Category Archives: Reviews

Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ at BMAG

The Vanity of Small Differences opened at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery on Feb 13th, amid a flurry of excitement. I went along to the opening to take a look at this intriguing set of tapestries by Grayson Perry, which have been touring the country over the last several months, attracting plenty of attention.

Grayson Perry is a famous artist, probably one of the most famous British artists. In the guise of his flamboyant alter ego, Clare, he is instantly recognisable. I have seen, and enjoyed, some of his work from the 80s and 90s before. This mainly takes the shape of highly decorative ceramics (an example can be seen in BMAG’s permanent collection here) and deals with themes of identity, sexuality, gender, and self-discovery. Since the early 2000s, though, Perry has produced works of sharp and insightful social commentary, and this is where The Vanity of Small Differences fits in. I was less familiar with this aspect of Perry’s work, and keen to explore.

The Vanity of Small Differences (the title references the mainly middle class obsession with individuality) is about people; it is a commentary about and of contemporary Britain. It is also the tale of a journey. This set of six tapestries not only tells the story of their hero’s journey, they also tell the story of Perry’s journey in researching a producing this intriguing artwork.

The Adoration of the Cage Fighters

Perry designed thetapestries after working on a (BAFTA nominated) documentary series with Channel 4, All in the Best Possible Taste with Grayson Perry (2012). In it, Perry explored how ideas of social class and taste and inextricably linked in British culture. He was fascinated by the choices that people from different backgrounds made in ‘curating their possessions’, and the different messages that this transmits. Perry observed that taste is a particularly British sensitivity, because ideas about taste are linked to a class system that is still evidently very much alive in our culture. Perry knew that he wanted to create art based on the research he did while working on his documentary, and it is possible to hear the voices of the people he visited and interviewed, from the estates of post-industrial Sunderland to the estates of Cotswold gentry, coming through in the text and images.

All six tapestries follow Perry’s hero, Tim Rakewell, who is based on Tom Rakewell, the main character in Hogarth’s series of moral paintings, The Rake’s Progress. Perry cites Hogarth as a major influence on his work, and it is easy to see the parallels between Tim and Tom. Hogarth’s character inherits a fortune from his father, only to fritter it away on a life of extravagance and debauchery. In the end he can be seen naked and crazed in the poor house. Similarly, as you make your way around The Vanity of Small Differences, you watch at Tim rises to fortune and fame, climbing to the precarious precipice of the slippery social ladder. From ginger baby competing with his mother’s mobile in The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, we watch as Tim achieves success and great wealth, eventually transforming into a new money gentleman of leisure. Strolling in the grounds of his Cotswolds mansion, he watches as red dogs, bearing the words ‘tax’, ‘social change’, ‘upkeep’, and ‘fuel bills’, tear down a stag, clad in patched-up tweed, representing the aristocracy, in The Upper Class at Bay. Finally, in #Lamentation, Tim meets a grizzly and inglorious end, lying bloodstained and half-naked in the street, after wrapping his red Ferrari around a lamppost. We see how he could never really escape his roots, as the text proclaims, ‘All he said to me was “Mother”. All that money and he dies in the gutter.’ Following the tapestries around the room at BMAG, I felt genuinely wrapped up in Tim’s story. The larger than life caricatures are undoubtedly amusing, though in a gentle and inoffensive way, and this only adds to the richness of the story, bringing Tim’s tale vividly to life.

Walking into this exhibition space for the first time was like getting a slap round the face; the tapestries are so impressive, so vibrantly coloured, and so intricate. They have irresistible appeal, drawing you in closer in order to pick out every detail, to avoid missing anything. Impressive though they are from a distance, it is only once you get in close that you start to fully appreciate the intertwining strands of narrative and symbolism that run through the set, following the trail scrawly text from one scene to the next as it narrates Tim’s story in different voices. I defy anyone not to find some witty detail in each of the tapestries that provokes grin to spread across their face, from the pug sitting in the left hand corner of The Adoration of the Cage Fighters, to a tomato-faced Jamie Oliver cast as the ‘god of social mobility’, grinning down from the heavens in Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, or the boney-fingered angel/business partner announcing Tim’s new found mega-wealth in The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal.

The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal

For me, as a student of Renaissance art, this exhibition was full of amusing moments, as I looked out for the witty references to Renaissance art in each scene. As their intelligently playful names suggest, each tapestry draws on one or more Renaissance or old master paintings, and in each one, Perry plays around with Renaissance themes and iconography. The connection with 14th and 15th century religious art, he says, was used to lend moral weight to Tim’s story, as well as providing recognizable Biblical themes. The Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close, for example, mirrors Masaccio’s The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (c. 1425). The Annunciation of the Virgin Deal draws on three different paintings of the Annunciation, by Carlo Crivelli, Matthias Grunewald, and Robert Campin, and the convex mirror on the wall, replicating the scene from another angle, is reminiscent of the one found in the famous Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, a 14th century display of status. #Lamentation was inspired by a painting of the same name by Rogier van der Weyden (c. 1460), but Perry has substituted the skull at the bottom of that picture with a smashed smart phone in this.

Expulsion from Number 8 Eden Close

It seems right that this artwork should have taken the form of a set of tapestries. Historically, tapestries acted as decorative objects that displayed the wealth of their owners, owing to the great expense and skill involved in their production. This links in nicely to the main themes of The Vanity of Small Differences, class and taste. Tapestries were also mobile, and were taken with their owners from home to home, like movable instant decoration. Mirroring that, this set, which Perry has gifted to the Arts Council Collection and the British Council, are destined for a nomadic existence. They can, as they have done already, travel from place to place, art venue to art venue. Unlike the historical tapestries of the very wealthy, these will be seen by all sorts of people, the length and breadth of the country.

I found Perry’s tapestries extravagant and enthralling, and the story woven into them thoughtful and entertaining. I also really enjoyed this exhibition, I’ve been three times already, and will go again. Each time I’ve visited the exhibition space has been packed with people of all backgrounds, busily picking out little details. I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t yet seen The Vanity of Small Differences to go to BMAG for a peek. I also highly recommend investing in the exhibition catalogue, which is beautiful and full of interesting insights into Perry’s research and the processes behind producing an artwork like this.

The exhibition is totally free, and open daily until 11 May 2014. For more information visit here.

 

You can read more from me, and find out about a plethora of arts and cultural events across Birmingham, over at Polaroids & Polar Bears.

 

Oli

 

Tagged , , ,

NEW ART WEST MIDLANDS @ WOLVERHAMPTON ART GALLERY

As a trainee curator at Wolverhampton Art Gallery I was invited to the spring season launch at the gallery on Friday, for the opening of the New Art West Midlands 2014 and BP Portrait Award 2013 exhibitions. (Look out for a future post about my internship, including my involvement in the BP Portrait Award exhibition.) To mark the occasion of the opening of these two new and exciting exhibitions the gallery hosted some live music, a congratulatory handing out of arts awards certificates to young artists associated with the gallery and visitors were even treated to watching a few artists, including Adrian Clamp who as well as being an artist is one of the gallery’s facilitators, create portraits on the spot. The event was a successful celebration of art, its local engagement and its power to enrich communities.

New Art West Midlands 2014 presents innovative new work from artists who have recently graduated from art schools in the region. The exhibition incorporates paintings, sculptures and films that display a range of artistic approaches and influences. At Wolverhampton Art Gallery the exhibition includes the work of seven female artists, so what a great idea to plan a visit for International Women’s Day on Saturday 8th March!

New Art West Midlands runs until 10th May at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 27th April at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 18th May at BMAG and 15th March at Grand Union.

Anna Smith, Torso, ceramic sculpture.

Anna Smith, Torso, ceramic sculpture.

Wendy Ann Titmus, ‘Hands’ and ‘Feet’, beeswax.

Wendy Ann Titmus, ‘Hands’ and ‘feet’, beeswax.

Sharon Farrelly, Babs, mixed media on canvas.

Sharon Farrelly, Babs, mixed media on canvas.

photo (2)

photo (3)

photo (5)

photo

photo (4)

Check out the previous post about the New Art West Midlands BMAG private view here.

For more information visit the New Art West Midlands Website

Hannah

New Art West Midlands @ BMAG

Works from the region’s best art graduates were unveiled at the Birmingham Musem and Art Gallery on Thursday 13th February.

A few of us were invited to the private view where we sampled the very best from the West Midland’s  contemporary art  scene, whilst sneaking a cheeky look at the  Grayson Perry tapestries!

IMG_0550[1]            IMG_0551[1] IMG_0554[1]          IMG_0556[1] IMG_0557[1]                 IMG_0558[1] IMG_0559[1]             IMG_0561[1] IMG_0563[1]               IMG_0565[1]   IMG_0567[1]

New Art West Midlands runs until 27th April at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, 18th May at BMAG, 15th March at Grand Union and 10th May at Wolverhampton Art Gallery.

Emily Martin reviews the RA’s recent ‘Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris’ exhibition

Daumier, Ecce Homo c.1848-52, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

Daumier, Ecce Homo c.1848-52, oil on canvas, Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany

In need of a change of scene from the busy streets of post-Christmas sale shopping, I beat a hasty retreat to the calm and welcoming rooms of the Royal Academy in London. Their exhibition, which has recently closed, on Honoré Daumier, Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris, caught my eye and intrigued (I don’t know anything about 19th century satirical art) I decided to have a look. This exhibition, it turned out, is something of a momentous occasion, as it is the first Daumier exhibition to have been staged in London in fifty years. The collection on display is an incredibly extensive one, beginning with the sketches and mini busts he made for Charles Philipon’s magazine La Caricature and continuing chronologically through his life, and ending with his retreat into his own secluded world with the paintings of an artist looking at his own work as if reflecting on life.

The exhibition is organized into clear and structured rooms, making the artwork visible and accessible to a large number of people eagerly, albeit very Britishly, standing and musing over Daumier’s pictures. There were a few works of art that stood out for me and which I remember very clearly. First was the large and impressive painting Ecce Homo c.1848-52, which represents Daumier’s view on the 1848 French revolution. The painting depicts Jesus Christ, the crown of thorns around his head, his hands and neck in chains, standing before a condemning crowd during his judgment by Pontius Pilot. Painted in broad, rapid strokes, the forms only roughly defined by black outlines, as well as the toned down colour palette all combine to create an effective sense of angry, jostling crowds who, on a hot day, besiege a convicted man. As Daumier was not religious his message can be seen as a political one, one which recalls the protests and easy manipulation of crowds during an uprising. Above all I get the feeling, by looking at this painting, that if I just step a little closer I will be swept up, peering round the child lifted high in the foreground, and thrown into the crowd; churning, twisting and milling below the platform on which Christ is displayed.

That wasn’t the only time during this exhibition that I felt part of Daumier’s art, as an active participant in it. As Daumier’s interest in the new art of photography grew, he emulated images in his own medium and style. However, unlike the art of photography, in which the viewer remains, more often than not, distant and separated from the image, Daumier’s art draws his audience in; the figures are so close to the picture plane that it is hard at times not to imagine that you are part a part of the composition. In the gallery, the photograph Organ-grinder c.1853 by Charles Nègre, Daumier’s neighbour, seemingly inspired the French artist to create his own version of the work. These two images have been hung next to each other in an attempt to encourage the understanding that artists felt a certain affinity with such musicians during the late 19th century, as both métiers were reliant on finding an audience in the troubled times of an unsettled France in order to make their living. Daumier, it would seem, finds images that no one else would think of as being art. Such as Man on a Rope c.1858-60, the scraped surface of which relays so much more than solely technique.

Daumier, Man on a Rope c.1858-60, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada

Daumier, Man on a Rope c.1858-60, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Canada

Daumier, The Print Collector c.1860, oil on canvas, Museum of Art Philadelphia

Daumier, The Print Collector c.1860, oil on canvas, Museum of Art Philadelphia

One room in the exhibition particularly caught my attention. The works displayed here focused on the theme of relationships between artworks and viewers, a topic that personally interests me greatly, and Daumier is certainly an artist whose art positively forces all observers to actively look at it. The Print Collector c.1860 embodies this act of looking as curator Catherine Lampert described: “…there’s nothing like that slow, silent scrutiny of someone looking at a work of art and you have that sense, that image of looking…and communing and identifying with a work of art.” The man, bent over his in depth study of prints invites the onlookers in the gallery to join him in perusing the art.

Continuing around the gallery towards the last works of art it becomes more and more evident that ultimately, as Lampert says, “artists make art for the love of working”. The satirical portraits gave way to artworks created towards the end of Daumier’s life that appear more self-reflective and more melancholy. The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, a prime example, portrays the three ages of man in a dreary and ill-lit train, the effect created is not so much a challenge to the social class system but a sad acceptance instead. I found myself thinking that this exhibition is not so much about identifying with a work of art but was far more about actively engaging with one, and experiencing a little taster of life in revolutionary Paris.

The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Third-Class Carriage c.1862-64, oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art / Photo from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although the exhibition has since closed, you can find loads more out about it, about Daumier and Daumier’s art here.

Last chance to see: Ron Mueck at Wolverhampton Art Gallery

Mueck, Spooning Couple, 2005

Mueck, Spooning Couple, 2005

As part of ‘Artist Rooms’, a participation with Arts Council England and the Art Fund, the contemporary art of Ron Mueck has been made available to Wolverhampton Art Gallery (you can read a previous blog post about Artist Rooms here). This exhibition only runs until 2nd November so after my visit I urge everybody to have a look before it’s too late!

The collection of works by internationally renowned sculptor Ron Mueck are on loan from the Tate, together with some pieces from private collections which have rarely been seen in the UK. It is a great opportunity to see his impressive works in person, and only a stone’s throw away from Birmingham.

Previously in the props industry, Mueck now uses mixed media to create hyper realistic human figures with a dizzying play on scale. To accompany the exhibition there is a fascinating display of photographs from Mueck’s workshop where you are offered a glimpse into how these lifelike constructions come about. In all it makes for a fascinating show that I highly recommend seeing…

Mueck, Wild Man, 2005

Mueck, Wild Man, 2005

Mueck, Mother and Child, 2001-3

Mueck, Mother and Child, 2001-3

Holly Wain (finalist)

A pop-up event makes Lauren Dudley, MPhil student, happy.

After hearing that the Municipal Bank on Broad Street was opening its doors for a 3-day contemporary art exhibition I was really keen to see inside a historic building that is normally locked up and is often used as an extension of the bus stop! PhD student, Carly and I dashed through the rain into the very chilly former bank. It was a fantastic experience and was certainly worth the numb hands and feet!

DSC03073  DSC03107

The exhibition ‘Thrift Radiates Happiness’ – organised by the contemporary art gallery, TROVE and international design practice, Aedas - was a response to the grand architecture of this empty, former bank. All of the exhibits related to money and were quirky and thought-provoking. The displays and installations would only really have meaning in this particular setting. By entering an abandoned space that was once a financial hub which but had become derelict, there seemed to be an underlying comment about the current state of the economy. The works that filled the empty office spaces questioned the value of art and the relationship between culture and commerce.

DSC03098  DSC03103

In the vaults we were offered the opportunity to make an investment of £2. We would find in our deposit box either a photograph of the bank from the archives or an original work of art, and the idea was that our investment would immediately go up in value. It was very exciting… Carly had two photographs of the vaults and I opened my box to find a print by Sparrow+Castice.

thrift 1  DSC03119

As part of the project, oral histories from former bank employees were recorded and available to listen to in the grand hall of the bank. This was a brilliant way of using the space; let’s hope that the bank re-opens its doors for more exciting pop-up events!

Hieronymus Cock: The Renaissance in Print

Hieronymus Cock The Renissance in Print

I’m just back from a couple of days in Leuven. I was in Belgium to see a couple of things, but the main purpose of my trip was to see the new show recently opened at M van Museum Leuven called Hieronymus Cock: The Renaissance in Print.

This exhibition focuses on the activities of Hieronymus Cock and Volcxken Dierix, who, together as man and wife, established the hugely successful print shop “Aux Quatre Vents” (At the Sign of the Four Winds) in Antwerp in 1548. This exhibition is the first in over 25 years to be devoted to their publishing house. Its relevance to me is that although Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1526-69), whose art forms the focus of my PhD, is famous mostly to us because of his paintings, it seems to be the case that the fame Bruegel enjoyed during his own lifetime depended largely on the prints that he designed for the open market. Of these, the lion’s share came out from Aux Quatre Vents.

The show is arranged thematically, with each theme exploring one particular aspect of Cock’s and Volcxken’s broad and far reaching interests. The first three rooms (“Roman Ruins and the Allure of Antiquity”, “Italy on the Banks of the Scheldt”, and “Hieronymus Cock and the Italianists”), however, are dedicated to show’s main aim: to consider how Aux Quatre Vents functioned as a conduit for the spread of the Italian “High Renaissance” into the North.

By the mid-1500s when Aux Quatre Vents opened, it had become quite customary for Netherlandish artists to go off on their own travels to Italy. Artists headed specifically for Rome, to study its plentiful antiquities and modern artistic monuments like Michelangelo’s Sistine ceiling. Bruegel is here no exception, since he spent a number of years travelling around Italy between 1552 and ’55. The output of Aux Quatre Vents, however, satisfied the desires of those northerners who couldn’t cross the Alps for themselves, had no obvious need to go, or, indeed, desire, given the well-known dangers posed by such an arduous schlep southwards.

The first three rooms really do testify to the vogue for all things Italian, old and new, in Antwerp at the time. Highlights include the monumental monograph published in 1551 on the Baths of Diocletian, the very first published architectural monograph of its kind, which is staggering for both its physical size and its visual richness. Another is the engraved reproduction of Raphael’s frescoed School of Athens inside the Vatican Palace, which Raphael painted between 1509 and ’11. This engraving was done by the Italian Giogrio Ghisi and was published by Cock and Volcxken in 1550, the very year that they managed to persuade Ghisi to move to Antwerp and work for them, reproducing contemporary Italian art like Raphael’s and revolutionising engraving techniques in Antwerp at the same time.

Ghisi (engraver) and Cock (publisher) after Raphael, School of Athens

Ghisi (engraver) and Cock (publisher) after Raphael, School of Athens

This endeavouring to make available notable contemporary Italian art by utilising the skills of the best engravers like Ghisi demonstrates Cock’s and Volxcken’s dedication to both furthering local art according to the Italian example, and their unwavering concern for the supreme quality of their prints. The proliferation of Italian art from the publishing house bears witness to the great interest among Netherlandish artists, critics and patrons alike for innovations happening in art south of the Alps. One manifestation of this was the development of so-called Antwerp Romanism that is the focus of the the room “Hieronymus Cock and the Italianists”. Here, art by northern artists like Frans Floris is showcased, whose art was fundamentally affected by the Italian example, which it emulated, and was likewise disseminated in print from Aux Quatre Vents. Thus it’s clear from the first couple of rooms the extent to which Cock’s and Volxcken’s house functioned as both an agent and a symptom of the vogue for Italy in the Netherlands in mid-century.

The show’s definition of “Renaissance”, however, encompasses more than just the Italian and the Italianate. A particularly successful part of the exhibition is the way it makes clear the extent to which Aux Quatre Vents also played a hugely important role in the development of a native, “Netherlandish Renaissance”. Cock and Volcxken were obviously keen to champion local art from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Aux Quatre Vents published reproductions of many famous pictures by notable Netherlanders, such as Rogier van der Weyden’s hugely-famous Descent from the Cross, of around 1435, which came out as a print in 1565 and is on display in the room “Bosch, Bruegel and the Netherlandish Tradition”. At some point, Cock also dreamed-up his “Book of Painters”: a collection of portraits of famous northern artists including Rogier and Jan van Eyck that were appended with eulogies written by the humanist Domenicus Lampsonius. This project was actually realised and published in 1572 by Volcxken following the death of Cock in 1570 and some of these laudatory pages, including the one on Bruegel, are displayed.

Cornelis Cort and Hieronymus Cock (pub.) (after Rogier van der Weyden), Descent from the Cross, 1565,

Cornelis Cort and Hieronymus Cock (pub.) (after Rogier van der Weyden), Descent from the Cross, 1565,

Johannes Wiericx (attr. to) and Volcxken Dierckx (pub.), Petro Brvegel, Pictori, engraving from  Domenicus Lampsonius,  Pictorum aliquot celebrium Germaniae inferioris effigies, 1572

Johannes Wiericx (attr. to) and Volcxken Dierckx (pub.), Petro Brvegel, Pictori, engraving from Domenicus Lampsonius, Pictorum aliquot celebrium Germaniae inferioris effigies, 1572

The due prominence that the show gives to Volcxken is commendable. The lives and activities of successful women from this period have too-often remained obscure. In art historical discourse in particular, it’s only over the last couple of decades or so that women artists and entrepreneurs have been recuperated from their gender-based oblivion. This show’s emphasis on Volcxken is a manifestation of this shift, and rightly so – Volcxken did after all continue to oversee Aux Quatre Vents for some 30 successful years following her husband’s death.

Bruegel comes into his own in the previously mentioned room “Bosch, Bruegel and the Netherlandish Tradition” as well as “Vice and Virtue” and “Visualising the World”. In “Vice and Virtue”, Bruegel’s famed Seven Deadly Sins series, published 1558, and the Seven Virtues, of about the same time, are exhibited. Conceived entirely in the idiom of Bosch and intended to provide moral instruction, both these demonstrate how the visual vocabulary used by fifteenth-century artists and its attendant didactic purchase didn’t simply die-out with the onslaught of the Italianate. Some of Bruegel’s preparatory drawings for the Sins and Virtues are also on display, such as the drawing for Gluttony from the Seven Sins. Examination of this in the real shows how Bruegel put every effort into his designs, giving the engraver little or no scope to deviate from his supremely-detailed drawings. The ball, however, was not always in Bruegel’s court. In “Bosch, Bruegel and the Netherlandish Tradition” the famous Big Fish Eat the Little Ones is exhibited, published by Aux Quatre Vents in 1558 and signed ‘Hieronijmus Bos inuentor’, which is to say “Bosch designed this image”. Curiously, however, we know this to be a false claim, since the preparatory drawing for this engraving has survived, which is signed “brueghel” (how Bruegel spelled his name until about 1559 when he dropped the “h“) and is dated 1556. By substituting Bruegel’s name for Bosch’s, Cock and Volcxken clearly intended to profit from the cache afforded by Bosch’s Europe-wide fame at a time when Bruegel’s own reputation was still in its ascendancy. As such, this print represents not only the fashion for Bosch on the art market in Antwerp in the 1550s, but also points clearly to Cock’s and Volcxken’s commercial savvy and wily market strategies, who attached famous names to their prints to ensure saleability.

Pieter van der Heyden (engraver), Cock (pub.), after Bruegel, Big Fish Eat the Little Ones, 1557

Pieter van der Heyden (engraver), Cock (pub.), after Bruegel, Big Fish Eat the Little Ones, 1557

“Visualising the World” is given over to landscape, which was emerging as a legitimate category in art, in and of itself, at exactly the time of Aux Quatre Vents’s establishment. Here, Bruegel’s idiosyncratic response to the Italian sojourn is given due recognition. Most artists went off to Italy and absorbed the Italian style, which subsequently suffuses their art (do a Google image search for Frans Floris’s Rebel Angels!). Bruegel, however, took away something different. Sure, he must have seen a lot of things from Antiquity when in Rome, ditto the art of Michelangelo, Raphael etc. But he was clearly most taken with the Alpine landscape that he probably saw, and drew, on his way back up to the Netherlands in 1554-55. And on his return to Antwerp, he invented several large-scale Alpine-inspired compositions that were published by Cock immediately upon Bruegel’s return in 1555 as the Large Landscapes. The impact these had on Netherlandish art and the development of landscape as an independent genre in art cannot be overestimated.

Overall, this exhibition gives a comprehensive account of the output of Aux Quatre Vents and its impact in the course of Netherlandish art from the mid-1500s on. Navigating the exhibition is easy. You’re guided along the way by blurbs on the wall that explain each of these themes under consideration. These are also reproduced in the handy (and free!) walking guide, which also contains captions to each of the exhibits. The handbook also tops and tails the exhibition by giving some introductory remarks about the establishment of Aux Quatre Vents, the cultural and economic ferment that Antwerp was in the 1550s, as well as explaining relevant issues including what kinds of copyright laws did, or rather, didn’t, exist in the sixteenth century. All this and more is examined to greater depth in the accompanying catalogue edited by Joris Van Grieken, Ger Luijten and Jan Van der Stock, which, although a bit of a tome, is sumptuously illustrated and available for a discounted price from the Museum shop.

Hieronymus Cock: The Renaissance in Print is on at Leuven until the 9th June before travelling to Paris’s Institut Néerlandais where it will be on show from 18th September to 15th December.

Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival

A review of the talk given by Dr Kate Ince on the architect of the Barber Institute as part of the Arts and Science Festival from UoB’s Blogfest…

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Barber Institute of Fine Arts

Robert Atkinson, Architect of Cinemas @ UoB Arts and Science Festival.

Tagged , ,

A private view of HM the Queen’s Northern Renaissance jewels at Buckingham Palace?… Maybe not, but a good exhibition anyway. By Max Milward

On Saturday 12th January 2013, thirteen History of Art undergraduates, two post-graduates and their lecturer (you can see some of us in the picture below!), left Birmingham for the capital to see The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein, an exhibition drawn from the Queen’s illustrious art collection at Buckingham Palace. It was the perfect complement to our module ‘Women and Artistic Culture in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period’.

HM the Queen's N Renaissance show

Ready for our private viewing in the Drawing Room at HM’s London residence, we leapt from our Virgin Pendolino train (a number of students, I should say, travelled down with Chiltern Railways) like the youthful art lovers that we are. Some got the Tube to Green Park and others to Victoria, but our fate soon became clear. Instead of using the mighty palace’s gold-topped gates, we were ushered towards a diminutive side entrance, and visions of corgis at our feet were replaced by a throng of tourists queuing to get into the very public, and not at all exclusive, Queen’s Gallery (even the impressive looking columns in the picture below, which shows the entrance vestibule to the Queen’s Gallery, are, as one intrepid art historian among us discovered, faux-marble and hollow).

HM the Queen's N Renaissance show - entrance

Once we had overcome this minor disappointment and made our way through security, we entered the first room to be greeted by Quinten Massys’s fascinating portrait of the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who writes in his study like a sixteenth-century Saint Jerome. But links to Jerome, a profoundly chauvinist thinker, do not go down well with a class of feminist art historians and our attention was quickly redirected. That said, I much admired Albrecht Dürer’s tiny 1514 engraving of the studying saint, and particularly the lion and dog sleeping like old friends at his feet.

The exhibition’s Dürer room gave us a fascinating insight into the German printmaker’s world, and the extraordinary Apocalypse series reveals the extent of Europe’s superstitions in the run up to 1500, when, it was believed, the world would end. Much time was also spent examining (particularly by Jamie, our token PHD student) Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Massacre of the Innocents, and it was fascinating to learn that the artist’s depictions of slaughtered children had been subsequently covered up.

Portraits of Kings, Queens and nobles occupied much of the gallery’s wall space, and familiar faces such as King Henry VIII and Mary Queen of Scotts glared down at us with typical indignation. But perhaps the most interesting of them all was a portrait of King Louis XII of France from the workshop of Jean Perréal. With a medallion round his neck and a right-royal double-chin, this French monarch is a key player in our period of study, and in 1499 he married Anne of Brittany, one of the most important patrons of the arts in Renaissance France. It is images like this that help to illustrate the extraordinarily convoluted and worryingly inbred Valois family tree.

Having nearly missed her train from Birmingham, Jordan Read, a Canadian exchange student in our class, had to fight her way through the busy streets of London to reach Buckingham Palace on Saturday. But she preserved some energy for gallery-going (a notoriously exhausting pursuit) and I caught up with her to see how she had got on.

‘Despite a bumpy travel, the exhibit was terrific!’ She told reporters outside her halls of residence on Wednesday night. ‘Then again, I think any exhibit in London is incredible compared to the extremely limited art exposure in Vancouver; I’ve seen enough Emily Carr to last me a lifetime.’

So what, I asked Jordan, made this exhibition so special? ‘The great thing was that it complemented our class, Women and Artistic Culture, really nicely. Normally I feel under-educated when I visit exhibits and find myself spending more time reading the curatorial notes beneath the art than actually looking at the art. It was really thrilling for me, as a student who has never properly studied art history before, to recognise stories and characters that were depicted throughout most of the exhibit. I particularly liked Lucas Cranach’s Lucretia from 1530, mostly because of the contrast between her semi-nudeness and her lavish costume, but also because I was familiar with her story from reading Bocaccio’s “Famous Women”.’

Finishing on a negative note, Jordan explained, ‘My only disappointment was the postcard selection in the gift shop; there were more of the Queen Elizabeth II’s face than there were of art from the exhibit.’

We may not have purchased enough postcards, but the exhibition itself was an illuminating and entertaining affair, and will no doubt serve us well as we continue the study of women in Europe during the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period.

LAST CHANCE TO SEE! ‘The First Cut’ A Review of Manchester Art Gallery’s Exhibition by alumnus Natalya Paul

Paper: A legitimate albeit humble medium for a work of art. Manchester Art Galleries hosts ‘The First Cut’, assimilating 31 international contemporary artists, proving the enormous potential the ubiquitous material beholds. The exhibiting artists navigate through a wide range of concepts such as: the body, the environment, consumerism, politics and of course, the transience of life embodied by the fragility of the medium. The works on display loosely seem to fall under two components: Those which cause delight and amusement and those which encompass real substance.

Upon entering the exhibition space, the viewer is met with a barrage of paper spilling onto the walls, ceiling and floors. It’s an initial sense of awe one feels on entering. ‘Wonder Forests’ by Manabu Hangai, is an immersive and experimental environment made from seaweed collected from fisherman where he lives in Japan. The spiralling branches (with giant leaves in tow) allow visitors to roam freely in between; the sheer size of the installation has a dwarfing effect, highlighting the fairy-tale aspect. Following the natural environment theme is the piece strategically placed nearby, Andrew Singleton’s, ‘Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula’. The artist was inspired by the photographs of gigantic nebulae that hang in space. The piece, comprising of flexible black paper is held by transparent wire which hangs elegantly from the ceiling, cascading down in elegant swirls. These pieces, amongst others, tempted the tactile side of the human temperament, as paper it is something handled on daily basis, yet remodelled into something quite striking and precious.

The array of large scale works alongside intimate imaginary worlds was most notable. A striking piece, which could just as easily be described as kitsch is ‘Notice Forest’ (Burger King) 2009, in which the artist has carefully cut a minute and intricate tree which is contained within a branded Burger King Paper bag. There is some social comment which can be drawn upon the placement of consumerist props within an artistic sphere. Dominating a large section of wall space is the crowd-pleasing artist Rob Ryan’s piece, who’s designs have been translated into mugs, bags, purses, pillows and just about anything that you might find in a home ware store. His paper cut, ‘The Map of My Entire Life,’ is described as a ‘melancholy elegy of life and death’. The piece is larger than many of his other designs allowing him to build a narrative between the entwinement of text and image.

Hanging above heads was Long Bin Chen’s ‘Angel’, overseeing the entire space, like a giant Lord of the paper arts. ‘Angel’ has been created by hanging old telephone books and directories alongside each other and then gauging into the rows of books as if they were a large slab of clay. These discarded books of information have been made redundant by the internet. They are described as the ‘cultural debris’ of our society, a bold transformation from the dismissed to the monumental. Perhaps this is their revenge.

If this isn’t enough fantasy and phantom, there is a magical animation video on loop by Danish siblings, Martin and Line Andersen, creators of Andersen M Studio. The short animation feature, Going West (2010), inspired from an excerpt from Maurice Gee‘s classic New Zealand novel. The video is mesmerising as the viewer can experience pages of the book literally come to life as the pages unfold and pop up as every scene is painstaking cut with a scalpel, photographed and lit using various filters.

The further side of the gallery space takes on a darker tone, and here is the substance which really vouched for the success of the show elevating to more than just an aesthetic exploit. As opposed to the emphasis on physical form and craft, artists Tom Gallant and Julie Smith deal with the connotations of paper through history. Julie Smith works with currency, such as bank notes and is interested in their socio-political power. Although the sculptures appear to be solid, they are in fact hollow, highlighting the illusory notion of power and instability.

Tom Gallant’s ‘The Collector VIII, 101 views’ (2010) explores the consumption of pornography by society. The piece is made from editions of 1970s stag mags. By surreptitiously cutting out the text in certain ways, gives presence to the colour photo beneath, which was a ploy elicited to bypass censorship laws. In his ‘Old Game Bird’ series (2011), Gallant borrows the iconography of William Morris wallpaper designs and game birds seen in Flemish vanitas paintings in an incongruous pairing. Beneath the floral wallpaper patterns are pornographic images which are hard to detect at a glance. The pieces are framed, and then superimposed is a large game bird, as if slapped across the surface as an afterthought. The mix of the serene patterns, alongside the graphic imagery which lies beneath surmises the numbing effect of pornography due to its omnipresence. The game birds represent consumption and the notion of the hunted, which raises questions on sexuality, empowerment and lack thereof.

In the smaller second room of the exhibition was a room dedicated to internationally recognised Kara Walker. Kara Walkers silhouettes of violence, sex, racial stereotypes and dreams explored the dichotomy between dominance and submission. The work, ‘Grub for Sharks’ (2004) is based on JMW Turners  1840s painting, ‘Slave Ships’ depicting the throwing of weak and dying slaves overboard from a slave ship that left Liverpool in the 1780s bound for Jamaica. The worthless and damaged bodies were thrown into shark infested waters so companies could claim compensation form insurance companies. ‘Grub for Sharks’ is spread across all four walls making a bold political comments prompted by the pre-civil war African and American relations.  The silhouettes are rife with satire and stereotypes.

blog 1  blog 2

blog 7   blog 3 blog 4    blog 5

The only failures of ‘First Cut’ were the pieces that fitted into neither the awe-inspiring capabilities of paper, nor the artists who were intent of using the material to make bold comments.  There were some attractive paper sculptures which looked no greater than an extravagant school project and there were those pieces that didn’t seem to elicit much meaning or intention. But the variety the curators managed to cram within the space is truly commendable. There was even a bed of flowers hand cut from gardening catalogues spread across the centre of the floor by Andrea Dezso. Manchester Art Gallery provided accessibility to all ages. Toddlers were running through the ‘Forest of Wonder’, while adults were free to interpret Gallant’s hidden pornographic images. A sense of relief can be shared that the only thing this exhibition ignited was, excitement.

Runs from Friday 5 October 2012 – Sunday 27 January 2013 at Manchester Art Gallery admission FREE

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 193 other followers

%d bloggers like this: