Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Haruko Maeda @ The Bluecoat

Sometimes I think that if a piece of art does not have a hefty chunk of renaissance, or earlier, provenance it’s frankly not worth looking at.

Out of all the many works I saw at the Bluecoat last week, Haruko Maeda’s stood out. I have always found Momento Mori completely compelling, both visually and in conception, and her two works utilised it so effectively. After an evening listening to Mahler’s songs about dead and dying children, they cannot help but spring to mind.

What is so special about Maeda’s utilisation of what is essentially a pretty ancient and elemental artistic idea? As well as infusing her works with that difficult to achieve balance of grim reality and bittersweet joy, she also manages the task of technically dealing the works from which she takes her lead. I doubt that many artists showing at the Bluecoat now could approach this style with such confidence and accomplishments. Her Self Portrait manages to look both deftly worked and individual.

Refreshingly timeless in a sea of clumsy contemporary art.

The two works by Haruko Maeda are currently at the Bluecoat as part of Global Studio.

You can see more of Haruko Maeda's work on her blog.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Saatchi Online: Northern Stars @ A Foundation

Does anyone else find it absolutely hilarious that the art organisation which has an absolutely filthy monopoly on the British art scene also runs a website who’s mission is to “democratise the traditional hierarchies of the art world”?

In counterpoint to visual generosity of The Economy of the Gift, another gallery at the A Foundation currently houses a show called Saatchi Online: Northern Stars.

I wrote yesterday about feeling dispirited with contemporary art, and it’s exhibitions like this that causes me to feel so dispirited. I mean, it seems to be trying to convince me that painting as a contemporary art form has reached an utter dead end.

Although all the pieces are all technically sound, there is so little energy and life to them. This whole exhibition feels completely contrived and finite in both conception and execution. Amy Moffat’s Steadfast Fool is frankly dull and pointless to look at, and Ruth Murray’s Katamari, with it’s wretchedly plastic use of paint, seems like a hamfisted amalgamation of trite kitsch and psychology.

I know the vast possibilities of painting are no where near exhausted, as these works seems to suggest, so why were these works selected for this exhibition? I think I know the reason: these are not works for an audience of art lovers, this is a cleverly selected exhibition for an audience of art buyers. Perhaps it is true that bad taste and big money go together like Nigella and Charles.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Jacob Dahlgren, Colour Reading Context @ A Foundation

Jacob Dahlgren, Colour Reading Context

Often the best things in life are the tiny moments of kind serendipity, those friendly coincidences which are inexplicable and joyus. As in life, so in art.

In the summer of 2005 I had just finished my first year of my undergraduate History of Art degree. The feeling of generally being completely dispirited with contemporary art, which I still carry with me now, was particularly intense.

In Malmö Konsthall I witnessed something which convinced me of that contemporary art could have the understated power and beauty I was seeking. Very much like the moment I recently had with the Ron Mueck exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, I felt bolstered and reassured.

To wander into the A Foundation, 5 years, 4 moves of city and 2 degrees later, and find the very same installation feels quite marvellous and miraculous.

Jacob Dahlgren’s Colour Reading Context is simply gorgeous. It’s constituent parts may have changed, but it was instantly recognisable as the same piece of work. I worry that to describe it could only detract from it’s effect. The variation of colours, texture and forms is breathtakingly beautiful. Like gazing at the colour charts in a DIY store, the repetition and slight variations of colour is hypnotically soothing. As at the Malmö Konsthall, I felt that to stand in the centre of the installation could be a near magical experience, all the more enticing because it is denied the viewer.

This work perfectly demonstrates that an installation, even if it is quite theoretically and technically simplistic, done well can be an absolutely splendid experience.

Art can be miraculous!

(... it can also be very, very shit, but let’s leave that discussion for another blog post.)

Run Paint Run Run @ Ignite Liverpool, March 2010

Ever wondered what me ranting about art looked and sounded like?

Now you can find out! Last month I took part in Ignite Liverpool, and the thing was filmed for posterity. Part of Global Ignite Week, Ignite Liverpool was a fun and fast paced event where presenters shared their personal and professional passions, using 20 slides that auto-advance every 15 seconds. A complete departure for little old me who has never spoken in public before...

You can watch more videos of Ignite Liverpool presentations on Defnet Media's YouTube Channel. The evening received write ups in the Liverpool Echo, Liverpool Daily Post and on fellow presenter Adrian McEwan's website (as well as a few other places, I'm sure.)

The next Ignite Liverpool is from 6-8pm on 15th April at the Contemporary Urban Centre... This time there will be beer. Subjects cover everything and anything that can be shoe horned into the subjects of social, political and technological, so don't think it's all be mad art rants. Can't wait!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Spencer Tunick in Manchester & Salford

Some art is so uninspiring it’s difficult to approach it with anything other than an exhausted sign. Think canvases purchased in Next or wretchedly nostalgic paintings of toffs waltzing on windblown beaches. Unfortunately because of the democracy of art, meaning that anything anyone designates as art counts as art, we can’t remove what should be a carefully applied title.

I’ve found the news that Spencer Tunick is bringing his own brand of large scale installation to Manchester and Salford so dreary it’s taken me weeks to get round to writing about it.

Like Bodyworlds, the 4th Plinth and Shelley Jackson’s SKIN project, I can see what is so appealing about Spencer Tunick’s work; All these projects have a few key elements which I think makes them both so bewitching to the public and really quite shit art.

The rhetoric of the real human body is clearly becoming one of the artistic tropes of our times. This makes the works instantly approachable and accessible to everyone. Where other art might be arranged along social, historical or even more abstract theoretical lines, the body is universal... However, this use of such a massive and elementary device often seems to sweep aside the nuances which makes really brilliant art.

That is the problem when the human body is the sum of an artistic work - it seems to encourage a rather formulaic approach. Contemporary art is not like cooking, just because you find a recipe that works doesn’t mean you should repeat it ad infinitum. With the new Spencer Tunick commission, even if it does add new elements to the artist's repertoire, I am certain that we know exactly what we’re going to get. Asides from the initial tacky thrill of nudity, this was an incredibly safe and predictable choice.

I’ve always felt wary of participatory art. Although there is something interesting about the theory, it’s substance is so often much more dreary, dull and poorly executed. The appeal for the participant always seemed an odd combination of wanting to lose you’ve individuality and desperately trying to get a fleeting taste of that arrogant cocktail that fuels artists. Participants should bare in mind, as Jonathan Jones writes, “Participatory art is a denial of talent.”

Although I do recognise that the images Spencer Tunick produces are momentarily arresting, they’ve always seemed more like the substance of a classier kind of amusing postcard. The additional element that this upcoming installation is a response to the works of L S Lowry, the other great producer of postcards from Manchester, just exaggerates this sense.

So... will you be taking part? With the certain knowledge that anything I write has absolutely no effect on public opinion, there is no doubt that the Spencer Tunick installation in Manchester and Salford will be widely considered an exciting and successful work. If you would like to take part, you can registered your interest on the Lowry’s website here