Tag Archives: art

Unbelievable

00210_s_9aem39j6m0628Gasworks (A Ganzfeld Sphere), James Turrell

The Henry Moore Sculpture Studio, Dean Clough, 1993

Photo copyright Jeremy Hardman-Jones

Here’s something quite personal, and, in keeping with the mission statement of this blog, not available on the web in any way that my google-fu can ascertain. This is a James Turrell piece that fabricated and exhibited by the now defunct Henry Moore Sculpture studio at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax. The work commissioned at the Studio at Dean Clough appears to exist in mysterious lacunae in terms of the history of contemporary art in the UK. I was the Deputy Director at the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust from 1990 to 1994 under Robert Hopper; whether it was a the perceived failure of the Artranspenine project in 1998, the premature death of Robert in 1999, the change of leadership at the Henry Moore Foundation, and the closure of the studio, I cannot say. Even my existence at the organisation seems to be a matter of some dispute, since I do not turn up in any of the online literature on the Trust despite my curation of the first exhibition at the Henry More Institute in Leeds (oh, and I designed the logo too). The programme at the Halifax studio predated the glory days of Brit art and the YBA’s (though the grant programme through the Trust supported such key early ’90’s projects as Building One, Gambler, Modern Medicine and Whiteread’s House). I remember the art we commissioned in those years like the music; the end of 1988’s  ‘second summer of love‘ when Madchester mutated in Soup Dragons, EMF or The Farm; still mining the British Sculptural Tradition before the advent of Oasis, Blur and Pulp; when Radiohead was still Pablo Honey, those weird, liminal Major years, when the past had not yet become the present.

The manufacture of the fibreglass sphere in Halifax was the culmination of the project first proposed by James Turrell in 1969 with Robert Irwin and Ed Wortz for Expo 70 and at LACMA. Here’s an excellent précis by William Poundstone from Blouin Artinfo; interestingly, no mention of the first actual manifestation of the first full body Ganzfeld sphere at Dean Clough in ’93.

This version was exhibited at the ICA in 1996 and then found itself in the hands of Larry Gagosian (at least one of these works by Turrell was exhibited at Gagosian in London in 2010). Another version appears to have been constructed at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, again in 1996. The lovely assistants you see in my image from 1993 are Jo McGonigal, not, it appears, an associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (and still, I hope, an artist) and Chris Sacker, who is definitely still an artist.

A Ganzfeld (Ger. ‘entire field’) sphere is an enclosed spherical space, lit to eliminate any visual graduation or distance reference. When inside the sphere (originally proposed as table tennis balls, cut in half, and placed over each eye), the physical act of seeing is settling on an effective nothing; the eye has only a void on which to rest. Like William Hurt in Ken Russell’s Altered States, the mind potentially enters into a state where it can only start to perceive itself; past, present and future are revealed. The viewer starts to see only what the eye is not what it sees. Gazing back into the past, maybe this was only a dream?

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Please Wipe Your Feet

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Here is another of my own slides; this was taken in Birmingham late 1994 or early 1995. It’s the rear of the Birmingham International Convention Centre, leading to the small bridge that takes you over the canal to Brindley Place and the Ikon Gallery. The bronze sculpture is Battle of the Gods and the Giants by Roderick Tye. I didn’t know that when I took the image, because then (it maybe different now) the work appeared to be un-credited in the space. The sculpture was commissioned in 1990 by The Public Art Commissions Agency. Lead by the redoubtable Vivien Lovell (now heading up her own practice), PACA was one of several regional public art commissions agencies set up by Arts Council of GB to promote best practice in public commissioning by offering subsidised services to local government and private entities. By the end of the 1990’s most of these agencies had broken up into individual private practice; National Lottery funding had made the public art sector a more stable business and the vaguries of regular Arts Council support via Regional Arts Board made publicly-supported agencies much less viable.

Tye’s work was part of a grand scheme for public art around the Convention Centre (architects Percy Thomas Partnership, 1991) and Centenary Square, including a massive surface treatment by Tess Jaray and a central sculpture by Raymond Mason, Forward.

When I used to lecture about public art, I’m afraid that I sometimes used this image to illustrate Tom Wolfe’s memorable phrase ‘Turd In the Plaza’ (a phrase taken from The Worship of Art, Harpers, 1984; attributed by Wolfe to James Wines, founder of SITE. Personally, I think Wolfe just made it up). Further public space wags then coined Plop Art , delightfully continuing the lavatorial theme, to describe public art works that appeared to be simply placed, rather than sited or fully integrated,  within the urban fabric that they were intended to enhance. Essentially it  became a term like ‘political correctness’ that was simple used to describe something that you didn’t like, a self-conciously ‘edgy’ phrase, used by artists, architects, theorists and policy-makers as a public art strawman. I felt that Battle of the Gods and the Giants expressed the concept rather well, since it was both turd-shaped and at the exit/rear of the Convention centre, in addition to being completely devoid of any conceptual or physical connection to its surroundings. Literally a cloud, floating without anchor, in a courtyard of brick, surrounded by planters and Homebase  garden furniture.  However, after reading about Roderick Tye, a sculptor, educator and fly-fisherman, who died in 2009 at aged just 50, I’m sorry that his work was not done better justice by its commissioners and owners.

Tip’o’the Pin to George Noszlopy’s The Public Sculpture of Birmingham.

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Teesdale Way

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So, long time, no blog. And here’s a change for the new year. Until I can get myself in shape to a) find and b) scan a pile of new postcards, I will be posting images from my own collection, 35 mm slides taken when I was ***** at the ****** of England. Part of my job at that institution (since it was pretty much completely unsupervised) was to go around England assessing public art work that had been paid for by the National Lottery. Since, as it appeared to me, no one else was doing it, I also photographed these works of art, since I thought that it might a good idea if the ***** of England actually had a visual record on what the public’s money had been spent. So…many happy/days hours since exploring some of the hidden corners of England, and some really evocative and authentic works of public sculpture and some of the truly dire…

This is Richard Wentworth’s work as the lead artist for the Teesdale Trail, that follows the river Tees from the Cumbrian moors down to the North Sea:  a £70,000 project headed by Teesdale District Council, and group-funded as part of the 1996 Year of Visual Arts in the North (itself part of the Arts Council’s Arts 2000 initiative, launched in 1990, project of Lord Palumbo, then Arts Council of Great Britain Chairman). There maybe more about Arts 2000 on this blog, since, coinciding with a change of government, the Arts Lottery (which paid for much of the commissioned work on the North), and the break-up of AC of GB ended up looking rather different to Peter Palumbo’s original intent. The commission of Wentworth for the trail was the first purely public art project to be supported by the National Lottery, and was managed by Cleveland Arts (Now Tees Valley Arts), who were instrumental, with a committed and expert leadership, in bringing a number of important artists to make work in the NE in the 1990’s.

I was then, and still am, a big fan of Richard Wentworth (I’m the proud owner of two of the genius black-and-white dinner plates that he produced for the famous fund-raising gala dinner for the Serpentine Gallery with Princess Diana back in 1995), who’s public work is more concerned with the everyday physical compromises and accommodations that must be made if we are to live together, rather than the grand statement. To apply him to a rural setting is a fascinating project, and a tribute to the expertise at Cleveland Arts. This resulted in an object-based series of works that obliquely referenced both Wentworth’s sculpture and the kind of historicised and forgotten objects, bollards, boot-scrapers, milestones and the like, that can be found on rural pathways. Wentworth probably isn’t as fashionable as he used to be, but his deconstructed use of found objects, visual puns and public space echo is much of what is made as sculpture today. These parish boundary markers are simply cast in iron, and are split longitudinally, with a dinner plate-shaped capital, and the parish name incised on the side (lettering by Karl Fisher). This image was taken on the boundary of the parish of Eggleston and Middleton. The markers lay on the path in the lee of Egglestone Abbey, a picturesque ruin for a spring day in the North Riding.

If I continue with these postings, I will credit the superb Public Sculpture of Britain Series, published by the PMSA and Liverpool University Press. This series of books is an invaluable gazetter of art in public space throughout the UK. I have my own resources, but these volumes are great for getting the facts right.

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Spitfire Parade

Paul Nash (1889-1946)
Battle of Britain, 1941
Oil on Canvas
(c) Imperial War Museums (art.IWM ART LD 1550)

So here’s a thing.  My grandmother was a painter, and both my parents were architects and also painted, and the tradition of mid-century English painting and design was present in my early life to such an extent that, for me as a child, it seemed that that was how painting was done…which was why my discovery of Pop or Abstract Expressionism at school such a mind-blowing revelation. Because Spencer, Nash, Moore, Ravilious, Baynes, Piper, Sutherland, Hale; that mid-century aesthetic, forged in two world wars, but coloured with the gentility of the middle class, created the way that I, we, perceive visual culture: the Home Counties Apocalypse of John Wyndam, or John Christopher, souring into the nihilistic rationalist psychedelia of Aldis and Ballard.

So it is hard for me to name this work or even see this as art, since this is a baseline from which all art (by definition, deviation) deviates. I’ve come to love it, but it is a love of nostalgia, not of knowledge. Living in the US, this work is unavailable to any real extent, in the same why that Turner, the antecedent of this work, is also a virtual unknown.  Nash’s painting as war artist of WW2 shows the conflict as a sometime surreal dream, a dream where the details, the shine of water, the tilt of the horizon from the cockpit, are more present than actual visceral realities of conflict. What strikes in this image is not the clash of man and machine, but sheer vastness of the space in which that conflict takes place.  Testimony from fighter and bomber pilots from the war are not about close contact, but about the distance between objects; the size of the canvas on which they played. And of course, for a boy (man) my age, the Battle of Britain is one of the heroic definitions of our generation. This painting makes real the revelation that the war in the air was not about ideology, men or machine, but about space (so back to Ballard and the surreal again).

We had a Nash on the wall in the JCR at college; a painting of tanks on exercise on Salisbury plain (where I was at school); though oddly I can’t find a reference for the painting online. I also knew Nash’s nephew, Peter-Paul Nash, the composer, for a while; he married a good friend of mine.

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Adventures In Time And Space

LUCIO FONTANA. Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’ 1960
Canvas, 93x73cm
Tate (T00694)
Purchased 1964
5032495-015516 1.5M1201

This is a birthday card from my mum for my 4oth birthday. I know next to nothing about Lucio Fontana, and what I do know you can know out too, by searching ‘Lucio Fontana’ on Google. He was Argentinian. He lived in Italy and the US. He invented an artistic movement that he called ‘Spatialism’. He died in 1968, and was born in 1899. He was a precursor to Arte Povera.Born, like me in 1the 1960’s,  Spatial Concept ‘Waiting’, entered the Tate collection in 1964.

I was taken to the Tate, the old Tate Gallery at Millbank, before all the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, Oil Tanks etc, often when a child, and when at boarding school, and when at college in Oxford and London, I went a lot on my own. Though I knew then even less about Fontana than I know now (how did we really know anything before the internet?), this enigmatic image, dour and dun, with the vertical slash of black, was one of my favourites. It seemed to be always on display in some amorphous modern gallery or whatever, and thus, in the days before education departments and audio tours, it hung un-connected, without explanation or argument, silent and solitary. While we were taught art history at school, with varying degrees of success, Lucio Fontana, buried in the complexities of post WWII Europe, beyond the trajectory of A Level Art History, was on his own, a artwork without history or meaning.

Fontana wrote (taking from the Tate catalogue note): ‘The picture “Spatial Concept” WAITING was based on my researches….to be precise a new dimension beyond the canvas, time and space, the freedom to produce a work of art, liberating myself from the traditional canons of painting and sculpture’. The sculpture (painting? It’s in a frame) seemed to promise a world beyond, behind or between; that a simple act (an act of violence? Not necessarily) could result in something never seen, something genuinely new. I still prefer my art experience to be unadorned and unmediated; and in those days one could directly confront an artwork without needing know about its means or method. And that seems to be appropriate for this work, which speaks only of possibility and challenge. Perhaps the browning canvas reminded my of the hessian wall coverings and carpets in my parent’s modernist home; that one could strike beyond the veil of the normal to wild adventures in dimensions unknown. I think Fontana was striking a blow for art; for the boy watching for worlds beyond even that.

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Antiques Village

Antiques Village, Metro Centre, Gateshead. G.022007L
Photograph by E.Storey. A Dennis Postcard

In the spirit of the boring postcard, here’s lovely one of the sadly defunct Antiques Village from the Metro Centre in Gateshead, Britain’s first shopping mall/centre. I can’t remember when or where I bought this, but, I suppose, given the specialised nature of the image, it must have been in Gateshead (Newcastle Central Station, WHSmiths?). The card is a classic of its type, with subject of the photograph in darkness, while the expanse of brown-tiled flooring takes up 1/3 of the picture.

I spent a lot of time in Newcastle in the 90’s, working on a lot of arts funding projects; both Newcastle, and especially Gateshead, who were very prescient in their arts infrastructure decisions.  Gateshead suffers from being ‘on-the-way-to’ Newcastle, and I’ve never been to the Metro Centre, but it looks wonderfully eighties. The nearest I got to the Metro was the Gateshead Garden Festival in 1990, part funded by my then employer. Pre-the John Major National Lottery, the Garden Festivals were a Thatcher-era boondoggle to assist in the regeneration of post-industrial Britain. The Gateshead festival had a pretty forward looking  arts commissioning programme, that has provided me with many happy hours of identifying where all that art ended up (some, weirdly, in the pre-YBA collection of Lord Palumbo: whatever happened to him?). I was going to try and come up with something on the awesomeness of Edward Thomas West Dennis & Sons Ltd., Scarborough, postcards, but I see that the internet has beaten me to it.

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All About Eve’s

Tony and Eve welcome you to Hector, Minnesota. Located on Main St (Highway 4), just 3 blocks north of US Highway 212, Tony and Eve’s Place offers the traveler a refreshing rest in his journey. 1969.

Hector is a small town to west of Minneapolis off, as the card says, Highway 212. Population 1151, according to the 2010 census, a considerable drop from 1969, even from 2000. No point in giving much more detail about Hector, since that’s all pretty easy to find if you’re thinking about moving there. So what to say about the card? The decline of the Mom and Pop lunch place and general store? The vernacluar architecture of rural Minnesota; yellow brick, glass block, and simple rebuilding of the wood fronted general store that we know from cowboy films? 1960’s advertising and how little this has changed, really, in these remote outposts; RC Cola, Coca Cola, Hamms’s beer? The RC Cola machine on the street; how all these services, as was predicted, has now gravitated to the gas station instead? The understated sexism of the male traveler, perhaps purchasing a card to mail to the family back home? Al these dull things, I suppose, but mainly what came to mind is the sub-genre of the Martin Parr boring postcard, of which this must surely rate highly. This is patronising in both a metropolitan and temporal way;  what exactly would be an interesting postcard, anyway? As images have now ceased to be physical, and can be taken and deleted at will, the boring postcard (of which, if i keep it up, there will be many on this blog), is often the only record of a place and a time. Tony and Eve’s is long gone, yet we still know them, their store, their town, and the series of decisions that lead them to purchase a small postcard of their business enterprise in 1969, published by the Hector Mirror. Point being is that everything is interesting: something can be drawn from seeming nothing.

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Talking Heads

Gabriel Orozco, Black Kites 1997. Philadelphia Museum of Art: gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. James P Magill.

Another card purchased at this year’s Documenta 13. Black Kites by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco.

You have to qualify Orozco with ‘Mexican’, for the first point of contact with this piece is always the decorated skulls of pre-Cortes Mexico, the ghoulish remnants of the Aztec death cult, or the crystal skulls of Arthur C Clark (and, sadly, Indiana Jones), the ones that you pick up in Glastonbury for a hundred quid or so, and that are always fakes (notwithstanding what your flatmate’s crazy tour manager might say).

Black Kite might also remind the reader of the Cheel Gaar of the Indian Parsi and Dakhma of  the ancient Persian Zoroastrians, the sky burials of Tibetan Buddhism, where kites and other birds of prey wheel over the towers of silence. All these things a skull can tell us: so far, so Damien.

But of this sculpture, produced by Orozco for Catherine David’s curation of Documenta X in 1997, is explicitly none of those things. If the skull is the ultimate ready-made, the structure that lurks, a la Ray Bradbury, below the skin, then Orozco’s intimate encounter with the skull is his attempt to understand and map that inner geography. Pencil, ink, bone; these are the tools for our understanding for millennia. The black inked squares do not decorate the skull, they map it, the distorting into kites as the graphite pencil diamonds fall across the complex surface of the skull. The Chuck Close distortion in the postcard image reads this an object that cannot be mapped in 2 dimensions, I am a sculpture that can only be experienced as real, the skull smiles grimly.  Black Kites operates in the most effective mode of artistic expression; ambiguity. While the work speaks to me of the gothic and the memento mori of the decorated skull, it also tells of art’s attempt to map and understand what it is to be human: the desperation of Patrick Bateman as he plunges his hands into the corpse of another hooker, the childish decoration of found bone, or the waving checkered flag that signals the end of the final race. As a child, my parents once bought me a gift from Italy, a small bag of crudely decorated coloured balls, painted in modeling enamels with the colours of the Sienese Palio, basic, simple, tourist knick-knack, yet each marked with hand of the artist. Black Kites connects these impulses, producing a folk-art digital map of the structure that lies below all humans; simple, direct and supremely subtle.

The obvious connect, exactly tens from Black Kites years on, would be with Damien Hirst’s For The Love Of God (2007); and again, the comparison between the works can only be instructive. The usefulness of Hirst as a visual culture construct is that he is a truly bad artist, trite, un-imaginative, deeply conservative, and so his incredible success is both unsurprising and an illumination of the poverty of creative expression of our times. His genius is his approach to mirroring those times. Hirst’s diamond encrusted platinum gee jaw tells us how we live now, but contrasting his carbon gemstones with the graphite diamonds of Black Kites (and how can we say that one work did not influence the other? I can imagine Hirst standing in front of Orozco’s work and thinking, surely I can say this better?), we can see how Orozco asks how we live at all. If you want to know understand the visual culture of the early C21 (a noble and usual impulse, but easily satisfied) look at Hirst, if you want seek to consider our human existence, look at Gabriel Orozco. One is temporal, the other eternal.

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Apocalypse 1160

Verdun, Bbl. de la ville, crd 66, Commentarius in Apocalpsin
Verduner Schule, wohl um 1160

This a photograph from my old Courtauld cache of a page from the Municipal library in Verdun, Northern France. It’s labelled as an image from the Commentary on the Apocalypse of St John the Divine; and there he is, John of Patmos being boiled in oil by the Emperor Domitian. Not only did the Saint miraculously survive, but the entire audience in the Coliseum were converted to Christianity. Still, he ended up being exiled to Patmos, anyway. I’m seeing the upper panel as the sinuous figure of John on his island, being divinely inspired to write his Apocalypse by an angel and a single trumpet.  This is page 1 after all. Unfortunately the online catalogue for the Verdun Library does not list this MS, and any search for Monasterio Sancti bitoni (from which this MS presumably came) only ends up with pages and pages of the pneumatic and distressingly hardcore Audrey Bitoni (ah, the internet!); which may mean that I’m mis-reading that lowercase b. It certainly seems that there is no Saint Bitoni; maybe a search of all x-itoni religious houses in Northern France?

Carl Nordenfalk, who took the photograph, helpfully indentifies it as School of Verdun, c 1160. It’s certainly early french, with beautiful sketchy style. I’d be surprised if the figures did not come from a musterbuch of some kind; though I’m equally surprised that Nordenfalk didn’t have a stab at identifying that himself. It’s clear that one of the books owners were similarly inspired to copy the figures and provide their own inscriptions; there may have been more, since it looks from the top edgge of the page that the book was cut down and rebound at some point.

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Dogfight

PHILIP CASTLE
DID ANY OF YOU GUYS SEE THAT?
Airbrush tempera, 1977. 36″ x 24″
Collection Tony May (Francis Kyle Gallery, London)
PUBLISHED BY ARTISTS’ CARDS, LONDON No. 55

Did Any of You Guys See That? by Phillip Castle (1977) was one of the reasons that I picked on this particular method of generating blog posts. I love this image and have always thought it awesome, and, again bought this card from the little bookshop in the Covered Market in Oxford. Three McDonell-Douglas F15s soar though a cloud-bank, ready to engage a radar signal that is…is actually a giant topless angel, who looks like she’s really enjoying her new jeans…er…jeans that are actually Soviet jeans made of…aluminium? Aircraft fusilage? Something airbourne and awesome, anyway.

However try and find it on the internet: it’s not there…but now it is! Inspired by my friends at ROLU, one of the hopes for this blog (if I keep at it) is to present a resource of images that are not currently available via the WWW. The resource of the WWW only exists because we create it…it’s ours to make.

Castle was a prolific and successful commercial artist; one of the airbrush pioneers in the UK. He published two books Airflow (1980; introduction by Stephen Bayley, no less) and (confusingly) Airshow (1990). He taught at the Royal College and designed classic album covers for Wings, Bowie (Aladdin Sane 1973) and Pulp (His’n’Hers 1994). Working with pop artist Alan Jones he created the poster for the film adaptation of Michael Moorcocks’ The Final Programme (Robert Fuest 1973). (Fuest directed another of my favourite movies, The Abominable Doctor Phibes, perhaps the best slice of retro 1970’s film design). He’s perhaps most famous for art direction and poster design for A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick 1971); the ‘1970’s of the future’ look of Alex and his droogs is largely that of Castle. He’d work with Kubrick again on the poster for Barry Lyndon (1975) and for Full Metal Jacket (1987), another movie set to the devastating effect of men and institutionalised violence (set in 1967-8, just 3 years before A Clockwork Orange). Castle (it says here) is still working, had a gallery show back in 2000 (damn, missed that), and designed the covers for the Fairford (Glos) Air Tattoo, where, at last, his mad 1970’s airbrush skills designs start to look authentically dated…

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