John Pawson, Perspectives, 2011 (installed in San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, 2013)
So, having lost my blogging mojo in 2013, it’s clearly time for a bit of a fresh start and a resolution to get back to writing random stuff about art on a vaguely regular basis in 2014.* It seems appropriate to start with a bit of a catch-up on things I’ve seen or been preoccupied by recently but not rambled on about. In some ways I quite like getting a bit of distance on stuff before posting so expect a preponderance of posts about the things that have stuck in my mind most clearly from 2013.
Allan Kaprow, Poster for Fluids: a Happening by Allan Kaprow, 1967
While Francis Alÿs choose to melt ice the hard way, he’s not the only – or the first – artist to make art from ice melting away. In 1967, Allan Kaprow staged a Fluxus ‘happening’ in which enclosures were built from large blocks of ice around the Los Angeles area; they were then left to melt away. Kaprow advertised the event in advance to find volunteers to help build the enclosures, a major undertaking given their size.
The event was documented photographically – by Dennis Hopper (yes, that Dennis Hopper) – but essentially this was an event to be experienced in real life rather; it existed for those who were involved in the building process and in a different way for those who came across the ice enclosures before they melted away.
There’s something compelling about the sea. It looks so flat and innocent but it demands our respect and we know how violent it can be. But even on the dullest, stillest day, I think I could stare out to sea for quite a long time without getting bored. Standing outside Turner Contemporary at Margate, Mark Wallinger’s Sinema Amnesia is watching the sea this summer and showing it back to us in the form of The Waste Land. The installation takes the form of a shipping container supported by scaffolding and not trying to pretend otherwise. There are references to cinema not just in the title but also the signage but otherwise it’s essentially just a black box in a car park in a run-down seaside town, albeit a car park outside a contemporary art gallery.
Mark Wallinger, Sinema Amnesia installed in Margate, 2012
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.
Richard Wilson, 20:50, 1987 (Matt’s Gallery, Martello Street, London)
Art can make us see the world differently. Certainly the way both Gordon Matta-Clark and Richard Wilson have cut away sections of buildings challenges our perception of architecture making us see city spaces differenttly in a literal but nonethheless interesting way.
Wilson’s iinstallation 20:50, a room with a seemingly mirrored surface at roughly waist height, offers a strangely new understanding of the space it’s installed in. For the unsuspecting visitor, the first clue about the nature of the surface is the smell, approaching the room one is greeted with a powerful aroma of oil. Suddenly the title – 20:50 – makes sense: the room is flooded with used engine oil. A walkway leads out into the middle of the space, from which you get to see the features of the room reflected all around you.
Quite high on the list of art I wish I’d seen is Richard Wilson’s installation for the 2007 Liverpool Biennial. Like other works by Wilson, who is probably best known for his installation 20:50 at the Saatchi Gallery (about which more another time, possibly even tomorrow now that it’s in my head), Turning the Place Over was an architectural intervention on an ambitious scale but unlike 20:50 this was a temporary installation made by messing with the fabric of an empty building.
One of my main preoccupations over the last couple of weeks while preparing for the end of year exhibition is how to divide up the space. Obviously for me this involves figuring out where the walls should go and what should go where to make the exhibition make as much sense as possible. But, you know, a bit of literal mindedness and it’s only a small leap from how to divide the studio to Gordon Matta-Clark and the chainsaw and sledgehammer approach to redefining architectural space.
The 1970s may have a lot to answer for in all sorts of ways, but some pretty ground-breaking – or in Matta-Clark’s case building-breaking – art was made then and it’s work that still resonates and that continues to influence subsequent generations of artists.
Idris Khan, every… Bernd and Hilla Becher Spherical Type Gasholders, 2004
The objectivity that characterises Bernd and Hilla Becher’s recording of industrial architecture resulted in pictures that allow examination of the structures in almost forensic detail and their typological approach to display allows comparisons between buildings of the same type. The precision that comes from using a large format camera and the neutral lighting of an overcast sky makes for an extraordinary level of detail. There is a sense of completeness that comes from seeing multiple structures of each type.
Idris Khan has taken the Bechers’ work as a starting point for a different examination of the same territory. Rather than building up a picture of the whole from the precise detail of each individual image, Khan has taken an average. By overlaying all the Bechers’ images of a particular type of structure – for instance spherical type gasholders – Khan has produced sketchy pictures that seem to suggest an approximate version of how each type of building might be expected to look.
Bernd and Hilla Becher, Cooling TowersWood-Steel, 1959-77
It would, I suppose, be possible to see Bernd and Hilla Becher’s pictures of industrial structures as boring, particularly if one were to restrict one’s attention to one or two pictures, though for me I think fascination with the detail always wins out. These are perfect pictures. They record the appearance of industrial structures – water towers, gas holders, mine heads etc – with complete objectivity and in forensic detail. The pictures were made over a period nearly five decades – they started collaborating in 1959 and continued until Bernd Becher’s death in 2007 – using a large format camera in the neutral lighting of overcast weather. The structures are viewed straight on, so that verticals remain vertical; the large format camera helps here but the Bechers also worked from raised viewpoints so that we are looking at the structures as directly as possible.