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.
Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo, aMAZEme, installation in Royal Festival Hall, 2012
If someone had asked me to imagine what 250,000 books looked like, I’m not sure I’d have had a clue. A quarter of a million anything is a lot, that much I do know. But I was always rubbish at guessing the number of smarties in the jar at fêtes, and those numbers were always in the hundreds which is much more manageable somehow. Anyway, in case you happen to be wondering what 250,000 books looks like, there they are, made into a maze resembling the fingerprint of writer and educator Jorge Luis Borges by Brazilian artists Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo in the Clore Ballroom at the Royal Festival Hall. As with almost everything else in London this summer, it’s part of the London 2012 Festival, the culmination of the Cultural Olympiad.
The World in London (Park House, Oxford Street), 2012
The World in London, which I wrote about in the previous post, is unusually in that the exhibition is being shown at the same time in two venues in the same city (although the Oxford Street installation will stay on display after the Olympics close on 12 August). Although the design of the two installations is recognisably the same in terms of its graphic identity – which is kept very simple, and although my preference would generally be to see images on white the black background does work reasonably well here – the way the work is shown is rather different and offers two different readings of the collection of photographs.
On Oxford Street, the images are displayed as a grid, albeit an uneven one with some images larger than others, in part because of the range of formats used by the photographers but occasionally determined by the architectural grid of the building. Exhibiting photographs in a grid is a strategy used by Bernd and Hilla Becher who grouped their pictures of industrial buildings together by type and it’s hard not to read grids of photographs as typologies.
Londoners come from anywhere and everywhere. Once you move here, you become a Londoner whether you came here from Surrey or Sudan. With the world coming to London for the Olympic games, The Photographers’ Gallery decided to commission a series of portraits of Londoners for a public art exhibition called The World in London. The aim was to find and photograph a Londoner from each of the 204 countries sending a team to the Olympics. They almost managed it; there are two or three places from which no Londoners have yet been found: American Samoa is one, Nauru another (there may be more that I’ve forgotten about), but the exhibition lives up to its title.
Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, Serpentine Pavilion, 2012
Not that you’d know it to look out of the window, but it’s summer. And, amongst other things, summer means a new Serpentine Pavilion. In a fit of optimism, this year’s pavilion is open sided so it’s likely that for much of the summer those venturing to see it will find themselves staying close to the middle to avoid the driving rain and quite possibly huddling together for warmth. Ah well…
So, disregarding the disparity between building and climate, is it good architecture? Does it work as a social space? Is that even what it’s for?
Dan Graham, Triangular Solid with Circular Inserts, 1989
(installed at Peggy Guggenheim, Venice)
Over the last couple of posts we’ve kind of established that reflections can be confusing and can change the way we experience space. But regular readers must know by now that once I’ve caught hold of a thread I’ll pull at it just that bit longer than is reasonable so today is, um, well, more of the same really. Sorry about that.
Much of Dan Graham’s work, in particular his two-way mirror pavilions – could be seen as architecture as well as art. The pavilions are small glass structures which are usually partly made of mirrored glass which confuses the way the structure reflects the environment it sits in. The effect of this is that people are prone to wandering in and out of view unexpectedly and the space seems to change as one walks round or through the structure.
Anish Kapoor, Vertigo and Non-Object (Pole), both 2008
On one level, this is probably the most inappropriately titled post I’ve written. Anish Kapoor’s work is, in my view at least, usually very far from down to earth. At its best, Kapoor’s work is extraordinary; it can redefine the space it occupies and disorientate, baffle and sometimes entertain its viewers. But – with the notable exception of the quietly beautiful, and easily overlooked, pregnant wall pieces – subtle it ain’t. Pompous, yes. Excessive, certainly. Subtle, not so much.
To start with the entertaining, by bringing strangely distorting mirrored surfaces into the gallery space, Kapoor entices his audience to pose and play. This is art crossed with the funfair in the form of the hall of mirrors and it’s hard not to be beguiled by the result. Moving backwards and forwards before the mirrors, we might get fatter and thinner or be turned upside down. The results aren’t exactly profound but they are both beautiful and good fun.
Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, 2003 (Turbine Hall, Tate Modern)
Mirrors can make a room look bigger. We all know that. They can also make a space confusing. We all know that too. At some stage, most of us have probably been in a public place with a mirrored wall and though the room extended further than it actually did. We may even have walked into the mirror by accident. These things happen.
The idea of a mirrored ceiling is a strange one. On the one, hand it’s an idea with somewhat seedy connotations. On the other hand, it can double the height of a room; okay, so it can only seem to do that, but you know what I mean. It’s this, somewhat disorientating, effect that Olafur Eliasson was going for when he installed a false ceiling in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern as part of his 2003 installation The Weather Project. In the event, it both messed with our perception of the height of the space and made people behave in a way that they usually don’t in an art museum.
Jeremy Deller, Open Bedroom, 1993 (reconstruction)
Like David Shrigley, Jeremy Deller is an artist whose work doesnt always fit easily into the gallery space. Unlike Shrigley though, when his work is brought together as an exhibiton it exceeds expectations. Joy in People at the Hayward Gallery is a show that is much more than the sum of its parts. And there are some pretty great parts.
In 1993, while others were holding open studios, Deller staged Open Bedroom, his first exhibition, in his parents’ house while they were on holiday. The work, his teenage bedroom presented as art, is reconstructed here as the route into both the show and the head of the artist. We get to open drawers and cupboards and explore the ideas, images and objects that fascinated the young Deller. It’s a great start and a useful grounding for a show that picks up these enthusiasms and makes them art.
The television interventions of the likes of Hall, Arnatt and Burden are things I always tend to think wouldn’t happen now, or at least not on mainstream television. But there’s this nagging doubt that say, but if those things aren’t possible, how did art – and pretty subversive art at that – sneak its way into Melrose Place (yes, Melrose Place, an Aaron Spelling production) as recently as the mid to late 1990s? It doesn’t sound likely. And yet, it happened.