Sunday, 26 April 2015


Victoria & Albert Museum, 
Ladies' Cloakroom,
Lower Floor
5 Open Ellipses. Urban painting of Felice Varini, in Metz, 2009.

The Swiss artist Felice Verini often paints on architectural and urban spaces, such as buildings, walls and streets. He is known for his geometric perspective-localized paintings in indoor and outdoor locations, using projector-stencil techniques. 

Six Circles in Disorder is his first permanent installation in Britain.

 So what happens when you walk downstairs to the Cloakroom at the V&A?

 You are confronted by a merry, lively pattern of arcs and curves on the walls and ceiling, which appear to move with the slightest change in your position. The broken fragments dance, hold hands, scatter again. They appear to react to your slightest movement.

I was reminded of an experience at Tate Britain in 2002. The artist Lucy Gunning constructed  a room which looked from the outside like a simple wooden crate.(Installation View, Art Now, Tate Britain 2002). I walked in and found myself in a miniature ballet studio, walls covered with mirrors, and a polished wooden dance floor. I have never forgotten the experience of seeing dozens of life-size reflections of myself, each different, each responding to my every move. I was looking at this woman as a casual outsider might. There was enough space to dance - and I might have done - but a group of lively young people burst in, all jolly and re-assuring. The spell was broken.

Similarly Varini's painting responds to your every movement. But it is characterized by having one vantage point from which the viewer can see the complete work, usually a simple geometric shape such as circle, square or line. 

Thus if you move towards an exact spot in front of the mirror by the left sink, you can see the fragments miraculously come together in a deeply satisfying composition of six perfect circles.
Varini argues that the work exists as a whole - with its complete shape as well as the fragments. “My concern,” he says “is what happens outside the vantage point of view.”[

 According to mathematics professor and art critic Joel Koskas, "A work of Varini is anti-Mona Lisa". I wonder what that means?

Saturday, 25 April 2015


FLOWERS GALLERY, CORK ST until May 16 2015

2010 Ink and crayon on paper
80 x 60 cm / 31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in

Anyone who isn't confused, doesn't understand the situation (Ed Murrow, 1969)
The visual style of Glen Baxter’s drawings plunges the viewer straight into the world of such comic adventure series as Biggles and Dan Dare.  Working with ink and crayon on paper, he creates a mysterious world in which Vikings ponder a mysterious substance called tofu; and a Sheriff, aided by his doughty horse, is rounding up as many of Giocometti's stretched, elongated statues as he can lay ropes on. Meanwhile a cowboy passionate about Rothkos is too abstracted to notice Old Blaze munching his way through some small Braque paintings.

Below it's the Dutch artist Mondrian who is in the spotlight.  What's so special about that hat? Who is Mondrian anyway? Couldn't anyone find a white ground and then paint a grid of vertical and horizontal black lines and fill in three primary colours?  Flat planes  and simple lines? A child could do it in her colouring book...

Baxter's  'Boy’s Own' work questions the social structures underpinning aesthetic values.  He lays bare our pretensions and our esoteric  language, our silences and discomfort, when we lose the capacity to relate with integrity to art. . One critic, said of Giocometti's figures that are reduced as it were to their very core, they"evoke lone trees in winter that have lost their foliage". I doubt if Sheriff John Stone had that in mind as he aimed his lasso.
According to Michael Wilson (Artforum, October 2005), Baxter “...achieves a kind of social-surrealist comedy comparable to the achievements of Monty Python’s Flying Circus".
High praise indeed.

And the last word goes to Threeves:

Tuesday, 21 April 2015



You have climbed the broad sweeping Millbank steps, leaving the River Thames behind you, crossed the portico and entrance restored a couple of years ago 
to the grandeur intended by the gallery's original architect, Sidney R J Smith. You are rewarded with a view of this centre piece, a dizzy staircase spiralling down to the lower level, with its new cafe and restaurant and archive galleries. The Art Deco scallop pattern recalls the Tate's original marble mosaic floor and as you journey down it may feel like a glamorous sweep into the 1930s.

But you are distracted. What can you hear? Birdsong? You know it is ridiculous but you can't help looking up beyond the elegant spaces and galleries of the upper floors, including the Members' Room/Cafe, until you come to a glass dome and last of all the sky. Unsurprisingly not a single bird is in sight.

Something Going on Above My Head (1995-9) brings together the sounds of 2,000 birds, creating what the artist calls an acoustic sculpture. Oswaldo Macia spent five years collecting bird calls from international ornithological archives and audio libraries, reworking them into a symphony. He scored them according to the birds’ pitches. Carefully positioned speakers fill the space above with a mesmerising chorus. It sounds like true birdsong, which of course it is. 
But there are paradoxes. 'Titles are not descriptive; rather they are material and tactile elements of the composition' says the artist.The title of this work describes  the physical location of the installation, above our heads. But there is another meaning. How often do we say "it's above my head" or "it just goes over my head" when we are talking about something we do not understand? These calls are sounds, not language. Birdsong is romantic, beautiful and pleasing, pure liquid joy. But some may well be a call of distress or or a ploy to fool a predator. The distinction between noise, however pleasant, and sound is dependent on knowledge, which we do not have.

 The inspiration for the work was a newspaper article that referred in passing to Russian submarines dumping nuclear residues in the Baltic Sea. MaciĆ” was alarmed that such news could be easily missed among all the other information in the paper.

The works create scenarios where perception tests the limit of knowledge.
The work must be a ‘small deep lake and never a shallow ocean’.
Oswaldo MaciĆ” 2013

The leaflet seen below is for visitors to take away. The  diagram shows an orchestra in which the instruments have been replaced by the names of birds in Latin.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

346 MY BED (1998) by TRACEY EMIN

TATE BRITAIN until June 2016, then Margate and Liverpool.

Art is not a viewing platform, it’s an experience. TRACEY EMIN

There is a centuries’ old tradition in Europe of confessional writing, of secret journals and diaries where young women in particular could express their spiritual explorations, confess their sins and face their deepest hopes and fears.  You could argue that Tracey Emin is part of this tradition and that in the last couple of decades she has used not only text but also paintings, drawings, embroidery, video and installations to re create, reflect on and memorialise her past. 

My Bed 1998 has now been installed as part of the newly rehung displays of the Tate’s permanent collection. She describes it as a self-portrait. She opens the door into her council flat in Waterloo  and we stand in her bedroom looking at stained sheets, used condoms, worn panties and empty bottles of alcohol, testimony to a devastating weekend she experienced after the breakdown of a relationship. 

We are now more used to hearing and seeing ‘confessions’ than in the 1990s. They sell well. But ‘true stories’ and their illustrations are often  branded, manicured, touched up, crafted to titillate and shock. In contrast, Emin integrates her work and personal life in such a way that she establishes an intimacy with us, the viewers. She reveals that she is as insecure and imperfect as the rest of the world and her candour helps us explore what that means for us all. 

Reflecting on what has happened since The Bed was first on display, she says: “With history and time, the bed now looks incredibly sweet and there’s this enchantment to it. I think people will see it differently as they see me differently. And there are things on that bed that now have a place in history. Even forms of contraception, the fact that I don’t have periods anymore, the fact that the belt that went round my waist now only fits around my thigh..' The Bed sits in a gallery with two of Francis Bacon's paintings - his 1951 Study of a Dog and his 1961 Reclining Woman -  as well as six of her own drawings which she gave to the Tate to mark the occasion.

She is a consummate story teller. One of my favourite pieces is a 6 min 40 sec video ‘Why I Never Became a Dancer’ (1995), where she describes leaving school at 13, and what happened at the 1978 British Disco Dance Championship. It is ‘the true story about growing up in Margate – the adventures of teenage sex with older men – dreams of becoming a top disco dancer.'  Tracey was good, really good. ‘And I started to dance/people started to clap/I was going to win/ and then I was out of here/nothing could stop me/and  the final humiliation which eventually lead to total triumph'. What is exceptional about her work is her anger and honesty, and her vitality, untainted with self-pity or humility or doubt.

The Bed 1998 helped Emin win her Turner Prize nomination in 1999, and was bought a year later by the collector Charles Saatchi. According to the artist, Saatchi once displayed the piece in the dining room of his Belgravia home, surrounded by 19th century baroque silver tableware.

Friday, 10 April 2015


       Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
      Is hung with bloom along the bough. 
      And stands above the woodland ride
      Wearing white for Easter tide.

       Now, of my threescore years and ten,

     Twenty will not come again,
     And take from seventy springs a score,
     It only leaves me fifty more.

    And since to look at things in bloom 
    Fifty springs are little room
    About the woodlands I will go
   To see the cherry hung with snow.

  The artist, Ted Harrison, read this poem by A E Housman at the opening ceremony when his sculpture The Cherry Tree was unveiled.  The words are a poignant reminder of the fragility and brevity of life. In the poem a mere 20 year old rues the fact that even if his life runs to the end of the conventional span of three score years and ten, he has a mere 50 springs ahead and with that, a mere 50 chances to see ‘the cherry hung with snow’. 

 In 1990 a journalist with kidney failure -  following an illness he had contracted 6 years earlier while reporting on an earthquake in Algeria - turned up at Guy’s Hospital for a transplant. Neither he nor his doctors could predict the outcome with any certainty.
Recently the same man, Ted Harrison,  returned to Guy’s not as a patient, but as an artist. He had been commissioned to create a major new work of art for the central atrium, a light, airy, leafy green space deep inside Guy's hospital, where staff, patients and visitors gather. The commission was to honour all those who have given organs for transplantation, both living donors and those who in death gave new hope to sufferers.

The Cherry Tree is a three metre square wall-mounted installation. It’s made from several hundred pieces of stainless steel, cut to shape, some painted, some not. Designing the work had an added meaning: it marked the 25th anniversary of the artist’s own transplant operation – over a quarter of a century of life already given by a donor. The artist has corresponded with her family through the hospital, but does not know her name.
The gardening broadcaster Alan Titchmarsh  unveiled the plaque. seen above decked in pink. Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, introduced  a short time of  contemplation and prayer.

For a gripping account of  the artist's story:

 For a general enquiry about blood and organ donation: