Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Towner Gallery, Part Two (Only three months late, because I suck).

Part 2: The Towner Gallery Collection

I should start by apologising, you will undoubtedly have noticed I have not been on holiday for three whole months, partly because I have written another blog post since then, and also because my blog readership is still very much in the “people that know me directly” stage.

I’d like to pick up directly where I left off, but unfortunately so much time has passed since my visit, that looking at my own notes now is like trying to read French (or if you can speak French, some other language). So this might not be exactly the most clear and comprehensive of reviews.

Towner, in its current incarnation, is a young gallery, having only opened in 2009, so is still very much trying to carve out it’s own identity, a challenge which must be made all the more difficult by the galleries Tate connections.

They’ve let them use the font and everything.

The collection I saw (which ended in March) attempted to marry its local and national links, containing a mix of mid 20th century artists based along the Sussex coast, and high profile established contemporary artists such as Grayson Perry and Tracy Emin, only to came across as rather disjointed. The low light of the exhibition for me however was a more simple error in curation, the placement of a large, text heavy, and diagrammatic Grayson Perry etching “Map of Nowhere” just outside a video piece with a loud accompanying soundtrack. Not a problem for (and presumably installed by) anyone who is capable of reading in a noisy environment, but not being one of those people myself, this seemed the least suitable of all the works on display to hang in such a distraction riddled spot.

Click for big, but turn the radio on first.

That’s all for the review, but the snippets I can still remember after the last three months are nonetheless useful; my most strongly retained memory of the main collection is not of a new and interesting work or a revealing insight, but of an error. No exhibition will ever be perfect, but it must leave the viewer with something that clings in the mind, everything average will be forgotten in time, it’s the extremes that linger, and at such a young age, it’s vital that The Tower aim for as many of those positive extremes as possible as it finds its feet, if it is to establish itself as firmly as it’s parent galleries in London.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


To Mohammed Al Fyed, for finally making me appreciate the understated and subtel work of Jeff Koons.

Say what you will about Koons' Michael Jackson and Bubbles, but it wasn't a piece of public sculpture, was in a reasonably good pose, and most importantly, was made from the fairly sound material of porcelain, rather than being carved directly from the nightmares of children.

seriously, this thing is fucking scary.

So thank you Mo, for opening my horizons, warping my mind, and providing a much needed boost to all of Fulhams suppliers of dispoable bedsheets and night lights.


Saturday, 5 March 2011

Tomoaki Suzuki and The Towner Gallery (A review in two parts, because it’s about two things)

Part 1: Tomoaki Suzuki

Even having been warned before hand that the sculptures on display were going to be much much smaller than the scale free poster suggested, it was still a shock on entering the exhibition to see the floor dotted with such tiny standing figures. Each one untitled, unelevated, seemingly unsupported (but actually held in place underneath by “gallery wax”*) and most surprisingly unfenced. The diminutive characters mill casually amongst the gallery attendees, presented equally as people in themselves rather than separated off as “the artwork”.

One of the effects of this less than usual display method is it forces the viewer to crouch in order to properly see each piece, creating a greater level of engagement than simply gazing at something which had been bought up to your eye level - again something which adds to characterisation of the figures, making them appear as more than just inanimate representations.

The craftsmanship of the sculptures is amazing, single blocks of lime wood carved into flowing hair, limply dangling cigarettes and open bags filled with page-marked books. I would disagree with Towner themselves as to it being this element alone which creates the lifelike feeling of the work, and argue rather that this exhibition is very much the sum of all its parts; the pieces and display working in perfect tandem with each other to create a single effect.

If there is any problem with Suzuki’s work however, it is the rather limiting nature of his choice of theme. Taking his characters from the “fashion and youth culture” of the area around his Hackney studio, does give you the feeling whilst wondering amongst the works, that you are crashing the worlds tiniest hipster party.

Your humble writer, in conversation with a work by Tomoaki Suzuki.

All in all though the exhibition is a triumph of both artistry and curation, I just hope that Suzuki eventually casts his keen eye over the far less fashionable masses which make up the rest of the world.

Come back soon for the thrilling second half; a general review of The Towner Gallery. In the mean time, I am off on holiday, toodleoo everyone!

*yes, Gallery Wax

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Flashback: The Arrival

Partly to shift my older writing from my pictoral blog to this one, but also in honour of his recent oscar triumph, I present to you my first ever written review, a hugely fawing look (yes, I know what I said just a few short days ago, but bollocks to that, this is a great book) at Shaun Tan's The Arrival.

Whether this marks a progression into a greater degree of wordiness on this blogs part I'm yet to know, but if you're sitting comfortably I'd like to talk for a bit today rather than offer a picture.

Having been pointed in it's direction a few weeks ago and never following it up, yesterday I finally read Shaun Tan's "The Arrival". Published nearly two years ago now "The Arrival" is an entirely (I'm not counting the title) text free novel, which follows a single nameless character during his emigration and settlement in an unfamiliar country. Unfamiliar not only to the character, but also to the reader, as the the nation, it's flora, fauna, language and customs are all creations of Tan. This has the effect of meaning the narrative does not simply retell the story of an immigrants arrival, but recreates the experience of it. Our protagonist has to struggle to navigate a world where even basic tasks, from food shopping to unskilled labour, although recognisable, function in wildly different ways than thous we know. His only guides through this world are a series of fellow settlers, people who have already undergone the transition into being citizens of this peculiar nation, who retell, or at least, remember, their own journeys, escaping from invasions, wars, and hardships. Quite what the character we follow is escaping from is left deliberately obscure, expressed only as a widely interpretable metaphor, which, like the books word free pages, and black and white images, is all the more effective for it's vagueness.
At just shy of 120 pages of images, and no text in sight, it might seem odd to use the term "novel" to describe Tan's book, but the pictures used to tell this story are so finely detailed, not in a technical sense (although the drawing are beautifully rendered) but in a narrative one, each single visual page would take several in text to adequately describe it.

"The Arrival" is one of thous books which is just on the cusp of being something I'm almost a little angry at for not being my own work. But I'll forgive it this small failing, as even in the 24 hours since I was able to read it, it's made me think very much about both how I do, and how I would like to, present and use my own work.
Whether you work with images or words yourself, if your interests are artistic or political, or if you just really like a good book, I would gladly and stongly suggest you give Shaun Tan's "The Arrival" a read.

Monday, 28 February 2011

"Blimey they're still alive" of the day (and other observations)

Sister Wendy Beckett is still going, and lives in a caravan.

...or if you prefer (and I do) "nunmobile"

Also, Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is a Beardsley nerd, so I'm obligated to like him more.

Also also the "My Life in Books" opening credits utilises the cutting edge of late 90's graphics and design.

" can animate with computers now?"

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Romancing the Stone - The Golden Ages of British Sculpture

The art history documentary is clearly not an easy thing to pull off; unless you’re dealing in household names, single subject programs risk alienating the more lay members of your audience, but try and deal with a topic too broad and your lecture starts to take on the feel of a list of truncated biographies.

Romancing the Stone fell halfway between these two, with varying results. It did feel a little rushed through, with a fair number of names being mentioned only in passing, in a way which felt far more annoying than just leaving them out entirely.

RtS’s sole visual reference to Barbara Hepworth, (4th from the left) clearly more informative than say, an image of something she actually made?

But, on the other hand, some significant time was given to lesser known names, and the interviews with contemporary artists working under their influence and with some of their methods, made for a much more interesting approach than just sticking to a series of academic talking heads.

This said it did risk tipping into gimmickry on occasion, which brings me to the reason I felt the need to blog on this: series presenter Alastair Sooke.

I’m just not sure where I stand with Sooke, the factual content of both the documentaries I’ve seen him front so far (this and Modern Masters) have been quite good, and it’s certainly always nice when someone talks on a subject with enthusiasm, it’s just that his particular brand of enthusiasm can feel a bit, well, Blue Peter.

Also is it just me, or does he look a bit like Prince Eric from Disney’s Little Mermaid…?

Romancing the Stone treated us to several pointless sequences of Sooke “having a go” during the artist studio visits, and included an awful lot of shots of Sooke gazing doe-eyed at, round and through* various sculptures, in a way where it wouldn’t have surprised me if he’d let out an actual “Ooo”.

When trying to encourage a new audience into a subject enthusiasm is obviously good, but actual fawning is risky, you’re as likely to annoy as anything else, and whilst there wasn’t much in the way of harsh criticism (at least not from Sooke himself) this element was noticeably toned down from the pervious Masters series.

So that in mind, I’ll keep my place on the fence for now, and see what he gets up to next series.

*Art documentory makers of the world, please stop using this shot, you don't have to prove to us the thing you were filming was three dimentional, we believe you. Also this has the effect of making the presenter look like they've gotten lost.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Google Art Project

When Google Earth launched several years ago it was a rather different beast to the one around today. Aside from the obvious lack of Street-view, it also required downloading, and the only locations marked out were the most obvious and high profile landmarks. The internet was, of course, quick to utilise the full potential of this version, soon locating all the crop circles, boating accidents, and giant penis drawings the aerial photographs had to offer. The early Google Earth was - in effect - a toy. It was only later additions, refinements, and its proper incorporation into Google’s search engine that turned it into a useful tool.

...not that you can't still use it the old way of course

Which brings us to Google’s latest endeavour, Google Art Project.

A collaboration with 17 different art galleries in 9 different countries, Google Art Project (or “Art Project, powered by Google” according to the website’s banner) aims “[…] to enable people to discover and view more than a thousand artworks online in extraordinary detail.” or in other words; to make gallery content available online. So far this sounds not that dissimilar to the type of “virtual gallery” that many institutions have already had on their own websites for years. The big difference with what Google are doing is that it brings all of these disparate galleries into one place, and under a single interface.

Outside of the organisation of the project and the aforementioned interface (which we’ll get back to later) Google has taken a step back when it comes to the content. The choices of works - and additional information about them - are all down to the participating galleries.

This is the first point at which we encounter problems, or at least, noticeable inconsistencies. Tate Britain for example, provides two films under the Media menu on the subject of William Blake’s Ghost of a Flea. The first, a reaction piece by writer and magician Alan Moore (“I am not available for children’s parties, it would only upset them”) is nicely balanced by a second, more informative piece by Philippa Simpson. Both films have a feel not dissimilar to the series of short documentaries the gallery produced with Channel 4 in 2003. The experience they have in this area is clear to see. are your nerd credtials if you understand the shirt here.

The experience of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam on the other hand, is clearly not in film. Whist I understand the gallery’s possible unwillingness to produce a film in English, I don’t understand their choice of compromise. For the work Night Watch by Rembrandt*, they have produced a silent one and a half minute slide show of images of all the locations in which the painting has hung. Even if it did actually provide us with the names of these various locations (which for some reason it doesn’t), I would still question the usefulness of this information in such a form. is the painting in the building behind them? The shed to the right? Are they building it? Where the hell am I?

It isn’t just the media however, the written notes are also flawed; the Additional Artwork Information for the piece informs us:

“The names of the eighteen militiamen portrayed in the painting are on a shield above the gate. […] We are now only able to match a few names to the faces in the portrait.”

Which names, and to which faces we’re not told, which makes this information less useful, and more of an irritating tease.

Another issue from the galleries is the extent to which the amount of participation varies; New York’s MoMA offers us 17 works, all from a single room (although you can also explore their featureless lobby, if for some reason you’d want to), where as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence has 72 works from 35 different rooms.

However, given time these galleries may well expand their available collections, and given the influence of the other institutions taking part, I’m sure those with lesser media experience will eventually find their feet. So I can’t really criticise any of the participating galleries too harshly at this stage.

Where I will be a little more cutthroat however is when it comes to Google themselves, and the interface they’ve created.

The first major issue with this is the complete lack of a cross gallery search, if you’re looking for a work, but don’t know which gallery it’s located in, the only way to find out is to either select each institution one at a time and search it’s collection, or, open a new window and get the information you need from a different website. One of the benefits of the project is supposed to be that it brings these collections together, so to then separate them again in this way seems to run counter to one of the projects core purposes.

The other problem is with the much-touted “Street-view technology”, which allows you to “walk” around each gallery. This is simply awkward to use; it can be difficult to see works, and get the title and artist label to display, unless you are standing at an exact angle or distance. In some of the more heavily stocked galleries you may also find yourself able to look at a work that it is then impossible to identify, as it hasn’t been made part of gallery’s online collection.

What works very well from the point of view of a car on a road does not translate well to a person walking around an open room, and I can’t see this working at all practically unless Google undertake some serious alterations.

Before I sound as if I’m finding too much fault however, there is one element which Google has done good to make part of the project, and this is it’s most talked about feature; the ability to view artworks in super high resolution. This allows you to zoom in so close to a selection of paintings that you can view the brushwork, cracklature, and even the weave of the canvas. This is a brilliant feature and has been rightly praised. The only unfortunate thing about this, is that at the moment just one piece per gallery has been photographed in this way, and the resolution of the other images is something which (again) varies significantly depending on which institution you’re looking at.

The Google Art Project thus feels very much like a work in progress, the potential for it to become a hugely useful tool is very much there, but for the moment potential is all it is. It’s the next few years, which will decide its fate as either an invaluable resource, or merely the web’s most highly cultured time waster.

In the mean time though, I’m sure the internet will find a use for it. 1533 sicily was a penisula?**

*who was blind and had wooden hands.

**yes, that's rubbish I know, but I couldn't be bothered to search every high res image for a hidden penis, I'm sure they'll be found in time though.


So, I've decided to launch a blog, another blog, in theory this is to review art and art related things, but I've left the title rather open, so you never know, I can expand on that should I, or any guests, want to.

Anyway, with that poorly composed mess out of the way; welcome.