by Sue Hubbard
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.
Extract from ‘Easter’, 1916, W B Yeats
When we meet to discuss his work we have to decamp from the pub in Camberwell, which is both Mat Collishaw’s studio and stylish home, to a local café, as his apartment has been let out to a well known London store for a shoot and is full of rampaging children. But before we leave he shows me his new paintings. At first glance they appear to be abstract, constructed on a modernist grid, though the lines, in fact, are folds, creases left in the small square wraps of paper used to sell cocaine. These wraps have been torn from glossy magazines; there’s a woman’s foot in a high-heeled shoe resting on a glass table, and adverts for Fendi and Gucci. The subtext seems to be that these aspirational trappings are the spectral presence of an endless illusion that functions much like an addiction to drugs. You’re always left wanting more. The work is about debasement; the debasement of modernist painting as a form and as a result of the recent financial excesses that have led to the current economic crisis. This tension between the beautiful and the abject, between the promise of a possible paradise and the profane is central to all Mat Collishaw’s work. As the Marquis de Sade once said: “There is no better way to know death than to link it with some licentious image”.
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by Sue Hubbard
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”, Edgar Degas wrote. In many ways predicating the role of art within modernism where the sensibility of the viewer’s reading of an art object is every bit as important as the object itself.
Invisible: Art about the Unseen 1957-2012, currently at the Hayward Gallery in London, is the sort of exhibition that gets up the nose of tabloid journalists. You can virtually hear them snorting that this isn’t art, just as they once expressed their philistine opposition to the purchase of Carl Andre’s ‘pile of bricks’, Equivalent VIII, 1966. After all why spend good money paying to go to a gallery to look at nothing when you could stay at home and watch paint dry? It was in 1957 at the Galerie Colette Allendy in Paris, that Yves Klein opened an exhibition in which he presented an apparently empty room. You can see how it might have annoyed, for he claimed that the entirely white walls were infused with a “pictorial sensibility in the raw state”, maintaining that the space was actually saturated with a force field so tangible that many were unable to enter the gallery ‘as if an invisible wall prevented them.’ Was this a sleight of hand, a clever publicity ploy or a visual treatise on the existential ideas of being and nothingness? Jean Paul Sartre eat your heart out; an empty room, it seems, can speak a thousand words.
Klein was further to explore invisibility in a number of ways by collaborating with artists and architects and applying for a patent for his ‘air roof’. A mixture of subversive showmanship and utopianism he believed that a ‘constant awareness of space’would allow humanity the chance to live in a state of grace outside the framework of repressive social conventions. It was no accident that he’d been a devout Catholic and was later to receive a black belt in judo at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo. Genuinely fascinated by mystical ideas, by notions of the infinite, the indefinable and the absolute, he even became a Rosicrucian. For what he understood was that what is of most value often cannot be seen – faith and hope, for example – to be rather Christian about it. For Klein belief was as necessary to the practice of art as it was to religion; for art, like religion and love, requires a leap of faith.
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by Sue Hubbard
Recession? What recession? The collapse of the Euro-zone? Who’d have guessed? One in ten Londoners unemployed; never? It’s Frieze art week in London and the glitterati are out on the town. My email in box is awash with invitations to private views, post opening parties, and champagne brunches. Everyone is hurrying somewhere, being terribly, terribly busy and in demand. Apart from Frieze itself there is the Pavilion of Art and Design in Berkely Square, a sophisticated boutique fair that brings modern design and the decorative arts together and Multiplied at Christies, the only fair devoted to art in editions, as well as Sunday – young, cutting edge and more alternative than the main event. Lisson Gallery held a magnificent party at 1 Mayfair, in a deconsecrated church filled with strobe lighting, while Blain Southern’s do after Rachel Howard’s opening show, Folie A Deux in Derring Street, was in a beautiful 18thcentury town house just down the road. (Howard, who used to paint Damien Hirst’s spots, is a fine painter in her own right). There are dinners and receptions for collectors, art historians, journalists and pretty much anyone who can blag their way in. Getting into Frieze itself is made as difficult as possible to keep the tension high. Being there and being seen is the name of the game. This is a parallel universe to the one most mortals inhabit and light years away from the life of the young woman, interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week, who’d been made redundant, applied for 140 jobs without success, and was, now, with her daughter, living on job seekers allowance of £67.00 per week.
Whatever the private qualms of the art world movers and shakers about the future prospects of the art market really are, they’re not letting on. From all the parties, the flowing champagne and the PR babes in their short, short skirts and high, high heels arriving at yet another opening, you might be forgiven for thinking that the ‘90s had never ended; art is the new rock n’roll.
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Full of iconoclastic verve they filled the Royal Academy for Charles Saatchi’s infamous 1977 exhibition Sensation with unmade beds , pickled sharks and an image of the serial killer Myra Hindley painted using children’s handprints. Now their waist lines are thickening and they face the slow decline from the excitement and glamour of being YBAS (Young British Artists) to MABAS (Middle Aged British Artists). In the case of the Queen of the Britart pack, Tracey Emin, she has also renounced her role as official enfant terrible by recently coming out in support of the Tories as “natural patrons” of the arts. There can be few artists in recent years in Britain, except Damien Hirst, who can be so readily identified in the public consciousness by a single work. Everyone has an opinion of her 1999 Turner Prize exhibit My Bed with its sex-tossed sheets, stained knickers, spent condoms and cigarette stubs. As with her igloo-like tent appliquéd with the names of all the people she has ever slept with, (lost in the MOMART fire), the subject is herself. It is her only subject. Her work chronicles the child abuse, the teenage rape, the broken relationships and her botched abortion. In this, her first London retrospective, the solipsism is evident in titles such as Conversation with my Mum, 2001, Details of Depression When you’re sad you only see sad things, 2003, The first time I was pregnant I started to crochet the baby a shawl 1998-2004 and Those who suffer love, 2009.
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By Sue Hubbard
In 1969 the German artist Anslem Kiefer compiled a book, Unfruchtbare Landschaften that brought together two disparate elements: landscapes and the pages of a medical textbook dealing with contraception. Placing the IUDs out of context on top of the landscapes seemed to imply sterility. Wrenched from their purpose and context these now alien objects brought with them not only traces of their own history but took on new metaphorical meanings. The beauty of the gesture of these juxtapositions lay in the attempt to say something beyond language.
Kiefer is one of the most significant and serious artists of the post war generation. Born in Donaueschinger in South Germany in 1945, in 1966 he left his law studies at the University of Freiburg to study art. A student of Joseph Beuys in the early 1970s he began to explore the fraught territory of German history and identity in a muscular visual language. His paintings, oversized books and performance art draw from literature, art and music, philosophy and folklore. Borrowing from Teutonic myth he has conducted investigations into the recent past, particularly the era of the Third Reich, exploring a post Nietzschian desire to establish meaning in a brutal Godless world. His painted landscapes of the ploughed and rutted German countryside, incorporating straw, ash, clay, lead and shellac, have become metaphors for the tragedy of recent European history. Engaged in an endless interrogation of the devastation and horror that his country wrought, he implies that the tragedy was a product of Germany’s intellectual and cultural heritage, a view endorsed in Michael Haneke's superb yet disturbing film, The White Ribbon, based on life in pre-first world war Germany.
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