Vogue 100: A Century of Style

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The latest exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Vogue 100: A Century of Style, was not what I expected.  I usually tend to avoid Vogue and other fashion magazines, simply for the reason that fashion doesn’t feature high on my list of priorities. I do, however, have a secret passion for the creativity and escapism of fashion photography and Vogue, without doubt, features some of the most daring and outlandish photographs in the world of fashion.  The exhibition is a treat.  It is beautifully staged, wonderfully designed and features endless pictures from Vogue’s early days in 1892 to its transformation throughout the glitz and glamor of the 20s right up to the present day.  I was pleasantly surprised that Vogue covered political and cultural affairs, including Matisse hard at work making his famous cut-outs in bed. It’s definitely an exhibition not to be missed.

Image: National Portrait Gallery 

 

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Shoes: Pleasure and Pain

I went to the V&A’s Shoes: Pleasure and Pain exhibition on a whim and was pleased that I did.  As you can probably guess, the exhibition offers a large array of weird, wonderful, quirky and seemingly uncomfortable footwear spanning centuries and continents.

The V&A puts on fantastic exhibitions and this one was just as inventive, with various film extracts, music, and a wall display of shoe boxes.

My personal shoe collection is a bit sparse but even if like me you don’t have a shoe fetish, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain is definitely worth the visit.

“This obsession with shoes just really struck me, and how it’s gone on. Through social media, it’s in our living room. I wanted to go into why are we who we are in shoes? And so often they are not really made for our feet, which are actually quite wide. Fashion is a different thing,” – Helen Persson, Curator, Shoes: Pleasure and Pain 

Images: Victoria & Albert Museum

Barbara Hepworth

One of the perks of my job is having guided tours of London art exhibitions by an art historian! The latest tour led us to Tate Britain to see Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World.

The exhibition, like many of Tate Britain’s exhibitions under the directorship of Penelope Curtis, has received mixed reviews.  Critics have called it “cramped, frustrating, weirdly selected and badly displayed” and “cramped, bereft of natural light and undermined by rivals.’ In fact, I have struggled to find a positive review in the British media…

i must admit that I felt these same frustrations on a similar scale. Sheltering the sculptures behind glass cases felt immediately unfitting as her work lost a sense of that free flowing tactile nature.  Placing her work beside that of her ex-husband’s also appeared to overshadow her own achievements.

However, it goes without saying that Barbara Hepworth was an exceptionally talented and innovate sculptor and despite the curatorial issues, her work still undoubtably impresses.  The gorgeously sensual workings of guarea wood in Corinthos and well known wood and string sculpture of Pelagos were among my favourites.  What i didn’t know before visiting this exhibition was that Hepworth was also a talented draughtsperson. When her daughter was hospitalised in 1944, she became friends with the surgeon, Norman Capener, who invited her to draw surgical procedures in the Princess Elizabeth Orthopaedic Hospital.  The subsequent drawings are incredibly tender and illustrate the extent to which Hepworth was concerned with the study and exploration of form.

“Carving is interrelated masses conveying an emotion; a perfect relationship between the mind and the colour, light and weight which is the stone, made by the hand which feels. It must be so essentially sculpture that it can exist in no other way, something completely the right size but which has growth, something still and yet having movement, so very quiet and yet with a real vitality.” – Barbara Hepworth, 1934. 

Soundscapes

Six paintings. Six musicians.  The National Gallery is currently holding an exhibition in which paintings are provided with musical scores or sound art, the result of a project in which six musicians were commissioned to create a piece of music in response to an artwork of their own choosing.

The result is not only an enhancement of the pleasure gained from these works of art, but an encouragement to spend more time in front of the canvas, studying every aspect in detail.  It would be interesting to ascertain the average amount of time the typical gallery visitor spends in front of a piece of art, although I’m sure this would be an impractical and unreliable activity. Time does not equal pleasure, fulfilment or understanding after all.  However, in Soundscapes, people were spending up to 30 minutes, sometimes longer, in front of one painting.  The music drew them closer to the image, they moved around, revisited certain sections of the canvas and stood in silence.

Various museums and galleries have already experimented with music in their displays and I have often wondered why it doesn’t happen more often. When I look at a work of art, if i am not already listening to music, I imagine the sounds that might be heard and internally create my own music.  For me, it’s a natural response but it adds to the pleasure I get when viewing a painting.

If I had to chose my favourite musical score / artwork from the exhibition, it would be Nico Muhly’s response to The Wilton Diptych (c. 1395–9).  A spiritually serene work of art, coupled with an ethereal soundscape.

Station to Station: A 30 Day Happenning

The Barbican is currently holding a “living exhibition” of numerous multi-media events spread over a 30 day period.  It is a fascinating project which builds on Doug Aitken’s 2013 venture Station to Station and really does offer something for everyone.

I started my visit off with Light Echoes by Aaron Koblin and Ben Tricklebank, an immersive installation of laser beams and atmospheric music, which encourages the spectator to move in time with the light.  I then sampled the delights of cactus omelette based on Ed Ruscha’s recipe whilst watching his bizarrely entertaining short film, Premium. After wandering around the gallery space, I sat down to witness Abraham Brody’s Soul Alchemy II. Brody, a classically trained violinist, encouraged interaction between members of the public and performed very emotive music whilst looking into the eyes  of any willing participant.  It was incredibly moving.

Station to Station: A 30 Day Happening – 27 June 2015 – 26 July 2015 

Image: still from Light Echoes

Carsten Höller

It’s not every day you get to enter an exhibition through a dark tunnel or exit via a swirling slide, but that is just what’s on offer at Carsten Holler’s latest exhibition, Decision.

The exhibition immerses the audience in an experiential environment in which they are invited to interact with the displays and in some respects decide on their own experience within the gallery. It is a great critique on what contemporary art is and can be, yet I couldn’t help but think it was more of a gimmick to draw in the London crowds. Needless to say, it was still a fun way to spend the afternoon! Some highlights for me included Pill Clock which drops a capsule every 3 seconds to mark the passing of time and is intended to be consumed by the visitor, and the seemingly misplaced installation called Fara Fara which features the music scene in the Democratic Republic of Congo!

Michal Rovner

Michal Rovner (b.1957) is a multi-media artist, specialising in video and cinematic installations.  In her current exhibition at Pace Gallery (London), the viewer would be forgiven for thinking they are entering a room of bold, abstract paintings. Indeed, they are, but a closer look reveals the wonderful multi-layering of tiny human figures which move ritualistically across a textured backdrop.  Some figures trail off the screen, others push and pull one another, and yet the viewer has no concrete notion from where these figures came, or where they are going.  They are in constant flux, striving to reach an unidentifiable destination and unknown in their struggle.