Saturday, 27 September 2014

PUBLIC SCULPTURE on Park & Broadway. Museum of Art & Design. The MET: Thomas Hart Benton & Thomas Struth.  

New York NEW YORK. Blue skies but gridlock everywhere when Obama's in town along with 100 heads of state at the United Nations.  Streets sealed off. Police everywhere. But an ideal time to view public sculpture as your taxi creeps along Park Avenue or Broadway. 
This Spring Alice Aycock made a very impressive display of super steel tornados, twisters, whirlwinds, & spinning tops racing down Park Avenue, which is after all, she said, "New York’s symbolic canyon of moneypower & aspiration." 

Aycock is now followed by Ewerdt Hilgemann’s whose shiny steel sculptures, between 8-20 feet tall, are made by vacuuming the air out of welded-steel cubes or rectangles, using pumps or simply water, to create iconic “Implosion” pieces
 Seven now grace Park Avenue from 52nd to 67th StreetIt's Hilgemann’s first major exhibition in the United States, appropraiate in that he was a student of the cofounder of Germany’s ZERO group in the 1960swhich will get its own retrospective at the Guggenheim in OctoberIn addition to totally cubic forms, Hilgemann has created Cube Flower, a disarticulated floral study, in front of the Seagram Building. (Till Nov 7th.)
Many of Hilgemann's works, he says, reference the minimalism of Piet Mondrian whom Hilgemann admires. “Mondrian tried to become part of American society & New York by painting in a minimalistic way,” he explains. “But with Broadway Boogie Woogie, he painted himself into the structure of New York. I want to do the same with sculpture.”
Which brings us to Broadway Morey Boogie" curated by Max Levai, son of Marlbrough's Pierre. Broadway is usually reserved for solo shows, but here is a group selling show of ten disparate mid career artists, all based in America.      
It begins well with a huge 2 ton concrete Bear as tourist complete with camera on red cord around its neck. Sited on busy Columbus Circle, it's by Polish-born, Brooklyn based Joanna Malinowska. 
Next, at 64th St by the Lincoln Center, is Sara Braman's 8ft coloured glass cubic shape, which works amazingly well in rain as well as sun. 72nd St is truly disappointing with 2 flat figures far too subtle in colour & form for the location. They completely fade into the background.In fact all the sculptures are hard to see, hard to find. I went looking for Tony Matelli's dog & despite asking at cafes, hotels and shops, no-one could help. Indeed no-one knew anything about these Broadway sculptures at all! Next is a big white ball - but not big enough - in the colours of Con Ed, the ubiquitous NYC electricity supplier.
 We gave up here, but from photos of the remaining 5 pieces, it seems an uninspired array. Altogether too small scale. Public sculpture is a hard task 

Meanwhile the Public ART people have installed  Gerrard's Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada) 2014 , a 28 by 24 foot frameless LED wall re-creating a Nevada solar thermal power plant and the surrounding desert landscape,  at Lincoln Center! 

At the center of this virtual world is a tower surrounded by 10,000 mirrors that adjust their positions according to the location of the sun & reflect light upon the tower to generate electricity. The digital simulation changes in real time throughout the day, so no specific view  will be the same over the course of the exhibition. His first major public art work in the U.S. also marks John Gerrard's most ambitious work to date. MUSEUM OF ART & DESIGN, Columbus Circle NY 

I first got to know Edward Durrell Stone's famous lollipop building in 1982 & 83 when I curated New Scottish Prints as part - the only outside London part - of the Britain Salutes New York extravaganza which also featured Constable at the Met & Henry Moore along Park Avenue.

The building, at busy Columbus Circle at the corner of Central Park & the Lincoln Center, was one of New York's few memorable & idiosyncratic structures, "a die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops."   I loved it on first sight. My room at the  Empire Hotel (or Vampire Hotel as taxi drivers loved to call it) was right there. In my innocence I had no idea how central it all was. 
The Scottish exhibition, which featured the young Bellany, Donald, Blackadder, Fisher, Watson et al travelled by sea & got lost on the docks! Found just in time before the Arts Minister, Ambassador etc came by.  
Today the same building, now home to The Museum of Art & Design, is OK inside, but the exterior has been ruined. I hate it. Efforts by the world's top conservation bodies from 2003-5 to save this landmark failed, & the MAD Museum took over. How could they!  

But it does have a good restaurant! Today we enjoyed the amazing view up Broadway, across Central Park's greenery and down to Columbus on his pillar, + Malinoska's Bear. The restaurant ceiling, with shocking pink and orange, also plays its part.  
Downstairs 2 shows address past & future. Mrs Webb who founded the MAD museum in 1956 on West 53rd St, was rich & driven. From 1939 on she set up cooperatives & craft councils, exhibitions & surveys, all from the premise that "independent living could be attained through craftsmanship." This section shows key works in silver, ceramic, wool, textiles, wood & glass, many from the 1960s, including Anni Albers' weaving, Jack Larsen's panel & Hiroshi Suzuki's silver bowl. Stylish, elegant, beautifully executed. Archival photos fill it out. 
Another 2 floors feature 100 NYC MAKERS of today, some truly hideous, (Confettisystem's Fringe Wall in the foyer; Meromi's huge Working Girls), some interesting: Mark Dion's ghostly specters of explorer Robert Clark's 1908 expedition equipment; Polan's drawings; Yoko Ono's 2013 Plastic Band video. A mixed bag.
 Mark Dion

By chance the Met's THOMAS STRUTH show includes his 1978 b & w photo of Stone's building, together with his more recent large scale colour prints. 

Milan Cathedral facade is awe inspiring in its breadth & detail; Giles Robertson, Edinburgh 1987 intimate, brooding. It's a small show but gives an idea of his range. Especially memorable is the Rome image: tiny figures dwarfed by vast architecture. It's all about looking. 

 Thomas Struth 1978

The Met is so huge that it can launch 3 or 4 new shows in a day. It's also a long 4 block inside walk from 81St entrance to the American wing. But worth it to see Thomas Hart BENTON's epic 1931 mural, America Today.
I first came across Benton in Kansa City, his home town, with no idea his NY period produced such a remarkable, vibrant panorama. Originally commissioned for the New School's 30ft boardroom, the 10 panels, all 7 ft tall, sweep from rural to urban celebrating farmers, cowboys, oil men, miners, steel workers, flappers, boxers, dockers, tycoons. 
He was a great draughtsman & the show includes many terrific sketches. Benton's student, Jackson Pollock, posed for some figures; his wife & child for others. 

Invigorating, boldly dramatic, optimistic, full of colour & life, the mural celebrates the industry that created the American Dream - yet the Depression was just round the corner. 
This month the new, completely redesigned Plaza outside the Met opened after 2 years: new fountains, trees, seats & tables under the trees. It feels like Paris! Billionaire David H Koch paid all $65m cost. 

Friday, 19 September 2014


There is a lot of talk about grassroots politics. So what about artists grassroots collectives?  There's nothing new about them, and many vital galleries & workshops began that way. The venerable Glasgow Group is now 56 years old. Founders Anda Paterson, James Spence,  James Morrison & other GSA art students were irritated by the conformist, unadventurous policies of the local exhibiting societies namely the RSA & the RGI and at the dearth of commercial outlets in the city.
Today collectives are 2 a penny, too many to shake a stick at. Todays versions are also better supported. In the 1950s-70s there were no grants available, no funding bodies. It was all self-help.  

As I visited Ashley COOK's show at GPS & STREET LEVEL's show of Sophie Gerrard's Sweet Sixteen, I remembered their first homes: GPS in a former electrician's with earth floor, or Street Level's place up the High St. Sweet Sixteen inevitably takes us to the Scottish Independence Referendum.
 Ashley Cook
For the first time ever 16-18 yr olds could vote - and they did! Scotland can be proud of its civilised conduct of this momentous, irrevocable, once in a lifetime event. A very high level of civic engagement & passionate debate; huge turnout - a record 87%, ie 4 million folk, voted peacefully. No riots, no violence. Think of Egypt. Where else could such a peaceful, democratic, energised search for change happen? And change there will be, despite a 55% vote to stay as part of the UK. Scotland leads the way in a radical shake-up against  London-centric policy. 
Philip Reeves
The Glasgow Group has its ups & downs but is very active. The current show over the summer is its second this year, with Philip Reeves exhibiting in bothReeves played a big part in several collectives. Edinburgh Printmakers was established in 1967 as the first open access studio in Britain. Glasgow Print Studio followed in 1972 with 400 quid from the Gulbenkian Foundation. Unlike painters, printmakers can't work in the spare room or shed at home. They need equipment. Hence GPS, then Peacock Printmakers in Aberdeen, & Dundee. Later sculpture studios sprang up. In 1977 Stills Photography Gallery opened in Edinburgh, followed by Street Level in Glasgow in 1989. Edinbro's Collective gallery, founded 1984, has the best name - as they move to a new home on Calton Hill. 
Like Street Level & GPS, TRANSMISSION, (set up in 1983 in a cobbled space that was once an alley way,) was started by GSA graduates dissatisfied by lack of exhibition space for young artists. Through sponsorship + support from the Scottish Arts Council (now Creative Scotland) they managed an exh space in whicto exhibit themselves + work of local artists.They also invited international artists who had influenced them, like Lawrence Weiner, to show.
Lawrence at his Whitney NY retrospective, 2007

So it seems to me that the "Glasgow Miracle" is no miracle at all. It took 60+ years hard graft. And "Miracle" is a stupid tag. Makes me think of saints & Bernadette's Lourdes. 
The Transmission of the 1980s & 90s should be recognized as crucial to Glasgow's success. Not just because of the interesting, gifted artists who were involved then, but because of the way Transmission committee members handled & managed the cooperative. They made links & contacts, worldwide. This was their triumph. 
Lawrence Weiner text piece at Bard, NY
What a long way collectives have come. But what of the new young cooperatives like a 2-1-4-1, Black Cube, SWG3, Glue Factory, Pipe Factory, Embassy etc? 

Will they stay the course? 2-1-4-1 has been active with group exhibitions in Edinburgh & Glasgow, with a recent summer show, Draw In, related to drawing.  
More worrying are Transmission's 'descendants" with their thin, parched efforts, insubstantial ideas & poor imagery. While Glasgow's trail blazers were robustly innovative, clever & uniquely memorable, these followers drawn to the city by the buzz & hype created by recent Turner Prize winners & nominees, totally lack depth. Concept may have replaced image; words substitute the visual; video, film & performance supercede traditional media - but for heavens sake, please give us some quality, the brain some food, the eyes some joy! 

People worldwide love Scotland, none more that award-winning photographer, Tan Lip Seng, FRPS., FPSA., MPSA, EFIAP., ABIPP. of Singapore who has been visiting Scotland for years. We met him in Oban. Put my husband on the moon, & he would buttonhole interesting people.

Lip Seng Tan's recent images of Skye are superb. Also great pix of us eating 

langoustines on the pier in the sun.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

In Glasgow - still glowing from huge success of the Commonwealth Games - Glasgow Print Studio has had a raft of interesting shows & talks. On cue David Shrigley kept us amused while he talked about his erratic career in the print world. Nearby Bronwen Sleigh's admirable etchings are inspired by massive if neglected industrial structures. 
I found the GPS Generation contribution, Michael Fullerton a deal more interesting than most.  He dots around rather too much but in the process covers plenty of ground. Surprisingly he addresses portraiture in conventionally mode. These rather ordinary large scale paintings do nothing for the show despite his interest in power & figures with a complex political background. But he also has a happy knack for display of large prints & flashing lights!

Now the space is filled by Elizabeth BLACKADDER's print retrospective spanning 30 years of collaborative production at GPS.  In half a century of printmaking she's covered most techniques. Great draughtsmanship means she captures her famous cats,  flowers & Venice landmarks with a signature economy of means, avoiding any suggestion of the saccharin. GPS has helped her create over 100 lithographs, etchings, screenprints & woodcutsQuite remarkable. A lovely show. 
Down the road SCOTT MYLES's Modern Institute installation, Mummies, is helped by a huge praying hands (printed by GPS) which give impact & act as background to orange cubes. These are made out of 10 suitcases wrapped, shrouded & encased in amber plastic. Myles sees these as transitional objects loaded with 'subjective investments.' I am not so sure. Prints + woven wall hangings look at ancient & new results from 'programming' - a nice allusion. 
At Glasgow Museum of Modern Art, (GOMA) Nathan COLEY's installation of 286 places of Edinburgh worship, created for Birmingham, looks splendid. Made from cardboard: exact, precise, hard edged, it's an ecclesiastical toy town with doors, windows but no icons. No crosses, no emblems of Jewish, Methodist, Catholic etc dogma. Coley has long been interested in architecture & this is obviously done with love. 
GOMA's ground floor is full of Douglas GORDON's 81 videos on 101 TVS. Placed in a circle - or oval- they include "Pretty much every film & video from about 1992 until now" he says. His famous Psycho is at Edinbro's GMA, but here we have plenty to choose from. I vote for the hands & arms, some wrestling with themselves,(Divided Self 1996) + the elephant filmed in Gagosian's huge space in Chelsea NYC. In December Gordon will flood the 55,000 sq ft hall New York Armory nearby to us with a huge installation Tears become .. streams become.. in collaboration with pianist Helene Grimaud.  It's the 8th Armory commission. This water, light & music event should be a showstopper. 
While Gordon is the best known of Scotland's current stars, Sara BARKER, new to me, has a great display of structures made up of wire & chain. Drawings in space attached to a wall - black or white - a light framework welded together into complex forms. Then reminded me of Bronwen Sleigh's work. The 2 could make an interesting dual show together. 
Fiona Robertson'Green Man sculpture on Glasgow's Necropolis may startle some. (What would Kingsley Amis say?) Constructed from wire and turf, it is part of an ongoing project & performance. It sits very well there! I hope it might stay. Less happy is Cathy Wilkes thin show at Tramway as part of Generation. Such a waste of a great space. The Scottish china is out of keeping with the forlorn refugee figures, more dolls than emotive beings.

The GLASGOW GROUP have ben going for over 50 years. Founded by artists for artists this early cooperative has had huge shows (at Tramway) smaller shows at the Lillie Art Gallery. Now they do an interim 3 week exhibition at Hillhead Library, Byres Rd, Glasgow when Philip Reeves shows terrific etchings and collages. Others include Gregor Smith, Shona Dougall & Damian Henry.

 Nick EVANS signature white plaster sculpture is certainly big n bold. Like dahlia garden tubers, his creations writhe, their unruly limbs awkward against the African geometrics patterned floor. This is Dundee's McManus Gallery's Generation show, but it is not immersive. This word has a lot to answer for. However the widespread nature of Generation is admirable. 
Nearby A Silvered Light: Scottish Art Photography from Dundee's Collection" is a wonderful show of work by 40 photographers covering 1985-99 like Colin Ruscoe, Catherine Yass, (great shots of the Tay bridge) Wendy McMurdo (showing at Street Level) Maud Sulter, Patricia Macdonald, Calum ColvinThe collection of 1,000 images includes 800 by Joe McKenzie.
Photography's acceptance as Fine Art is recent in Scotland.  Stills Gallery started in 1977, Portfolio in 1988, Street Level 1989. Tom Joshua Cooper came to GSA in 1982 (Dundee bought 2 of his pix in 1985) accompanied by a 3 day conference. The Scottish Photography Archive was founded at the SNG in 1984. Fotofeis 1993 & 95 promotes photography across Scotland. But remember there were already studios operating in Dundee by 1849. The city had its first photo exh in 1954!
Across the silvery Tay at Newport -on-Tay the Tatha Gallery has a prime position right on the water with light reflecting into their beautiful new spaces. Dawson MURRAY is the star of the current show with shadowed garden pools & ever-changing ripples, alongside Ann Oram.  Richard Demarco's lively pen n ink drawings of boats at Kippford & the Crinan Canal are best sellers.
Welcome to this new Scottish gallery!