started in 2008 as the sub-prime mortgage crisis caused the economy to fail, was “provoked by the collapse of everything, which seems to me a loss of innocence. People thought they could have anything. And then it just blew up in their faces. I’m using the Book of Genesis as a start.”
Thinking about presentation is all well and good, but what about the pictures? Dayanita Singh’s work always fascinates and the museums work for me as much for what is hidden as for what is shown with tantalising hints of pictures stashed behind pictures. Of all the museums, the pictures I was most familiar with before the Hayward show were the File Room series which I also saw in the German Pavilion in Venice. The pictures, as far as I’m aware made almost by accident with Singh drawn to photographing the files in the places she visited without initially realising it, show the file rooms of various institutions in India – courts, state archives, local government offices and the like – documenting the extraordinary paper-based bureaucracy that supports a nation with a population in excess of a billion. Over time, of course, digitisation will eliminate the vast accumulation of paper. But in the meanwhile, in archive after archive and office after office, the paper piles up.
Dayanita Singh, Museum Bhavan installed in Go Away Closer
As well as Sarah Lucas at the Whitechapel Gallery, my December exhibition catch-up included a visit to the Hayward Gallery* to see exhibitions by Ana Mendieta (of which more in a later post, I think) and Dayanita Singh. Clearly December was women’s art month in my schedule. As with Lucas at the Whitechapel, there was an overlap with things I’d seen in Venice in the Biennale.**
Dayanita Singh is best known for making books and the books are much in evidence in Go Away Closer, the Hayward Gallery show. As a way of getting art photography to a wide audience this is a strategy with much to recommend it – and it’s certainly one a lot of people are working with right now – but for me it’s no substitute for seeing a great print. And, in the case of Singh’s work, it’s another display strategy that interests me more: her portable museums, displayed here as a group as Museum Bhavan.
Sarah Lucas, in The Encyclopaedic Palace, Central Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale, 2013
I’m a firm believer in the idea that art can come from anywhere and be made of anything. And that means that just as an artist can turn everyday materials into art, so they can also choose to materials that have been the stuff of high art for centuries. But, to state the obvious, there’s a bit of a difference between nylon tights stuffed with kapok and bronze. Sarah Lucas has been working with tights for nearly two decades now. Her Bunny sculptures of the late 1990s and the more recent Nuds – often oddly sexual abstract forms – can be both funny and a bit disturbing. Either way, I like them a lot.
Sarah Lucas, SITUATION: Absolute Beach Man Rubble, Whitechapel Gallery, 2013
When it comes to exhibitions I’m usually all in favour of white space and plenty of it. I want to see the work and I want the installation of the work to be as unobtrusive as possible. If I’m spending time looking at the plinths or the frames or the way things are positioned then that’s less time spent looking at the art. Sometimes though the way the work is shown can become part of the show in a good way. Thinking back, there have been a few shows at the Whitechapel Gallery recently where that’s been the case (indeed, I wrote about two – the Gillian Wearing and Gerard Byrne exhibitions – a while ago for MostlyFilm) so I guess it should have come as no surprise that the Sarah Lucas show there late last year – which I caught just before it closed – was, let’s say, not the most minimal of installations.