Saturday, 22 March 2014


Niki de St Phalle (1930-2002) was a law unto herself. I knew her slightly, introduced by a good friend (now pretty well the world authority n Niki.) Beautiful & charismatic, (she modelled for Vogue), rich, wild, flamboyant, her highly originally, inimitable art ranged from dark menace to exuberant joy. In the mid 1950s her rage produced the famous 'shooting paintings" but soon she turned to fairytale brides & hearts, plus from the 1960s on, her famous loud brash, colourful, exhilarating, huge 'Nanas' Only recently did I learn that they were inspired by a drawing made by her friend, artist Larry Rivers of his wife Clarice whilst heavily pregnant
In 2012 these monumental sculptures were exhibited along Park Avenue, and very life affirming they were to all New Yorkers. 
Recently Eric & Jean Cass gifted 14 pieces of her work to Glasgow - a wonderful gestureHappily Niki had been invited to exhibit a big retrospective in Glasgow in 1993 in the beautiful McLellan Galleries, by no less that Julian Spalding. Best thing he ever did. (The Liverpool Tate got round to giving her a show in 2008, calling it her "first UK exhibition." NOT TRUE! ) Spalding also commissioned Niki to create the fab mirrored Tympanum  (triangular bit over the front) and mirrored entrance for GoMA when it opened in 1996, (2nd best thing Spalding did!) 
The Casses gift is a result of this connection and makes Glasgow a special place to see her fantastic creations of monsters & fantasy creatures.

In later life Niki saw women as both goddesses & warriors. “I dreamt of huge colourful Nanas that could stand outside in the middle of a park or a square – I wanted them to take charge of the world” she said. Despite suffering from severe arthritis - which caused her to move from damp Paris to dry La Jolla, California - she continued to work on her vast projects till her death in 2002. 

Along with these monumental sculptures, Niki also wrote many enchanting, beautifully illustrated letters. These have inspired GLASGOW WOMENS LIBRARY's letters project, to coincide with  International Women’s Day.  GWL invited  women from around the world to write illuminated letters of thanks and recognition to their heroines, & these letters are now on show at GoMA & GWL.‎
A great idea. I am sure Niki would be thrilled! 

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Can u have too much art? A visit to the Tay - the longest river in Scotland and Loch Tay one of the most beautiful - got me thinking. With so much capital committed to art today, & international trends gaining ground among the rich in Russia, the Arab States & China, how can Joe Public keep up, or indeed want to keep up? 

The Armory is New York’s leading fair for contemporary & modern art: 200 leading galleries from 29 countries with 65,000 visitorsThis year the fair's focus was ChinaPlus there's the original establishment ADAA show at Park Avenue Armory (yes, names very confusing) of  72 leading art dealers, plus 10 satellite fairs, Meanwhile the Whitney Biennialwhere 103 artists chosen by 3 curators spread over 3 floors. Reports not good: "nebulous, inert & perplexing." & "Handicrafts carry the day."
One curator loves poetry, another looks to Latin American & Asian art while the 3rd, Michelle Grabner, says"New Materialism and Affect Theory are politically compelling to me. The free market & its influence on art making, distribution, & value construction have to be looked at carefully if one is to truly understand contemporary art.

With Sotheby's & Christie's sponsoring these events & having at least an auction or 2 a day somewhere in the world, u may wonder at this art saturation, and how art dealers are coping. Answer - not well. 
Also in NYC is GAUGUIN at MoMA: 150 prints & drawings from 1889 to his death in 1903. Called "dark, bizarre & much more challenging than his lush Tahitian paintings" according to the Guardian, it's the first exhibition to take an in-depth look at these experimental radically “primitive” woodcuts etc.

As if this overload is not enough The Whitney Biennial has a spinoff in the form of the Brucennial, a rammed exhibition featuring around 600 female artists(can 600 be true?) organised by Vito, Schnabel's son. (Women’s representation had been getting better in recent Whitney Biennials, but they account for less than a third this year.)
So - HOW Beatrix Potter?? 
Potter spent her childhood holidays around Dunkeld & wrote the first Peter Rabbit here. She was also an eminent botanical illustrator & naturalist. In Dunkeld she met Charles McIntosh the local postman, who was also an expert on fungi & discovered previously unknown species. He boxed them up & sent them to Beatrix in London where they arrived - very smelly- for her to draw. While in Dunkeld she borrowed books from the Birnam Institute and on the strength of this, they have an extension, cafe & Potter play area, video etc and in June will exhibit the original fungi watercolours, normally helded in Perth Art Gallery.  
                                                 Beatrix as a child & her parents in Perthshire
                                        Birnam Arts   
Back in Manhattan ASIA WEEK is now on, till 22nd March: 47 specialist dealers from all over the world + shows in 19 museums and institutes including the Met which has Contemporary Ink Art & Edo prior paintings. I love traditional Asian art but we all have to learn about  their contemporary work. 
                         Video by Nalini Malini at the Asia Society NY. 
           Indian 1780
                                                                M Wang 2010
 ancient chinese

Sunday, 2 March 2014

The Smith Art Gallery & Museum, Stirling & JUNE CAREY

The Smith opened in 1874 as a bequest of a painter,Thomas Stuart Smith. This weekend a new mural by June Carey was inaugurated by Adrian Wiszniewski. Titled A Heavenly Gift, 2 angels carry the key of Stirling (given to Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1746) & the Guildry Ring which dates from 1360, both in the museum's collection. They also have Carey's characteristic tattoos of poems and artefacts, with the male angel's chest inscribed "De tout les Reves qui Feurent." 

Dreams play an important role in Carey's work. Her superb book The Art of June Carey - Seeing Through Dreams" (available from the Museum) makes this very apparent. As Smith Museum director Dr Elspeth King, writes, "Carey's work is essentially about love - the love that moves the sun, and other stars, - as Dante described it. Like Dante's Divine Comedy, her work features Heaven, Hell & Purgatory. By far, Heaven is her favourite place, as the vibrant blue backgrounds which frame her serene, angelic figures, testify." 
Dedicated. Determined. Imaginative. Above all intense. I have been writing about Carey & her work for 25 years. She never disappoints. The book covers 40 years of work from a wonderful art school watercolour of a nude & 1981 self-portrait via many paintings, pastels, reliefs and etchings right up to today. Her travels to Greece, Mexico, Cyprus, Malta, Poland, Indonesia, Bali and India all feed her imagery, but as King writes, despite these "world-wide cultures, there is no mistaking the origin & source of it. She is a Scottish artist, living & working in Stirling. A journey thro June's work is a feast, laden & layered with cultural icons, signs, symbols & visual thought transmissions which have the power to move the viewer & alter perspectives."      
Wiszniewski, who gave a classic, totally captivating speech, rightly pointed out 
that Carey is a conceptual artist who makes her work beautiful, while at the 
same time telling age old stories. 
                                     Elspeth King, June Carey & Adrian Wiszniewski 
Carey's etchings are a tour de force of exacting detail and emotional intensity, her 
exotic figures imbued with her distinctive punk aesthetic.  Printmaking is fundamental
to her art. Etching allows for no mistakes, no second thought. Above all Carey works 
from the heart. It has made for a memorable career. Buy the book! £19.99
                                June in her studio with her etching press. 
Years ago I was a Smith Trustee. More recently the wonderful Janey Buchan, former Euro MP, 
who died in 2012, was a very active trustee, & the mural installation was completed with 
help from her Memorial Fund  
 Janey Buchan‎.