I hope you can make it to the exhibition which is the culmination of a years intensive work, I will be showing a selection of new paintings that I’ve made over this period. There will also be a catalogue published documenting the work of each of the 11 residency artists, with a text from writer Colin Perry.
Here are a selection of my previous blog entries based around the residency and my experiences for those wanting some background.
February Plastic Shanty Town
February Midway point of residency
September 2o10 New Studio – Florence Trust
This is the extended version of ‘Making Sense of Art Basel’ originally published on Rise Art.
In keeping with Lorena’s article ‘Trading Places’, the question ‘Are art fairs the new blockbuster exhibitions?’ kept running through my head as I wrote my review of last week’s edition of Art Basel.
As part of The Florence Trust studio residency each year gets to go on a summer’s art trip, previous years have seen Glasgow and Liverpool biennale so when it was announced we would be going to Basel the excitement was clear to be seen. This would be my first visit to Switzerland and my first art fair outside of London. We flew on an early flight on Tuesday morning ready to catch the VIP preview. Walking through the airport to our departure gate should have been a clue of the world I was about to step into, with a YBA, a couple of famous gallerists, critics and numerous faces all etched into my consciousness who I was unable to place at such an ungodly hour. This budget airline flight contained the sort of art elite not usually found canned in to no thrills travel. As an artist, the idea of the art fair doesn’t excite me as it would the gallerists, collectors and maybe even the general public. But walking onto that flight was a real kick.
‘Art Basel’ is the main fair, while there are a handful of satellite fairs spread across the city as well as special events and late night openings at many of the museums. I must confess that I probably spent the least time at the main fair. But I did make sure I caught the UK galleries – Modern Art, White Cube, Sadie Coles etc and some of their European and American counterparts. But to be honest I didn’t have the stamina to compete with the excited moneymen and hangers on at the VIP preview.
Art Unlimited joins the main fair building at Messeplatz. It’s a large hanger style building and offers large curated site specific projects of individual works by big name artists. Each showing with their respective galleries but unlike the fair these aren’t manned sales booths. On the side of Unlimited was Art Statements which I would compare with the Frieze’s Frame, an area for solo presentation from younger galleries held within the main fair. I enjoyed Rodeo (Istanbul) who presented work by Emre Hüner who took Fordlandia (a city Henry Ford built in the amazon to extract rubber to produce tires) as inspiration for a varied set of sculpture and drawing of this failed utopian.
Other pieces of interest at Art Unlimited were Sarah Morris’ film Points on a Line which explored the Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and Philip Johnson’s Glass House. As well as David Zink Yi’s Untitled (Architeuthis), a giant squid of legend recreated in ceramics and coated in copper and lead secreting an oily solution.
Outside of the main fairs there was plenty to see, with free shuttle buses linking you from one to another. Volta is set further out from the centre of town and had a far more relaxed feel to it which made for a more enjoyable experience. Although it wasn’t particularly busy so I’m not sure how the galleries felt? There were a number of British galleries on display here including Nettie Horn, Room Gallery, Vegas Gallery and Madder 139 who had some interesting G.L Brierley paintings. While former Vyner Street stalwart David Risley showed a good group of painters with his now Copenhagen based gallery.
My favourite of the fairs was definitely Liste, which shows galleries no more than 5 years old and artists under 40 (much like our own Zoo art fair). It was set in a stunning former brewery Wartech just off the North bank of The Rhine and had a much cooler feel to it with challenging spaces to hang works. The show definitely had a more curated hang compared to Art Basel and gave off the impression of project spaces rather than Salon hung sales booths. There was a conceptual feel throughout with a leaning towards sculptures and installations; good examples of these were Limoncello, Hotel (both UK) and Liudvikas Buklys solo presentation with Tulips & Roses (Belgium).
Other events I took in over the 4 days were Francis Alys’ Fabiola at The Schaulager, a reconfigured version of the show seen at The National Portrait last year, here mixed in to their permanent collection. The beautiful Foundation Beyeler, which can be found a 20 minute tram ride out of Basel, had an incredible show of Constantin Brancusi & Richard Serra in the Renzo Piano designed building (famous for Pompidou centre). Not forgetting the Swiss Art Prize which saw the Florence Trust’s very own Annelore Schneider take home an award as part of (collectif_fact) with collaborator Claude Piguet. Some of our group got to the Museum Tinguely which was heaped in praise for his kinetic sculptures and interactive displays, there was also a high profile exhibition ‘Car Fetish. I drive, therefore I am’ – definitely one for next time!
The party of the week had to be the Vitra party at the famous Vitra Campus (just over the German boarder). A stunning location with buildings and structures by a who’s who list of celebrity architects, including Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry amongst others. The sun was shinning, DJ playing from the Jean Prouvé designed Petrol Station/come DJ booth for the night and delicious never ending supply of Canapés and drinks.
So are art fairs the new blockbuster exhibitions? Through my artist tinted specs I would compare art fairs to theme park. They offer entertainment for the masses with short lived thrills, and after so many paintings I know I saw some good pieces but I would struggle to name more than a handful of them. With high price entry and long queues it’s certainly not how I would choose to view art, no matter how good. But what the art fair does do, especially in a place like Basel, is to ignite a city for a week and open up all the museums for people to explore. In London our commercial galleries open shows of their biggest sellers to coincide with Frieze, whereas Basel seemed to have institutions from across the spectrum celebrating all things art and design. To me Basel was more exciting when I went outside of the main fair to some of the stunning museums that open all year round. But with a record 65,000+ people in attendance this year who can argue with the formula?
If a blockbuster exhibition is a high profile, glitzy affair then maybe the art fair is just that. The blockbuster is something our museums should be producing. However with cuts in funding in the UK I believe it’s the private patrons and blue chip galleries of this world that truly have the ability to produce a blockbuster exhibition without the claustrophobic fair setting. Just look at Gagosian’s (Britannia Street, London) Picasso and Crash (A Homage to JG Ballard) exhibitions last year – epic in resources and scale without compromising the viewer.
I wrote this article recently for Rise Art which was first published on their website, it describes details on my practice, influences and techniques. My Art Basel report will follow later in the week.
My paintings are worked on in groups, each one is made up of two distinct layers. Both layers are painted with oil paint, but both do different things. I like systems and order, and creating defined rules to work by. I explore the city with a camera, then reference it on the canvas.
Im a fan of German abstraction, as seen in artists such as Albert Oehlen whose use of chaos could end up looking as a dark oily mess, but he somehow always makes it work. I think I respond to elements of visual discord which simultaneously please and repel the viewer. I’ve also been looking at Gert & Uwe Tobias’ woodcuts recently, which sit between dark fairytale narratives and graphic geometry. The woodcuts are used to produce one-off pieces and, as such, have a painterly feel, with the imperfections and glitches from the process unashamedly on display.
I explore the city with my camera to find oddities and intrigue. I find myself drawn to the materiality of objects especially industrial sites and those where function outweighs design. I particularly look for sights where weather and pollution have worn surfaces down letting mold or rust set in. My current series has taken me to the River Thames where I have been studying ‘dolphins’, or mooring constructions. Objects which have mostly long lost their purpose now sit slowly being worn by the tide eventually to be reclaimed by the riverbed. So far I’ve covered about 50 miles from Kew in the west to Thamesmead out east. While the motivation for doing this was originally to get photographs to feed my paintings, I’ve actually really enjoyed learning about London through the riverside architecture. It’s fascinating to see how people live and the varied levels of wealth, with much of the social housing now turned into expensive modern flats the riverfront is starting to lose its individual character.
I make my paintings in a two-stage process which when viewed separately, could be identified as works by two different artists. At the start of a piece I’ll be moving round the canvas laid flat on the studio floor, smudging resin into the weave of the canvas with gloves so it pools over the surface. Then pouring thinned oil from jars, tilting and adjusting the position of the canvas to create the background.
Once dry I paint the foreground structure that sits on the resin ground. The foreground is painted with the canvas flat on a table and in contrast to the background is painted carefully with fine brushes to create the straight architectural lines. Its the layering of messy action painting technique and controlled graphical detail which interests me and perhaps gives me renewed energy having time working in both head spaces. While the resin backgrounds reference process painting and a wealth of abstract art history, they can also draw comparisons to rapid flowing water or weather systems.
The names of my paintings come from the Atlantic list of Hurricane names where each storm has its name taken from a list of alternating male and female names. The naming of each painting imbues the structure a gender and reinforces the personification suggested by the portrait orientation canvas and composition. While also referencing the weathering of the dolphins and the eddies that appear in the painted grounds.
Its the last full week of studio time left of the Florence Trust, having started the year back in August its shocking how quickly time has flown by. Rather than an almighty rush to finish things off, I’ve found the last few days as more of a natural conclusion to my time here. Putting time into finishing a few pieces and reviewing the body of work I’ve created. The catalogue has been designed and is looking particularly sharp while somewhat progressive for those used to Florence Trust publications of past years. The essay is done and nicely sums up 11 individual practices, i’ll upload what writer Colin Perry put together for me once its been published next month. Its safe to say the catalogue will be a great keep sake and resource for any visitors and art enthusiasts that get their hands on it. As well as winding down and preparing for the show, we’ve also been keen to make the most of the studio gardens in the sun (this is our reward for surviving some cold cold months throughout the winter!) so we had a BBQ last week which did the trick. We enjoyed some special pork prepared by (Taisuke) Makihara which believe it or not will form part of his exhibition piece, so as well as eating some tasty meat we were also doing our bit to help with his work!
We’re all off to Art Basel next week, my first taste of Switzerland and one of the worlds biggest art fairs. Everyone’s excited about going and I can safety say, we’re looking forward to letting our hair down following some busy recent weeks and with more on our return. I don’t really know what to expect from Basel, I guess it’ll be like a bigger Frieze. Things to look forward to – LISTE, billed as the young art fair where all galleries are under 5 years old and artists all under 40. LISTE sounds like Zoo art fair which was always a refreshing change to the buzz and bluechips of its bigger brother. Another one i’m told to look out for is Art Unlimited which is a curated show within the fair dedicated to large scale installation, video, installation and performance. One of my fellow resident artists Annelore Schneider is half of Collectif-fact who have been nominated for this years Swiss Art Award, another exhibition which coincides with our trip. It’ll be great to see Annelore and Claude’s (Piguet) work installed amongst the fellow nominees and our fingers are crossed for them.
I’ll be writing a report on Basel which I’ll publish on my return. Once back it’ll be time to take the current studios apart and reconfigure the space for the Summer show. I’ll start to sort through my work to choose what makes the cut for the exhibition before getting on with tackling the hang. An early reminder for those interesting in seeing the show – the Private view is on Thursday 7th July (6 – 9pm) and its then open daily until Monday 18th July.
Last week Rise Art had their first offline exhibition to celebrate their launch and display the prints produced by myself and fellow Select Artists. The event was a great success and good chance to meet the other artists and discuss my work. Here are some photos from the event which was hosted at Luna & Curious in Old Street, alongside the prints was an installation of wall paintings, screen prints and sculpture by Dai Roberts.