Cave painting

Richard Wright, Untitled, 2009 (Tate Britain, Turner Prize Exhibition)

Richard Wright, Untitled, 2009 (Turner Prize exhibition, Tate Britain)

For all that I’m fascinated by Sol Lewitt’s conceptual approach, his wall drawings also bring the extraordinary beauty of Richard Wright’s wall paintings to mind and bring me back to work that can be enjoyed on a purely aesthetic basis. That’s not to say that there are no ideas in play here but faced with a work like the one Wright made for the 2009 Turner Prize exhibition my first reaction is one of wonder at both the extravagant beauty and the scale of the thing.

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Just following instructions


Sol LeWitt wall drawing being made at Dia Beacon

Sol LeWitt wall drawing being made at Dia Beacon

Drawing on a big scale – and some of Sol LeWitt’s larger wall drawings are on a very big scale, more installation than drawing really – can be quite an undertaking. Even if LeWitt had made most of his work himself he could have been forgiven for bringing in a team of assistants to help out. Given his strategy of generating instructions for others to follow though the process of drawing is, by definition, the domain of hired hands.

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Words of advice

Fischli Weiss, How to Work Better, 1991

Peter Fischli and David Weiss, How to Work Better, 1991

There’s no one way to get through the day, of course, and there’s no one way to be an artist. But there is advice that works in many situations – often based on good old common sense – and the ten point list that is Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s How to Work Better is just that. It’s simple, it’s straight-forward and it’s something most of us would do well to follow.

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Ways of showing

Dayanita Singh, File Museum, Hayward Gallery, 2013

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.

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Way beyond the white cube

Sarah Lucas, Situation, Whitechapel Gallery, 2013

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.

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Toilet humour

Sarah Lucas, Cnut, 2004

Sarah Lucas, Cnut, 2004

I guess the leap from thinking about a woman artist making a sculpture of a cock to Sarah Lucas’s work is a distinctly literal one, but as I saw Lucas’s exhibition at the Whitechapel shortly before it ended last month, her work’s been on my mind.

There is of course a long history of toilets in the gallery space but it’s a form few have used with such determined consistency as Sarah Lucas. And while Duchamp’s Fountain – like the works that reference it very directly, such as Sherrie Levine’s Fountain (Buddha) – seems somehow more about the form than the function of the artefact and Claes Oldenberg’s Soft Toilet can be enjoyed for the strange disjunction between the form and materials used in the work and the function of the object on which it is based, Lucas’s toilet works are often grubby and unpleasant to look at.

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Light work

Bill Culbert, Bebop, 2013 (New zealand Pavilion, 55th Venice Biennale)

Bill Culbert, Bebop, 2013 (installation in the New Zealand Pavilion in the Istituto Santa Maria della Pietà at the 55th Venice Biennale)

Ai Weiwei wasn’t the only artist using seating as the building blocks for an art installation in Venice last year. The works in the entrance to the New Zealand Pavilion – held in the Instituto Santa Maria della Pietà – featured suspended chairs and fluorescent tube lights. Culbert, whose work I didn’t really know very well before chancing upon the New Zealand pavilion and wandering in (admittedly I was hardly off the beaten track here, the space was on the waterfront almost no distance from Piazza San Marco), has been working with light since the 1960s. In the work on show in Venice, Culbert used light and domestic objects to create an extraordinary series of installations and smaller sculptural pieces that occupied the space in a really interesting way.

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