New Year’s Day at the Hepworth 2019

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It’s become a tradition for us to drive over the Pennines to visit the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield on New Year’s Day, and this year was no different. We set off mid morning, driving over a quiet M62, and arriving around midday. The main exhibition at the moment is devoted to the Hepworth Sculpture Prize. This is a biannual competition and this was the second time it had been held.

After an initial quick reccie of the exhibitions we grabbed a bite to eat in the cafe before taking a proper look round. We also took advantage of the free guided tour of the Hepworth Prize exhibition, which gave us a better understanding of the works and some insights on the artists’ methods and intentions.

The Hepworth Prize recognises a British or UK-based artist of any age, at any stage in their career, who has made a significant contribution to the development of contemporary sculpture. The entrants don’t have to be of British origin, but must be working here.

There was a room for each of the five shortlisted artists –Cerith Wyn Evans,  Michael Dean, Mona Hatoum, Phillip Lai and Magali Reus, featuring new and recent work. Each artist has their own very different style – some, inevitably, more easily accessible than others.

Probably the easiest works to relate to were those by Mona Hatoum. She
was born in Beirut to Palestinian family in 1952 and now lives in London where, in 1975, she was stranded there because the war broke out in Lebanon. (Oh my goodness – a refugee!). And most of her works in the exhibition were influenced by conflict around the world.

This piece, with a circle on the floor made up of black marbles, rather reminded me of the work of Richard Long

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This globe constructed of rebar (steel bar used for reinfocing concrete) with scattered lumps of rubble. No doubt meant to represent the destruction of buildings by conflicts around the world

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A theme continued in another globe. This one with an outline of the continents made from neon filled glass tube. It was meant to light up, glowing red, to represent the “hot spots” around the world. Unfortunately there was a technical fault on the day which meant it wasn’t working and removed message and meaning.

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Another work, from a distance, looked liked decorative glass vessels. Closer inspection revealed them to be in the form of hand grenades.

The beauty of her sculptures was in contrast to their message. Conflicts around the world has an impact on people, who, understandably, are keen to flee to find a better life, often enduring considerable risks to life and limb in the process. Over Christmas we had so called “crisis” of a handful of refugees doing just that trying to cross one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in flimsy boats. It’s a pity that there’s a deficit of compassion in a country turning in on itself and erecting barriers.

After the visit, we were able to vote online for the Sculpture People’s Choice. Perhaps, not surprisingly, Mona Hatoum was the winner. Her works were accessible, pleasing to the eye and with a message. On our first walk round the exhibition she would probably have been my choice too.

In the adjacent room, Phillip Lai (who was born in Malaysia)

highlights the various chains of making and consuming materials today, and for accumulating and disposing of objects.

There were several high shelves with piles of foam mats and hand-casted plastic ‘basins’ with smears of cement, an installation featuring a pile of colourful clothes and a large aluminium counter top with two oversized objects.

I found it difficult to relate to these works. They didn’t really say very much to me and even the explanation of the artist’s methods and intentions during the guided tour didn’t really change my perception.

The winner of the prize was Cerith Wyn Evans (with a name like that he was clearly Welsh!).

His works combine ideas and influences from art, history, philosophy and science in order to transform our perception of the world around us. He is perhaps best known for his elegant neon text works that mine a particular fascination with language and light. 

His winning sculpture combines thirty-seven crystal glass flutes in two overlapping arcs. 

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Air is pumped through the flutes through plastic tubing from a pair of “breathing units” following an algorithm, producing eerie musical sounds that reverberate around the room, and can be heard throughout the other exhibition spaces in the Gallery. Light shining on the structure cast shadows on the wall and floor.

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It was a simple, attractive piece and the sounds added an additional element, and was easy to like. But it wasn’t my favourite work.

Magali Reus was born in Den Haag, The Netherlands in 1981, and currently lives and works in London. Her sculptures

are accumulations of images and things – she draws on objects she finds around her, recombining them into something strange and unfamiliar. Although a keen observer of the physical world, Reus avoids using readymade objects, instead each element of her sculptural jigsaws has been meticulously fabricated using a mixture of technological and traditionally craft-based techniques. 

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On first inspection I wasn’t sure what to make of her works. But closer inspection showed that a number of them were abstract representations of people, with sombrero hats and other items like a boot and a wine bottle.

The final room showcased a large work by Michael Dean, originally from Newcastle.

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At first glance the work looked like a jumbled mess of objects scattered around the gallery – coins, padlocks, crushed cans, plastic bags, building materials and crime scene tape. But closer inspection revealed connections and meanings that weren’t initially obvious.

A pavement of concrete slabs lead across the room that visitors were allowed to stand and walk on. Looking closer showed that the slabs were oversized tongues. Other cast body parts – crossed fingers – were scattered around the work.

There were messages too, if you looked closely. The pile of pennies represented 24 hours’ worth of minimum wage and the plastic bags contained a single person’s three-day emergency food bank allowance.

The plastic tape, based on the that used to cordon off crime scenes and the like, had different wording than expected.

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The locks on the giant heart symbol, made from rebar, perhaps represented some optimisim

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During our first walk around the exhibition I wasn’t so keen on Michael Dean’s entry. But after a second look and closer inspection and discussion with the young guide during the guided tour, it grew on me and I could see lots of depth and meaning. Even though it wasn’t as “pretty” and accessible as other works in the exhibition, this was the one I gave my vote to for the
Sculpture People’s Choice .

On a final note, interestingly, during a time when the “will of the people” includes a dislike of immigrants and outsiders (and hostility), 3 of the 5 entrants had been born outside the UK, emphasising the enterprise, ideas and different perspectives people originating elsewhere can contribute to our culture. Unfortunately, too many people disagree. Sad times.

An autumn day at the YSP

A few photos taken during our visit to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park last Saturday.

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Black Mound (2013) by David Nash
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Large Two Forms by Henry Moore, in the distance
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Wilsis (2016) by Jaume Plensa
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Square with Two Circles  by Barbara Hepworth
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Albero folgorato by Giuseppe Penone
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A new work by Peter Randall Page Envelope of Pulsation (For Leo) 2017
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Square with Two Circles at sunset

Sean Scully: Inside Out at the YSP

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Last Saturday we drove over to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was our third visit this year but we wanted to see the Sean Scully exhibition that had recently opened in the Longside Gallery, with some additional works outdoors. We’d seen them starting to install one of the latter during our visit during the summer.

Sean Scully was born in Dublin, grew up in London and currently lives in the USA and Ireland. He’s best known for his abstract paintings made up of coloured stripes, rectangles and squares and we’ve seen many of his works in various galleries we’ve visited. I wasn’t aware that he also produced sculptures, so I was particularly interested to see the examples included in the YSP exhibition.

We arrived around 11 and after a brew and a cake set off over the park heading over to the Longside Gallery, which is at the far end of the park, about a mile or so walk from the main Visitor centre and car park.

There were four of his large sculptures outdoors in the park and we encountered the first of these just before we reached the lake.

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Crate of Air (2018) is a large construction made of Corten steel. Unprotected from the elements it’s surface covered with red iron oxide, it’s appearance will change over time as the metal is affected by the elements and also by the light conditions, the red colour particularly standing out in the sunshine. It looks rather like an unfinished industrial structure, the sort of think that I often see during visits to some of my clients.

Carrying on down the slope we crossed the dam at the end of the Lower Lake, following the path and climbing up David Nash’s Seventy One Steps

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and then walked the woods along the top of the hill, past several works of art by artists including Andy Goldsworthy. 

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Descending down towards the Longside Gallery we passed a group of locals who were curious to have a look at us too

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Outside the Longside Gallery there was another Corten steel sculpture, Moor Shadow Stack

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We entered the gallery where there were four more sculptures together with a large selection of paintings, works on paper and photographs.

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Coin Stack (2018) is inspired by Scully’s  childhood when his father, a barber, would bring home his tips and count them in stacks on the kitchen table. There was a sketch of the stack together with a poem which explained its origin

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The other three sculptures were also stacks, but of rectangular rather than round slabs – one of wood, one of painted metal

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and the third of unpainted metal, neatly stacked

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The exhibition guide tells us that

Their stacked format retains the simplicity of Scully’s reduced visual language. He describes a job he did as a student, stacking flattened cardboard boxes from a supermarket into a lorry – hard, filthy work, with protruding staples lacerating his skin – but aware all the time of creating teetering sculptural forms that gradually filled the vehicle’s void with mass.

The paintings were very representative of his work – coloured strips and squares

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There was also a series of photographs of dry stone walls. My immediate reaction was that they reminded me of those I’d seen during my several brief visits to Galway, and which are very different from the ones we see in the English countryside, so I wasn’t surprised to find that they’d been taken in the Aran Islands in Galway Bay, where Scully is a regular visitor

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Looking at the photos it was clear that these structures, together with the horizontal patterns produced by the landscape and sky, influenced the style of Scully’s work.

After spending a good hour looking around the gallery we set off back down the hill towards the other side of the park, taking the alternate route back through the fields. At the bottom of the slope, just before the bridge between the two lakes, we saw the third of the outdoor sculptures, Dale Stone Stack, which is constructed of local stone.

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The final open air work was in the lower park on the other side of the lake. Wall Dale Cubed is a massive structure also made of Yorkshire stone

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My first thought was that it looked like something from the Flintstones! The Yorkshire Post compares it to 

Stonehenge-style prehistoric architecture or even an ancient Inca temple.

Like his paintings it’s made up of rectangular blocks in different orientations. Lit up by the autumn sunshine, there were different colours evident (although of a more limited range than his paintings) and variations in texture. There was plenty of interest and, like the other outdoor works, it’s appearance will change over time and also with the light.

We’d seen the main exhibition in the Underground Gallery a couple of times now, so spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the grounds, looking at the outdoor sculptures, having a brew in the Visitor Centre cafe and also taking the opportunity to have a look at the exhibition of prints by Norman Ackroyd. Enough scope for another post, I think.

Alison Watt: A Shadow On The Blind

The main exhibition currently showing at Abbot t Hall at the moment features the work of the Sottish artist, Alison Watt. During our visit last week, perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t attracting as much attention as the tapestries by the much better known Grayson Perry, but we spent some time looking at her meticulously painted pictures.

The Abbot Hall website tells us:

Her work first came to public attention in 1987 when she won the National Portrait Gallery’s coveted annual award, and in the late 1980s and early 90s she became known for her paintings of figures, often female nudes. In the late 1990s her focus shifted away from the figure and she began to explore the possibility of painting drapery as a surrogate for the human body.

They were mainly monochrome trompe d’oiel images of relatively simple objects – mainly plain fabrics and electrical flex. They were very convincing, particularly when viewed from a few feet away. Simple, but very effective. They really need to be seen “in the flesh” to be properly appreciated.

Alison Watt: A Shadow On The Blind from Lakeland Arts on Vimeo.

The Life of Julie Cope at Abbot Hall

Last week I managed to take a day off and we decided to drive up to Kendal to have a look at the current exhibitions at Abbot Hall in Kendal. They’re currently showing a pair of linked tapestries by Grayson Perry illustrating the life of Julie Cope, a fictional heroine from his home county of Essex. Her life from her birth during the floods on Canvey Island back in the 50’s through growing up in Basildon, getting married and having children, separating from her husband, becoming a mature student, finding a new partner and being killed in her early sixties in an accident with a moped.

The tapestries have been acquired by the Crafts Council, and they’re touring them round the country. They’re on display at Abbot Hall until 16 February next year, audio recording The Ballad of Julie Cope, a 3000 word narrative written and read by Perry himself telling the story illustrated on the tapestries.

A Perfect Match, Grayson Perry, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016.18. Purchase  supported by Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and a donation from Maylis and James Grand. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry

In Its Familiarity, Golden, Grayson Perry, 2015. Crafts Council Collection: 2016.19. Purchase supported by Art Fund (with a contribution from The Wolfson Foundation) and a donation from Maylis and James Grand. Courtesy the Artist, Paragon Press, and Victoria Miro, London. © Grayson Perry

In a way, Perry has reinvented the tapestry for the 21st Century, taking modern themes and telling stories through a traditional form of woven comic strip. He’s a very astute observer of society and this is reflected in many of his works which are commentaries on various aspects of contemporary British life and society, of which these tapestries are another good example.

Rather like the animator, Nick Park (of Wallace and Grommet fame) there are many small details incorporated into Perry’s works that really bring out the flavour of the times and the places he’s illustrating – everyday objects, architectural features, musical logos, fashion to mention a few.

In conjunction with the Abbot Hall exhibition, Blackwell, 20 minutes drive away, are showing three of Grayson Perry’s pots which they have on loan. We drove over later in the day to take a look. No photos allowed of these works but they do have a press photo of one of them

Melanie, (2014) On loan from York Museums Trust

Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art

As would be expected of the second largest city in Greece, there are several museums in Thessaloniki. As our time in the city was limited (and as the weather was nice we wanted to enjoy being outdoors in the sun) we only visited one of them. I would have liked to have had a look round the Macedonian and Archaeological Museums, but expected they would require a lot of time and concentration, so, on our last day, we decided on visiting the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. There’s also a National Contemporary Art Museum, but that was a little way out of the centre whereas the Macedonian gallery was not far from the White Tower.

There were two exhibitions to see. On the ground floor there was a display that was part of the Thessaloniki PhotoBiennale 2018, which is spread over a number of venues across the city.

There was a really interesting selection of photographs. It’s not easy to photographs photos, especially when they’re in frames with reflective glass, but here’s a few of my favourites

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This wetted my appetite to see more of the biennial, but time and energy were running out.

The upstairs gallery and some of the spaces downstairs were devoted to an exhibition of contemporary works from the Gallery’s own collection, that had been donated by Alexandros Iolas. Iolas had something of an interesting life. He was an ethnic Greek born in Alexandria in Egypt. He studied music in Berlin, became a ballet dancer and went to New York and when his dancing career was cut short due to injury, he became involved in dealing in contemporary art, founding galleries in New York and Europe.

Some of the exhibits were a little “fruity” and probably reflect his sexuality, but here are some of the works I liked
A Modigliani

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Still Life (1981) by Christos Tzivelos

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Alexander the Great (1981) by Andy Warhol (unfortunately the photo is badly affected by reflections in the glass)

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I didn’t note the name of the artist who created this one

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Street Trombone by Novello Finotti

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Palindrome 1 (1982) by Nikos Zoumboulis-Titsa Graikou

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The collection included works by both well known International artists and others from Greece who I’d not come across before. It was particularly interesting to discover the latter.

We spent a couple of hours in the Gallery and both of us felt it had been a worthwhile visit and a good choice. Not too large so we became “arted out” but with enough interest.

Photography at the Hepworth

Last Saturday we drove over to the Hepworth in Wakefield to take a look at the latest exhibitons. We’d not been for a while – our last visit was our annual “pilgrimage” on New Year’s day. Being named after Barbara Hepworth, the Gallery exhibitions are often devoted to sculpture, but not exclusively and Currently they have three exibitons featuring photography.

The main exhibition Lee Miller and Surrealism is a survey of the work ofthe American photographer, best known for her association with Man Ray and her photographs taken during the Second World War, both on the Home Front in the UK and then, later, in France and Germany. It includes some of her photographs togethor with selected works by Surrealist artists, attempting to explore their influence on her.

The Hepworth website tells us that

Arriving in Paris in 1929, Miller quickly became Man Ray’s apprentice, muse and collaborator, becoming part of the Surrealist network.

During World War II, Miller was employed by  British Vogue  as a freelance war correspondent, capturing thought-provoking images of Hitler’s secret apartments and the harrowing atrocities of wartime living with her particular surrealist eye.

No photography was allowed in this exhibition but a limited number of images can be viewed on the Hepworth website.

The second exhibition was Hot Mirror, a survey of work by the contemporary Dutch artist and photographer Viviane Sassen.

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Most of the images included in the exhibition were from her series ‘Umbra’, ‘Flamboya’ (photographs taken in Kenya), the ‘Pikin Slee’ series, from a remote village in Suriname, ‘Oarasomnia’, a dreamlime exploration of sleep.

There were similarities with the Lee Miler exhibition as the works on display included black and white documentary style photographs and there were clear Surrealist influences in many of the images. Even many of her photographs of “real” subjects had an abstract and often surreal quality. Here are some of my favourites.

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In the centre of the gallery there was a room and walking inside you entered an immersive work Totem, 2014, which

places the visitor inside a surreal landscape.

with a changing series of images projected on the wall and reflected in mirros to produce a type of giant kaleidoscope effect.

The third photographic exhibition, Modern Nature: British Photographs from the Hyman Collection, “does what it from says on the tin” featuring around 60 photographs taken from the end of the Second World War up to the present day. The photographers included some favourites of mine – Shirley Baker, Bill Brandt and Martin Parr. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to catch any decent photos of the photos (!) due to reflections in the glass.

The Hepworth is always worth a visit and that was certainly the case the other Saturday.