Monday, 24 May 2010

Picasso: Peace and Freedom @ Tate Liverpool

Pablo Picasso, Lobster and Cat, 1965

Ah! Picasso, a deeply flawed man and an exceptionally talented artist. The Titan of 20th Century art is receiving an indubitably deserved solo exhibition at Tate Liverpool. Picasso: Peace and Freedom explores Picasso as a political artist... e.g. a dirty commie.

One of the joys of Picasso’s prolific output and the Tate’s ability to draw art works from the finest collections across the world is that in every room is an unfamiliar work. However different they may be, such as the Lobster & Cat, the use of line, form, colour and painterly texture always manifest the power of Picasso. A whole room is devoted to Picasso’s serene doves and a large space filled with posters and lithographs, the abundant variations on themes feel both delightful and generous.

The framing of Picasso as a history painter is rather awkward, but there is absolutely no denying the pathos and power of his depiction of war. His doves are just gorgeous, his sleep eyed ladies sensuous and the plentiful snatch singularly un-erotic. Peace and Freedom, at it's heart, is simply Picasso on blockbusting form.

So while some wonderful choices are made about how the works are displayed, the counterpoints and repetitions of themes, devices and images are delicious, I feel there are some small but intrinsic flaws in the argument that the exhibition attempts to make. Great artists do not necessarily make great political figures, and this exhibition seems to shy away from this important distinction.

Pure artistic magic... if you insulate yourself from a slightly over zealous attempt to form a new hagiography.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Filip Gilissen, Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca? @ Liverpool Biennial

I’ve always known that I was a primodial-magpie, but last night Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca? proved that everyone else is as well.

Part of Light Night and launching the 2010 Liverpool Biennial, the Artist Filip Gilissen's installation turned, for one night only, a ratty warehouse on New Bird Street into an idolatrous, shimmering exposition of Midas dreams.

My inherent love of gold overcame cynicism, and combined with my dorky ability to always be early, mean that I managed to stumble through the first half of the installation before queues formed.

The concepts behind the installation might be deceptively simple, but like most art that has moved me recently, it was a triumph of elemental ideas and well-executed all-encompassing practice.

Disorienting, magical, sinister and slightly erotic, like an artistic equivalent of a roller-coaster, the installation seemed to suspend sequential moments, so you become uncertain if many minutes or just a few seconds has passed.

The finale, later that evening, a highly anticipated yet miraculously unexpected explosion of dense, effervescent gold and smoke, was spellbinding. Magical, elemental and ominous, I felt like an oracle trying to discern ancient truths by gazing into the swirling smoke and glitter. Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca? begs an ancient, classical context in order to speak about it. Reactions in the crowd were rapturous and joyful. The sense of elation was palpable, and this was swiftly followed, once the shimmering plumes had died out, by an disorientated, artistic kind of post-orgasmic chill.

Like any art that utilises so fundamental devices and plucks antediluvian heart strings, it’s completely open to interpretation. To link this work too closely into it’s stated role as a tribute to Felix Gonzalez-Torres can only damage our experience of it by inviting comparison. I want to scream “step away from the explanation!” I for one want to keep the memories, barely comprehended, in my hind brain. An ecstatic eddy of gold is enough for me.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Strokes of a Brush @ Victoria Gallery & Museum

It’s been a while since I was able to enjoy a wander round an art exhibition almost completely alone. It’s one of the things I miss about being unemployed, the freedom to visit cultural attractions at weird times of the day mid-week, when even the pensioners are not marauding.

So to visit the gorgeously stripy-gothic Victoria Gallery & Museum on a Saturday afternoon and be utterly undisturbed by other visitors was a rare treat.

Strokes of a Brush, an exhibition of contemporary Chinese calligraphy, sits comfortably askance among the neighbouring displays of renaissance prints, early Victorian animal paintings and Russian Icons.

At times the simple and restrained correspondence we expect from calligraphy, at others bursting with bolts of expressive energy, and touching on tart counterpoints in between, this is a nicely curated exhibition of very beautiful works on paper.

With such a variety of art on display and in such elegant surroundings, although an empty gallery might be a not-so-guilty pleasure of mine, isn’t it slightly wrong that this place is so empty?

Monday, 3 May 2010

A World Observed @ Manchester Art Gallery

If you are looking for a visual world of comforting nostalgia and non-threatening prettiness, you need to look no further than Manchester Art Gallery’s A World Observed 1940 - 2010: Photographs by Dorothy Bohm.

Not that there is anything wrong with that, it’s a simple exhibition, telling a simple story in a simple way. There is nothing wrong with beauty or simplicity in art, but in this exhibition it's damped down by a heavy handed helping of sentimentality. Dare I say it?... it's just too bloody feminine.

There is too little depth and intellectual sustenance in either Dorothy Bohm's photographs or how they are presented in this exhibition. It feels too habitual and nostalgic to evoke anything other than a vague saccharine atmosphere. Following on from two stunning, exciting and moving exhibitions, this feels like a retreat into an artistic comfort zone.

Now, for some this might be technically proficient and visually attractive photography, but for me it just completely lacks punctum. Good photography is not always brilliant art.

At the end of the day, it might be a pretty exhibition, but it feels too nostalgic and pedestrian to excite or move me. It's high brow kittens in baskets.