Gabriel Orozco, Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe, 1995
While I’m in on a bit of a ‘means of transport as art’ theme I really can’t ignore Gabriel Orozco’s Until You Find Another Yellow Schwalbe. Living in Berlin while on a DAAD residency in 1995, Orozco got around the city using a yellow Schwalbe scooter. These scooters, made in the former East Germany, were cheap and quite a common sight on the streets of Berlin. Whenever he saw a scooter like his parked, Orozco would pull up next to it and photograph the pair of scooters. He left a note on each of the scooters inviting the owner to bring it to a gathering outside the Neue Nationalgalerie on the anniversary of the reunification of Germany.
George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, 2002-3
The landscapes in George Shaw’s paintings all conceal stories but in this case the narratives are Shaw’s own childhood memories. For the series Scenes from the Passion, Shaw worked from photographs taken within a half mile radius of the house he grew up in. The area is unremarkable and, in Shaw’s paintings, unpopulated. There is a bleakness here but also perhaps a sense of anticipation. Though the area is very specifically the territory of Shaw’s childhood in a way it feels like the paintings depict a kind of everytown. There are certainly scenes here that I can match against my own suburban London upbringing.
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.
Eugenio Dittborn, The 11th History of the Human Face (500 years) (Airmail painting no.91), 1990
For as long as there’s been an art world, art has travelled. In an increasingly international, multi-centre art world that’s truer than ever and artists working at an international level might have exhibitions in several countries at any one time. For some artists though getting their work out isn’t easy. For Eugenio Dittborn the question of how to get the work out has determined the nature of the work itself. Based in Santiago de Chile, for Dittborn the issue is not just about distance but about the problem of making art while living under a repressive regime and in 1984, with Chile governed by the military, he started to make what he calls Airmail Paintings. Collage-based works, these are made of lightweight, foldable materials and are posted to the galleries that exhibit them – often in segments to be assembled on arrival – with the envelopes becoming part of the work.
Cindy Sherman started making her Untitled Film Stills thirty-five years ago. I suppose it’s part of the nature of that project that though the images are now very familiar and though others have moved into Sherman’s territory in the meanwhile, her images don’t seem dated. In mimicking different film genres, Sherman created a body of work that has a certain level of timelessness built in. Nonetheless, thirty-five years is a long time and the Cindy Sherman who appears in the pictures in the on-going Untitled series over the past decade or so is very different from the young woman who appeared in the Untitled Film Stills. Sherman is now middle aged and the work she’s made in recent years reflects this; she is a woman of a certain age.
It was the chicken in Ron Mueck’s show at Hauser and Wirth that made me think of Jenny Saville. I realise that probably sounds crazy but the chicken skin put me in mind of Saville’s Shift, a vast painting (something like 3.3m x 3.3m, so able to dominate the space even in a sizeable gallery) showing a row of women squashed up against each other. It’s a painting I haven’t seen in many years but of all Saville’s work – and she’s a painter I like a lot – it’s the piece that’s always had the strongest hold over me. It’s partly that Jenny Saville paints flesh really well and partly that I like the way she makes me think about body image and the way we’re conditioned to see ourselves. These aren’t the idealised figures of art history or women’s magazines; they are women as women are. It turns out that painting the female nude and feminism aren’t mutually exclusive – however much a trip to almost any major art museum might make it seem that way – which is good to know.
Having taken the slow route from the Bechers to portraiture it seems like a good time to ponder the more obvious forward jump, so today I’ve found myself thinking about Thomas Ruff’s Portraits, a body of work he started while still a student of Bernd Becher at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and has continued – in parallel with other work – ever since. Initially working in black and white, Ruff quickly moved to colour and made the series using a large format camera so that the faces are recorded in unrelenting detail. At their most simple, these are like passport photographs but for the eessential detail of scale: Ruff’s prints are around two metres tall.
If I’m honest, I’m a bit of a hoarder. I know I really need to start throwing things out, but somehow I don’t get round to it. And being an artist gives me an extra excuse, or so I tell myself. I have all kinds of junk squirreled away as stuff I might sometime use to make work. Yeah, right. But however much I know I need a clear out and however much I like art that is driven by obsession – a lot, on both counts – I know I could never have made Break Down. The extremity of Michael Landy’s project fascinates and terrifies me in equal measure.
Thinking about the fragmented body in Gary Hill‘s Inasmuch As It Is Always Already Taking Place made me think about the self portraiture of John Coplans who repeatedly photographed his own – aging – body for (almost) the last two decades of his life. Several things interest me about Coplans’s work. Firstly, there’s the way they don’t conform to expectations of the nude in art. As the Guerrilla Girls have established, the nude is generally female and in an increasingly youth-centred culture the ageing body isn’t often the subject of attention. Here the focus is on the ordinary.
If a picture paints a thousand words then what happens when the picture is words? Sean Landers uses painting as a way to tell stories but it’s not the picture part of the equation – when there is one, and more often than not there isn’t – that does the talking. It’s all those words.
I saw Landers’s work first in Young Americans at the Saatchi Gallery in, I think*, 1996. I remember being mesmerised by it. I made a very good attempt at reading the paintings but I think I failed. By the time you’re about three or four lines in it’s hard to get from the end of one line to the start of the next without skipping or re-reading so hoolding on to the thread of the narrative becomes troublesome.