Keith Haring at the Stedelijk

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Although most of the first floor at the Stedelijk was closed for a changeover of exhibitions, there was one work on display. It’s a large canvas work by the American artist Keith Haring (1958-1990) suspended above the stairwell and under the large skylight.

It was created especially for the artist’s solo exhibition at the Gallery in 1986. He painted the design onto a large piece of vellum, measuring almost 40 x 66 feet, using spray paint, in a single day. The pattern is actually a single thick, white line. “A kind of happy dinosaur with an elongated neck”.

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A visit to the Stedelijk Museum

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Our flight home to Liverpool at the end of  our short trip to Amsterdam didn’t leave until 8 in the evening, so we had a full day left in the city. We decided we’d visit the Stedelijk Museum  Amsterdam’s Modern Art Gallery. It turned out to be a good plan as it was a grey, chilly, damp day, so not so great for exploring the streets. (I pinched the photo above from the Amsterdam Info website, and it was taken on a much nicer day!)

The Stedelijk is on the Museumplein, next door to the Van Gogh Museum we’d visited during our first stay in Amsterdam.

The Stedelijk building is rather schitzophrenic. The original building was built in the 19th century in  the Dutch Neo-Renaissance style. It was extended in the early 21st Century, reopening on 23 September 2012. The extension, which was designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects., couldn’t be more different that the original building. Constructed of refinforced fibre with a smooth finish and a roof jutting out over the entrance into the square, it’s been compared to a bathtub and I think they certainly have a point. Inside, however, the exhibition space is well designed and roomy.

I liked this “cartoon” on the wall in the central gallery space, drawn by Jan Rothuizen

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The Museum was between exhibitions so the first floor galleries were closed. But there was plenty to see on the ground floor to occupy the morning. There were exhibitions about the De Stijl movement, a two-part installation of videos and objects by New York-based, Colombian artist Carlos Motta and “I am a Native Foreigner” which explores the issue of immigration using works from the Museum’s collection.

Here’s a few of the works I particularly liked from the Highlights of the Collection that occupied a number of the galleries.

A painting of a windmill (very Dutch!) by Mondrian. Not exactly what you expect from him! (There were some more typical works by him included in the De Stijl exhibition).

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(Windmolen c 1917)

One by Van Gogh

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(Augustine Roulin , la Barceuse 1889)

Two by Kandinsky – and probably my favourites from the display

The provenance of this one is currently under investigation as it was bought in (allegedly) dubious circumstances during WWII

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(Painting with houses 1909)

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A Matisse

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(La Odalisque 1920-21)

One by Rothko

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(Untitled Umber, Blue, Umber Brown 1962)

and one by Willem de Kooning

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(North Atlantic Light 1972)

Clocking in

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A little before we clocked in and joined the production line in Tate Exchange we’d seen a series of 8,627 photographs and a film showing someone clocking in on the hour, every hour,  24 hours a day for a full 12 months during 1980-1981. One Year Perormance was undertaken by Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh in his studio in New York.

Marking the occasion by taking a self-portrait on a single frame of 16mm film, the resulting reel documents a year in his life at approximately one second per day – a pace that is polar opposite of the enduring length of the original performance

At the beginning of the project he shaved off his hair and we can see it gradually grow back in the series of photographs and the film.

It seemed such an odd thing to do. It meant that he was unable to sleep properly for a full year. He missed 133 clock-ins, and the reasons are documented on a note which is displayed amongst the contextual materials included in the exhibition along with letters, statements, uniforms, photographs, the punch clock itself and a time card. The main reason given was, not surprisingly,  sleeping through.

According to an interview in the Guardian the artist, the work

recalls the labours of Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, was forced to roll a rock repeatedly up a mountain, only to watch it fall down again

while it may seem to convey a message about the tedium and conformity of industrial labour, he tells Guardian Australia he is “not a political artist, although people are at liberty to interpret my work from a political standpoint … I’m interested in the universal circumstances of human life”.

Although clearly a crazy thing to do, there was something rather fascinating about the project and, personally, I can certainly see a political message about the alienation of work and how people are enslaved by work that is certainly relevant in this day of zero hour contracts and so-called self employed status workers employed by the likes of Uber and courier services.

Giacometti at Tate Modern

I’d been looking forward to seeing the retrospective of work by Giacometti, a favourite artist of mine, that opened recently at Tate Modern. So when I was down in London a couple of weeks ago, I made time to visit the gallery on London’s Bankside.

Giacometti is a favourite artist – I like his trademark sculptures of elongated figures – walking men and standing women – with their rough, textured surfaces. The exhibition included plenty of those, with works from the Tate’s own collection, like Man Pointing  (1947)

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with other examples from public and private collections. As usual with these paid exhibitions, no photos allowed so the pictures in this post are either photos I’ve taken during previous visits to Tate Modern, or from the exhibition website.

As a retrospective, it included earlier works before the Swiss artist developed his signature style. In particular, his surrealist works from the 1930’s

The first room contained a large table covered with a large number of sculptures of heads in different styles and made from various materials – some quite tiny – covering his career, Being displayed in this way really allowed visitors to see how his style developed – initially relatively ‘lifelike’

Head of Isabel 1936

Head of Isabel 1936

they evolved into more abstract, fatter forms, eventually becoming flat and featureless rectangles from his Surrealist period. Then the later sculptures in the style for which he is best known. The heads included sculptures of his family members, friends and some famous individuals, including Simone de Beauvoir.

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Bust of Annette IV (1962)

Moving on through the other 9 rooms was a progression through his career. The next few rooms displaying abstract and Surrealist works – sculptures, decorative pieces (lamps, vases, jewellery and wall reliefs) and sketches in his notebooks.

Probably the most Surrealist of the works in the exhibition was the rather grusome Woman With Her Throat Cut (1932)more of a weird insect than a human being

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After WWII, he returned to Paris where he began to produce the elongated figures for which he is best known. These dominated the final 5 rooms

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Three men walking (source: Wikipedia)

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The dog (1951)

This is what I’d come to see. They’re simple, almost like 3 dimensional versions of L S Lowry’s ‘matchstick men’ in their complex simplicity

The thin figures that emerged like wisps of smoke out of Giacometti’s conscience in the second part of that murderous decade seem barely to exist. They are not so much statues as mirages of people glimpsed far away, shimmering on a horizon of ash. The human form, starved, bereft, but somehow standing tall. (Guardian)

There were paintings too. Again, he has a distinctive style. The figures are made up of a series of lines which merge to form an image rather like the dots in a Pointillist painting

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Seated Man (1949)

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Caroline (1965)

This was a marvellous exhibition that didn’t disappoint.

King and Queen

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Strolling down Piccadilly towards the Royal Academy I passed Fortnum and Mason’s shop and stopped in my tracks when I spotted this Lynn Chadwick sculpture sitting above the entrance.

I only discovered after my visit that it was part of an exhibition of works owned by art collector Frank Cohen that are currently on display in the store. So I missed out on a free exhibition of Modern Art. Sad smile

Between Object and Architecture

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This was one of the free exhibitions currently showing in the Switch House at the Tate Modern during my visit last weekend. As I was down in London to run a course for Construction companies it seemed quite appropriate to take a look!

The first work I looked at was The Passing Winter by the eccentric Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

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It’s a box with a mirrored surface punctured by a number of holes. Looking inside it’s filled with circular mirrors that create a virtual infinite space

The box is made from six panels that are secured together, yet the box itself is not fixed to the plinth, but simply rests on it. As a result, this extremely fragile sculpture must be handled and approached very carefully, and it requires regular polishing to maintain a clean, highly reflective surface.

This fragile wire structure was created by Gego, a Jewish artist born in Hamburg but who had to leave Germany to escape from persecution by the Nazis and who moved to Venezuala.

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Horizontal Square Reticularia by Gego (Gertrud Louise Goldschmidt)

The cube forms are not all closed on all sides and some of their edges are missing, therefore the sculpture forms an imperfect grid, based on a play of positive and negative space. This ‘incomplete’ structure, as well as the relative thinness of the rods and the scale of the cubes cause the rods to bend. As such the sculpture demonstrates an irregular geometry, subject to distortion and movement. (Tate website)

These two towers by the Lebanese artist, Saloua Choucair, are constructed of twelve rectangular stone blocks piled one on top of each other.

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Infinite Structure (1963-5) by Saloua Choucair

I’d seen, and enjoyed a retrospective of her work at Tate Modern a few years ago.

The centre of the room was dominated by this work by Cristina Iglesias

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Pavilion Suspended in a Room 1 (2005) by Cristina Iglesias

Constructed from a number of latticed panels made of braided wire suspended from the ceiling, visitors could wander around and through the structure.

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This carefully arranged stack of rubbish, tightly packed to form a large cube is by Tony Cragg. He’s going to be the next artist featured at the Yorkshire Sculpture park and I’m rather looking forward to seeing that exhibition.

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Stack (1975) by Tony Cragg

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Levels (2012) by Jac Leirner

This work was quite appropriate given the purpose of my trip down to London. Hung high on the wall, well above the viewer’s eyeline, it wasn’t apparent at first that it was made up of eight differently coloured spirit levels lined up end to end. Simple, but thought it was quite effective. The same was true of this work which rather reminded me of the molecular models I used to play around with when I was studying for my degree in chemistry at University.

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Lovers (1968) by Rasheed Araeen

Simply constructed from sticks of painted of painted wood it took on a different form when observed from different positions.

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It’s composed of two separate open prisms constructed out of a series of triangles. These prisms can be rotated and orientated in different ways so that the work can be shown in different configurations.

I thought this simple cube of cast glass was quite attractive

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Pink Tons (2009) by Roni Horn

The base and four sides of the cube are composed of frosted pink glass and maintain scratches and irregularities generated by the casting mould, while the glass at the top of the sculpture is clear. When viewed from the side, the sculpture appears cloudy; when viewed from above, the work seems transparent, with the glass inside taking on a rippled or watery effect. (Tate website)

Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to get a proper view down into the block, even craning over as far as possible (as many visitors were trying to do) as the “exclusion zone” marked on the floor was too wide.

There were a couple of works that consisted of simple rectangular elements lying on the floor.

This collection of fourteen rectangular polyester resin made by taking a cast of a wooden floor  blocks was created by Rachael Whiteread . They’re arranged  in two even columns of seven. The pattern of the wood grain is clearly visible on the surface of the blocks which have been installed to loosely replicate the layout of the original floor.

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Untitled (Floor) by Rachael Whiteread

And then the famous pile of bricks

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Equivalent VIII (1966) by Carl Andre