Archive for December, 2011

Art | Turner goes Baltic

Friday, December 30th, 2011


Baltic Presents the Turner Prize 2011
Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Gateshead, UK. Until 8th January , 2012

For the benefit of those who don’t know – because anyone connected with or interested in British contemporary art certainly should – for the first time in its 27 year history, our prestigious Turner Prize (in partnership with its usual home, Tate) was organised by a provincial gallery, in this case Gateshead’s Baltic, which stands on the south side of the river Tyne opposite Newcastle’s bustling and vibrant Quayside. I went in the evening, when the collection of fine bridges, lit from below in a spectrum of changing colours or silhouetted against the darkening sky, teamed with Norman Foster’s massive and undulating Sage concert hall – refered to locally as The Slug – lit from within, and the myriad of Christmas lights, illuminated the sluggish black river.

Having read a bit about the show I was familiar with first prize winner, sculptor Martin Boyce’s work, but whenever I read in an exhibition review that the work ‘must be seen in the flesh to be properly appreciated,’ I agree and at the same time become sceptical.

Each short-listed artist was alloted a large room in which to display their work. All four – except perhaps George Shaw, whose dull enamel paintings illustrating themes of urban decay, of which similar ground has been presented time and time again in photography over the last twenty odd years, all similarly sized are hung with anally minded, precisely equal space between them – had used the space to dramatic effect.

The evening viewing was well timed with regard to seeing Hilary Lloyd’s film work. One floor to ceiling wall of the room is clear glass and brought the lights of Gateshead’s urban environment inside to combine with the starkly modern, hard-edged, AV equipment used to display the artist’s sensual and intriguing, moving and still images. By complete contrast, Karla Black’s giant, pastel, paint and powder-covered, crumpled sheets of paper and transparent polythene is a riot of mad abandon.

Boyce’s work had certainly looked rather dull and the elements disparate in the photo I saw, but even with a file of visitors passing through the sculptural installation – comprising of a deconstructed desk with Calderesque mobile draped over it, the skewed waste bin, the hanging, white, jagged geometric shapes partially covering the ceiling, the similarly geometric brown, translucent paper shapes, like fallen leaves littering the extremities of the floor, and what is reminiscent of an art deco ventilation cover – the diverse elements remain separate and equally combine as a complete environment. It moved and held me, which is what I require from any art piece: a justified winner.

Also showing at Baltic
The Voyage of Growth & Discovery | Mike Kelley and Michael Smith
The only UK presentation of American artists’ collaboration. A massive, multi-facetted, theatrical crowd-pleaser, with adult themes, cuddly toys and subtle humour, based around Nevada’s Burning Man Festival – taking up the whole of the fourth floor. Until 15th January, 2012

Section Yellow | Bani Abidi
The Pakistani artist, uses photography, video and drawing to explore manifestations of power and resilience within the modern Pakistani state. Until 12th February, 2012

Image: The river Tyne. Evening view towards the Sage concert hall through the Millenium bridge. December 2011. Captured by Pedro Silmon on a Nokia 6300 mobile phone

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Photography | A very good year

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011


Season’s Greetings

Most of you who subscribe to The Blog will know me as a writer and critic on a variety of arts-related subjects, from design and architecture to books, fine art auctions and photography shows. I am also a photographer, specialising in gardens and plants. As you might expect however, of a person with diverse interests, my company extends its photographic activities to a wide range of subjects including: still life, interiors, architecture, travel and sometimes people. You can see varied selections of our photographic work on the following sites:

Pedro Silmon Garden Photography
http://www.pedrosilmon.com/gardenphotography/#

The Garden Collection
http://www.garden-collection.com/

Arcaid Images
http://tinyurl.com/cfao6gl

Plainpicture
http://tinyurl.com/d34wrru

Readymade Images
http://www.readymade-images.com/

In 2012, our aim is to expand this list and to place many more images on all the existing sites.

In January 2011 the pedrosilmon.com site had only 525 unique visitors per month. By November that figure grew to 3,461; the year total is certain to be at least 2,100. During the same period, the figure for the number of pages viewed grew from just 3,590 per month to a year total of around 91,000. Last January there were 9,765 hits on the site; December’s total will be close to 55,000, taking the year’s total hits to at least 276,000. So, thank you. We’re very grateful for your interest.

Our tweets cover similar subject areas as those in The Blog but the pace is faster. Interest in our Twitter account, @PedroSilmon, set up this summer, we’re pleased to say is growing steadily too.

We’re looking forward to 2012 and send you our best wishes for a Very Happy New Year.

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Architecture | Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Little Gem’

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Frank Lloyd Wright Kenneth Laurent Home
Important Design, Wright (Auctioneers), Chicago, USA. 15th December, 2011

Local residents in Rockford, Illinois, who feel it is an important part of their heritage and who are keen to turn it into a museum, are rallying around and drumming up funds in an attempt to buy the house built between 1949 and 1952 by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright for a wheelchair-bound, handicapped war veteran and his wife. FLW referred to this house as his ‘Little Gem’ and gave it his signed red ceramic tile seal of approval – allegedly the visible sign that he accepted a structure as being ‘truly, totally, Wright’. Complete with all the original custom-built furniture and fittings, the house, designed on an elliptical plan as illustrated on the painted screen (above, third from top and included in the sale) is being sold at auction by the original owners – who have lived there for 57 years and are now too old to care for themselves – at what would appear a rather low estimated price for such an iconic building, of $500,000-700,000 (£323,000-452,000/€383,000-537,000).

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Photography | For Sale: 11 Ansel Adams Prints

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011


Photographs including Crossing America: Photographs from
The Consolidated Freightways Collection, Part II

Viewing: Christie’s Special Exhibition Gallery, until 18th December
Auctions: Christie’s Special Exhibition Gallery, 19th December.
Christie’s, New York City, USA. 19th December, 2011

The brief was simple and the great variety of works on view and on offer were created by many of America and the rest of the world’s finest photographers, among them: Bruce Davidson, Diane Arbus and Henri-Cartier Bresson. Over the years, Consolidated Freightways, which ceased operations in 2002, amassed an impressive array of images dating from the 1920s to the 1990s with the aim of reflecting the the American landscape as seen from the cab of a truck.

If you want to start a collection of prints, this is the place to begin. Not that you can buy anything for a song but the photographs are astonishing and many of the prices are not outlandish. The great advantage of buying anything from a corporate collection, as in this case the USA’s freight transportation giant, The Consolidated Freightways Collection, is that you can be absolutely sure of the distinguished provenance of the goods on sale.

Ansel Adams (1902-1984) chose the diverse and spectacular fabric of the vast American landscape as his subject and somehow gets closest to the objective of the collection. The eleven images above are all on offer and include an original and unique group of Adams Polaroids.

Images from top
1 Sequoia Gigantea Roots, Yosemite National Park, California, circa 1950
Gelatin silver print, printed 1970s
Estimate 3,000 – 5,000 U.S. dollars

2 Mormon Temple, Manti, Utah, 1948
Gelatin silver print, printed 1970s
Estimate $3,000 – 5,000

3 El Capitan and Trees, Yosemite, 1955
Unique Polaroid Type 52 print
Estimate $5,000 – 7,000

4 Fern Spring, Yosemite, 1961
Unique Polaroid Type 55 print
Estimate $5,000 – 7,000

5 Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Monument, 1942
Gelatin silver portfolio print, printed 1950
Estimate $3,000 – 5,000

6 Untitled (Lake with mountains), circa 1961
Unique Polaroid Type 55 print
Estimate $2,000 – 3,000

7 Untitled (Rapids), c. 1950s
Unique Polaroid Type 55 print
Estimate $2,000 – 3,000

8 Forest at Patrick’s Point State Park, California, 1959
Unique Polaroid Type 55 print
Estimate $3,000 – 5,000

9 Cement machinery, Crescent City, California, circa 1960
Unique Polaroid Type 55 print
Estimate $1,500 – 2,500

10 Merced River and Snow, Yosemite, 1959
Unique Polaroid Type 55 print
Estimate $5,000 – 7,000

11 Winter Sunrise from Lone Pine, Sierra Nevada, circa 1944
Gelatin silver print, printed 1970s
Estimate $20,000 – 30,000

All photographs courtesy Christie’s Images Limited, 2011

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Sculpture & Design | Harry Bertoia, Sculptor

Friday, December 9th, 2011


Forthcoming auctions of Harry Bertoia sculptures in the USA
Important Design Wright, Chicago. December 15th, 2011
Important 20th Century Design Sotheby’s, New York. December 15th, 2011
20th Century Decorative Arts Bonhams, New York,December 14th, 2011

My idea for this post – having noticed that many originals were coming up for sale in a series of auctions, all in the US – was to do something on collectable modern chairs. By chance, however, researching, I happened across Harry Bertoia’s sculpture work. His Diamond Chair furniture series are beautiful and ubiquitous, sculptural objects – somewhat easier on the eye than on the seat of the pants – but I have to admit it came as news to me that Bertoia was a sculptor and, more than that, a musician of sorts. It turns out that, initially, the chair design provided the cash that allowed the designer to develop his sculpture work; the artist discovered a way of making music with the sculptural objects, which are now being bought and sold for many thousands of dollars.

Born in Italy in 1915, aged fifteen Harry Bertoia emigrated with his parents to Canada, then to Michigan, USA. He went to college in Detroit and later to the Cranbrook Academy of Art founded by Finnish immigrant, Eliel Saarinen – father of Eero Saarinen – and intended as an American equivalent to the Bauhaus, in Michigan. Charles Eames had been a contemporary of Eero at Cranbrook, as had Ray Eames (then Ray Kaiser). Afterwards, Bertoia worked briefly with the Eames duo in California on designs for bentwood furniture. At Cranbrook Academy, he had also made the acquaintance of Florence and Hans Knoll and after working as a furniture designer throughout the 1940s, setting up his own business in 1950, he began work on his first chair for the Knoll company: the Model 420 Diamond. The now familiar design of chromium-plated steel was an instant best-seller; the royalty payments were huge; it and it’s variants remain marketed and produced by Knoll. Freed from the restrictions of having to earn a living by design, Bertoia now devoted himself exclusively to the sculpture work he had begun in the late 40s.

Produced during the 60s and starting out as an exploration of natural forms, the highly complex and labour intensive Bush Sculpture series resemble eccentric bonsai trees and are executed in wire or brass-coated iron that over time took on a green patina.

Watching and listening to Harry Bertoia – who died in 1978 – playing his sound sculptures on this You-Tube video, he looks totally relaxed, in his element, enthralled, strolling, never rushing, from one piece to the next – a one-man Balinese gamelan orchestra – gently stroking the metal rods of a tall piece, setting them in motion, striking what might be a table-sized gong then clashing the steel lozenges of another standing piece so as to combine the various sounds produced to create a minimal, ambient sort of unstructured music. A series of vinyl albums, Sonambient, were recorded, produced and released by the artist himself, who also designed their minimal packaging. In the late 1990s, Bertoia’s son, Val, rootling around in the barns in Pennsylvania that were used as studio space, discovered a large collection of unopened, album sets, which he sold for large sums. Some of the music was re-issued by a Japanese company and can be found at Discogs.

Images, from top
Untitled, Gong, 1965
Hand-hammered copper with applied patina
Estimate $200,000–300,000
Courtesy of Wright

Untitled, circa 1950
Steel
Estimate $60/80,000
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Untitled, circa 1943
Copper and partially-painted steel
Estimate $50/70,000
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Untitled
, circa 1960
Welded copper and patinated bronze
Estimate $50/70,000
Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Welded Wire Sculpture, circa 1955
Estimate US$5,000 – 7,000
Property from the Dorothy
& Marshall M Reisman Foundation
Courtesy of Bonhams

Bertoia Group, Courtesy of Wright

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Exhibition | Babar’s 80th Birthday

Friday, December 2nd, 2011


Les histoires de babar

Les arts décoratifs, Paris, France. 8th December 2011–2nd September 2012

‘Aaagh!’ yelled Lesley as she slid down and bounced on to the floor from a giant slide in the shape of an elephant and intended for use by small children, permanently damaging her tailbone. It was around 1978. Boyfriend and girlfriend, we were at a small exhibition illustrator friends had enthused over, in Paris’s then pre-gentrification, down-at-heel Marais district. This was our first introduction to Babar the Elephant, created by the Brunhoff family, who would play a significant role – after we married – in our, and our two daughters’ education.

Babar himself was born in 1930. Cécile de Brunhoff, mother of Laurent and Mathieu, then five and four years old, told them a story about a little elephant who lived in the jungle but became an orphan, his mother having been killed by a hunter, who makes his way to the big city and learned the ways of humans before returning home to become king of the elephants. The story would have remained merely a memory had the boys not then told it to their portrait painter father, Jean de Brunhoff. Enchanted by the tale, he produced a watercolour album entitled The Story of Babar the Little Elephant. When the boys showed their uncle Lucien Vogel – influential publishing figure and founder of reportage photography magazine Vu – the album, he was so impressed that he persuaded Jean to have it published in 1931. It was an instant bestseller. Six albums followed – millions of copies were sold between 1931 and 1939 – in which Jean developed his talents as an illustrator, combining his skills as a painter, storyteller and observer. Jean de Brunhoff, however, died of tuberculosis in 1937. At this point his brother Michel, who had become editor at French Vogue asked Laurent, then only 12, to do the colouring for some pages of two as yet unpublished albums. After the war, Laurent, then 20, continued the series producing some 40 albums himself, beginning with Babar’s Cousin, That Rascal Arthur. He carried on with many of his father’s characters: Babar, Celeste, Arthur, the Old Lady, Cornelius, Zephyr the monkey and the three children, Pom, Flora, and Alexander but over the years added many others. Laurent’s style was subtly different from his father’s but no-one seemed to notice and attributed the gap in publishing to the war.

This retrospective exhibition at Les arts décoratifs in Paris is a celebration of Barbar’s life. Now 80 years old, he made his TV debut in 1949 and went on to become an international star of animated film. However, in the early 1980s when our kids were born, Babar was not well-known in the UK and the albums were only available in French. Francophiles but not French speakers, loving the illustrations, we bought the books anyway and found the stories, albeit sophisticated, so easy to follow intuitively, by way of the drawings, that we were able to take the children through them and at the same time, improve our own understanding of the language. Meanwhile – Lesley’s coccyx never having quite recovered – our children grown up and left home, the precious Barbar albums remain with us to be rediscovered some day by their children, our grandchildren.

Illustrations from top
Jean de Brunhoff, original watercolour for The story of Babar, pp 20-21, 1931
Laurent de Brunhoff, original watercolour for Babar’s Cousin: That Rascal Arthur,
pp 4-5, 1946
Illustrations courtesy of the Morgan Library & Museum Collection, New York, USA

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