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27 February 2012

London calling!

I feel culturally restored this week after a jam-packed two day visit to London. Five exhibitions and one conference (to end all conferences!) and a bag containing enough croissants and cheese to sustain me through it all.

First art exhibition stop of the day, was the 'Gesamtkunstwerk' exhibition at the Saatchi gallery featuring the work of over 24 'new' German artists. What can I say, it is difficult to be too critical about an exhibition that is on the scale and ambition of this one (that the Saatchi always does so well), and that is free entry to all. There was a reassuring mix of painters and sculptors in this exhibition, but might have been let down with little photography and no video (from what I can remember) and the feel I always get from Saatchi exhibitions is that the work on show is sometimes no more or less imaginative than what art students produce its just that the Saatchi artists' work is always on a much more ambitious and on a greater scale with huge paintings on even huger walls than what most art establishments would have no choice but to hang an entire end of year show on. But that's probably because I'm actually a bit jealous. What of the work though? I think that there was a lot of emphasis on recycled materials in particularly the sculptures and use of natural materials and the overall exhibition seemed really colourful, I mean that literally, there was a lot of colour, quite kitsch but I think that also ties in with my comment on the use of recycled materials and re-using the old to make the new. All this colour left me feeling that German art is a lot more 'playful' than the more 'serious' Germanic Expressionist stuff that art history has raised me on.

Somewhere after this exhibition I went to see the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy, once I got through the crowds that is! Have to say that it was definitely not a disappointment, despite it being so crowded (and there's a whole blog post in there somewhere waiting to come out about art and experience) I managed to see it all which included my favourite Hockney painting of all time, 'St Nichols Canyon'. You have no idea how many times, how long I have looked and painted that painting prior to seeing the real thing. It meant a lot.

Isa Genzken

Gert and Uwe Tobias

Yayoi Kusama (above)
Now, next on the agenda was the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the White Cube gallery in Bermondsey. You're not allowed to take photos so please look on the link below, This was my first visit to any White Cube gallery and the one at Bermondsey was truly something very special. I will leave you with that rather ambiguous statement and encourage you to visit the gallery yourself. Out of all the work I saw during my trip this was by far the best, the most moving and dramatic at creating a genuine sense of awe. Which was also helped by having one of the biggest doors into a gallery that I have ever seen!
As for the Kusama exhibition at the Tate Modern, the next visit on my whistle-stop-tour of London, I was really disappointed. The whole exhibition seemed a lot less installation based and fun than I had thought it would be, with so much of the work on show being Kusama's repetitive pattern/shape/dot paintings which I just thought were really boring. The surfaces weren't interesting and I can't think of anything that excited me about any of her 2D works at all. I know its harsh, but it should be, compared to the lush, intense painting feasts I'd seen prior from Kiefer and Hockney this was just so dull and I felt duped by all the hype that surrounded it. Even the best piece of hers, an installation 'The infinity mirror room' was displayed badly by the Tate and did not do the work justice. In the set-up I first saw in Liverpool the work was experienced individually, so that one person had to take off their shoes and enter a cube that housed the work whereas the Tate show had it set up so that viewers walked through the space (like a corridor) which really made the whole thing more like a tourist attraction than the imersive 'experience' that, I believe, Kusama had originally intended it to be. Ok, I know practically speaking for the kind of numbers of people visiting the Tate there's no way the 'one person at a time alone in the box' would work, but I guess I am just frustrated that the experience a viewer has on a work seems to be severely compromised by practicalities that it is better to have 'as many people view the work as possible' over offering a more authentic experience of the work based on how the artist intended it to be seen. Do you agree?
I think there is debate later, possibly next week to be had about how viewers engage with art in galleries, what makes a good or bad experience? And the kind of pressures galleries have associated with footfall adding to the equation of how much or little potential money could then be on offer from arts funding.

Ahem. Anyway, the rest of my London trip was as equally fantastic as the start was and ended with the 'Making Space' conference at UCL (University College London) in which six speakers (three artists and three psychoanalysts) talked about their work/research. Another first, as this was my first ever conference and as far as first ones go, this was absolutely marvellous! With speakers like Grayson Perry, Sharon Kivland and Martin Creed talking about their practice alongside professional psychoanalysts, Valerie Sinason, Kenneth Wright and Lesley Caldwell it set itself up, even before it began, as being pretty exciting. And it was. For fear that this post is probably too long already and that anything I write now being over sentimentalised I'll leave it there for now, but there is a wealth of information and stuff I would love to share with you about this conference but will have to wait until another day. All that I will say is that it was really useful to have a dialogue between artist and psychoanalyst and how they both interpreted and discussed creative processes of making work. That and Martin Creed playing guitar for his 20 minute slot instead of presenting a 'paper' (it actually said a lot more than the theoretical stuff did, in my opinion). Fab!

Thanks for reading!

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