Thursday, October 12, 2017

Patricia Frischer: Letter from London, Part 3 Oct 2017

Whiteread was the first woman to win the Turner Prize in 1993 and now more than 20 years later we see a wide range of her work on view in the rather small rooms of the Tate Britain Gallery. One large work was included and seems squashed into the space. But the rest of the work is rather small scale and takes you on a journey from first negative space art in white plaster to colored plaster to top cast instead of internal cast in resin and glass. At first glance the exhibition is confusing but as you read about her development stage by stage it makes more sense. Her journey is not everyone’s journey but I felt very strongly that she has been true to her interests. My favorite work is the large cast resin piece in the great hall of the museum. There are decisions she has made about recording the undersides and inner surfaces of chairs which are subtle but the piece with all its parts and colours is a very strong statement, which again, I think reflects her true nature.  

We returned to our hotel, The Feathers in Woodstock, to the most amazing meal. Rabbit and fois gras lasagna, follow by the most tender mussels served in a cider cream with shallots and a sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Elegant service including finger bowls….this was food fit for the palace.

This is the relatively new museum in London, really a gift to the art community from Damien Hirst. It is not too slick, with three large rooms on each of two floors and a fab staircase, and the nod to Hirst with the Pharmacy Café re-installed from its original Islington location. It shows one artist at a time and changes three times a year, so this is only the fifth show.

The moment I saw the first work by Dan Colen, Darwin said I was beaming. I walked into this large space and the work filled it up with the largest American flag I have ever seen close up. I was so impressed with the scale that it took me a minute to figure out that the weird white metal above the flag was actually the flag pole and the great chunk of concrete was the foundation, ripped out of the ground. So this was a gesture toward all the statues that have been downed, from rewriting some moral stance in the US to the toppling of dictators in the Middle East.  

As you go further into the room you see the cartoon like holes in the wall like a figure has run right through it. That cartoon element goes through all the room and you can even see inside the walls to the construction of the building.  In the next room with a huge squatting Scooby Doo about to take a crap, there are also clear and brown bottles that have been distorted and left amongst cigarette butts so the room smells of smoke. On the back wall is an entire huge silver metal studded wall.

We moved on to a room of pictures and the one that grew on me was title “me & you” which you could just barely see in the smoke from the candle. But moving into the upstairs you can upon a room full of chairs which glass bubbles or whopper cushions on them. Moving close the paint appears grainy and then I realized this was GUM! Huge quantities of gum were uses in abstract works that were just delicious. Room 5 had a sprayed Wile Coyote amongst lots of funny sayings. The final room with the clown, the naked man and the Kool Aid Jug man was such a strange combination that it worked especially with the large color field pictures on opposite walls. Dan Colen is a man of many materials and seems to be master of all of them.

It takes about two hours to drive to Woodstock just west of Oxford. Blenheim Palace is large and imposing with a half mile walk just from the parking lot to the front door. When you first walk in you see the digital display that Jenny Holzer has set up hanging from the middle of the hall like a simple chandelier. But what is really impressive but subtle is the set of curved black and white marble benches, each engraved with a phrase from poems by Anna Swirszczynska. She perfectly matched the red and white marble in another room with the existing marble in the surrounding panels again with engraved statements. They seem like they have always been there. 

As you wonder through the incredible elaborate rooms of Blenheim, Holzer has placed the occasional art work. Most are not that visually interesting being enlarged documents with almost all the words redacted and then blocked colored by the artist. It is the concept of these documents about war crimes, forgotten causes and combat challenges that is poignant, just as the testaments from veterans that is contained in the digital messages touches your heart. There are two displays of human bones all ethically sources. The bones next to the bone china and displayed on an ornate gold table were compulsive viewing.  

My favorite work in the show is an embroidered spread on the Churchill birthing bed that is a lament for a dying soldier.  But the digital display around a statue that mimics the arch of a water fountain seen through the window beyond is eye catching. And when we returned at night to see the light show of rolling testaments writ large on the outside of these facades, it was very impressive. One display, on the banks of the small pond, had reflections that were so out of focus for us that it just appeared to be ghostly lights moving up and reflected down into the water. That was magic.

We returned to our hotel, The Feathers in Woodstock, to the most amazing meal. Rabbit and fois gras lasagna, follow by the most tender mussels served in a cider cream with shallots and a sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Elegant service including finger bowls….this was food fit for the palace. 

I came away from this show so sad…Basquiat died of a drug overdose at 27 years old in 1988. It is hard to tell if the drugs brought on the strange but deeply intuitive combinations of images and words that he presents, or if the drugs just curtailed what could have been an amazing production of art yet to come. The Art Market has taken full advantage of the shortness of his career. This year just one of his works went for $110.5 million, but even in his life time, he sold art worth that much, which is a lot of money for a Haitian American boy to produce by that age.  No photographs were allowed in this show, so I sourced some of the images I saw online. It was interesting to see some of his source materials. He was self-educated and influences seem to come from all directions.  I think the self-portraits give lots of insight into this lively, charming, disturbed and talented product of the 80’s.

One last comment about the Spanish restaurant Pizarro where we dined to cheer me up. It was lively which means a bit too noisy for us, but the staff were so welcoming that we had to stay. The chorizo was such a high quality that we ate the whole plate of sliced thin delights. We also had a chicken croquette with a rich but light béchamel sauce interior and the most tender and delicious hake with a clam and quail’s egg garnish with samphire which is a sea vegetable. And their cava was the best sparkling Spanish wine that I have had so far (2014 Raventós I Blanc “de Nit” Rosado Penedès a combo of Macabeo, Parellada, Xare-lo).

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