Archive for June, 2012

Art | Smoking Hot Prints

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Bonhams Print Sale
101, New Bond Street, London, UK
Exhibition: 8th-11th July, 2012
Sale: 11th July, 2012

Carefully timed, the message ANDY WARHOL’S TAKE ON THE QUEEN arrived just prior to the early June, Jubilee Weekend celebrations. On the morning of the 12th the promise of SMOKING HOT PRINTS BY JULIAN OPIE was in my mailbox. After a six-day gap these were followed by WAR ARTIST NEVINSON IN RARE PASTORAL MOOD, qualified by the intriguing ROMNEY MARSH DISPLAYS ‘HAPPY COMMUNION WITH NATURE’. Then, on the 20th of June, came RUNNERS, SWING BOATS AND A PARIS OMNIBUS. A couple of days ago I got GERMAN EXPRESSIONIST MASTERPIECES, which I responded to requesting images relating to it and to some of the earlier proclamations.

Never tiring of the work he executes in this severely reduced style, I took the complete set of British contemporary minimal pop artist Julian Opie’s Ruth Smoking I-V: portraits of the same girl in a variety of similarly cropped poses, elegantly holding a slender cigarette.

Rather more polite than Jamie Reid’s single cover for The Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen – based on a Cecil Beaton photograph of Queen Elizabeth II, with an added safety pin through her nose and swastikas in her eyes (not in this sale) – Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth II is from the Reigning Queens series – the series’ title clearly intended as a pun on the raging queens of the transvestite world – that includes the queens of Denmark, the Netherlands and Swaziland.

I plumped for including Claude Flight’s lino-cut Paris Omnibus (1923) over Christopher Nevinson’s sombre Romney Marsh (1922) etching because – influenced by Italian Futurist art – it looks so amazingly contemporary, like some 4×4 racing around London’s Chelsea or Fulham areas. Staying on the modern theme, the Kandinsky is from the Meistermappe des Staatlichen Bauhauses – a portfolio of prints produced to raise funds for the Bauhaus – which also includes work by fellow member of the earlier German avant garde group, Der Blaue Reiter, Paul Klee.

I could have waited, I suppose, a little longer – after all the event is still a little over a week away – PICASSO and BECKMANN are apparently, still to come. But there comes a point when a start has to be made at making sense of things available and deciding how to present them in a meaningful way. I dare say there’ll be a whole host of stuff from many other great names in Bonhams Print Sale.

Prints from top
Julian Opie, Ruth Smoking I-V, 2006 (shown in numerical order)
Claude Flight, Paris Omnibus, 1923
Wassily Kandinsky, Frölicher Aufstieg, 1923, from the portfolio
Meistermappe des Staatlichen Bauhauses
Andy Warhol, Queen Elizabeth II, 1985

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Photography | Ellen von Unwerth

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

Ellen von Unwerth: Do Not Disturb!
Michael Hoppen Gallery, London, UK
Until 21st July, 2012
You go to D+V Management’s website. Ellen von Unwerth being European, you select the London option rather than USA. You go to Artists + Production, then to Photographers. The list is alphabetical. Few of the names mean an awful lot and at the bottom is Ellen’s. Out of idle curiosity, to see if she’s also listed under USA, you give that a go as well. This time, at the top of the list, is Ellen von Unwerth. Funnily enough, the US list is also alphabetical, but here an exception appears to be made to give prominence to one of the most talented and commercially successful fashion photographers, male or female, of the last 20+ years.

Circus performer, turned model – she modelled for 10 years – turned photographer, Von Unwerth (54) learned how to use a camera from her photographer boyfriend and – after an early shoot with a then unknown Claudia Schiffer for the jeans company Guess? that shot her to fame – quickly became sought after by magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, The Face and i-D. There followed album cover work for Duran Duran, Janet Jackson and later Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, then Rhianna. Among many other celebrities von Unwerth has photographed Kate Moss, Vanessa Paradis, Lindsay Lohan, Dita von Teese, Carla Bruni, Eva Green and Monica Bellucci. Many of these appeared in Fraülein her celebration of our era’s sexiest female icons (Taschen, 2009). Ever popular with the international fashion crowd, she is listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Fashion Icons. Her major advertising campaigns include Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic, Lacoste, Diesel, and Chanel. Her acclaimed photo-novella Revenge (Twin Palms, 2002) was accompanied by exhibitions in New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Moscow and Beijing. She’s directed film, too, for fashion houses and made commercials for Revlon and Clinique.
Apart from the up-dating of the fashion content – and much the same could be said of the work of German-Austrian photographer Helmut Newton, who died in 2004 and with whom Frankfurt-born von Unwerth draws obvious comparisons and who she herself has cited as an influence – there is little to differentiate her current work from that which she produced at the start of her career as a photographer. In her case, that’s a good thing because in an era where the real world takes Botox and cosmetic sugery for granted and the imagined world of fashion photography is dominated by artifice – digital images are often retouched to such a degree that the models become little more than sexless avatars, posed within hyper-real environments – von Unwerth’s work remains fresh, genuine, unaffected and good fun. Undoubtedly, to a large degree, this is the result of her continuing preference for using 35mm film cameras. Indeed she was recently quoted in an interview for the online photography magazine, Faded + Blurred, as having said that digital cameras produce images with too much information, that are too sharp, and that you have to spend too much time trying to make them look good. Digital shutters, she has said, have a very slight delay, causing her to miss the shot she has in her head.

In my previous post I wrote about American photographer Ralph Gibson’s photography and described how his pictures appear to exude a close understanding of female sexuality. Von Unwerth’s images are the real deal; the playfulness, the larking around, the intimacy, the very feminine take on erotic fantasy are the result of having a woman, rather than a man, behind the camera. And the the new work doesn’t disappoint; Do Not Disturb! exhibited at London’s prestigious Michael Hoppen Gallery, narrative images shot against the décor of some of the unique and fantastical rooms at the famous Madonna Inn – located mid-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco – is executed in the signature sexy, provocative and imaginative style one expects from the female photographer at the top of my list.

Images from top
Room 77, 2012 © Ellen Von Unwerth
A recent portrait of photographer, Ellen von Unwerth
Room 1002012 © Ellen Von Unwerth
All images (except portrait) from the series Do Not Disturb!

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Exhibition | Ralph Gibson’s Selective Eye

Friday, June 15th, 2012
Ralph Gibson
Camera Work, Berlin, Germany
16th June – 4th August, 2012

American photographer, Ralph Gibson’s Leda, 1974, is simply one of the most erotic pictures I’ve ever seen. But is it a game? Is it meant to be humourous? Or is it for real? The ambiguity itself is tantalising. As with many of his pictures, nothing is explained; the viewer is left to draw whatever conclusion he/she chooses. Leda was the very first Gibson image I was shown when I was introduced to his extraordinary work in the late 90s by a female photographer friend, who was already a big fan. And I could see why: glimpses of a mysterious and secret world, many of Gibson’s pictures appear to exude a close understanding of female sensuality and sexuality.

British editorial art director/curator, David King’s maxim has been described as: ‘If you can crop any more off a picture then you haven’t cropped it enough.’ Not refuting the accuracy of the description, King later clarified his doctrine by explaining that, obviously, if it’s a fantastic picture then you leave it alone, but most photographs are enhanced by cropping. As a magazine art director, myself – often praised for the skill of my cropping, reviled on the odd occasion (by sensitive photographers) for its insensitivity – I was immediately struck by the impact of Gibson’s images that are the product of his highly selective eye and absolute economy of crop. Could anyone, other than perhaps fashion and beauty photographer, Hiro, who throughout the 1960s to 1990s produced many closely-cropped, elegant images for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar and French Vogue – have come close to the graphically succinct statement of Gibson’s Mary Jane, 1980?

Born in 1939 in Los Angeles, California, Gibson, whose work is in the collections of over 150 international museums and galleries, assisted American documentary photography icons Dorothea Lange – and later – Robert Frank before embarking on his own freelance career as a photographer in the late 1960s. He crops, as they did, as Henri Cartier Bresson, as Eugene Richards does and as most other great photographers do or have done – in camera. Like Cartier-Bresson, Gibson uses only Leica cameras and, among a long list of other, major commendations, won the Leica Medal of Excellence Award in 1988.

Gibson’s early close-ups – Umbrella and Car, 1954 – of sections of cars are reminiscent of Paul Strand’s (1890–1976) early, modernist-inspired photography – Wire Wheel, New York, 1917 – that hover on the edge of the abstract. But, whereas Strand’s images, in line with prevailing modernist preoccupations of the time, remain objective studies, Gibson’s are enigmatic, hinting at a story – something beyond the picture area that the viewer must invent, imagine for himself. In this way they come closer to the surrealist photographs of André Kertész and Man Ray. Often his female nudes – Untitled, 2008 – subjected to strong natural light, are reduced to a series of light, sensual, softly-toned areas crossed by heavy geometrical shadows. At the brink of abstraction – Torso Palms, 1973 – they hold back, and it’s at that point the viewer is forced to stop and think: is it me, or does the shape of the breasts really resemble the underside of a phallus?

Images from top
Leda, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Christine, 1974 © Ralph Gibson
Umbrella and Car, 1954 © Ralph Gibson
Untitled, 2012 © Ralph Gibson

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Design & Architecture | George Nakashima

Friday, June 8th, 2012

Important 20th Century Design
Sotheby’s, New York, USA. 13th June, 2012
Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design
Christie’s, New York, USA. 14th June, 2012
20th/21st Century Design Auction
Rago, New Jersey, USA. June 16th & 17th, 2012

Previews for all the above start 9th June

Rather oddly, because designers and architects in the UK are pretty well-informed about modernism and modernists in general, the name George Nakashima, rarely comes up. Indeed, London’s Design Museum design library has no listing for him. A search on the website of the Royal Institute of British Architects, which is far from the parochial organisation its name might suggest, bore no fruit, however, the Victoria & Albert Museum has a single, fine, though rather modest, 1956 Nakashima chair in its collection.

A rare aluminium chair – one of only four ever produced – is the centre-piece of an historic collection of seven items of furniture designed by Gerrit Rietveld, going under the hammer at Sotheby’s, New York. Also in this relatively small sale, comprising just 68 lots, is an equally rare Tiffany Studios Dragonfly table lamp, along with interior stained glass windows by Frank Lloyd Wright, a Josef Hoffman bentwood Sitzmaschine, an Archibald Knox ‘Tudric’ pewter champagne bucket, a Fish lamp designed by Frank Gehry in 1983, and 13 separate lots – some comprising single pieces – all by George Nakashima.

Four Nakashima items appear amongst a total of 134 lots on the listing for Christie’s Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design sale, the next day.

Just a few days later, across the Hudson River and dwarfing the Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales, New Jersey auction house Rago, in a 2 -day, weekend sale, is offering a total of 1,100 lots. Sunday, the second day is all about modern furniture and lighting with items from a long list of iconic names, among many others: Arne Jacobsen, Charles & Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Frank Gehry, George Nelson, Gio Ponti, Hans Wegner, Isamu Noguchi, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Poul Kjaerholm, Shiro Kuramata, Wendell Castle and once again, George Nakashima, who is represented by 31 separate lots.

Assuming you are in funds – these would have to be plentiful, average lot prices range from around $6,000 to around $200,000 – with the possibility of acquiring a total of 48 lots of Nakashima items, should you be thinking about starting your own collection of his furniture, now’s your chance!

On the other hand you might ask: who is George Nakashima (1905-1990)? He is simply a very interesting and important figure in 20th design. On a farmlike compound near New Hope, Pennsylvania, Nakashima, his family, and fellow wood-workers created exquisite furniture from richly grained, rare timber: tables, desks, chairs, and cabinets to grace the homes and executive boardrooms of the likes of the late Nelson Rockefeller, Columbia University and the International Paper Corporation.

Born in the shadow of the USA’s Mount Olympus, in Spokane, Washington State, across the Puget Sound from Seattle, Japanese-American Nakashima grew up in the forests of the remote Olympic Peninsula – largely unmapped until 1900. After studying first forestry then architecture in Washington, in 1930 he received a Master’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. However, in 1928, he had won the Prix Fontainebleau from L’Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts in France and, after a brief time working as a mural painter on Long Island, decided to spend time in Paris before launching himself on a journey that took him to Japan. In Tokyo he found work with Czech-born Antonin Raymond, who had set up an office there. Raymond had emigrated to the United States in 1916, where he had assisted Frank Lloyd-Wright. His buildings in Japan reveal that his understanding of and respect for Japanese tradition informed his modernist sensibility. Raymond, was to prove a strong influence on his young assistant, Nakashima, as was Sri Aurobindo, the philosopher, yogi, guru, and poet, who he would encounter in Pondicherry, India, where George was the onsite architect for the first reinforced concrete building in the country. When war broke out Nakashima returned to the States, where he and his family were incarcerated at Minidoka, Idaho. He was released in 1943 with the help of his former employer Raymond and for a period worked on his ranch.

In India Nakashima had begun to find ways of working with wood and with his new-found philosophy developed ‘…a devotion to discovering the inherent beauty of wood so that noble trees might have a second life as furniture’. While in the internment camp he learned woodworking from a Japanese carpenter and left with the firm intention of establishing a woodworking studio, which he soon after accomplished at New Hope, Pennsylvania. The studio went on to become a huge success, employing some of the world’s finest craftsmen and producing unique and outstanding, highly-collectable, modern furniture. Among many awards from prestigious institutions, Nakashima received the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor and Government of Japan in 1983 in recognition of the cultural exchange generated by the shows he produced in Japan from 1968-1988. His work was widely exhibited, however, the late 1980s retrospective Full Circle, which opened at the American Craft Museum in New York, was to be his last.

Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, George’s daughter, has been creative director of the Nakashima studio since 1990, which continues to produce her father’s classic furniture designs and to produce her own work as well. She lives with her family at the studio compound in New Hope.

I wonder what’s going on though, because even more oddly, George Nakashima, who designed furniture for Knoll, isn’t listed on the MoMA on-line index, either.

Images from top
George Nakashima bending wood, 1940s

Conoid Bench, circa 1974
From the Japanese House, The Mr. and Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller Residence, Pocantico Hills, New York, circa 1974. American black walnut and hickory with one East Indian rosewood key
Sotheby’s estimate $150/200,000

Interior of the Conoid Studio at New Hope, circa 1960

Fine turned-leg dining table, 1958
English walnut, black walnut, rosewood, brass label
From a private collection
Rago estimate $35,000 – $45,000

The Minguren Museum
(Arts Building) from the Cloister at New Hope, which
was originally dedicated to showing artist, Ben Shahn’s work. Unfortunately he died in 1969, shortly after his inaugural exhibition here. Cloister guest rooms were a manifestation of Nakashima’s devotion to the monastic tradition, however, they also house the heating unit, bathroom, kitchen, and storage space, which were not included in the larger building. A large rock at the far edge of the pond is said to have inspired Nakashima to erect this building here.

Long chair, circa 1974
Executed specifically for the Japanese House of Governor and Mrs. Nelson A. Rockefeller, designed by Junzo Yoshimura. Walnut with cotton webbing.
Christie’s estimate 30,000 – 50,000 U.S. dollars

Walnut dresser, 1962
From a private collection
Rago estimate $6,000 – $9,000

All furniture images, courtesy of the respective auction houses. All other images, courtesy of George Nakashima, SA, or George Nakashima Archive. Special thanks to Soomi Hahn Amagasu for her help with this blog post

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Exhibition | Fiona Rae in Leeds

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Fiona Rae: Maybe you can live on the moon in the next century
Leeds Art Gallery, Until 26 August, 2012
Catalogue published by Leeds Museum and Galleries,
in association with Ridinghouse

Make no mistake, should the spatial illusions Fiona Rae creates appear at times to reference Pollock and de Kooning, and her disparate and apparently random marks bring Kandinsky to mind, her work fizzes and buzzes with the frenetic energy and fast-paced lifestyle of the 21st century – her chosen subject matter. Unafraid to face the present head-on, Rae distills the essence of our era of mega-cities, phenomenal technological advancement, split-second global communication and mind-blowing virtual reality through the medium of acrylic, oil, and sometimes gouache paints –plus the odd bit of glitter – employing every imaginable technique, on canvas with a sure and highly original hand.

To the theme tune of an external hard drive processing fast – now pacing itself  – now rushing at breakneck speed – the group of seventeen paintings, produced between 2000 and 2011, each beautifully reproduced in the well-designed catalogue – featuring a sharp, in-depth and elegantly-written essay by Goldsmiths’ Gilda Williams – reflect the inner workings of a human brain constantly adjusting itself, adapting to each nuance of the ever-expanding, digital world while simultaneously filing, absorbing and recording the less serious, more random aspects – graffiti, toys, comic books, cartoon films – of modern times.

Born in Hong Kong and moving to the UK in 1970, by 1984 Fiona Rae was attending South London’s Goldsmiths College, where she came under the influence of Michael Craig-Martin and Richard Wentworth who were teaching there. In 1988, Rae was a member of the original group of fellow-students, including: Angela Bulloch, Gary Hume, Sarah Lucas, Richard Patterson and Damien Hirst who became known as the Young British Artists, who exhibited together and with others in six shows from 1992 to 1996 at the Saatchi Gallery, London. She was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1991 and in 2002, elected to the Royal Academy of Arts where, in 2011, she was appointed Professor of Painting for the Royal Academy Schools. Now 49, Rae lives and works in London. She has exhibited extensively in museums and galleries around the world and her work is held in prestigious international public and private collections.

In Rae’s work, where there is seemingly no time for judgmental consideration; the profound, the superficial and the mediocre are afforded indiscriminate treatment, blended together, tossed around, abstracted, their significance rendered ambiguous. With the spontaneity of a screen grab, each work captures and freezes just a fragment of what one instinctively senses is an infinitely greater whole, allowing the viewer a brief glimpse of the endless complexity of our existence, bringing us up short and forcing us to question and wonder who we are, where we fit in and where we are going. But look a little closer; there’s a teasing, girly playfulness, too.

From top
I really longed for this, 2010
© Fiona Rae; Collection the artist
Courtesy Buchmann Galerie, Berlin
& Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

Lovesexy, 2000
© Fiona Rae. Courtesy, Timothy
Taylor Gallery, London

We go in search of our Dream….., 2007
© Fiona Rae, Private Collection
Courtesy Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

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