György Kepes at Tate Liverpool

György Kepes Leaf and Prism

György Kepes was a Hungarian-born painter, designer, educator and art theorist. In 1930, he moved to Berlin, and later joined the studio of László Moholy-Nagy, the Hungarian photographer who had taught at the Bauhaus Dessau. Moholy-Nagy left Germany to escape the Nazis, moving to Amsterdam, then London and then finally settled in Chicago where he set up the “New Bauhaus”. Kepes followed him and was invited to work at the new art school as head of the  department of Colour and Light.

Although he didn’t consider himself a photographer (he was a painter, a designer and a film-maker), he worked in the medium and produced some excellent images. The Tate exhibition shows 80 of his photographs, photomontages and photograms produced during his time in Chicago, around 1938-42

There were some conventional photographs, although not the subject matter was not entirely mainstream

György Kepes ‘Ear (AN 514)’, c. 1939–41<br />
© estate of György Kepes

Ear (AN 514) c. 1939–41 (Source Tate website)

He also shot “still lives” using scientific apparatus, sometimes in conjunction with natural objects.

But many of the images on display were photomontages and photograms. A photogram is a photographic print made by laying objects onto photographic paper and exposing it to light. It was a favourite technique of Moholy-Nagy who began experimenting with them during the 1920’s.

The Tate website tells us

Kepes’s photograms, made without a camera, were instead produced in the darkroom by arranging and exposing objects directly on top of light-sensitive paper. The subjects – such as leaves, eyes, feathers and cones and prisms  – reflected Kepes’s varied interests and included scientific and mechanical items alongside objects from the natural world.

There’s a good review of the technique here, which includes a discussion of Kepe’s work

György Kepes ‘Hand on Black Ground’, c. 1939–40<br />
© estate of György Kepes

Hand on Black Ground c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

György Kepes ‘Leaf and Prism’, c. 1939–40<br />
© estate of György Kepes

Leaf and Prism c. 1939–40 (Source: Tate website)

With it’s surreal images, the exhibition complements the Leonora Carrington exhibition also showing at the Tate. It also ties in with LOOK/15: the Liverpool International Photography Festival. This is the third biennial photography festival held in the city and there are photographic exhibitions showing at venues including the Walker Art Gallery, the Bluecoat and the Open Eye Gallery.

Leonora Carrington at Tate Liverpool

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About 18 months ago I visited an exhibition about the Surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin. I’d never heard of her at the time and was surprised that she’d been born in Clayton-le-Woods, just outside the town where I grew up. She didn’t find fame in her own country through. Rebelling against her upper class background she ran off the Paris with the Surrealist Max Ernst and then, during the war, following a series of events which included spending some time in an asylum in Spain, she ended up in Mexico, where she remained for the rest of her life and where se is recognised as an important artist.

The Tate in Liverpool currently have an exhibition of her work and we went to see it on Saturday. Their website tells us:

The exhibition explores Carrington’s diverse creative practice, taking a selection of key paintings made throughout her career as its starting point. A prolific painter, the exhibition explores how Carrington established her distinctive take on surrealism.

The Dublin exhibition was a major retrospective of her work. The Tate’s is more modest but still has a good number of her works, a few of which I’d already seen in Dublin. The majority were from her time in Mexico although there were some earlier paintings and etchings in one of the rooms, including some paintings of the “Sisters of the Moon”, painted when she was a teenager and which illustrate her early interest in fantasy,  magic and the occult.

It was notable that most of he works on display where from private collections rather than from major public galleries. I think this reflects her “status”. In Mexico she is considered to be a significant artist but she is relatively unknown elsewhere and overshadowed by more well known Surrealists who worked in Europe.

One aspect of her work featured in the Liverpool exhibition that hadn’t been covered in Dublin was her work for the theatre – including masks, costume designs and sketches. I particularly liked the three masks on display created for a production of the Tempest. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any pictures of them on-line and, of course, photography wasn’t allowed in the exhibition.

After visiting the Dublin exhibition I commented

I think I’d like seeing a small number of her paintings and other works but there were too many for me here to take in. To use a metaphor, her paintings were a little like rich food – good but too much at one go can make you feel sick and nauseous.

For me, the Liverpool was just right and I came away feeling satisfied rather than overwhelmed.

“Unmanned Nature” at the Whitworth

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This amazing installation is currently on display in the new Landscape gallery in the Whitworth Gallery, part of the new extension.

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It’s by the Chinese born artist Cai Guo-Qiang who now lives in New York. He uses gunpowder to create his drawings. The Whitworth website provides an explanation

After laying out large sheets of paper on the floor, Cai Guo-Qiang arranges gunpowder, fuses and cardboard stencils to create forms on the paper’s surface. The spontaneity of the resulting explosion, flames and fumes are controlled through the use of wooden boards, rocks and various other materials, which influence the impact of the explosions that create the final work.

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In this work a large scale drawing is fixed to the walls surrounding a pool of water that occupies most of the floor area of the gallery – visitors have to be careful not to fall in as they walk around and the numbers entering at any one time is restricted! The drawing, inspired by 14th-century Chinese ink and wash paintings, is reflected in the water.

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Some reviews I’ve read compare the work to Monet’s water lilies and I have to say he installation reminded me of the display of Nymphéas displayed in two specially built galleries at the Orangerie in Paris.

Cornelia Parker at the Whitworth

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The main exhibition showing at the Whitworth following its reopening is a major retrospective of the work of Cheshire born artist Cornelia Parker.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but was blown away by what I saw.

Cornelia Parker is described as a “sculptor and installation artist” by the Tate and the exhibition features works covering the range of her repertoire; large scale installations, bronze castings, found objects, flattened objects, objects transformed into wire, abstract paintings created from her blood.

The first room contained a collection of smaller works. There were metal objects- a spoon, a silver dollar and bullets, transformed into wire. The wire from the bullets was woven and manipulated to form grid like patterns. There wereDSC04867

There were two other weapon related works – a sawn-off shot gun that had been sawn up and the following work which consisted of teo metal pieces from the early stages of manufacture of a colt pistol in a glass case with a metal powder that was all that was left from a pistol that had been destroyed.

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There were also Rorschach “ink blot” patterns made using snake venom and anti-venom antidote mixed with black and white ink and a series of pieces of canvas which were originally the linings of paintings by JMW Turner from the Tate’s collection which had acquired markings and stains forming abstract patterns.

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Amongst the works displayed in he central barrel vaulted gallery there was Rodin’s Kiss (the real one, borrowed from he Tate) tied up with string.

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On the floor there were two bronze works cast from the cracks between paving stones

Black Path (Bunhill Fields) was created from the paving stones around the tomb of William Blake in the non-conformist cemetery were he’s buried in London

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There was a connection with the other similar work Jerusalem which was cast surreptitiously from the cracks between paving stones in occupied East Jerusalem. Blake’s most well known work is probably his poem, Jerusalem, which was set to music, becoming a popular hymn. There is a connection with the Whitworth which owns a number of drawings and prints by Blake and Manchester was the heart of his “dark satanic mills”.

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In the Exhibition brochure Cornelia tells us about how she created the work

When I visited Jerusalem and he West Bank several times in 2012, I found myself meditating on William Blake’s poetry. His idealisation of Jerusalem is a far cry from the politically fraught place it is now. Territories and boundaries are contested on a daily basis.

On one of my trips I took a couple of containers of cold cure casting rubber as extra weight in my luggage. I used this to cast the cracks in a section of old paving in the occupied East Jerusalem. This was done at night, away from the Israeli armed guards that patrolled the streets. When the rubber mould was set, I peeled it up off the pavement, rolled it up and put it back in my suitcase – making off with a piece of Jerusalem. For this exhibition in Manchester it has finally been cast in bronze to sit on a different turf, in the home of Blake’s “satanic mills”

These two works sit just above floor level, propped up with pins. One visitor during the first few days of the exhibition tripped over one of them, so extra staff are on hand to alert visitors!

There were two other works close to the floor, this time suspended from fine wires attached to the ceiling.

Accidental 1 consists of 16 silver plated objects – plates, cutlery and the like that had been squashed by a 250 ton industrial press

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and  its companion piece, 16 flattened musical instruments, Composition with Horns (Double Flat)

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They were simple, but effective.

Other works in this room included a series of tapestries, hand embroidered by inmates of various prisons.

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Each piece had two words with opposite meanings (War,Peace; Life,Death; Past, Future; Light,Dark; Conscious,Unconscious; Love,Hate) and their definitions. They were produced so that one of the pair was read from one side of the fabric and the second from the opposite side. Clever.

The other two rooms each contained only one work.

War Room was a tent like structure made from perforated paper left over from the manufacture of British Legion poppies which covered all the walls and were suspended from the ceiling..

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Standing inside was quite a serene experience. Almost like being inside a chapel. I guess hat was the artist’s intention – to create a feeling of a chapel of remembrance.

The final work was probably the most popular and seemed to be especially so with children. The  “frozen explosion” of Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View

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The description on the Tate’s website sums it up succinctly. It’s a

restored three-dimensional volume of a garden shed exploded by the British Army at the request of the artist. The surviving fragments, suspended from the ceiling and lit by a single bulb, create a dramatic effect and cast shadows on the gallery’s walls.

An amazing work.

All in all a fantastic exhibition. We resolved to return before it finishes at the end of May