Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Hidden Gems at the British Museum

(This story was originally published on the Londnr)

The (not so yummy) mummies. The (allegedly stolen) Elgin Marbles. The (not a language course) Rosetta Stone. We all know what’s in the British Museum, right?

Well, we all probably know what the highlights are, given that the museum has held its place as the most popular cultural attraction in the UK for the past eight years, with around 6.7 million visitors passing through its doors annually.

But when we spoke to Eleanor Hyun, Curator for the Korean Collection, she conceded that “when you talk to British people for the most part, they say ‘yeah, I went to the British Museum when I was seven with my school and I haven't been back’ so it feels like there's a part of the population who thinks nothing about it changes very much.

But things do change in the museum’s permanent collection – many objects can’t be left permanently on display and have to be rotated for the purposes of conservation. Hyun admits “I love that my gallery changes every six months or so because you can't have paintings or works on paper, textiles or silk, out for that long. It animates the space again, which is counter to what a few people think about the British Museum as being more static.”

In the late nineties, the British Library moved part of its collection from the museum to its current home on Euston Road, resulting in some freed-up space. Part of this was set aside to form the Korea Gallery, which opened in 2000. Hyun shared with us why she loves three particular pieces from the Korean collection, and why we should make an effort to see them the next time we’re in Bloomsbury, instead of heading straight for the mummies.

Moon Jar (Joseon period, 1650-1750, glazed porcelain)
The moon jar is the obviously one of the museum's star pieces because it is very representative of Korean 17th Century porcelain from the last dynastic period. I like it because it shows how objects have their own lives – in particular its life in the 20th Century. It was bought by [father of British studio pottery] Bernard Leach, who visited Korea in 1930 and brought it back. He really loved it and during World War II, he asked potter Lucie Rie to move it to her studio for safekeeping. The anecdote goes that when he went to pick it up from her studio in 1946, he thought it looked so amazing there that he said she should just keep it, which she did until her death in 1995. The museum then purchased it in 1999.

“This style of jar is always slightly different because of the way it's made because it is produced in two halves and you have to bring them together to make it into a whole, so the middle it is often flattened out. It's called the Moon Jar but that is its 20th century name. Nobody really knows exactly who started it, but there was a Korean artist who was known to have use that phrase. In the historical records it's just called a big jar!”

“Sarangbang” – A Gentleman’s Room (Recreated from the Joseon period 1392-1910)
“This is one of the few places you can see a traditional Korean architectural space in the UK. The scholar’s, or gentleman's, room would have been somewhere a man would have studied, done calligraphy, have slept or had friends over for tea or drinks. It was designed by Korean architect Shin Young-hoon in the style of an upper class house of the mid-1800s, and he installed it with 12 Korean craftsmen who brought the materials over from Korea. 

“You see right away that everything is really close to the floor and that there are no high tables or chairs. Back then it was because the floor was heated but still to this day a lot of people still sit on the floor in Korea and Japan. You had a stone floor with oil paper on top, so in the winter when you heated the stones below it, the floor would be warm. But in the summer, you obviously wouldn't heat the stones so it would be nice and cool.

“If you were able to go into the space, you would see that the ceiling feels low, and because the furniture is low too, you automatically go lower to the ground. So the space in itself, like any kind of architectural space, informs you of how the furniture is going to be in terms of scale. I am trying to create a programme so a controlled number of visitors can walk inside as I really want people to experience the space – so stay tuned!”

Nam June Paik (1932-2006) – Evolution, Revolution, Resolution, 1989. Colour lithographs on paper
“I didn't even know these were here until I came to work here! It's a set of eight prints from 1989, made to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution. The television robots represent eight of the revolution’s leading figures. We currently have three on show (Jacques-Louis David, Denis Diderot and Olympe de Gouges), and rotate them.

“I like that people are surprised that we have them. Also if you really look at each of them, you can see that he's given each of them their own programming. When you read them, if you know all the languages, they're hilarious, and you realise that he must have been a funny playful dude. But at the same time, it feels like he is thinking not only about the French Revolution but as an art practice having social consciousness and the ability to have a political voice.

“The other thing that I like about them is that because they are works on paper, they can't be out all the time. I feel that when they are out it's kind of a precious thing because they'll go back into storage and it might be another couple of years before they come back out. Again it shows how art itself is not always at your beck and call and sometimes you have to make an effort to see certain things.”

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ireland at the 2015 Venice Biennale

The following is an article I was commissioned to write by The Irish Examiner back in May this year:

Ireland in Venice - how Sean Lynch conquered the Arsenale

Sean Lynch at the opening of the Irish pavilion. Photo by Holly Howe

“You have got to be kidding me – you’re not actually staying here, are you?” I’m addressing the man who is walking down the stairs in front of me. He stops, turns around, and stares up at me. A smile spreads across his face. “Morning Holly” he says. “Morning Sean” I reply. “Glad to see you’re not hungover from last night. I’ll see you in two hours for our interview.” 

The city of Venice may be 414 sq/km (although only 150 sq/km of this is land – the rest is the lagoon), but during the Venice Biennale, which is arguably the contemporary art world’s biggest get together, it demonstrates small town qualities. As exemplified by the fact that I have inadvertently rented the apartment above Sean Lynch’s, the artist representing Ireland in 2015.

Now in its 56th year, the Venice Biennale started in 1895 as a sort of world fair for contemporary art. As the years went by, more and more countries formally participated in it, with a number building permanent pavilions in the city’s Giardini (gardens). When that space was full, countries were invited to rent space in the Arsenale (the other main site of the Biennale), and now everyone else has to find their own space to rent somewhere in the city to house their national pavilions.

The Irish pavilion has been in assorted locations since 1950. While you will see dedicated art lovers traversing the city armed with maps and smart phones to hunt for these buildings (this year over 30 countries are “offsite”), what a country really wants is to be located in one of the two main sites. This year, Ireland’s wish was granted and it was invited to use a space in the Arsenale, which will guarantee a higher footfall than in previous years.

The Biennale has one overall curator who is also responsible for the two central pavilions – for 2015 the honour was bestowed upon Okwui Enwezor, a Nigerian curator who splits his time between New York and Munich. Titled “All the World’s Futures”, Enwezor has curated a group show with a strong political angle, featuring a more diverse group of artists than has been shown in previous years, including Jeremy Deller, Marlene Dumas, Steve McQueen, Oscar Murillo, Cao Fei and 131 other artists. This alone is a monumental exhibition, requiring at least a day to view properly. For example, British filmmaker John Akomfrah has produced a beautiful if harrowing film titled ‘Vertigo Sea’, which looks at topics such as whaling, polar bear hunting, and the Argentinean Junta’s practice of throwing prisoners from planes into the sea. But it’s 50 minutes long. Throw a few more video works into the mix and you can see how easily you could spend more than a day there.

Okwui Enwezor by Holly Howe

And then there are all the pavilions to see! The way in which these are managed varies from country to country but typically one or more artists are selected to present a new body of work on behalf of their country. Stand out pavilions include Canada – represented by the artist collective BGL who created a corner shop where some of the items are designed to look out of focus, resulting in viewers rubbing their eyes as they walk around wondering if they are just too tired to see the art properly; Germany – featuring artists Jasmina Metwaly and Philip Rizk, Olaf Nicolai, Tobias Zielony and a stand-out video “Factory of the Sun” by Hito Steyerl which looked at drones, protest and dance, while poking fun at Deutsche Bank; and Australia – which placed artist Fiona Hall in its newly rebuilt pavilion, where her work includes grandfather clocks, birds nests made from shredded dollar bills and animal heads made from camouflage fabric.

I’m interviewing Kerry-born artist Sean Lynch, 36, the day after the late night party thrown to celebrate the opening of the Irish pavilion, which is where we first met. Impressively, he really wasn’t hungover, despite being given 12 bottles of poitín by Slovenian representatives. “We shared it around at the party but couldn’t finish it. That must have been a first”, he joked.

The title of his show is “Adventure: Capital”. As you enter the space, you are confronted with a large plinth housing various disparate objects, including a sculpted head, a stack of bricks, and a model for an abstract sculpture in the style of Alexander Calder.

But after viewing the 16-minute long video, the links between the objects becomes clear. Voiced by Lynch’s long-term collaborator Gina Moxley, the work features an unidentified narrator, who is an amalgamation of assorted characters including Flann O’Brien’s Mad King Sweeney, the O’Shea brothers (Irish stone carvers from the mid-19th century), Gubán Saor – the first mythical builder of Ireland, and Flint Jack – a Victorian forger who made axe heads that he passed off to museums as being megalithic.

We go on a journey, from the birth of granite as it erupts from a volcano, to present day London, where the narrator delights in exploring the grounds around the Gherkin – a skyscraper built in 2003. It exclaims: “And there, at its base, I saw my granite! A thin veneer of stone, there to sanitise and purify, meeting more materials also taken from the earth, all arranged into order and all rising together. Such shiny armour!”

It continues to Liverpool, puzzling over the bronze statue of John Lennon at the airport that bears his name. Lynch explains: “Was that Lennon’s ambition? To run an airport? To be commodified as some sort of thing that becomes part of a notion of a city’s identity? I doubt it. These forms that are sometimes loose and free then become mineralised… because being stuck in a statue, he can’t sing now.”

The narrator flies to Belfast, but is even more horrified to discover that in George Best Belfast City Airport, there is no public sculpture whatsoever. So it decides to make a sculpture and gift it to the airport, but the airport never acknowledges it. Lynch explains what they actually did: “Belfast is a city of post trauma, it’s also a city of intense post-industrialisation, and so this becomes the modality to name the airport after the famous footballer, which is fine, I’m not criticising that as an action necessarily, but I’m curious as to how to turn that situation around quite quickly and how to play with that scenario rather than letting it off as a bit of branding. So we carved the stone, we went up to the airport with no permission and went round the airport with a 600 kilo block of stone for two days.”

The narrator then heads south to locate a semi-buried sculpture – the Calder-like one that appears on the plinth. It transpires that this is actually by John Burke, best known for his sculpture on the Wilton roundabout in Cork. The sculpture in the film is one that was removed from a housing estate on the northside of Cork following a petition by residents complaining that “kids were drinking cider at all hours of the night around it, lads were waving a pipe hitting it waking up everyone in the neighbourhood, you know, Jimmy could fall off and break his arm, all this kind of rhetoric.” Lynch continues: “This is not a judgemental call on my part, I think it’s actually really cool that this sculpture agitates in this manner. I felt like it should have another life, it should exist again. So it’s in the video here and it becomes animated and gets up out of the hole and goes walking and talking and then formally on the plinth there are these graphic elements and a scale model of it to try and bring it to life again.”

The film ends in Wexford, at Corish roundabout, where a group of ‘arty vandals’ dug up the bricks that lay in the centre of it in 2008, before rearranging them into a tower. Lynch recreates this ‘work’ in his film, and Wexford council donated the bricks to him to display on the plinth in the exhibition.

The film may have ended but Lynch’s stories have not. He has just opened “DeLorean: Progress Report” at Ronchini Gallery in London, which runs til 27 June. The exhibition features photographs and installations looking at the story of the DeLorean car factory (which operated in the early ‘80s outside of Belfast) following its closure.

Lynch again put his detective hat on to try and locate where the car materials went when the factory was sold off, finding some of the metal casts in Galway Bay, where they now serve as homes for lobsters. He decided that it was better to photograph it, rather than exhume the parts from the sea, which would have resulted in the destruction of their habitat. He also commissioned Neil McKenzie to make panels of the car, using wooden moulds and traditional handforming metalwork techniques, and these also appear in the show.

If you can’t make it to London or Venice to see either exhibition, fear not, as “Adventure: Capital” is scheduled to tour Ireland in 2016, following the closure of the 2015 Biennale on 22 November.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Art girl about town

I’ve been terrible at updating my blog of late, but that’s not to say I haven’t been writing. In May I went to Hong Kong for Art Basel and have been writing like crazy since then. I did highlights of the fair for both FAD and Complex, as well as an article about the street art scene in Hong Kong for Complex.

Then there were exhibition reviews back in London – the huge Banksy show that Sotheby’s held in their gallery as well as the amusing yet melancholic Museum of Broken Relationships at Southbank Centre. I went to the Sotheby’s Contemporary evening sale, and wrote about that too. Plus I threw some fashion into the mix with 40 things you didn’t know about Givenchy’s Riccardo Tisci in honour of his 40th birthday in August.

There’s lots more in the pipeline. Am working on some features for State Magazine and I wrote three philanthropist profiles for the forthcoming Giving Magazine – will share these with you as soon as they come out.

But in the meantime, if you want to find out what galleries and artworks have been impressing me on a day-to-day basis, follow my feeds on Twitter or Instagram.

Over and out x

Sunday, 24 November 2013

How the 2013 Venice Biennale made us think about climate change

The temperature is rising, everyone is enjoying the sun, but there is a slight niggling thought at the back of people's minds that maybe this is to do with global warming. And the guilt sets in, despite the fact that we're delighted to finally see that burning yellow orb back in the sky for the summer.
A number of artists at the 55th Venice Biennale also had this in mind when they developed work for their respective pavilions. This year, Tuvalu was exhibiting for the first time. Located in the Pacific Ocean, the Polynesian island nation explored the issues of climate change through three installations by artist Vincent J.F. Huang. A six-metre high oil pump had Wall Street's Bull hanging from a noose on one end, with a sea turtle awaiting decapitation at the other. American symbolism was again featured in the next piece, with the Statue of Liberty kneeling before dead penguins while the "Modern Atlantis Project" showcased an aquarium containing coral and other sea life among miniature Italian renaissance figures, such as Michelangelo's David, Botticelli's Venus, Canova's Three Graces and Leonardo's Pieta.
The Maldives, another island nation at risk of disappearing into the sea, also looked at the trend in global rising temperatures and the impact of the Arctic melt. During the preview, artist Stefano Cagol installed a large block of ice from the Alps on the quay which leads to the Giardini and filmed it as it slowly melted and then vanished. However, given how poor the weather was during this year's preview compared with 2011, it probably took longer to melt than had been initially projected. Inside the pavilion itself, which was located a few streets away, was a group show from a number of artists addressing the concept of "contemporary environmental romanticism". Highlights included Ursula Bieman's video piece looking at the melting ice in the Himalayas and Sama Alshaimi's video installation depicting the artist's journey through deserts in the Middle East and Africa and the importance of water sources within this harsh landscapes.
Alfredo Jaar's main installation at the Chilean pavilion aimed to serve as a commentary on the historical set-up of the Giardini, which is the main home to the Biennale and houses 28 countries' pavilions. Some of these countries are now defunct – such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia –  and the countries that are not within the original group of 28 are unfairly forced to rent spaces around Venice to host their pavilions should they wish to participate in the event. Jaar created a five-metre squared pool, featuring a replica of the Giardini, which sinks into a pool of green water every three minutes, the same shade as the water in Venice's canals, inviting the viewer to see the Giardini as a ridiculous ghost from history. However, as Venice is currently in the midst of a corruption scandal over its current floodgate construction and St Mark's Square was subject to "acqua alta" – high water flooding – during the preview of this year's Biennale, it is hard to view the piece without also seeing a terrible future where Venice itself could end up under water.
Hopefully between these three pavilions, visitors will be forced to reconsider the impact of climate change and rising sea levels, even if it makes for hotter summers around the globe.

A version of this article originally appeared on FAD in July 2013.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Eastern Promise - London's Best East End Galleries

So waaaaaaaay back in November 2012, I wrote an article for Uno Stile di Vita, the glossy magazine for guests of the Baglioni Hotel Group. It wasn't published until Spring 2013, and then it took me a while to get hold of the PDFs, and even longer to reformat them (shout out to Neil Googe for his help with that), but here it is at long last.

The piece was aimed at guests who were interested in art but may not have an in-depth knowledge of the contemporary art scene, but knew they wanted to explore beyond the National Gallery and the Tate. I sent them on a walking tour of east London galleries to explore the following: Gagosian, Victoria Miro, Standpoint, Daniel Blau, Kenny Schacter's Rove, Flowers East, Pure Evil and Stolen Space.

If you click on the images, you should hopefully be able to read the text in both English and Italian, should you feel so inclined...

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Siren’s Song

I get into bed, extinguish the light and turn to face the wall. I pull at the duvet, wrapping it snugly around my neck so no draughts can encroach, and close my eyes. I feel my body become heavier as I drift towards sleep…

And then it comes. The siren call. I ignore it, burying my head deeper in my pillow. But my room is temporarily illuminated. I squeeze my eyes more firmly shut in an attempt to block out the light. But it is too late. The siren echoes in my ears, willing me to take action, to arise and open my eyes.

I decline. But it is now lodged in my head and curiosity is tapping me on the shoulder. I try to ignore it but my will is weak. I slowly turn over, opening first one eye, then the other. My hand reaches out to my bookcase, my fingers feeling their way along the shelf. I pick up the rectangular object and press on the glass. It is him. He has texted.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Love songs in the middle of the night

It’s four in the morning, I'm lying in bed, my window is open and I’m listening to love songs. There is no sound apart from the birds singing in the tree that's just outside. I have decided that as it’s Valentine’s Day, they must be wooing. Not “Honey, can you pick me up a worm” or “Hey darling, check you out”, or even worse “Hey darling, check me out”, but songs of pure unadulterated passion.

Every now and then, a car passes in the distance, threatening to drown them out, but my ears strain for their music and their voices seem to crescendo in defiance.

I drift back to sleep, with their romantic chorus echoing in my ears…

End note: I read a few years ago that the reason birds sing at night is not because they’re confused by city lights and think it’s dawn when it’s not, but because they realised that it was quieter at night, and therefore easier to be heard…

Friday, 16 November 2012

Why Frieze left me frozen

(Originally published on FAD on 19 Oct 2012)

I don’t like it.
There, I’ve said it.
And I may well be the only person to say it because everyone I speak to thinks it’s great.

This year was my third time going to the fair and as I walked around, I tried to put my finger on what exactly it is that I don’t like. Initially I thought that maybe it was because I was viewing it on my own and that perhaps the reason I enjoyed Art Basel Miami Beach so much was because I walked around with different friends, discussing the artworks as we went.

But then I remembered that I went to Art Hong Kong on my own and I liked that, so that theory doesn’t hold. Hmm.

There’s something about Frieze London that feels like a massive art car boot fair. Although obviously not like The Art Car Boot Fair, held in the summer down Brick Lane. That’s great. Frieze just feels a bit jumbled, and with the galleries squeezing as many different artists into their booths as they can, walking around feels like an endurance test.

Even this year’s Frieze Projects didn’t rock my boat. While I enjoyed Pierre Huyghe’s aquarium last year (featuring the hermit crab which had adopted the Brancusi head for its shell), this year I felt they were a bit lacking. Perhaps it was the day I went (Friday). While earlier visitors had witnessed the autopsy of a curator made of cake as part of Ash Çavuşoğlu’s Murder in Three Acts, when I was there, the space just resembled a film set with actors and crew standing around. And that’s the thing with film sets…glamorous in theory but dull as hell in reality. Perhaps that was the point. But I wasn’t there to witness banality.

In a fit of frustration, I decided to leave, figuring I could whizz up to Frieze Masters, check that out, decide that was crap too, and be done with the lot of it. I stomped up the steps into the Frieze Masters tent and then stopped.
It was completely different.
And incredibly tranquil.

Which is not to say that it was lacking in visitors – it wasn’t – though there certainly weren’t as many people marching up and down the aisles. There was a completely different vibe there. Many of the dealers hosted condensed solo shows, turning the visitor’s experience into a mini museum walk. And indeed, the fair had a huge number of visitors from international museums and other art institutes.

Personal favourites included Richard Avedon at the Gagosian, Roberto Chabet at Osage Gallery (an amazing gallery in Hong Kong that I’ve been a fan of for many years) and Sanja Iveković’s performance pieces at Espaivisor Gallery.

I also quite liked that a couple of galleries had invested in beautiful packing crates that also doubled as plinths and frames for the artworks, such as at Bacarelli Botticelli Gallery and Koetser Gallery.

The gallery owners all seemed to be in good form, laughing and joking, pretending to run after clients and gossiping about the whereabouts of Steve Wynn (the multi-millionaire casino owner who famously put his elbow through one of his own Picassos). All very relaxed and not uppity, as the Masters classification could have given them cause to be. In fact, the weirdest part of Frieze Masters was how personable everyone was.

And maybe that’s why I didn’t like Frieze London compared with all the other big fairs and their satellite counterparts. You end up leaving it with the feeling that you were never really wanted there in the first place. But at least I’ve found myself a new home at Frieze Masters. Now where did I put my wallet?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Writing myself to sleep

The desire to write coupled with the desire to sleep leads to a decided change in my handwriting. Normally, I can barely control my pen – struggling to keep up with the rapids pouring from my mind. I find myself dropping letters, writing words in the wrong order and merging a series of letters into one curious symbol. It’s not dyslexia – just a case of the physical process letting down the mental process. But now, I look at my handwriting in the paragraph I’ve just written and think “My! How legible.”
And how lacking in passion and enthusiasm.
But it’s fine.

I’m just terribly, terribly tired and yearn to peel off my clothes and discard them in a pile on my bedroom floor before sliding into bed.

This is how I know I’m tired – the idea of clothes on the floor is abhorrent to me, but right now, the prospect of hanging them on the back of my chair, or worse, transferring some to the laundry basket, seems as challenging as climbing Everest.

Anyway, I can’t sleep. I’m not even at home. It’s 3.45pm in the afternoon and I’m sat writing in a café because I’m killing time before meeting my friend at the National Gallery. And we have to go today because the show is closing soon, and it’s the only time we’re both free, and two of my friends specifically recommended it, and I’m already starting to feel crushed by the weight of guilt bearing down on my shoulders, and I don’t know why I feel guilty, because I’m still going, right? I haven’t cancelled, but now I’m starting to feel bad, like somehow I don’t value it enough, or won’t appreciate it enough, or that the presence of my semi-somnambulant self in the gallery is somehow going to poison the whole show.

Oh that’s it. I just can’t bear to think about it anymore, I’m going and that’s that but I really am going to spoil it for myself because I’m already trying to calculate in my head how long I think it will take me to get around the exhibition, which is a bad thing to think, but I’m just so desperate to crawl into bed. On the plus side, an earlier email from my friend has suggested that he too is in need of an early night so perhaps he will be amenable to me gently nudging him towards the bus after the exhibition, towards our own separate beds.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Globetrotting in the name of art

OK, maybe it's just an excuse to take more holidays but I have been doing quite a bit of travel to look at pretty pictures in the past few months. In May I went to Hong Kong to check out ARTHK and worked extremely hard writing articles for FAD everyday. You can check them out here. In June I went to Kassel to check out Documenta and wrote just one article, which I've pasted below for your reading pleasure. (It's still on for another month so head out to Germany and see it because it won't be on again for another five years!) And in July I went to the Kiev Biennale and lazily decided not to write anything at all (but in summary, it wasn't particularly exciting and all the big pieces had previously been exhibited elsewhere so there was no "shock of the new" in Ukraine this summer). Wonder what I'll go see this autumn...

Documenting the Documenta

“What? Those stones? Oh yeah, they’re from the Joseph Beuys’ project called 7,000 Oak Trees. Yeah. Such an amazing gift to our city. He planted the trees and put those stones beside each one, about 20, 30 years ago. You know, if you have to move a tree, for construction or something like that, you have to put up another tree with a stone beside it somewhere, you know, so the number always stays at 7,000.”

This was my introduction to the power of Documenta – an art event held every five years in Kassel, a city located slap bang in the middle of Germany. Because these words weren’t being sprouted by someone leading one of the numerous art tours arranged during the exhibition, they were coming from my taxi driver. And I wondered (Carrie Bradshaw style), how many taxi drivers around the world could speak so knowledgeably about an artist like Beuys?

It’s hard to sum up this art behemoth in so few words because it’s vaguely similar in scale to the Venice Biennale, in that there are art works are dotted all around the city as well as in the eight or so main gallery spaces. Featuring over 150 artists from around 55 countries, this is a comprehensive and indeed academic look at the current state of art. While the gallery owners and collectors were naturally hovering around, there was a general feeling that this was art for art’s sake, and not just another retail experience.

Of course, without a commercial focus, the event was free to showcase more “difficult” pieces – i.e. lots of video art, performance art, lectures as art and text. There was a lot of text. Which was kind of a treat, as it meant you were able to quickly brush up on an artist you may not have previously been familiar with. However it also meant you could easily spend an entire afternoon just reading about the works of a handful of artists.

It was impossible to cram everything in during my three days there, but I did manage to cover quite a lot of ground. Here are my recommendations for how to manage Documenta and some key artworks you definitely shouldn’t miss.

My top 5 things to see at Documenta (13), in no particular order:
·         Nedko Solakov – Knights (and other dreams) – Brüder Grimm Museum. This is hilarious – Solakov explores his fictitious dream of wanting to be a knight – and hides lots of witty comments among his exhibition (in a similar humour to David Shrigley)
·         Tino Sehgal – Grand City Hotel Hessenland (but entrance via Hugenottenhaus). You walk into a pitch black room. You can hear singing and feel things moving around you. How big is the room? Are there other people in there with you? Can you make it out without wetting yourself?
·         Horst Hoheisel – Aschrott Fountain – Obere Königstrasse. This art work wasn’t made for this Documenta, but there are events taking place there during it. A great example of why you should explore an art work in depth. What looks like a boring grill on the street with water running around it transpires to be a fountain that has been built upside down so it goes into the ground. You can look down through the grills to see the structure. Incredible.
·         Fiona Hall – Fall Pray – Karlsaue. One of the temporary huts in the massive Karlsaue park houses the work of Fiona Hall. She has made a number of animals in danger of extinction out of camouflage materials. The Japanese cat reminded me of Behemoth – the cat from Complicite Theatre’s version of The Master and Margarita.
·         Kader Attia – Repair of the Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures – Fridericianum. This installation compares and contrasts facial disfigurements with decorative facial augmentation – for example a man with a damaged lip beside a man with a decorative lip plate.

Top Space: Neue Galerie. This venue had lots of interesting art works. I particularly liked the work by Geoffrey Farmer, Maria Martins, Susan Hiller, Zanele Muholi and Roman Ondák.

Top tips:
1.       Get the free map with the participants as this lists all the works in the main venues and those in the satellite locations.
2.       If you have an interest in art, then it’s worth investing €24 in the official guidebook. This features a page of text (in German and English) and a full page photo for every artist in Documenta (13) and is a great source of background information on each artist.
3.       Hire a bike. It’s only 50c per half hour and it’s a great way to view all the art works in Karlsaue, which has around 60 works of art dotted around it, as the park is slightly bigger than Hyde Park in London.
4.       Take your time, go for a week! There’s lots to see, and you’ll appreciate it more if you’re not rushing around.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

My favourite photo from Art Basel Miami Beach

I'm mainly reposting this article about Art Basel Miami Beach that I wrote for RWD and G-Shock because I love this photo taken by Wayne Chisnall (click to enlarge). It didn't make the cut for either publication because there were other images that were more suited to their readership, so I've decided to showcase it here. It features work by Yinka Shonibare at two different galleries' booths and I love the way the girl from James Cohan's booth reaches out to the dresses displayed on Stephen Friedman's booth. I asked Jim if the two galleries had arranged the display between them, but apparently not - it was just a lucky coincidence. So here's the photo and below is my original article. Enjoy.

For the love of art

“I want that one”. No, I’m not quoting Little Britain’s Andy Pipkin. I’m quoting P. Diddy. Well, no. I’m not quoting him either, I’m just imagining that’s what he said. Or maybe he said “Puffy wants that one”, as these stars are often enamoured with using the third person singular when talking about themselves.

In any case, the “one” in question was a piece of art by Tracey Emin, the British artist who caused many an eye-roll when she was nominated for the Turner Prize for her installation My Bed. Diddy opted for a more conservative neon piece which reads: “I Listen to the Ocean and All I Hear is You”. And thus opened December’s Art Basel Miami Beach (ABMB) and all who sailed in her.

This was the tenth anniversary of the international art fair, which sees galleries from around the world exhibiting their wares for all to savour. Attracting collectors, dealers (of the art kind), celebrities, and art lovers, the fair showcased a number of great British artists, including Anish Kapoor, Bridget Riley, Yinka Shonibare, Anthony Gormley, Sarah Lucas, Ryan Gander, Julian Opie, Gilbert and George, Damian Hirst, Gary Hume, and on and on the list goes.

To tie in with the behemoth that was ABMB, satellite art fairs scattered themselves across Miami, hoping to woo collectors who think spending $3.75m on a bronze spider by Louise Bourgeois is just a tad excessive with some fractionally more affordable work.

The Scope Art Fair had lots of treats in store for visitors, including Ron English’s original painting for Chris Brown’s F.A.M.E. album cover, a large display of work by Belgian street artist Roa, and a helpful road sign by LA-based artist Desire Obtain Cherish reminded visitors to “watch your dubstep”.

Out on the not-so-mean streets of Wynwood, graffiti artists were busy at work painting walls as the fair rolled on. Two highlights were Retna’s wall and the collaboration between Remi Rough and LX One at Graffuturism.

But there was much, much more to see. It’s hard to condense five days of non-stop art viewing into a synopsis. Weep for me, dear reader, I didn’t even make it to the beach. And all for the love of you. And art. Obviously. Or else that would be a bit weird.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

To Venice, with love...

So last year I headed out to Venice for the opening of the 2011 Biennale with artist Wayne Chisnall, who also played the role of official photographer for the piece I wrote for RWD.

It was an unforgettable week. The art, the people, and the city itself collectively made me swoon. And Wayne photographed me looking like a criminal in the mafia-themed section of the Italian pavilion (which I really liked even though many art critics panned it), so that was a highlight. Below is the article I wrote:

Image is nothing. Thirst is everything.

How to tackle the 54th Venice Biennale if you have an undying
thirst for art? That was our question before, during and after this year’s event. I had five days to see the art at 89 international participants’ pavilions (each country has its own venue to display work of its choosing), 37 official collateral events, and a ton of other additional arty events. Oh, and did I mention the parties? They were a conundrum in their own right, as whichever one you attended, you were consumed by the fear that you were missing out on a better one elsewhere.

Photographer Wayne Chisnall and I spent most of the first morning queuing to pick up our press passes, little knowing that queuing was to be a constant theme during our time there. What to see first? A lot of people had been hyping the British pavilion, so we thought we should probably aim for that. And lo, there was a long snaking queue in front of it and we were informed that we would have to wait for around two hours to get in. We decide to leave that until later and head for the official opening of the Japanese pavilion. Free food and wine. Yes please.

Or no thank you as it turned out. Never have I witnessed such a scrum for canapés, with people literally shoving one another out of the way to snatch a piece of bread. Then I spy with my little eye something beginning with P. Prosecco. At the German pavilion. Much less chaos (god bless the Germans). We grab a drink while a friend gets chatting to people, asking them if they’re going to see the Anglo-Japanese thrash metal band Bo Ningen. They inform him that they’re not Japanese, but Korean. Cue long round of apologies.

The Koreans actually had one of the best pavilions, featuring sculptures of robots, a video of soldiers dressed in flower camouflage moving through a set filled with plastic flowers, and more video installations projected within mirrors. They also had people dressed as soldiers who cunningly headed to the US pavilion to create an excellent photo opportunity for themselves as they posed in front of the upturned tank, which featured an athlete running on a treadmill on top of the tanks’ tracks.

Highlights inside the US space included an ATM connected to an organ which played music when people made withdrawals. Never have I seen so many people allowing themselves to be photographed while using a bank machine. Every hour, a gymnast would also appear to do somersaults and flips over the installation of replica flatbed airline seats.

The enormous queues eventually forced us out of the main sites of the Giardini and Arsenale and into Venice itself, where the more recent entrants into the Biennale were situated. Luxembourg had an incredible show reminiscent of a fairground’s hall of mirrors. 2011 newcomers Bangladesh and Haiti showcased interesting work, Iraq returned following a 20-year absence with a strong show, while Azerbaijan attracted interest by being the first pavilion to ever have work covered up by its own authorities (and sadly to Western eyes, the work really wasn’t that controversial).

All in all, it was a hectic time, as I managed to tick 59 pavilions off my list. But in true Biennale style, now that I’m back in the UK, the fear has descended. I’m left wondering, what did I miss out on seeing? So go! It’s on until November and there’s a lot to see. Just don’t tell me that the ones I missed were the best ones. I just might cry.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Simon de Pury interview for House Seven

Here's a copy of the interview I did with art auctioneer supremo Simon de Pury last week, when I was out in Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach. I've uploaded it here as House Seven, the site I wrote the piece for, is only accessible to members of the Soho House Group. And I know most of you think I just swan around at art events getting tipsy on the free booze. But here's the proof that sometimes I actually do a little bit of work. And there will be a more comprehensive piece on the art fair itself on RWD's website soon.


Soho House Berlin member Simon de Pury is Chairman and Chief Auctioneer of Phillips de Pury & Company. House Seven caught up with him in Miami to talk about art fairs and the frictions between galleries and auction houses.

What did you think of the 2011 Art Basel Miami Beach?
The quality is very, very, good and everything surrounding it makes it very agreeable for collectors and art lovers to come to Miami. Mostly because the local collectors, the Rubells or the de la Cruzs or the Bramans, are so open about welcoming everybody to their houses each year. They make a great effort of showing something really worthwhile that in itself makes the trip to Miami worthwhile. The only danger is that it can become a victim of its own success; there is just so much going on, so many events happening simultaneously. For every hour of the day you have to pick between 10 different possibilities and whenever you have a saturation of things to do, it can be a problem.

What made you choose Soho Beach House for the Phillips de Pury party?
Well Soho House is a great venue and I love the Cecconi’s restaurant in the garden space. Also, it’s a relatively new place in Miami so it was fun to do it there. We had a seated dinner – trying to pull that off with the notoriously undisciplined art crowd is quite a challenge in itself! We were around 80 people over capacity, but somehow it all worked out and was terrific.

So what’s your favourite art fair?
I was born in Basel and I have been to every single Art Basel so I have a particular sentimental involvement with that fair. I like it because you find the best of the classic works as well as the best of the young emerging artists. But there’s so much happening and if you’re in the business, you have to follow it all in the same way that you have to follow all the biennials, and all the auctions happening everywhere.

Won’t this lead to a time clash for various art fairs?
The art market is a travelling circus that sets up its tent every week in a different place. But you can’t do it all, so it’s a competitive situation between art fairs. You have some fairs that really grow and develop and some fairs that may be temporarily less important and create less of an impact but everything evolves constantly.

Auction houses are participating more in art fairs, making some of the galleries nervous. What are your thoughts on the tensions between the two?
The primary market needs the secondary market, the secondary market needs the primary market, the auctions need the galleries, the galleries needs the auctions, everybody needs everybody, and it’s a false debate to say auctions versus galleries because whenever you sell a work privately, the only way you can justify the price is by similar works that were sold publically at auction. You need that public barometer. During Frieze, you have great contemporary auctions taking place during the same week. So the bigger the magnet is for what’s happening in a given week at a given place, the better it is for all the participants.

And lastly, you also DJ – do you need similar skills to that of an auctioneer?
I find it very similar because in most cases you want to be attuned to the wavelength, same wavelength as your audience, and to create excitement. And so if you’re a good auctioneer you’ll create excitement in the sales room and so obtain good high prices, and if you’re a good DJ, you equally try to create excitement on the dance floor and achieve getting people dancing. While I play a bit of current house music, I love to mix it up with dance tracks from any period and occasionally bring in something totally unexpected like a piece of yodelling or swing from the 1920s, trying to surprise the audience, but still getting them on the dance floor.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

How to bag an art boy

It’s been a big week for the London art scene. Frieze Art Fair was on, as well as at least five satellite art fairs, plus loads of galleries hosting events of their own to tie in with all the arty goings on. There were a lot of people about…and a lot of men in particular.

Having failed to secure some eligible prospects at the nerdfest that was Tweetcamp last week, I thought I’d turn my attention to arty boys. These wouldn’t necessarily have to be artists, but anyone who worked in the art industry. And I felt my odds were good, as in the past I’ve dated more artists than nerds (as well as one artist nerd just to keep things interesting).

I was chatting with Dscreet about this last Wednesday, and asked him what he thought I could do to improve my chances. He said: “Make sure you dress slutty, art dudes love that…mix business with pleasure, it’s a sure fire combination.” I then spent the following day reflecting on his advice, and was unsure whether I should throw my hands up in despair, or if this was simply his warped perspective, and the answer should have been "try striking up a conversation about Nietzsche's influence on contemporary artists" or something a tad more erudite like that.

So I decided to put my question to the floor. I emailed about 40 arty people I know and also put the question to my Twitter followers, asking what their top tip would be for me personally to bag an art boy. The responses were varied, and more than one concurred that slutty dressing was the way forward. I didn’t get to put that clothing tip to the test as walking around an art fair for five hours is best done in flat shoes, but perhaps I’ll give it a shot in the not so distant future. And one artist offered to take me out. So who knows? Maybe I’ll get to wear those stilettos sooner than I think…

Here are their responses in the order they were received. Feel free to add your own advice in the comments section below.

Inkie (artist): “Show an interest in his work and a knowledge of other artists. Plus being creative would help. Slutty dressing is a bonus ;-)”

Samantha Haynes (artist): “I'd say the harder you try the less they'll be interested – surely the 'boy' bit comes before the art every time. I do slightly fear that there might be something in the slutty approach. Maybe more sadomasochist than slut – stronger aesthetic potential ...”

Stephen Davids (artist): “Bag a man not some dumb ass boy :O)”

Oliver Goodrich (photographer & filmmaker): “I think you need to be more specific – are you looking for an artist, or just someone involved/working in Art/The Arts? If it's an artist you are looking for – do you want a trophy artboy (rich, successful, handsome etc.) or a genuine artist (poor, struggling, inspired, inspiring, charismatic etc.), or are you ambitious/naive enough to hope to find the elusive Artist Prince (rich, successful, handsome, inspired, inspiring, charismatic)?”

Adil Dara Kim (graphic designer): “Be yourself!”

Pure Evil (artist): “Make really cool art... art boys love an arty girl”

Anne Lander (graphic designer): “Start wearing flannel? Talk about the transient nature of all things?”

Paul Slee (artist): “Not so sure about dressing slutty, maybe that’s just easy solutions, most artists have, I’d guess, rich imaginations, so let them do all the imagining and fantasising. Dress sober, neutral, plain but tasteful, as if you could be anything (create more options and widen your horizon), and possibly even could be connected to a huge scoop of wealthy art loving relations, (but remember most artists are prob more interested in themselves than in you).
Pretend to be a white canvas, ready to be painted on, mention as little about yourself as possible, act evasive on all direct, historical, questions, but show your interest in the opinions and mutterings of the artist in question. So good luck, and remember not all art boys are worth bagging, some you might rather trash on the spot and leave for stray garbage.”

Andy Edwards (filmmaker): “Art boys are looking for a muse. That involves being interesting (i.e. crazy) and yeah, being slutty. I think you may well be too interested in personal hygiene for the typical art boys, if I were you I'd go for the art dealers/collectors/curators. An ability to talk crap about art and look good whilst quaffing free champagne is all that's required here and I think that's where you'll shine.”

Ben Street (Sluice Art Fair Founder): “All art boys worth their salt are to be found at Sluice.”

Remi Rough (artist): “1. Assuming you've set your sights on one 'Art boy' in particular: Purchase a piece from said 'Art boy'. Nothing major, a small work on paper or a print. Feign interest in his process and methodology and speak with as highbrow and art tongue as you possibly can. This is a big turn on for 'Art boys' in general. Always turn up extremely late to any shows, he is part of or in and try and gauge what colour he wears most. Then coordinate your shoes to colour match his clothing (I realise this is quite a difficult task). But if you succeed...you're in!
2. Assuming any 'Art boy is adequate and none are a particular target: Be seen to be purchasing art and enjoying it for its aesthetic value only! Never discuss the worth of any art in front of any 'Art boys' and definitely never critique an artist’s work. If it's a group show, feel free to slag off the other artists in the show and stroke the 'Art boy's' egos with your silky smooth words. Lastly 'Art boys' have a tendency to dress like total scruff bags, but you should tell them how dapper and 'Arty' they look. If these two top tips don't bag you an 'Art boy' then I'm a Monkey's uncle.”

Adrienne Cooper (photographer): “It's not really my area of expertise. I'm struggling to get past stereotypes of arty boys. However, based on those stereotypes, I'd say it's about building their confidence (if they make art) and being encouraging...and dressing like a bit of a slut. But in an arty way. For some reason I'm getting visions of a 1990s Catherine Keener.”

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Riding on trains

I feel like I’ve done quite a lot of riding on trains in the past few months. It’s always a pleasant experience – an opportunity to read your book, do some writing, or just gaze out the window, letting your mind go for a walk. And it is lovely outside at the moment. Lush and green. Of course, the flipside to that is that it can only look like this when it’s been raining every day for the past two months. Which it has been. Bloody British weather. Not that it’s any worse than the bloody Irish weather from which I fled 12 years ago.

But yes. Train travel. Relatively civilised in this country when the system isn’t fucked (as it regularly is with engineering works, leaves on the line, heat on the line, snow on the line, the list goes on ad infinitum), yet also quite sterilised.

The carriage I’m now sitting in is clean, which is obviously a good thing. It is also so heavily air-conditioned that one hour into my journey and I still haven’t been able to remove my coat. The toilets – well – they’re not so clean. I gave serious consideration to writing a note on the back wall: “Gentlemen. This is a unisex toilet. Apparently you are unable to aim straight while on a moving train so please sit the fuck down when you pee. Thank you and good day.” Unfortunately I didn’t have any permanent markers with me. And now I have wet shoes. Buggeration.

However, despite all of this, one of my favourite train journeys was a rough and ready jaunt from Bentota to Colombo. The two hour journey along the west coast of Sri Lanka was captivating for good and bad reasons. The guide book recommended first class tickets, but the train only had second and third class carriages, so we opted for a second class ticket priced around 50p (put that in your pipe and smoke it British rail companies). Travelling with my friend Susan, we managed to bag a pair of seats together. We then swopped seats every five minutes, no doubt to the amusement of the other passengers. There was no glass in the window so you were hit with the full force of the wind. However, there was no air-conditioning on the train, just a weak rusty ceiling fan, so when you sat in the aisle seat, you barely avoided drowning in your self-made pools of sweat. Hence the need for constant seat-swopping. And we were sharing the view I guess…

People bustled up and down the train, selling dried peppers as snack foods and other exotic items displayed on huge circular wicker trays. Sadly it was my first trip to Asia and in those days I was a bit of a wimp when it came to sampling local street food...or train food as the case may have been.

Everyone stared at us. We were the only whiteys on the train. But it was never in a malevolent way. The people we met during our time there were friendly and those who were from the less touristy areas were simply curious. (The group shot was a family who wanted to have their photo taken with me. Now I know what it feels like to be a celebrity!) And everyone was thankful, which felt strange. I have never travelled anywhere before where I have been thanked so much by so many people.

And the reason for it? Six months previously, Sri Lanka had been devastated by the tsunami that occurred on Boxing Day in 2004. The people we met wanted to thank us for the financial aid that our countries had given as a result of people making individual donations. Their message was that we should tell people about their country.

Tourism is such a key economic factor and provides income for so many people that the tsunami was a double-blow to their country. Not only had they lost people, homes and buildings, but many had lost their jobs. Everyone asked if we would tell our friends about their country. Did we like it? Would we come back? Would we recommend it to people? Yes, yes and yes.

And this is what made the train journey so captivating yet haunting. On one side was the magnificent coastline, while on the other side were thousands of temporary shelters, made from tarpaulin draped over frames constructed from palm trees. And when you gazed further inland, you could see the remnants of these people’s homes, scattered into disarray.

So that is why that train journey in Sri Lanka will always be etched in my memory and why Sri Lanka itself will always be in my heart.

Friday, 8 July 2011

I met a different him on a different subway

London. The tube. Saturday afternoon. Not rush hour, but busy nonetheless. I was running late. Well...not necessarily. I reckoned that if I could quickly get through the barriers, run down the escalators, hop on a train that was just pulling into the station, run through the interchange station and get on the second train straightaway, then get off that train, walk up two sets of escalators and head straight out of the station, then I might only be five minutes late. Which is totally acceptable in my book. I just needed a clear route with nothing to slow me down.

But, this is London, awash with fucking foreigners. Having lived here for 12 years, I no longer consider myself to be a fucking foreigner – I am a native. And so I set off on my mission impossible.

Sidestepping the prams, I breezed through the ticket barriers and strode along the corridor to the escalators. This was going to be a breeze. I aimed for the left-hand side, planning to jog down the steps. Ten steps down there was a problem. It was a fucking foreigner and even worse, they had a suitcase. And worse again, they had placed it beside them. No, no, no, no, no, I said inwardly, recalling Ben Kingsley’s character in Sexy Beast. Best escalator/suitcase practice dictates that you should always place your suitcase on the step behind you and not on the step beside you. Now I was blocked in. I eventually got the woman to move her bag but I had now wasted valuable time.

I saw people swarming near the base of the up-escalator. Shit. The train was here. Maybe I could still make it. I ran down the remaining steps, projecting myself through the slow-moving arriving passengers and charged for the train. The doors beeped, then closed, and I was still on the platform.

Shit. Maybe they would open again. Sometimes that happens. I looked up and gazed into the carriage. And there he was. My evil ex. Our eyes met, his widening with recognition, mine narrowing with hatred.

The train pulled out of the station.
I had missed it.
But for once I didn’t care that I had to wait an additional six minutes for the next train.
I had been saved.
By a fucking foreigner.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Searching for my Miss World crown…

I love that beauty pageants always ask the girls what they would do if they ruled the world. End poverty, end AIDS, end hunger, it’s always the same ole story with these lasses. I reckon I could be a strong contender for the title of Miss World because I have the best answer.

I would put an end to self-aggrandising job titles. Having seen CVs from business school alumni, who claim to have been the Senior Vice-President of Marketing for their volleyball team, and meeting consultants who are Associate Partners only to be told “it’s not that important, there are thousands of us in the firm”, I believe we have entered an age where job titles have become meaningless.

I propose that everyone in management should have their old title deleted and we’ll start again from scratch. If your company has 1-20 employees, then the top job can be Managing Director, 1-100 and you can have a CEO, 1-1,000 – a President. More than 1,000, you can throw some Vice-Presidents into the mix and if you have over 10,000 staff, you can probably sub-divide them by adding in some Senior VPs and maybe some Associates too. If your company has more than 100,000, then perhaps a couple of partners (not too many though).

If you have over a million staff (and yes, amazingly these companies do exist), then the big boss can have the title Lord and Master, just as long as he (for it is usually a he) doesn’t actually believe that he’s personally managing his employee base in any kind of meaningful way.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with these people. But to be honest, if your company is the size of a small country and you’ve worked that hard to get to the top, then you should enjoy the opportunity to kick back with a large whiskey. Because isn’t that what it’s really all about?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Craft(ivist) Work

Howdy all.
Here is another article from the archives. Last year I interviewed the lovely Sarah Corbett, who runs the Craftivist Collective, for House magazine. House is a quarterly magazine, which goes to members of the Soho House group. If you can't read the text clearly in the picture above, then you can access the entire magazine here.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Dots the Film

Last October I wrote in RWD magazine about a new graffiti documentary coming your way. And then, I forgot to post it on my blog. Doh! So here is the article with a link to three of the sections that are now available to view on Babelgum. Check out James Jessop, Rowdy and Cyclops as they cover New York, Australia and India and the power of street art.

The Dance of Attraction

Zzzappp. There it is. That spark of attraction. It hits you the first time you spot him. You glance at him, quickly scanning him up and down, checking for any flaws or imperfections that might cause you to think twice, but nothing catches your eye in a negative way.

Your eyes meet. You smile.

If he smiles back, you raise your eyes to meet his again. If not, you let your brain move to the next thing on your agenda for the day.

But he does smile back. So now you want to properly take him in, but it would be too obvious now to let your eyes lazily wander across his body. So you allow your gaze to occasionally dart in various directions, trying to piece each snapshot into one cohesive picture, while maintaining eye contact.

He introduces himself. This is your one big shot. Within, your internal organs breathe a sigh of relief while simultaneously tensing at the prospect of you messing this up when you open your mouth.

For oh, tis a merry dance we dance.