Posts Tagged ‘sculpture’

Show & Auction | Lucio Fontana, The Last Futurist

Friday, November 18th, 2011


Modern & Contemporary Art and Identita’ Italiana

Sotheby’s Milan, Exhibition until 22nd November, 2011
Auction 22nd & 23rd November, 2011

‘And what is there to see in an old picture except the laborious contortions of an artist throwing himself against the barriers that thwart his desire to express his dream completely?’ – Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, first published in France’s Le Figaro in 1909.

Much as the Italian Futurists, whom he would have been aware of in this youth, Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) was perhaps seen as getting rather carried away by his own enthusiasm when in the 1950s he declared: ‘I make holes; infinity passes through them; light passes through them, there is no need to paint.’

This is the man who slashed his own canvases and slit open his sculptures. I’d like to use the occasion of this Sotheby’s auction in Milan, in which six of his works go under the hammer, alongside paintings and sculpture from many of Italy’s most revered 20th century artists, among them: Giacomo Balla, Arturo Martini,Giorgio de Chirico, Massimo Campigli, Mario Sironi, Alberto Savinio, Renato Birolli, Luigi Ontani, Gastone Novelli and Domenico Gnoli, to extrapolate a theory I have developed concerning Lucio Fontana.

Fontana, was born in Argentina of Italian immigrant parents, his father being a sculptor. He was in Italy studying engineering when WWI broke out and fought in it. Afterwards he studied sculpture in Milan but soon returned to Argentina before settling once more in Italy. Despite having, with some Italian artist friends, gone to Paris – like de Chirico had, more than a decade before – to join one of the many factions of modern artists there – the Abstraction-Création group – contradictorily, his first one-man abstract art show having happened the year before, Fontana’s sensitive, equine, figurative bronze Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936, (above middle, and included in the sale) dates from this period. It’s interesting to note, though, that these horses are moving, not static, and the younger one is a little ahead of its parent. 1939 finds Fontana back in Argentina where he founds a private academy and with some of his students writes the Manifesto Blanco, demanding the synthesis of artistic genres and the renunciation of traditional art materials. It recognised that: ’We live in the mechanical age. Painted canvas and upright plaster no longer have a reason to exist.’ In their place, his idea was to merge technology and art to create something entirely new and more suited to the time. Back in Milan in 1947 he wrote another manifesto: Primo Manifesto dello Spezialismo, demanding a new form of space-oriented art. At the time his concept would have seemed improbable and grandiose: to synthesize space, sound, colour, movement and time into a new kind of art.

In 1949, his fiftieth year, Fontana punched holes through painted canvases and created his first spatial environment: an experiment with shapeless objects painted in fluorescent colours illuminated by ultra-violet light to be viewed in a darkened room. Seemingly manifesto-mad, in the 1950s he wrote another three of them and continued to conduct further experiments, slashing and perforating his paintings and sculptures, and even including neon lights, memorably at the 1966 Venice Biennale where he installed an ultra-violet light-room and a violet neon-room. His uncompromising Concetto spaziale, Attesa,1964 (above top, and in the sale), is perhaps the most bald and direct of his attempts to shock the viewer into the realisation that he is not looking at a flat plane. In slashing the canvas he attempts to bring the background – the wall behind – into the painting, giving it another dimension, making the painting into an object or sculpture. Earlier in the century, the Cubists had of course already experimented with this idea but Fontana wanted to push it further. Around about this time, many of his pieces were named Concetto Spaziele, the pierced sculptural form (above bottom, and in the sale) is one of them; here his object is to blur the difference between a solid, rounded, bean-shaped object and a hollow one, thus allowing the inside as well as the outside surface to have a presence.

Looking beyond the limits of the picture, exploring space and science fiction to connect the new art to the dramatic technological and social changes taking place in the middle of the 20th Century, Fontana’s outlook was enormously influential. Ahead of his time, with so many vague and unformed but interesting ideas, it is fair to say that his spatial concept foreshadowed installation and environmental art and his promotion of gesture as art prompted performance as art. A long list of artists emerging in the 1960s and later all owe him a great debt, among them: Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Jenny Holzer, James Turrell, Laurie Anderson, Bill Viola, Christo, Fiona BannerMartin Creed

We will sing of great crowds excited by work, by pleasure, and by riot; we will sing of the multicoloured, polyphonic tides of revolution in the modern capitals; we will sing of the vibrant nightly fervour of arsenals and shipyards blazing with violent electric moons; greedy railway stations that devour smoke-plumed serpents; factories hung on clouds by the crooked lines of their smoke; bridges that stride the rivers like giant gymnasts, flashing in the sun with a glitter of knives; adventurous steamers that sniff the horizon; deep-chested locomotives whose wheels paw the tracks like the hooves of enormous steel horses bridled by tubing; and the sleek flight of planes whose propellers chatter in the wind like banners and seem to cheer like an enthusiastic crowd. Extract from The Futurist Manifesto, 1909.

Lucio Fontana may well have been the last Futurist.

Works from top
Concetto spaziale, Attesa, 1964
Bozzetto per i ‘Cavalli che seguono la Vittoria’, 1936
Concetto Spaziale, Undated


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Exhibition | Jean-Paul Goude Retrospective

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011


Goudemalion, A Retrospective of the life and work of Jean-Paul Goude

Les Arts Decoratifs, Paris, France. 11th November, 2011 – 18th March 2012

I had been a great admirer of Jean-Paul Goude’s work long before he agreed to produce a cover for me in 1989 for one of the two Sunday Times Magazine issues we devoted to the bicentenary of the French Revolution. I had immediately bought his book Jungle Fever in 1982 when it was first published in the UK; it remains one of my most treasured possessions and is filled with so many original visual ideas that it makes my head spin, even now, to flick through its slick, chic-idea-packed pages. Another treasure, perhaps more precious, is a drawing similar to the sketch above though less accomplished and less detailed that Jean-Paul very kindly gave me as a memento of our collaboration. I was a fan of Grace Jones, too – still am – of her phenomenal presence and talent and the amazing and incredibly sexy music she produced in the 80s. I regret that although I was briefly introduced to her a few years ago by her great friend the milliner, Philip Treacy – I shook her Warm Leatherette hand while she scowled at me – I never saw her perform live in any of the fantastical, postmodernist-meets-expressionist sets created and master-minded for her by Goude.

The colleague who edited the bicentenary issue and myself were surprised and greatly honoured to receive invitations from Jean-Paul to attend the bicentenary celebrations in Paris – possibly the most spectacular pageant the world has ever seen – a taster of it and of the rest of this polymath’s formidable portfolio of painting, sculpture, photography, choreography, stage direction and advertising genius, appears as part of the (somewhat blurred) retrospective film on YouTube, which I’d rather you see for yourself than try to describe.

‘I like to amaze’, wrote Goude in his introductory text to Jungle Fever, ‘ It is an impulse I have that is uncontrollable.’ Long has he amazed us and long may he continue to do so.

Image Le bicentenaire, Paris, 1988. Courtesy of Jean-Paul Goude

Link Opening Night Images


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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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