Takuro Kuwata @ Alison Jacques Gallery / October 6 to November 5, 2016.

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Installation view of Takro Kuwata at Alison Jacques Gallery, Photo: Andy Keate

A “disturbing, frozen organicism” is one of the qualities Briony Fer attributed to the ceramics of Lucio Fontana, especially those he produced from around the late 1940s onwards. Fer, writing in the November 2014 Artforum, spoke of Fontanas’ ceramics as “…a riff on the dissolution of proper form…”, and took as the cue for her interpretation of this work, the concept of the Formless (L’Informe). The idea of L’Informe, developed through the 1996 exhibition (and book of the same title, at the Centre Georges Pompidou, curated by Yves-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss) held a sub-category which the authors termed base materialism. The characteristic of base materialism could be seen, it was argued, as one of “…de-classing matter, of extracting it from the clutches of classical materialism,..”

The kind of work the authors had in mind, and which Fer offers by way of example in the form of Fontanas’ ceramics, could be seen as the polar opposite of almost anything which had been sculpted or crafted with an ideal form in mind. “The formless matter that base materialism claims for itself resembles nothing” (Bois / Krauss), whereas the crafted object resembles everything and anything which the artist might hold up, and to which the viewer might look up, as the embodiment or representation of idealism. Continue reading “Takuro Kuwata @ Alison Jacques Gallery / October 6 to November 5, 2016.”

200 words #10 / Hans Hofmann

Song of the Nightingale, 1964, Oil on canvas, 84 x 72 in. (213.4 x 182.9 cm), Collection of Barbara and Eugene Schwartz, Photography courtesy of Josh Nefsky

“Art is always spiritual”. It was with such unequivocal statements as this that Hans Hofmann (1880 – 1966) established his reputation as a highly effective pedagogue, a motivator of artistic talent, and a convincing champion of European modernism. From the moment he relocated to the United States from Munich in 1932, he set about the task of instructing a new generation of American artists. His teaching was characterised by a generous self-confidence, and supported by a comprehensive set of clear principles centred on the act of painting, colour theory, and the purpose and limits of the painted form.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s Hofmann’s methodology would continue to inspire his students and emerging artists. His message however, representing as it did a Euro-centric devotion to the figure and the picture plane, would ultimately provide some of his students, such as Lee Krasner, with something against which to rebel.

Looking at Hofmanns’ paintings today, it is impossible to feel the same investment in the battles of theory which were fought across the lines of European Modernism and the emergent force of Abstract Expressionism. Nevertheless, Hofmann’s late work in particular, looks fresh and complex today, and continues to provide invaluable lessons to artists.

Frieze Art Fair /London / #4

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Installation view of Annely Juda’s presentation of Yoshishige Saito at Frieze Masters 2016. Image courtesy of Annely Juda Fine Art.
Back at Frieze Masters there were yet more fascinating finds to be made. In what was another example of a well-presented mini survey, Annely Juda Fine Art was showing work exclusively by the Japanese sculptor Yoshishige Saito (1904 – 2001). Saito had a significant influence on a later generation of Japanese artists including Lee Ufan, Katsuro Yoshida, and Nobuo Sekine; artists who went on to develop what became known as the Mono-ha movement. Yoshishige Saito’s work however, is often seen as a bridge between European modernism and Russian Constructivism in particular, and the more conceptual art which developed in Japan in the 1970s. After most of Saito’s body of work had been destroyed in the Second World War, the artist began to create larger sculptural installations. After winning the prestigious New Artist’s Prize in Japan, Saito received international exposure at both the Venice and Sao Paulo biennales.

Continue reading “Frieze Art Fair /London / #4”

Frieze Art Fair / London / #3

02.jpgInstallation view of Limoncello and Taro Nasu’s booth at Frieze Art Fair 2016. Image courtesy of Limoncello / Taro Nasu.

The standard of installation is high at Frieze. Yet some booths still manage to look fresher than others. Limoncello and Taro Nasu’s clustered arrangement of 2-D and 3-D work at booth B13 comes off well with its contemporary salon feel. Each piece is different enough from another to allow for such close proximity. The eye moves from intriguing sculptural objects to the paintings on the wall via some casually stacked semi sculptural paintings on the floor.

2016 Liz Larner xv (caesura) (1).jpgLiz Larner, xv (caesura), 2016, ceramic, epoxy, mirror, 57,2 x 93,3 x 29,8 cm. 
© Liz Larner, Courtesy Regen Projects, Los Angeles, Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin | Paris

In the first report from Frieze I mentioned Liz Larners’ glazed wall mounted ceramics. I’ve managed to get an excellent image of the piece on display at Galerie Max Hetzler’s booth no. A11. This is pure painting, without a stretcher or a right angle in sight, and stronger than a large number of the canvases in the vicinity. Continue reading “Frieze Art Fair / London / #3”

Frieze Art Fair / London / #2

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Frieze Masters 2016 / Photograph by Mark Blower. Courtesy of Mark Blower/Frieze.

Wherever possible, I try to use professional photos provided by the gallery or artist I am featuring. At Frieze Masters however, I did find myself fumbling with my mobile phone occasionally to take a shot of a painting I never thought I would see in the flesh, and which I knew I was unlikely to see again. Here is my own effort, a sort of personal keepsake from a special encounter. Apologies to the artist.

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Photograph taken by the author with the kind permission of Helly Nahmad, Frieze Masters booth G1.

Picasso always has this effect on me. His last work in particular, from the late 1960s to his death in 1973, I always find fresh and packed full of effortless but inventive passages of paintwork. There are many observers who believe that Picasso stopped being relevant at various stages up to the 1950s; with one author even intentionally omitting the artist’s last work from a monograph on the grounds that it was an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise flawless career. Of course periods in an artist’s work, and entire careers for that matter, drift in and out of relevance over time. One of the most interesting aspects of Frieze Masters is the opportunity it affords for making discoveries or for revisiting artists and groups of artists who don’t typically receive a lot of exposure. Some of the most exciting booths are those in which the gallery has staged a sort of mini survey.

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Courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles / New York / Tokyo. Photo: Andrea Rossetti

Blum & Poe (booth C10) have done this exceptionally well with an installation of work which takes as its starting point the CoBrA group (Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam). It features artist who were involved with the movement, Asger Jorn, Karel Appel and Pierre Alechinsky, and also artists not directly affiliated, such as Jean Dubuffet and Alfonso Ossorio. Blum & Poe present “…a revisionist history of CoBrA as a layered and multi-tentacled avant-garde movement, spanning three decades and many…countries…”. Using the design aesthetic initially conceived by the architect Aldo van Eyck for the 1949 Cobra exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Blum and Poe’s installation leads the visitor cleverly into the heart of the movement, where even the backs of these sometimes intentionally ugly paintings can be seen. Continue reading “Frieze Art Fair / London / #2”

Frieze Art Fair / London / #1

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Frieze London 2016 / Photograph by Linda Nylind. Courtesy of Linda Nylind/Frieze.

My first day at Frieze was spent trying not to get disorientated as I walked around the booths with their sharp white walls under an immense, homogenising white tent. The other challenge for the visitor is not to get too distracted by a sudden performance, a scene-stealing outfit, or a heated debate about a commission sum which would easily allow for the purchase of an entire row of terraced houses in almost any city outside London.

But I have come to Frieze to see some of the best work being produced today, particularly painting, under one roof; albeit a roof large enough to be spotted without effort from an inbound plane. In some other art fairs it can be a challenge to find more than a handful of top class works of art. At Frieze there is no shortage of artwork which will stop you in your tracks. And this is still true even after you have discounted the value adding effect of great lighting and the generous presentation each piece is afforded. Trying to visualise an artwork in a less glamorous setting, and then deciding if it still holds up, is a skill in itself, especially when there is so much to take in. Continue reading “Frieze Art Fair / London / #1”

200 words #9 / Francis Picabia

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Francis Picabia
Udnie (Young American Girl; Dance), 1913
Oil on canvas, 290 x 300 cm
Centre Georges Pompidou/Musée National d‘Art Moderne, Paris. Purchased by the state
© 2016 ProLitteris, Zurich

“Painting bores me” was just one of many confusing statements offered by the artist Francis Picabia. For unlike his contemporary Marcel Duchamp, who effectively abandoned painting after 1918, Picabia continued to paint up to his death in 1953 at the age of 74. Not only did he continue to paint, but he also worked through a dizzying range of styles, none of which seemed to have evolved naturally from the other as might be expected over the course of a painter’s career.

From his highly convincing re-imaginings of Impressionism for the 1905 Salon d’Automne to the controversial canvases he produced in the 1940s, Picabia’s trajectory as a painter was marked by a succession of artistic volte-faces. Just as his pronouncements seem to be crafted to scupper our attempts to get the measure of his personality, Picabia’s method of dispensing with multiple styles of painting would suggest that the artist truly did not see the job of painting as a labour of love, but as another device with which to destabilise us. However, for all his arm’s-length appropriation of different genres, it is through cubism, with its implicit sense of fragmentation, that Picabia seems to speak to us with his own voice.


Francis Picabia: ‘Our Heads Are Round so Our Thoughts Can Change Direction’ is at MoMA New York from November 21, 2016 to March 19, 2017.

Picabia at MoMA

Picabia at Kunsthaus Zurich

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