Art world turned upside down

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913 (authorised reproduction 1951, original lost)

The means of transport link is a bit tenuous here but I seem to have been writing about a lot of works that are in some way related to the idea of the readymade or assemblage so not mentioning Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel would seem like a strange omission. This is a sculpture so simple it’s hard to see it as something that predated minimalism by several decades. Whenever I stop to really think about Duchamp and the idea of the readymade I’m astonished that it took just fifty years to get from the outrage that greeted Édouard Manet’s 1963 painting Le déjeurner sur l’herbe, often seen as heralding the start of Modern Art, to a bicycle wheel on a white stool being declared to be art. That it predated the formation of Dada, a movement with which Duchamp was associated, with its ideas of an anti-art in response to the horrors of the first world war also seems extraordinary.

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Drawing in space

Damián Ortega, Miracolo Italiano, 2005

The VW Beetle is not the only vehicle Damián Ortega has used as art materials. In Miracolo Italiano Ortega presented three Vespa scooters in various states of wholeness. The scooter leading the parade is whole but the ones behind it are exploding out into the space, with the second one showing early signs of breaking up and the third one as fragmented as the Beetle in Cosmic Stuff. Like the Beetle, the Vespa is a twentieth century icon and Miracolo Italiano was made for an exhibition in it’s home city of Turin

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Unmaking the readymade

Damián Ortega, Cosmic Thing, 2002

No car maintenance manual would be complete without an exploded view diagram or two, so it seems appropriate that it should be a car that Damián Ortega chose to break apart and display as a kind of three-dimensional diagrammatic representation of itself; indeed Ortega based the car’s deconstruction on the diagram in the car’s repair manual. The car in question in Ortega’s sculpture Cosmic Thing is a 1989 VW Beetle. The Beetle is one of the Seen from the side – or the front, albeit to a lesser extent, as the picture after the jump will show – the car is immediately recognisable and the work seems like a drawing in many ways.

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The reassembled object

Simon Starling, Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture no. 2), 2005

At first sight, Simon Starling’s Shedboatshed (Mobile Architecture no. 2) appears to be a readymade. It’s an old shed. It looks a bit the worse for wear, but age will do that to a shed. Things aren’t quite a simple as they appear though and the first clue’s in the title.

Shedboatshed is a shed. Shedboatshed started out as a shed. But it hasn’t always been a shed. Starling turned an old shed, which he’d found in the banks of the Rhine, into a boat which he then used to get to Basel, carrying the unused parts of the shed in the boat. On arrival, the shed was reassembled and exhibited in the Kunstmuseum Basel and later that year in Tate Britain as part of the Turner Prize exhibition, which Starling won.

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The assembled body

Sarah Lucas, Au Naturel, 1994

Having seen quite a bit of work made from existing objects recently and having been reminded about Au Naturel by seeing Tracey Emin’s Dead Sea in her exhibition at Turner Contemporary, which I wrote about here a while ago, I find myself wondering why it’s taken me this long to write about Sarah Lucas’s work. 

Essentially, Au Naturel is a very simple sculpture of a man and woman in bed, he represented by two oranges and a cucumber, she by a bucket and a pair of melons. What  makes this work for me is that the visual joke of the assemblage triggers thoughts about language and the slang terms used for body parts. In particular, with works like this, Lucas draws attention to the derogatory way women’s bodies are often described colloquially.

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Art about art – Mel Brimfield: Between genius and desire at Ceri Hand Gallery

Mel Brimfield, Vincent (Portrait with Fur Hat and Bandaged Ear), 2012

Mel Brimfield makes art about art in a very different way to others that I’ve written about here before (the reworkings of Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress by David Hockney and Yinka Shonibare or Gregory Crewdson’s remained Edward Hopper picture, for instance). As with Shonibare’s Diary of a Victorian Dandy, Brimfield’s work is performative but there’s a humour in the work that feels more connected to Nina Katchadourian’s Self-portrait as Sir Ernest Shackleton though in Brimfield’s work the performances are collaborations between artist and performer. The resulting works – photographs, videos and sculpture – reference not only the artists Brimfield is looking at but also our ideas about art and the way the artists have been represented in films. Brimfield’s exhibition Between Genius and Desire at Ceri Hand Gallery Project Space – the gallery’s first show in London – gave me a lot to both think and smile about.

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Where activism meets art

Ai Weiwei, Remembering, 2009

It’s possible for text to become meaningless shapes when we’re too close to it, especially if it’s written in an unfamiliar script. At first glance, maybe even to those who read Mandarin, the colourful wall of the Haus der Kunst Museum in Munich which faced visitors to Ai Weiwei’s 2009 exhibition So Sorry, might have seemed more like a cheerful pattern rather than the poignant words of a grieving mother. The colour palette of red, yellow, green and blue is more redolent of children’s books than works of art and certainly doesn’t immediately suggest a memorial. Look closer and it’s clear that the building blocks of the banner are brightly coloured backpacks, the sort that children often use as school bags. But this is a work that needs an explanation.

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