Sunday, 25 May 2014


Watching Glasgow School of Art burn, from nearly 4000 miles away via BBC, was a devastating experience, shared I know by many thousands of people. Maybe hundreds of thousands, because unlike most iconic buildings, GSA is a working school, a much used beloved place. Graduate Fran Lightbound put it best: 
It’s difficult to put into words how a building can mean so much, to so many, in so many ways. Those of us who studied in the Mack had the amazing privilege of making it ours for four years: in there, we grew as artists & as people. It was a friend, a home, a constant source of inspiration. The Mack was – and is – at the heart of so much: for GSA, and for Glasgow."
And I may add, for Scotland & internationally too. But like other much used places, people & possessions -  taken for granted. In the outpouring of lament & comment, international photographer David Eustace makes a vital point. The building's primary purpose is to educate & encourage. As he points out, GSA was founded as "an institution to create memories a force for creative spirits to go forward. All that surely is not lost in a fire? Moreover for students, there's a valuable lesson. Life is about hiccups and how we deal with them. All that GSA has offered CAN never simply be lost in a fire."
Five weeks ago I gave GSA Archives the last of my handwritten annotated drafts from 30 years art criticism. As I watched the flames rage I was glad all my photographs too were not there. My cousin, in Silicon Valley since the 1970s, emailed assuming I had "a duplicate or backup copy." Ha!  In 1979/1980 & thereafter nothing is scanned, nothing duplicated. I worked on the kitchen table scribbling in pencil, biro, 2 small children at my elbow, on tatty bits of paper. A work in progress, annotated, crossings out, telephone numbers & all. 

So now for me & all the staff & students it's a waiting game. As Eustace says, it's given us all a new, heartfelt & grateful appreciation of the fire brigade. 
WE all have our memories. So here are some of mine. 1966 first visit to the Mack; 1968 & a breathtaking Mackintosh exhibition in Edinburgh; 1980 Tony Jones as new director, 1981 Tom Joshua Cooper arrives; 1982 dinners there with Lord Gowrie, dinners in the Library with Eric Hagman & the chairman of Clydesdale Bank, meeting Duane Michaels in the Directors Office & later at the Dakota NY; making a film for STV with Bob Clyde for Cyril Gerber's 70th B-day exh in the Mackintosh Museum - amazingly saved by the Firemen. The road closed for all the 20 Degree show openings I covered for the Herald 1980-1999. The Tafners, who endowed the CRM archivist position for Peter Trowles. Curating an IBM show for 1990 in the Mackintosh Museum, which my mother attended. Setting eyes on my American husband for the first time in the Mackintosh Museum in 1996. Dugald Cameron in his office; Barbara Rae & David Donaldson in their studios; Jenny Saville, Douglas Gordon, Alison Watt as students. My son's degree show in 1999 in one of the very studio rooms, high ceilinged, beautiful, that may now be destroyed; being photographed there & in the wonderful Library by the Herald in January 2014 for my archive gift story. 
How many times have I run up & down those front steps in 45 years? How many times have u done the same

The latest hopeful news is that things inside GSA are not as bad as they could have been, without the resourceful firemen. The world famous Library is totally lost. I am told, "the good is good, the east wing is safe. The bad is appallingly bad. The library is completely destroyed. Think apocalyptic."  Water damage also an issue, a river pouring down the museum.    Library from above.  Around 200 firefighters have been involved in the operation, which at its height saw 16 appliances at the scene, the Scottish Fire Rescue Service said. But already there are promises of significant restoration money from government etc.

And never again will we take the Mackintosh building for granted - if we ever did.   
For GSA fund raising for the building - secure.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

JACK SHAINMAN Gallery, Chelsea, New York & Kinderhook 

Is KInderhook the new Chelsea?  So remarked my husband at a festive, upbeat, exuberant & crowded opening of successful gallerist Jack Shainman's huge, upstate venture. The weather was idyllic, the venue - an old school - enormous, the art exciting, & Nick Cave's wild tribal performance outside perfect for locals and art world folk alike. Joie de vivre indeed!

Cave performance
 Jack's School
By a fluke 12 years ago I found our perfect house, (1794 with 3 acres and a river) 10 mins from Hudson. I had no idea where I was, had never been to the area before, & fell lucky. The house was meant for us! I was told to avoid Hudson (guns & drugs) which was the case in the 1960s but now the town is an upscale centre for restaurants, galleries & antiques, even a few boutiques. NYC is just 2 hours away by train so is popular with New Yorkers & NY artists.
Clare, Phillip + Brent from Flowers Gallery NYC 
 By comparison Hudson area studio space is cheap. Recently the famous Marina Abramovic established her Institute in Hudson - a major coup for the town. 
         Cave installation
Last Saturday nearby Kinderhook village moved into play with Shainman's 30,000 sq ft building with lofty 24ft ceilings & gracious spaces, converted by Spanish, Granada-based architect Antonio Jiménez Torrecillas.  About 600 people surged from basement ex-gym to top floor galleries looking out onto trees & quiet main street. A solo NICK CAVE display of exotic & strange glitter encrusted, richly embroidered totem-like "Sound Suits" plus beaded, circular wall pieces & elaborate compilations of junk shop china birds, beads & necklaces filled the spaces with a riot of colour & sparkle. 
Upstairs a more serious assortment of bricabrac addressed the issue of black slavery & the mindless racist translation into 19th & 20th century ornaments for a white family mantlepiece. Cave who is professor at Chicago Art Institute School & is African American, is better placed than most to comment. 
 The event continued onto the stage outside with wild tribal dancers all wearing Cave's famous "Sound Suits" cavorting in the shape of horses, vodoo men & monsters. Broadway was left behind!
The School will also act as storage & display of the Gallery's many African, India & Latin American artists who work large scale, like El Anatsui whose bottle-cap tapestries are hugeShainman explains We have rented space in Bushwick, but  it can take 90 mins to get there in traffic. Here, it's so beautiful, clients won't mind a two-hour trip.
 Shainman has a house nearby where he keeps horses & rides dressage. He bought the school for $550,000 but heating bills were massive. So he installed geothermal underfloor heating - a triumph, he says. Locals who worked on the project came on Saturday, along with many former students & parents - who loved its transformation. A happy event all round.
 This area is rich in cultural institutions, including Mass MoCA, The Clark Art Institute, The Williams College Museum of Art, the Hessel Museum of Art at Bard College, Dia Beacon, Storm King, Hudson River School painter Frederic Church’s Olana estate, + of course Abramović in Hudson. Shainman will only add to this!

Nick Cave
Nick Cave (born 1959 in central Missouri, USA) is an American fabric sculptordancer, & performance artist. He is best known for his Soundsuits: wearable fabric sculptures that are bright, whimsical & other-worldly. He also trained as a dancer with Alvin Ailey. He resides in Chicago & is director of the graduate fashion program at School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Monday, 12 May 2014

SPRING AUCTION season in NEW YORK: Picasso & Leonardo DiCaprico

The NY Spring season of mega auctions is under way. What does it all mean? 
Sotherby's is just a few blocks away & Christies very near, so off we went. 
"How the art world has changed!" says my husband, an auction veteran for 50 years. Even in 15 years I have seen a shift. 
But it looks as if things are really in upheaval. As an excellent Ft piece by John Gapper  points out there is dirty work at the crossroads. 
Last Tuesday saw a 1932 Picasso sell for $28 million & a Monet waterlily "Japanese Bridge" 1918 for 14m. 
But as the Ft tells us, this may not be the real figure. And 14m seems a snip when this week's Richter is estimated at 25-35 million with Jeff Koons' Popeye sculpture even more. Then there's  Christies's Bacon triptych 3 studies of John Edwards (1984)" estimated $80 million.
The Tuesday sale was slow & boring. Majority bidding on the phones, little actual excitement. Many key works did not sell, Too overpriced. Gone the gowns & smart attire; gone the anticipation of live bids & a room bristling with competition. 30% of the buyers were from Asia, all invisible. The real glamour nowadays lies in the vast doorstep catalogues with their immense glossy research. The installation for the 4 or 5 day viewing is another is spectacle, an art form in itself.  And maybe the fact that Leonardo DiCaprico was there!
The auction houses - a duopoly- have recently turned themselves into art dealers.  Currently 2 separate selling exhibitions fill Sotheby's second floor. 43 Dubuffet paintings & sculptures, $65,000 to $3.5m  + 25 works by Vasarely: Op Star (today everyone's a star), 85,000-half a million. There is a price list but u have to ask. Again the installation is stunning, & almost overwhelms the art. 
Not missing a trick, there's new jewellry by Anish Kapoor & Botero's wife, Sophia Vari, for sale. As it was US Mother's Day I tried on a few Kapoor rings which he makes in editions of 10 to 100 with the London goldsmiths firm of .....  Gold & blue enamel my choice! 
So where does this leave the vast vast majority of artists? Sadly high & dry. Since the crash the day sales are often dire, tepid events with low prices. It's still very hard to survive as an artist, unless u are among the top 12 or 15 artists with a name like Warhol or Gauguin. 
Sothebys May 7

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The 2014 Whitney Biennial  New York

So is it as bad as they say? The reviews are damning. Yesterday we went to see for ourselves. Conclusion? It's a sloppy, scrappy, slight, messy, ugly affair reminiscent of student shows. Too narrow a view. It includes the old, the very old & the dead. The average age of one floor is said to be 55, another 50. The film section lacks film. Overall there is little media or video apparent on the main exhibition floors, surely a perverse decision for 2014. From this Biennial, you would think American art, even art world-wide, is poor, trite, vapid. 
It's the last Biennial before the Whitney moves downtown to its new building in the meatpacking district beside the High Line, in Chelsea. What a sad sad end! The Whitney Biennial has a long history of excitement, important discoveries, surprise, buzz. Controversy, yes. Mediocrity, no.  
This time selection was in the hands of 3 curators from outside the Whitney Museum. Each has a floor. Michelle Grabner from the Art Institute School Chicago, crams her top floor space to overflowing. It's packed: stuffed with kitsch. She includes many women, (16 out of out of 38 - still majority men) & lots of crafts. There are ceramics (Kusaka b 1972 Japan), a silly waterfall of wool (Sheila Hicks), huge ugly pots by Ruby. 


With so much stuff, it’s hard to focusI liked Dawoud Bey's photo portraits, but then I have admired his work for years, ever since he was included in Scotland’s Fotofest in the 1990. (Whatever happened to that?) Also Charlesworth’s silhouettes & Mason's elegant Tile Wall & ceramics. Mason was born in 1927.
To be fair, Grabner loses a large chunk of her floor to an artist selected by Elms.  Zoe Leonard has fitted a camera obscura lens in the famous Breuer window, but tragically the result is forlorn grey, vapid shadows of no import whatsoever. A nice idea which should have been rejected. 

So this Biennial is NOT about emerging artists, not a snapshot of an American zeitgeist. Nor is it about painting of any kind. 
Charlesworth's dates are 1947-2013, and strangely many in this Biennial are dead & too many died savage deaths: from suicide, AIDS, even immolation. Surely the Whitney Biennial is not the place for memorials on this scale. It’s the first time I have ever noted down artists’ dates as I looked at what are over-long labels full of artspeak. 
The next floor, curated by Stuart Corner, ex Tate filmnow MoMA media & performance art, has little film in it. Maybe there’s more hidden away.  He gives a small one-man show to Lebanese artist Etel Adnan & includes Triple Canopy, an interesting coop from Brooklyn.  More craft with Auerbachs colourful knitwear & text in Lonidrew's 32 T shirts from 1976. Several walls are jam-packed with dreadful kitsch pictures (Mayerson) & dire nude photos...  A blockboard building fills a centre space. Best is Channa Horowitzrigid but refreshing graphs & codes for music & dance, (b 1931-d 2013.) 
Last Anthony Elms of ICA Philadelphia who talks about, “an American aesthetic of uncertainty." He also says, “Assembling an overview of American art these days is a fool's errand."  His 20 artists include Paul P's small subtle watercolour portraits, some high-up wall mounted aluminium cymbals by Adkins (1953-2014), wall of b & w collages by Von Heyl, a LED curtain and a too long empty wall of too many letterpress poems. 

Von Heyl

Then there are the amateur-looking pieces so terrible I don't want to know the artists' names. Hideous straw hats, aimless constructions, lumpy sculptures,... The whole thing makes me angry - & in this I know I am not alone. The Whitney Biennial has a long history of excitement, important discoveries, ... Controversy, yes. Mediocrity, no.

 "WE hope that the 2014 Biennial will suggest the profoundly diverse & hybrid cultural identity of America today," says the Whitney. With a total 103 participants, (their word) I had hoped for at least one memorable exhibit of some sort. In the end the fact that "archives" played a role was the most interest outcome.

To contact me: or leave a message. 

Saturday, 3 May 2014


The famous & popular Spanish-born architect Santiago Calatrava, is best known for his elegant, dazzling, soaring bridges & futuristic buildings. Since commissioned to design the new World Trade Center World Trade transport hub at Ground Zero, he has become a familiar figure in NY, jetting in from his Zurich home & headquarters where 70 staff now work on projects from Qatar to Canada, Rio de Janeiro to Dublin.

The Ground Zero project has been fraught to put it mildly, but should be finished by 2015 - at double original budget: now $4 BILLION!
Other 2014 projects include a 'dynamic wave effect' high-speed train station, (Reggio Emilia, the only stop between Milan & Bologna), plus Florida Polytechnic University campus in Lakeland, opening in August.
Calatrava is also a sculptor & painter, believing the practice of architecture combines all the arts into one. A new show, of 50 sculptures, ceramics & drawings is currently at Marlborough Gallery, 57th St, NY. 
                       Santiago & Robertina Calatrava 
Calatrava's artwork has already been exhibited at the Met, the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg & the Vatican Museum, Rome  (2013), but it's his first show ever in a commercial gallery.
And it's amazing. "I did not expect this!" was a comment on everyone's lips.  
Because we were confronted with vast, dynamic swirls & swoops, waves & curls - some solid, many air-born. Or so it seemed. These giant wood maquettes will be enlarged to monumental scale in steel/aluminium to 15ft high x 40ft across for next year's outdoor public exhibition along Park Avenue.
So I went to see where they were made - in Calatrava's basement. He has 3 adjoining houses on Park, and has scooped out the workshop from one. "In Zurich we have a much bigger atelier".
For someone so busy, you would think that any break would be welcome. But the weekend after this show & before he left on Monday for Florida & Zurich, Calatrava was in his studio at home drawing & painting trees: tall thin silver birches; bigger dark forest trees in watercolour.  "I have been always drawing. It's a need." He spends hours, days, in his spare, minimal NY studio. 
He has 80,000+ drawings in notebooks. Favourites include bulls, trees, doves & organic forms. The bulls & their horns as repeating patterns, appear on his ceramics which he makes in the summer near Valencia, his home town. 
                                                    "Architecture is limited to the practical," he says. "Sculpture is freer." And computers? "Never use then - it's like driving a lorry; for me it's easier with a pencil. But computers do solve powerful geometric problems." At the workshop, one assistant who specialises in 3D Cad work, showed me the next new sculpture - with a huge TILT - that they were working on via  the computer. "We tip it until it finds its natural balance position."

                                                          Terracotta dish with bulls 
His very personal style of architecture derives from numerous studies of the human body & the natural world: the spine as it twists, leaves along a stem, folded wings, open arms, a nude figure."The mystery of why we stand up, how we move." This is his inspiration.  But architecture experts see his work as a continuation of Saarinen's work. His white marble sculptures are also obviously influenced by Brancusi.  
White alabaster sculpture. 
Tension plays a large role in his art, as in his bridges. Several new sculptures appear magically suspended. Gary Tinterow once told me. "Many of his notable architectural forms derive from his own personal work. The sculptures are beautiful objects in themselves & illuminate his buildings fabulously well." 
 Venice bridge

Tension sculpture
Calatrava has 4 children. Of 3 sons, all Columbia graduates, 2 are involved in the family business and live upstairs in the Park Ave home.  On the 1st floor (2nd floor in US speak) of the adjoining townhouses is a large sunny gallery full of Calatrava's paintings, ceramics & sculptures. "Directly or indirectly these are all studies for buildings."
Frank Stella & Calatrava
"He's a Renaissance man" long-time friend, the artist Frank Stella says. Stella will have a big retrospective at the new downtown Witney in 2015/6. 
Calatrava & Clare Henry in New York

Brass sculpture with wings which move 
Alex Katz & his wife Ada & Mrs Calatrava  
                          Pierre Levai director of Marlborough NY, Marsha Levine & Calatrava.
Calatrava ceramics 
Lyon Station
Valencia Theatre