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.

Birmingham Art Gallery

After looking at the stained glass in the cathedral, I still had an hour or so to kill until my train was due, so I decided to have a look round the City Art Gallery, which is only a short walk away. Although I’ve been to Brum a few times recently, it’s been in connection with work and I hadn’t had visited the Gallery before. It’s a combined Museum and Art Gallery but as time was limited I concentrated on looking on their art collection.

Like the City Art Galleries in Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds, the art works appeared to have been mainly collected during the Victorian and Edwardian periods when these cities were the heart of the Empire and local industrialists were wealthy and could make out that they had civic responsibility by making donations to the Gallery. Things changed in the 20th Century and as a consequence the collection is dominated by works from the Victorian and Edwardian periods and earlier, with fewer works from the 20th Century onwards.

I didn’t think that the collection was as strong as those in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool and the Manchester and Liverpool City Galleries, but there were some works that I liked.

I was expecting a strong collection of Pre-Raphaelite works, but other than this well known painting, The Last of England, by Ford Maddox brown, there was little of note.

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My impression was that the industrialists of Birmingham were either less generous or less cultured (or, possibly, both) than those of the Northern cities.

Other works I liked were a couple of Impressionist paaintings

The Pont Boieldieu at Rouen, Sunset (1896) by Camille Pissaro

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Portrait of a woman in black, seated in an armchair (c 1882) by Mary Cassatt

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and some 20th Century works

The Miner (1936) by Walter Sickertt

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Woman holding a flower (late 1910’s, early 1920’s) by Gwen John

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Winter Sun No. 1 (1961-2) by Joan Eardley

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Barbara Hepworth’s Cosdon Head (1946)

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the dramatic sculpture of Lucifer (1945) by Jacob Epstein

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a rather nice contemporary sculpture, Calliope (2012) by Halima Cassell

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Pink Pimp Mix (2006) by David Batchelor

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Birmingham Cathedral Stained Glass

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A couple of weeks ago I had to go down to the centre of Birmingham with work. I’d bought an Advance ticket on the train and as I wasn’t sure how long my meeting and site visit would last, I’d booked on a train in the late afternoon. As it happened I was done by 1 o’clock so I had just over a couple of hours to kill. I could have gone to a café to do some work, but that wouldn’t be much fun and the work could wait until I was back at base, so I decided to have a bit of a mooch.

My first stop was Birmingham Cathedral as I wanted to have a look at the stained glass windows designed by Birmingham born pre-Raphaelite artist Sir Edward Burne-Jones and manufactured by the firm of William Morris & Co.

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There are four windows in total, three at the east end of the building with the fourth immediately opposite at the west end. They’re quite magnificent works of Pre-Raphaelite art, and my photos, taken with my mobile phone, really can’t do them justice.

The left east window, the Nativity
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The central east window, the Ascension
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The right east window, the Crucifixion
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The west window, the Last Judgment
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The Ascension was installed in 1885 and the Nativity and the Crucifixion two years later. The Last Judgement was installed in 1897.

The Cathedral website tells us

They are considered characteristic of Burne-Jones’ later style – elongated bodies with small heads in relation to body length and designs which divide in two equal halves, horizontally. This technique separates heaven from earth in each of the windows.

and that

They demonstrate Burne-Jones’ immense skill and the fine craftsmanship of William Morris & Co. They are known for their vibrancy, the life-likeness of the figures, their ability to tell a story and their inspiring and dramatic qualities.

Well worth a visit to  take a look, particularly on a sunny day with the light streaming through the windows emphasising their vibrant colours..

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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