Drawing sculpture in the dark

Anthony McCall, Line Describing a Cone, 1973

While I’m on the subject of almost non-existent sculpture, especially almost non-existent sculpture that might in some way be seen as drawing, it’s perhaps inevitable that Anthony McCall’s Solid Light Works should worm their way into my thoughts. I can remember the first time I saw Line Describing a Cone very clearly indeed. It’s just one of those works: astonishing, engaging, playful, uplifting even. There’s something about the way it plays tricks on both eye and mind. That first encounter was at an almost deserted Hayward Gallery – it was about two days before Christmas, which turns out to be a great time to see art almost in private – in the exhibition Eyes, Lies and Illusions which brought together a collection of magic lanterns, zoetropes and other optical devices with works by contemporary artists. It was a great show. And then, there was one final room just before the exit. When I went in it was empty and, my friend and me aside, it stayed that way for a good five minutes or so.

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Dividing lines

Fred Sandback, Untitled (no. 48, Three Leaning Planes, from 133 Proposals for the Heiner Friedrich Gallery), 1969

I think it’s pretty clear by now that I quite like a bit of visual confusion and that I have a bit of a soft spot for the large scale minimal sculpture made in particular by American artists in the 1960s and ’70s (and later), which means Fred Sandback is definitely right there on my like list (even if I do have a tendency to forget his name from time to time, possibly, for some weird reason, I don’t expect artists to be called Fred).

This is sculpture at its simplest. Sandback makes works that divide the space or rest against a wall. At first glance, it usually looks like there are large sheets of glass either creating barriers in the space or resting against the walls. but all is not as it seems..

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Half seen

Lucy Skaer, Leviathan Edge, 2009Lucy Skaer, Leviathan Edge part of the installation Thames and Hudson, 2009

Since I’m on a bit of a skull theme, Lucy Skaer’s Leviathan Edge – the skull of a sperm whale borrowed from National Museums Scotland for inclusion in her installation Thames and Hudson – popped into my mind. The skull is rather larger than those adorned by Damien Hirst or Gabriel Orozco. By about 14 foot or so. The whale skull is vast and its shape utterly unfamiliar. It’s a curious object made all the more fascinating by Skaer’s tantalising presentation of it in an enclosed space so that we can only see small sections of it through narrow slits.

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Right there in black and white

Gabriel Orozco, Black Kites, 1997

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull, got me thinking about another – and in my view much more interesting – human skull that has become contemporary art. Gabriel Orozco’s Black Kites is an extraordinary three-dimensional drawing on a distinctly less than conventional ground. This is a work I found both moving and compelling.

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This exhibition does not do you justice

David Shrigley, Untitled, 2011

I like David Shrigley’s work. It makes me laugh. Why then did I approach his Hayward Gallery exhibition with a sense of dread? Well now, let’s see. Firstly, the strength of Shrigley’s work lies in its simplicity and that’s something that can get wearing when seen en masse. Secondly, the Hayward Gallery is a very big space even allowing for the fact that Shrigley is sharing it with Jeremy Deller’s Joy in People (which warrants a post of its own at the very least). Thirdly – and this one’s the big one – I’ve yet to see a Shrigley solo show I properly liked. Despite that tinge of dread I tried to stay hopeful. With my expectations low, surely a pleasant surprise was in order? Well, yes. And, more importantly, no…

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Without words

Alighiero Boetti, Mettere Al Mondo Il Mondo (Bringing the World into the World), 1975

There are three paying exhibitions at Tate Modern at the moment. The Damien Hirst exhibition is being widely advertised and has been the subject of a lot of media attention. Of the other two, the Yayoi Kusama seems to have generated the most discussion. Hirst is of course a household name and Kusama was already firmly in the consciousness of Londoners with an interest in contemporary art following Walking in my Mind at the Hayward Gallery in 2009 which was heavily centred on her work, indeed her polka dot wrapping of the trees along the South Bank ensured that her work also reached a signifcant non-art audience. The Hirst and Kusama exhibitions are also the ones making the most – visual – noise in the gallery, and while the Hirst was proved mercifully quieter than I had expected when I visited, they do seem to be attracting the bigger crowds.

There were things I liked about the Hirst – it was good to see those early works again and entertaining to stare in horror at the worst excesses of his more recent output – and I really liked the Kusama exhibition (at some stage I may well write about both) but it’s the other show – Alighiero Boetti: Game Plan – that I found by far the most inspiring.

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Motherhood as art

Mary Kelly, Post-Partum Document (detail: vests, from Introduction), 1973-79

Like Susan Hiller, Mary Kelly documented her pregnant belly as art but it is the work she made after the birth of her childfor which she is better known. Post-Partum Document made between 1973 and ’79, the first years of her son’s life, is an extensive document of the mother and child relationship and of the nature of motherhood. The work is in six sections and contains over a hundred items of documentation from the vests shown above to diary notes, graphs and other data and artefacts such as stained nappy liners. The work is driven by the process of making it and clearly parts of that process aren’t pleasant.

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The trouble with language

Fiona Banner, Every Word Unmade, 2007

Before moving on from text and language – at least temporarily, there’s more I want to write about at some point – it seems like a good idea to go back to the basic building blocks of text: letters and punctuation.  Typography is more usually the domain of designers but given that lots of artists have concerned themselves with language as a sign system, it’s no great surprise that some have also worked with its constituent parts.

In Every Word Unmade, Fiona Banner presents the alphabet as an opportunity for communication; the basic letterforms have the potential to become words.

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Dystopian dreams

Paul Noble, Nobson Central, 1998-9

The world of Paul Noble is a strange one. His imagined city, Nobson Newtown, which he started constructing in the form of monumental drawings in the late 1990s, is a complex space. The houses are modernist boxes; the city includes open spaces and evidence of a degree of urban planning reminiscent of the utopian ideals of the garden cities and new towns of the early to mid twentieth century. Everything, surely, should be perfect?

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The whole story

Fiona Banner, Apocalypse Now, 1997

Stories can be told in many different ways, words on the page and images on a cinema screen being two of the most common. It’s when the means of story-telling becomes words on a cinema screen that things start to get confusing. I’m not sure how easy it’d be to try to follow the story of Apocalypse Now from Banner’s piece of the same name, but the narrative is all there. It’s just that it’s there as a hand-written text on a page the size and shape of a cinema screen. And only yesterday there I was claiming Sean Landers choice of line length seemed excessive!

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