Sunday, 19 September 2010

Biennial @ The Europleasure / Scandinavian Hotel

As many people have commented, one of the wonderful side effects of the Biennial is the access to disused buildings, many that I've previously walked past without noticing. The Europleasure / Scandinavian Hotel, at the top of Duke Street, is one of those buildings.

You can't miss it now! At the front it is resplendent with Will Kwan's Flame Test and the words Touch and Go have been smashed into windows at the side.

I wouldn't have expected the real highlight of yesterday to be two completely dissimilar pieces of video art. We Wish to Inform You that We Didn’t Know,  a three-channel video work by Alfredo Jarr, offers compelling and harrowing, but not gratuitously so, insight into the atrocities in Rwanda. Even if you are familiar with the details, the video articulates emotions and facets that perhaps no written or purely documentary account could manage.

The video element of  Cristina Lucas'  Touch and Go couldn't be more different. At counterpoint to We Wish to Inform You that We Didn’t Know, the video offers a 'making-of' view of the buildings smashed windows. Humorous, in the gentlest and most charming manner, it is a bitter sweet story of urban transgression set to a delightful discordant sound track.

The works in this location are part of the Biennial's Public Realm strand.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Biennial @ 52 Renshaw Street

The old Rapid buildings along Renshaw Street have been used for a variety of interesting purposes recently, but the Biennials residency in the space will take some beating.

The vast and warren-like space is cleverly spotted with art works, some of them good, some of them, frankly, extremely questionable. Unlike most vacant shops I've seen used as galleries, the space has not been white washed to death. Instead the curator, Lorenzo Fusi, seems to have made the decision to leave much of the remaining odds and ends of Rapid's decor intact. OutrĂ© patches of painting work, tiles and wallpaper offset the carefully organised art works. These remnants add a intriguing sense of exploring an abandoned civilisation - with bizarre interior design habits - to the visit. 

Although many of the art works are of dubious quality, there are some absolute gems. Saving the best till last, my highlights are located at the end of the long wander through the maze of interconnected rooms. N S Harsha's Sky Gazers blurs the lines of illustration/painting and installation, combining several simple and effective devices in a delightful manner. Go see it soon before visitors' dirty shoes and grubby fingers take their toll! 

In the next room, after you pass through Sky Gazers, uneasily rests Free Post Mersey Tunnels. Let's just say, you know an art work is good when it makes you feel panicky... I know it shouldn't matter, but I do like that fact that a female artist, Rosa Barb, has created such a muscular and mechanically evocative work. 

As one of my first Liverpool Biennial experiences, despite feeling sceptical about some of the works in the exhibition, I really enjoyed exploring what 52 Renshaw Street had to offer... even if that includes violent fez wearing goat sodomy. 

Friday, 17 September 2010

John Moores Painting Prize 2010

I like painting... in fact, in my own dorky-white-middle-class way, I'll admit privileging it over most other art forms. The simple equation art = painting may be wrong, but it feels so right.

With this off my chest, you can imagine I was quite excited about the John Moores Painting Prize. 45 paintings picked by artists and curators with impeachable credentials, a prize with prodigious reputation in the staidly resplendently-Victorian Walker Art Gallery. Delicious!

However - fetch your torches and pitchforks - the exhibition left me feeling underwhelmed. Where I expected 45 of the best paintings that Britain has to offer - hoping for the bleeding edge of practice and thinking - instead it felt like a gazeteer of contemporary painting. One of every flavour. Each may be a technically brilliant painting with feet firmly in their own artistic and intellectual precedence, but this doesn't seem to be enough.

I'm not bothered that all the winners were white and male, I am bothered that the first prize winning prize painting, Spectrum Jesus by Keith Coventry, is deadly dull. There is something too dreary about it for words.

The other prizewinners, at least, are much more interesting and vital paintings. Bottom line, they make you feel something! Nick Fox's Metatopia, a resounding riff on Neoclassicism and Victorian visual culture, is a brooding, and yet delightful, work. For me, it feels like more than just trek down an established painting path.

As much as it might lack a certain vibrancy, the exhibition is a comfortable essay through contemporary painting, impeccably curated by Sir Norman Rosenthal. I'd call for the John Moores Painting Prize to be more adventurous, but I really have no idea where these adventures in paint are to be had. Have all the old bastions of painting been breached?

Perhaps it is contemporary painting in Britain that lacks vitality? Or perhaps, more likely, once again I find myself out of step with contemporary taste and artistic practice...