Art – The Upcoming Culture, trends, fashion from London and beyond | The Upcoming Fri, 24 Nov 2017 15:49:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Modigliani at Tate Modern | Exhibition review Wed, 22 Nov 2017 11:51:02 +0000 When it comes to Modigliani, the eyes have it. Cartoonish, blacked out or cross-hatched in palest blue, the gaze of a Modigliani portrait is both immediately present, following you round the room, and strangely absent, as if the personality of the sitter has been effaced through paint. It’s impossible to say exactly how the artist achieves this phenomenon, but the effect is undoubtedly unsettling.

Viewed en masse, as in the new exhibition at Tate Modern, these portraits have a power that is almost auratic. It helps, perhaps, that images of wealthy patrons and famous fellow artists rub shoulders with servants, local children and perhaps even prostitutes.

The diversity of this social milieu, the display implies, is emblematic of the variety of artistic movements, styles and media being experimented in Paris in the 1900s and 1910s. Certainly, traces of almost every famous artist and movement of the era can be seen in Modigliani’s paintings; cubism, pointillism and Cezanne’s post-impressionism can all be identified as influences.

Despite this, however, the artist manages to maintain a strikingly consistent aesthetic throughout his career. His swan-necked, black-eyed figures have now become iconic, and it is a treat to see some of his most important works in the flesh.

At the centre of the exhibition is a collection of 12 nudes, the largest group ever to be shown in the UK. Modigliani’s mastery at manipulating flesh tones makes these paintings an aesthetic sensual delight, but they are perhaps not as revolutionary as the show wants to make out. It seems almost unnecessary to point it out, but these “nudes” are all of women, and they are all pleasingly voluptuous without being overtly sexual in their content. The text points to the inclusion of pubic hair, but its tasteful depiction is no more revolutionary than that found in works by Goya or Courbet from the previous century. These are primarily objects to be looked at for the visual titillation of men, rather than bold proto-feminist depictions of women in charge of their sexuality.

In general, however, the exhibition is a feast for the eyes. Modigliani is a master of his medium and the show at Tate effectively conveys his skill. At times it lacks a clear narrative arc and it sometimes feels more focused on the identity of the sitters than on the artistic developments of the artist (an easy trap to fall into with figurative portraiture). Overall, however, Modigliani is a delightful foray into one of the world’s favourite artists.

Anna Souter
Photos: Daniel Donovan

Modigliani is at Tate Modern from 23rd November 2017 until 2nd April 2018. For further information or to book visit the Tate website here.

Photography: When does a picture become art? Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:48:38 +0000 The debate over photography being considered art is almost as old as the medium’s debut in the 19th century. It is frequently argued that a camera merely mimics what is in front of it; a photo is a simple and impersonal reproduction of an image and therefore cannot be construed as art. But is this true?

When we analyse the relationship between art and photography, it always comes down to the opposition in mediums: the dichotomy between paint brushes and cameras. A paint brush certainly requires a handle and dexterity that is mastered by few, whilst the camera saturates our lives and is accessible to anyone. Despite this, however, a painting – like a photograph – can be manipulated and adapted without even the work of Photoshop. Such is the case with American photographer Sally Mann, whose controversial series Family Pictures depicts photos of her children not only semi-nude but also corpse-like.

Family Pictures, Sally Mann, 1984-91

Her daughter’s body lies limp on what appears to be a man’s lap, her eyes are closed and her face is vacant. The unidentified figure holds his finger to her neck as though he’s reading her pulse. The way the light falls on the child’s face is almost phantasmal, and the black-and-white filter is emblematic of the Victorian practice of photographing dead children. However, this is completely staged. Mann has manipulated the lighting and the angle to make her daughter appear deceased – which still shocks many and fascinates others. Although contentious, it is exactly this blurring of truth and fiction in the photograph that transfixes us and renders the picture “art” in more traditional terms: it is unpredictable and has taken great artistry to achieve such an impressionable result.

However, defining what “art” is presents an even older and knottier debate, yet most have agreed that art is subjective and dependent on interpretation; so, usually, if a picture generates meaning it can be considered art. Just how subjective this is can be seen in many of the most famous artworks that adorn the walls of galleries. There exist two types of people in the art world: those who snort in disbelief at the success of Piet Mondrian’s Composition series, and those who argue that such a minimalistic image is ridden with layers of meaning. So if it is truly down to interpretation could every photographic image be a work of art if we regard it as such?

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red, Piet Mondrain, 1937-42

With the rise of social media and the ability to photograph anything at any time, can we honestly say a selfie is a work of art? Such photos, to many, are not interchangeable with the self-portrait, because the self-portrait in photography intends to document a shrouded side to the artist’s personality, whereas a selfie is considered purely self-indulgent. For many, the self-portrait, unlike the selfie, reveals something to the viewer, it is not purely cosmetic but instead expressive.

Untitled A, Cindy Sherman, 1975

Cindy Sherman is a hugely respected photographer of the 20th century, and used the self-portrait to depict various sides to her personality. By dressing herself up in various guises she managed to overturn gender roles and deconstruct the self, inspiring viewers, women and artists in the process. The difference between Cindy Sherman’s artistic self-portraits and the abundance of selfies we see on Instagram is therefore in the intent behind the photograph. Yet can selfies ever be intended to deconstruct the self? Or be used as a means of self-expression? The majority of selfies are, of course, taken as a means of instant gratification, a means to capture a moment when we feel particularly good about ourselves, but this moment is nonetheless expressive. It is still a means to probe and share a depiction of ourselves in a world awash with images. It is after all a carefully articulated and posed version of ourselves that we choose to exhibit in the very public world of social media. Although there will probably always be a distinction between the selfie and the self-portrait, the selfie is a prevalent form of self-expression, and a picture that produces a visceral exchange with the viewer and intends to define or express something can certainly be considered art.

Anna Harvey

For further information about Sally Mann visit the artist’s website here.

Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 at Tate Modern | Exhibition review Wed, 08 Nov 2017 12:41:32 +0000 Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55. It’s not the most gripping title, especially for an exhibition-going public who might well be a bit over Russia considering that it’s already been the subject of shows at the RA, British Library and Design Museum this year (to coincide with the centenary of the Russian Revolution of 1917). Nevertheless, Tate Modern has managed to pull it off, and this cleverly curated show is a must for those interested in the topic.

Branching out from the fine art it usually presents, Tate has dedicated this exhibition to the “visual culture” of the early USSR, from posters and propaganda to book designs, doctored photographs and police mug shots. The result is a fascinating glimpse into the story of 20th-century Russia told through visual imagery that is at times both inspiring and horrifying.

The first two rooms are dedicated to the early post-revolution years, when artists were encouraged to be experimental and radical in their practices, in an attempt to foster a new visual language for the Communist regime. Talented artists such as El Lissitzky and Aleksandr Rodchenko created posters and publications using photomontage and radical abstraction, the results of which are stunningly creative.

These artists often worked with their artistic and life partners in a collaborative way that echoed the ideals of Communism (and which is often forgotten by art history). The position of women is a subtle underlying theme of the exhibition. Women played many roles in the changing world of the USSR: from collaborative artists or conscripted soldiers, to oppressed farm workers, political enemies or the young suicidal wife of Stalin. One of the most striking images comes in the final room in the form of Nina Vatolina’s famous poster entitled Fascism – The Most Evil Enemy of Women (1941), aimed at empowering women to join the fight against the Nazis.

While many of the images on view are inspiringly creative, they jostle uneasily with the knowledge of the atrocities committed by the Communist regime, particularly during Stalin’s purges and the Great Terror of the 1930s. With the arrests of over 1.6 million people, ordinary citizens lived in a culture of fear and indoctrination, often defacing official photographs they owned in order to cut out or paint over images of those who had fallen out of favour.

The curators have struck an important balance between admiration for Russia’s creative visual culture and pathos regarding the tragedies that these images either hide or document. Concise and effective, this is a show worth seeing.

Anna Souter

Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 is at Tate Modern from 8th November 2017 until 18th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the Tate website here.

Watch the trailer for Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture here:

Five must-see London exhibitions in November 2017 Mon, 06 Nov 2017 12:06:53 +0000 From shows that cover our capacity to believe and some of Modigliani’s most iconic works, to yet another exhibition documenting the Russian Revolution, here’s what’s on in London this November.

Living with Gods at the British Museum

This exhibition – whose full title is Living with Gods: People, Places and Worlds Beyond – examines human beings’ relationship with belief, from societies 40,000 years ago to the present day. By exploring how people believe, not what they believe, the British Museum is able to chart the common threads of how human beings form their belief systems.

Living with Gods is at the British Museum from 2nd November 2017 until 8th April 2018. For further information or to book visit the British Museum website here.

Red Star over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 at Tate Modern

Every other exhibition seems to be about Russia at the moment, but the Russian Revolution of 1917 undoubtedly offers some powerful fodder. Red Star over Russia explores visual art and design in Soviet Russia from 1905 to 1955. Expect a dramatic visual history of this important period, with propaganda posters contrasted with photographic records and prints.

Red Star Over Russia: A Revolution in Visual Culture 1905-55 is at Tate Modern from 8th November 2017 until 18th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the Tate website here.

Beth Kettel at Zabludowicz Collection

Artist Beth Kettel works with installation and performance to push the boundaries of language to the limit. Her new work for the Zabludowicz Collection follows an absurd and surreal narrative that examines how meaning shifts through language and context.

Beth Kettel is at Zabludowicz Collection from 9th November until 17th December 2017. For further information or to book visit the Zabludowicz Collection website here.

Inside Pussy Riot at Saatchi Gallery 

This immersive exhibition comes with a disclaimer: “Not for the faint-hearted, come prepared to demonstrate and stand up for what you believe in!” To coincide with the centennial anniversary of the Russian Revolution, Inside Pussy Riot takes an in-depth look at the most famous protest group in Russia.

Inside Pussy Riot is at Saatchi Gallery from 14th November until 24th December 2017. For further information or to book visit the Saatchi Gallery website here.

Modigliani at Tate Modern  

Discover some of the most iconic artwork of the 20th century at Tate Modern. This comprehensive retrospective will explore Modigliani’s signature style and his fundamental role in the development of modern painting. One highlight will be a display of 12 Modigliani nudes, the largest group ever displayed together in the UK.

Modigliani is at Tate Modern from 23rd November 2017 until 3rd April 2018. For further information or to book visit the Tate website here.

Anna Souter

Monochrome: Painting in Black and White at the National Gallery | Exhibition review Thu, 02 Nov 2017 13:33:49 +0000 For museum-goers used to signing up for the usual Autumn blockbuster at the National Gallery, an exhibition devoted entirely to monochromatic art will come as something of a surprise. It’s undoubtedly a bold move by the institution. Rather than focusing on a particular household name or artistic relationship, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White makes a courageous attempt to take in the whole sweep of Western art history from a very specific angle.

Starting in the late medieval period and ending in the 1990s, the exhibition explores the uses and meanings of black and white painting through time. But while this might seem like a ridiculously narrow lens, it quickly becomes apparent that monochromatic painting is, in fact, hugely varied in its aims and techniques. This is something of a flaw in the exhibition, which jumps slightly randomly between subjects and eras. The digression into the relationship between print-making and grisaille painting, for example, feels unnecessary and dry.

Then again, in some places it feels like a strength. In one room, a Giacometti is flanked by a Picasso and an Ingres work. All are stunning; all reveal important aspects of each artist’s practice; and all are entirely different. The absence of colour leaves the viewer wondering about its meanings and power, so often taken for granted as an everyday part of our vision.

Elsewhere, a beautiful triptych is shown, unusually, with its doors nearly closed. On the outer panel are two grey saints, painted in a trompe l’oeil effect to resemble sculptures. Encased inside, you can just see a jewel-bright Virgin Mary, like a glimpse into heaven.

In the final section, there is an unexpected selection of modern works that utilise black and white for differing, and sometimes competing, ends. Again, some feel as if they have been chosen at random: there are so many black and white modern works to choose from, how did the curators choose these? In the middle, however, is Malevich’s black square, sitting like the zenith of all things monochrome and almost pulsating in the way it draws the eye.

The dramatic twist comes in the final room, which is not black and white, but orange. Olafur Eliasson’s installation bathes visitors in orange-yellow light, which has the strange effect of making everything it touches appear monochromatic. It’s an absolutely bizarre experience to look down at yourself and not recognise the clothes you’re wearing.

Visitors may find they leave this show wanting more. It’s certainly imperfect, but there are moments of deep and exquisite beauty in it that reveal a forgotten aspect of art history.

Anna Souter
Featured Image: Olafur Eliasson, Room for One Colour, 1997
Photo by Anders Sune Berg

Monochrome: Painting in Black and White is at the National Gallery from 30th October 2017 until 18th February 2018. For further information visit here.

The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London at Tate Britain | Exhibition review Tue, 31 Oct 2017 11:07:41 +0000 An exhibition about the Impressionists advertised with a dreamy Monet painting of the Thames: it seems guaranteed to be a hit. Certainly, the premise is art historically intriguing. Impressionists in London charts the stories of French artists who sought refuge in Britain during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), including Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, and explores the impact this sojourn had on their creativity.

The show starts well enough, with an interesting foray into the historical context, which may be little known in Britain. There are some strikingly emotive paintings of the siege of Paris and photographs of the city in ruins, setting a dramatic scene for the exile of some of France’s most prominent artists.

Unfortunately, however, it quickly becomes apparent that these were early days for Impressionism as a movement. So early, in fact, that when Monet first came to London he hadn’t even painted his most famous work, Impression, Sunrise (1872), which is credited with beginning the Impressionist movement.

Instead, the exhibition displays a few less mature works by Monet and Pissarro, before launching into a series of rooms focused on artists who have very little to do with Impressionism as we know it. These are quite interesting, but don’t add much to the exhibition’s argument that exile in London was fundamental to the development of Impressionism as a movement in France.

The most stunning paintings come towards the end of the show, and they really are extraordinary. On one wall sits a lone 1901 Monet painting of Leicester Square at night, the daubs of colour dramatically pre-figuring abstraction. Then, in the exquisite penultimate room, exhibition-goers are treated to a group of six paintings of the Houses of Parliament. These works were painted during Monet’s much later visit to London in 1903-1904, and are therefore essentially irrelevant to the development of Impressionism as a movement. Nevertheless, painted from slightly different angles at different times of day, this series makes the exhibition worth the entry price. Sunlight filters through the infamous London fog and ripples on the water, while the Gothic buildings appear to slip in and out of definition.

It’s a slightly frustrating exhibition; there is so much here to like and appreciate, and yet it feels as if it’s been padded out with work of lesser quality and relevance. Perhaps the best advice would be to avoid lingering over the earlier rooms and save your energy for the later Monets, which undoubtedly benefit from extended looking.

Anna Souter
Featured Image: Camille Pissarro, 
Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1890

The EY Exhibition: Impressionists in London, French Artists in Exile (1870-1904) is at Tate Britain from 2nd November 2017 until 29th April 2018, for further information or to book visit the Tate website here.

Cézanne Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery | Exhibition review Thu, 26 Oct 2017 14:48:24 +0000 Cézanne was never well known for his portraits, despite painting over 200 of them in his lifetime, and, in many ways, it isn’t hard to see why. The wide selection included in this exhibition are less attention-grabbing and draw from a more limited palette than many of his landscapes. In choosing to display paintings from all stages of Cézanne’s career, from very early works to those from the final years of his life, the curator John Elderfield also, by necessity, includes some more awkward and less accomplished pieces.

Nevertheless, even with fewer colours at his disposal, Cézanne’s characteristic and charming painting style remains apparent. The chronological timeline of pieces from throughout the artist’s life also allows visitors to get a real sense of his development, witnessing the experiments that allowed this style to emerge. The Cézanne paintings the average person is most familiar with are subtle and accomplished in their application of paint despite the impressionistic style. After witnessing earlier portraits in which the canvas is loaded with chunky swathes of paint, it becomes far easier to imagine what a shock he must have been to the contemporary art world.

Also fascinating is how this exhibition places multiple portraits of the same subject alongside each other, allowing similarities and differences to be observed. Unlike many of his peers, Cézanne never received a portrait commission and, indeed, seems to have struggled to produce portraits even as gifts for admirers and so his pool of sitters was limited. This, however, gave him the liberty to eschew conventions of portrait painting, such as depicting male figures as noble and female figures as beautiful and seductive. Cézanne’s portraits are thus more true to life than other similar paintings of the time but also, crucially, far more enigmatic. When emotion is depicted, its exact nature is hard to divine and this indeterminateness serves to draw greater attention to the artist’s excellent use of colour and form.

For both those who love Cézanne and those who know little about him, this is a comprehensive and intriguing exhibition, featuring numerous paintings never before displayed in the UK.

Vicky Munro
Photos: Erol Birsen

Cézanne Portraits is at the National Portrait Gallery from 26th October 2017 until 11th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the National Portrait Gallery website here.

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at the V&A | Exhibition review Mon, 23 Oct 2017 11:09:45 +0000 Opera: Passion, Power and Politics at the Victoria and Albert Museum is something new: this is the first time that a large-scale institutional exhibition has been dedicated to the art form, and the event marks the V&A’s first collaboration with the Royal Opera House. It is also the first exhibition to be shown in the museum’s brand new wing, marking a milestone of achievement for this ever-expanding institution.

Told through the lens of seven operatic premieres in seven cities, Opera: Passion, Power and Politics gives a history of Europe as much as a history of opera. The curators have done a brilliant job of explaining and demonstrating how integral opera was to the life of so many in these cities, and how its changing fashions and innovations capture the spirit of the age. In 1860s Paris, for example, Napoleon was reimagining the city with an opera house at the centre of his ambitious plans, while Wagner’s radical new approach to the art form polarised audiences in the French capital.

Inevitably, focusing on only seven cities and operas does mean that a number of key operatic (and historical) developments are missed out. As a snapshot of opera across the ages, however, the show works remarkably well.

As well as the expected manuscripts, posters and costumes, the exhibition also features some exciting visual installations, including a mechanised stage complete with moving waves, mermaids and ships, imaginatively inspired by Handel’s Rinaldo. As well as offering a comprehensive overview, the curators evidently want visitors to get a feel for the kind of opera being premiered during each highlighted period. Visitors can experience Opera: Passion, Power and Politics in as much or as little depth as they choose, and that can only be a good thing.

Like some of the V&A’s other highly successful shows, the exhibition is accompanied by a soundtrack played through headphones that changes as you travel past the exhibits. The well-chosen and high-quality recordings are essential to experiencing the displays, bringing them to life and helping visitors to immerse themselves in the musical and political world of each era.

Anna Souter
Featured Image: Ensemble in Spaceship
at the dress rehearsal of Einstein on the BeachPhilip Glass, 2013

Opera: Passion, Power and Politics is at the V&A from 30th September 2017 until 25th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the V&A website here.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic at the British Library | Exhibition review Thu, 19 Oct 2017 12:28:13 +0000 For the millions of Potterheads who never received their Hogwarts acceptance letters, Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the closest thing to a magical education. This exhibition runs from 20th October 2017 until 28th February 2018 at the British Library. New technology, old relics and artefacts from JK Rowling, author of the immensely popular Harry Potter novel series the show is based upon, bring the magic alive.

Housed in the many rooms of the exhibition are glimpses into the past, present and future of witchcraft and wizardry. Items from various museums all over the world, such as the British Museum, show how magic has always been interwoven with culture, and how the history of witchcraft and mystical creatures inspired Rowling’s writing. The Divination section holds the Chinese Oracle Bones, which were believed to tell the future and can be dated back to 27 December 1192 BC, as well as interactive tarot cards. Additionally, a 3,000-year-old cauldron from Battersea is near two animated cauldrons where visitors can make a variety of virtual concoctions. Another standout is a 400-year-old celestial globe that, thanks to augmented reality, allows visitors to view the constellations of the world, many of which have the same names of characters in the Harry Potter series.

Other notable items are the 500-year-old, six-metre Ripley Scroll illustrating the supposed process to make a Philosopher’s Stone, a “mermaid” discovered in 18th-century Japan, which is really a monkey’s body attached to a fish’s tail, and the earliest printed depiction of witches using a cauldron. The show also features artefacts from Rowling herself, such as original manuscripts with editors’ notes and a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Audiences of all ages and backgrounds will be bewitched by the display. “We think it’s an exhibition with a very wide appeal. This is about the history of magic, throughout all sorts of cultures…” says Joanna, one of the four curators of the show. This unique collection has magic powerful enough to unite Potterheads, history buffs and magic enthusiasts from all around the world.

Breathtaking, refreshing, and contemporary, this season’s most anticipated exhibit has already offered over 12,000 free tickets to students, and rightly so. Both educating and entertaining, the riveting content of The History of Magic is perfect for anyone worth their wand.

Laura Boyle
Photo: British Library

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is at the British Library from 20th October 2017 until 28th February 2018. For further information or to book visit the British Library website here.

Watch the trailer for Harry Potter: A History of Magic here:

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future at Tate Modern | Exhibition review Wed, 18 Oct 2017 15:50:02 +0000 The new – and intriguingly titled – exhibition at Tate Modern is the first major museum exhibition in the UK of work by artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. The members of this artistic duo are some of the most celebrated Russian artists of their generation, and the show is being staged to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

Ilya Kabakov started working as an artist in the 1960s. However, the official Soviet artistic style of Social Realism didn’t allow space for abstraction, conceptual art or the use of installation or found objects. This meant that Kabakov was forced to work in secret, supporting himself as an illustrator of children’s books. The first rooms of the exhibition show all the hallmarks of an artist working in relative isolation: flitting between artistic styles, experimenting with wildly different media and ideas.

One highlight is his 1985 work, The Man Who Flew into Space from His Apartment, an installation recreating a dingy room in a Soviet communal living block. In the middle of the room, however, there is a strange bungee apparatus and, looking up, there is a hole in the ceiling, as if the room’s resident has escaped his humdrum life by catapulting himself into space. A whole ream of metaphors and ideas suggest themselves through this simple concept, cleverly playing on ideas of the Space Race and art as escapism.

In 1987, Kabakov was finally allowed to leave the Soviet Union and travelled to the United States, where he met Emilia, who quickly became his partner in art and in life. Working collaboratively, the Kabakovs offer a very different model for artistic production, and some of what they have produced is strikingly powerful.

The star of the show is a fascinating and wholly unexpected installation entitled Labyrinth (My Mother’s Album) (1990). It begins with an unobtrusive door in the side of the gallery; enter it, and you’ll find a winding corridor that takes you in a spiral and out again. Claustrophobically recreating the corridors of Soviet buildings, the installation is both off-putting and intriguing, making you want to go on and go back simultaneously.

The exhibition is an exciting chance to get to know the work of artists who have been previously underappreciated in the UK. In addition to this, this sensitively curated show offers a rare opportunity to see several “total”, or whole-room installations exhibited together, giving an unusually deep insight into an installation practice that isn’t usually possible.

Anna Souter
Featured Image: Ilya Kabakov, 
Holiday #1, 1987

Ilya and Emilia Kabakov: Not Everyone Will Be Taken into the Future is at Tate Modern from 18th October 2017 until 28th January 2018. For further information or to book visit the Tate Modern website here.