200 words #3 / Michael Krebber

Michael Krebber / MP-KREBM-00087

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Michael Krebber, MP-KREBM-00087, acrylic on canvas, 200 x 150 cm, 2015.                                      

© Michael Krebber, courtesy Maureen Paley, London.

We might think of a painting as finished when the decision is made to stop working on it. Having over-cooked a canvas or two however, a good painter will know what it feels like not to be able to undo something and call the previous mark the last.

The decision to stop is just one amongst a sum of decisions that make up a painting. In Michael Krebber’s work this decision making process is laid bare in the scarcity of visible marks. If we look at a painting as a sum of decisions that have been made, then the fewer marks we find on a canvas should mean fewer decisions. A painting with very few marks would suggest a type of Minimalism.

If Krebber’s painting can be called minimal, it is of a different order to that of say Robert Ryman, whose decision to use just one colour gives an illusion of economy. Michael Krebbers’ paintings operate in a condensed field where some marks are presented but all are possible, and where the first mark is equal to the last.

Maureen Paley – Michael Krebber

 

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Georgia O’Keeffe @ Tate Modern / July 6 – Oct 30, 2016.

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Georgia O’Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II 1930, Oil on canvas mounted on board, 24 1/4 x 36 1/4 (61.6 x 92.1), Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Gift of The Burnett Foundation © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum.

In a desert landscape, time can appear to slow to an extent which becomes difficult to measure. The sky each day can be virtually identical to that of the previous day. Evenly spaced clouds cast tidy shadows over the landscape. The result of walking to a horizon might seem equivalent to staying put. In a scenario where virtually nothing changes, neither the landscape, the climate nor the viewpoint, the only variable which the viewer, a painter perhaps, might be sensitive to is herself as she stands within the landscape. The painter Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) was drawn to New Mexico perhaps in part because of the sun-baked permanence of the landscape. It is the kind of climate which allows an artist to spend time examining geographical features, without risk of the weather transforming the view beyond recognition. It is the same kind of permanence that drew Cezanne back repeatedly to Mont St. Victoire.

Georgia O’Keeffe liked to suggest that location was of incidental importance to her work, having written in 1976 “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant.”*. As a statement of fact however, this is amply contradicted by the majority of her paintings, which are very much products of the places in which the artist spent different stages of her life. It is more likely that O’Keeffe, through this defiant statement, was taking control of her own story in much the same way as she had learned to do as far back as the 1920s in New York.

“They make me seem like some strange unearthly sort of creature floating in the air – breathing in clouds for nourishment – when the truth is that I like beef steak – and like it rare at that.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

From the moment of her first solo exhibition at 291, the New York gallery of photographer and influential art world figure Alfred Stieglitz, O’Keeffe’s public reception was being stage managed in a way which foregrounded her status as a female artist. It was a reading of her work which the artist thought bore no relation to what she was producing; “They make me seem like some strange unearthly sort of creature floating in the air – breathing in clouds for nourishment – when the truth is that I like beef steak – and like it rare at that.”. Having met in 1916, O’Keeffe and Stieglitz formed a relationship which was both professional and to different degrees mutually developmental, and which evolved into a personal one very rapidly, with the couple ultimately marrying in 1924. In 1925 O’Keeffe and Stieglitz moved into an apartment in the 34 storey Shelton Hotel on Lexington Avenue. By this time O’Keeffe was firmly established in Stieglitz’s professional circle of what she called ‘city men’; a circle which included the photographer Paul Strand (1890 – 1976), and the painters Marsden Hartley (1877 – 1943) and John Marin (1870 – 1953). From 1925 until 1929 O’Keeffe painted a series of New York cityscapes inspired by the emerging metropolis, seen both from street level and from the windows of the couple’s apartment. These paintings are among the most solid works the artist produced in her entire career. Their slightly fractured planes, emphasised, if not created, by the steam and smoke rising from the city, speak more of the influence of male dominated European Cubism than any presumed femininity or lightness of touch. Continue reading “Georgia O’Keeffe @ Tate Modern / July 6 – Oct 30, 2016.”

200 words #2 / MADE YOU LOOK

MADE YOU LOOK: dandyism & black masculinity / curated by Ekow Eshun @ The Photographers’ Gallery, London, July 15 – September 25, 2016.

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Hassan Hajjaj, Afrikan Boy, 2012 © Hassan Hajjaj, Courtesy of the artist.

Adding to a tidy list of London shows currently featuring African photography, ‘MADE YOU LOOK – dandyism & black masculinity’ sets out a brief which is tight and unambiguous. (See the previous two articles below for more on African photography.)

This compact exhibition, in one of the smaller spaces in The Photographers’ Gallery, highlights the way in which black masculinity can tend towards the performative, the theatrical. From the very earliest photograph in the exhibition, an unattributed print thought to have been taken in Senegal in 1904 of two well-dressed men posing with bottles of champagne, we see a complex public expression of identity torn between appropriation and innovation. The two unknown men from Senegal, whose attire is typical of the colonial classes of the time, contrast with the superbly confident mix of public flamboyance and individuality of Hassan Hajjajs’ models.

What we see in this show is a way in which ‘…(black men) choose to define their self-image…’ as curator Ekow Eshun has said, and the emergent confidence which runs throughout points to an individualised self-image unburdened by historical appropriation.  More than the public images however, Samuel Fossos’ self-portraits, taken after-hours in his photo studio in Bangui, remind us that identity is complex and fluid and, ultimately, personal.

thephotographersgallery.org.uk

ekoweshun.com

 

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200 words # 1 / Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou

Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou / Borderlands @ Jack Bell Gallery, London, July 8 – 22, 2016.

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Image courtesy of Jack Bell Gallery.

To be in a hurry in West Africa is to be immediately conspicuous. And to expect something to happen on time serves only to exhaust the energy required for the inevitable long wait. Backpackers complain enthusiastically to each other in hotel lobbies about delays and uncomfortable transport. Despite this however, the great cities of West Africa which grumbling visitors pass through continue to swell and adapt rapidly and organically, seemingly against the odds.

Adaptation and ingenuity are the immediate responses of the populations of these cities to serial frustrations and obstacles to development. This visceral mix of real necessity and ingenuity creates an aesthetic which is at once troubling and beautiful. In the dust raised by the traffic of Porto Novo, capital city of Benin, photographer Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou continues his series of portraits of people working the black market between Benin and Nigeria. These are spontaneous yet masterful compositions captured in available light on a medium format camera. Agbodjelous’ subjects are those people whose livelihood depends on transporting electronics, palm oil, car parts and petrol across the border.

Stemming from the best tradition of African portrait photography, ‘Borderlands’ captures, without dramatic embellishment, the uneasy energy of a modern West African city.

www.jackbellgallery

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Making & Unmaking / curated by Duro Olowu @ Camden Arts Centre, June 19 – September 18, 2016.

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Installation view of Making & Unmaking: An exhibition curated by Duro Olowu at Camden Arts Centre, 2016. Courtesy of Camden Arts Centre. Photo: Mark Blower.

To keep an increasingly sophisticated gallery audience engaged, large public galleries necessarily participate in a type of competitive curating.  In order to maintain visibility, it is critical for these institutions to put together programmes of high quality exhibitions. Many commercial galleries and smaller public spaces on the other hand will quite often cobble together group exhibitions on the flimsiest of premises. The results can be dispiriting, and it can seem like an exception to see a well researched group show in many spaces of this size. However, to call ‘Making and Unmaking’, curated by fashion designer Duro Olowu, simply a group show would be to undersell it. In the relative intimacy of the Camden Arts Centre, this assembly of work by over sixty artists has the feel of something epic.

Partly because of the amount of work on display, I found myself going back to this show more than a couple of times. The volume of work in the show, and more importantly the quality of so much of it, made it impossible to appreciate fully in a single visit. The selections that have been made and the expertly paced installation achieve precisely what they are meant to; they encourage the viewer to move back and forth between what seem to be superficially different works, in an attempt to spot possible connections and extract a thread of meaning from the whole. The subtle  connections and comparisons between the artworks multiply exponentially as we walk around the show; a testament to the curatorial skill behind this project. Without being intrusive, curator Duro Olowu emerges as a generous and confident presence behind the exhibition. It is unsurprising to find out that Olowu is a collector of objects, perhaps even a hoarder, and something of his collectors instinct comes across in the work he has assembled for this exhibition. It resonates with the thoughtfulness of the arrangements and the time that evidently went into their selection and acquisition. Continue reading “Making & Unmaking / curated by Duro Olowu @ Camden Arts Centre, June 19 – September 18, 2016.”