Elisabeth Frink: Fragility and Power at Abbot Hall

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Last week we went to have a look at the latest exhibition at Abbot Hall in Kendal. It’s devoted to the work of the sculptor Elisabeth Frink.

We’re quite familiar with her work – there’s a good selection of her sculptures, including the three Riache Warriors, at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and I’ve seen other sculptures in various locations including Tate Modern, Paternoster Square in London, Chatsworth and Merrion Square in Dublin.

The Abbot Hall exhibition has 50 works from throughout her career on display, including sculpture, maquettes and works on paper. The majority are in the main galleries on the first floor but visitors are greeted by a Riache Warrior in the lobby and there’s a Walking Madonna in one of the downstairs rooms in amongst the Georgian furniture.

As usual, no photos allowed, but these are a selection of Press images.

This is an early work Portrait of a young man (1962)

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There were several of her animal sculptures, including Harbinger birds

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Many of Frink’s sculptures I’ve seen in the past are statues or busts of men and there were a number of the latter in the exhibition including Easter Head

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and this rather disturbing and frightening Goggle Head, one of a series produced while she was living in France from 1967 to 1970 and which were influenced by events in Algeria and other parts of North Africa.

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The Goggle Heads were inspired by media coverage of Moroccan General Mohammed Oufkir, who had been accused of ordering the assassination in Paris of the exiled politician Ben Bark, and was usual seen in photographs with his eyes hidden by sunglasses.

Goggle Heads are no longer warriors or soldiers but sophisticated criminal types, their identities hidden behind polished goggles, displaying a bullish arrogance and suaveness. The double edged point of these glasses however, is that these men lack vision and they mask a vulnerability, as Peter Shaffer wrote: ‘the constant wearing of dark glasses always speaks of impotence to me: a fear of having scrutiny returned – the secret terror of the torturer’ (Southeby’s)

The first room in the exhibition features work by sculptors and other artists who were working around the same time has Frink, including Barbara Hepworth, FE McWilliam, Lynn Chadwick Bernard Meadows, Kenneth Armitage and Reg Butler. Apparently, the latter was dismissive of Elisabeth Frink, believing that women could not be successful as sculptors. Well, he got that wrong.

Eduardo Chillida in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

This year, the sculpture exhibition in the Rijksmuseum gardens features the work of the Spanish Basque artist Eduardo Chillida (1924-2002). He was originally a footballer, playing in goal for Real Sociedad, San Sebastián’s La Liga football team, but serious injury cut his career short.

He studied architecture before becoming a sculptor, and some of his works certainly have an architectural quality.

His work combines modern abstraction with traditional artisanal techniques for working materials, in particular forging iron. He frequently made his numerous and celebrated public works from large-format steel, using the material in a bold and spectacular fashion, with utter disregard for its innate constraints. Chillida believed that ‘To construct is to build in space.’ (Exhibition website)

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Studio Drift – Coded Nature at the Stedelijk

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One of the temporary exhibitions at the Stedelijk Museum was dedicated to the work of Studio Drift, Netherlands-born artist Lonneke Gordijn and her British/Dutch partner Ralph Nauta, who use modern technology to produce some imaginative installations and videos.

The first work we saw was Drifter, a massive ‘concrete’ block that  floated mid-air, tilting and moving around the room as if of its own accord.

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In the next room, Ghost Collection consisted of a number of transparent plastic chairs with ghostly forms created by air bubbles trapped inside the Perspex and illuminated by light.

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This sculpture, Fragile Drift, was created by three-dimensional bronze electrical circuits connected to light emitting dandelions. It contains real dandelion seeds, that were picked by hand, and glued seed by seed to LED lights.

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In Flylight , lights suspended from the ceiling responded to the movement of visitors to the gallery creating changing patterns of light, inspired by the movement of flocks of birds.

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Other works on display included an interactive 3D installation, video works and videos of installations they’d created.

The final work, Tree of Ténéré was a large-scale LED artwork in the shape of a tree that was originally installed at the  Burning Man festival in Nevada in 2017. It was created in conjunction with American artist artist Zachary Smith.

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The project is named after an acacia tree that once grew 400 kilometres from any other tree in the Sahara Desert, which was used as a marker on caravan routes but allegedly mowed down by a drunk driver in 1973.

It was an excellent exhibition and worth the the entrance fee to the Museum on it’s own.

A visit to the Stedelijk

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The final day of our short break in Amsterdam and our flight didn’t leave until just before 10 p.m. Son and daughter wanted to visit the Van Gogh Museum and had bought tickets online. We’d been before and decided to let them explore without us and, instead, we went to have a look around the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum, next door. We’d been before, in February, but they were between exhibitions, so thought it was worth another look round. They’d also redesigned the exhibition space for the permanent collection since our previous visit.

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There was a lot to see and in this post I’ll concentrate on some of the works from the permanent collection that caught my eye (excluding those from my post from the February visit).

Kitchen Gardens on Montmartre by Van Gogh

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Double Portrait of the Artist and his Wife by Max Becker

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La Montserrat by Julio Gonzalez, a sculpture that represents the fighting spirit of the Catalan people during the Spanish Civil War

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Apartheid by Keith Haring

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Radioactive Waste by Sigmar Polke

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Some posters from the Museum’s collection of Soviet art works

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There were also quite a number of Modernist photographs, many taken by photographers I hadn’t come across before, so I’ll have to follow up with some research when I have the time (so much to see, find out and do – so little time!!!). The photos don’t come out too well in my snapshots due to reflective glass, unfortunately.

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Lady Lever Gallery

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Last weekend we were stayed with our friends Steve and Anne who live in Waverton near Chester. We were expected in the evening so decided to have an afternoon in Port Sunlight on the Wirral, a “model” village built during the late 19th and early 20th Centuries to house workers at the Lever Brothers soap factory. The Lady Lever art gallery, opened in 1922, built as a memorial to Elizabeth, the wife of William Hesketh Lever, the founder of the Lever Brothers Empire, is in the middle of the village and we decided to go and have a look inside.

The gallery was originally built around Lord Lever’s collection of mainly British Victorian art, but also including examples of Chinese art, Roman sculpture and Greek vases. Today it’s part of Liverpool Museums group but Lever’s collection still forms the core of the collection. Consequently, the exhibits are dominated by Victorian and Edwardian paintings and sculpture. I’m not over fond on Victorian art with their Historical, Mythological and Religious themes, often used as an excuse to include naked women for the titillation of the artists’ patrons. So many of the works on display were not of interest. However, the collection includes a large selection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, with important works by Millais, Ford Madox Brown, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and others.

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One of the most well known Pre-Raphaelite paintings in the collection is the Scapegoat (1854–56) by William Holman Hunt.

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The subject is from an Old Testament story where a sacrificial white goat is sent out into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement.  Its horns are wrapped with a red cloth representing the sins of the community , in the belief that it would turn white if the appeasement was accepted.

There was also a painting by Turner (“The Falls of the Clyde“) and  one by Constable (‘Cottage at East Bergholt‘) on display. Unfortunately, reflections in the glass made it both difficult to see them and it was too difficult to take photographs .

Some other favourites from the paintings and sculptures on display included

A painting by George Romney

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this painting of Emma, Lady Hamilton as a Bachante. For once not by Romney but by a female French artist, Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun.

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A sculpture by Jacob Epstein

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and “Snowdrift“, a sculpture by Edward Onslow Ford

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I quite liked another sculpture, Echo, by Onslow Ford, which is meant to depict the personification of reflected sound.

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It’s a beautiful little sculpture, but as the model was a teenage girl I felt a little uneasy looking at it. That’s the Victorians for you!

There was also a good selection of ceramics, with a collection of pieces by Wedgwood, and also some rather nice Chinese vases.

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The current temporary exhibition “Whistler and Pennell: Etching the city“, features prints by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903, mainly of scenes from London and Joseph Pennell (1857-1926) who concentrated on New York and other American cities. We really enjoyed this exhibition. The prints were incredibly detailed and provided a perspective of everyday life on the quayside in London, industrial scenes and the growth of New York.

The Gallery’s website tells us that

The artists shared an interest in the role of architecture, engineering, industry and production, but differed in their approach. Whistler’s imagery captured the individual characteristics of the city and its workers, while Pennell’s provides an impersonal and more distant perspective.

I didn’t manage to take any photographs but there’s a selection of works on the Gallery’s website.

Ken’s Show: Exploring the Unseen

While we were visiting the Tate in Liverpool on Sunday we managed to catch the last day of the free exhibition “Ken’s Show: Exploring the Unseen”. Tate Liverpool opened in 1988 so last year was it’s 30th anniversary. As part of the celebrations the Gallery gave their chief Art Handler, Ken Simons (one of the back room staff who set up the exhibitions) and who has worked at Tate Liverpool since it opened (having previously worked in the London Galleries) free reign to pick 30 works to go on display in his own curated exhibition.

On display are a selection of Ken’s favourite artworks from the Tate collection alongside artists who had their first UK showing at Tate Liverpool. Highlights include Joseph Mallord William Turner, Dame Barbara Hepworth and Mark Rothko.

His taste is clearly similar to my own as I liked just about every work that he’d selected, and I felt it provided quite a good introduction to Modern Art.

The works on display included

Snow Storm – Steam boat off a harbour’s mouth (1842) by Turner

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A mud painting by Richard Long Untitled (1991)

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Winged Being (1961) by Jean Arp

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Figure (Nanjizal) (1958) by Barbara Hepworth

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Howard Hodgkin’s Rain (1984-9)

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Life In Motion: Egon Schiele/ Francesca Woodman at Tate Liverpool

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Last Sunday we decided to visit Tate Liverpool to catch up on their latest exhibitions. The main show at the moment is devoted to the work of two artists who lived at the opposite ends of the 20th Century  – Egon Schiele the American photographer Francesca Woodman. As usual for the paid exhibitions at the Tate, no photographs allowed inside.

Lately, Tate Liverpool has had a tendency to have joint exhibitions, trying to show connections between different artists. In this case, the Tate’s website tells us that

Both artists are known for their intimate and unapologetic portraits, which look beneath the surface to capture their subjects’ emotions. Schiele’s (1890–1918) drawings are strikingly raw and direct. He had a distinctive style using quick marks and sharp lines to portray the energy of his models. Woodman used long exposures to create blurred images that captured extended moments in time. Her photographs can be surreal, humorous and at times painfully honest.

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The close encounter between these two exceptional artists offers an intense viewing experience and a new perspective on their personal and powerful works.

Most of the reviews I’d seen before our visit questioned the relevance of this pairing and I have to say that it was difficult to see what the justification was. They both had short careers, dying young (Schiele from Spanish flu in 1918 when he was 28 and Woodman taking her own life when she was only 22) and their works concentrated on portraying the human body. But there were more differences than similarities. It wasn’t so much that the media they worked in  – Schiele created paintings and drawings while Woodman was a photographer – but the nature of the work. Woodman’s photographs almost always take her own body as the subject while although Schiele painted and drew some self portraits, particularly early in his career when he couldn’t afford to hire models, these were a minority of his oeuvre. And the biggest difference for me is that Schiele’s work is intensely  erotic while although Woodman is naked in her photographs they are not in the least sexual.

Still, that didn’t spoil if for me. I guess that mentally I saw it as two separate exhibitions that just happened to be intermingled with alternate sections devoted to each artist. I’d seen an exhibition devoted to Schiele at the Courtauld 3 years ago and so although it was interesting to see another large selection of his work I particularly enjoyed discovering Francesca Goodman’s photographs.

There was a large selection of drawings and paintings by Schiele, covering his entire career. He was

A master draughtsman, he is known for his erotic depictions of women and himself. He depicted his subjects in unconventional poses, with expressive faces – ranging from anguished to climactic – and with an emphasis on the hands, which were often greatly exaggerated. (exhibition guide)

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Even today his drawings and paintings are quite shocking – some of the works included in the exhibition were very explicit. It’s hard to appreciate just how controversial they must have seen when they were first displayed. In my post about the Courthauld exhibition I commented that although his work is technically brilliant, I felt some unease about their subject matter in the explicit way he portrayed his female models. I felt the same at the Tate.

This is one of his milder sketches

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I was interested to see how his work started to change towards the end of his career. He still concentrated mainly on drawing naked women, but his style became more naturalistic, less angular and more rounded, with bodies sketched out with just a few strokes of his pencil.

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I wonder how his style would have progressed if he hadn’t died so young.

Francesca Wood man was a very prolific artist, mainly taking small scale black and white photographs featuring her naked body. But, as I mentioned above, they were not intended to be erotic or sexual. She used long exposure times and soft focus and many of the pictures incorporate blurred figures. She incorporated objects such as furniture, wallpaper and plants, concealing parts of her body,

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and sometimes used materials such as sellotape and clothes pegs to distort her body.

Her compositions were clearly influenced by the Surrealists and some of the photographs in the exhibition reminded me of the work of Man Ray.

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As is too often the case, she wasn’t commercially successful during her tragically short lifetime, her photos being rejected by galleries and she failed in an attempt to get involved in fashion photography. This combined with the failure of her personal relationship, and, no doubt, other issues, led to her committing suicide when she was only 22, on 19 January 1981.