Art Rant: Photo London

(Art Rant: because sometimes you just gotta vent!)

Photo London – Key operative word: customer experience – Evaluation: bad – Somerset House as an art venue, why? A strange and confusing labyrinth of small and mostly badly lit rooms taking photography fairs back to their inception; old men in over used tweed jackets and dirty nails sifting through boxes looking for “cartes postales coquines”. Exaggerated? Of course, but Art Fair customer experience (saturated by choice) should not be restricted by the architectural limitations of the venues they are held in. The city ensconcing the most Billionaires in the world needs to do better than that.

@Anthony Hernandez
Anthony Hernandez Rome #16, 1999 ©Anthony Hernandez, courtesy Gallery Thomas Zander

Best in show: Thomas Zander represents all that is good in photography today. More than anyone he knows how to present “classic” photography with a well-defined contemporary feel. There is no go or bad media; there are good or bad artists, and, good or better works by these artists. The display in his large rectangular space, one of the few good spaces at Somerset house, is a perfect example of his mindset. Across the entrance, above the fireplace, we are pulled in by an intense blue Anthony Hernandez piece, facing it on the other side of the room is a large Mitch Epstein in rich greys. To the left and right of them, two very different artists erupt in conversation. Ensconced by a selection of Larry Clark’s Tulsa series and a Bernd and Hilla Becher vintage grid, a large Candida Höfer in cold and bright acid colours (a 2003 image of a Museum shop bookcase) faces a joyous, brilliantly hung grid of black and white Studio 54 images by Tod Papageorge. Candida Höfer, at 71 is no spring chicken, yet how is it that her picture feels so pertinent and contemporary? It is the result of concept and intent of Thomas’ distinct eye for quality and very astute sense of space.

@Evelyn Hofer
Evelyn Hofer Phoenix Park on a Sunday, Dublin 1966 @Evelyn Hofer, courtesy RoseGallery

West coast flower power: Rose Shoshana; The Mother of photography dealers, always enthusiastic and generous with her time was stuck in a badly lit overly warm corner. Her booth shows magnificent and rare Evelyn Hofer and William Eggleston dye transfer prints going for approximately the same price ($40k or less) as the uninventive pretentious void of a Jean-Baptiste Huynh print. Hello! Dye transfer prints are pure magic! This rare and complicated technique is the most vibrant expression at the heart of the historical renaissance of American color photography. Why have they not sold out?

Bright youngish thing: The poetic and humorous charm of Alec Soth at Weinstein Gallery

©Alec Soth
Alec Soth, ©Alec Soth courtesy Weinstein Gallery

Rant: At Somerset House, some spaces are better than others, one feels for the “emerging” dealers stuck in the bowels of the building surely attracted by the lure of London’s Millionaires. But did they dare go into the cave? Had they any chance of actually seeing anything in this cluttered, unattractive and sad looking space?

The “basic instinct” heterosexual club: Hamiltons Gallery, where you will see more of Peter Beard’s trite ejaculations, some sexy chick pics (in poses they will regret some day) and an uninteresting image by Robert Mapplethorpe. This déja-vu selection is saved by the magical purity of Irving Penn’s flower pictures. Thankfully, for us and the Irving Penn estate, (reminder: one of the most talented, innovative, fundamental and pivotal pillars of 20th century photography/art), his prime dealer is Peter MacGill, whose sense of quality, knowledge and taste should be the golden standard. The difference between Hamiltons Gallery and YellowKorner shops? Price point. Oh and Hamiltons doesn’t sell pictures of cars, or do they?

© Irving Penn Foundation.jpg
Irving Penn ©Irving Penn Foundation courtesy Hamiltons Gallery

Camera Work Berlin; yet again the Worlds number one purveyor of decorative emptiness, is doing very well, thank you. Think of the (already mentioned) vapid, faux-chic works by Jean Baptiste Huynh or the seductive crowd-pleasing images by fashion photographers. Blown up, bad quality prints of Vogue shoots. (Helmut Newton’s estate and Paolo Roversi deserve better company)

Photography, as any art media should rock our world, move us, taunt us, and ravish us. Or, just appease and certainly elevate and educate us. Admittedly, reacting to something, as I am doing now, is already the recognition of its existence. But come on, Art Dealers and Art Fair organisers, always take the discourse to a higher level, don’t take your clients, on whose patronage you depend, for fools. Show quality in surroundings that honour their creator’s intentions.

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In Praise of: Wolfgang Tillmans

“Photography always lies about what’s in front of the camera, but it never lies about what is behind, it always clearly reveals the intentions that are behind… Allowing and being as prepared as possible for what might happen, while staying open for what chance may come into play, is my way of working.”

As beautifully said by Wolfgang in a Lecture at Royal Academy of Arts in London on February 22, 2011. The viewer always gets to glimpse at the soul of the artist: the freer and more sensitive the soul, the better his gift to us.

Using the medium of photography in all its forms, hyper sensitive, refined and inquisitive, Wolfgang Tillmans is one of his generation’s most prominent and pertinent artists. He challenges the presumptions of contemporary life, the subterfuge of expected transparency. Like his admired fellow-countryman, Gerhard Richter, well known for his multiple forms of painterly expression, Wolfgang enjoys experimenting with a palette of techniques and variety of subjects. His approach to photography, oscillating between the random and the specific, is sensuous and sensorial. His subjects vary from portraits, still lives and architecture, or  can be abstract, such as  Freischwimmer and Blushes or the earlier Silver series. Painterly images made purely from reactions of light or dirt and agile manipulation of photographic printing paper.

In many ways, he is the natural heir of Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. Like them, he  develops series, has a love for texture and serendipitous flubs. These imperfections add a touch of humanity, a touch of the relatable. Wolfgang engages us in the pleasure he gets from the chance effects on his first “Photocopy” series, or, in “Arcadia”, the texture of the sweat on nape of the necks of nightclub revellers, to the exuberant explosion of high definition color in his recent still lives.

As Warhol and Rauschenberg before him, he uses photography as a base for his art, but is not limited by it. Much like his forefathers, Wolfgang is man of his times and is aware of the Political power his work can convey. His seemingly ordinary images of modern life always carry an undercurrent message. Freedom to live and love is never a given, it always involves vigilance and work.

“This photograph (The Cock (Kiss), 2002) of two guys kissing got slashed by a visitor at the Hirshhorn Museum, in Washington. I’m always aware that one should never take liberties for granted. For hundreds and hundreds of years this was not normal, not acceptable, and this term of acceptable is really what I connect beauty to … beauty is of course always political, as it describes what is acceptable or desirable in society. That is never fixed, and always needs reaffirming and defending.”

With homes and studios in Berlin and London for the last twenty years, Wolfgang is well aware of the magnificent luck we Europeans have in living in the most progressive and inclusive place on earth. The blatant electoral ambitions of Britain’s Prime Minister and the bleached blond Iago, his brutal and egocentric wannabe successor, remind us of Alphonse de Lamartine’s words: “Charmer, s’égarer et mourir” (to charm, to stray and to die). Enticing youth to enlist and participate in their future, Wolfgang, staunchly anti Brexit, launched a powerful open source campaign denouncing the dangerous and self serving game played by manipulative politicians.

Curious of the alchemy of the world and its vulnerability, Wolfgang transforms his extraordinary sensitivity and intuition into tangible objects for us to admire. Open hearted but attentive, he is unburdened by the corrosive breath of melancholy and studies the world without judgment. A beautiful mirror of our need to love, our battles, our gains and our frailty.

All images ©Wolfgang Tillmans

Published in SuperMassiveBlackHole Mag. 20.05.16

Johnny Pigozzi: The inside job

In the late seventies and early eighties, New York night life was divided in separate cliques who would mingle with more or less enthusiasm. The Uptown crowd and the Europeans (unfittingly called Eurotrash) danced at Xenon, (owned by Peppo Vanini, heir to a Panettone maker from Lugano) or Regine’s and Club A. The downtown crowd, cavorted at Danceteria or Area. The optimum mix happened at Studio 54. Born into the former, I wanted nothing to do with my own kind. I was young, gay and had hip artists friends. I felt vastly superior to the heterosexual conformists in their blue blazers and tasseled loafers.

Minox in hand, generous and gregarious, Johnny charmed everyone and was at ease everywhere. Surrounded by the most beautiful girls, he gave the best parties and had the best drugs. As a young man about town, I would regularly bump into Johnny’s big (6 feet4) bulbous bubbly figure.

Atlantic Records Owner, Ahmet Ertegun, a Nawab with a sense of humor, and wife Mica, were the King and Queen of this chic crowd that mixed 5th Avenue bourgeoisie with Rock and Roll irreverence.

Jean-Claude, was born quite rich. A dyslexic with no need to work, he took up photography like a spouseless uncle recording his privileged if seemingly aimless life. Only he, aided by his knowledge and appetite for art, his self deprecating wit, added a distinct sense of fun to the family album. Playfully paparazzo, Johnny’s images are not stolen by an uninvited spectator, they are an insiders gleeful memory of joyful, if debauched, libations.

His insatiable mind and interest in the untested led him to constitute, among other successful ventures, the biggest collection of contemporary African Art, whom he now lends to Museums worldwide. We are grateful, for his humorous subjective eye allows us to peek into an era of foregone sexy insouciance. Johnny Pigozzi: the ultimate raconteur, the last revelrous Mohican.

Johnny Pigozzi Pool Party , Rizzoli, 2016

All images ©Johnny Pigozzi

Pristine Sistine (a visit to the Sistine Chapel)

 

In 1988, while I was studying in Florence for my Master in Art History, the most extraordinary privilege was visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome as it was being restored. Climbing up the scaffolding and discovering Michelangelo’s ceiling about fifty centimetres from my eyes was an experience I will never forget.

After many disastrous attempts, restauration techniques were elaborated to free the fragile *frescoes from four centuries of grime. These techniques had been tested in 1966 in Florence after a horrific flood damaged great quantities of  architecture, art and books. More importantly, in 1980, an unlikely yet shrewd sponsor was found: Nippon Television Network Corporation. 4.2 million dollars were forked out across twenty years; in return, the sponsor got exclusive rights to all images, photographs, videos and publications to last at least the time it took to restore the murals.

*Fresco (plural frescos or frescoes) is a technique of mural painting executed upon freshly-laid, or wet lime plaster. Water is used as the vehicle for the pigment to merge with the plaster, and with the setting of the plaster, the painting becomes an integral part of the wall1280px-Sistine_Chapel_Daniel_beforandafterOne of our Professors at University, Gianluigi Colalucci was head restorer for the Sistine chapel project. Close examination by his team revealed that apart from smoky deposits, seepage deposits and structural cracks; the thin “pictorial skin” of Michelangelo’s frescoes was in excellent condition. Most of the paint was well adhered and required little retouching. The plaster, or intonaco, on which the paintings were executed, was found, for the most part, to be secure.

Renaissance Masters had extraordinary knowledge of the materials they used and how they would evolve over time. Egg tempera for example, when properly laid on an suitable surface, is one of the most resistant materials ever. Likewise, frescoes, albeit extremely simple in concept, depend, for their stability and longevity, on materials that do not fight each other. A wall, made with stone or brick, mortar and river sand, later covered with wet lime plaster, is a porous surface. Adding colour from pigments and water on it is an idoneous gesture. As in any place of worship, the Sistine Chapel frescoes suffered from black greasy residue emanating from wax candles burning night and day for centuries. Greasy wax tends to darken and clog. Over time, as the ceiling and walls were becoming dark and lifeless, 17th and 18th century restorers “cleaned” the frescoes using wine, and “revived” the colours using glue resin. Thus completely clogging a surface that needs to breathe. Slowly, the varnish dried, cracked and peeled, taking with it the thin layer of paint.

Gardenbeforeandafter

Originally commissioned by Pope Julius II, it took Michelangelo approximately four years to complete the Sistine chapel (1508 -1512). When not interrupted by other pressing Patrons, Michelangelo, high up on wood scaffoldings, would paint night and day. Helped by a coterie of young assistants, he would frenetically execute his personal vision of the Book of Genesis: basically lots of strangely muscular naked men gallivanting with strangely muscular naked women who look like men. As Michelangelo would only wear leather trousers, (not so out of the ordinary in those days) and  really, really did not like bathing often, (also not so out of the ordinary in those days, unless you live in France these days). Thus, after long periods of work, sweat and intense amorous distractions, he had to bathe in extremely hot water, so as to peel off the leather that clung to his skin.

20.7 metres (68 ft) high, 40.9 metres (134 ft) long by 13.4 metres (44 ft) wide, may not sound huge by today’s standards. But, as anyone who paints knows, proportion is one of its more daunting aspects. It is hard enough getting it right on paper or canvas; getting it right on a 40 by 13 meter wall, 20 meters up on a rickety scaffolding is insane. No elevators, no getting up or down easily, and certainly no getting down for a quick peek to check if Adam and Eve look okay. Fresco in Italian, means fresh, it entails, as written earlier, applying the colours rapidly, on a fresh coat of wet lime plaster, before the surface dries. It’s a humid, cold and exhausting job.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 23.53.14

So here I am, more than four hundred years later, heart pounding, going up a state-of-the-art aluminum scaffolding with motorised rubber wheels. I am greeted by a studious group of men and women wearing white Doctor’s blouses and plastic goggles. Around them, small buckets contain a water-based solution. With  the help of a Sea sponge, they tap on the paint surface who comes alive in rich color. The water-based solution is meant to ever-so-gently dissolve the layer of black grease from candles and varnish. With Q-tips, the fresco restorers softly swipe the humid surface and gently rub out the dirt. Others, helped by the tiniest point of a scalpel, grate reticent hard grime. As I look up and take a moment to register what I am experiencing, I discover traces embedded in the wall of Michelangelo’s original disegno. He would quickly mark the layout of his idea on the fresh plaster with the wooden top end of a brush. Keep in mind that when he started Adam’s head, he had no way of doing the rest of the body in immediate sequence. Getting the proportions right was purely based on his own sense of it, his own inner music. I can actually see where his vigour has taken liberties with the original contours. His light, yet rapid and precise brushstrokes are clearly apparent. The rediscovered colour palette, from soft pastel hues to exuberant acid tones enchant my soul as I gaze open mouthed. It is as if it had been painted just days before my visit.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 23.52.34

To be in awe finally finds its true meaning here. Overwhelmed by the brilliance of execution and moved to tears by the life changing, but, alas, fleeting moment of intimacy with pure genius.

 

Andy says Happy Easter !

Wishing my followers and readers a happy Easter and thanking you for your enthusiastic support : )

 

All images ©Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts

Saper vedere: Knowing how to see

One of the most exciting aspects about art is the pleasure we get from learning about what we are looking at. “Allegory of Passion” painted by Agnolo Bronzino  (circa 1545) contains a cornucopia of symbolic characters whose meaning is no longer familiar to us. Understanding who they are and what they mean, enriches our brain, heart and soul, adding a little spark of fun to the banality of our daily lives.

Let’s set the scene: In 1525, a German genius, Albrecht Dürer, describes in a book the perfect human proportions: a head fits seven and a half times in a body. The Italians, as always”over the top”, prefer an idealised version of proportion: a human head fits twelve times in a body. Abandoning any possibility of verisimilitude and liberating form and movement, they invent Mannerism. Think of Michelangelo‘s (Renaissance’s temperamental Leather Queen) ever twirling sculptures, the fabulous elongations of Parmigianino, or Pontorno‘s impossible contortions.

But, let’s add a little gravitas to our discourse and quote from those who took the time to enlighten us: “…The Antique male nude is like a Greek temple, the flat frame of the chest being carried on the column of the legs; whereas the Renaissance nude is related to the architectural system that produced the central-domed church; so that instead of the sculptural interest depending on a simple, frontal plane, a number of axes radiate from one center.”

 Sir Kenneth Clark – “The Nude, A study in Ideal form” – Princeton University Press, 1953 

Aha ! “a number of axes radiate from one center.” Let’s keep that in mind as we look at this particularly busy and convoluted flesh-a-thon: “An Allegory of Passion” also known less romantically as “An Allegory with Venus and Cupid”.  In it we see this really white chick who’s nipple is being squeezed by this weird looking kid with a funny looking butt. She is surrounded by these scary looking guys who don’t look all too happy. Ok, but if you were to take a pencil and place it at the nipple squeeze, then, clockwise start drawing bigger and bigger coils, you would see that the position of every arm, leg, face and eyes radiate from that central action. To understand who these characters are and what they are doing, we need help from a fundamental luminary of art history: Erwin Panofsky.

“Iconographically the picture does show the pleasures of love ‘on the one hand’ and its dangers and tortures ‘on the other’, in such a way, however, that the pleasures are revealed as futile and fallacious advantages, whereas the dangers and tortures are shown to be great and real evils…

In the main group, Cupid is shown in bracing Venus who holds an arrow and an apple. The apple is tendered to the eager boy and the arrow concealed, perhaps implying the idea ‘sweet but dangerous’…. This impression is sharpened by the fact that Cupid is shown as a quasi-sexless being, although the myrtle plant appearing behind him is the classical symbol of love, and the two doves at his feet signify ‘amorous caresses’.  …The picture shows an image of ‘Luxury’… This is corroborated by the fact that Cupid kneels on a pillow,  a common symbol of idleness and lechery…

On the left of this exquisitely lascivious group appears the head of an elderly woman madly tearing her hair. She is the symbol of ‘Jealousy’…. On the right is a Putto throwing roses who on his left foot wears an anklet adorned with two little bells, to him the terms ‘Pleasure’ and ‘Jest’ may be applied. However his promised pleasures are signalled as futile and treacherous by the ominous presence of two masks, one of a young woman, the other of an elderly and malevolent man. Masks that symbolise worldliness, insincerity and falsehood…

Emerging from behind the playful Putto is a girl in a green dress; ‘Deceit’. The dress cannot fully conceal a scaled, fish-like body, panther’s claws and the tail of a dragon. The entire group is unveiled by ‘Time’ and ‘Truth’. Time characterized by his wings and hourglass, and the female figure on the left who helps to draw the curtain from the whole spectacle is none other than ‘Truth’ ‘ Veritas filia Temporis’ “

Erwin Panofsky – “Studies in Iconology” – Oxford University Press, 1939

I told you, riveting stuff  : )

 

All images ©The National Gallery, London

In Praise of: Keith Haring

As I am about to marry the man with whom I have been living for the past 23 years, my heart cries in memory one of the most loving, generous and talented human beings that I was fortunate to have known: Keith Haring

I first met Keith in 1982 when he was living with Juan Dubose in their small railroad flat on Broome Street. I tagged along to a party at their place with my cousins Luca and Mahen Bonetti (THE it couple of ’80’s) and Maripol; taste maker extraordinaire, Fiorucci stylist, Grace Jones transformer, schlepping along with her a tiny, noisy, insufferable and ferociously ambitious fake blonde from a fly-over state who wanted to make it in the music business: Miss Ciccone. The atmosphere was one of immediate ease, relaxed and sexy. Booze and Quaaludes were plentiful, Juan was deejaying a gentle form of hip hop, the girls were loud, the boys magnificent.

Over the years, many more days and evenings were spent together. Either in SoHo with his New York dealer “the Iranian Stallion” Tony Shafrazi, or at night, late at night, surrounded by a posse of brutally sexy Puerto Ricans, at Paradise Garage, Danceteria, or at my absolute favorite; Area 

To see Keith work was simply thrilling. Always surrounded by a BoomBox or wearing a Walkman, a form of dance would ensue. He would begin on the upper left of the paper, canvas or wall he was undertaking, and, with nervous but perfectly controlled rhythmic movements he would reach the lower right of the piece. Never breaking away or taking a distance from it. Never erasing or starting over, a joyfully eruptive flow of perfectly proportioned forms would fill the space. Many public murals, often painted surrounded by friends and passers-by, remain visible in New York and across the world.

“Haring frequently said that “art is for everybody,” and he meant it. You could see that belief in his crowded Pop Shop, where he sold Haring art that anyone could afford, on buttons, posters, T-shirts, and more… Anyone, any age, anywhere can understand a Haring. His pared-down, instantly recognizable iconography—from crawling babies to men bedding men—is vibrant with a profound sense of social engagement. Yet it also represents a moving personal and collective journey, especially when it comes to issues of self-acceptance, which were such a big part of the gay movement in the late 70s and early 80s. Perhaps this explains the work’s surprising, haunting beauty. Idealism shines out of every one of Haring’s bold, sure lines—even in one of his last finished paintings, titled ‘Unfinished Painting’, which has a vast passage of emptiness, as if to signify all the great work that his death meant he’d never have the chance to do.”  

Ingrid Sischy, Vanity Fair, October 13, 2008

Keith kept a diary for most of his life, and, sensing his battle with death coming to an end, he wrote:

 “No matter how long you work, it’s always going to end sometime. And there’s always going to be things left undone. And it wouldn’t matter if you lived until you were seventy-five. There would still be new ideas. There would still be things that you wished you would have accomplished. You could work for several lifetimes….Part of the reason that I’m not having trouble facing the reality of death is that it’s not a limitation, in a way. It could have happened any time, and it is going to happen sometime. If you live your life according to that, death is irrelevant. Everything I’m doing right now is exactly what I want to do.”5

“All of the things that you make are a kind of quest for immortality. Because you’re making these things that you know have a different kind of life. They don’t depend on breathing, so they’ll last longer than any of us will. Which is sort of an interesting idea, that it’s sort of extending your life to some degree.”6

"Unfinished Painting", 1989 ©Keith Haring Foundation
“Unfinished Painting”, 1989 ©Keith Haring Foundation

On February 16, 1990, surrounded by sweet unflinching Gil Vasquez, his last love and heir, Keith died from complications of AIDS related illness in his New York bedroom recently redecorated like his favourite suite at The Ritz Hotel in Paris, he was 31.

 

All images ©The Keith Haring Foundation