Weekend Reading

Controversy this week in Australia over the awarding of the Olive Cotton Award for Photographic Portraiture to Justine Varga for a cameraless photograph produced by the action of the artist’s grandmother writing and spitting on to the negative. The Sydney Morning Herald lead the charge with a couple of pieces and plenty of quotes from disgruntled photographers – their main criticisms here. They raise the question of whether the work is a photograph, whether it’s a portrait, and finally if it was even authored by the artist. With those issues hanging over it, it’s a wonder why the bile hasn’t been more directed to the awards organisers for including the work rather than the typical sexist dismissal of the artist on social media and the hate mail (!) to judge and NGA curator Shaune Lakin. Check out photographer Jack Picone’s social media discussion on the matter to see responses from the dead heart of Australian photography – at best, it’s surprising how few professional photographers can define a photograph.

Hyperalleric reposted an article on Duchamp’s Optical Experiments, something I’m thinking over a bit this week as we install our next Len Lye exhibition at the Govett-Brewster, considering the famous 1961 exhibition of kinetic art Rörelse i konsten/Bewogen Beweging which included the likes of Lye and Jean Tinguely alongside Duchamp. More in this in the coming weeks.

And to end, Jerry Saltz likes the new MoMA renovations.

Recent Travels: North America

I’m back from a very quick trip across North America, taking in Toronto, Hamilton and Vancouver in Canada and Buffalo, Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco in the United States. Here’s a quick review of the highlights.

McMaster Museum of Art (MMA) in Ontario was my principle museum of interest on this trip and a museum I had not previously visited. My connection to MMA came via a painting in their collection by Ben Nicholson with an inscription from Nicholson on the verso dedicating the work to Len Lye. The two became friends shortly after Lye arrived in London in the mid 1920s and Lye subsequently exhibited in the Seven and Five Society at Nicholson’s invitation. Including Nicholson’s painting in our recent On and Island exhibition was inspired by the letters written between the friends during Lye’s visit to Majorca in 1930 (the letters are in the Tate Archives, not the Len Lye Foundation’s).

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Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Bird Bath (1914/1994)

A visit to MMA turns up some thrills to be hand in their collection. There’s Henri Gaudier-Brzeska’s bronze Bird Bath in front of the museum commissioned for Roger Fry and completed posthumously. MMA have the maquette which you can see in this video. Inside, several new acquisitions gifted by the artist Takao Tanabe were a highlight as I was ending my trip in British Columbia, a landscape that defines Takao’s practice.

The MMA collection is largely defined by the significant collection of (close to 200 works) donated to the museum by benefactor Herman H. Levy (alongside a CAN$15.2m endowment). The MMA will soon open the exhibition A Cultivating Journey: The Herman H. Levy Legacy (1 September – 9 December 2017) which will include works by Corbet, Matisse, Monet, Pissaro, Turner and van Gogh.

Following the MMA I had just a afternoon to enjoy the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY., which is unfortunate for what is my favourite museum in North America. The sheer quality of their collection and the scale of what is on display make it such a joy to visit. It was a chance to again see their Sol LeWitt Wall Drawing # 1268: Scribbles: Staircase (AKAG), conceived 2006 (executed 2010). Looking forward too towards the bequest of Marisol’s estate to the Albright-Knox.

I had more time in Chicago, visiting the Art Institute of Chicago to see their exhibition celebrating the work of Hugh Edwards – curator at the Institute for 30 years (’59-70) – and the Museum of Contemporary Photography for their re:collection exhibition. The latter was a fairly standard collection show but having worked on the recent Emanations exhibition it was great seeing several interesting cameraless works by Kei Ito and Binh Danh (more on Danh in a future post).

The big exhibition in Chicago however was at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the large Takashi Murakami survey The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. Here’s a local review of a show that was the talk of the town.

 

I had a quick trip to California to visit Berkeley Art Museum and SFMOMA, the latter showing Soundtracks, an exhibition exploring sound in contemporary art with wonderful works by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot and Camille Norment. The exhibition is sadly without a printed catalogue, however there is a reasonable online publication here. SFMOMA was also an opportunity to see a strong collection of works by an artist I’m thing of a great deal lately, Alexander Calder.

 

I’ll follow up on a few of these exhibitions in more detail in future posts.

 

 

 

 

On and Island: A Roundup

The On and Island: Len Lye, Robert Graves and Laura Riding exhibition wraps up on 6 August at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery / Len Lye Centre. The exhibition takes a look over Len Lye’s working relationship with the poets Robert Graves and Laura Riding. Many know of Lye’s friendship with Graves, less so the relationship with Riding. Both were important in expanding Lye’s practice.

One of the high points of the exhibition is the publication of Individual Happiness Now, an essay written by Lye and Graves establishing a set of values to counter the rise of fascism during the Second World War. Unpublished, it seemed more pertinent now than a typical exhibition catalogue. Lye’s biographer and editor of the essay, Roger Horrocks, appeared on Radio New Zealand, speaking to Kim Hill about Lye’s work with Graves on the essay while the text was briefly covered in the Nota Bene page of the Times Literary Supplement (No. 5955, 19 May 2017).

The exhibition itself was reviewed by Lana Lopesi at Pantograph Punch in the nicely titled “Let Beryl and I sort it out”: On Len Lye and Friendships.

A small symposium organised by the Govett-Brewster, held on 9 June at the University of Auckland, took the exhibition as a starting point for a discussion of the Graves and Riding circle, looking at their collaborations with Lye and relationships with other figures such as John Aldridge and Gertrude Stein.

Following a welcome from Govett-Brewster Director Simon Rees, I opened with a brief overview of the relationship between Lye, Graves and Riding before Andrew Paul Wood (writer and critic) opened the conversation in earnest with Fantasy I(s)-Lands and Disputed Territories. Linda Tyler (University of Auckland) returned us to Lye with her paper An Artist in Every Child, A Child in Every Artist: Len Lye and the modernist avant-garde’s investment in children’s art followed by Raymond Spiteri (Victoria University of Wellington) addressing the frequent question of Lye as a surrealist in Dreams are not enough: surrealism in the Graves-Riding circle. The final two papers of the day were particularly interesting for those of us from the Lye side of the conversation with Lisa Samuels (University of Auckland) exploring Laura Riding’s work with John Aldridge around her illustrated poem The Life of the Dead and then Ann Vickery (Deakin University) with her closing paper ‘[B]eing brilliant trouble in arrangement’: Len Lye, Laura Riding, and Gertrude Stein as Acquaintances in Composition.

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Touché – modified symposium advertising.

John Hurrell at Eyecontact writes positively of both the publication of Individual Happiness Now and the symposium (having not seen the exhibition).

I’ll add another round up as more views come in.

 

Weekend Reading

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Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire

Yorkshire’s Hepworth Wakefield wins Art Fund UK Museum of the Year prize. I have to agree. I’ve had the fortune to visit the Wakefield on each of my trips back home to the UK and enjoy the museum more each time. In fact, wishing I was in the UK right now to catch the Wakefield’s Howard Hodgkin exhibition.

Reviews of The Body Laid Bare, Auckland Art Gallery’s exhibition of nudes from the Tate Collection, continue to stress the lack of colour.

Looking forward to this new biography of the photographer Gaspard-Félix Tournachon, or Nadar as we all know him.

And to to end, Why is contemporary art beating out the old classics?

Weekend Reading

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Roger Fenton. Valley of The Shadow of Death. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, The University of Texas at Austin.

After some Friday night hectoring about exhibition making from someone fired up by Susan Sontag – “in place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art” – I saw this Bookforum piece on Sontag’s diaries. The usual stuff. But it reminded me of something I wanted to read again. It’s close to ten years since filmmaker Errol Morris tackled  Sontag’s accusation that Roger Fenton faked one of his most well-known photographs in a fascinating investigation for the New York Times. You’ll need some time to work through it, coming in three substantial episodes: Part One, Part Two, Part Three. Morris runs the gamut of what you can do (and the time you can spend) in thinking over a photograph, or two in this case.

Canada celebrates 150 years since its founding this week, however with some pause for thought for its indigenous cultures. David Balzer at Canadian Art writes on Canada’s settler-colonial kitsch and Adam Gopnik at the The New Yorker contemplates the foundation of the United States by comparison.

The Walker Art Centre is at the centre of another quagmire, this time around the Jimmy Durham retrospective. Hyperalleric has a good summary while the comments at Jezebel are quite ride.

And working as I do with kinetic sculpture this piece was a pleasant find this week – on the museum activators of Alexander Calder’s work. Add to that Jean-Paul Satre’s 1947 essay on Calder’s work for ARTnews.