Archive for October, 2011

Auction | Modern & Post-War British Art

Friday, October 28th, 2011

Modern & Post-War British Art

Sotheby’s, London. Evening Sale, 15th November, 2011

Exhausted. Broke. Britain, after Hitler’s war was a barren and desolate landscape. But while the rest of Europe rapidly recovered, rebuilding both their shattered cities and economies, Britain lagged behind, its population having to endure food rationing – that had begun in 1940 – until 1954. The country’s economy never really got going again until the latter half of the 1980s. It might be surprising and seem ironic then that a group of paintings, drawings and sculpture representative of the prodigious output by British artists from the post-war years, together with others from the 21-year inter-war period – itself dogged by unemployment and poverty, and hit hard by the 1929 Wall Street Crash – are expected to reach a combined total of £7.2 – 10.8 m ($11.9 – 17.3m) in this forthcoming auction at Sotheby’s, London.

Born in 1878 – well before WWI during which he was a war artist – master-draughtsman, Augustus John’s, David at the Table portrays the somewhat idealised image of a haggard though handsome, wild-eyed young man in work clothes sat slumped at a plain table on which one senses there is no food and might not have been for some time. Generally considered to be the most famous British artist of his day, John himself was never short of money or commissions, however he cultivated a bohemian image inspired by his admiration for the lifestyle of gypsies. Perhaps the bluntness of Laurence Stephen Lowry’s painting, The Cripples (Political Argument) executed shortly after WWII comes closer to reality. Along with other Lowry’s it is also included in the sale.

Bridget Riley, born to middle-class London parents in 1931, would have been eight years old when war broke out in 1939. Raised in the relative safety of the west country, she was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College before coming up to London to study at Goldsmiths then at The Royal College of Art. Her signature, disorientating Op Art painting style matured at the beginning of the 60s with which it and she became synonymous. At a time when the younger generation, anxious to escape the dullness and squalor of the 1950s, living in the shadow of the Cold War and of the possibility of a nuclear holocaust, experimented with hallucinogenic drugs, these paintings were said to inspire audience participation. Becoming disillusioned when her style was exploited for commercial purposes, Riley abandoned it in favour of pursuing ideas concerned with colour, in so doing backing away from the limelight. She was fifty-one when she painted the strikingly linear Praise 1 at the dawn of the 80s.

The same age as Riley, Frank Auerbach, whose gaunt work, Head of Gerda Boehm, among others is also included in the sale, was born of Jewish parentage in Berlin. Sent to England in 1939 to escape Nazism, his mother and father remained behind and perished in concentration camps. Young Frank was evacuated to Shropshire but ended up attending London’s St Martin’s School of Art and going on to the RCA, where he and Bridget Riley were contemporaries.

Painter, William Roberts, started out as a poster designer and studied at the Slade; leaving the school in 1913 he travelled in France and Italy and fought in the trenches during WWI, the sheer horror of the experience, as with many other artists who went to fight, significantly changing the direction of his work. Roberts was one of the signatories to the first issue of BLAST, the short-lived literary magazine of the Vorticist movement in Britain. He developed an interest for representing and interpreting the predominantly working class elements of metropolitan London’s everyday life and events – visits to the cinema, the dancehall but treating them with dignity and humour. Roberts’ painting:s The Boxing Match, produced between 1919-25 and The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946, along with Bath Night, 1929, are all in this sale.In contrast, Barbara Hepworth’s Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, created in 1971, only four years before the sculptor’s death and, although small in size – only 16.5 cm high, excluding black, polished stone base – is unashamedly extravagant and luxurious in use of materials.

Hepworth, from Wakefield in Yorkshire was born in 1903 to middle class parents and died in 1975; her adulthood spans much of the scope of this sale. Aged 17, not long after the Great War ended, she went to Leeds School of Art before being accepted at the RCA, soon becoming well-connected to the up-and-coming art cognescenti including sculptors Henry Moore and John Skeaping. Marrying the latter, the couple regularly exhibited together to great acclaim but drifted apart and separated in 1931. Soon after Hepworth met Ben Nicholson whom she was later to marry and to form a long-standing creative relationship with in which together they moved into abstraction. Both artists benefited enormously from forging links to the continental avant gardists – Picasso, Mondrian, Brancusi – and from those artists who fled Europe and came to England prior to WWII – Gabo, Walter Gropius, Moholy-Nagy. When the war began Hepworth and Nicholson relocated to St Ives in Cornwall where they continued to work and succeeded in their efforts to attract international attention. In the 50s, after divorcing Nicholson, Hepworth confirmed her reputation as one of Britain’s major artists producing two sculptures for 1951’s Festival of Britain and retrospective shows in Wakefield and at London’s Whitechapel. Both the 50s and 60s were good to her; Hepworth’s international stature grew. She was awarded the CBE and later, the DBE. She had a further retrospective in 1962 at the Whitechapel, became a trustee of the Tate and had a retrospective exhibition there in 1968. Barbara Hepworth died in St Ives in 1975 – her studio and garden there are now a museum administered by the Tate – after a long battle with cancer. Celebrating her achievement and named in her honour, 2011 saw the opening of the Hepworth Wakefield gallery in her home town.

Sold earlier this year through Christies and significantly surpassing its estimated sale price of £70,000 – £100,000, ($112,980 – $161,400) selling at £145,000 ($236,612), the Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, sculpture is of 18 carat gold (Apparently, the best gold you can get for making precious objects, 22 carat is too soft). Deep in the current world recession, apparently far worse than that of the 30s and in post WWII Britain, and as gold prices head towards $5,000 (£3,127) an ounce, curiously in Sotheby’s Modern & Post-war British Art sale the estimated price for this piece exactly matches the earlier Christie’s estimate.

Works from top
Bridget Riley, Praise 1, circa 1981. Estimate £150,000-250,000
Augustus John OM, RA, David at the Table. Estimate £20,000-30,00
Dame Barbara Hepworth, Mincarlo: Three Curves with Strings, 1971.
Estimate £70,000-100,000
Frank Auerbach, Head of Gerda Boehm, 1971. Estimate £180,000-250,000
William Roberts RA, The Barber’s Shop, circa 1946. Estimate, £70,000-100,000

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Book & Show | Françoise Hardy by Jean-Marie Périer

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Françoise par Jean-Marie Périer

Book, Editions du Chêne. Published on 5th October, 2011
Exhibition, Galerie Photo 12, Paris, France. October 26th – December 3rd, 2011

1960s Parisian style icon – she dressed in Yves Saint- Laurent and Paco Rabanne, musician – she represented Monaco in the 1963 Eurovision song contest and is still recording, actress – she starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s new wave classic Masculin féminin, Françoise Hardie was loved for her self-deprecation and gentle personally. None more so than by the photographer, Jean-Marie Périer, who started taking pictures of her for among others, the newspaper Salut les Copains (Hello Buddies), where he met and introduced her to all the main musicians and artists of the time. Périer’s book and the exhibition are unapologetic homages to the woman who remains his muse. Although there are images of Françoise posing with Mick Jagger, clowning around with Salvador Dali and with glamorous friends like Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartin and Jean-Paul Goude, the best show only her, now laughing in Venice, now playing her guitar, now looking wistful and perhaps a little sad but always herself as seen through Périer’s indefatigable lens.

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Photography | Klein’s Rome in Paris

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Rome + Klein Photographies 1956-1960

Maison Europeenne de la Photographie, Paris. Until 8th January, 2012

In 1954, shortly after returning from Paris, where he had been since enrolling at the Sorbonne four years earlier, William Klein went to see Alexander Lieberman at US Vogue. The two had met at one of Klein’s sculpture shows in Paris, where Lieberman had been impressed by his kinetic, photosensitive glass panel works, influenced by Moholy-Nagy, and also by the photographs he had begun to take. At the Sorbonne, Klein had studied briefly under Léger, who encouraged his students to revolt against bourgeois conformity: telling them to abandon galleries and work in the streets.

“I came from painting, at a time when people were saying that
painting and painting rules were dead,” he recalls.
“I thought the same thing could apply to photography.”

Lieberman asked Klein, who had grown up on the streets of New York, what he would really like to do. Explaining that having been away for so long he somehow felt foreign he wanted to photograph the city in a completely new way – from an alien perspective. Intrigued, Vogue financed the project only to be shocked by his vulgar, crude and aggressive view of New York. Raw and chaotic, the pictures were generally regarded as being the work of an incompetent. Having been unable to find an American publisher, the resulting book New York – Life is good and good for you in New York, was published in 1956 by Editions Seuil in Paris.

“In the 1950s I couldn’t find an American publisher for my New York pictures,” he says. “Everyone I showed them to said, ‘Ech! This isn’t New York – too
ugly, too seedy, too onesided.’ They said, ‘This isn’t photography, this is shit’.”

The same year, it came out in Italy and Klein went to Rome at the invitation of Federico Fellini. Hired as assistant director on the Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (Le notti di Cabiria) 1957 – incidentally, newly restored and rereleased in 1998 with a crucial scene that censors had cut, reinstated. Klein was provided with an ideal opportunity to explore every corner of the city with personalities as famous as Pier Paolo Pasolini and Alberto Moravia, as his guides.

As gritty, if not more so, than New York…, Klein’s book, Roma + Klein, was published in 1958 in Italy by Feltrinelli. More than fifty years later, the sixty large-scale prints, made especially for this exhibition show the ordinary, daily lives of Romans: walks in the Forum; Sunday trips to the beach at Ostia; the filming at Cinecittà… recreating the magic of those years and reaffirming his reputation as one of the great masters of photography. The reissue of Rome, celebrates Klein’s incredible talent and his gesture of love for the eternal city.

At 83, having had an extraordinary life in which he became an innovative fashion photographer at US Vogue, a documentary film-maker, a fine artist working in mixed-media and having had solo exhibitions and won prizes all over the world, William Klein lives in Paris with his wife and collaborator Janine, whom he met and married after being discharged from the US army there in 1948.

Top: Piazzale Flaminio, Rome, 1956 © William Klein
Above: Cinecittà, 1956 © William Klein

Roma + Klein was republished in October 2009 by Editions du Chêne

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Typography | No Qualitative Easing

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Letter Fountain
Website companion to Taschen’s book Letter Fountain by Joep Pohlen

Designers born after 1980 have a total [sic] different view on visual culture, on aesthetic products, visions and history than the people born before the eighties – Extracted from Everyone is a Designer in the Age of Social Media, edited by dutch pair Geert Lovink and Mieke Gerritzen – first published in 2001, substantially revised and republished in summer 2010 by BIS publishers.

Until I began composing this blog post, I wasn’t aware of Everyone is a designer… but agree – with some reservations – to the authors’ sentiment regarding the democratisation of design for publishing and that nowadays anyone who wants to can turn their hand to layout or graphic design and even design typefaces.

Born well before the 1980s, classically trained in the use of typography, my peers and I at art college even set metal type and printed from it. Modernist that I’ve turned out to be, I make no apologies in admitting to being one of those designers who struggled (and continue to struggle) with what used to be called new technology. New technology – aka design on computer, arrived rather late, in 1990, at The Sunday Times Magazine where I had recently been made Art Director. Interestingly, Joep Polen and graphic designer Geert Setola’s first version of Letterfontein (Letter fountain) was published, only a short time later, in 1994, but rather unhelpfully, only in dutch and french. The 2011 manifestation is more international, with editions in english and spanish.

Aesthetically pleasing as the typography and design of Pohlen’s book and the website are, and although in their blurb Taschen claim that Letter Fountain will be useful for a new group of people interested in typography and typefaces, the very clear and classical presentation might easily be construed as dry, possibly patronising and rather academic to today’s snowboarding, crowd-surfing and web-surfing generation. For silver surfers, though, this book/website combo, might turn out to be a godsend.

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