Category: Gallery

Palaces of Power: Embarking on a Grand Tour at Nottingham Contemporary

The Grand Tour atNottingham Contemporary

Pablo Bronstein’s Via Appia frames the treasures of Chatsworth  including the coronation thrones and marble foot (c) Andy Keate for Nottingham Contemporary.

When German chancellor Otto von Bismarck proclaimed the second German Empire in 1890, he chose to do so inside the lavish Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in Paris. Long a symbol of power and wealth, this was his way of asserting German authority over the French after years of conflict. Just over a century later, the Hall of Mirrors was chosen by the victorious allies of the First World War as the place where Germany signed the humiliating Treaty of Versailles.

Few things embody the relationship between architecture and power than Versailles. Its baroque style and vast art collections are replicated at palaces around Europe, including Chatsworth House. Nestled in the Derbyshire Peaks, Chatsworth is home to the impressive Devonshire Collection, which includes paintings and drawings by the Old Masters, blue-and-white Delft pottery and ancient sculptures.

This summer 62 pieces from this collection have been brought to Nottingham Contemporary in an exhibition curated by artist Pablo Bronstein. It forms part of The Grand Tour, a cultural experience taking place across four galleries in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. It recreates the grand tours of the 18th and 19th centuries when aristocratic young men – including successive Dukes of Devonshire – would travel across Europe, discovering the treasures of antiquity.

The tour begins with a collection of vast objects, including a pair of coronation chairs for the William IV and Queen Adelaide and a huge bathtub which the gallery attendant helpfully tells me would have been used for show rather than any practical purpose. There is also a Roman foot, dating back to BC 150 – BC 50, which is thought to have been part of a statue of a goddess. Bronstein has produced a series of highly-technical paintings entitled Via Appia, which was a strategic route in Roman times and creates a narrative for these objects. This road not only inspired Renaissance artists such as Michaelangelo, it also shows the journey undertaken by the grand tourists.

The mood in Gallery 2 shifts towards something more introspective. Faux oak-panelled walls display the works of German and Flemish artists such as Franz Hals, Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt. In contrast to the grand pieces in other parts of the exhibition, these pieces are dark and brooding; Dürer’s 15th century etching, The Crucifixion, is imbued with pain and suffering, while Rembrandt’s drawing of the actor Willem Ruyters in his dressing room is intimate and humane.

Elsewhere, the themes of power and wealth resume once again. Huge pieces of silverware and Delft pottery fill cabinets surrounded by pillars and an imposing portrait of the 1st Duke of Devonshire hangs on the wall. Once again, these are juxtaposed with another Bronstein piece, this time a digital drawing of Chatsworth House. The familiar neo-classical building is suspended outside of time and space, giving viewers the chance to see if from different angles. Bronstein seems to be suggesting that art, architecture and power are anchored to their historical context – but that does not mean they are not subject to change.

As part of the Grand Tour, Bronstein is also exhibiting his drawings at Chatsworth’s New Gallery, as well as a large-scale drawing for the Old Master Cabinet Room. Other exhibitions include Wright Revealed: Uncovering Two Lost Paintings at Derby Museum and Elements of Architecture: Corridors and Welbeck Tunnels at the Welbeck Estate in north Notts.

See Pablo Bronstein and the Treasures of Chatsworth at Nottingham Contemporary until 15 September.

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Review: Glenn Ligon’s Encounters and Collisions at Nottingham Contemporary

Untitled, Glenn Ligon (2006).

Untitled, Glenn Ligon (2006).

One of the first pieces to catch my eye in Glenn Ligon’s Encounters and Collisions exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary is a neon sign which simply reads, ‘America’. Reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg’s poem of the same name, this untitled piece seems to be emblematic of this intensely personal exhibition in which Ligon brings together the post-War artists who influenced him, alongside his own work.

Encounters and Collisions explores the many narratives of American discourse, touching on themes of race, identity, sexuality, politics, language, history and aesthetics.  For Ligon, who was born in the Bronx in 1960, the Civil Rights movement formed a backdrop to his early years. Here, we see journalistic pieces of the time, including Kelley Walker’s 2005 piece Triptych, which re-appropriates a photograph of a black man being savagely attacked by a police dog as well as  pictures of the Birmingham Race Riots and Black Panthers. These sit alongside pieces which examine how these experiences were internalised. Ligon’s 2005 painting, When Black Wasn’t Bceautiful, a quote from comedian Richard Pryor, plays on the idea that our notions of beauty are bound up with a society’s dominant narrative. Meanwhile, Giovanni Anselmo’s interactive exhibit Invisible, where the word ‘visible’ appears on a projector, highlights the ephemeral nature of language and identity.

yellow

Yellow Islands by Jackson Pollock (1952).

Sexuality, and the subversion of established norms, is also significant as shown in Ligon’s colouring book picture of Malcolm X, who is rendered feminine in a Warhol-esque way with bright lipstick and eye shadow. Another is a silent and hypnotic film by Steve McQueen called Bear in which two naked men square up to each other in a display of violence and eroticism. The close-up camera work is disarming as it follows the contours of the men’s bodies and disrupts our perspective; McQueen has said he did not want the viewer to be a passive observer but rather to be hyper-sensitive to their own part in the action.

Elsewhere, Ligon pays tribute to the artists who shaped his outlook. The abstract expressionists, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline, are represented here and the immediacy of their paintings indicate a radical departure from the social realism prevalent in the US at this time. Looking at pieces such as Pollock’s Yellow Islands and de Kooning’s Valentine, it is easy to see why they proved so influential for Ligon: developed in New York, this movement saw artists peering deep into the human consciousness, by-passing rational thoughts, as they explored abstract human desires and experiences.

Encounters and Collisions is on at Nottingham Contemporary until 14th June. It will then move to Tate Liverpool where it will run from 30th June to 18th October. 

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Review: I Is AnOther at New Art Exchange in Nottingham

How do you define Jamaica’s cultural impact on the rest of the world? Its music, of course, has been hugely influential, along with its food. But the small island’s contribution to fine art is rarely considered; it is simply not on the radar of many western critics. This is despite the fact that artists, both those living in Jamaica and those who have moved to other parts of the world, are creating a rich body of works which reflect its post-colonial identity.

In the year Jamaica celebrates 50 years of independence from British rule, Nottingham’s New Art Exchange celebrates some fine examples of the country’s art in the second part of an exhibition called I Is AnOther, which has been curated by Rachael Barrett and which runs until Saturday.

The life of a Jamaican immigrant living in Birmingham is vividly portrayed in a series of paintings by Hurvin Anderson. In Peters 2, he uses primary colours to depict a barber shop. In the 1950s many newly arrived Jamaicans set up these shops in attics as a way to make extra money and meet other people from their community. But the image Anderson creates is remarkably devoid of people; instead he concentrates on the space itself which perhaps reflects the community’s attempts to create an identity in a place that would be out of sight when stood on the street.

In Chicken Wire, part of the Country Club series, Anderson portrays a tennis court from behind a wire fence in Trinidad. The straight lines of the fence cut across the angles of the tennis court with the viewer placed firmly on the outside, hinting that this aspect of Caribbean life, which is aimed at tourists, is something outside his own experience.

Western art collides with Jamaican art quite literally in The Afflicted Yard. Strewn among the debris of filthy rum bottles and old televisions is a piece of wall bearing a stencil painting, Balloon Girl, which was created by Banksy when he visited the island.

In a bizarre series of events, Peter Dean Rikards – the artist behind The Afflicted Yard project – decides to unmask Banksy. He also persuades a group of people to remove the slab of wall with the picture on it, telling them that white people will pay a lot of money for it. The fact that they have not heard of Banksy somehow renders his art useless; they are ripping it apart because they have been told it is worth a lot of money not because it has any aesthetic value for them. However, this also hints at the fact that money is also the dominating force in the commercial art world.

In Packaged Rites, Ebony G. Patterson remembers the 73 people from the poverty-stricken Tivoli Gardens community in Kingston who were killed by the police and army. Printed on bright, bandana-like fabric, the faces of the dead are obscured by scarves. These people have no identity yet they have been immortalised on highly individual pieces of fabric. It is significant too that Patterson uses textiles – a traditional folk medium and something that is wrongly considered to be inferior to ‘high art’.

Picture above shows Packaged Rites by Ebony G. Patterson (From New Art Exchange website)

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Rebel without a Cause: Exploring Arthur Seaton’s Nottingham at Lakeside Arts Centre

There’s something about Arthur Seaton, the rebellious anti-hero of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, that has endured through the decades. Sat at his lathe in Radford’s Raleigh bike factory, he counted down the hours until it was the weekend, working hard only to ensure he had plenty of cash to spend on booze and smart Teddy Boy clothes.

Nottingham, like many other industrial cities in the 1950s, was on the brink of a seismic social change. Following the austerity of the war years, there was a surge in demand for consumer goods (like bikes) and teenagers leaving school with no qualifications could look forward secure employment with Raleigh or the nearby Player’s cigarette factory – something that would be almost impossible for a young person today.

It was also the decade when the first signs of a youth culture were beginning to emerge. Arthur did not want to settle down to start a family at his age and he describes his own parents as ‘dead from the neck up’. He wants to dance, drink and have affairs with married women rather than take on responsibility.

Arthur’s world is explored in a new photographic exhibition which opened at Nottingham University’s Lakeside Arts Centre at the weekend. This thoughtfully curated exhibition combines commercial photography with journalism and social commentary as well as stills from Karel Reisz’s film adaptation of Sillitoe’s novel, much of which was shot in Nottingham.

We are given a glimpse into what life was like in the Raleigh factory, along with recorded personal testimonies from the people who worked there. The long, tedious hours spent at the machine were punctuated by raucous nights in the pub, day trips to Skegness organised by the company and the excitement of the annual Goose Fair.

During the 1950s, Nottingham’s hard-drinking culture attracted national attention – just like it does today. Two journalists from the Daily Herald were asked by their editor to visit Nottingham and find out about the nightlife that inspired Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and some of their photographs form part of this exhibition.

Neither the book nor the film makes any attempt to sentimentalise working class life in urban Nottingham. The warren-like slums of St Ann’s, Radford and Lenton were over-crowded and rife with gossip. Towards the end of this exhibition there are images depicting these houses being cleared to make way for new developments outside the city, notably the Clifton estate and were seen by many, including the residents, as heralding a new era of clean housing with indoor bathrooms and large, open spaces.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, which is free, runs until 10th February. For details, including opening times, see the website.

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Review: Mika Rottenberg at Nottingham Contemporary

The first thing that struck me when I visited Nottingham Contemporary on a rainy Bank Holiday Monday was the sound of violent sneezes. It was not a member of the public suffering from hay fever – but rather a short film entitled Sneeze, a comical piece in which reddened noses shoot out cuts of meat and a live rabbit.

It was a light-hearted introduction to artist Mika Rottenberg’s exhibition at the Contemporary. Rhyming pleasingly with her other works (Cheese, Squeeze, Tropical Breeze and Mary’s Cherries), it foregrounded the human body and its functions while also raising a wry smile.

Around the corner is Squeeze, a 20-minute long film which sees women from around the world engaged in menial tasks. A dream-like landscape gives way to documentary film footage of Chinese women massaging the hands of Mexican workers harvesting lettuces and a woman being squeezed until she becomes so pink she can dust the colour off to make blusher.

The clunking sounds and repetitive nature of the women’s work reminded me of the mechanical processes in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. In Rottenberg’s film, the end product is not as significant as the process: the blusher disappears down a hole while the lettuce is mashed to a pulp. The piece alludes to the Marxist idea that identity is bound up in the ‘means of production’, although Rottenberg says it is in the poetic sense rather than the political. In this way she also hints at the similarity between mass production and creating artwork. Human identity is infused in everything they produce, no matter how throwaway the product is. But unlike art, these products will not normally be put on display in a gallery and there is a sense in which the product, and by extension, the person who made it is lost.

These themes are echoed in Dough, a short film set in a strange factory in which women use their bodies to create a strange, flesh-like dough. Again, the end product is not important; it’s the part each person plays on the assembly line. Bodies take on the role of machines once again echoing the idea that products are inseparable from their makers.

This all makes a claustrophobic world where the work is tough and without rewards; however it stands in contrast to another short film, Tropical Breeze in which a female body builder delivers boxes of fruit juice while drinking it herself. She then wipes her lemon-infused perspiration onto tissues which are marketed as ‘lemon-scented moist tissue’. There is a sense of real power here not only in the physical form of the body builder and her acrobatic colleague but also in the way she is able to consume and manufacture products, putting her firmly in control of the process.

Alongside Rottenberg’s exhibition is a gallery devoted to the satirical cartoons of James Gillray (1756 – 1815) which are on loan from the V&A. Pompous, puffed up politicians, European relations and the scandals that permeated both high and low society will certainly resonate with modern audiences – and his deft sketches are delightfully comic.

The two exhibitions, which are free, run until 1st July.

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Desolation Row: Lowry’s exploration of modern anxiety at Djanogly Art Gallery

L. S. Lowry said that the Great Depression passed him by. It might seem like an unusual statement given that, like George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, he depicted the unemployed and the over-worked in the north of England. But unlike Orwell, he was not politically or ideologically motivated. Instead, his figures become part of the industrial wastelands alongside the derelict buildings, abandoned boats and thick, black smog.

Earlier this month, a wonderfully curated exhibition of Lowry’s work opened at Nottingham’s Djanogly Art Gallery. Here his Lancashire mill scenes sit alongside some of his lesser known rural landscapes which became increasingly stark and devoid of detail.

Although his images are steeped in the everyday there is also something unsettling about them. Like T. S. Eliot in The Wasteland and James Joyce in Ulysses, Lowry does not subscribe to a straightforward social realism but instead explores the existential anxiety of modern life. Personal identity is lost in the crushing machine of industrialisation; people are forced to work long hours and they become disconnected from their families and themselves, as shown in the family scene of Discord (1943).

Lowry painted a number of startling portraits, including Head of a Man (1938), Boy in a Yellow Jacket (1935) and The Manchester Man (1935-6). The red, staring eyes, hollow expressions and skin ravaged by harsh weather, factory chemicals and poor diet reveal the soul-sapping nature of the industrial age and force us to confront the human cost of modernity head on. Contrast these pictures with the pencil sketches A Meeting (1923) and Speculators (1924) which depict middle class professionals sitting in their comfortable offices smoking, drinking coffee and using their minds rather than being physically exhausted by the drudgery of hard labour.

He also produced a number of desolate landscapes, both urban and rural. Some, such as Wasteland (1935), show the spoils of industrialisation at a time when Lancashire’s cotton industry was in decline and these too echo Eliot’s poem. Many resemble a battlefield from the First World War, perhaps anticipating that another war was not far off. The figures of his earlier paintings are notably absent and the once-thriving mills are abandoned although thick, putrid smoke continues to belch out of the chimneys in the distance indicating a legacy of destruction.

Even more stark are Lowry’s paintings of the lakes, seashores and rural landscapes of Derbyshire, the Yorkshire Moors and the Lake District which are largely free of human activity and the antithesis of the pastoral idyll. As in the city, there is nothing comforting here; the land is oddly life-less, almost lunar and detached from any real sense of location, hinting at perplexing metaphysical questions about time.

The exhibition continues at Djanogly Art Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre (University of Nottingham campus) until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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Relive your memories of Hyson Green flats at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard

The Hyson Green flats did not last long but during their brief lifetime, they become something of an urban landmark in the city and home to a thriving community. Built in 1965, the complex included 593 individual flats and maisonettes and its distinctive modernist design meant that it stood out in an area that is largely made up of Victorian terraces.

The flats were demolished in 1988 to make way for Asda but many former residents look back on their time there with great fondness.

There will be an opportunity to discover more about life in the Hyson Green flats at a new exhibition which opens at Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard on Saturday.

On the Flats is a local history project run by the Partnership Council, a charity working in Hyson Green. More than 40 volunteers have spoken to ex-residents to find out more about their memories of the flats and the exhibition also includes a film with interviews and archive footage such as old television news clips of events surrounding the flats.

Residents have contributed a host of items to the exhibition, for example a slab of concrete and a street sign which were salvaged when the flats were demolished. The exhibition also details the role the flats played in the Nottingham riots in 1981, as well as the impromptu blues parties that were held.

The exhibition runs until 15th January.

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Klaus Weber: Suspended animation at Nottingham Contemporary

This weekend sees the launch of a new exhibition by German artist Klaus Weber at Nottingham Contemporary.

Born in Sigmaringen and now working in Berlin, Weber’s work explores our ideas about what is natural and what happens when this is disrupted. The new exhibition includes a life-sized moving figure of a man running off the roof, a sun mirror, artificial rain and a tornado made from a hoover. At this show, entitled If You Leave Me I’m not Coming, you will not be looking at paintings on a wall but sculptures occupying all the space in the gallery – and I mean all the space. For example, the cartoon-like ‘running man’ will launch himself from the gallery roof and be suspended in mid air. The sculpture has a motor in its chest which drives the pistons to make the man’s legs move.

There is also a giant wind chime, measuring four-and-a-half metres. It will be tuned to the ‘tritonic’ scale, which was banned during the Middle Ages because it was believed to summon the devil. Meanwhile, Weber’s ‘bee paintings’ have been created by bees themselves; during their first cleansing flight of the year they excrete on white surfaces, in this case on canvases.

Alongside Weber’s solo exhibition, there is a second exhibition at curated by the artist himself. The show, entitled Already There, is a collection of 200 objects and art works loaned from collections at Tate, the Science Museum, The Ashmolean, University College London and the Bode Museum in Berlin.

Describing the objects as the ‘foundations’ of his art works, they include tools used by pre-historic man; Bronze Age animal sculptures; a bird cage from a lunatic asylum; an armadillo skeleton; brain coral and Regency anatomical models complete with lift-out organs. The objects will be displayed alongside loans from Tate, chosen by Weber, dating back to 1661 and some of the artists include Louise Bourgeois, William Hogarth and Gilbert and George.

The new exhibition opens on Saturday and run until 8th January. Entry to Nottingham Contemporary is free.

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A new perspective at Lakeside’s Djanogly Art Gallery: There’s more to Lowry than pictures of matchstick men

Salford’s MediaCity is the new home of the BBC and, with its futuristic glass buildings and sleek architectural design, it is a world away from the industrial landscapes depicted by L. S. Lowry.

The towering factory chimneys have now been replaced by huge office buildings, miserable-looking people have been replaced by creative types and the city is lit up rather than bathed in a stagnant smog.

Lowry’s world is preserved at the excellent Lowry Arts Centre at Salford Quays and public interest in his work has not diminished over the years; his depictions of communities and places of work hark back to Britain’s industrial past, which for better or worse, is fast becoming a distant memory.

This autumn, Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre will be hosting a new exhibition of Lowry’s work, from the industrial landscapes of the 1920s to some of his lesser known works when he became interested in representations of figure groups and individual figure painting. Known for his representation of concrete subject matters, this exhibition, which opens on 16th November, is also an exploration of the abstract.

The 1930s proved to be a dark time for Lowry: he had lost both of his parents and was experiencing a growing sense of isolation. It led to him producing an extraordinary series of paintings which also reflect the sense of national foreboding about the impending war. In contrast to the busy street scenes of his earlier paintings, the ones from this era contain scenes of empty, industrial wastelands and portraits of blank, ravaged faces.

By the time the war ended, Lowry was no longer required to look after his invalid mother and began travelling around the UK. The result was pictures of the wild landscapes of the Lake District, Yorkshire Moors and Derbyshire, along with a series of sea paintings. Alongside the impressive paintings, this collection also includes a number of pencil drawings, from rudimentary sketches on the back of an old envelope to sophisticated drafts for his paintings.

Entry to Djanogly Art Gallery at Lakeside Arts Centre, University of Nottingham runs until 5th February. Entry is free.

 

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Tributes to Jean Genet at Nottingham Contemporary

As a teenager, the rebellious Jean Genet was one of my favourite writers. The son of a prostitute, he grew up in poverty and ended up in jail for petty crimes. He turned to writing while in prison – and later became the darling of the French art world and the toast of well-known figures such as Jean Cocteau, Picasso and Jean-Paul Sartre.

But it is Genet’s association with social and political activism in the 1950s and 1960s that was the dominant theme at Nottingham Contemporary‘s new exhibition Act One & Two which opened on Friday. The break down of the exhibition into two acts was extremely effective. Act One is a solo exhibition by Marc Camille Chaimowicz (featuring five other artists) – and here we see an exploration of the personal realm. There are rooms strewn with personal objects and naked bodies which stand vulnerable yet defiant.

Act Two examines the political life of Genet, particularly his association with the Black Panther movement in America and his campaigns against colonialism. The pairing of the personal and the political is an apt reflection of Genet’s life. He was punished for something personal (his sexuality) – but the struggles he faced and the norms that he subverted in his literature came to represent the struggles faced by many other groups during this era and came at a time when the civil rights and the feminist movements were taking off.

This exhibition was launched alongside the Contemporary’s Summer Party which was a great night of music, dancing and drinks on the terrace.

This Thursday, I am also looking forward to a talk by art historian Sarah Wilson entitled Genet: From the Existential to the Post Colonial. For tickets, click here.

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