Louise Bourgeois in the Rijksmuseum Gardens

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Spider (1996)

If you’re scared of spiders, it’s probably best if you keep away from the Rijksmuseum Gardens at the moment! For the last few years there’s been an exhibition of works by a noted sculptor in the gardens, and this year they have works on display by Louise Bourgeois, who is well known for her bronze sculptures of giant spiders,

When we’d looked around the Tassel Museum we wandered along the canals, grabbed a bite to eat and then made our way to the Rijksmuseum. We expected that there would be an exhibition in the gardens and we knew we’d have time to have a look before we got the train back to Haarlem. And, unlike the main part of the museum, entry is free! We hadn’t checked out what was on but as soon as we spotted the first sculpture, we knew who the artist was! Luckily spiders don’t scare me, as several of the arachnid monsters are on display! !

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Crouching spider (2005)

The gardens themselves are very attractive and popular on a sunny day – and the sun kept breaking through the cloud while we were there.

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Louise Bourgeois grew up in a suburb of Paris, in a family of antique tapestry dealers and restorers. In 1938, following her marriage to the American art historian Robert Goldwater, she emigrated to the United States. It took a long while before her work was acknowledged, as it was quite different from the type of art popular in America at the time. and she only started to become popular in the 1970s when she was in her 60’s.

Her work often represents aspects of her life. the spiders, for example, are influenced by her protective mother who, although she didn’t spin webs, was a weaver and by the familie’s tapestry repair business.

I came from a family of repairers. The spider is a repairer. If you bask into the web of a spider, she doesn’t get mad. She weaves and repairs it

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Spider couple (2003)

This was probably the only one of the 12 sculptures on display I wasn’t so keen on. It rather reminded me of the monsters that used to appear in Doctor Who in the 1970’s – perhaps that’s why!

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In and Out #2 (1995-6)

This was the earliest work on display. It’s quite different from the others and rather like the works of Brancusi. It’s apparently meant to be a self portrait of the artist surrounded by her 3 children.

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Quarantania (1947-53)
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Welcoming Hands (1996)

This rather moving group of bronze sculptures displayed on rough stone pedestals, represent friendship and solidarity. They were originally displayed in New York on a site with a view of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where immigrants first arrived in America, although they are now normally sited in the Tuilleries in Paris. Their message has a contemporary resonance with all the movement of people trying to escape war and poverty, looking for a better life. Some people show friendship and solidarity to them. Sadly, in these cruel times, too many don’t.

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This sculpture of a child’s hand was particularly touching (emotionally, that is, of course)

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Fountain (1999)
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Untitled (2004)

These two high-gloss aluminium sculptures of Untitled (2004), hanging from the branches of the great wingnut tree, refer to her father’s habit of storing chairs by hanging them on roof beams in the attic of their home

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Inside the museum entrance atrium there were four seats in the form of giant eyes

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Source: https://www.azquotes.com/author/18216-Louise_Bourgeois

Natalia Goncharova at Tate Modern

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My meeting in London finished earlier than expected and as I’d booked an Advance ticket on the train I had a few hours to kill before I could set off back home. I wasn’t too far from Tate Modern and as I hadn’t been there for a while decided I’d wander over and see what was on.

Taking advantage of my Tate membership I decided to have a look at the temporary exhibition devoted to a Russian artist from the first half of the 20th Century, Natalia Goncharova. Not someone I’d heard of before and I don’t recall seeing any of her works previously. The exhibition has had good reviews in the press, so I was interested to find out more.

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Self portrait

Goncharova came from a family of “impoverished aristocrats”, and grew up on the family estate in Tula, 200 miles from Moscow. I don’t know what the Tate mean by “impoverished”. They were certainly considerably better off than the peasants who worked on their estate. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that although her art was radical she wasn’t a supporter of the Russian Revolution. She’d left Russia and went to Paris on April 29, 1914 Goncharova came from a family of “impoverished aristocrats”, and grew up on the family estate in Tula, 200 miles from Moscow, but they moved to the capital when she was 11. I don’t know what the Tate mean by “impoverished”. They were certainly considerably better off than the peasants who worked on their estate. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that although her art was radical she wasn’t a supporter of the Russian Revolution. She’d she left Russia Paris in April 1914, stayed there during WW1 and didn’t return after the events of 1917.

The Tate’s website tells us that

Goncharova found acclaim early in her career. Aged just 32 she established herself as the leader of the Russian avant-garde with a major exhibition in Moscow in 1913. She then moved to France where she designed costumes and backdrops for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. She lived in Paris for the rest of her life, becoming a key figure in the city’s cutting-edge art scene.

Goncharova’s artistic output was immense, wide-ranging and at times controversial. She paraded the streets of Moscow displaying futurist body art and created monumental religious paintings. She took part in avant-garde cinema, experimented with book designs and designed for fashion houses in Moscow and Paris.

The exhibition spread over 10 rooms and featured a wide range of paintings, sketches, costumes and other items.

The 3rd room had a large number of works from a retrospective of her work held in September 1913 in the Art Salon in Moscow. There were more than 800 works in a vast range of styles. The Tate tells us

it was the most ambitious exhibition by any Russian avant-garde artist to date

and that

The term ‘everythingism’ was coined by Larionov and the writer and artist Ilia Zdanevich to describe the diverse range of Goncharova’s work and her openness to multiple styles and sources. 

These are just a small proportion of the works on display

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In another room there were a number of lithographs – Mystical Images of War was published in autumn 1914 – created in response to WW1. To me they largely glorify the war (they’re certainly not critical images) and, at least to some extent, see it as a patriotic and religious “crusade”

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She was clearly religious and another room was devoted to religious paintings. I wasn’t so keen on most of them, but did like these fourApostles

The Evangelists (1911) The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg. Gift of A.K. Larionova-Tomilina, Paris 1966 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

Like many Russian artists in the early 20th Century, she was influenced by Futurism. She developed her own approach which was known as Rayonism . This painting was my favourite from this room and probably from the whole exhibition.

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Cyclist 1913

Another room featured works created while she lived in Paris. I particularly liked this painting of a Spanish woman

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The final room was devoted to sketches, costumes and set designs from several ballet productions. Goncharova had worked with Russian composers, dancers and artists for Diaghilev  Ballets Russes creating an ‘exotic’ vision of the east . I particularly liked the costumes on display that she’d designed for a production of Le Coq d’or

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I enjoyed looking around the exhibition. Goncharova was a talented artist and although I didn’t like everything I saw, there was plenty to keep me interested. It’s always good to discover a “new” artist (well, new to me!) so I wasn’t disappointed that I had a few hours to kill before my train.

Later that afternoon I received a text from Virgin Trains to tell me my train had been cancelled. Fearing the worst – that there was major disruption – I was relieved to find that it was due to the train breaking down. Arriving at Euston a little early I was able to transfer on to the train before and managed to get home half an hour earlier than expected. So all worked out well in the end!

Mary Swanzy the IMMA

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After a busy day on Saturday,I was up early the next morning to drive over to Holyhead to catch the boat to Dublin as I’m back over working in Naas this week. The boat arrived at the port just after midday, so I had an afternoon to do a few things rather than just spend the whole day travelling.

I decided I’d drive over to the Irish Museum of Modern Art out at Kilmainham as I hadn’t been there for a while and I quite fancied seeing the exhibition of work by the German photographer, Wolfgang Tillmans. 

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To reach the Tillmans exhibition I had to pass through several rooms devoted to the work of an Irish artist, Mary Swanzy . She was born in Dublin to a prosperous Protestant family – her father was a distinguished eye surgeon – and grew up around Merrion Square in the south side of the city but during her long life relocated several times and travelled widely. From viewing the exhibition it’s clear she was an accomplished artist, but isn’t well known, no doubt because she was a woman. As she herself is quoted as saying on the exhibition website

 ‘if I had been born Henry instead of Mary my life would have been very different’.

It was the last day of this exhibition and it was clearly popular with the Irish public as it was very busy and the catalogue had sold out. She was born in 1882 and worked right through to her death in 1978. She trained in Dublin and then in Paris and was influenced by the styles that emerged during the early 20th Century. So it was interesting to see her work having just visited the Fernand Léger exhibition at Tate Liverpool the previous day as both artists are particularly known for their Cubist and Futurist paintings, but also created works in other styles, such as Surrealism.

In her early work in Paris, she adopted a Post Impressionist style, as in this portrait of her sister

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Portrait of Miss Muriel Swayzey (1907)

She later adopted the Cubist style

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Young woman with white bonnet (1920)

Besides portraits, her subjects included landscapes and flowers

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Cubist landscape (1928)

In 1920, during the Irish War of Independence, she left Ireland travelling through Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Hawaii and Samoa. One of the rooms was devoted to paintings from this period, which have similarities with Gaugain’s work from his time in Tahiti.

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Afterwards she moved to London before relocating to Dublin at the start of WW2

Her style changed over time, becoming more figurative and in some cases adopting the Symbolist

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This is portion apart (group of sorrowing women) (1942)
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Potato Famine (1940)

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Female nudes with horse and viaduct (1930’s)

After the war she returned to London. The works from her later years, displayed in the final room, are quite different and difficult to classify. Many of them feature caricatures of people and animals. As the exhibition guide tells us

This strange assembly of characters make the images appear like scenes from the world of science fiction rather than deriving from an art historical lineage

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Revolution (1943)
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Reading employment offer column (1972)
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Opera Singer (1944)

One of the paintings from the 1940’s was a portrait of her sister. Quite different to the one she’d painted early in her career, really illustrating the evolution of her work.

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Portrait of Muriel Swanzy Tullo (1942)

Art and about in Liverpool – Part 1

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Last Saturday we drove over to Liverpool as we wanted to have a look at a couple of exhibitions. It was a fine day and quite pleasant for walking by the waterside to the Tate Gallery on the Albert Dock.

First stop was the exhibition at the Tate of works by the Fench artist
Fernand Léger (1881 – 1955) . There were over 40 works on display, including paintings, collage, book illustrations and film spanning his career. He’s an artist I was familiar with, but hadn’t seen many of his works, so the exhibition was an opportunity to learn more.

Some early works were influenced by his experiences in the First World War between 1914 to 1917 , when he fought on the front-line at Argonne and Verdun, including an abstract Cubist style painting of soldiers playing cards.

The part of Chart, 1917 - Fernand Leger
La partie de Carte (1917)

His early works were Cubist and Futurist and he had his own approach dominated by cylindrical shapes earning the moniker “tubism”. But, as with many artists, his style changed over time

Léger’s work was heavily influenced by his surroundings and his experience of modern life. Included in the exhibition are his collaborations with architects Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand. Also on display is his experimental 1924 film, Ballet Mécanique.

He dabbled with Surrealism, often combining Surrealist and Cubist styles.


Leaves and Shell (1927)

He often used bright primary colours,particularly in his later works.

Two women holding flowers (1954)

Politically on the left, fleeing the Nazis he lived in the USA from 1940 to 1945 but returned to France after the war when he joined the Communist Party. Many of his later works were influenced by his politics.

He believed the primary purpose of making art is to enrich the lives of everybody in society. In order to bring art into people’s everyday lives he worked on posters and murals as well as on the easel. His paintings depict construction workers and people enjoying leisure activities. These everyday scenes are reflected back to us in a new light and the characters are given dignity in their normality. (Tate website)

In the next room to the Leger retrospective there was a free exhibition of works by two South Korean artists Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho. It was centered on a new film commission Anomaly Strolls 2018, largely shot in deserted alleyways and pubs across Liverpool with some scenes shot in Korea. 

Extending their project News From Nowhere 2009, the artists use science fiction to question the role and importance of art to our present day society. As they have said: ‘Sci-fi is always the fable of the present. By employing a way to look at the future instead of the present, we wanted to address current issues, especially in relation to what art is and what art could be.’   (exhibition website)

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The exhibition also includes Moon and Jeon’s 2012 film El Fin del Mundo (The End of the World).

On separate screens, we see different points in time: a man remains committed to creating art as a global catastrophe unfolds, while a woman goes about a sanitised life in its aftermath. Documenting relics of the past, she comes across a strange object the man had incorporated in his artwork. The encounter triggers profound new emotions in the woman, and her strange discovery connects our two protagonists across time. (exhibition website)

Video installations are not my favourite type of art, but sometimes there’s a work that captures my interest. This was certainly the case with these two works. They weren’t too abstract, telling a story, and I’ve also been a fan of science fiction.

There was much more to see in the Tate, and there had been some changes to the free exhibitions since our last visit. But we moved on as we needed to grab a bite to eat and there was another exhibition we wanted to see at the Walker Gallery.

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.

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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