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.

and that

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.

 

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Space Tapestry at Tate Liverpool

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The ground floor gallery at Tate Liverpool is currently showing Space Tapestry: Faraway Missions, a large-scale wall hanging made by the artist Aleksandra Mir with 25 collaborators, aged 18–24, using Sharpie marker pens..

The exhibition web site tells us that the work was

Inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry and the anonymous artists who depicted Halley’s Comet in 1066

The whole work is 200 metres long and three metres high, 3000 hours over 3 years to complete. Only part of it is on show in Liverpool, the rest is being displayed at Modern Art Oxford

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The main work is accompanied by 39 smaller drawings depicting a series of probes that have been sent into outer space since the 1950s

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Portraying a Nation at Tate Liverpool – Part 2 – Otto Dix: The Evil Eye

The second part of the current exhibition at Tate Liverpool features paintings and works on paper by Otto Dix who is best known for

his unforgiving depiction of Weimar Society and the Great War from whence it was forged. Along with George Grosz and Max Beckmann, he is  considered one of the most important artists of the Neue Sachlichkeit. (www.ottodix.org)

The exhibition website also tells us

Dix was a key supporter of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) movement, a name coined after an exhibition held in Mannheim, Germany in 1925. Described by art historian G.F. Hartlaub, as ‘new realism bearing a socialist flavour’, the movement sought to depict the social and political realities of the Weimar Republic.

The exhibition includes a large number of his paintings and an important series of prints together with some contextual materials. Consequently it’s a good survey of his work.

August Sander, The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha, 1925/26

The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha (1925-6) by August Sander

The first section of the exhibition concentrates on his paintings and watercolours depicting the “underside” or the fringes of society. They’re quite brutal caricatures that don’t pull any punches. But they show quite a different side of Weimar Germany than August Sander’s photographs of more ordinary “mainstream” people taken during the same period. As the Observer’s reviewer puts it

Dix’s Weimar is a nightmare of raddled prostitutes, drunk customers and violent sailors, of rape, murder and maggot-ridden skulls.

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Reclining Woman on a Leopard Skin (1927)

The Observer again

Dix’s paintings are fiercely indigestible; you are meant to look at the livid cheeks and poisonous impasto and recoil. He believed in the disruptive power of ugliness.

Dix had volunteered at the outbreak of the First World War and served as an artilleryman and machine gunner on the Western Front, where he took part in the Battle of the Somme. In 1918, weary of trench fighting he volunteered as an aerial observer and trained as an aeroplane pilot. He was traumatised by the war and suffered recurring nightmares. His world view was coloured by these experiences which are depicted in a series of 50 etchings, many of which which don’t make comfortable viewing. I felt they were the most affecting part of the exhibition.

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Assault Troops Advance under Gas (Sturmtruppe geht unter Gas vor) (1924)

After viewing the horrors of war so graphically portrayed in the etchings, the next section of the exhibition brought us back down to earth with a series of more sober (a relative term when considering Dix’s work) portraits.

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Self-Portrait with Easel (1926)

This was a major source of his income during the 1920’s. His style was a mixture of realism and caricature, both old fashioned and avant-garde, as we can see in this example

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Portrait of the Jeweller Karl Krall (1923)

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Portrait of the Photographer Hugo Erfurth with Dog (1926)

He painted them using the techniques used by the Renaissance “old masters”. This involved using a layering effect, with egg tempera  finished with oils. There was a video on display of an old film which showed him “in action”.

The final section of the exhibition showed a different aspect of the artist with paintings of his family and a series of 14 watercolours painted in 1925 for a picture book for his five-year-old stepdaughter, Hana Koch. The subjects of these watercolours include mythical and biblical figures and stories such as St George fighting the dragon, St Christopher, Jonah and the whale, and David and Goliath.

Portraying a Nation at Tate Liverpool – Part 1 – People of the 20th Century

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On Saturday we drove over to Liverpool – the main purpose being to visit the latest exhibition at the Tate, Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933. It’s actually two exhibitions: ARTIST ROOMS: August Sander, and Otto Dix: The Evil Eye.

August Sander was a German photographer who between the two World Wars attempted to document the people of Germany in a series of photographs People of the Twentieth Century. The exhibition includes well over 100 photographs (I lost count) from this series

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August Sander – Self Portrait

He took portraits of people from all segments of society grouping them into seven distinct categories: ‘The Farmer’, ‘The Skilled Tradesman’, ‘The Woman’, ‘Classes and Professions’, ‘The Artists’, ‘The City’ and ‘The Last People’.

To take the photographs he used an old-fashioned large-format camera, glass negatives and long exposure times. This allowed him to capture his subjects in minute detail.

August Sander, Farmer’s Child, 1919

At the same time his set up meant that there was a shallow “depth of field” which meant that the background is out of focus. This means that the viewer concentrates on the subject rather than their surroundings.

The image many people have of the Weimar Republic was of a rather wild, bohemian society where “anything goes”. He certainly captured this aspect of the times with photographs like this one of a secretary with her fashionable, shapeless dress,  androgynous, almost masculine hairstyle and manner. She looks like someone out of Cabaret

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Secretary at West German Radio in Cologne

He also photographed intellectuals such as the subject of the second half of the exhibition – Otto Dix

August Sander, The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha, 1925/26

The Painter Otto Dix and his Wife Martha

But the majority of his subjects were ordinary workers, farmers, mothers and children. which probably paint a truer picture of life between the wars in Germany

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Blacksmiths

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The Man of the Soil

August Sander, Police Officer and Master of the Watch, 1925

Police Officer

He also included portraits of people on the fringes of society – including the blind and disabled people. The same people who would soon be persecuted by the Nazis. His portraits however, for the times, are sympathetic.

Sander had leftist views and was clearly on the side of the outsiders. Included in the exhibition were a number of Jewish victims of persecution, such as this young lady.

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A victim of persecution

The photographs were originally taken for their passports as they were attempting to leave Germany towards the end of the 1930s. They show real, ordinary people at a time when the Nazis were presenting  distorted caricatures of Jews.

Sander wrote

”It is not my intention either to criticize or to describe these people, but to create a piece of history with my pictures.”

and to achieve that aim he also photographed the very people who were responsible for the persecution

August Sander, National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture

National Socialist, Head of Department of Culture

even though one of their victims was his own son, an active socialist.

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Political Prisoner [Erich Sander]

The Tate has displayed the photographs chronologically along with a commentary listing the events occurring when they were taken, rather than grouped by ”type,” as Sander intended. I wonder whether this loses something. Nevertheless I felt that it was an excellent exhibition of outstanding portraits, showing the skill and the dedication of the photographer as an artist.

William Blake at Tate Liverpool

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Satan smiting Job with boils

Tracey Emin’s bed was being shown as part of an exhibition which is meant to explore the connection between this controversial work and the paintings of William Blake.

According to the Tate

This new display affirms Blake’s Romantic idea of artistic truth through existential pain and the possibility of spiritual rebirth through art, shared in the work of Tracey Emin.

I have to say I found it difficult to see any real connection – if there is one it is rather tenuous. But it was great to see a significant collection of magnificent prints and drawings by Blake, most of which I hadn’t seen before “in the flesh”, displayed together in Liverpool. A real treat.

William Blake is something of a hero of mine. As well as a visual artist – a painter and printmaker – he is also well known as a poet. He was a political radical – a supporter of the French Revolution – and a religious visionary.

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(Picture source : Wikipedia)

He was also an innovator, developing a printing technique known as relief etching and used it to print most of his poetry. He called the technique illuminated printing and the poetry illuminated books. Many of the works on display in the exhibition were created using this process.

This is just a small selection of them

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Pity (c 1795)

This image is taken from Macbeth: ‘pity, like a naked newborn babe / Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air’. Blake draws on popularly-held associations between a fair complexion and moral purity. These connections are also made by Lavater, who writes that ‘the grey is the tenderest of horses, and, we may here add, that people with light hair, if not effeminate, are yet, it is well known, of tender formation and constitution’. (Tate website)

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The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve c.1826

This work shows Adam and Eve discovering their dead son. His brother Cain, the murderer, flees the scene. Despite his evil deed, Cain, appears as an ideal male figure. (Tate website)

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Nebuchadnezzar 1795–c.1805

 

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The Night of Enitharmon’s Joy (formerly called ‘Hecate’) circa 1795

Enitharmon is an important female character in Blake’s mythology, playing a main part in some of his prophetic books. She is the Emanation of Los, and with Los gives birth to various children, including Orc. Although symbolising spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration (some critics have argued that Blake’s wife Catherine was the inspiration for the character) she is also used by Blake to represent female domination and sexual restraints that limit the artistic imagination (Tate website)

“Sprung a Leak” at Tate Liverpool

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I called into Tate Liverpool during a day out in Liverpool last week. I hadn’t been for a while so there was plenty of new exhibits to see.

Something different seemed to be going on in the ground floor gallery so I thought I’d have a look. And it certainly was different. It was

a “multi-dimensional work featuring two humanoid robots and a robot dog”

by half-Belgian, half-American artist Cécile B. Evans, currently based in London, who .

No paintings or sculptures on display but instead the room was filled with video screens and in the middle of it all two robots, plus a robot dog, whizzing around and performing a three act play

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Interviewed in the Guardian

“In its simplest form,” says Evans, “it’s an automated play about a collaboration between machines and humans against external forces that affect their wellbeing … There’s a coup, there’s an incident at a pool party, and then everyone dies.”

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Human characters were represented by three digitised pole dancers – the Users – and a beauty blogger with hands but no arms.

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The work took the form of a three act play

“about a collaboration between machines and humans against external forces that affect their wellbeing … There’s a coup, there’s an incident at a pool party, and then everyone dies.” (Guardian)

It ran for 18 minutes and then the robots repositioned and the play re-run.

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It wasn’t exactly a straightforward play – the dialogue was rather abstract but it seemed to be about the loss of liberty in society – there’s a character called Liberty in the play – very appropriate given what is happening in the world at the moment with all the worrying  Populist and Nationalist  developments. For me, another theme was how society is becoming more and more automated with humans becoming ever more dependent on machines. Perhaps these two trends are linked?

It was an interesting work that makes you think and entertaining too – watching the robots whizz around. Worth seeing again if I get the chance