As we climbed up onto the sandy bank bordering the beach, anticipating great noticeable things, we became momentarily confused as the view materialised. We were like kids on a safari, excited and gesticulating: “where are they?”, “where are they?!” The whole stretch of sand rolling away to the distant tide was crowded with people, walking their dogs, walking themselves, gazing out to sea…but where were the Antony Gormley works?
It only took a few minutes to register that the majority of those figures populating the beach were in fact the sculptures, from a distance they blended into the landscape seamlessly. Looking outward not inward, perhaps dreaming of distant shores, Another Place consists of casts of the artists body stretching across two miles of Crosby beach. When the tide comes in the bodies are submerged, when the tide pulls out the mottled green and copper humanoids are revealed. They are a constant; battered by winds, tides, sand, rain and snow these works remain stubbornly in place, standing guard, ever watching and waiting.
When plans were revealed to move the piece to New York in 2006 many of the local residents fought to keep Another Place in what they felt was its rightful place. It’s easy to understand why, as these metal men are so sympathetic to the location. On the grey, drizzly March day of our visit they not only looked right against the bleak, overcast surroundings they lent an element of cheer, of human solidarity. In managing to create company out of emptiness the Gormley figures have no doubt added a thoughtful dimension to this stretch of coast, altering the way people view, are viewed and interact with the space.
On permanent display.
R.B.Kitaj: Obsessions at the Jewish Museum, London
This diminutive exhibition charts the successes of the American (“adopted” English) painter Ronald Brooks Kitaj. Almost more tantalising than the works themselves is the melancholic life story of the artist, at times you might feel your heart ache reading the accompanying exhibition text. This is clearly a man of the ilk of creatives for whom life and art trod a similar, worn path.
Born to non-practising Jewish parents, Kitaj wasn’t raised into the faith that shaped the key questions that defined his later life. The Jewish Museum have, naturally, drawn emphasis on the symbolism and religious imagery in Kitaj’s work, whilst contextualising his difficult relationship with his faith by biographical examples of crisis. We hear how his father abandoned his mother while he was a small child, how he led a migratory lifestyle in his late teens and lost his first wife to suicide when he was just 36.
Studying art in Vienna, New York and Oxford his style was crazy colourful figurative, depicting scenes and characters in an almost collage effect. The question of his Jewish identity, pulled up from his roots, and political murmurings resonated in his work. Throughout the 1980s Kitaj enjoyed solid success, and had expectations beyond the bad press and criticism which formed the result of his second retrospective at Tate in 1994. When his partner of 23 years and wife of 11, Sandra Fisher, died from a brain aneurysm just after the opening he became distraught and distorted by grief.
Marred by tragedy, left broken and disillusioned by the loss of his second wife, Kitaj left the country he had called home for many years in a flurry of rage and bitter resentment. He moved back to the States and his work took the brunt of his attitude and carried it forth into the world. Blaming Tate and the negative reviews for causing the unexpected death of Sandra he pulled inwards into himself and his work. Decay and destruction, the feebleness of the human body and spirit became repeated themes in his paintings. Unable to recover from this latest setback Kitaj abandoned his own life in 2007, asphyxiating himself with a plastic bag.
You won’t leave this exhibition buoyantly uplifted or full with joie de vivre. Inside the sleek white lofty interior of the gallery the vibrant paintings sing, they burst to life. The story they have to tell, however, mirrors the sad tale described above. There is much discomfort: mismatching colours sit next to each other jarringly, people and objects are jammed into the painting plane like commuters on a tube, everything sits at odds with its surroundings. In a self-portrait the bed appears as a vertical, the dark shrunken surface of Kitaj’s skull receding into the red patterned pillow, which clashes with sickly yellow floral of the bedcover. The perspective is often multi-faceted and disorientating.
So, don’t come to the Jewish Museum looking for a simple life-affirming fix of bold, wonderful paintings. This is a gutsy selection of works which illustrates the difficult nature of love, faith and man in decay. If you like what you see you can catch the train to Chichester to catch the other half of Obsessions at the Pallant House Gallery. Even the exhibition, it seems, has a split identity.
Curated by Dr Eckhart Gillen. On display until 16th June 2013.
If you stop by the northern Italian city of the Genoa within the next month, make a point of visiting the stunning Palazzo Ducale to see this curious display. An American photographer with international appeal, a number of McCurry’s works will be very familiar to you.
The exhibition has been set up in an unusual but visually entrancing manner. Four rooms draw out different aspects of the work; the first holds the individual portraits McCurry is most famous for. Hyperreal faces gaze out from vibrant images, these are not the dusty grainy images of ‘faraway’ on the TV news. The works are hung in a series of rows on black gauze so that you can see people peering through from the next row, enticing you forward through the exhibition. As with most portraiture, it is the eyes which have it, conveying a full range of human emotion. They are angry, beseeching, cocksure, bemused, scared, but always present. Towards the back of this first exhibition space are images of decapitated and crumbling statues, a reminder of past civilisations which have turned to dust.
In the second room are dissimilar pictures, all detailing in horrific clarity very real and very human catastrophes. Not grouped by location, images of war and destruction in Japan, Kuwait, Afghanistan, New York and India are all intermingled. Young children hold or play with weaponry, grieving parents sit with their injured children in makeshift hospitals, there are charred, bloody and mangled bodies. Here the slick, ultra sharp quality of the photographs makes these seem like the realest images of disaster you have seen, movie like but not to the point where the individual tragedies are minimised.
The third room couldn’t be more different. Small, always colourful, individual portraits are collected together around a central stand. These multiple images of happiness are displayed at various heights on different faces of stacked cubes. People from around the world take moments of pleasure in everyday things, a girl in India whooshes into view on a swing, a man in Madrid gazes at art on a gallery wall. The size of these works is strategic; you pull in closer and so are drawn in to these intimate worlds, small glimpses of global hopes and joy.
You’ll leave the exhibition through the last room of photographs, larger format images hung at eye level and above, at irregular intervals and back to back. Wandering around the room gazing upwards make sure you don’t bump into your fellow visitors. Again, characters from different countries are mixed up together in a melting pot of curiosity-provoking and often amusing scenes. People are walking, swimming, working and living against vibrant multi-coloured backdrops, revealing themselves to be just like us. What could be more interesting and uplifting than this?
Curated by Peter Bottazz. On display until 7th April 2013.