Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Handmaiden @ Metal

Thanks to Culturepool, my exploration of Liverpool's art offering continued this Saturday. Finally, after 6 months of living in this city, I got on a train to Edge Hill and went to see what was going on at Metal.

The Handmaiden, by Leo Asemota, seems to be a kind of temporary crystallisation of the artefacts of an as yet unperformed performance piece. It's a difficult little exhibition. There is a certain Beuys-esk static charge between the four vitrines. The waxy density of a ceiling joist cast in palm oil and a tumbled pile of sheep's wool certainly evokes a resonance with the German's focus on lard and felt.

Although I'm still not entirely sure what I make of the work, I rather liked it in an abstract and unfocused way. Bite-sized, it is packed with delicious and nutritious layers of meaning. Part of a long term project, it teases you with glimpses of its own provenance and hints at what is to come. It's only failing is a certain inexpressive frigidity, but this is perhaps the inherent problem with the form and meter of this type of art.

Metal, which is located directly on one of the platforms at Edge Hill station, is a wonderful and welcoming space - in the future the short train ride will not seem such an obstacle. 

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Wrong Love @ A Foundation

‘Art’ and ‘party’ are not mutually exclusive. In-fact, putting on a brilliant party is probably very similar to putting together a great exhibition. To be successful both require skill, knowledge and forethought. Similarly both fail when they disregard the importance of the audience/party-goers.

Unfortunately Wrong Love, which promised so much - in both the art and party senses - delivered very little. On arrival I quickly began to feel disappointed and underwhelmed, and nothing I saw or experienced dispelled this.

To call the aesthetic at this event ‘student’ would be to dignify it. It was frankly, for the most part, completely shoddy and amateur. Apart from a few things - for example the confessional booth and a tired feeling but nicely executed array of taut skin coloured tights - everything looked like it had been thought up at the last minute over too many pints of organic cider and then hastily thrown together. Staying in with a cup of tea and a copy of Why Cats Paint would have been a far more edifying and exciting experience.

You would have to live in a complete middle class vanilla bubble to think that anything at Wrong Love was particularly subversive, transgressive or even remotely exciting. Where was the emotional and visceral thrills I felt I was promised? Thinking about the kind of thing I expected/hoped to see, nothing came even close to much older works, such as Rocky by Paul McCarthy.

Even the sight of some poor boy’s bum-hole hair - which he presented while in some kind of yoga position, daubing himself with fake tan stick - provoked nothing more than concern for his health. The building was very cold.

In the events’ and the organisers’ defence I did only stay just over an hour... However, nothing I saw inspired me to feel like staying longer. After being disappointed by the art, the poor DJ, put off by the freezing temperature, not even the modestly priced bar could convince my friends and I to stay longer.

What have I learned from this experience? For someone who works in marketing I should know better, you can seldom trust the hype. On the upside, I’ve found out that the A Foundation has a very nice space and look forward to seeing some hopefully more successful art there in the future. Also, young people have some very interesting haircuts these days and beards are definitely trendy again.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Facing East @ Manchester Art Gallery

Bharti Kher’s The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own (2006)

Wow. You wait forever for a good exhibition in Manchester and three come along at once. After everything I saw this weekend, it would be so easy to forget Facing East at Manchester Art Gallery.

However after far too long snarling and snarking about the display of contemporary art in my old home town I feel it is important to recognise when I think is a job very well done indeed.

Facing East: Recent Works from China, India and Japan is a perfect study in how a brilliantly selected and presented contemporary art exhibition should feel. Despite having a distinct theme and purpose, the exhibition manages to illuminate the tropes that link the art works without being overbearing or didactically simplistic. The images and objects spark off each other without interfering in the viewers enjoyment.

This is what makes Facing East so splendid: it is so purely enjoyable without being patronising. Each of the works are in different ways delightfully fun, while maintaining the intellectual art hot sauce that I think viewers deserve. Where they are post-modern and ironic it is without smugness or complacency.

Ravinder Reddy’s Gilded Head manages to hit all the buttons: it is beautiful, other worldly and forces you to pause to take it in. It might pale a little in comparison to Ron Mueck’s Mask iii in the next room, but it is still a stunning piece of art. Similarly resonating with a powerful combination of pathos and joy, Bharti Kher's sculpture of a sprawling elephant, skin crawling with spermatozoa-esk bindi, makes you hesitate for an awkward moment in a similar manner.

Isn’t this what brilliant art should do? Gently and thoughtfully force you into a temporary kind of contemplative arrhythmia? Arresting, thought-provoking, thoughtful and fun, I feel once more reassured that these elements are not too much to expect from a display of contemporary art!

Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin @ IWMN

I should probably preface what you are about to read with a word on my viewing habits. In many ways I’m a bit old fashioned. I wandered around this exhibition steadfastly ignoring the multimedia displays and just looked at the photographs. Does this mean I may have missed out on some precious nuance to the exhibition? Possibly.

Much of the photography featured in Shaped by War: Photographs by Don McCullin at Imperial War Museum North is almost deliciously beautiful and evocative. There is a depth and velvet richness to McCullin's black and white photographs that is reminiscent of the inky generosity of mezzotint. The genius of the master-craftsman is evident in the way pain, anger and sorrow is so carefully framed in these truly emotive images.

Beyond the horrifying moments that these photographs portray, there is a somewhat unsettling interplay between their substance and meaning. It is as though the artistic brilliance of these photographs reveals the fallacy of the documentary photographer. It would be wrong to ascribe these photographs a morality or clarity of purpose beyond any other method of depicting a scene. The documentary is not an unbiased beast, like an essay it is the application of an argument to a subject - I feel as though this needs to be kept in mind when looking at Don McCullin’s photographs.

Undoubtedly, an exhibition of startlingly brilliant photography.

Friday, 5 February 2010

ARTIST ROOMS Ron Mueck @ Manchester Art Gallery

When was the last time art brought a tear to your eye?

The Ron Mueck exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery has restored my faith in contemporary art. It's easy to become disillusioned and begin to accept art as simply an enjoyable cultural habit. Today I have been reminded that art can be transcendently brilliant.

Wild Man is possibly one of the most wonderful things I have ever seen. It is stunning, astonishing, astounding, awesome ... I could go on listing words of this nature till the cows come home and never find one - whether a single word, several combined into a phrase or amalgamated into a new word - that satisfactorily described the effect that it had on me. Putting aside my faithful thesaurus, all I can say in that it moved me in a way I can only just begin to describe.

The huge, perfect-imperfect, feral form has an unsettling and almost intoxicating power in its stillness. Despite the palpable sorrow in the figure's eyes, there is something joyful and fearful in the oversized perfection of the form. It was like the slightly nauseating effect that minutely perfect photorealistic painting has on me, but amplified so many times.

Why did it make me tearful? These works are not crudely shocking, nor melancholic, but possess something else, something poignant and inexplicable. Perhaps they were almost the confused tears of a bewildered child? It’s times like these that I want to kick myself for not being Roland Barthe.