This is an odd collection housed in an odd building with a shocking website, but still I appreciate it being nearby.
The gallery is currently refurbishing and installing a new exhibition, but I recently got to see some of the permanent collection. I’ve chosen three works – works that had me thinking about what art can be.
I’m ashamed to say there were plenty of installations here that I found just awful – not interesting, not intriguing, but just awful – and I didn’t give them the time I probably should have to try and understand them better. I think this is one of the problems of visiting a gallery when time is limited. Ideally I would visit for an entire day every week, to really be able to get under the skin of these works.
(Two of the installations I will cover in my learning log for Understanding (or not!) Visual Culture)
The works I spent most time with were three that I felt I already had a connection with:
David Shrigley! What to say? Clever, dark, and the kind of funny that makes you spit your tea out.
He draws honestly, he speaks honestly. He is the drawer and commentator inside all of us, I think, if we were that witty…It’s as if he has got in to our heads (oops, maybe this is just me?), found those unconscious thoughts, untangled them, extracted them and put them into words and images.
Our instinct may be to think the drawings are child like, but no, like his turn of phrase he has just the right turn of the pen.
And he makes us think about what art can be. The poster about the pigeon – is that just a joke – a step up from the ‘wash me’ scribbled in to a dirty white van? Quite honestly, I don’t know. As I write I’m thinking that this is more about the body of art that Shrigley produces, and perhaps what that says overall about life, about what we choose to communicate and what we keep inside our head, about the world of art itself maybe.
So yes, of course this was going to catch my eye. Slater Bradley has a double in Benjamin Brock, and he has cast him as Ian Curtis.
As mentioned above, I need to spend more time with this, more time reading up on Slater Bradley. Taken as it is, I wonder about this as art. The photograph is striking, intriguing, sad, funny. The naked Christmas tree, the expression on Brock’s face. Yet Brock is playing the part of Curtis, and so how we read this image is swamped with our feelings about this beautiful, talented and tragic man. Bradley is capturing his own double playing the part of another man. I find it hard to get more out of this image than the question of why?
Is it about identity, how we project our own feelings on to others? Or is it about desire, desire to become something other, to be able to inhabit another identity?
I was frustrated by this. First swept off my feet by the Kiefer exhibition two years ago in London, it was a treat to find something by him so near to home. It is a double page, in a glass cabinet. The only explanation given by the gallery is that is is a ‘photograph on paper’. There is no information on the gallery website. I did research when I got home and this appears to be a book by Kiefer which I will try to get hold off (the cheap version!).
Frustratingly I can’t find out a great deal about the artwork online but I’m hoping the book will clarify. My understanding is that the chaos left on the table after dinner with friends gave rise to an installation that follows the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Kiefer created scenes from the myth, photographed them, and it became a book, printed by Ivory Press.
The list of materials used: Acrylic, ashes, lead, wire holder, glass, chalk, plastic figures, loam, oil, porcelain, snakeskin, straw, textiles and teeth on canvas. Kiefer also drew in pencil on the resulting photographs.
The scene on display in Avignon is probably the dress infused with poison, sent by Medea to avenge Jason – who has abandoned her to marry the king’s daughter. I know that Anselm uses lead a great deal, and it does look as if these dresses are made of lead.
(On Artnet.com I have seen a plane that looks like this one. It is made of lead and measures 7.8 x 34 x 23.5 cm)
So much of this delights me – that Kiefer saw the story in the debris of a dinner party – which in itself tells a story perhaps of love, loss, betrayal, plots, plans, revenge. The materials he uses. Material that in themselves symbolise so much: lead, ash, snakeskin…And then he has somehow managed to make something astoundingly beautiful from this morbid myth.
The dresses fly behind the plane, as today we might see promotional banners or coloured smoke from a display – is Medea announcing her fury to the world, or is she arriving by stealth bomber?
As ever, Kiefer makes me think.