Project 11: Study Report on your own specialism

Image by carulmare [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

I have now submitted my Critical Review “Was Edward Burne-Jones a Great Religious Painter” to my tutor. Following feedback on a very early draft I have changed the focus of the essay. I looked at quite a few contemporary writings about the Pre-Raphaelites and Edward Burne-Jones. While researching this I discovered the HathiTrust’s digital library https://www.hathitrust.org/ which was extremely useful, enabling me to read many of the original texts published at around the time of the Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions.

I am quite pleased with the final version of the essay. I did a lot of background reading to research the work and discovered a great deal about the Pre-Raphaelites and how they were received. I also learned a lot about Edward Burne-Jones and his style which, although labelled Pre-Raphaelite, did differ distinctly from other painters of the PRB.

I was fortunate to be able to see Burne-Jones’ work at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery as well as the cartoon of The Annunciation at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery (although I was very disappointed to discover that the tapestry of the nativity, The Adoration of the Magi is no longer on display there as I would have liked to have compared it to the watercolour The Star of Bethlehem). I was also able to visit Tate Britain to study Rossetti’s Ecce Ancilla Domine!

I got a lot more out of seeing the original paintings rather than studying prints or online copies. I wasn’t able to get to see Burne-Jones’ The Annunciation at The Lady Lever Gallery at Liverpool, but i was able to see his cartoon of the subject at Norwich Castle. The Star of Bethlehem is huge!, although I did find it a little difficult to study due to the subdued lighting in the gallery and the positioning of some of the lights. Because the painting was protected with glass there were a lot of reflections which made it more a bit more difficult to see the full details and get the overall effect.

Rossetti’s painting was much smaller in size, but much more powerful in emotional impact! I can see why it received such adverse critical reception given the times when it was first exhibited.

I didn’t just learn about the paintings, but also about the Victorian era and how the belief systems of the time influenced how the paintings were received. It was fascinating to read Charles Dickens’ article on Millais‘ Christ in the House of his Parents.

I also discovered how rapidly the reputation of the Pre-Raphaelites deteriorated between the wars and how this continued into the middle of the 20th century:

  • Maas descibes “contempt for Victorian painting had created a vicious circle; no one wanted to sell pictures of that period if they were likely to fetch so little; the museums and galleries kept them locked away in basements; dealers, with the nearly solitary exception of Charlotte Frank, dared not offer Victorian pictures, in the certainty of courting ignominious disaster. So the period was like a page torn from a history book and lost to view”. (PARRIS, L., 1984. The Pre-Raphaelite Papers. London: Tate Gallery/Allen Lane. p 231)
  • Julian Barnes quotes Lucien Freud on the Pre-Raphaelites saying he “dismisses Rossetti so violently as to induce pity.  Freud believed that Rossetti was not just the worst of the Pre-Raphaelites (Burne-Jones breathes a sigh of relief), but ‘the nearest painting can get to bad breath'”. (BARNES, J., 2015. Keeping an eye open: essays on art. London: Jonathan Cape. p244).

And yet the reputation was restored towards the end of the 2oth century. It just shows how fashion and taste can change so suddenly.

One of the biggest issues I found with the research was the sheer amount of information availabke. I probably read a lot more than I needed to, and spent a lot of time reading things that didn’t end up being quoted in the essay. But I don’t regard any of that as being wasted time because I think that all of the background reading helped to give me a sense of the period in which the painters were working and more information on the people themselves. So while what I read about Holman Hunt may not have been introduced into the final essay, it did enhance my understanding of the period and the people and that this made writing the essay easier.

I believe that the exercise has helped me to become much more knowledgeable about htis particular subject, but also much more confident in forming my own conclusions and questioning some of the statements made in the literature.

My review can be found here Was Edward Burne-Jones a Great Religious Painter?

 

Following comments by my tutor I have made changes to my original document, acting on my tutor’s advice I have also reduced the word count to less than 2500 words. The final document can be seen here: 

Burne-Jones amended

When Do Ethnographic Objects Become Art?

When researching reviews of the Fiji exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre, I came across an article in Apollo Magazine, (which included a preview of the Fiji exhibition), entitled “When Do Ethnographic Objects Become Art?” By Nicholas Thomas. He describes how in the 1960s and 70s, anthropologists “well aware of the stimulus provided by African, Oceanic and native American works to various of the great 20th-century modernists objected to the treatment of these works as art, exemplified by the deliberate highlighting of aesthetics and form in the sparse displays typical of many north American art galleries “. Instead, ethnographic museums chose to display objects differently. He notes that the aesthetic qualities of particular pieces were not necessarily emphasised and that the works were presented in relation to culture, society, belief and ritualistic use.

He then describes how this approach was also criticised as leading to Western art galleries being reserved solely for Western art and in some way discriminating against art forms from other cultures.

Thomas points out that “it is not unusual for famous works of art to have had many lives” i.e. different uses and significance attached to them over time. He also suggests “that the old opposition of art and ethnography was superseded from the start: like any other artists, indigenous makers were acting within a certain milieux, responsive to the demands and interests of their clients and communities, but also inclined to experiment“.

Reading this article was like fitting in to place another piece of the jigsaw called “What is Art”. It broadened my view of how objects from different cultures can be seen both in terms of their original use but also as objects of artistic creation or stimulus to others.

The article is at:

http://www.apollo-magazine.com/an-upcoming-exhibition-on-fiji-happily-aims-to-be-more-than-just-a-marketable-blockbuster/

Feminist Avant Garde

I managed to visit this exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery shortly before it finished. I found it really interesting to see how photography was being used to make political points.

 

What was of particular interest to me was to see how some works of art had been appropriated to make political points. A great example of this, which really struck me, was Ulrike Rosenbach’s Art is a Criminal Action 1972/96.

 

The image can be seen here: http://art.daimler.com/en/artwork/ulrike-rosenbach-art-is-a-criminal-action-197296/

 

The Daimler Art Collection describe this image as “Rosenbach’s early photomontage is based on a photograph of Andy Warhol’s famous 1963 silkscreen painting ‘Double Elvis’. Rosenbach imitates (with Warhol’s express permission) the Warhol ›Elvis’s‹ clothes and pose, and mounts herself – at the time a completely unknown young artist – at the side of the celebrated rock star.“

 

I like the way in which the original image has been appropriated to make a strongly political point.

By replacing one of the original Elvis figures with an image of herself, dressed in the same way and following the same pose, Rosenbach is forcefully drawing attention to gender equality.

 

The title Art is a Criminal Action also subverts the original Double Elvis, perhaps by drawing attention to the violent pose of the original masculine image (the gun pointing directly at the viewer).  The Daimler’s description considers that “the attack on the territory of male art production and definition cannot be carried out with female humility, but must take on the ‘criminal’ energies of male dominance forms for a short time, and change roles”.

The Radical Eye exhibition at Tate Modern

I visited I visited The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography From The Sir Elton John Collection exhibition at Tate Modern. It was fascinating to see, not just the photographs, but to consider how they were put together as a collection. In an interesting film, Elton John discussed the motivation behind his collecting and some of the individual images that he had purchased.

There were some interesting points raised in some the gallery notes; for example in the section on portraits there was a comment on what happens when a photographic portrait is taken of an artist “Issues of control and collaboration arise particularly when the subject is an artist, raising the question of who is responsible for conveying the sitter’s persona“. in most cases one would expect the photographer to be the one responsible for conveying the personality of the sitter. But does this change when the person sitting for the portrait is themselves a photographer or another artist who perhaps has strong visions on how they should be portrayed. I suppose this issue may have been found ever since portraits were first painted. Is it any different for a photographer from say a painter who is producing an image of another artist.

The exhibition itself was fascinating and it was great to see so many well known images I had seen many, many reproductions of “migrant mother” by Dorothea Lange in books and online, but none of them portray the emotional power of the original image in quite the same way as seeing it close-up. I had noticed that this was the case with paintings as, obviously, texture and colour are more difficult to reproduce in a book. It was interesting to see that this also applies to photographic prints.

One photographer whose work I haven’t come across before was Imogen Cunningham. I was quite taken with a couple of images of hers of flowers. I’ve always been interested in flower photography and it was good to be able to see the work of another photographer working in that genre.

The Turner Prize 2016 (Part 2).

The winner of the Turner prize has just been announced, and it certainly wasn’t my favourite of the four artists. As mentioned in a previous post, the work that I appreciated the most was by Michael Dean. His work said more to me, with a political message, than any of the other exhibitors.

However the winner was Helen Marten. So I thought I would try to find out a bit more about her work so that I could understand better why it was that she had won. First of all I read the blog by Will Gompertz at the BBC. He says “her hybrid sculptures, made out of materials both found and fabricated, form complex tableau of ideas and associations. They are poetic puzzles that question meaning and assumption, and require an almost archaeological mindset to solve”.

Perhaps my problem when first viewing this work was that I didn’t spend enough time trying to analyse it but simply looked at it. Gompertz says “things are not quite what they seem, objects don’t conform to expectations, awkwardness abounds. At least, it does to begin with. But once you tune into her way of thinking, and start to understand that the artist is not trying to fool you, but take you by the hand and show you something new, you begin to see the beauty of her work”.

Perhaps this was my issue in that I didn’t spend the time to look and assimilate the work and what the artist was trying to say through the work simply regarding it as a visual object.

Maybe I need to learn to think in a different way when regarding pieces of work such as this, to think more about the artist’s intention and not just its physical appearance.

UPDATE

It would seem that my doubts about the work may have been shared by by others, I have just come across a review of the Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern. The reviewer (Karen Wright in The Independent) says “All the young earnest artists receiving accolades such as Helen Marten, (shortlisted this year for the Turner Prize) now combining abject materials should visit this show and learn how it can be when done with humour and power. It has all been done before and much better! ”

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/reviews/robert-rauschenberg-tate-modern-london-review-a7453231.html

Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern

Whilst I was aware of Rauschenberg and his work before I visited this exhibition I knew very little about him and his influence on other artists. I had seen his work in a previous exhibition at the Barbican when some pieces were included in a show which was concerned with the the work and influence of Marcel Duchamp. I don’t think that his work could have had too much effect on me as I can’t recall much about it (unlike Duchamp where I remember many of the work displayed).

So I went to the Tate Modern exhibition not expecting to be greatly impressed but hoping to find out more about the artist. What I found was absolutely stunning, I had no idea of the range of Rauschenberg’s work nor the huge creative range of his work. Writing in The Telegraph, Louisa Buckingham believes that “this once-in-a-lifetime survey surpasses all expectations, charting six decades of trailblazing creativity with an abundance of astonishing works brought together in a display that will probably never travel again”.

The exhibition was very well laid out, taking the visitor through the development of his work over the years in a way that emphasised the sheer scale of his creativity. As Adrian Searle said in The Guardian “The exhibition moves through a life and career at a gathering pace, from the early 1950’s to the artist’s death in 2008. Room after room arrest us with yet another creative swerve, a shift in medium, scale, formal attack and presence”.

Rauschenberg’s work needs to be seen ‘in the flesh’, if you see a photograph of Monogram it may strike you as strange and leave you wondering what it is all about. But when you see it in a gallery (even if it is encased in a Perspex box) you are left wondering at the detail in the work (helped by the gallery notes explaining the amount of planning that went into it).

The exhibition leaves you in awe of the scale of Rauschenberg’s creativity, soon after Monogram you experience Mud Bath, a vast pool of liquid mud which bubbles and churns in response to the sound it makes!

The scope of the work is huge as is the range of materials that he used. Having entered the exhibition knowing just a little about Rauschenberg’s work I came away hugely impressed with his creativity and the sheer scale of his imagination.

There is a good summary of Rauschenberg’s work at http://www.radford.edu/rbarris/art428/art427/Rauschenberg.html but I bought the Phaidon Book on him at the Tate Store so I will be learning a lot more detail about his work.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/luxury/art/robert-rauschenberg-tate-modern-review/

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2016/nov/29/robert-rauschenberg-review-tate-modern

Fiji exhibition – what is art (continued)

Just when I thought that I had resolved the issue of “what is art” the Sainsbury Centre challenges me again. I visited the Fiji exhibition and some of the pieces made me think again “is this art?”, Why is it displayed in a visual art gallery rather than in an ethnographic museum. When entering the exhibition, you cannot miss the first object – a double hulled canoe!

Sea-going craft as art?

Later in the exhibition clubs, spears and even muskets were on display.  I had seen similar displays at the Tower of London, or other museums – but in an art gallery?  however, looking further into the exhibition and reading the detailed gallery notes made me think once again about what is art and possibly my own prejudices and viewpoint.

Firstly, the canoe was commissioned and produced specifically for the exhibition, which makes me think ” does the purpose for which an object is intended change how it is viewed?  if the canoe had been produced for fishermen in Fiji then I don’t think it could have been considered as art.  But does the act of commissioning it as the opening exhibit in a show on the art of Fiji instantly determine that it be regarded as a work of art?

The other exhibits to challenge my assumptions were the display of war clubs, spears and muskets as art. But reading the gallery notes here was enlightening “weapons were more than just military equipment, they were great ritual objects, often dedicated to God’s and kept in temples. Their exceptional carved decorations and elaborate binding are well beyond what is required for effective combat”.

Woodcarvings as decorations are usually considered works of art so why should not intricately carved weapons of battle be regarded in the same way?

After I had visited I read a review by Carl Wilkinson in the Financial Times which contains the following quotes from the curator of the exhibition Dr Steven Hooper “forget these things as ethnographic specimens”.  “Look at these things as if they were made by the heroes of the 20th century. These things could be in the National Gallery or the Tate. Forget artefacts, forget art, forget all those categories – it’s all rubbish”.

The visit and subsequent research of the reviews proved highly rewarding to my ongoing consideration of what is art? It has made me think much more deeply about the issue and widened my thoughts to areas that I would not previously have considered.

Read the FT Review

What is a painting?

Having struggled with the definition of art, I found myself fundamentally questioning what is a painting? The stimulus for this was reading about Gerhard Richter’s Strip Paintings one of which I had seen at Tate Modern. The Tate website says that although Richter refers to the Strip works as paintings “despite their name they have no actual paint on their surface. The digital prints are laminated onto aluminium behind a thin layer of Perspex. It is significant, however, that Richter refers to the Strip works as paintings, since this indicates a widening idea of what a painting might be in a digital age”.

Examples of the paintings can be seen on Richter’s website.

So what is a painting?

If one considers that painting is the application of a pigment (paint) to a medium (e.g. canvas or paper) by a person (an artist) most usually using an implement (a brush or possibly a palette knife). This seems fairly simple. But in the same way would the application of a pigment (Ink) to a medium (e.g. paper) by a person (a Gerhardt Richter) using an implement (a computer and printer) constitute a painting?

Arguments could be made either way as to what constitutes a painting – does it require direct application of a pigment by an artist to produce a unique piece of work? Does the latter process simply produce a print rather than a painting? Is what David Hockney produces on an iPad a painting of any description?

I think that perhaps we need to be less concerned with definition and to recognise the huge changes that technological advances will effect in our conception of art. Artists have always applied pigment to a medium using the tools available to them. Does our conception of an historic view of what art is dictate what we are prepared to call a painting? Does it matter that there should be a distinction between a painting and print? I think that it was always taken that paintings were unique one-off products whereas prints (whether etchings, lino cuts, engravings et cetera) will be produced in a limited volume. But what if the artists use the computer and printer to create a single, unique image and in some way prevent the possibility of further copies being produced. Is it a print or painting? And does it matter?

 

Tate website reference

Touch – works on paper by Maggie Hambling at the British Museum

I was familiar with Maggie Hambling’s paintings of the sea and on a recent visit to Aldeburgh I had been to see her sculpture on the seashore.

This exhibition was something of a revelation. It showed Hambling’s skill with charcoal, ink and monotype. But most interestingly it gave an insight into her thoughts and methods.

At the start of the exhibition she is quoted “drawing is an artist’s most direct and intimate response to the world . . .  I try to distil the essence of the subject and capture the life force of a moment”. It was interesting to read that whenever Hambling is going to paint a portrait she will always start with a drawing “in order to discover the landscape of the face and begin to respond to the spirit of the person”. One of the first examples of this in the exhibition is a drawing of the comedian Max Wall.

wall-web

 

This was a drawing done by Hambling in preparation for the portrait now at the Tate. She describes how in this drawing she discovered “the composition for the painting . . . He has the true face of the sad clown, possessing that power I can only call magical to make one laugh and cry at the same moment”.

In this drawing she has captured perfectly this funny/mournful combination, Wall’s face has sadness behind the eyes but with the hints of the faintest smile on his lips.

 

I admired the sea paintings of hers that I have had the chance to see. So it was doubly interesting to see an etching from her wave series. She successfully conveys the same sense of power and energy in both formats which I think is a great testament to her skill.

wave-web

The Turner Prize 2016, shortlist exhibition at Tate Britain

On the way to London to see this exhibition I read an article in the Tate magazine about Arte Util – art as tools. It referred, in part, to last year’s Turner prize winner, Assemble, which produced functional objects as art – or put art at the centre of producing functional objects.

 

There is no danger of any of this year’s prize shortlist being classified as our Arte Util. In fact the first artist in the exhibition – Helen Marten – does it the other way round, by taking “found” functional objects and assembling them into sculptures.

 

I like the way that Anthea Hamilton had transformed two rooms of the gallery with wallpaper – one of bricks, the other with clouds. It gave an uncanny sense to the two rooms, walking from the material to the natural and your feelings as you do so. But she will probably be remembered for the giant pair of buttocks framing the doorway in the centre of the room.

m_20161028_150646

 

Whereas assemble made functional objects as art Josephine Pryde made art from functional objects – a series of kitchen counters on which objects had been placed to leave marks, much in the way that early photography developed. She also exhibited a series of photographs of hands – of tips of fingers or nails as part of everyday activities.

 

However the one exhibit which really caught my attention and had a great meaning for me was by Michael Dean “United Kingdom poverty line for two adults and two children: twenty thousand four hundred and thirty six pounds sterling as published on 1st September 2016

 

The work consists of the sum of £20,436 in one penny coins in a pile in the centre of the room, merged with and surrounded by his sculptures.

m_20161028_151344

To me this made the art real, relating it to the life and struggles of many people in this country. Suddenly the other shortlisted artwork seemed somehow of lesser importance, dwarfed by the power and meaning of this piece. If I were a judge I would definitely choose this as a winner.

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