Archive for June, 2011

Photography | Big Nudes

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Le Imaginaire du Nu
Hotel Drouot, Paris. Exhibition 27th & 28th June 2011. Sale 28th June

Nudes, especially as a subject for books, exhibitions and auctions, are big right now, especially in France. Not that the nudes themselves are huge in proportions, you understand, with the possible exception of the amazons in high stilettos in Helmut Newton’s classic, Big Nudes (1990) that is among a list of 10 books on this particular génre of photography selected for La Lettre de la Photographie by photographer and collector, Bruno Mouron, prompted, almost certainly, by the huge up coming auction and exhibition L’imaginaire du Nu at Hôtel Drouot in Paris.

Early daguerreotypes and prints will be sold back to back with photographs from the beginning and middle of the 20th century: Bill Brandt, Robert Doisneau, Horst, Krull, Man Ray, Willy Ronis and contemporary works by, among others, Araki, Bourdin, Ralph Gibson, David Hamilton, Sam Haskins, Horvat, Lindbergh, George Platt-Lynes, Jeanloup Sieff, Bert Stern and Joel Peter Witkin. The majority, as might be expected, are images of women but male nudity is also represented in pictures by, for example, Bruce of Los Angeles and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Interesting to note, though, that despite the current vogue, we’re already halfway through the year and Mapplethorpe’s Nudes 2011 calender, which includes graphic black and white images of both males and females of our species is still available from Te Neues.

Pamela Hanson, Carla Bruni, Vogue Hommes, 1994, top
Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim, 1935, below


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Auction | Less Artless

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

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Contemporary Art Evening Auction
Sotheby’s, London. Exhibition 25-29th June. Sale 22th June 2011

It would seem that almost overnight – I wrote and posted my previous blog, below, only last Friday, so I can’t claim that my criticisms had any bearing on the rehash –  Sotheby’s have changed their style of video presentation. This one begins with an animated discussion between two of the company’s contemporary art specialists – one male, reasonably well-dressed, and one female, wearing an interesting top, in a gallery situation. There’s lots of hand movement: lots of changes of camera angle, from an obviously hand-held camera, zooms and wide shots. A third expert arrives and joins in with the discussion. A little later it reverts back to the more static presentation, however the first, lively couple make another appearance, which makes for a happy end. It’s really a big improvement.

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Auction | The Art of the Artless

Friday, June 17th, 2011


Sotheby\’s video

Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale
Sotheby’s, London. Exhibition opens today. Sale 22nd June 2011

One gets, I suppose, so used from watching seasoned TV presenters on arts shows like The Culture Show, with the confiding, sometimes almost whisperingly confidential Andrew Graham Dixon and The South Bank Show’s urbane and smirkingly jovial Melvyn Bragg, to being invited in by come hither looks, knowing surreptitious winks or an exuberant gesturing of hands into the worlds of art and artists that we have come to expect a certain showmanship from those who deliver it into our homes.

I said in an earlier post how pleased I am to be on the emailing list of Sotheby’s; how wonderful it is that any member of the public is free to wander into their London galleries and see rare items of painting and sculpture that go on show for a very brief few days in the run up to an auction. Sotheby’s emailed updates often come with a Watch Video button that links to almost unbelievably static and dry, short films. The format is virtually always the same; one single or a series of Sotheby’s specialists talk for a very short time about the highlights of the forthcoming sale, waving their hands around a bit, otherwise expressing little emotion other than, maybe, mild embarrassment. They might just as well be presenting the weather. The latest update is a taster for their forthcoming Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale, the exhibition for which starts today. I find it oddly disconcerting that such experts appear to be so inhibited and uncomfortable standing in front of a succession of artworks spouting their stuff into a video camera with, apparently, little direction other than not to look directly into the lens – at least the weathermen look you in the eye. You get the impression that no-one else is in the room: that the camera operator, bored out of his mind, has perhaps wandered off somewhere and only pops back in afterwards to zoom in on details – later to be cut into the films –  of the works, in this case, a beautiful and emotive, finely-crafted, group sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, a passionately painted, double portrait by Pablo Picasso or a rare and exquisite townscape from Egon Schiele.

Sotheby’s website is well-designed – they know what they are about – so perhaps there’s some well thought through psychology at work here that goes over my head. Used car salesmanship techniques or barrow-boy yelling would undoubtedly frighten off reclusive art collecting billionaires, after all, the auction house wants itself taken seriously but surely, in return for parting with their millions, even billionaires deserve a little free, good quality entertainment.

Will you attend this Sotheby’s sale?
Any embarrassing public speaking moments you’d like to tell me about?

Please leave a comment

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Photography | Outta Sight

Thursday, June 9th, 2011


Night Vision: Photography After Dark

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City,USA, until 18th September, 2011

As I child I was scared of the dark, of the imaginary and the real that lurked within it. So afraid was I that every night I slept with the blankets pulled up over my head and risked a spanking as punishment for wetting the bed that was my sanctuary. Then I grew up. Then I went to pubs, followed by nightclubs and often found myself walking home – sometimes staggering more than a little, in an advanced state of inebriation – the eight miles or so from the city to where I lived. The darkness in the city never frightened me. If I became detached from the crowd I had begun the evening with, comforting noises seeping out from the bars and clubs – American soul music (Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye), British rock (David Bowie, Roxy Music) – and looking in through the plate glass windows of the bustling open-late eateries let me know that I was not alone. The further I walked, the more the lights dimmed, the less I could see, the more the familiar ghosts from my childhood reared up from the dark shadows that gradually grew and deepened around me. Once, at around 2 am, a friend took me via a short cut that reduced our walking time by about five minutes. He had not mentioned beforehand that it passed through a graveyard. He was not letting on but I knew he was as afraid as I was. Then all at once we started singing: She says baby ev’rything is alright, uptight, out of sight. Baby, ev’rything is alright, uptight, clean out of sight. And, well, it somehow just was…
©Pedro Silmon 2011

Highlights of the Met’s exhibition include classic 20th Century, black and white, night photography by Berenice Abbot, Bill Brandt, Brassaï,Robert Frank, André Kertész, William Klein, Weegee and Diane Arbus, among many others.

Image above by Sid Grossman (American, 1913–1955)
Image title:
Mulberry Street, 1948
Gelatin silver print. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 1990 (1990.1139.2). © Estate of Sid Grossman/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery, NYC

Are you frightened of the dark?
Do you want to tell us about it?

Please leave a comment

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Architecture | Greyed Out

Friday, June 3rd, 2011


David Chipperfield Architects’ The Hepworth Wakefield

Wakefield, North Yorkshire

For so many years overshadowed by her contemporary, friend and fellow sculptor, Henry Moore – also from this neck of the wood – it is only just and fitting that Barbara Hepworth has at last been honoured with an eponymously-named gallery in her home town of Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Previously, to see a decent-sized body of her oevre, it was necessary to trek all the way down to the little stone house in St Ives, Cornwall, where for much of her life she lived and worked, building a workshop at the rear and arranging favourite pieces in the modest walled garden. (See The Blog, Edges Rounded, Sharp Points Blunted, Friday, April 9th, 2010).

I had seen versions of 2011 RIBA prizewinners Chipperfield Architects’ proposals for the gallery building in maquette form at his formidable David Chipperfield Form Matters exhibition at London’s Design Museum in 2009. What resembled a modest settlement that might have grown organically over a period of time – built as dwellings or for related functional reasons – of blocky buildings with slanted rooves on the bank of a fast-flowing river that lapped against its foundations, the design of which had been rendered in thin, pale cream card and in pale wood. I was impressed and could not wait to see the finished thing.

Wakefield is trying hard to attract visitors. The new gallery is part of the same initiative as the newly-pedestrianised shopping areas and the once grey tower blocks now capped with ridged rooves and painted in jolly colours. I had not been before and found it a busy, optimistic and bustling town.

Even though, having done my homework, I knew already what to expect, it was quite a shock to be confronted by the flat, mid-grey gallery building, its blocky appearance broken only by the blurry joints of the concrete blocks used inits construction and the insertion of what at first sight appear as randomly-sized and randomly-positioned, black-framed, rectangular windows. The lightness, freshness and optimism of the maquettes is replaced by a brooding, uncompromisingly angular mass of tinted concrete which nods more than a little to the great Japanese minimalist architect, Tadao Ando. The weeping willows along the river bank might well weep. The saving grace, however, is Chipperfield’s elegant pedestrian bridge – which, presumably, because the gallery’s parking space is extremely limited, most visitors are expected to use as access – that stretches from the north side of the river over a gaggle of gaily painted boats to the gallery’s main entrance. Only from this aspect, despite its dour hue, the building beckons and looks approachable.

Inside it is almost a completely different story. The tall walls and ceilings of the gallery spaces are painted white. They flow easily into one another. Hepworth’s sculptures and the city’s collection of paintings are carefully sited to make good use of the natural light that enters via cleverly-designed slits at the edges of the ceilings. As well as bringing light inside the floor deep windows justify their positions by drawing visitors toward them – there is even a bench built into a grey felt-covered niche facing one of them that visitors queue to use.

The majority of Barbara Hepworth’s work can be described as curvy, organic and sensual. On leaving, I found myself wondering what she might have thought about David Chipperfield’s choice of colour and materials for the exterior of this building.

All photographs © Pedro Silmon, 2011. You can see more of my architecture, interior and garden photography at Arcaid Images

Have you been to see The Hepworth Wakefield?
What do you think of it?

Please leave a comment

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