The problem with 'Australia'

So I went to the press preview for 'Australia' at the Royal Academy on Tuesday. I'm writing a review for Artlink and for a couple of weeks now I've been worried my instincts (that it would be disappointing, conservative, terrible... that my snobbery and cultural bias would cloud my objectivity...) would get in the way of me looking at the show with an open mind.

And so I tried. And I failed. Because it really isn't great. Does it warrant the casual racism and vitriol dressed as criticism it's receiving in the British press? Well, no.  But it's not great. It's not even very good. I'm going to need to let my thoughts marinate for a while yet in the hope that something by way of coherent argument emerges. Because right now it's just an exasperated mash of frustrations.

I can't believe this is the same institution that hosted the seminal Sensation back in 1997I mean, where's all that curatorial chutzpah gone?

What a missed opportunity. National Gallery of Australia, I'm blaming you too.

 

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Margate: An away day and a visit to Turner Contemporary

Turner Contemporary, welcoming their one millionth visitor.

Turner Contemporary, welcoming their one millionth visitor.

We took the REcreative Editorial Board to Margate for an Away Day yesterday. It was a threefold opportunity – the chance to support the group through an Action Learning Set in the morning; a space to dedicate to some reflection and evaluation of the website; and the chance to visit Turner Contemporary and see the brilliant exhibition ‘Curiosity – Art and The Pleasures of Knowing’.

‘Curiosity’ is a Hayward touring show – it passed me by completely on the Southbank – and it’s only at Turner for another couple of weeks now I think but it’s well worth the trip (especially if the sun is out and you can eat fish and chips on the beach afterwards. Tick.)

Tacita Dean, Manhattan Mouse Museum, 16mm film (still), 2011

Considered, intelligent, layered, eloquent, witty and fascinating are just a handful of adjectives to describe what it’s like to spend even an hour wandering through the show and curiosity is in equal parts piqued and unpacked.  Historical displays of work by da Vinci and Galileo keep company with miniature anatomical models made from ivory, 18th century lithographs documenting strange discoveries and stranger stories, while contemporary works by Susan Hiller, Jimmy Durham and Tacita Dean among many others articulate curiosity for the 21st century.

Dean’s 16mm portrait of the ageing pop god Claes Oldenburg as he shuffles about his studio quietly dusting and rearranging his extensive of found objects, is particularly gentle and yet incredibly moving.

Action learning set, in action.

Action learning set, in action.

The morning session was my first experience of an action learning set and it was such a worthwhile thing to have offered to the board’s members, who are all variously about to start university, currently studying or now out in the ‘real world’ and struggling to find the balance between paid employment and artistic practice. My colleague and I felt quite strongly that giving the morning over to the board and their own concerns was important, for their own professional development but also, to develop this ‘space’ as somewhere where they can support each other while supporting and evolving the site.

And then in the afternoon, we gave some time to evaluating the last 12 months, which is how long we’ve had the board now, and reflecting on what’s worked well in terms of content, how we might better use social media to distribute said content and evaluating the role and success – and experience – of the board. Lots of outcomes and lots to think about. And a lot to be proud of too I think.

Add in the fish and chips, and the late-afternoon ice cream and really, it was a solidly successful day.

 

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A round-up: Miles Aldridge, Somerset House; Katharina Fritsch, Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square; Michael Landy, ‘Saints Alive’, National Gallery

Yesterday I took in a couple of exhibitions in and around central London. What follows is more a collection of immediate responses than any sort of at-length review. Take from them what you will…

First up, Miles Aldridge, ‘I Only Want You to Love Me’, Somerset House, 10 July – 9 September 2013

Miles Aldridge for Vogue Italia

A career retrospective of sorts of the fashion photographer Miles Aldridge, this tight show was bright and shiny and visually stunning with lush, saturated colour and a highly strung sense of pop.

Aldridge’s creative collaborations with Italian Vogue in particular are pretty impressive – he conjures these dark, female domestic narratives and tableaux, working initially from sketches and stories,  which Vogue then dress in high couture. Think super-saturated plasticised Stepford Wives and a compelling, creepy beauty.

 

From here, it was a short walk to Trafalgar Square to see Katharina Fritsch, Hahn/Cock, Fourth Plinth, 25 July 2013 – 2014.

Katharina Fritsch, Hahn/Cock, Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, 2013-2014

The latest Fourth Plinth commission was unveiled in Trafalgar Square this week, Hahn/Cock by German sculpture Katharina Fritsch. There’s a lot of mileage to be had in this work in the form of cheap gags but as an obvious metaphor for all the other male posturing going on in Trafalgar Square – from statues to street performers – it’s a straightforward enough work to appreciate with enough visual bang to be an effective addition to the Square.

And what with giving Boris Johnson the chance to make a complete, well, cock of himself by not being able to say the word ‘cock’ on its unveiling, well that was just a free gift with commission really.

Lastly, a visit to see Michael Landy, ‘Saints Alive’, National Gallery, 23 May – 24 November 2013

Michael Landy has been at the National Gallery since 2009 as the eighth Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist. Bringing his interests in assemblage, destruction and the story of things to bear here, Landy’s seven mechanical sculptures bring to life the deaths of several saints including Jerome, Thomas, Francis of Assissi and Catherine of Alexandria who are portrayed elsewhere in the gallery in paintings by artists including Botticelli and Carlo Crivelli.

These larger than life sculptures are animated by the pushing of pedals and pulling of levers and there’s something quite shocking about seeing Saint Jerome thump his fibreglass chest with a heavy rock in the hope of quietening his impure sexual thoughts, never mind Apollonia reliving her torture by yanking her teeth out with a pair of pliers.

There’s a great beauty to the sculptural, mechanical elements of these works and Landy’s preparatory collages, which decorate the walls of the first hall, are just exquisite. It’s well worth a visit.

 

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