Sunday, 31 May 2015

EL ANATSUI, Jack Shainman Gallery, The School, KINDERHOOK, NY. 

Cloth of gold. Greek. Roman. Byzantine. Medieval. Royal. Ecclesiastical. Ancient. Expensive - and above all very European. 
 Detail of Blema 2006. Found aluminium & copper wire 150x182 ins.
So what about a cloth or gold - or silver - made out of metal bits from African liquor bottles? 
El Anatsui’s vast heavy, monumental & majestic metal wall-hangings are nothing short of miraculous.  
With their meticulous patchworks of tiny flaterned fragments of gold, silver & black reflecting aluminium linked  or wired together in sets of repeated patterns - stips, lozenges, circles or loops depending on their original source - these 3D curtains entice the eye and initially puzzle.

Like patchwork, crochet, drawn threadwork or any other kind of detailed construction, one first wonders how it's done, how long it took, in this case, how many & how sore the hands that created. Viewers peer and squint. For there is lots to see, much to examine and admire. 
Born in Ghana in 1944, currently working between there & Nigerian where he is Professor of art at Nsukka University, El Anatsui was just recently given the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Biennale. It is the Biennale's highest honour, & was awarded "not just for recent successes internationally (museum exhibitions in Canada, Japan, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, St Louis, Dusseldorf & Pompidou Paris) but for his "artistic influence on 2 generations of artists working in West Africa." 
1987  Devotees.
This show covers FIVE DECADES - a comprehensive survey of 40 years of his career, & is beautifully installed in his dealer's vast 30,000 sq ft Upstate New York gallery, (the perfectly transformed 1929 Kinderhook School).
Anatsui's early work features clay & wood, which he uses to create objects based on traditional Ghanaian beliefs. The first works, Broken Pots date from 1977: globes and spheres cracked and reconfigured.
 In the 1980s he made etchings, which prefigure his cloths of gold by their repetitive squares. He also carved & scored blackened wood & added colour via paint
1993 Old Cloth Series: wood & paint.

I really like his new work which combines the incised black wood with metal strips from the famous whiskey bottles. Made me wonder idly about booze sponsorship deals?!
2014 Generational Mix
A GREAT show! Don't miss it. It's on all summer long. Take the train to Hudson and then see all that art on Warren St, in Kinderhook & at Olana.  It's not just the Hudson River that shimmers this summer.
Prices from $300,000 to 2 million

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

VAN GOGH Flower paintings at the MET, NY. 
Rarely if ever do 4 pictures draw a crowd in NYC - or London or Paris. But Van Gogh's flower paintings are different. Currently 2 iris + 2 rose compositions at the Met can hardly be seen due to the crush. 
However the Met has been clever, providing 2 videos explaining how Van Gogh's colours have faded a good deal - so that what are now gentle colour schemes were originally loud, bright, savage, even raw. The edges of the canvas tell the true story, a shocking bubblegum pink now faded to soft baby cream. He was very interested in colour theory, 
"The laws of the colours are unutterably beautiful," he said. "lt's up to the artist to orchestrate the masterpiece." Involved in this "revolution of colour", his work became emphatic, graphic as he painted wet on wet, at speed. 
All 4 canvases were completed in 3 days at the end of his life, just before Van Gogh left St Reme by train in May 1890.  
He wrote about it in a letter. "I am doing a canvas of roses with a light green background and 2  big bunches of violet irises, one lot against a pink background in which the effect is soft and harmonious because of the combination of greens, pinks; on the other hand the violet bunch - ranging from carmine to pure Prussian blue - stands out against a startling citron background, with other yellow tones in the vase and stand - so it is an effect of tremendously disparate complementaries, which strengthen each other by their juxtaposition." 

 Working in a frenzy, starting from life, he created pictures which were a distillation of nature, pictures of a singular beauty & intensity. Irises grew wild in the ditches around Arles; waterfalls of big red roses in the garden of the St Remy asylum. These flowers prompted endless experiments in colour & movement, resulting in this wealth of vibrant, dazzling images. 
Judith BUMPUS wrote about Van Gogh's flowers in her 1989 Phaidon book, reprinted 10 times now! Proves how people love flowers.