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Posts tagged ‘Contemporary Art’

Korean Eye at the Saatchi

It wasn’t easy returning to London from Italy. The first week back, and there was rain every day. Grey skies, autumnal temperatures, AND I was expected to be able to work 9-5 every day. Where’s the justice, the cappuccinos on the beach, the Bologna porticos and red-tinted palazzos? Eagerly I worked through the week, each day that passed taking me one day closer to the weekend, when an attempt to relive the Italy experience would commence.

Our efforts were fairly successful. As the grey clouds passed and London finally began to heat up again, we headed to an Italian restaurant, Getti, on Marylebone High Street on the Saturday, where the smells of fresh mozzarella on a crispy thin pizza base were now wonderfully familiar – it was like an Italian homecoming. We even managed to utilise a little of our now polished restaurant Italian.

Kim Byoungho, Soft Crash (2011)

Meanwhile, on the Sunday morning, it was a trip to Chelsea that satisfied all of our holiday yearnings. Sat out having a creamy cappuccino (again, Italian made) in the fashionable Duke of York’s square, in the full uninterrupted summer sunshine, felt just like being back on the Mediterranean. And, as is so often the effect of sunlight and warmth, it got us in the mood to indulge. Sadly for our wallets, this meant for subsequent glasses of prosecco, a large plate of Italian cheese, the undoubtedly unnecessary but practically irresistible purchase of various Olympics merchandise and even a new printer. Whoops.

But with our minds opened by the light summer mood which befalls all of us when seduced by the sun’s rays, it was surely the perfect time to head to the Saatchi gallery, whose frequently changing works of contemporary art usually fail to impress me, if not make me despair. But whether it be the sun which had opened my mind, or just the sheer brilliance of the works on show, Saatchi’s new show, Korean Eye 2012which is the largest survey of contemporary Korean art in the UK to date, is fascinating throughout.

The show started with a trademark Saatchi huge white gallery full of very little. But that little there was on show was actually pretty cool. Yeesookyung’s Translated Vase (2007) aims to transform everyday objects into new contemporary forms. It’s a simple idea, but effective as a piece of contemporary sculpture – and I particularly liked the use of gold grouting which acts as a consistent element bringing the shards from various pots together as a single, newly innovated shape.

Next up, in gallery 2, were the works that got me completely hooked on this show. These were large mixed-media works by Bae Joonsung which looked pretty innocuous at first – until you moved past the canvas and realised that some aspects were moving, and other disappearing. Joonsung brilliantly incorporates painting and photography, executed upon different sheets of transparent acrylic which act almost like a hologram so that, when you view the painting from different angles, the work changes before your very eyes. I’ll let my photos demonstrate as best as they can…

Woman reclining…

…in the nude

Lavish dress one minute…

…and ooh la la the next

Now you see her…

…now you don’t

Also in gallery 2 were the 32 ceramic heads which comprise the work of Debbie Han, The Battle of Conception (2004-10). The heads look identical from a distance, but again, closer viewing betrays different facial features in each one, as the artist attempts to demonstrate with diverse facial features the different racial and ethnic characteristics that exist across the human race. In this respect, the work builds upon racial stereotypes, and explores the significance of human perception as the key to defining ourselves and others.

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BP Portrait Prize – Hyper-photorealism is all very well, but I want to see the Artist’s soul on the canvas

As something of a postscript to my post on Friday about the Queen’s Portrait exhibition is a short note about another exhibition currently showing at the National Portrait Gallery, the BP Portrait Prize (It’s clever marketing that requires an exhibition’s integral name to be precursored by the name of an international petrol conglomerate, although I’m not too sure how happy I am having to represent said marketing on my own blog just by nature of naming the exhibition). Anyway, I digress. The exhibition, which is now in its thirty-thid year, features some 55 works selected from an open submission of 2,187 international entrants. The sole requirement of entry is that the work is a portrait, painted in the last year.

The height of photorealism – Lindsay Lohan © Ben Ashton (2012)

This year, like most years before it, the Judges of the Prize seem to have been unashamedly seduced by the skills of artists painting photorealistically, rather than with soul. It’s now as predicable an aspect of this show as the British summer is full of rain that when you wander into the exhibition, you double-take, wondering whether you have strolled into a photography exhibition rather than a painting one. The artist paints so fantastically well, and plies his craft with such faultless skill, that one cannot see a single brush stroke and one would swear blind, even upon being 10 centimetres distance from the canvas, that this is a photo before you. This is all very well – there is no denying the skill, and absolute kudos needs to be given to these artists for executing the works with such sophistication – but the problem for me is that, if I wanted to see an exhibition of photos, I would be elsewhere. It is also, to my mind, the inherent problem of the annual offerings of the BP Portrait Prize, and what, for me, makes it all a bit boring.

These paintings do not look like paintings, and as such they do not strike me as bursting with the emotional impact that a very paint-plastered canvas exudes. In the manic multitude of Van Gogh’s plentiful brush strokes, you can identify with the bursts of energy expressed by the artist when he went about executing the work, while in the fragmented, abstracted portraits of Picasso, you can identify with an artist bursting with innovation, with a rebellious streak who wants to give more, to change art as we know it, to pioneer new forms of expression.

Swallow, © Alexandra Gardner 2012

By contrast when you look at the works hung in the BP Portrait prize, first you need to challenge your preconception that the work is actually a photograph, and then you spend your time staring at the work wondering how it is painted. But all of this emphasis somewhat takes away from the story of the sitter. The emotion is somehow lost in the perfection. When you can see no sign of an artist’s presence on the canvas, it becomes craftsmanship, and not art. It loses it’s soul. I compare these works to an exquisitely well crafted table – I would glance at the work and admire the virtuosity of the craftsman, but I would not attempt, nor be able to engage with the work in the same way as I can when an artist’s soul is poured onto a canvas.

The Dialects of Silence (Portrait of Michael Longley) © Colin Davidson 2012

There were some exceptions in this year’s show, and it is therefore unsurprising that these were my standout favourites. In Colin Davidson’s The Dialects of Silence (Portrait of Michael Longley), there is a superbly executed focus on his sitter’s melancholy eyes, which are practically photographic, but then as the work spans outwards, it becomes more and more fragmented, as swathes of paint are hastily applied to the canvas, but with no less effect. This work demonstrates both the soul of the sitter, and the passion of the artist, and that is why, for me, it works incredibly well as a portrait worthy of artistic merit. I also liked Alexandra Gardner’s Swallow which had something of the Gauguin about it. Yes it’s just a portrait, but the insertion of the striking yellow wall paper and the presence of a swallow around the sitter’s neck makes you interact with the work, wondering about the significance of the swallow, and no doubt captivated by the use of bold colour, and realism contrasting with the two dimensional black outline which circumnavigates the figure.

Mr Kitazawa’s Noodle Bar, Tokyo
© Carl Randall

However my favourite work of the show was undoubtedly this one, Carl Randall’s Mr Kitazawa’s Noodle Bar, Tokyo. This “group portrait” is startlingly original for a number of reasons: the viewpoint from above, its composition: customers on the right, servers on the left, the slice of city life seen through the window, and the exclusive use of black, white and shades of grey. I love the apathetic, indifferent stares of the customers, minding their own business, indulging in quick dinner in a hostile urban environment, thinking no doubt about work and the pressures around them. On the left we are met with the equally impassive stares of the workers, tired after cooking all day and bored of the relentless monotony of their work. But in the middle of this we have this almost embrace, the only human contact in the whole work, when the worker gives a bowl of food to a customer, or the other way round – because they both hold the bowl with two hands, it is akin to a loving embrace, a fusion of worker and customer, and composition-wise it provides the work with a horizontal variance to otherwise brash vertical lines. Brilliant.

Is that a photo?: Silent Eyes © Antonios Titakis (2012)

If the BP Portrait Prize included more works like this every year, it would be a startlingly interesting show. But as ever with exhibitions judged and chosen by a group of outdated art professionals and even a representative from BP (who clearly knows so much about art) we will continue to be shunned by a group of high-gloss works which, like any photo, reflect the viewer and push him away, rather than a show of works which, because an artist has bared his soul or painted a scene of such dynamic composition and interest, the viewer is captivated and invited in. For me, it’s this relationship between artist and viewer which is not just integral to the power and purpose of art, but central to the very definition of what “art” really is, whether it be triggered by a portrait, a landscape or an abstract clutter. Remove the soul of the artist, and the painting becomes just one more image to add to the ever changing visual landscape of the fast-moving world around us. A fleeting encounter, without a lasting impact.

Here’s hoping: Horray for the death of Conceptual Art

I was reading an excellent article yesterday by Bryan Appleyard in the magazine Intelligent Life. There, he reports on Andy Warhol and the unsurpassed, astronomically high prices his works can achieve. The article was refreshingly honest, challenging the wider perception of Warhol as a genius of Art, questioning the integrity of the market for his work, and concluding, finally, that the world of conceptual art, which was prompted so sensationally by Warhol with his soulless soup cans and unchallenging, repetitive silk-screen printed celebrity faces, is now over. Conceptual art, that is art driven by ideas rather than sensuous, emotional engagement has, he says, had its time, its 20 year reign over the art world expired.

The article is like a fresh air in an art world which seems to me to be so inherently pretentious at the same time as being so stagnant in the putrefaction of its own closed-door confines that there is no room left for a rational spokesman standing up for the middle man, asking, challenging: is that art? Isn’t that an utter piece of rubbish? Too often we are presented with a heap of detritus/ moulding bed sheets, used condoms etc, and because it is in a gallery, we are suppose to treat it as art. It’s extremely cringeworthy when I see clearly educated people attending a gallery, speaking pretentiously between one another about the fall of the light, the emotional landscape and the artistic intention adhering to a black sack in the corner of a gallery. For all they know, it might have been abandoned there in error by the cleaners.

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