Posts Tagged ‘Picasso’

Architecture | Collage City in 3D

Friday, July 19th, 2013

Cut ’n’ Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City
Metropolitan Musem of Art
New York City, USA
Until 1st December, 2013

When Pablo Picasso pasted an actual Italian stamp on to a painting of a letter, he really started something. Earlier artists had made occasional use of the technique and it had appeared in popular art, but La lettre (1912) was probably the first deliberate use of collage in fine art.

Dictionaries define collage as an ‘Art form and technique, incorporating the use of pre-existing materials or objects attached as part of a two-dimensional surface’, which is how most of us think of it. This exhibition at MoMA uncovers how the visual language of collage, springing from its early 20th century roots, has come to dominate contemporary architectural representation, and how it has impacted three-dimensional buildings.

Picasso’s cubist colleagues, Juan Gris and George Braque, also experimented with collage, and the next couple of years, leading up to World War I and the Russian Revolution, would see Kazimir Malevich, the Futurist movement and the Dadaists each adopting the technique and using it to suit their own purposes, with very diverse results. The Berlin Dada group – which included Helmut Herzfeld/John Heartfield – with whom the young Mies van der Rohe interacted, used photographs and newspaper cuttings to make raw political, satirical, and socially critical statements. Van der Rohe adapted the technique to function, not just as a tool for expressing his architectural ideas, but also as an aid to exploring and developing them. He placed colour reproduction prints of paintings as well as photographs in his renderings of the new interior spaces made possible by steel and glass construction, not merely as decorative elements, but to represent non-load-bearing walls or divisions. His early painters of choice were Bauhaus artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky: later – the Bauhaus, of which he was the final director, having been closed by the Nazis, his having emigrated to America in 1937 – in Museum for a Small City, Interior Perspective (1942-43) including, perhaps pointedly, Picasso’s Guernica (1937).

From the mid-1950s, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Richard Hamilton, among others associated with pop art, made extensive use of collage. Installation artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who in the 1970s, and later, in their preparatory drawings for projects often involving large architectural structures, such as Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin (1971-95), also sought the immediacy of incorporating collaged elements. Meanwhile, architectural critics Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter’s book Collage City (1978), which proposed a city of fragments from the past, present and future, taking inspiration from working examples in existing cities; some rational, some disordered, juxtaposing and layering smaller designs into a whole – a post-modern composition – allowing the city to create itself, was an urban manifesto for the medium.

Contemporary architects who have used collage methods to communicate their ideas and architectural landscapes include such luminaries as Zaha Hadid and particularly Rem Koolhaas, whose architecture itself, for example, the interior of the distinctive, futuristic, asymmetrical, faceted form of the Casa da Musica, in Porto, Portugal, incorporates gold wood-grained walls and traditional blue and white tiled areas complete with antique furniture.

The intention of the organisers of Cut ‘n’ Paste: From Architectural Assemblage to Collage City is to demonstrate that collage is much more than a continuation of drawing practices and that, via direct evocations of lifestyle or inventive connections to surrounding cultural conditions, as an architectural tool, this wide-ranging medium is capable of mixing high and popular references and offers a dynamic, inventive connection to cultural context, providing the means for architects to draw reality onto their projects from their earliest conception. These days, though, digital technology makes it all so much easier – and, unless you want them, there are no visible joins.

Images from top
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe,
Convention Hall project, Chicago,
Interior perspective, 1954
Cut-and-pasted reproductions, photograph,
and paper on composite board
Mies van der Rohe Archive, gift of the architect
©2013 Artists Rights Society (ARS),
New York / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

Ralph Schraivogel
Archigram 1961–74
Silkscreen
Museum für Gestaltung, 1995,
Exhibition poster
Gift of the designer

Paul Citroen
Metropolis, 1923
Gelatin silver print
Thomas Walther Collection
Gift of Thomas Walther
©2013 Paul Citroën/Artists Rights Society (ARS),
New York / PICTORIGHT, Amsterdam


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Art | Collectors, Marcel Brient & Hélène Rochas

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Marcel Brient Collection
– La Page Française
Sotheby’s, Paris, France
Exhibition: until 24th September, 2012
Sale: 24th September, 2012

The Collection of Hélène Rochas
Christie’s, Paris, France
Exhibition: until 26th September, 2012
Sale: 27th September, 2012

Art always was an expensive commodity. In the 21st century it has become an investment of choice/a choice investment. Expressed through a personal art collection, however, character and taste remain invaluable assets. Two French collectors, Hélène Rochas – who died in 2011 – and Marcel Brient, both rich but with very different collections surrounded themselves with pieces that they liked by artists they admired. Next Monday, a substantial part of Brient’s collection will be sold at Sotheby’s, Paris, and just along the road at Christie’s the contents of Rochas’s home go under the hammer on Thursday, 27th September.

Marcel Brient
On the occasion of the sale of four major works by Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun, In London, in 2008, Saatchi Online’s Corentin Hamel interviewed Marcel Brient and Catherine Thieck, joint manager of the New Galerie de France. Thieck, who was asked by Hamel why she had become interested in Chinese artists in the early 1990s, explained that she had only ever worked with five Chinese artists and that Marcel Brient had become intrigued by their work but took his time to choose what to buy: ‘There was no Marcel Brient takeover bid for Chinese artists,’ she said. ‘He has never been to China. There was nothing exotic or strategic about his interest. And I was not that good at explaining the sociological or cultural context. Brient would reflect, then make his choice, at home or in the gallery, with just his eye and mind.’

When he did decide to buy, Brient told the Saatchi interviewer: ‘My first choice was Zhang Xiaogang. I was struck by the beauty of his work, his great intelligence and powerful political impact. With him, China seemed to be taking off, so to speak. So this was a strong, historic opportunity. These very nice, very gentle paintings were clearly denouncing something harsher. A new chapter was about to be written. To me, this way of expressing historical change recalled the painting of the Renaissance.’

Brient’s acquiring art has always been more of a personal adventure than a commercial undertaking. He likes to discover works by chance, rather than specifically seeking them out, and via the close relationships he developed with, among others, Louis Clayeux, Director of Galerie Maeght in Paris from 1948-65, who took him to visit Alberto Giacometti in his studio; Galerie Durand-Dessert; the dealers Claude Bernard and Yvon Lambert, and the aforementioned, Galerie de France. But, it is Brient’s own taste that ultimately leads him to the artists he admires. As with the interest he later developed in Chinese contemporary artists, Brient had been one of the first to purchase works by John Currin, Sigmar Polke, Jeff Koons, Kara Walker and Felix Gonzales-Torres.

Around 100 items from Brient’s collection will be sold. Collectively – if you can excuse the pun – they provide a rich overview of artistic creativity in France during the 1960s and reflect the career of this intuitive acquisitor who discreetly amassed one of the largest agglomerations of contemporary art in France.

In West Berlin on 18th February, 1968, 10,000 people had demonstrated against the Vietnam War. Among the paintings by Michel Parmentier included in the sale is the powerful 18 Février 1968. Important works by the Nouveaux Réalistes are also featured, among them Poussette empaquetée /Packed stroller , 1962, by Christo, who, having previously produced abstract paintings had begun to wrap objects in canvas or plastic. Seita, 1966/7, is an oversized matchbox by Raymond Hains, whose aim was to construct bridges between banal everyday life and the world of creation. Hungarian-born Simon Hantaï, later a leader of the Support/Surface movement, is represented by several canvases that were first folded, crumpled and soaked in colour before being un-folded, these include the delicate Etude, 1969.

Brient lives in a modest apartment with unadorned walls. He rarely gives interviews and never attends social events. These pieces he picked out and handed over to Sotheby’s for the sale are a didactic selection intended to fire up others to be inspired, as he was, by the work of the artists he supported through the acquisitions he made in France in the sixties.

Hélène Rochas
In 1944 on the eve of French liberation, 42-year-old Marcel Rochas, already a famous French fashion designer, who had founded a successful perfume business in 1925, and whose early work had been supported by Jean Cocteau, Paul Poiret and Christian Berard, had just married a young woman, Hélène, who he met on the metro in 1941. The couple chose the ground floor of a 19th century hôtel particulier (rather grand townhouse or inn) at 40, rue de Barbet de Jouy, in Paris’s plush 7th arrondissement, as their new home. Only 11 years later, Marcel died. Hélène Rochas, suddenly a rich widow, was to live in the apartment for the rest of her life, over time furnishing each room with the collection of contemporary paintings, classical furniture and Chinese porcelains she assembled with a seamless unity.

In his touching introduction to Christie’s extensive 216-page sale catalogue, Frédéric Mitterrand, France’s Former Minister of Culture and Communication tells us of how, in their tributes to her after her death, New York celebrated Hélène Rochas as France’s wonder woman. But he claims that they and others in the fashion business gave only part of the truth, without revealing her essential grace. ‘ Madame Rochas’s exquisite manners,’ Mitterand informs us, expressed her profound respect for all people; and, ‘through extraordinarily free, refined taste, she paid tribute to the best artists, known or unknown, from times long past and from her own era.’

This polite, graceful lady had catholic tastes. Alongside her friends Yves Saint-Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Hélène Rochas was one of the first to start an important Art Deco collection and in 1974, she commissioned four portraits of herself from Andy Warhol. The same year, she acquired Ben Nicholson’s 1933 abstract painting Violon et guitare. She hung the Nicholson facing a striking neoclassical sofa, flanking it with a pair of ormulu-mounted neo-classical vases from Harewood Castle in England. A life-size Portrait of Lucien Guitry by Edouard Vuillard dominated the entrance hall. The living room, which overlooked a pretty green and white garden, was presided over by Braunes Schweigen, a 1925 oil painting by Wassily Kandinsky, hung above a sofa. On one of a pair of neoclassical side tables in the same room stood a large 1954 terracotta vase by Picasso. A massive Balthus painting, Japanese woman with red table, 1967-76, covered one entire wall of the petit salon where Madame Rochas hosted friends and guests. Important examples of classical furniture and European objets d’art, as well as old master and 19th century paintings and drawings could be found throughout the apartment.

Hélène Rochas counted herself as very lucky for having had the chance to encounter some of the 20th century’s most creative minds in the arts, literature and painting as well as music and show business. She enjoyed the opportunity of frequenting the salons of aristocrats and great patrons, but as much as anything it was her own curiosity, her appetite for discovery and keen sense of aesthetics, that  fashioned her taste. As her experience grew, her ideas changed and shifted, she followed new directions but her quest was always quality. Her collection reflects the rich and varied international milieu in which she appears to have so naturally shone. Her collection is estimated to realise €8m ($10.5m,£6.5m).

Works from top
Michel Parmentier
Peinture no.10, 1965
Glycero painting on canvas
Estimate €30,000 – 40,000
©Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Christo
Poussette empaquetée/Packed stroller, 1962
Plastic and string
Estimate €120,000 – 180,000
©Sotheby’s/ArtDigital Studio

Andy Warhol
Portrait de Hélène Rochas, fond vert tendre, 1974
Acrylic and silk screen ink on canvas
Estimate €200,000-300,000

Jean Lambert & Jean Dunand
Deux masques, circa 1925
Lacquered eggshell on oak
Estimate €60,000-80,000

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Poster Design | The Magic of Things

Friday, August 17th, 2012

The Magic of Things
Museum für Gestaltung Zürich
Zürich, Switzerland
29th August, 2012 – 6th January, 2013

Accounts vary but one version of the story is that, in the year 1900, when Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec were at work in Paris, Picasso was entering his Blue Period and Edvard Munch was painting The Girls on the Bridge, Emil Kahn (1883–1972), just seventeen years old – an autodidact who never went to art school – had an argument with his parents, left his family home in Stuttgart and moved to Berlin. He bummed around doing odd jobs and on a whim entered a poster competition organised by the Priester Match Company. He won first prize. His son Karl explained later that Kahn, who changed his name to Lucian Bernhard, believed that the actual facts of his youth had little relevance to his adult work and that he enjoyed toying with the details of his life, revising his stories to suit a particular audience. What is certain and unambiguous is that, at a time when posters were dominated by flowery Art Nouveau and Jugenstil decoration, Bernhard’s bold, stripped down, elegant design signalled the beginning of the modern commercial poster and marked the start of his legendary career.

So precious is their collection of vintage posters – it was started in 1875 – that it can only be viewed by prior appointment, however, the Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, Switzerland’s leading design and visual communication museum, has delved into its phenomenal archive – roughly 350,000 posters, one of the most comprehensive and important of its kind in the world – and put together The Magic of Things, a celebration of product posters.

Lucien Bernhard, whose work figures prominently in the exhibition had recognised how effective advertising that used a compact blend of product and brand name could be. In a world of unprecedented, booming economies, as yet untouched by the harsh realities of the First World War, his posters pioneered selling to a burgeoning consumer society. During the next two decades he became well-known throughout Europe.

Understandably, in the inter-war period when only the well-off had the means to buy, product posters were aimed predominately at the middle and upper classes. In the 1940s Switzerland experienced a rapid economic upswing which resulted in the dawning of a golden age of the Swiss product poster. Now, with improved printing techniques, Swiss designers – among them, Niklaus Stoecklin, Peter Birkhäuser, Donald Brun and Otto Baumberger – building on Bernhard’s flat style, introduced mood lighting and highlights to lend beguiling sensuality, as well as tactile qualities to illustrations of objects as unglamorous as household cleaning fluid to spark plugs. By introducing additional complementary items – props – the brand name products were made to emanate a seductive emotional draw. Perfect for a country with four national languages – which may have been the underlying reason for the object poster’s prolonged success in Switzerland – copy was practically non-existent. Stoecklin’s posters in particular, included no other copy than that which appeared on the products themselves. The Bauhaus and all the various early modern movements had happened, however, the style of these Swiss poster artists, who absorbed some influences from Art Deco and surrealism, was in essence a continuation of an earlier one and represents a period before strict grids and the Helvetica font become synonymous with Swiss design. More radical and rationalist, his early poster work was entirely different to Bernhard’s, the latter’s influence remains evident in the employment of reduced resources to maximum effect in the output of Josef Müller-Brockmann, whose international reputation would eclipse all those above.

With the democratisation of consumption in the 1960s, the emergence of global products and brands and the general growth of wealth in the western world leading to far greater competition, changes in advertising strategy became necessary. The focus on the product and its brand name no longer sufficed.

Eighty product posters have been selected for the exhibition and will be juxtaposed against photographs of objects, which, in the way they concentrate on the essential aspects of things, accentuate qualities similar to those the poster images project.

Posters from top
Eric de Coulon, Revue, 1941
Museum für Gestaltung Zurich
© The Artist

Lucian Bernhard, Galoschen – die besten Begleiter auf der Welt, 1913
Museum für Gestaltung Zurich, Plakatsammlung
© The Artist

Nicklaus Stoecklin, Sonnenschutz Bi-Oro, 1941
Museum für Gestaltung Zurich, Plakatsammlung
© The Artist

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Exhibition | Picasso & Lacroix in Arles

Friday, May 25th, 2012

Within the framework of the ongoing Act V exhibition,
which opened at the beginning of the year:

Act V, Scene 2, The Arles Picassos
Act V, Scene 3, with guest, Christian Lacroix
Musée Réattu, Arles, France
Until 30th December, 2012

The second and third stages of this ambitious and mammoth, year-long exhibition opened last week at the Musée Réattu, the formidable late 15th century, former Grand Priory of the Order of Malta in Arles – the building itself, idiosyncratically, listed as the first item in its own collection. ‘This was where my parents, in the mid-1950s, took me to see my first Picasso exhibition, explains couturier Christian Lacroix – born and based in the city – in the preface to the catalogue, ‘From that day on, I knew that art belonged to life…’, from which, I suppose, one may glean that he felt art shouldn’t be hidden away but rather shown and made accessible to everyone – incidentally, his first perfume, launched in in 1990 was called C’est La Vie — ‘Then came the highlight, the fabulous late Picassos, so very vigorous – and the wave of emotion when we learnt they were to stay in the museum.’ Act V draws upon the whole of the museum’s collections in the run up to next year’s 40th anniversary of Picasso’s 1971 gift of fifty-seven drawings to the Réattu.

While Act V, scene 2 is dedicated to Picasso’s link to Arles, which began with his first visits to the city with Georges Braque, that led to his Arlesienne drawings of 1912 and his revisiting the same themes in 1937, when the work was inspired by the captivating looks and drive of model, photographer and famously, Man Ray’s lover, Lee Miller. On loan from Paris’s Musée Picasso, the artist’s famous 1937 Portrait of Lee Miller en Arlésienne – produced in the same turbulent year as Guernica – is included in the exhibition along with, among many others, his 1923 painting of his mother, Maria Lopez. A large number of archive photographs by leading photographers, including others Robert Doisneau and Willy Ronis, documenting Picasso’s life and in the company of his other muses, Jacqueline Picasso and Françoise Gilot, have been drawn together and are also on show.

Showing concurrently with Act V, Scene 2, Scene 3 casts son of Arles, Christian Lacroix, who, in 2008, exhibited his master patterns for seven of his 2009 couture dresses here, as costume designer. His Molière Best Costume Award-winning, fantastical creations for theatre, opera and the bullfighting ring, are being shown in specially designed, extravagent room sets, within the labyrinthine structure. The 16th century chapel becomes the Comédie Française for the occasion, as the whole cast of Lacroix’s Phèdre takes over the nave, one costume from the production having been made from a patchwork of embroidered jeans, reworked in the style of the 17th century, with a nod to the great master Picasso’s musketeers.

From top
Lucien Clergue, Picasso, Cannes, 1956. Collection Musée Réattu

Christian Lacroix, Costume for Les caprices de Marianne, by Alfred de Musset, directed by Lambert Wilson in 1994 for the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Collection Christian Lacroix/Centre national du costume de scène

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Art | Raoul & Jean Dufy

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Impressionist & Modern Art, Including Russian Art, Sale
Sotheby’s New York, USA. 14th March, 2012

Amongst a very mixed bag of artworks in the catalogue for today’s sale at Sotheby’s in New York are several outstanding pieces by Raoul and a number by Jean Dufy, some of which are shown above. Each is unmistakably by one brother or the other, yet they share a visual language: a family characteristic, if you like, that on the one hand separates their images from the other lots, and on the other, irrevocably links them.

There were nine children in the Dufy family of Le Havre a port city in the Normandy area of north west France. It was a particularly musical family, and the father, in addition to his profession as an accountant, was a talented amateur musician, which probably to some extent explains the fixation for musical productions and composers of the era that are the subjects of many of the brothers’ later creations.

Raoul (1877-1953) was 11 years older than Jean (1888-1964) and is the more famous. In 1900 he obtained a scholarship to study in Paris, where he enrolled at the very academic École des Baux-Arts, however, he was far more interested in impressionist painting. An early exhibition, in 1903, was in the impressionist style he soon afterwards abandoned in favour of the vivid colours and sweeping brush strokes of the fauvists. Impressed with Cézanne’s work, Raoul experimented with a more muted palette. He worked for a time with Georges Braque but never really got into the spirit of Cubism. Discovering the possibilities of wood-engraving at an expressionist exhibition he saw on a trip to Munich in 1909, he illustrated a number of books for his literary friends, including the poet, Guillaume Apollonaire, with woodcuts. Raoul’s woodcuts came to the attention of Paul Poiret, the fashion designer with whom he produced textile designs and for whom he designed the interiors of the designer’s three boats. In the 1920s and 30s he travelled widely, producing paintings in the bold, confident style – optimistic, fashionably decorative and illustrative – that he became recognised for and that characterised the era in which the aftermath of war and social concerns were banished, however briefly. Lively, colorful yachting scenes at Cowes in England, chic parties, musical events and the dazzling life on the French Riviera became the stock in trade of his output.

It had been Raoul who encouraged Jean, who worked as a clerk for an overseas import business and was for a time secretary on the transatlantic liner La Savoie, which linked Le Havre to New York, to paint. But it wasn’t until Jean visited an exhibition in Le Havre showing paintings by André Derain and Picasso, where he saw Matisse’s Fenêtre ouverte à Collioure, with it’s dazzling light and bright colours, that he decided to be an artist. In 1913, moving to Paris, he became acquainted with his brothers’ circle, meeting Derain, Braque, Picasso and Apollonaire. His first watercolors, which were shown at the Berthe Weill Gallery in 1914, were in muted tones: sombre browns, blues, and reds mingled with the hatching technique he inherited from Cézanne via Raoul. Shortly afterwards he was drafted into the army but was able to produce many sketches of landscapes and flowers whilst convalescing from an injury. When the war ended, Jean began decorating porcelain for a company in Limoges – a commission which lasted for many years – before returning to Paris in 1920 where he settled in Montmatre. He began to be recognised for his painting technique based on a kind of patchwork of coloured squares and bold lighting effects. A succession of exhibitions now began that led to his work being shown widely, first in Paris and then in New York. Over the next few years his subject matter would change dramatically to mirror his excitement at the lively Parisian cultural scene. He loved the theatre and came into contact with many famous actors, musicians and composers. Their life and energy became the subjects of his creations. There followed paintings of circuses, boldly coloured and filled with horses, clowns and acrobats.

Surprisingly, Last year’s exhibition, Raoul and Jean Dufy: Complicity and Disruption, at Paris’s Musée Marmottan Monet, was the first exhibition in France exclusively dedicated to showing the two brothers’ work together. They had been close, if not living in one another’s pockets, until a big brotherly bust up over the gigantic mural – 61m long x 10m high, 200ft x 33 ft, La Fee Electricité (The Electricity Fairy). They had been commissioned to produce it together as a hymn to electricity for the Paris International Exposition of 1937 but Raoul ended up executing the final painting by himself. However, rather than for their differences, it’s for their gay and colourful scenes for which the brothers are most remembered and for the sheer joie de vivre their work conveys to the viewer.

Works from top
Jean Dufy Bois de Boulogne, 1930
Oil on canvas

Jean Dufy Boulevard avec caleches
Oil on canvas laid down on masonite
Property of a private collector, Palm Beach, USA

Jean Dufy Port de Honfleur
Watercolor and gouache on paper

Raoul Dufy Reception aux lumieres & Double étude de nu. A double-sided work
Watercolor and gouache on paper recto, pen and ink on paper verso
Property of a Boston gentleman, USA

Raoul Dufy Carrefour en forêt
Watercolor on paper

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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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Look out for The Blog’s posts on art, architecture, gardens, books, design and anything else that interests me and I think might interest you

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Photography | Lee Friedlander

Friday, August 26th, 2011

Lee Friedlander: America By Car/The New Cars 1964
1st September – 1st October 2011, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London

A good few years ago, in 1978, when I was a graphic design student at the Royal College of Art, someone from the Fiorucci company, came to offer our group the chance to design the graphics for their delivery van. At the time Fiorucci were doing great clothes, especially jeans and T-shirts – later worn in the US by trendsetters Andy Warhol and Madonna. They had a very interesting branding style, based around a melange of 1950s and 1960s Americana, bright colours and animal prints – a kind of pop art sensibility – without ever having a fixed logo. Luckily for me, my concept was chosen: to paint an image of two girls driving an open-top pink Cadillac – shades of Thelma & Louise (1991) – on to either side of the van, matching the wheel positions of the real 3D vehicle and the 2D painting to achieve a trompe l’oeil effect, the van to be kitted out with white wall tyres. Similar ideas are fairly commonplace these days.

Unusually, for a photographer who is considered to be in some senses, as pop an artist as Richard Hamilton and Roy Lichtenstein, Lee Friedlander, whose main body of work he has said, takes the ’social landscape’ of America as its subject matter, produces only black and white images. Much of pop art, despite the bright colours, had a bleakness about it. It was never the celebration, which at first sight it might be perceived to be but rather, often a cynical comment on a culture that was and remains, dominated by consumer goods and services and the popular idols and icons that are seen as vital to our existence.

Friedlander, was born in 1934 and has been active in photography since 1948. After studying in Pasadena, California, he moved to New York City in 1956 and began photographing jazz musicians for record sleeves. His first one-man show was in 1963. In the 60s and 70s his work appeared regularly in magazines such as Art in America, Esquire and Sports Illustrated. His pictures captured the look and feel of contemporary American society. One of his most successful works at the end of the 1970s was his production of a series of images of urban industrial landscape along the Ohio river valley, shot in documentary form, Factory Valleys: Ohio and Pennsylvania (1982). At around the same period, Friedlander went to Japan and photographed the Japanese landscape, some of which appeared in Cherry Blossom Time in Japan (1991). His book Flowers and Trees, in contrast to his urban photography, celebrates the beauties of nature. He is also well-known for his later portrait and nude studies. In 2005, the Museum of Modern Art presented a major retrospective of Friedlander’s career, including nearly 400 photographs from the 1950s to the present. In the same year he received a Hasselblad International Award. The retrospective was presented again in 2008 at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). At the same time, a more contemporary selection of his work, Lee Friedlander: America By Car, was displayed at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco. The same series of images was on display, in its entirety at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City in late 2010. Previously unseen in the UK, it’s these compelling images, all taken from the driver’s seat of the hire car that Friedlander drove across most of America’s fifty states that are on show next month at London’s Timothy Taylor Gallery.

As with much of his work from the last decade, all of the America by Car images images are in square format. Heavy, dark and angular, the struts of the car’s structure divide up and frame portions of the view through the windows. A steering wheel butts in on the right. The wing mirror on the left isolates a detail of the scene behind the car, or contains an image of the photographer. A car, like some strange monument to the American dream is hoisted high up into the sky on a slender pole, while a fence bars the way forward. The compositional references suggest the montages of Richard Hamilton and possibly Mondrian, as well as, Picasso’s cubism, while looking at the subject matter one can’t help thinking about John Chamberlain’s crunched and mangled car sculptures. There are voyeuristic references, too, to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.

The TTG show will also exhibit The New Cars 1964, a portfolio of 33 images, originally commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar and also previously unseen in the UK. Bazaar’s intention was to showcase that year’s much-anticipated new cars but Friedlander’s gritty and uncompromisingly modern images proved too much for the magazine’s editor-in-chief and were never used.

The Fiorucci thing all happened near to the end of the RCA course and once Fiorucci had taken my design away to put into production, we sort of lost touch. Providentially, however, I ended up living in a flat not far from the Fiorucci headquarters in Clapham, South London, and one morning, parked on the main road, directly opposite the end of the street sat the delivery van. I crossed the road to take a closer look at it. It somehow didn’t look quite right – truncated in some way – then I realised that this van was much more compact than the one I’d traced out of the Herz hire company’s catalogue and applied the original design to. Whether the mistake was mine, or Fiorucci’s, I just don’t know but I couldn’t help feeling rather ashamed and was happy never to see the van again.

Image: Montana’, 2008
Gelatin-Silver Print
15 x15 ins/38 x38 cm. Sheet 20 x 16 ins/50.8 x 40.6 cm
© Lee Friedlander, courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

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Don’t miss the eighth instalment, posted today, of This is for you, Pedro Silmon’s new on-line novel, serialised exclusively on The Blog.


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Comme ci, comme ça

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Coco Chanel: The Legend and the Life
Justine Picardie, HarperCollins 2010, 352 pp hardback

In the middle of a deep recession, one must cut one’s cloth accordingly, and, despite the noise and general acclaim surrounding the publication of Justine Picardie’s biography of Coco Chanel, I didn’t feel like laying out £25 to buy a copy last September, when it was published. I was very pleased (after having dropped a few hints) to receive one as a Christmas present. Picardie, who took 8 years to research and write this very stylish book is not merely a fashion writer – she was once Features Director at British Vogue – but a proper journalist, for the book involved a tremendous amount of research. With hindsight, I should have been glad to pay £25 of my own money for it.

As is made clear, Chanel consorted with the Moderns: Picasso, Cocteau, Dali, and financed Diaghilev’s, avant-garde, Ballet Russes. She was influenced by what she saw them doing but, ever the hard-nosed businesswoman, extracted only the elements which she considered might have commercial value and could be applied to her design work at that particular point in time. ‘Fashion,’ she said, ’should die and die quickly, in order that commerce may survive…’. For the beautiful villa she began building in 1929, La Pausa – incidentally, currently up for sale at €11,200,000, I discovered during my own research for this review – at Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, high up in the Alpes Maritimes, with views towards the Mediterranean and Monaco and overlooking the rocky coastline below, in amongst which Eileen Gray’s (1924) radical and uncompromisingly modern villa, E-1207, perches, Chanel chose the Belle Epoque style. Perhaps she regarded Modernism as just another fad.

Mademoiselle Chanel’s reputation for contradiction is well-documented in the book – she altered not only her date of birth in her passport but her early biographical details, too, giving whatever version best suited her purpose at any given moment – and bearing this in mind, Patrick Budge’s smart and elegant design for the HarperCollins book package can be construed as consistent. Incidentally, the book’s cover font is in sans serif on Justine Picardie’s blogspot page, as opposed to the serif font version on the cover above.

Did you read it? What did you think? Please leave a comment

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Printing Money

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

The 25th London Original Print Fair
The Royal Academy of Arts, London. 29th April – 23rd May

I felt sorry for the girl in her twenties leaning against a table, staring into space, in front of a white wall full of bright prints by an artist I’d never heard of, whose work I would never wish to own. She had a chair to sit on but I sensed she had already done a lot of sitting and had stood up to break the boredom with a change of perspective. It was the first day of the show and I hoped that for her sake things might pick up.

Much like the atmosphere in their often-busy book illustrations, the adjacent booth buzzed with Jean and Laurent de Brunoff’s Babar the Elephant fans. Elsewhere, not giving much away – every so often, though there expressions never changed, they mumbled quietly to one another – a well-dressed, elderly couple tottered from one booth to the next of the sixty seven crammed into the Academy’s main galleries. Whether they were more excited by Sean Sculley’s blocky abstracts, the dark Goya aquatints or by Allen Jones’ erotic editions was difficult to say.

Agents – the male ones – almost to the man, sported that Euro-look; dark blazer worn over a sky blue formal shirt, unbuttoned at the neck, with once-washed, dry-cleaned, dark denims, ironed but not creased, and brown slip-on leather shoes, probably from Bally or Gucci. Tanned, too, of course, they had well-coiffed hair – close-cut at the sides and back, quiffy at the front – sometimes with just a hint of blonde streaking. Incessantly talking loudly into their Blackberrys, now in English, then in German or French or perhaps Russian, it was difficult to guess at their origin. Exceptions were the two or three obviously English dandies, one in a cream linen suit and dark green shirt worn with a black tie, whose longish dark hair was swept straight back to reveal a good deal of forehead, whose booth was decorated with a big, square glass vase filled with the most exquisite, orange tulips.

Afraid they might already have missed the Matisse they saw earlier and weren’t sure about whether it would go with the drawing room carpet a rather plain, middle-aged couple darted quickly from one stall to the next. People all around me were actually buying Goyas, Picassos, Hockneys, Bridget Rileys and Kitajs. Arriving with the intention of whizzing around in about twenty minutes, I stayed almost an hour and a half, wandering around making the occasional note in my catalogue; I’m sure I was taken for a dealer. If I could have afforded anything it would have been one of Julian Opie’s 3D Lenticular prints, View of Mount Fuji with daisies from Route 300, 2009.

Did anyone visit the print fair? Please post a comment
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Edges Rounded, Sharp Points Blunted

Friday, April 9th, 2010

Henry Moore
Tate Britain, London. 24th February – 8th August 2010

When I was a student at the RCA it was considered deeply un-cool to like Henry Moore’s work. So much so that when some of his larger pieces were temporarily installed in Hyde Park, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t even cross Kensington Gore to take a look at them. It wasn’t until some twenty years later, when everyone started to go on about how great his friend and contemporary Barbara Hepworth was that I began to appreciate just how important and very influential Moore was. Four Square (Walk Through), the image above, is one of Hepworth’s pieces I photographed at her St Ives garden. See more at www.pedrosilmon.com.

My having previously only seen giant-sized pieces in the flesh – Moore at Kew Gardens, 2008 – and pictures of Moore’s sculptures in books and magazines, the tiny ones – not much bigger than a Philippe Starck lemon squeezer – included in the current Tate Britain retrospective, each produced with the same care and sensitivity to materials as their larger siblings, come as a pleasant surprise. ‘Bird Basket’ 1939, one of his stringed pieces, could almost be a toy sailboat. Sadly, understandably – the smooth surfaces of his work cry out to be touched – notices in each room ask us not to – the exhibition organisers have chosen to display these diminutive works in perspex boxes. The life-size stone masks from 1928 and ’29, are placed, tantalisingly, just a little further up a wall than an average adult’s comfortable reach.

Surprising to me, too, are the drawings – reminiscent of children’s book illustration: Edward Ardizonne’s come to mind – only a couple of days ago I discovered Ardizzone was a WWII war artist, too – of people sleeping in London Underground stations during the Blitz (‘Pink and Green Sleepers’ 1941) and those of tunnelling miners (‘Miner at work on the Coalface’ 1942). But so surprising it jars is Moore’s drawing ‘Tube Shelter Perspective’, which he dated 1941. A sudden departure and, despite the doubt that has emerged over whether Moore witnessed this scene or copied it from photographs in Picture Post, an extremely compelling image, in which endless rows of ghostly, recumbent evacuees, resembling skeletal Holocaust survivors, line the walls and disappear inside a black hole. It would seem Moore had been searching for a way of giving his work the sort of edge expected of an official war artist. While his early surrealist/cubist meets Afro/Aztec 3D output could be described as benign, sometimes erotic, some of the larger pieces of the immediate post-war years, emote a similar, powerful spirit of stark pain and horror as expressed in Picasso’s 1937 ‘Guernica’ and Jacob Epstein’s far earlier, pre-WW1 sculpture, ‘Rock Drill’, 1913-14. But perhaps this wasn’t where Moore’s heart truly lay.

Referring to this exhibition – which, I crossed London and would certainly cross any road to see – a quote from The Daily Telegraph on Tate Britain’s website reads: ‘Giant of 20th Century Sculpture’. Sensitively organised and easily navigable, more-or-less chronologically arranged: the exhibits are divided between six rooms. World Cultures comes first, then Mother and Child, followed by Modernism, War Time, Post War, and finally Elmwood, a roomful of huge 1970s reclining figures carved in this cool, greyish wood. By now, edges having been rounded off and sharp points blunted; the benign element is reasserted; any sign of the early eroticism is gone. Easily missable, produced in the 1950s and tucked into a corner near the entrance to the same room, are some of Moore’s smallest sculptures: a playful series of rocking chair pieces, said to have been inspired by the birth of his only child, Mary, in 1946. For Henry Moore, ‘Gentle Giant of 20th Century Sculpture’ might perhaps be a more fitting epithet.

What did you think of Henry Moore exhibition? Please post a comment.

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