Archives for posts with tag: Sculpture

In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part four

Cy Twombly, Untitled, 2004
Bronze
81 x 38.5 x 29.5 cm
(foreground)

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Snafu), 2009
Bronze
89.3 x 40 x 19.3 cm
(background)

David:

For me, Twombly’s paintings and sculptures are distinct – yet they do share this particular relationship with the colour white. It is more than just a ground in the paintings, it has purity and space. And for the sculptures too, it draws the forms together and also softens the light hitting them. These are not shiny objects – that seems important; is it because it makes them feel somehow timeless? Although they are very definitely not from another age. Interesting to note though that while some of the sculpture is cardboard painted white, other pieces are bronze painted white. So he is playing with us to some extent.

The paintings have so much motion and energy and yet the sculpture feels very still – they have none of that manic gestural dynamic that is one of the main characteristics of the paintings. Would you like to have seen some of the paintings alongside the sculpture? Are shows that are exclusively one or the other helping or hindering the understanding of the work?

Richard:

Yes, it would be interesting to see the two together (or at least in the same show) – partly because the paintings are often on a larger scale and seem more cerebral and distant as a result. These sculptures are on a human scale – it’s easy to imagine how they were made – there seems to be no special skill used in their making. The same couldn’t be said of the paintings, which to me always seem very precise and measured despite the marks used to create them. And Twombly is in total control of his mark making – I can’t imagine anyone successfully imitating his approach and so the paintings exhibit a unique skill.

Where I think there is a similarity in the use of the two media and why they seem consistent with each other is that there are ideas buried deep in the work – these objects are propositions. And in both painting and sculpture Twombly is economical with marks/ images to sharpen the viewer’s focus on something. All deceptively simple and delivered with a lightness of touch.

Can we talk about this piece?:

Cy Twombly, Untitled (In Memory Of Babur), 2009
Bronze
76 x 54.8 x 35.3 cm

David:

I want to say that it looks like a prehistoric handbag, but I probably shouldn’t…this is bronze, isn’t it? It seems like a very opaque ancient artefact…I was interested that you thought Twombly’s work is a proposition of some sort. What is being proposed do you think?

All those people who used to drone on about plinths are echoing in my head too. Very much a part of this work. For me this work is a distillation of our fetishisation of ancient cultures, but with the content removed. Its aged surface, and its cryptic, but definite shape, recall the stylised horns of a pagan god. Listening to too much black metal again perhaps, but an echo of the past is here.

Richard:

That’s really funny! I don’t see it as anything recogniseable. It looks to me like some kind of (deep) symbol – like an element of a pictographic written language.

They are simple propositions – how about this mark/ shape/ object – could this convey meaning – how deeply does this resonate?

Yes, I think the echoes of the past are deliberate – and Twombly is probing the symbolism of his marks, turning things over to see what’s underneath. Black metal aside, is there poetry in here?

David:

I’m really not sure.

I can see an oblique link to the past – which means a sort of fetish for the strong emotions of classical stories and images, reinterpreted – in his paintings – by a kind of brilliant mutation of abstract expressionism. But the sculpture in this show, while still redolent of the past, is mute.

The spontaneity of gesture in the paintings is a living language, but the sculptures feel like relics, shells, ghosts. There is no juice in them. The bloody, sexy mess that inhabits the paintings is departed, and these are the bleached bones.

So yes, maybe that is a kind of poetry.

Cy Twombly, Untitled (Humpty Dumpty), 2004
Bronze
73 x 49 x 49 cm

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Part one of this conversation can be found here, part two here and part three here.

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To see much nicer images of these works visit Michael Werner Gallery here and Gagosian here.

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David Cook has been reviewing exhibitions in the capital on his blog London Eyeball since 29th May 2012. You can delve in here.

In early October 2019 David Cook and I visited Peter Doig: Paintings at Michael Werner, and Cy Twombly: Sculpture at Gagosian, both in London. Afterwards, we discussed the shows by email. The following is the result of several weeks of electronic toing and froing...part three

David:

Yes, we are miles apart on this one! I suppose when I said it looked like the work of any old Expressionist painter, that was a lazy way of saying that some of the distortions seem a little over familiar and the non-perceptual colours and shapes used to suggest emotion seem second hand. Doig isn’t an emotional exhibitionist in the same way as the original Expressionists, but he is – like them – trying to nudge our emotional compass. It’s odd…his art appears naive to me, but it really isn’t. There is a slightly disingenuous quality to that.

Before we move on shall we just look at Night Bathers, (which I think we weren’t actually able to see on the day we went)? It has this same ambiguous innocence and slightly deceptive naive quality. It also has strong echoes of Gauguin and seems to be an aftershock of an unacknowledged sensuality. Is there a parallel between Doig’s Trinidad and Gauguin’s Tahiti?

This is another one I have a hard time with.

Peter Doig, “Night Bathers”, 2019
Oil on linen
275 x 200 cm

Richard:

This is interesting because the figures appear to be floating and the sea looks like a concrete wall. The various elements of the picture are very jarring in that the style of every area of the painting seems very different – the building! Ha, that’s brilliant!  It’s a superb palette as well – kind of descriptive of night time on a beach, whilst referencing modernist paintings and being toxic enough that it seems contemporary.

I agree with you that these paintings are not naïve – there’s an argumentative intensity to the clash of painting styles – and it’s a fine balancing act. They are irritating and sensual enough that I worry over the intent. And the images are simple enough that they linger in the memory. Maybe what I like most about these paintings is the element of risk at their heart – something which is not obvious in the earlier work (although maybe then the risk then was being a painter in a post-painting art world).

Shall we talk about Cy Twombly?

David:

Yes, let’s talk about Cy. A short stroll took us from Doig to Twombly, to a show of his sculpture. I can think of very little to connect the two artists except perhaps that they both live/lived in a kind of exile: Doig in Trinidad, Twombly in Rome. Perhaps both to some extent were ill at ease with their native North American culture.

Twombly always created works that feel harmoniously whole and strangely alive, like he was touching some kind of trunk cable inside himself and holding on as its current ran through him. And I love that very simple entry point the works have – energy, form, stillness. A certain kind of perverse wit, daring the viewer to see the work for what it really is – in the case of the sculpture, a lot of white paint on some old cardboard – but at the same time feel the wholeness of the form.

I know some people don’t like painted sculpture at all – but I disagree. I don’t know why Twombly did it though. Do you think the white paint on the objects is a kind of reference to the Carrara marble in ancient Rome?

Cy Twombly, Untitled (To Apollinaire), 2009
Wood, white paint, cardboard,
and plastic strings
53.3 x 30.5 x 24.1 cm

Richard:

The paint has been applied partly to create a tension between the form and the materials. We are being invited to contemplate forms made of cheap, everyday materials at a slight remove – because of the uniformity of the paint. The effect would not be the same if we were presented with an arrangement of cardboard boxes, bearing handling instructions, manufacturer’s logos and in different shades of brown. I don’t think the materials are supposed to be a distraction in that way. And, yes, I think the sculptures could well be referencing Carrara marble and playfully asking the viewer if a sculpture has to be made from particular materials to be worthy of serious contemplation.

While we’re talking about paint – do you think these works are extensions of Twombly’s painting practice or something distinct?

To be continued…

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Part one of this conversation can be found here and part two here.

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In early June 2018 David Cook and I visited Joseph Beuys: Utopia At The Stag Monuments at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 17th April to 16th June 2018. Afterwards, we discussed the show by email. The following is the result of several weeks’ electronic toing and froing.

David: It’s time we went upstairs, I think. The Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac is a generous refurbishment of a sumptuous town house in Dover Street in Mayfair – one of the most expensive areas in the world. But we are swimming in space as we go up the double staircase. There is a ‘sparse hang’ along the corridor of a few multiples and drawings, with the white walls and the oak floors it all feels very much as it should do – the works have plenty of space, but you can still get close. Then we arrive at the end room…

Richard: Having seen Feldbett (Campaign Bed), 1982 on the ground floor, which has a quiet but authoritative power (and that familiar sense of commemoration that accompanies a lot of Beuys works), I was expecting something good for the last room of the show. The Library Gallery – the main room on the first floor of the gallery contained five works: Tisch mit Aggregat (Table with Aggregate), 1958-1985, Hirsch (Stag), 1958/1982,  Boothia Felix, 1958/1982, Ziege (Goat), 1958/1982 and Urtiere (Primordial Animals), 1958/1982. Taken in isolation I’m sure these sculptures have the power to enthral, to drag you into their strange world/ mind-set shared with Beuys’ best work. For me the arrangement of the works – dotted around the floor in close proximity to each other dissipated the works’ energy – their individual meanings seeming to bleed into and cancel each other out. The collected works did not work as an artistic siphonophore, despite their uniformity of appearance. The room was difficult to look at, and digest in any meaningful way and I think it was a missed opportunity. At Tate Modern the placement of the works in the Beuys room seems to work to the individual works’ advantage rather than against them (major works are given room to breathe). What did you think of the final room?

David: For me the last room upstairs was a curatorial misstep. I was baffled, almost as if I suddenly couldn’t understand a language I knew well. It made me aware of how any exhibition depends on tension between the exhibits – but if they actually mix and fight each other then the net result is a nullification. A bit like mixing colours in a painting…if you mix them too much all you get is a grey mess. And I speak from experience! I wonder if that kind of separation was why Beuys himself was so fond of vitrines? They are almost like mini-installations.

Richard: Yes, the vitrines are like a discreet closed world – the box frames the objects inviting the viewer to consider their function and their relationship to each other. The final room of this exhibition does the opposite – it presents a chaotic jumble of objects – and reminds me of sightseeing in the Louvre – you get to half-glimpse the Mona Lisa in a sea of people – not so much an art experience as a box ticking exercise. Utopia at the Stag Monuments: yep, seen that.

David: Maybe the arrangement of objects is shamanistic magic. Unless you are a member of the Shaman’s Guild, an arrangement of objects is just…objects.
If you are a bona fide shaman, however, you can make the objects talk to one another and open doors in reality through which we glimpse meaning. Or endow them with a kind of residual charge by using them in a certain way – so that they become an art battery where creative power is stored. When this happens it is as if Beuys’ strange rituals and fetishes can connect the present to the past. I don’t think of Beuys as New Age in any way, but he certainly was able to take advantage of interest in atavistic spirituality to draw punters in to his circle. The spiritual void of our modern tribe is so huge and we feel it keenly; yet we are so close, not only to our ancestors, but also to the energy of the Earth and many other eternal things. This for me is Beuys’ legacy now that his charismatic presence is gone.

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In early June 2018 David Cook and I visited Joseph Beuys: Utopia At The Stag Monuments at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 17th April to 16th June 2018. Afterwards, we discussed the show by email. The following is the result of several weeks’ electronic toing and froing.

Richard: One of the things that makes his work so magnetic is the fusion of the commonplace with the spiritual and intellectual – as if every object he touched was a means of deep psychological and material exploration for him and (possibly as a byproduct) a way to awaken curiosity about the physical world in the viewer. There’s a roughness and vitality to the drawings that makes them very difficult to co-opt for commercial purposes. How much do you think Beuys’ aesthetic/ anti-aesthetic has entered the vocabulary of advertising and media (I remember in the mid-Eighties Green from Scritti Politti citing Beuys as an influence on his record cover design)?

David: I’m not sure if Scritti Politti album covers form part of the advertising mainstream…but I think Beuys did a whisky commercial in Japan once? Or was that a myth? I don’t think that his style – if you want to call it that – could ever really work in advertising because he is not glorifying or glamourising his subjects. He is sort of Beuysifying them – the object is somehow turned into a stand-in for the physical properties of its construction, or its essence. He uses objects to translate his vision for us mere mortals, who cannot apprehend the scope of his abstract vision otherwise. Hidden from view but revealed to us by a Shaman (Beuys) through the change wrought to familiar objects – he has reinvented the role of priest and intercessionary between us and the divine. It’s not quite in the same vein as Jasper Johns who seems to borrow familiar objects as much for their formal aesthetic qualities as their familiarity. I would argue that advertising creatives have almost a diametrically opposing function – also reinventing priesthood in their own image, but very much in the pre Reformation sense of a priesthood that offers you the chance to buy indulgences – which is what they were really called – which gave you forgiveness and entry to paradise. Beuys is a modern day Luther ranting desperately against this lazy tyranny of materialism. Do you think his work has been absorbed into the commercial mainstream?

Richard: Nothing can be forgotten on the internet (if this is genuine): https://youtu.be/ARS3TO9r_z4 Completely agree with you about advertising creatives.  And think that maybe his use of objects is impossible for the mainstream to co-opt without creating some kind of weak pastiche. The aesthetic operation is what I think Green used.

For all the reasons you listed I think maybe Beuys is inimitable – I can’t think of a single other artist who makes work like him and he doesn’t seem to have any followers. I wonder if remaking yourself as a shamanic figure has this effect. There is a point in the show where Beuys’ work seems to change from being fairly straight representations of the earth goddess, stags etc to looking like he has been channelling some kind of outside force to create the work, inhabiting or being inhabited by pagan forces. I wonder whether Beuys considered this an artistic breakthrough or just another step in his creative evolution. Once he starts making non-objective work (i.e. not picturing something) Beuys seems very present in everything  he makes. Is everything from this point on a performance/ action or a by-product of one?

David: Looking at the Scritti Politti cover, it does remind me of Beuys’ work, at least superficially. The black rubber stamp in particular suggests more than an accidental resemblance. That may be as far as the similarity goes though…

As I recall they chose their name just because they liked the way it sounded, rather than what it actually meant. This might be the same story?

From my understanding of shamanism (looking at Beuys’ work and watching the Mighty Boosh), that is exactly what it is – a progressively closer identification with an object of fascination and power until the Shaman’s own identity is changed. You start by wearing the clothes as a costume but they eventually become your skin. Beuys’ actions are part of this process, but I would characterise them as rituals more than performances. I’m not sure they need an audience. If you saw one of Rauschenberg’s performances, you would feel as if you had seen a theatrical show, but if you had seen one of Beuys’ you might feel like a traveller in a remote region, stumbling across the priest of an obscure cult.

There have been one or two brave souls who have tried to follow Beuys down this kind of path to make Art, but without the conviction or aesthetics, and they disappear without trace. Richard Wilson is probably the only one I can think of who comes close, but he is so English – and (successfully) theatrical in his performances.

To Be Continued…

In early June 2018 David Cook and I visited Joseph Beuys: Utopia At The Stag Monuments at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, 17th April to 16th June 2018. Afterwards, we discussed the show by email. The following is the result of several weeks’ electronic toing and froing.

David: This show was like a refresher course in Beuys for me. I think we have both been big fans of Joseph Beuys for a long time – we became interested in him when he was still alive and making work. He was such a charismatic, individual artist with such a radical program. I sometimes try to explain his work to people who don’t know it, and it’s not easy! The first thing that I saw of his was Plight at the d’Offay gallery back in 1985 – one of the most powerful art experiences I have had. If I had seen the works in this show first though, I might have been a bit confused. Do you remember seeing his work for the first time? Would this show have been a good place to start?

Richard: The first Beuys works I saw were at Tate Britain when it was the Tate Gallery in the mid-80s – a couple of vitrines and a felt suit hanging on the wall – the objects weren’t that spectacular in themselves, but I think that’s what ignited my interest – they didn’t look like art. I bought a poster of one of Beuys’ sludgy green paintings and read any books about him I could get my hands on. I’m still excited to see his work. But I wouldn’t introduce someone to his work with this show – unless I got them to stay downstairs! Shall we talk about the drawings?

David: Beuys’ drawings are his fundamental tool. They translate experience in a completely individual way. And they have such a unique range of feel, they seem to be the work of many different artists. Some of them seem to be diagrams of the impossible drawn by an insane mind, or an alien.  Some of them are so faint it’s almost impossible to see them, others are just plain slabs of oily floor paint on paper. One thing I love about them is their museum standard frames that Beuys insisted on. The frames unify these disparate, often scrappy excrescences into a body of work and force you to appreciate them as the product of one mind and one hand. Their breadth of subject is extraordinary. It is as if he has considered everything in a para-scientific way. He uses art to describe the world – not just its surface appearance, but its history, natural forces seen and unseen, and the structures of human society – reinventing not only art but also science in a sort of philosophical slap around the face. Which is more fun than it sounds.

I once showed a book of Beuys drawings to someone who only drew from life, but was very open minded. He took a look, scratched his head, then took another look and said: “Well, he certainly has great taste…” The drawings certainly do have huge and sophisticated aesthetic appeal which is easy to overlook when you get caught up in the showmanship of the performances and installations, yet for me underpins Beuys’ whole vision – his crazy (or not so crazy) agenda for putting art at the centre of society. Knowing your preference for the awkward and the unbeautiful, do you find them, er…nice to look at?

Richard: Yes, I do! Beuys seems unconcerned with aesthetics (I think they’re more about getting something down on paper directly and without too much intervention), and because of that they are very liberating to look at in that you don’t have to appreciate their craftsmanship. I’m a big fan of the stains and smudges he made. Several of the drawings in this exhibition suggest ideas or representations, but don’t  deliver a “finished” view, leaving room for the viewer to complete the picture. Which makes the drawings very democratic (and in keeping with the idea of putting art at the centre of society). And I think you’re right about them being at the core of Beuys’ practice – this is the quiet, intimate space where he worked things out, whether in a thoughtful, representational way or as the vehicle for the mark. Are the drawings rehearsals for his other work?

David:
I don’t think the drawings are rehearsals so much as explanations. Beuys was very dedicated to teaching and the drawings often have the quality of diagrams or notes. But I don’t think you can hope to understand them in a rational way, any more than you can make a working battery out of an orange. There is some kind of aesthetic alchemy going on which attempts to connect different areas of human thought – e.g. the spiritual and the political – through art. A lot of this is driven by the use of materials to effectively represent themselves – floorpaint, beeswax, blood, felt and copper all have their place. I can’t think of another artist for whom the diversity of physical materials (and the uses to which they can be put in the real world) has been so critical – and it carries across from the drawing into the sculpture. In fact I am not entirely sure that Beuys himself would have really distinguished between the different forms.

To Be Continued…

Untitled photographs 1984, rephotographed and treated 2011