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Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

The Glamour of Italian Fashion, 1945-2014 at the V&A (part 2)

In my first part on the exhibition The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014 at the V&A it was neccessary to set the scene for postwar Italy: impoverished, the funding it received through the Marshall Plan for regional industries provided high quality material that could fuel a fashion industry about to break through onto the international scene. Following Giorgini’s efforts to showcase the best of Italian production in the 50s, a potent market was found in North America for exquisite and hand-sewn pieces strengthened by a blend of quality and tradition. The 60s saw the emergence of a cultural fascination with Italy that went hand in hand with its fashion, creating an attitude and attractiveness that only grew throughout the years.

So far the main concern had been the creation of the “perfect outfit” – made for a maker’s loyal and exacting clients, every detail curtailed to his or her desire. Yet the late 60s and early 70s called for a new approach. Just as Florence and Rome were being replaced by Milan as the new capital of Italian fashion, ready-to-wear fashion was on the rise, where the concern was not so much the perfect outfit, but the perfect “style”.

On that note, the exhibition leads us seamlessly into this second part, where the outfits on display are now almost all left unprotected by glass; this allows for more observation of the textures but is also intentionally reminiscent of shop display rather than a traditional  museum collection.

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Indeed, proudly displayed at the entrance of the room, Elio Fiorucci and Walter Albini have become the epitome of the new designer that have embraced the ready-to-wear market branching out into clothes stores. They eclipse the traditional dressmaker with the more modern notion of “Lo Stilista”: the designer, stylist and mediator in terms of brand image and clothing. This new creator is concerned as much with the marketing image and wide-range accessibility of his products…while retaining an impeccable quality in his materials, as well as a newfound inventivity. The motto of Ferregamo mentioned at some point encapsulates this attitude: “Handmade shoes by mass production.”

This is perfectly on par with the marketing campaign “Made in Italy” that sought to increase the appeal of Italian fashion abroad. While Elio Fiorucci was definitely concerned with the branding aspect of his work, Albini, trained as an illustrator, uses his skills to produce elegant sketches that search for this sense of style and expression. Yet there is also a stronger focus, as we evoved through the display, on a more concise exploration of fashion’s relation to italian production. A video displays the regions that provide the industry with silk (Como), wool (Biella) and leather (Tuscany). The slightly dry and advert-like feel of the small video is toned down by the garments displayed on rows either side in themes corresponding to the textiles used, from Missoni’s knitwear to Karl Lagerfeld’s multicolour mink or Max Mara’s camel coat.

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Women’s knitted ensemble 1972 Missoni 528 KB Missoni / Fashion in Motion at the V&A, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The last part is one that concerns itself not only with fashion but essentially with the way it is channelled throughout modern media and deified.Lo Silisto here becomes, in the year 2014, the “designer”, whose world and its superstar status is defined as such by Anne Piaggi: “a secret society, made up of pioneers, a few inventors and a few poets. They are the new phenomenon and the new elite.”

The room is large and dark, projecting a sense of covert holiness as a large dome-like structure stretches overhead and a screen shows a whirl of videos in which models stride across the catwalk as a reconstruction of one displays various haute couture designs from recent years. Almost too excessive, too showy…yet it works. Maybe the true key to displaying fashion that oscillates between elegance and brightly coloured, textured luxury.

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Some are instantly known, such as Valentino or Dolce & Gabbana. Yet again, some are new arrivals, designers yet to become fashionable household names. In a sense, I wish I could have seen more of these. We see a lot of well-known fashion designers throughout the exhibition itself so giving more of the scene to a larger array of emerging designers would have been interesting. Yet this is a small point in itself…counterbalanced by a video at the end of the exhibition in which designers, editors and fashion experts are asked their opinion concerning the future of italian fashion, and encourage the presence of fresh emerging designers within the industry.

The exhibition finishes off with a greater focus on photography as not only the vehicule of a design but also of the idea and appeal behind it, sometimes drawing on lyrical, cultural and even political themes, such as the Benetton ads by its artistic director Oliviero Toscani that became revolutionary for the messages that they conveyed rather than their presentation of the clothing, making a brand image something other than its garments…making it desirable and glamorous as a concept in itself.

This exhibition left a great impression on me…and it might have been one of my favourite so far this year. It showed an immense love of the clothes and a concise eye not only on Italian fashion but on the evolution of an industry as a whole. I would have personaly loved to see more fashion sketches; there were a few dotted here and there as well but not always a clear overview concerning their contribution to the final product. However I understand the fact that the focus had to be on the Italian textiles and the way they shaped the design of the clothes, rather than the sketched idea. The sheer amount and quality of the clothes was overwhelming, although I would a few more in-depth spotlights on particular designers in certain places and maybe more historical context in terms of Italy’s political and social situation. How were other industries faring? To what extent were Italians themselves and their governement supportive in relation to international buyers, aside from the prosperity that this would inject into the country? The subject is mentioned but remains vague, perhaps reflecting the concluding video in which the need for renewal and economical support is stressed.

Another subject that would have interested me would have been the way in which Italians would express this dolce vita, nonchalant and refined way of dressing outside of the catwalk and workshops, to see a bit more of the “typical” dressers and consumers rather than having allusions to a faceless market. Yet, there was an immense width of information to cover and I think that this insighful overview was perfectly handled. On display until the 27th of July, this exhibition is one that I cannot recommend enough.

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Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014 at the V&A (part 1)

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Italian fashion is a universal symbol of excellent taste and elegance. Its legacy and enduring influence on what we wear and the attitude we aspire to is infinite. But now more than ever, fashion is uprooted from the places it originates from. Influences from different countries and cultures merge, further encouraged by the internet, press and media. For this reason, this exhibition and its return to the geographical and cultural roots of Italian postwar fashion is essential, showing us how the fashion industry changed and thrived through regional industries that, with funding through the Marshall plan, managed to provide high-quality materials for the fashion industry.

While showing its national tradition and international flourishing the exhibition shows the way in which the relation to craft and presentation of a garment changed drastically, from seamstresses creating custom-made wardrobes to fashion designers creating ready-to-wear creations encouraged by shops and an increasing fashion media. Finally, we are projected into today’s Italian fashion and the way it both learns from the past and transcends it.

The exhibition divides itself into three sections, in chronological order, each of them possessing a particular design and atmosphere that makes our travelling through the space as viewers organized yet far from forced.

The first part introduces us to the Italy of the early 1950s, in the context of economic peril and reconstruction, receiving funding through the Marshall plan in order to revitalise regional industries. At the time, the idea of ready-to-wear clothes is not yet in place. The clothes that are displayed were made to order and made to measure – a testimony to the skill and tradition of the seamstress. The dim lighting soften the atmosphere and highlighted the intricate details on the ball gowns encased in glass; far from reduced to a clinical, documentary-like display, they are still stealing the show. After a quick glance at everyday wear, luxurious dresses are quickly in the spolight – a good contrast, but one that was almost too hasty. A more homogeneous glance would have given a good overview of fashion on all levels of society at the time.

Sartoria, or dresswear, came in many different colours and textures – silk, chiffon, satin, chantilly lace…and 80% of it was hand-sewn.The pink dress below, by Schuberth, demonstrates a stunning use of sfumatura, a gradation of colour from pale to dark, one amongst many examples of the technique and quality involved.

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

An immense array of skilled creators that lead the workshops creating these pieces, usually for a loyal clientele that is accustomed to a particular style or cut. The names are as numerous as the gowns are glamorous, with their richness and inventivity despite shapes that remain for the most part conservative and impractical, reserved for special events. Amongst them, Roberto Cappucci (the silk purple gown above), Alberto Fabiani and the Sorelle Fontana. The relation to WWII is often more intense for these creators than a concern with economy and clientele. Indeed Simonetta, whose exquisite satin and silk cream gown can be seen below, was imprisoned in the 40s due to her antifacist involvement.

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

She was one of the participants in Italy’s first internationally recognised fashion show, at the Sala Bianca in Florence, organized by Giovanni Battista Giorgini. An Italian buisnessman, his concern was to promote Italian fashion to an international audience, and draw the attention from Paris, the “couture capital” at the time. The documentation through letters and invitations as well as rare photographs and footage provided are testimonies to the rousing sucess of his first shows from 1951 onwards, showing the quality and variety of fabrics that would set the scene for the “Made in Italy” cultural trademark.

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Fashion show in Sala Bianca, 1955, Archivio Giorgini, Photo by G.M. Fadigati, © Giorgini Archive, Florence

Giorgini’s fashion shows were an immense success and the audience, first a select circle of press and clients, became larger and larger every year. He also drew heavily on the elements that made Italy Florence, a place that appeared attractive and glamorous to its American visitors – its history and culture. For this reason, a Botticelli was once on display in his show to create a clear relation between Italy’s past artistic success and its present.

These would have attracted more clients that had the means and elegance to satisfy their taste with lasting and loyal collaborations. One of these collaborations can be cristallized through the display of Margaret Abegg’s wardrobe, whose pieces were exclusively created by Maria Grimaldi, a dressmaker from Turin. Margaret Abegg herself was the wife of an American textile industrial and represented the exact clientele that Italy wanted to attract. She donated these clothes to the V&A and mentioned the fact that they had been widely admired in Paris and London: an international collaboration for an international woman. The clothes, both formal and casual, reflected perfectly the idea of the Total Look: a palette-specific, carefully coordinated wardrobe that was the result of discussions, readjustements and above all immense trust between the client and the dressmaker.

Once this first image of glamour and culture was established for an american audience, the american audience and its own cultural icons were quick to demonstrate a clear attraction towards Italy and its clothing, projecting a fantasy image of it through Hollywood films, such as Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn.

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 The dress worn by Audrey Hepburn during War and Peace, shown above at the centre, was designed by Fernanda Gattinoni, who launched a whole line specifically adapted from Empire fashion. Other films such as Cleopatra, starring Liz Taylor, launched more casual trends, such as the palazzo pyjama, for semi-formal occaisions, coined by Princess Irene Galitzine and made famous by Jackie Kennedy. Despite the obvious glamour of these, the subtle arrival to a more casual style of dress is evident throughout the 60s and 70s as we progress through the room.

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Installation image of The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014,Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The glamour that Hollywood drew from Italy was that of leisure and comfort associated with elegance, distancing itself slowly but surely from the weighty gowns of the 50s. This epitome of dolce vita was reflected in fashion for both women and men, whose suits were becoming more elegantly casual and nonchalant with the notion of spezzato (mismatching suit vests and trousers).

The transition can perhaps best be noted in Mila Schön’s matelassé gown, worn by Princess Lee Radziwi at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball. The craft is unique, each sequin hand-stiched, yet the traditional cuts and waistlines of the 50s have been replaced by a less restrictive, playful linear form, emblematic of the 60s.

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Evening dress of embroidered net and matelasse coat, 1966, Mila Schön, Courtesy Maison Mila Schön, Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Fashion as well as its image, its clients and their needs were quickly evolving, gaining momentum through the reputation that Italian craftsmanship was gaining on an international level. The tradition of made-for-custom dressmaking that established Italian fashion would create its own downfall, and give way to the ready-to-wear industry that could cater to a larger audience by the 70s.

This exhibition was rich and extensive; in order to avoid cutting too much out of it and for the sake of experimentation with my posts, I will let you discover the rest of it in a second part tomorrow, along with my own personal conclusions. In the meanwhile…enjoy a glamorous Sunday while celebrating Audrey Hepburn’s anniversary. Watching War and Peace and admiring the way she wears Gattinoni’s gown may be in order.

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Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

Martin Creed at the Hayward Gallery

The walls are painted in bright fearless stripes, a huge neon sign swings overhead, a piano is patiently played key by key and a few bemused yet exhilarated visitors fumble out of a room filled to the brim with white balloons. Welcome to Martin Creed’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery, whose title seems to think ahead of the distressed reactions of contemporary art skeptics: “What’s the point of it?”

The same question was probably asked when the British artist and musician, who has already exhibited extensively abroad and acheived international recognition, won the Turner Prize in 2001 for Work No. 227: The lights going on and off . Too minimalistic, too conceptual…or not conceptual enough to be seen as artistic? In his work as a whole and in this exhibition Creed enjoys toying with this idea and testing our own reactions and limitations, while keeping a stance that is inventively serious yet self-deprecating.

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.
Installation view, Work No. 916, 2008, Martin Creed What’s the point of it, Hayward Gallery. © the artist. Photo Linda Nylind

The Hayward Gallery has allowed Martin Creed to appropriate the entire space, from the interior itself to its outside terraces, lifs, and even toilets. Most of the trip to the toilet is made in anticipation of this single artwork that ends up being a stack of tiles superposed one on top of the other “in a useful space.” The concept of utility in Martin Creed’s work must of course be taken with a grain of salt; most if not all of his works comme across as ingeniously produced absurdities…pointless in their utility.

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London.  Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.
Installation view Martin Creed What’s the point of it, Hayward Gallery. © the artist. Photo Linda Nylind

A lot goes on at the same time, and it is best to go through the exhibition slowly in order to feel constantly surprised without becoming too overwhelmed. A side door within the gallery slams open and shut, a screen flickers as though attempting to constantly screen a video in small fragments; the very space seems turned upside down as the wall is sculpted into phallic-like protuberances and tiles stack themselves up in unexpected places. On one of the terraces, a huge brick wall rises up in the centre, stark and monumental. A single loudspeaker reproduces the sound of blowing raspberries (as, hilariously, visitors passing by all look at each other, shooting suspicious glances). While all of this happens, Work No. 1092 MOTHERS, a huge rotating neon sign forming the word…‘MOTHERS’ menacingly whirrs around the entrance space. A mocking reference to Freud? An answer to that famous question that runs throughout the entire display, in its haphazard juxtapositions that we are meant to make sense of?

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.
Installation view,Work no. 1092,2011,Martin Creed What’s the point of it, Hayward Gallery. © the artist. Photo Linda Nylind

Something that seems to reoccur as an underlying theme is the idea that these objects, sounds and videos are artfully incidental, as though they were the result of a deliberate mishap, displacement, an awkward accident or malfunction that was made to work as a piece of art. Everything falls into place despite being somewhat broken, accidental, at least in appearance. And the gallery’s large, spacious and airy structure is both a blank canvas and a catalyst to these extraordinary yet commonplace incidents.

This is definitely an exhibition that concerns itself with the multi-sensorial and a strange mix of organic and mechanic. Indeed, the human body does not escape this cycle of repetitions and reactions. Bodily functions and excretions are explored in a way that is decidedly voyeuristic yet also strangely emptied of taboos, devoid of violence…although retaining its uncomfortable and awkward nature. Thus, in a video we see a performer patiently, slowly excreting during a long span of time, before two other performers arrive, in a second screen where the backdrop-canvas is minimalistically white once again, and violently vomit in a matter of seconds. It seemed at odds with the more whimsical nature of the rest of the exhibition yet does complement one of the works on the terrace that consists of a giant sceen with a black and white filmed closeup of a penis becoming erect and then limp again in a continual, and solemnly comical loop. It is worth noting that all of these parts of the exhibition were indicated well in advance and that there was decidedly no attempt at potential shock-horror for the sake of it. This does not seem to be Creed’s style after all…unless that surprise includes a piano whose lid lifts and slams down every fifteen minutes or so.

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.
Installation view Martin Creed What’s the point of it, Hayward Gallery. © the artist. Photo Linda Nylind

I was also hardly expecting to find myself in Work No. 200 Half the air in a given space, a room filled with balloons containing, indeed, 50% of the room’s air…although, similarly, the gallery assistant take care to warn anyone with claustrophobic tendencies or latex and talcum powder allergies to venture inside. After being warned of this, a nervous-looking visitor and her friend decides to go in anyway…and end up having a wonderful time, at least from what I could hear and see surrounded by the giant ethereal white bubbles. It is strange to imagine that such a simple venture could entirely change our sense of space, surroundings and even movement.

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.
Installation view, Work no. 200, 1998, Martin Creed What’s the point of it, Hayward Gallery. © the artist. Photo Linda Nylind

Work No. 79 Some Blu-Tack kneaded, rolled into a ball, and depressed against a wall and Work No. 264 Two protrusions from a wall play with definitions and descriptions in a playful but perceptive way. I personally enjoyed the fact that some of the works’ power resided not in their appearance to us but through the way in which they were described in an exacting sense of detail that could make you think of a precise sense of cinematography, in the vein of Wes Anderson and his latest film Grand Budapest Hotel, where everything is whimsical and light, yet where this quirky nature is acheived through a methodic, formulaic execution.

The exhibition would not be complete without Creed’s paintings complementing his sculptures and installations. Either portrayed as huge murals covering each surface or as small A4-sized portrait or abtract pattern of colour. Expressive and vivid, child-like, they seem to downplay the solemnity of some of Creed’s more minimalistic and conceptual works where what we see plays as much an important part as what we read. They also play an interesting part in pitting one notion of ‘art’ against the other for the naysayers who would ask for the “point”…portrait versus installation, physical paint versus the conceptual.

Martin Creed at Hayward Gallery, London. Photo by Linda Nylind. 26/1/2014.
Installation view,Work No. 1806, 2014, Martin Creed What’s the point of it, Hayward Gallery. © the artist. Photo Linda Nylind

I did appreciate this exhibition immensely…and perhaps more than I thought I would. It was more than the sheer entertainment of the objects and spaces and the intricate absurdity they provided. It was overall a strange sense of honesty felt on behalf of the artist, and of a world turned upside down but still strangely messy and relateable…as messy and disordered as ourselves and our bodies, and yet still fitting within a certain scheme. Pinpointing an answer is not what the exhibition is about…it is about looking for it, giving it up and retaining a great deal of lightheartedness in the process.

The idea of a colourful pop-up book comes to mind, with its to and fro repetitive movement and surprises, apparent childlessness and superficiality merging into a sensitive, three-dimensional reflection that never takes itself too seriously nevertheless. Watch out for the balloons and mind your head, but visit this exhibition and see for yourself while you can at the Hayward Gallery in the Southbank Centre until the 5th of May.

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Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

Miroslaw Balka at White Cube Masons’ Yard

I read the Interpretation of Dreams by Freud a few years ago and became completely obssessed with this apparent all-encompassing keys that could unlock our hidden motives and desires throughout our dreams. I then made the naive mistake of sharing this enthusiasm with a Jungian who berated me on liking one of “the greatest impostures of the 20th century.” Now I still enjoy the Interpretation of Dreams but less for its answer to a question and listing of a series of references than its literary, historical and psychological appeal in relation to our subconcious and ourselves…and our constant need for clear responses.

Miroslaw Balka’s exhibition DIE TRAUMDEUTUNG 25,31m AMSL at White Cube Masons’ Yard, using both the building’s measurements and the original German title of Freud’s work, seems to treat this question in relation to works throughout the exhibition that he dissiminates with reference to Freud’s own life and his relation to the war that shook its very foundations. As a Polish artist, Balka weaves through different spaces and lets both surface and literary substance create an overall effect of melancholy and uncertainly over the space at Masons’ Yard. A second exhibition at the Freud Museum acts as a perfect complement to this one, like dispersed fragments that all together create meaning like the pieces of a puzzle. But do they, ultimately?

In the first room, a large plinth-like sculpture, 100x100x20 (2014), through which a feeble light shines through complements a large trapezohedron tipped to the side and opened. It would almost appear as though one sculpture had toppled off the other and rolled to the side, an asymmetrical and instable composition despite its clean-cut execution. The plinth remains both a humorous and chilling mystery. Was it meant to present a figure that has been erased? Or was this figure conspicuously absent to begin with? Is the light shining through a small hole at its centre a sign of hope or of imprisonment?

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Miroslaw Balka 100 x 100 x 20, TTT 2014 Concrete and LED Dimensions variable © Miroslaw Balka Photo: Jack Hems

The geometrical sculpture, TTT (2014), makes up for the plinth’s elusiveness with a complex layer of references. The trapezohedron featured in Durer’s engraving Melancholia I…itself at the centre of an immense amount of diverse interpretations regarding the accumulation of detail and possible symbols within the image. From the angel to the hourglass through to the scales, it is possible to pore over the details endlessly trying to search its true meaning. It seems to refer back smoothly to the Interpretation of Dreams by Freud, a book where interpretation is scientific yet ultimately subjective to Freud and the way he wants to make all dream-objects conform to his specific thesis. The trapezohedron is empty; does this make it empty of meaning as well, or empty in the sense in which it is ultimately a reference to a reference? Ultimately, the trapezohedron is just as elusive in the end. And that is not even going into the references to Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold in which a dwarf wears a hemlet of the same shape…and Wagner’s added associations with Nazism.

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Dürer, Melancholia I (1514)

Down towards the lower grounds, the dimly lit staircase and corridors create a architectural canvas for the whistling that echoes off the walls, to the theme of ‘The Great Escape’. This could be seen as more than slightly jarring, especially in relation to the next part of the exhibition at the Freud Museum. There, a letter by a German officer details the materials needed for the construction of the Treblinka concentration camp, in which Freud lost his three sisters; while he managed to escape to London to 1938, he lost them to the war he left behind.

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Miroslaw Balka The Great Escape 2014 Audio Duration: 6.48 (looped) © Miroslaw Balka Photo: Jack Hems

This is juxtaposed to a set of sculptures that appear as empty crates and devoid of meaning…until it is realized that their mesurements correspond to the amount of material detailed in the letter. Simple numbers become personal tragedies. In the same way The Great Escape is inspired by a true story…one that is still commemorated in Poland, on the 24th of March. Out of the 76 Allied prisoners of war to flee the Stalag Luft III camp, 73 were recaptured and among those, 50 were shot. Only three managed to escape successfully. Three lives against three deaths in this exhibition; between inspiration and interpretation from these events, the notion of collective histories and memories is poignantly and soberly rendered in abstract terms.

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Miroslaw Balka Above your head 2014 Steel Dimensions vaiable © Miroslaw Balka Photo: Jack Hems

Above your head (2014) comprises of a steel meshed, fence-like ceiling that, low slung across the ceiling, as though ready to crush the visitors beneath, or at least limit their movements, as though we were trapped behind a barrier and the entire space warped, flipped horizintally. The effect is undeniably meant to be smothering, oppressive, an all-too clear reference to imprisonment and freedom, as the celing and to a larger extent the sky seem barred to us. Yet when I visited there was almost a peaceful, soothing quality to the work as well, in its purely formal qualities. Perhaps it was the fact that the space itself, despite the drastic lowering of the ceiling, was still large enough to allow a sense of movement and of the freedom that we were meant to miss. However I would not really see this as the work failing to acheive its aims but rather creating ambivalent reactions and emotions. The muted lights and shadow on the ground, the particular, pleasant smell that seemed to linger there create a sense of comfort that we might want to confront within ourself: how is it possible to become accustomed to evolving in a space with a huge fence-prison sword of Damocles above our heads?

I’m raising a lot of questions here, but so does the exhibition in itself. The Interpretation of Dreams is highly unlikely and unsatisfactory if you see it as a documentary means to an end in “decoding” dreams rather than a piece of literature that was a testimony to our desire to uncover the inner workings of our subconscious. The exhibition ends outside the confined space with, during the opening, the presentation of Y-Chromosomal Adam, an elongated piece of black fabric through which a rush of air is brutally funnelled, making it reach towards the sky in rippling, ominous and undeniably phallic movements.

Miroslaw Balka’s assessment and handling of the references that are dotted throughout the exhibition is made through abstraction and lightness, the minimalism of the works thelselves leaving enough space for the weighty concepts surrounding them. It contrasted for me with Christian Jankowski’s recent Heavy Weight History exhibition at Lisson Gallery, in which the physical, palpable weight of history and memory was rendered by athletes attempting to lift the historical landmarks of Warsaw. Powerful but fleeting, Balka’s work is perhaps less an interpretations of dreams than one of memory, and the way in which we try to piece history back into place from the fragments we receive from the past, between undeniable fact and powerful, overwhelming emotion.

Categories
Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

Alex Katz at Timothy Taylor Gallery

Fashion, glamorous images and movie icons. The inspiration and appeal is universal, whether in order to expression fascination, criticism or even rejection.So universal that it could sometimes become tired or repetitive…so I was reassured to encounter a refreshing perspective during the Alex Katz exhibition at Timothy Taylor Gallery, at its opening last week. This was but a fragment of a long and impressive career; Alex Katz started working as an artist in the 60s and his distinctive style, figurative yet minimalistic, with his particular treatment of both portraiture and landscape has been seen in countless exhibitions throughout the years.

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(Image source: Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, Todd White Art Photography, London)

This is Alex Katz’s sixth solo exhibition at Timothy Taylor Gallery, and the sense of proximity with the artists and his works is palpable. It does not bite off more than it can chew, focusing upon specific works from the 70s, 80s and 90s that alternate between large portrait of fashionable yet introspective women, large open landscapes contrasting with dark grey city blocks.

Katz’s works focuses on flatness and superficiliality, working the surface without any attempt to create volume or thickness but rather a sense of magazine-cover glossiness and vibrancy of colour. The arrangement of the exhibition itself was not unlike a neat and sleek magazine layout, with one work per wall apart from the smaller works neatly juxtapozed at the entrance, spacious and light, drawing the eye in a slow and casual manner.

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(Image source: Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, Todd White Art Photography, London)

In a sense, his work reminded me a lot of comics…but not in the Roy Lichtenstein sense of the term. Rather, I’m thinking of the “ligne claire” bandes dessinees that were – and still are – a part of the Franco-Belgian style of comics, such as Hergé or Loustal.

This ensures as the name suggests a clear and thin line, a streamlined type of representation and overall simplicity of tones and colour…which does not make these works any less complex. The language of comics adds itself to that of fashion illustration…but also of cinema. A careful crop of the faces and storyboard aesthetic gives a careful and studied sense of composition to each work. Despite their static nature, a sense of time and duration is given to Ada Ada, from 1991, by creating a larger space in one of the vignettes representing his wife.

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(Image source: Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, Todd White Art Photography, London)

There is a distinct lack of dynamism throughout these portraits, and hardly any interaction from the characters themselves; however, is not one that falls short from the artist’s intentions but one that specifically corresponds to his aims. Expressivity and movement are left aside in favour of flatness and projection onto the canvas of a certain ideal of beauty and glamour that Katz started looking for ever since the 50s in movie stills and snapshots. Despite this fact most of these individuals remain both beautiful and anonymous faces, save for a few notable and intimate exceptions, such as the portrait of his wife, Ada. The contradiction of a type of portraiture taking known faces and making them universal and superficial? Perhaps, yet this does not take any of the charm away from these images whose even layering of pigment on the canvas draws the eye in with fascination Simplicity is mingled with small detail; a stylized face with a neat row of eyelashes, or the lustrous finish of a lipstick.

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(Image source: Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, Todd White Art Photography, London)

The paintings create an immobile, contemplative balance and the dynamism comes from Katz’s performace. In a video in one of the rooms, we are therefore witnesses to the elaborate creation of one of his largest works within the exhibition. The smooth gestures of the brushstrokes and elaborate, almost mesmerising layering of the  would appear almost as a studious performance. It allows us to return to the painting as see it as more than a purely static screen.

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(Image source: Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, Todd White Art Photography, London)

I did not particularly prefer the landscapes or cityscapes such as Windows (1994) or Three Cows (1991), veering away from this elegant and sensitive type of portraiture, yet they did create a breathing space between the large faces dominating the room, superposing themselves to the overall theme of feminine poise and fashion. Next to the cows themselves, the best work to demonstrate this was Black Stockings (1987). Its series of elegant women walking in the same direction, looking towards us as if looking towards a camera has a mix of catwalk and The Sartorialist corresponding to the ever-present trend of fashionable people being captured in a street snapshot.

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(Image source: Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, Todd White Art Photography, London)

The panels hanging off the walls like a lavish and epurated fashion collage create a contrast between their nature as paintings and as cardboard-cutout like figures. And by walking alongside them while looking, we complement their immobile, meditative quality. All of this retains a taste for fashion and attitude that captures its time beautifully and clearly. As Katz puts so himself, when he was interviewed by Martin Clark, ” (…) I think style is the content of my painting, and style belongs to fashion. Fashion is in the immediate present, and that’s really what I am after in my work.”

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(Image source: Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, Todd White Art Photography, London)

This may be largely due to my newfound interest in fashion and its history…but regardless, this was one of my favourite exhibitions this month. I think that, paradoxically, works that centre to such an extent around their own flatness and two-dimensional nature can not always be flattered in publications – seeing them up close is the best way to grasp them. Therefore, I highly recommend visiting the exhibition lasting until the 17th of April at Timothy Taylor Gallery.

 

 

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Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

Study from the Human Body at Stephen Friedman Gallery

This new exhibition at Stephen Friedman Gallery aims, in its own terms, to pay homage both to Henry Moore and Francis Bacon and their own ‘Study of the Human Body’. This could appear as an aim that is both ambitious and likely to create a very scattered effect – between sculptural and painterly, the transformed body and the body performing in a particular space. In a sense that is quite true of the exhibition in general, which chooses to focus on all mediums and remains open to all kinds of interpretations of what this “human body” may look like. The result is an eclectic mix of different mediums and aspects from a vast array of artists. And does the exhibition pull it off? Well, my views are a bit mixed.

The first part of the exhibition plunged us straight into a life drawing class of a particular kind…notably, David Shrigley’s Turner Prize-winning Life Drawing. Particular because in this case our model was a large cartoonish naked sculpture residing in the center of the room. Maintaining a pose was therefore not a problem for our “model”…aside from the occaisional blinking and ‘urinating’ in a bucket befors its pedestal. Surrounding it were easels, all the material and paper neccessary in order to get down to drawing, and the audience becoming momentarily artists for an instant as they put their own particular viewpoint on the paper…then on the wall, which already showed previous participations. These were extremely spontaneous and diverse – the pressure lifted on representing a caricature of the body rather than a ‘real’ body, people felt more free to experiment with different genres and styles. More than in any ‘real’ life drawing I have ever attended in any case. This was only encouraged by the helpful and friendly assistants present during the evening itself.

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Life Model, David Shrigley, 2014.
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Past contributions…
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…and mine!

Exploration, the grostesque and the body transformed; the tone is set in a participative, dynamic humorous way for the rest of the exhibition that shows different, varied representations of the human body. I loved the Moore sculpture and their relation to Paul Mc Devitt’s Notes to Self sketches, exploring the transitions anf between the drawing and the three-dimensional, form and substance. They complemented each other beautifully and probably were the best testimony to these links with Moore and Bacon that the exhibition wished to acheive.

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Henry Moore
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Paul Mc Devitt, Notes to Self, 2010-2014
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Yinka Shonibare, MBE Fire, 2010

The second part of the exhibition is quieter than the hubbub created by Shrigley but interesting, showcasing many different artists of the gallery and their mediums…but attempting to unite them all under not only one theme of the human body but specifically the human body according to Moore and Bacon is perhaps too much of a stretch, an attempt to create a strenuous link between objects that do not neccessarily have any need for this extra layer of interpretation. Trying to reattach works amongst themselves with something as universal as the human body and then made to fit into perceptions of two very different artists and their own different views does not work out well, in my opinion.

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Huma Bhabha, Chain of Missing Links, 2012

I did enjoy the works that I saw however, with their diversity of materials and medium. Maybe that is the point, ultimately: they did not neccessarily need the link to Bacon and Moore to create questions and tensions among themselves. Where does the body start and where does it end? A silhouette made psychedelic like Yinka Shonibare’s MBE Fire sculpture challenges Being, by Tom Friedman, made entirely of styrofoam balls and paint roughly aggregated into a colossal silhouette like a combination of atoms forming a body.

Huma Bhabha’s Chain of Missing Links furthermore questions this with a ‘body’ or its grostesque likeness constituted of materialistic, physical but artificial elements like styrofoam, clay or plexiglass. Do these works challenge the organic nature of the human body or emphasize it? Kendell Geers’s Flesh of the Spirit seems to embody this through its very title, while criticizing the attitudes of Western art towards African sculpture. The human body becomes a performance, in the two large works by Catherine Opie, Divinity Fudge and Vaginal Davis, where gender and clothing become a way of transfiguring her subjects. The kitschy but striking Death of Chatterton by Kehinde Wiley, reinterpreting the Pre-Raphaelite theme by Henry Wallis, contrasted with Julien, the caricatural but sensitive portrait by Yoshitomo Nara.

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Kehinde Wiley, Death of Chatterton

And after facing the fleshy, intense smudges of paint of Bacon’s Study of the Human Body, we confront the human body in its absence of physical presence, through Shadow. The concentration around a figurative, physical representation of our bodies and what they represent, revolving around sculpture, painting and photography as well as two prominent artists, made this exhibition lack some overall coherence. However, this did not detract me from the works themselves, and the installation by Shrigley instilled a feeling of interaction and experimentation throughout the entire exhibition.

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Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object at Halcyon Gallery

Glasswork possesses a fine reputation as a decorative art. Only last year, Musee Maillol in Paris was dedicating an exhibition to the famous venetian glassworks of Venice, particularly those of Murano. The appeal of these delicate glass ornaments blown into different shapes, marbled and coloured brighly could almost appear to us as candied rock – indeed they sometimes take this form as well, as small fragile wrapped sweets.

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Salviati, Chalice (Image source: Museo Vetro in Venice,http://museovetro.visitmuve.it )

Everything is created in these Venetian industries on every scale – fron the smaller trinkets popular with tourists…to greater pieces, notably chandeliers, that still have their places within great stately homes and private collections. Sadly, this industry is waning due to a very traditional craftsmanship versus a decrease in demand.

Yet the attraction to beautifully crafted glassworks is universal, and contemporary art, with its diversity of mediums, could hardly stay away from it.

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Javier Pérez, Carrona, 2011. Photograph by Francesco Allegretto (Image source: toutelaculture.com),

Yet whereas some artists certainly use glass within their work, Dale Chihuly’s career centers entirely around it…and it is hardly surprising that after studying at the Rhode Art School of Design he continued this education within a Venetian glass-blowing factory, in the seventies. Since then, he has been working within this craft while promoting it to the ranks of contemporary art, with the co-foundation of the Pilchuck Glass School. He also started the International Studio Glass Movement in the 1960s with the same intentions. After a large number of successful exhibitions, including the V&A in 2001 and the Tower of David museum in 1999, this is Chihuly’s second exhibition at the Halcyon Gallery.

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Dale Chihuly has mentioned beforehand that he was obsessed with colour and never saw one that he did not like; facing the effusion of them as I enter the gallery, I will not contradict him on that point. The effect is the same as wandering amindst a coral reef refurbished into an elegant hotel.

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Aero Blue Chandelier with Cerise Pink Reeds, hand-blown glass (Image credit: Claire Mead)

Dale Chihuly’s bright colours and extravagant forms could yield a problem when such a large quantity of them are assembled in a single exhibition: an over-saturated, cluttered effect. Even a single work such as his V&A chandelier can fill up a space, so could a solo exhibition create an overload of colour? Thankfully, here, a balance is acheived between space and sculptures. Their rococo-like nature has been complemented by a minimalist and airy installation space. The works alternate between the larger chandeliers, furniture (such as a very Art Deco dinner table) and smaller glass sculptures.

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These are complemented by Chihuly’s paintings, vibrant two dimensional counterparts to his glassworks. The lighting showcased the glass beautifully, against completely white walls. In fact, looking back, I do wonder how the exhibition would have looked like with some rooms in darker tones and different light. But in a way, the subtleties of the glassworks and paintings already create those changes.

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White and Orange Sunrise persian set, hand-blown glass (Image credit: Claire Mead)

Here, Art Deco aesthetics seem to mingle with references to organic underwater life, with perhaps passing references to Georgia O’ Keefe’s flowers, in the delicate folds of the glass works that appear at times soft and malleable, at others weightless. His interest for the botanic is furthermore emphasized by the titles of his work that always allude to a plant life and nature. However this interest never becomes too documentary or attempts to imitate its sources of inspiration too closely. Rather, Chihuly channels his interest in the bizarre and beautiful forms that nature creates  and uses them to create objects that confuse our senses in their changes in form and substance…making them truly objects “beyond the object.” This sense of the bizarre and the irregular inspired by the natural is not so far from the concerns of the baroque…a style that has been vehiculated by Murano glass works. And this unique perception is formed by an entire group of glass-blowers led by Chihuly to acheive the final, stunning result. Between artistic practice and traditional craftsmanship, baroque and the contemporary, the line is sometimes thin…and as fragile as glass.

Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object at Halcyon Gallery until the 5th of April.

Categories
Exhibition review London Ongoing exhibitions

Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen at GRAD

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RoboCop, 2014…

Movie posters are everywhere: on the sides of buses, as you wait at the bus stop, on huge billboards that loom over the street, a fleeting image in the Underground as you rush past to catch your train on time without resisting the urge to take a look. Even in the era of pervasive preview trailers – the average blockbuster seems intent to release as many ‘teasers’ as humanely possible without reducing the entire movie to one minute soundbites – they still have their particular power. While most seem intent to display the big movie faces whose names are splashed across the picture, their compsition and iconic nature makes them instantly recognisable and transmits messages we have become sensitive to, accustomed to.

They are a form of entertainment propaganda of their own.

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…versus Eisenstein’s October, 1927, Poster by Stenberg Brothers (Image credit: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, Antikbar)

‘Kino/Film: Soviet Posters of the Silent Screen’, at the Gallery for Russian Arts and Design encapsulates this perfectly, portraying Soviet 1920s film posters for iconic films of the era. These were produced by Reklam Films, within a state-controlled organization, Sovinko. The fascinating element of these posters is this mingling of a social realist style geared towards mass propaganda with true concerns about colour, form and composition to attract the eye, create dramatic effect through the visual rather than throughout a particular message about the content of the film.

Strong visual designs, mingling with powerful palettes of red and yellow against black and white, play with modernist motifs of cubism and futurism, while keeping an aspect of realism that is, however, more stylized than with its political posters; is this to create additional empathy with the audience, rather than make a specific actor’s face recognisable?

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Aleksandr Naumov, Oil, 1927 (Image credit: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, Antikbar)

 This exhibition on poster films from the silent movie era is not devoid of movement or sound, since aliongside the posters meant to advertise them, extracts of these films are shozn. The most famous features, such as Battleship Potemkin and Man with a Movie Camera are present but so are other more obscure but amazing gems such as Chess Fever …It shows a comic, slapstick approach offering interesting contrasts with politically manoeuvered films and their military accounts or the experimental glorification of technology and industry of Vertov.

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A Real Gentleman,1928, poster by Stenberg Brothers (Image credit: Gallery for Russian Arts and Design, Antikbar)

The juxtaposition of films and posters worked very well in my opinion, although the addition of the soundtrack music for the different films, in one same room, could make the viewing a bit confusing, and sightly jarring when the music you listened to contrasted starkly with the content on the screen. Yet this did not distract me greatly from the experience – on the contrary, it had a bit of an experimental side to it…

An additional detail that I loved: the audiobook was free to listen to, and is also available on their website, hosted by Soundcloud. The fitting mood of this mass distribution is not lost on me…and very much appreciated as well! This, added to a free entry to an exhibition showing extremely rare and unique posters makes this a small visit in the center of London definitely worth experiencing before the end of March.

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Uncategorized

The EY Exhibition: Paul Klee – Making Visible at the Tate Modern

Klee encompasses all that we expect of the modern artist. Starting his career at the turn of the century, caught between one war and the foreshadowing of another, the exploration of form mingled with ideology and political tension, the research for the transcendance of colour beyond personal struggles. All too often however, despite Klee’s formal detachment from his time and perseverance to depict despite his inner demons rather than constantly mirror them in his work, this seems to be what we focus upon.

We remember the artist struggling with a degenerative disease destroying his body. We remember the member of the Blaue Reiter, the case study of the artist facing the rise of antisemitism and seeing his work dubbed as degenerate art by a party he was forcibly opposed to and that he escaped from at the earliest opportunity. But do we often have a sense of the artist as a methodic, modernist researcher of form and colour? Of the artist as art teacher at the Bauhaus period? The exhibition at the Tate does not want to leave anything out concerning this artististic and technical process and through this retrospective attempts to conciliate several aspects of Paul Klee; Klee as the witness of war with Klee the teacher, Klee the  tragic artist with Klee the meticulous promoter of his own work through carefully curated exhibitions and precise documentation and cataloguing. With a  desire to trace throughout Klee’s entire career, the exhibition let us follow into the footsteps that led him into aspects of cubism and abstraction, leading us through several periods of his life that have all to a certain degree influenced his works and his perception of the world. A timeline retraces his life at the beginning of the exhibition and, as per usual, a small explanatory text introduces each new section. The exhibition is chronological, and the works as such do not enter within distinct categories of genre or medium. Each room represented one or two years of his career, from the beginning to his unfortunate, early end.

Watercolours are juxtaposed next to oil transfers and larger paintings, both lavish and self-contained.

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They’re Biting, 1920, watercolour and oil (Image source: Tate.co.uk)

His abstract works happily cohabitate with his dreamlike, humorous and almost surrealist scenes of fish and fishermen and fantastical creatures that belong to his own personal, secret narratives, showing either inner peace through the fish flitting through planes of colour, or turmoil as distorted figures of witches create jarring and mesmerising  thick lines and jagged dancing whirls upon the canvas, in the last years of his life.

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Fish-Magic,1925 (Image source: paulklee.net)
Forest Witches, 1938, oil on paper
Forest Witches, 1938, oil on paper (Image source: Wikimedia).

They contrast with the vibrant colours of a serene still life with flowers, the last work he ever sent out to the exhibition he was unable to curate due to his illness, shortly before his death.

The evolution and technical process appears clearly as the exhibition evolves, and letting the work speak for themselves is complemented by clear explanations concerning the techniques that Klee elaborated – such as his oil transfers or his gradient stripes of colour creating a tonal shift that allows him to explore colour theory in his work as well as teach it. In fact, these were my favourite parts of the exhibitions…and I would have preferred to see more of the same.  I also discovered aspects of his work I was unaware of before (such as his experimentations with pointillism).

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Seaside Resort in the South of France, 1927 (Image source: Tate.co.uk)
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Adventures of a Young Lady, 1922 (Image source: Tate.co.uk)

Most of the explanatory text was concerned with delivering quotes about other people concerning Klee and his attitude towards his own art…yet seldom were by him about his own work, aside from those key quotes that always make it in large letters on the wall. All in all, the main focus seemed to be on Klee’s time as a teacher and the way that this influenced his work – this was at least the theme dedicated to the largest rooms.

Something that does tend to happen with exhibitions featuring small works, and works on paper, is the tendency to cram them together in a smaller space. When managed successfully this could pass off as “intimate”. When visitors have to shuffle past each work or crowd around to see it, intimacy as an accurate term is akin to describing the Central Line during rush hour as “cosy”. But this was certainly not the case. The rooms are large and spacious, leaving sufficient space for the small, luminous works to breathe…and for the visitors to breathe as well. No-one was struggling for space to see the works…although it could also be argued that the white space surrounding the works could sometimes menacingly  dwarf the works that they are meant to showcase.

Most of the time, the works could be approached and appreciated up close…apart from several roped-off works that triggered an obnoxious alarm every time you approached them too closely.Other than that – the works were presented beautifully, in an airy space that remained thankfully devoid of too much cluttering or colour, letting the works speak for themselves. Grasping the transparent luminescence of one of his watercolours, the fine ink lines of his spontaneous yet delicate drawings is a pleasure that the eye washes upon without effort, the intensity of the shapes and tones he pieces together always an eternal source of inspiration. The works shone through the display and lighting.

There is a slight discrepancy between the notion of artist process and progress and the fact that ultimately, these are all finished works. I was expecting more drafts, more first versions, scrapped versions and tentative splashes to test the numerous colour schemes. Having solely finished work to accompany an exhibition concerning the research and creativity of an artist can fall slightly short…but the flawless presentation of the works and their immense diversity makes up for this. In the same way, I would have liked to see more documentation about his life, Klee as the cultured violinist we are told about in the beginning of the exhibition…before this fact is cast aside and not really brought up throughout the rest of the exhibition.

However, the bewildered question of a visitor to one of the museum guards does sum up the main problem.“How many rooms are there?” 17 was the answer. And with a desire to cram everything into one exhibition while at the same time while not providing an overall clear focus or pathway…the exhibition does tend to drift off-course at certain times. I enjoy exhibitions that throw me upon a route, a journey, capturing my interest and making me leave an exhibition with a slightly different viewpoint on the artist than when I first entered. In a sense this did happen…but I feel as though I had to hang on tight for this to happen. What I certainly feel is that anyone without a certain knowledge of Klee before entering the exhibition might feel slightly lost. I feel as through a retrospective should be less concerned with finding all it can and more concerned with showcasing less and making us focus more upon the key points of his career. It could have been more tight-knit and although I loved the exhibition in itself albeit my criticism of it, I know that feelings around me were more than mixed, finding it either too monotonous or too busy…if not a mix of both. But maybe this is something that has less to do with the curating of the Klee exhibition and more to do with the format of retrospectives and their struggle of quantity and coherence versus quality.

Despite some problems in managing the general focus of the exhibition in my opinion, the formal qualities and transformations of Klee were beautifully handled and displayed. Yes, there were a few shortcomings. But did the exhibition make the complexity and diversity of Klee’s experimentation in colour and medium visible? It certainly did.

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Fire in the Evening 1929 (© 2013 Digital Image, the Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala. Florence. Image source: Tate.co.uk).