After dark: The Night Watch

Francis Alÿs, The Nightwatch, 2004

Francis Alÿs, The Nightwatch, 2004

Encountering favourite works again by chance is always a real pleasure. My visit to the Exchange in Penzance while on holiday in Cornwall was brief but unexpectedly enjoyable. Apart from seeing the title of the show, I hadn’t really checked what was on before pitching up there (I also hadn’t checked what time the gallery closed, hence the brevity of my visit; why do I never learn?) so beyond thinking 3am: wonder, paranoia and the restless night sounded like my kind of exhibition, I arrived, as is so often the case, essentially clueless. In the main the works I liked the most were the ones I knew already but that’s hardly a problem when those works included some real favourites, especially Francis Alÿs’s The Nightwatch, seen here as a single channel video but sometimes shown as a bank of monitors. Francis Alÿs is probably one of my favourite artists (I’m fickle, it’s an ever changing list; but he’s usually on it, I would say) and The Nightwatch is one of the main reasons why.

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Direction of travel

Richard Hamilton, Trainsition III, 1954

Richard Hamilton, Trainsition III, 1954

I often think my journey to work is a bit ridiculous. Like many people teaching in art colleges, I live in London but work elsewhere. On a good day* my commute is a four and a half hour round trip, give or take a bit. Though there is art in other cities – a lot in some places, but then Glasgow would be an even stupider commute for me – for me, being in London makes the most sense. (Plus, you know, I’m a Londoner. Always have been and probably always will be.) It’s just that I don’t happen to work here.

Like many of my colleagues, I accumulate piles of train tickets. Many of us seem to have vague plans to make a piece of work with them at some point. Whether anyone ever will, I don’t know (I’ve yet to see the evidence if they have). I know I haven’t (and, in all honesty, probably never will).

All of which means that there was one series of works in the Richard Hamilton exhibition at Tate Modern that really resonated: the Trainsition paintings. Hamilton taught at Newcastle for years but, it seems, stayed living in London. Suddenly my commute seems positively mundane. Unlike me though, Hamilton turned the experience into art. Well done that man.

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Visualising an idea: Michael Landy’s Break Down

Michael Landy Breakdown drawing

Michael Landy, P.D.F. Product, Disposal Facility, 1998

As an idea, setting up a disposal facility to destroy all one’s possessions is pretty unusual and it’s certainly not one that conjures up an immediate image in the mind. There would be many ways to go: a big crushing machine perhaps, or maybe some sort of funnel and an industrial scale waste disposal unit like the ones you sometimes see in kitchen sinks but huge, or, well all sorts of other possibilities really. Which is what makes Michael Landy’s P.D.F. (do you see what he did there?) so fascinating.

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Stuff and nonsense

Michael Landy, Gameboy drawing, 1998

Michael Landy, Gameboy drawing from Breakdown

I’ve written about Michael Landy’s Break Down here before, but at the time I focused firmly on the event and the photographic documentation. Breakdown, an Artangel commission that saw Landy destroy all his possessions with the help of a team of overall-clad operatives and a production line style ‘disposal facilty’ set up in the former C&A store on Oxford Street, came back to mind for a few reasons. Mainly, I’ve been trying to reduce the clutter levels in my house and while there’s a long way to go I’ve become pretty familiar with the local charity shops and reacquainted myself with stuff that’s long been lurking in what can only reasonably be described as the junk room. While I’m probably worse than most people at getting round to dumping the clutter, I think many of us do attach memories to things in a way that can make it hard to acknowledge our lack of practical need for objects that may hold sentimental value, however slight.

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Mastering the art of old and new

Frieze Masters, Regent's Park, London

Frieze Masters 2012

Frieze Art Fair has always been about the new. It’s a space for contemporary work and though there have always been slightly older works on show it’s never been a space for the truly old. But then it’s rare to see contemporary art along side antiquities or old masters. It’s not that commonplace to see recent works sharing a space with art made even a century ago. There are all sorts of reasons why but nothing that amounts to a hard and fast rule and anyway rules are made to be broken*, right?

So, in parallel with the tenth Frieze Art Fair in another tent at the other end of Regent’s Park, this year saw the first of what I’m guessing I’m not alone in hoping becomes a regular feature: Frieze Masters. A showcase for art made before the year 2000, Frieze Masters saw a gathering of around ninety to a hundred galleries showing work from ancient to modern, giving, according to the press release, ‘a unique contemporary perspective on art throughout the ages’.

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They do things differently there

Eve Arnold, One of four girls who shares a flat in Knightsbridge, 1961

The premise of Tate Britain’s exhibition Another London: International Photographers Capture City Life 1930–1980 is an interesting one. How does London look to those who arrive here from elsewhere? These are pictures made by people who were either visitors to London or who had adopted it as their home. The answer is that it looks both familiar and strange but, in the main, I think perhaps the strangeness comes less from the viewpoint being that of a non-Londoner than from the pictures coming from the foreign country that is the past.

The earlier pictures are interesting as history pieces – it’s always fascinating to see that mix of familiar places playing host to people from a different time and there is something great about London fog on film – but it’s the images from the 1960s and ’70s that interested me more. This is the London in was born in and the city of my childhood making the pictures are a stark reminder of quite how much life has changed, and not just in London. In places it feels like the exhibition might just as well be called Another Planet.

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London on display

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.

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