Earlier this year we grabbed a rare chance to get away for a few days whilst things were a little quieter at the gallery. With plans to meet up with friends and colleagues we started out break in London, a place that we love to visit. It’s frenetic and noisy but bursting with visual experiences from the multi-faceted architecture, to the amazing views be it a glimpse or a panorama seen from a great height.
We loved our stay at the quirky Citizen M near Tower Bridge in London in January. The public areas offer sprawling seating spaces, fabulous views and great interior design, whilst the pod style bedrooms are unashamedly modern with a touch of the sci-fi about them, from the view into the atrium with its moving sculptures, to the tablets which control everything from the TV to the lights.
I can’t visit London without a trip to a gallery or two and having a few days to myself whilst partner Brian worked, I managed a leisurely stroll around Tate Britain, The National and Tate Modern.
Impossible to cover it all but here’s some of the highlights.
In 1889 Henry Tate, an industrialist who had made his fortune as a sugar refiner, offered his collection of British nineteenth-century art to the nation and provided funding for the first Tate Gallery.
Tate was a great patron of Pre-Raphaelite artists and his bequest of 65 paintings to the National Gallery included John Everett Millais’ Ophelia 1851–2 and J.W.Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott 1888. The bequest was turned down by the trustees because there was not enough space in the gallery.
A campaign was begun to create a new gallery dedicated to British art. With the help of an £80,000 donation from Tate himself, the gallery at Millbank, now known as Tate Britain, was built and opened in 1897. Tate’s original bequest of works, together with works from the National Gallery, formed the founding collection.
It is now well known for founding the Turner Prize in 1984, an annual award open to British Artists working primarily in Britain or an artist born in Britain working anywhere, and established to encourage wider interest in contemporary art and assist in acquiring new works.
Bernard Cohen is one of Britain’s most significant abstract painters and the Tate holds ten of his works in the permanent collection. He was born in 1933 and came to prominence during the 60’s. Although unashamedly abstract they are created with a strong understanding for tradition and connect with everyday experience with each one telling a story or series of stories that encompasses the process itself as well as the resulting image.
Cohen has used many different techniques and materials to produce his works resulting in pieces that are rich in texture, and colour with overlapping patterns, shapes and lines resulting in multiple images, the stories, in each composition.
When viewing his work one is compelled to focus on details of his work to take time to explore and understand how each of the elements interconnect, and then to step back to experience them together as one coherent picture.
Turning to something that might be more at home at the Tate’s sister gallery, Tate Modern, is Marguerite Humeau’s, large and dramatic installation, Echoes. Marguerite Humeau is a French artist living and working in London and this her latest installation is part of the Art Now series at the Tate. A melodic hum, a synthetic version of Cleopatra’s voice, draws you into a room of brightly painted walls, sound and sculpture. Part temple, part laboratory the space explores the confrontational relationship with life and death. At it’s centre are two semi-abstracted sculptures based on Ancient Egyptian Gods surrounded by long tubes that pump alligator blood, hormones and other fluids around the installation synthesising the production of an elixir for eternal life. We learn that the yellow of the walls replicates the colour of the venom of the black mamba python in order to evoke Cleopatra’s death and remind us of nature’s lethal powers.
Individual Works that stuck out for me were Chris Ofili’s No Woman No Cry which he created in 1998 and was part of his exhibit that won him the Turner Prize in the same year; fellow Turner Prize winner, Rachael Whitehead’s Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) and Richard Hamilton’s Fashion Plate.
No Woman No Cry is a tribute to the London teenager Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in 1993. In each of the tears shed by the woman in the painting is a collaged image of Stephen Lawrence’s face, while the words ‘R.I.P. Stephen Lawrence’ are just discernible beneath the layers of paint. As well as this specific reference, the artist intended the painting to be read as a universal portrayal of melancholy and grief.
Forming part of a major exhibition of her work at the Tate, Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) is made up of one hundred component parts arranged in a grid. Each piece is the cast from the underside of a found chair, made in coloured resin.
Fashion-plate is a print related to the series Cosmetic Studies in which Hamilton put together fragments of photographs of models from fashion magazines. It caught my eye because it reminded me of some pieces we had here in the gallery when we ran our Anonymous Artist exhibition.
In 1824 the house of commons had purchased a collection of paintings from the banker, John Julius Angerstein, with the intent that these should form the core of a national collection of art work held for the enjoyment and education of all, but it wasn’t until 1831 that it was decided to construct a dedicated building, the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square to house these and other works with the building finally opening in 1838. For a time, the Royal Academy of Arts was also housed here but moved to it’s new building in Piccadilly in 1869. Since then there have been further additions with a new wing and dome added in 1876, five new galleries added in 1907 by extending into the barracks and by 1991 the Sainsbury Wing had been added and was opened.
The National is all about the Masters, housing those paintings that we all know so well and that I never tire of viewing, invariably seeing some detail that I have not spotted before, with no visit complete without seeking out some of the originals that inspire Anna Grayson’s pastiches, which we hold here permanently at Artizan.
In December 1992 the Tate Trustees announced their intention to create a separate gallery for international modern and contemporary art in London but it wasn’t until 1994 that the site for it was identified. Redundant since 1981, the former Bankside Power Station was an inspired choice. Some may have been tempted to radically change the space ridding it of any hint as to its former use but the appointment of Swiss architects Herzog & De Meuron whose proposal retained much of the original character of the building has ensured that the integrity of the original building remains.
Since it opened in May 2000, more than 40 million people have visited Tate Modern. It is one of the UK’s top three tourist attractions and generates an estimated £100 million in economic benefits to London annually.
Lots of free exhibits here and you would certainly need a whole day or more to take it all in so with sadly not that much time, I headed for the Materials and Objects Exhibit, a display across several rooms which looks at the inventive ways in which artists around the world increasingly use diverse materials which at one time may have been considered unsuitable for art. With this new no boundaries freedom to create, some artists employ industrial materials and methods, while others adapt craft skills, or put the throwaway products of consumer society to new uses, such as El Anatsui’s Ink Splash II, flattened bottle tops stitched together to create a large shimmering metal cloth, and Louise Nevelson’s large sculptures made from packing crates, old furniture and scrap timber, although the story behind her pieces went deeper.
She spent much of her life in New York City, which she saw as ‘a great big sculpture’, and her work embodies the ever-changing clutter of the urban metropolis. In the late 1950s, household refuse proliferated as many run-down neighbourhoods faced demolition and redevelopment. Nevelson collected and assembled these objects for works like Black Wall1959 as the title suggests painted black as many of her pieces were, unifying the disparate components and obscuring decorative details. However, she also produced groups of works painted in white and gold, such as An American Tribute to the British People 1960–4. Reminiscent of an altarpiece, its design chimes with the ceremonial titles that Nevelson often chose for her most ornamented constructions.
In contrast to these individual pieces was Sheela Gowda’s spectacular installation Behold, made from car bumpers and human hair, and taking up an entire room. This piece absolutely needs the narrative to fully appreciate its significance. Her work is rooted in her experience of daily life in Bengalaru (formerly Bangalore), India, observing the coexistence of ritual and superstition alongside modern urban and economic transformation. For Behold 2009 she was inspired by the humble talismans of human hair that are knotted around car bumpers to ward off bad luck. Fragile hair supports the stronger, heavier metal, just as it is believed to protect the technologically advanced machine.The hair comes from local temples, where it is cut off as a sacrificial offering when pilgrims fulfil sacred vows. In today’s consumer driven world, the longer lengths are sold to make wigs or supply keratin for beauty products, while the shorter sections are kept to make protective talismans, such as those used by motorists.
Roughly four thousand metres of corded hand-woven hair have been netted into mesh forms and hung from the ceiling to wrap around and suspend the chromed steel car bumpers, the fragile hair supports the stronger, heavier metal, just as it is believed to protect the technologically advanced machine.
By then I had run out of time so no chance to have a play on SUPERFLEXES, One, Two, Three, Swing in the Turbine Hall which looked a lot of fun so I guess I need to get back there sometime as it will remain in situ until October this year.