Friday, 12 June 2015


A friend asked me recently where art is going? 

Philippe PARRENO has answered this question with his magnificent, monumental & adventurous operatic vision of collaborative music, film, light, sound sculpture plus live performance.  Titled H{N) Y P N (Y} OSIS, It’s more a promenade or spectacular, more experience than exhibition - just as Parreno wants! His aim for several years has been to redefine the ‘exhibition’, turn it on its head....

Born in France, Paris based, now 50, for the last 20 years Parreno has been involved with large scale spectaculars backed by a lot of French intellectulism. He has worked with Douglas Gordon in 2012; transformed the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, the Barbican in London & appeared at the Venice Biennale in 1993, 95, 2003, 07, 2009. 
Here he takes THE PARK AVENUE ARMORY, New York’s best open space (55,000 sq ft & very high) & transforms it into a veritable wonderland of over-head flashing lights, screens with digital patterns, 3 pianos, music live and recorded, plus 5 films of very different sorts. The lights come from 27 different sculptures, all made in France, (almost all sold,) all geometric in form - square, slab, triangle, diamond, rectangle upright or horizontal. 
These animated white light sculptures form an avenue inside the huge Armory Drill Hall. Sometimes they throb, or wink, or blaze, then turn off leaving you in darkness while a piano plays & a film rolls. Sometimes they make patterns on the floor. As they say, it's all very immersive - how I hate that word, but in this case, legitimate. 
It can all be surveyed from a    
circular rotating platform of bleachers at the far end of the hall and happily, sensibly there are lots of benches scattered around so you can sit, for Parreno tells me that contrary to the press release which says 2 hours, to see the whole event takes 5 or 6 hours!  

So I only saw 3 films and have not seen The Crowd, his new film of multiple realities, site specific & specially commissioned for the Armory. 

But as I left I went in search of the technicians & found them behind their computers & screens. "Are u the crew who make it all happen?" I asked. "No! No!" they said. "We are not technicians, We are MAGICIANS."  Right enough - they truely are. 
The computers that I found at the end of the  Armory Drill Hall will be up in the North Balcony for the duration of the exhibition. There are currently 8 computers which feed into one central computer, which controls different aspects of the installation (from the music, lighting, to the Drill Hall shades etc). Parreno's studio had 4 programmers who worked on the project through installation.  I am told when its all perfected, only one guy will stay to look after things. Parreno has a whole crew of magic men in Paris who assist in all his creative imaginings. 

In fact the down side of this extravaganza is that is it sporadic, spotty, scattered across the vast open space. Can a space be TOO big? Here the answer is yes. Despite 27 light sculptures (called Marquees) hanging from the roof, there are not enough. 
SOUND and MUSIC play a vital role in Parreno's work. Here world famous pianist Mikhail Rudy performs music ranging from Liszt, Stravinsky & Ravel to Morton Feldman. The sculptures make their own sound contributions, as do the films. The space is so enormous that 3 grand pianos almost get lost. 

Parreno talks a lot about collaboration, and here he is collaborating with the best. There is a long list of artists, curators, etc. He sees collaboration as key. Even the (very peculiar title H{N) Y P N (Y} OSIS, - ie Hypnosis,) was designed by his graphic team in Paris. So - the set design is by Randall Peacock, sound design by Nicolas Becker, assisted by Cengiz Hartlap; music direction by Nicolas Becker, known for his sonic compositions, & pianist Mikhail Rudy, dramaturgy by Tino Sehgal, Parreno & Asad Raza, 

The whole is co-curated by the famous Hans-Ulrich Oberist, director of London's Serpentine, Alex Poots, the Manchunian Armory's artistic director, and consulting curator, Scotland's own Tom Eccles who heads up Bard University's Hessel Museum & Curatorial Studies. All men u notice. 
Five films help pack out the space at the far end of the Hall with 4 screens, 3 big. Two films - one Marilyn from 2012, the other June 8 1968, from 2009, run on one screen.  
Marilyn conjures her up in a lavish suite at the NY'd Waldorf Astoria Hotel where she lived in the 1950s. Using her voice and as tho thro her eyes, she traverses the rooms, writes letters, talks to herself in dim shadowy surroundings as tho, says Parreno, "in a phantasmagorical seance."  
The other film is a gripping re-enactment of the train journey that transported Robert Kennedy's body from NY to Washington after his assassination in 1968. People stand in homage - or curiosity - along the tracks. It is strangely moving.

"It's a challenge to the viewer to comprehend the complexity of Parreno's orchestrated art extraveganza," said my husband. I think he's right - this time! 

Monday, 8 June 2015


I am a fan of world-renowned artist, architect, & engineer Santiago Calatrava.  
His latest exhibition features 7 new red, black & silver monumental sculptures all along Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan, New York. Flamboyant punctuation marks in aluminium installed there till mid November. 

The largest of these is 40 ft across & 20 ft tall. From the side its rib-like construction appears as a thin arched line. But head on the massive layered roof reveals its architectonic depth - giving the impression of an active flying structure.

But as he points out, everything else at the World Trade Center site has also over-run dramatically. 
Calatrava's refusal to compromise on the aesthetics of anything he is involved with often causes problems, but the results are so often thrillingly beautiful, absolutely gorgeous, breathtaking and pure.  Even glimpsed on a drive past, the famous white wings are startling; arresting. 
drive-by of Transit Hub from my taxi in April. 

model for Hub 

Park Avenue
 The World Trade Center’s new West Concours is, the first piece of the Transportation Hub to be open to the public, They tell me it’s absolutely gorgeous, a WOW factor again -  created by Calatrava’s aesthetic virtuosity, something that overall is mostly missing elsewhere on the big World Trade Center site where practicalities have largely trumped elegance.  
As Calatrava also points out he has already designed several stations - in Belgium & in Italy. "And they always take 9 or 10 years. It's a slow process."
Currently he has 9 big projects ongoing. Several bridges, (Dallas, Doha & Rio de Janeiro); a spire in Chicago; museums in Taipei & Rome; a marina in Salerno & a Greek Orthodox church in Manhattan right by the World Trade Centre. 
Calatrava’s intention is for these Park Avenue sculptures to “simply grow from the ground. Within each sculpture, an internal logic of autonomy delivers lyrical forms and implies a sense of elevation and spiritual uplifting.” 
Photos by D Lanzone & C Henry 
Calatrava builds basswood models to evaluate the aesthetic & structural characteristics of each work before moving on to a full-scale metal sculpture. 

Workshop pix.

Santiago Calatrava's S2 sculpture nearing completion under the masterful hands of Philip Norman Stewart Jr. . Dale Lanzone, who supervised this project over the last 2 years says "Look closely -  this is a hand fabricated tension compression structure."
Park Avenue installation
The process of MAKING these huge pieces is complex. The most difficult are the silver pieces because they rely on invisible cables back & front as each element rests or floats on the next one. Technically a nightmare, they were calibrated & constructed in California by Philip Stewart of Pinwheel. 

The red pieces - one weighing 700,300 lbs! - are biggest. They were fabricated by Steve Bickley of Cleveland Ohio, who can tackle big heavy stuff like bridges. 

Here Calatrava has tipped his hat to Calder's famous Flamingo red Chicago piece using the same vermilion colour which contrasts well with the Park Avenue architecture. 
Calder in Chicago

Last come the black sculptures made by Peter Versteeg in Connecticut. 
Once made, the installation - at night between 10pm & 6am, as streets have to be closed for cranes - took 2 weeks. All orchestrated by public art expert Dale Lanzone. 

Last year Calatrava showed models for the Park Avenue sculptures at Marlborough Gallery, New York. He is a rare combination of artist, architect & engineer and he is keen to redefine the boundaries that normally separate the visual arts, especially sculpture, from architecture & engineering. A  21st century Renaissance man.  
 His oeuvre includes ceramics, drawings, paintings, sculpture,along with his architecture and engineering projects. It all reflects his fascination with and exploration of the evolutionary structure of the natural world. Like Gaudi, Calatrava vision is focused on organic growth, so that both his architecture & his sculpture stem from natural forms, be they birds, plants, trees, flowers, wings, stems, which lift & spring, always moving out & upwards. The result is invigorating and - dare one say it - spiritually uplifting. 

Calatrava’s artwork has been exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2005), The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (2012), & the Vatican Museum in Rome (2013). His work is part of a number of international public collections, including MoMA  in New York. 

And yes, I like the red ones BEST!