Monday, 30 July 2012

181. WORK No 1197 by MARTIN CREED

On the left is the man who got tens of thousands of us up early on July 27 so that at 8.12am precisely we would stand on street corners or in parks or in our own homes to ring any bell we could lay our hands on. Why? To signal the start of the London Olympics and welcome the 209 competing nations. We used hand bells and church bells and bicycle bells; triangles; castanets; drums; tambourines... For a solid 3 minutes we made as much noise as possible. Passing cars, including police vehicles, blared their horns, pedestrians waved. The crowd above, in Kennington, were near enough to hear Big Ben, the clock of the Palace of Westminster, break all the rules and chime more than 40 times during those precious minutes.

..It was all the idea of Martin Creed, the artist who caused such consternation when he won the Turner Prize in 2001 with The Lights Going On and Off - a empty room with the lights doing just that every few seconds. Perhaps it's his Quaker background which leads him to apply simple rules, sometimes only using paint brushes in a multi pack or making one mark a day with the same felt-tip pen until the surface is covered. He's one of a number of artists commissioned to design an Olympic poster, seen here.  This is Work No 1273, made from 5 single brush strokes derived from the Olympic colours. It represents an extended podium with steps offering places beyond first, second and third, paying tribute to  the excellence of all the competing Olympic sportswomen and sportsmen.


Sunday, 29 July 2012


c Damian Ortego;Photo Todd-White Art; courtesy White Cube
On the lower ground floor of the White Cube Gallery in Mason's Yard a submarine (198 x 87 x 874cm) floats from the ceiling. It's based on a plastic model of a WW2 GermanType XXI submarine and is made of biodegradable plastic sacks, metal - and salt. So instead of seeing something aggressive and agile like a real submarine, all you get is a rather sad, flaccid, immobile vessel, incontinent too in that it can't even protect its own contents.A thin white line of salt is the only moving part and it drools onto the floor below, piling up in a heap. Look long enough and you spot minute folds and hollows in the mould's geometrical perfection. The grains do not move individually over the surface but slide down like slow  tears.

Salt is usually our ally, a preservative and flavouring agent which can be used as currency in exchange for other desirable goods. The notes you can ask for at the reception desk tell me Ortego is using it as a metaphor for exploring human intervention.This piece refers to the illicit use of submarines carrying another white substance, cocaine, along the South American coast to Mexico.

The notes also tell me that the title refers to T.S.Eliot's poem The Hollow Men, which, we are told, is a reference to Joseph Conrad's novel The Heart of Darkness.
'We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men'
is how the poem begins but it is probably better known for its final lines:
'This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.'
On the ground floor a thin line of salt is etched onto car tyres piled in a heap on the gallery floor. The title Congo River relates again to Conrad's novel and to the epic film Apocalypse Now, both of which use a river journey to examine the unknown.
I confess I have difficulty in relating to art works which need so much explanatory text. No, that's not true. I think of times when the text is part of the artwork, as in Michael Craig-Martin's famous Oak Tree 1973, when he exhibited a glass of water on a glass shelf announcing that it was in fact an oak tree - and gave cogent reasons why we should believe him. But to have the artist's intentions not even in the same gallery room is hard. I know there are substantial arguments against  heavy labelling which might prejudice what the viewer sees, but I think the present arrangement does little to enhace the viewing experience. Indeed I felt infantalised, asking for a crib sheet.

However, Ortego is an artist who playfully and artfully makes you look again. He uses surprising objects - from golf balls to pick axes to bricks, rubbish bins and torilla - to create inspirational art, all subject to what has been described as Ortego's 'characteristically mischievous process of transformation and dysfunction'. Here is Cosmic Thing, a 1989 Volkswagen Beetle car as you have never seen it, shown at the Venice Biennale in 2003. The Boston Globe called it 'a car manual brought to life'.
White Cube is the London gallery which continues to show this innovative Mexican artist.   this is a link with a very good commentary on Cosmic Thing when shown at ICA Boston

Tuesday, 24 July 2012


Long and Ryle Gallery, 4 Islip Street, SW1P 4PX

None of the images I put in the screen in my blog do justice to the work, but this time in particular it's hard to capture Routh's crisp, sensitive painting, and so feel the squelchy, blurred  water-edges where nature takes over the man-made architectural features of the garden. The Annie McCall Hospital was built at Stockwell, South London in 1915, as one of the first specialised maternity units in Europe. Its life came to an end in the 1970s and the handsome building and grounds fell into decay until 1987 when artists and musicians transformed the wards into studios.

For the past 25 years Geoff Routh has been painting a visual biography of the building and its grounds: weeds edging through cracks in the windows, ivy fighting to get to the light; moss on the brick walls by the drain pipe. They are paintings of fact, observation and record. Their dense surfaces are alive with passionate description. It's hard to put into words. But look at the water in the picture above. Joss Muir, from Class 2 in Stromness Primary School in the Orkneys  was looking at a painting by Margaret Mellis. I like the way he describes what he saw: 'the blue bit is like water hanging down'.
 The Guardian 13 February 2012 has an article by Peter Walker on the controversial future of the site which is likely to be developed for housing
If you search for Geoff Routh, you'll find a number of snatches of video and text about his work.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


It's a solar-powered lamp, the latest work of Olafur Eliasson, the artist whose work The Weather Project 2003 attracted 2 million of us to Tate Modern. There his huge blowsy sun, with mist and mirrors on the ceiling, transformed the massive Turbine Hall into an unlikely playground.

Little Sun is his latest work. Again he uses light and again engages the viewer, but this time for a serious purpose. Little Sun was developed with Frederik Ottesen. It works like this: expose the solar panel at the back to the sun for 5 hours, turn it over and you have stored 5 hours of strong light for the evening. It could replace kerosene lamps: it's estimated that over 3 years a family can save over 90% of what it usually spends on energy for lighting, at the same time getting ten times more and better light. And kerosene is a health hazard: did you know that a ten year old girl doing her homework in the light of a wick-based lamp breathes in pollution the equivalent of 40 cigarettes a day? Then add the constant risk of kerosene spills in homes made of flammable materials.
So Little Sun could change people's lives. Quite a lot of people, if you consider that one person in five on this planet (1.6 billion)  lives without access to mains electricity.

But is it art? Can art have an instrumental value? Why not market it through Ikea, rather than the London Cultural Olympiad and Tate Modern?  Eliasson is an artist who invites us to look again at our world and our taken-for-granted assumptions, and to question what it means to live on our planet today. In Eliasson's words,  'Little Sun transforms the light that is for all of us into light that is for each of us'.

In 2010 Neil McGregor, the Director of the British Museum, produced a book and a hugely successful series of broadcasts on The History of the World in 100 Objects. What did he choose for his one hundredth significant object? A solar power lamp and charger.

Four Tate Blackouts are taking place on Saturday nights between 10pm and midnight, starting on July 28th. The lights will go out but visitors can view the Surrealist works in a suite of galleries. Entry is free but you will need to buy a Little Sun (£16.50 or 22 Euros). It's an echo of a 1938 Surrealist Exhibition in Paris  where Man Ray supplied visitors with torches to explore the galleries.

Charlotte Higgins gives a full account in:

Monday, 16 July 2012


Wellcome Image Awards         Pictures copyright: Annie Cavanagh and David Mccarthy

.At first glance could these be  abstract paintings? The one on the right is perhaps slightly unsettling:  those golden globes  are neither completely embedded in the green spikes, nor are they nestling on the top.  And the spikes themselves look like barbed wire covered in Fuzzy Felt

In fact what the Wellcome is showing us is work done by medical researchers. 'Scientific images often reveal a world hidden to our normal sense of vision.  They are not merely tools for research but  are capable of inspiring people and sparking their curiosity', writes Dr Mark Petronczki of Cancer Research UK.  Could it also be said that this is the latest, the very latest, expression of  an art genre beloved for centuries in this country and in Europe: detailed, technically accurate,  exquisite drawings and paintings, especially watercolours, of flowers and living plants.
This false-coloured scanning electron micrograph (SEM) shows on the right the surface of a lavender leaf, imaged at 200 microns, covered with fine hair-like outgrowths made from specialised cells. These outgrowths keep frost at bay, make sure that pests are unwelcome,  and break up the air flow to reduce evaporation. From the orange globes, lavender yields a sweet oil widely used in balms, salves, perfumes, and cosmetics. It's also believed to aid relaxation and sleep, and  to calm the anxious.

The beautiful explosion on the left is nothing less than a loperamide crystal.  Loperamide is an antimotility drug, well known as a very good friend to anyone stricken with diarrhoea. Among other properties it also acts like blessed morphia, lessening the pain by decreasing muscle tone. The crystal group - seen as never before - measures approximately 250 microns across.

The light boxes displaying the images are in a small black gallery at the Wellcome, quiet as a chapel (if you are alone). If you can't get there, I suggest you browse the gallery on  

Friday, 13 July 2012


Serpentine Gallery until 9 September
As well as being famously married to John Lennon, Ono is known for her unswerving belief in art's power to change society. This exhibition is a testament to that, but not everyone is happy about what she does or h ow she does it.  'Childish and brainless, Ono lives down to her name', says Michael Glover of the Independent; ' a fine, fun show' says Alastair Smart of the Telegraph; Richard Dorment's verdict is 'elusive, uneven, but by no means negligible'.

Before you get inside the Gallery, you are invited to write a wish on a label and tie it to one of the  Wish Trees. When I was there the trees were white with labels (in many languages). Most were wishing health and peace and goodwill to family/ friends/nations/ the whole universe. Others were more specific:
  • I wish people would smile all the time and bake more cakes.
  • I wish I made sense.
  • I wish I was more popular.
  • I wish to meet a millionaire man who is caring and God fearing  and will become my husband.
  • Please grant me patience and allow me to express joy and love for my husband that's being hindered by premenstrual hormones. Thank you and love to you.
  • I wish Yoko's exhibition was better.
Inside the gallery Ono's smiling face on video presents #smilesfilm. She aims to make a film which 'includes a smiling face snap of every single human being in the world'. Viewers are invited to join in by uploading and sending images of their smiles there and then, creating 'a global string of smiles covering the planet'. After giving the technical details, Ono ends with 'Big Kiss. I love you'. Is this twee - or simply un-British?
Laura McLean-Ferris of the Independent is one of several reviewers who have the space to give an overview of this many-faceted show. It's hard to know where to start. For example there's the sound of a regular heartbeat in one corner with the label Heartbeat Syria 2012 on the wall. Footsteps We Made consists of paper copies of John and Oko's footprints, shown walking up the wall 'to the sky' with an Oko poem beside them.
Yoko Ono
Installation view, Yoko Ono: TO THE LIGHT
Serpentine Gallery, London
(19 June - 9 September 2012)
© 2012 Jerry Hardman-Jones
Pointedness 1964 consists of a crystal globe, 4-5cm in diameter, balanced at eye-level on one of these transparent Perspex stands. Beside it is the text: This globe will be a sharp point when it gets to the far corners of the room in your mind. Now I happen to have seen this just after reading an essay on  'Why do we have a brain?' by Professor Daniel Wolpert. Apparently it's not to think or perceive. Movement is the most impotant function of the brain. You generate beliefs (and actions) from data (what we sense from the world),  and from memory. (Which is presumably what Murray and Federer relied on last weekend when they saw a ball coming their way). Is Ono reminding us that we may walk away from the installation with a new configuration tucked away inside our brain...?
Back to the Wish Trees. In the Guardian the critic Michael Bracewell accused anyone who happens to find the whimsy of the Wish Tree less powerful than he does, of being both sexist and racist. Would you tie a label on the tree? What might it say?

Wednesday, 4 July 2012


c the artist


Oil and collage on canvas 1480 x 1180 mm

This self-portrait is witty, warm and intriguing. Inside his coat are a variety of collaged portraits of his parents, recording their lives before and up to his birth. He writes 'I owe them so much and this way I carry them with me always.’

Yet of all the postures he could have chosen as a tribute, why this one? Does it remind you of the man-in-the-pub offering you  fake watches or jewellery? Or is he an old-fashioned stand up music hall comedian (flourishing at the time when his parents were young), who swishes his coat open like a curtain to reveal something unexpected to a delighted and surprised audience?  Or is it a moving piece of self disclosure - most of us keep our history tightly buttoned up inside us.
Peter Goodfellow has been described as one of Europe's leading illustrators, but since moving to Scotland has become a well known landscape painter as well. He describes how, after working so long to tightly prescribed briefs, he wants the paint surface 'to have a life of its own'. I would  call this a narrative painting, a genre I love because you have to  co operate with the artist to unpick the puzzle.   if you want the catalogue     to see more of Beauvillain Scott's work



Here's the only other example of 'narrative painting' I found in the B P Portrait Award exhibition.
copyright the artist
Nathalie Beauvillain Scott is an award-winning portrait artist and the subject's mother. The label tells us that her teenage son, Olivier, had recently been involved in a car accident, and was also the subject of a violent attack.
The background gives us more clues as to why he is looking at us with such sad, knowing - and bruised - eyes. Behind him is his image as a child, too young to imagine perils to come. (Nathalie's portrait of the young Olivier was selected for the BP Portrait Award in 2004). There's paperwork too, headed Hopitaux de Paris, Assistance Publique  dated Christmas Day 2010, which is an added poignancy. An image of the car involved and a clock recording the time of the crash completes this detailed, specific exploration of a young person's experience of something we all wish had never happened. The young Olivier from the innocent past , the clock with its split second record of a critical present moment, each reminds us of a future unknown to anyone. if you want the catalogue to see more of Beauvillain Scott's work

Sunday, 1 July 2012



The portrait is of the artist’s daughter, Rosie, holding the family’s bantam, Pumpkin. It's an action painting. Not in the art theory sense of action painting i.e. how the artist makes art - by dripping, dabbing, smearing, and even flinging paint on to the surface of the canvas. More about the action taking place before our eyes.  Most portraits are of someone or something capable of sitting or standing or lying still for some considerable time, for oil painting is a slow process. Alas, chickens are not known for their willingness to pose for camera or easel. I have watched my two small grandaughters handle their beloved chickens - Ivy, Betty, Nettle, Fern, Lily - with a confidence and skill which escapes me.

 Initial sketches and longer sittings were made with Rosie holding a toy helmet.  Rapid sketches and photographs of Pumpkin were used later. The artist has done well to capture what can only last for a very short time.

The eye is drawn to an alert Pumpkin painted in warm colours set against the blues and greys. Lubach says her aim was ‘to convey the moment of quiet astonishment that followed the battle of wits necessary to catch the agile and evasive bantam.’ I think Rosie's expression is remarkable: a shy pleasure in her success combined with her understanding of the importance of the task in hand. And a young person's endearing reticence as she co operates with her mother/artist's project.