Serpentine Gallery Pavilion

2013-08-01 14.12.15Each year the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens commissions a temporary structure for the summer.  This year it has been designed by Sou Fujimoto.

It is a common theme, year on year, to play with the difference between an inside space and an outside space and to build something which allows the sky and the surrounding trees and park to be part of the experience of being inside the structure.   This year is no different, and the structure is a set of interconnecting cubes which appear to hang in the air.

The Pavilion is usually home to a Fortnum and Masons pop up cafe (although perhaps ‘pop-up’ is not quite the right description for a cafe that supplies plastic spoons covered in silver, notwithstanding its very transient nature), and we gravitated towards it, progressing from the shade of one tree to the next across the park, on one of the hottest days of the summer.

Despite the open weave look of the structure, it did afford a little shade, and the open ends allowed what breeze there was through.  The extravagantly priced bottled water barely touched the sides, so thirsty were we all.

The design allows for, in fact encourages, exploration of some of the intermediate levels off the ground, by setting perspex steps and platforms at appropriate intervals; the architect’s intent apparently being that each visitor can choose their own individual vantage point.  There is evidently, however, not much to physically prevent the unruly from climbing too high and while we were there, enjoying our ‘on the ground in the shade’ perspective, the young custodians, walkie talkies hitched to their hips were being kept busy remonstrating with a couple of feral children who refused to obey the instructions not to climb to the top of the thing.

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Connected to Cove Park

This time next month, all being well, I shall be in Edinburgh experiencing the Festival.  It’s (almost) shaming to admit that while I’ve visited the city many times, this will be my first visit to the Festival.  Well, my first visit apart from a family trip to the Tattoo in the 1970s.

In an uncharacteristic moment of precision, I tried to work out which year that must have been.  I was quite young, it wasn’t long after we’d moved to Scotland, and there were formation motorcycle riders performing amongst all the military bands and dog displays.  And then I remembered that knowing what the seating plan for the Tattoo on the Castle Esplanade looked like help me decipher a significant clue in a TV adventure programme I was glued to, well before the protagonists worked it out.  So if I could find out when the programme was broadcast, I’d know when I’d been.

If only I could remember the name of the show.  This launched me into one of those google searches that against all the odds brought me to the right answer.  It went along the lines of ‘it had that actress in it who was in that other thing in the 1980s about meeting the man who jilted her at the altar years before.  Wasn’t he in Jesus Christ Superstar in the West End?   Her name was Jan something…..?’

It worked. The Long Chase (starring Jan Francis,who subsequently appeared in Just Good Friends with Paul Nicholas in the 1980s) was first broadcast in 1972.  So I saw the Tattoo sometime before then.  (I even found an online discussion thread petitioning for the issue of The Long Chase on DVD.  Interestingly, no-one, me included, seems to recall whether it was in colour or black and white…..)

Anyway, all of this is just preamble to illustrate how long overdue it is for me to visit the Edinburgh Festival.  and even though it’s still a month away, I am already aware of the risk of over gorging on it.  There is so much, largely because it is not one thing, but several combined, and there is a temptation to want to try a little bit of each.  One mercy is that as I am not a fan of comedy I am able to ignore a significant proportion of the Fringe(!).

This week the thing that has been exciting me at the prospect of all the things I am going to see, is that I have noticed pre publicity for works from people I have met during one of my sojourns at Cove Park.  One of the founding ideas of Cove Park is to have a mixture of artistic disciplines there, to allow people from different backgrounds and with different objectives to take time out, watch the weather and the light change on the surface of the loch and the hills beyond, to meet and to exchange ideas and inspirations.

I’ve been very fortunate in the people I have met there.  Many of them were novelists and poets, but I’ve also met visual artists and actors there.  I don’t know them well, but have shared a late night drink in front of the roaring fire in the bar at the Knockderry House Hotel, tartan carpet and all, and heard about their projects when they were in the very early stages of thinking and development.  I am therefore full of anticipation at the prospect of seeing them come to fruition as part of the Festival.

Adura Onashile  is performing her one woman show HeLa  inspired by the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were used, without her permission as raw material for some of the most significant  medical research in the last century.  I met Adura as she was doing the first research for the project, so in a very tiny way I feel like I was there at the beginning, so have to see it come to fruition.

Brody Condon was on a preliminary visit for a joint project with Christine Borland and was using Cove Park as an accommodation base when I met him.  I’m not sure at that time that they had a very well formulated idea of what the nature of their project would be, other than they would be doing it jointly; so I’m really interested to see what they developed together, especially as it sounds as if it will be installed in an unusual venue.

Who knew I was so well connected?

Lichtenstein – A Second Visit

20130312_212555I’ve not often been to see the same exhibition twice, perhaps because there are always other new things to see, or it might be that if I really enjoyed it the first time, there is a fear that it won’t seem as good the second time around.  In the case of the Lichtenstein show currently on at Tate Modern  it was the invitation of a friend to join him at an evening reception which took me back for a second time.

My first visit had been on Members’ Preview day, where for the cost of an annual fee, I have the opportunity to see the new shows on the day before they are fully open to the public, where there are fewer people around to get in between me and the art work.  The difference between that experience and the one at an evening viewing as a guest of one of the show’s sponsors is like that between flying premium economy and first class.

For a start we were invited to enter the gallery after it had closed for the day; the turbine hall, which before I’ve only ever experienced teaming with noise and people, was near deserted, the lights, apart from some strategically place yellow and red up lighters, were off.  There were fresh flowers and individual cloth hand towels in the ladies toilets, and we were alone on the long escalator that took us up to the exhibition level.  There, we were greeted by waiters holding trays of champagne in flutes and wine in large glasses, and waitresses serving minimalist tasty morsels arranged on perspex boxes.

A young woman, her face painted to resemble the benday dots on a Lichtenstein painting, was playing the violin against a backing track supplied by a serious looking DJ with a lot of kit in the corner.  Red and yellow lights projected more dots onto the floor and the collected guests.  We were all being given an immersive Lichtenstein experience.

After a speech from the sponsor and one from Chris Dercon  the Director of Tate Modern, we were invited to visit the show.  We weren’t the first to leave the bar, but we were by no means the last.  The show was as I had remembered; I was drawn to the same things as before, but, with a different companion this time, the conversation was different.  And when our debates about the attractiveness or otherwise of a weeping blond became lively, or when we resorted to reading the booklet to work out what something was, we found ourselves in conversation with one of the Tate curating team,  strategically placed around the rooms.

There came a moment, in the space dedicated to Lichtenstein’s pastiche’s of other painters’ works, a big room containing several large pieces, that we realised we were the only two people there.  Suddenly there was a temptation to do something that would not normally be allowed, maybe a little dance, or a modest twirl around at the very least (the champagne had been very generously poured)…… I favoured the idea of having a troupe of tap dancers come through, but then I always think that when I’m somewhere with an attractively sonorous wooden floor.

It was such a different kind of experience that I think it may have spoiled me for the usual crush at any future ‘blockbuster’ exhibitions I may attend.  I did particularly enjoy chatting to the curators, especially those being deliberately controversial about the work in the show; it was good to know that the spirit of disputation and tongue in cheek disagreement about quality and commerce thrives there.

It was only when I noticed the lady with the clipboard following us, that I realised we were the last people in the exhibition.  (I should probably whisper this……. I think some people never got further than the bar….)

I had a great evening…..Thank you.

Looking at the Representational

This week I spent part of a morning at Tate Britain with some young children.  We started out in the Turner galleries where we tried to interest them in the play of light and experimental painting techniques Turner practised, but in each room it was the more detailed Turners or the Constable work placed alongside for the purposes of comparison and contrast which garnered their approval, and avoided the ‘but what’s it meant to be?’ question.

Afterwards, wandering through the rooms which afford a quick gallop through the highlights of the history of British art, I stopped torturing the children with questions about what they saw and what they liked, and left them to look on their own.  It was fascinating to watch them make their own choices about which paintings they would pause in front of.

I think it would be fair to say that they favoured the representational.

Home Tourist – Courtauld Gallery

Somerset House is an odd building; it looms over the Embankment on one side and presents a forbidding façade onto the Strand on the other.  When I was young, its name was synonymous with the archive of births, marriages and deaths, and the plots of many mystery novels turned on information found within its dusty files.

And then, when I started work and was in an office just further east towards the City, I got to know it as one of  the main Inland Revenue offices, to which I was sent frequently to either deliver, or pick things up from International Division. (I used to volunteer, because it meant I could escape from my desk for a little while.)  It was a time in my career before I started talking in the legislative section numbers that can make tax experts so difficult to comprehend to the uninitiated, and until I arrived at the information desk and repeated the phrase I had learnt by rote before setting off, that I knew whether I was there to collect a blank form, or something specifically addressed to my employer.

I was surprised to feel that frisson of anxiety walking into the courtyard at the weekend, even though International Division have long since moved to The Treasury building, where I’ve been to meetings at which I’ve exchanged arcane and technical shorthand with the best of them.

I visited Somerset House for the first time in decades this weekend to see the Courtauld Gallery, which now occupies rooms which were originally built for the Royal Academy.  I remember when the Courtauld moved there, amid much publicity about the appropriateness of the location, and the more extensive space allowing more public access to the collection, as well as better facilities for the Institute which is dedicated to the study of art history.  That was probably about 20 years ago…… so a visit was long overdue.

Does it make me sound like a Philistine if I say that one of the reasons I enjoyed my trip to the Gallery was that it is of an entirely manageable size?  It’s like a little trot through the history of western art from the Medieval to the post Impressionists, but with exquisite examples of work from each period.  Sometimes in large galleries and national collections I feel totally over faced, overwhelmed by all the things on display and unable to appreciate the things that are there, but there was none of that feeling of saturation here.

The special exhibition on at the moment is of some of the collection’s drawings, and given my current efforts involving my own education in drawing, I looked at them with particular interest.  Now, as never before, I can appreciate the difficulty of achieving some of the effects, and the high level of skill that was needed to execute them.  One drawing of Seurat’s particularly drew my attention, the light figure of a woman emerging from a frantic and dark background.

But if I can never hope to be able to achieve anything with that level of skill, maybe I could have a torchiere to light my hallway?

‘Bauhaus: Art as Life’ at the Barbican

This was the first time I’ve been to the gallery at the Barbican.  I’ve been to the theatre and concert hall many times over the years since it opened, but I still always have to follow the yellow line on the pavement through the confusing buildings from Moorgate.  Even though I think I should know the way by now, as there is so much massive construction work in the area, I’m not confident of it.

That little vestige of doubt, always makes me more alert to my surroundings, and last week, as the weather changed from chilly Spring to full blooded summer overnight, the Barbican looked as extraordinary as I assume its designers could ever have hoped for.  It’s all oppressive, rather brutal concrete, now hemmed in by shinier, curvier newer office blocks, with odd isolated places where a tiny bit of nature touches down.  It is unremittingly urban, and given the density of occupation, curiously quiet; early on a Thursday morning I passed only a couple of other people on my way in.

It felt an appropriately apposite venue for the exhibition on the Bauhaus movement which looked not only at their ideas of architecture and design, but also at their aspiration to create a community of artists, architects and designers whose influence would rub off on each other to achieve even greater creativity.

The show features the artifacts that one might expect, the chairs and tables which predate most of the design in the present day Ikea catalogue, and plans and models of the Bauhaus school in Dessau, but it also displayed toys made for the children of the staff, photos of the many parties they shared, domestic textile designs and fancy dress constumes, showing how much fun they all had experimenting with design and construction.

I am fascinated by patterns.  It wasn’t until I started doing my drawing classes, when this was remarked on by the teacher, that I understood that not everyone is.  But for a pattern appreciator there is a lot to please the eye at this exhibition; asymmetrical and geometric, I could look at it for hours.

S, the friend who came with me, derives the same degree of satisfaction in seeing lines and shapes in harmonious arrangements and it prompted a conversation about how much both of us had enjoyed playing with Cuisenaire Rods as children.  I loved the colours of them, especially the purples and the aquamarines and the endless possibilities of patterns, and how they all fitted together.  And from there, our discussion moved to Tangrams and the hours of concentration making different shapes with the pieces.

The one may not have necessarily led to the others in terms of the history of design, but nonetheless, the exhibition proved what an extraordinary influence the Bauhuas had on contemporary design, graphics and architecture right up to the present.

I did wonder what they would have made of the Barbican gallery itself, an awkward, large space in the centre of a great concrete bunker, with mysterious closed doors cut into nearly every wall, and around each corner.

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