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.
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.
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.
Not before time, thinking about Marc Quinn’s Alison Lapper Pregnant brings me back to London and to the oversized cock that is Katharina Fritsch’s work for the fourth plinth: Cock (or Hahn/Cock to give it its full German and English title). Of all the works yet to grace the plinth, and there have been some great ones, some less great ones and one that seemed to make it rain all summer*, I think Hahn/Cock is probably the one that has amused me the most. In the damp greyness of this less than satisfactory winter, it stands proud on the plinth ready to make people chuckle.
It’s big. It’s blue. It’s a cock. What’s not to smile at?
Marc Quin, Breath, 2012 (Isola de San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice)
My summer trip to Venice – being a holiday and all – included some things that simply weren’t part of the biennale at all. I’m no longer entirely sure why one of those things was visiting the Marc Quinn exhibition at Fondazione Giorgio Cini. I’ve liked some of Quinn’s work well enough in the past and I guess I was curious. Plus, the exhibition announced itself in that one of the works on show outside the Fondazione Giorgio Cini building was an 11m tall sculpture. Or, more accurately, an 11m tall inflatable version of an earlier Quinn sculpture. This time in a not at all fetching shade of pink.
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.
Ai Weiwei, Bang, 2013 (installation in the German Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale)
The first thing that confused me about the German Pavilion at last year’s Venice Biennale was that it was in France. Well, not France the actual country, but in France’s pavilion: the two countries swapped buildings for the 55th Venice Biennale as a cultural exchange. Walking into the building the first work on show – in a large central space that generally dictates the tone of anything shown there – was Bang, an installation made of an exploding forest of wooden three-legged stools by the not even a bit German artist (and subject of my last couple of posts) Ai Weiwei. What did it all mean?
Ai Weiwei, S.A.C.R.E.D., 2013 (installation view, Chiesa di Sant’Antonin, Venice as part of Disposition organised by Zuecca Projects and the Lisson Gallery)
Walking into a church in Venice and finding six large black crate-like boxes would be a fairly odd regardless but add couple of dozen other art lovers into the equation, wandering around the space and climbing on little black boxes to peer intently into the crates is a distinctly strange and somewhat unsettling experience. Like most churches in Venice, Chiesa di Sant’Antonin, a fourth century building extensively reworked in the Baroque style in the mid seventeenth century, has a rather ornate interior. The austere black boxes that dominate the floor of the space are an incongruous sight; once one gets beyond the immediate visual confusion, the context raises some interesting questions.