Bumping along



Birgit Jurgenssen, Pregnancy Shoe, 1976Birgit Jürgenssen, Schwangerer Schuh (Pregnancy Shoe), 1976

The Spotlight section of Frieze Masters offered a fascinating reminder of the art that was being made in the 1960s and ’70s and, in particular, of the women artists whose work is gradually gaining greater recognition. It’s not just women artists whose work doesn’t really become known until much later of course, but I don’t think it’d be hard to make the case that it happens disproportionately to women (one would hope that this is no longer the case, but that’s something that only time will tell). Of Birgit Jürgenssen’s work, shown by Galerie Hubert Winter, it’s a small sculpture that has stayed freshest in my mind.

Pregnancy Shoe is a strange object; there is a similarity of approach perhaps with Louise Bourgeois’ use of fabric – and thus the shared approach of using materials and processes often seen as ‘feminine’ to make feminist work that comments on women’s place in society – and with the surreal nature of the work. Though the show appears to be pregnant, it’s unclear quite what it will actually give birth to.

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On hand

Gillian Wearing, My Hand, 2012 (mixed media)

Gillian Wearing, My Hand, 2012

Thinking back at work seen over the past few months obviously brings Frieze Art Fair back to mind and thinking about Paul Noble’s work in the Turner Prize 2012 exhibition has made me think about sculpture by someone who I mainly associate with two dimensional work, all of which brings me to Gillian Wearing. I’ve written about Wearing a couple of times on this blog (about her work with the confessions of others and the works for which she becomes other people) but I haven’t mentioned her sculpture, in the main because I find it less interesting, I think. Nonetheless, My Hand, shown at Frieze by Maureen Paley, has stayed in my thoughts for some reason and I now find myself wondering why I find this piece engaging.

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A world fit for turds

Paul Noble Pauls Palace 1996

Paul Noble, Paul’s Palace, 1996

When the Turner Prize shortlist is announced I generally have an opinion about who I want to win. When the actual Turner Prize exhibition opens, even before I get to see the show myself, that opinion often changes based on snippets seen on the news or reviews in the paper. And of course when I finally get round to seeing the show, more often than not my opinion shifts yet again. By then there are often two names in my head: the artist I want to win and the one I think will take the prize.

In a way, from the safe distance of not having seen the exhibition yet, I really wanted Paul Noble to win the 2012 Turner Prize, not for the work on show at Tate Britain but for the preposterous totality of the Nobson Newtown project: two decades, give or take a bit, of incredibly detailed drawings of an often dystopian world populated by strange turd-like creatures (as a description that does somewhat beg the question of quite what a utopia for turds would look like but this isn’t something I plan to consider further, or certainly not here).

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Small sculptural conundrums

Marcus Coates, Crucifixes for Various Amphibians, 2000

It was flicking though a book at the Grizedale Arts installation at Frieze Art Fair that alerted me to the existence of Marcus Coates’s Crucifixes for Various Amphibians, a simple but intriguing work made of lolly sticks, elastic bands and paper clips. At a time of year when I often get students to make work from a limited range of basic materials – with lolly sticks a popular choice – this was a real find. I’m always happy to come across work that backs up my assertion that art can be made of anything but what makes this work especially pleasing is quite how much Coates has managed to say with a couple of dozen lolly sticks and a few elastic bands and paper clips.

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Dust to dust

Takahiro Iwasaki, Out of Disorder, 2011; Cornerhouse Manchester (image: WeAreTape)

Takahiro Iwasaki, Out of Disorder (hair), 2011

It was a random conversation about the Cornerhouse in Manchester that reminded me about Takahiro Iwasaki’s work, which I saw there last year in the exhibition Constellations, and as some of it involves the use of hair this seems like as good a time to write about it as any what with hair being my preoccupation of the week. It was noticing that Constellations included the work of Katie Paterson and Felix Gonzalez-Torres that put it firmly on my list of things I needed to see during a very brief trip to Manchester last summer and though they didn’t disappoint, it was Iwasaki’s work that charmed me the most when I got there. Out of Disorder is a tiny, fragile world of constructions made of and emerging from the stuff of our daily lives. In some cases the stuff in question is dust and hair found in the space which become mountains and pylons.

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Delicacy and disgust

Mona Hatoum, Hair Necklace, 1995

At first glance, especially through the window of an expensive jewellery shop*, Mona Hatoum’s Hair Necklace might appear to be delicate beads made of spun metal thread. A closer look – or knowing the name of the piece – would immediately give the game away though and this delicately beautiful necklace would immediately become somewhat less appealing. A single string of beads as a necklace isn’t exactly unusual. And the idea of carrying a lock of a loved one’s hair in a necklace, specifically a locket, is hardly new. Combine the two ideas though and you get something rather less commonplace and much more interesting. Hatoum’s hairball beads are undeniably beautiful. There is an extraordinary filigree delicacy to them. Nonetheless, those odd stray ends disturb. And the realisation that this is hair – real hair – inevitably offsets the aesthetic appeal.

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Sailing nowhere

Yinka Shonibare, Nelson's Ship in a Bottle, 2010

Yinka Shonibare MBE, Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle, 2010

Vehicles? Mention of the fourth plinth? Those who have been paying attention could probably have predicted Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle as the subject of my next post. And here it is. (Those now thinking the next one will be about Elmgreen and Dragset’s haven’t been paying attention quite long enough though; I’ve written about that already.) I’ve liked quite a few of the works commissioned for the fourth plinth – the plinth in the North West corner of Trafalgar Square in London originally intended to host some general or other on a horse, I think – but Sonibare’s is definitely one of the ones that I enjoyed the most. It’s the sort of work I couldn’t resist going to have another look at when I was nearby, the sort of work that unfailingly made me smile even on the greyest day.

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On the road

Jeremy Deller, It is what it is, 2009

Though I’ve mentioned this work in a previous post, it seems pertinent to make it the subject of a post now given that, like David Černý’s Quo Vadis, the basis of the work is a car as a signifier of world events. The car in Jeremy Deller’s It is what it is, was destroyed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq in 2007. The mangled wreckage here, as is often the case in media reports of war, stands in for the destruction of human life, in this case the deaths of thirty eight people. Though we are all too used to seeing images of such vehicles, finding oneself confronted with the real thing is a wholly different experience. Deller has gone beyond this though and taken the wrecked car on a road trip around America, using it as a catalyst for discussion about Iraq.

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Standing in memory

David Černý, Quo Vadis, 1990

Though David Černý’s work may at first seem to be all about the visual joke, his sculptures often do make a political point. Given the artist’s reluctance to talk about his work and what his intended meaning for it might be, it can require a bit of knowledge and/or research to get to the heart of the matter. For me a case in point is the sculpture Quo Vadis, a Trabant on legs, that I encountered quite by accident in Prague. (Had I done my research before visiting Prague I might have planned a walk through the city to find more of  Černý’s public sculptures; as it is, well, maybe I’ll get back there and follow the Černý sculpture trail at some point.) Anyway, while a bit lost, I ended up looking through a fence into the garden of the German Embassy, intrigued by the sight of a car on legs. That the car in question was a Trabant – a cheaply produced East German car, with a fibreglass body – was a clue.

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Softly, softly

Kaija Papu, PI541, 2012

A police car is an unusual sight in an art gallery. Well, let’s face it, cars and indoors don’t really go together and though cars do feature in museums from time to time it’s still a little surprising to see one right there in the foyer but that’s the case at Kiasma in Helsinki at the moment. The police car in question is just by the cloakroom. There’s one of those museum ropes round it so it’s clearly art rather than the police answering a call somewhat over-zealously. Get a bit closer and it’s apparent that the police car is unusual in other ways too.  I’m not thinking of the fact that it’s a Skoda. That’s fair enough. But police cars are almost never knitted.

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