Museums at Night appears yet to reach the US, but if any cultural impresarios are reading, this concept is ripe for import. In the UK it’s an annual extravaganza which sees nearly 500 museums throwing open their doors after hours. It generates crowds, good will and new audiences, taking its cue in turn from continental Europe where the phenomenon first took root in Germany in 1997.
On May 17th, event co-ordinators Culture24 sent me to a small coastal town in Kent which, thanks to the festive circumstances, was hosting a world famous artist. The venue was Georges House, Folkestone, and the big name draw was Spencer Tunick, known best for photographing nudes in their hundreds and thousands. Yes, whole crowds of people in the buff.
This project, which often gets the wrong kind of attention, makes most sense when you learn about Tunick’s upbringing. His father was a photographer and an entrepreneur. He would shoot folk on holiday, develop the film as fast as possible, then return to the scene to sell back his images to his more or less willing subjects. Tunick became an apprentice who learned early what it meant to deal with crowds.
His Museums at Night project has been developed with arts organisation Strange Cargo and entailed the capture of more than 150 nudes on the Folkestone seafront. The results were slotted into key-chain viewfinders, such as his father would have used. Tunick calls these scopes, and the show here in Folkestone involves the installation of these colourful creations, each one lit with LED lights.
The installation is in reassuringly good taste. Perspex housing hangs from the ceiling and divides the room. As you peer into each scope, you cannot but be aware of the people to your right, left, and on the other side of the divide, the people in front. There is nothing furtive about the experience, which may be why participants all appear to be so happy with the results.
One woman even hands me her scope, giving me little choice but to put the plastic gizmo to my eye and get an eyeful. I tell her the photo is “beautiful” and we go on chatting about other things. Well, it is certainly an icebreaker. It turns out she too is a photographer, with a specialism in self portraiture, also nude. “Sara’s an artist,” Tunick tells me. “You should discover her!”
Certainly, there are plenty of discoveries to be made here. Another woman searches for her scope and asks, “Have you seen me yet?” In truth, people look so different with their clothes off that is is hard to say for sure. The installation is a parade of male and female bodies, most in good shape. All stand on a jetty facing the camera. It is about as erotic as a nudist colony, ie; not very.
But the punters here in Folkestone don’t seem to mind. The venue and the street outside are buzzing. Visitors have to queue to scrutinise the scopes. Looking at people with no clothes on turns out to be the most fun you can have with your own proverbial clothes on. The high spirits might worry you just a little; after all art is supposed to be a serious endeavour, not a peep show.
Tunick, mind you, comes across as perfectly sincere. And as he has said, his work falls between land art, sculpture and performance art. The critical faculties may be stunned by mass nudity, but the format here in Folkestone calls to mind the unimpeachable Marcel Duchamp. His final artwork of course, a nude by the name of Étant donnés, also employed the keyhole approach to viewing.
Comparisons should probably end there. Duchamp’s faceless, depilated nude spreads her legs for the viewer and is quite the opposite of this surprisingly wholesome show in Folkestone. You would also have to visit Philadelphia to see Duchamp’s installation, whereas for the art lovers of Folkestone, these nudes have come to their doorstep. But in any history of the nude in art, you would surely have to mention both contrasting angles.
Photos will not prepare you for Department of the Interior by Tom Dale, nor will the description: a bouncy castle made from black leatherette. But stepping round a corner at Aid & Abet, Cambridge, UK, there it was, roaring with the sound of an air pump, trembling slightly, inviting allcomers.
â€œYou canâ€™t access this piece,â€ says Dale, â€œYou have to imagine that youâ€™re bouncing on it, which is twitching the nerves between the brain and the fingertips.â€ So black leather, as he acknowledges, has never promised so much fun.
This is troublesome. Dale describes the viewing experience as â€œalgebraâ€, in which you gauge your own reaction against those of other people. â€œWhat Iâ€™m interested in is an examination of yourself as well as what we see before us.â€
The London-based sculptor identifies two opposing pleasures at work here. Along with the idea of a kidsâ€™ party, There are he points out â€œS&M overtonesâ€. One is a public activity, the other very private.Â â€œWhat I think is interesting about the work is it traps two opposing forces,â€ he says.
In many ways it is this potential for the tasteless which led to the workâ€™s creation. Dale uses the word â€˜wrongâ€™ as if the castle is a moral error: â€œWhen something is wrong, we are drawn to engage with it. When things are wrong, we want to put them right,â€ he says. â€œWe want to put the house in order.â€
And yet bouncy castles are a fine metaphor for our current circumstances. They represent the soft power which governs most lives in the West. Bright colours and shrieking kids tend to obscure this, but in forbidden leather thereâ€™s no mistaking the work of a hidden hand.
There was nearby another monumental piece in which power was hinted at rather than demonstrated. This was High Noon, a red carpet bearing the footprints of a missile launcher: a cruciform image from the crushed and oily outlines of a very heavy stand.
Research is critical for Dale, and he demonstrates as much with a knowledge of obsolete military hardware. He tells me the imprint of this launcher was for a Thunderbird, developed in the 1950s, the last surface-to-air missile that Britain produced.
The artist compares such technology to the convoluted mechanical fantasies of Victorian artist Heath Robinson. â€œYou would fire it into space and press a button and the nose cap comes off and it throws a chain net over the airplane that it’s nearby, which is kind of amazing.â€
â€œWhat working on this scale has taught me is that you need to do your research. You need to go to places. You need to visit people who supply the materials or the vehicles or the objects you need,â€ he says. This lets Dale take resulting decisions on a level he calls, â€œVery microscopic.â€
As with Department of the Interior, High Noon invites and frustrates a desire to step on board. â€œItâ€™s kind of like a homeopathic pill,â€ says Dale of his cold war trace. So perhaps what both pieces lead to, in their playful way, is an immunity to fear of power structures.
Armed with a recent PhD, Dale is ready with plenty of theories about the effects and the workings of his chosen art form. But according to this audacious sculptor, what he does relates less to philosophy than it does to knowledge.
â€œIt’s about how we organise, how we arrange things, how we fit into these things that we know,â€ he says. â€œThese works here are, if you like, knots or joints of culminations of a certain kind of knowledge, but then it becomes dissolved.â€Â So, again perhaps, an apparatus of knowledge cannot always stand up to critical engagement, certainly not to comical engagement.
In conversation with Dale, you find he moves nimbly from metaphor to metaphor, and never without a sense of humour. So he will also describe his works as, â€œbeing like a ventriloquistâ€™s dummy, but when I take my hand out they’re still telling me thingsâ€.
As for the contest between the monumental works he brings to the gallery, and the virtual realm in which we sometimes occupy, Dale states his intention to, â€œproduce an object that releases ideas or discusses things in a different way at a different speed, with a different currency.â€
These are left field works from a left field talent. By way of an aside the artist puts forward his latest theory of mind: â€œIâ€™m beginning to think that our brain exists outside of us as well, that itâ€™s almost like we have an invisible unicornâ€™s horn type brain.â€
â€œI think thereâ€™s a brain which only exists when we start to speak or when we start to act,â€ he continues, â€œMaybe I need to work on the formal construction of that a bitâ€.Â It does sound like the starting point for another push-me, pull-me sculpture, the visceral brain by Tom Dale.
Guest post by Mark Sheerin
It is more than 1,000 miles from Luton, England, to Reykjavik, Iceland. But Dominic from the UK town appears to love a good caper. Why else would he put together a group show on very little money in one of the most far flung and expensive cities in Europe?
â€œIt was done on a wing and a prayer,â€ he tells me on the phone from his Luton studio. â€œThe art was just really, really ambitious considering we didnâ€™t have much money to play with. Itâ€™s amazing what you can do with a cardboard tube and a delivery van.â€
Five artists took part. And the show has just run for a month at gallery Kling & Bang. Along with Dominic, the full bill included Gavin Turk, Mark Titchner, Laura White and Peter Lamb. The show went by the name London Utd. â€œIt’s kind of doing what it says on the tin,â€ says Dominic, whose eponymous town is just a twenty minute train ride from the UK capital.
Not that he is the first to cross the Atlantic to the artist led space. He tells me that Paul McCarthy and Jason Rhoades have also shown at the dynamic and co-operative venue. And Dominic takes the opportunity to recount the tale of Kling & Bangâ€™s legendary appearance at Frieze Art Fair.
â€œThey did a Frieze Project in London in 2008 called Sirkus. Itâ€™s an incredible story,â€ says the artist, telling me that Sirkus was the name of a Reykyavik bar: â€œThis place was the hub, the heartbeat of the arts communityâ€. But after nine years of business, Sirkus closed down, leaving Kling & Bang free to turn the faÃ§ade and fixtures into a temporary installation for the art fair.
Dominic warms to his tale: â€œThey arrived at Heathrow in October 2008 and basically all their credit cards had been stopped because the [Icelandic] crash had suddenly happened overnight and so this bar, which was a mirror of good times and place to meet, became that again in London.â€ Word soon went round about the penniless Icelanders with the reconstructed bar.
Things are a bit better in Reykjavik now and in its way London Utd has become another bridge between the art scenes in both cities. Mark Titchnerâ€™s piece was a piece of text in Icelandic, which read The World Isnâ€™t Working. (Perhaps the UK crash is yet to come.)
Gavin Turk meanwhile offered a twelve and a half metre diptych inspired by Andy Warholâ€™s Death and Disaster series and featuring the four wheeled emblem of working class Britain the Ford Transit. Laura White produced no less than 54 drawings of photos of sculptures which she herself had made. And Peter Lamb translated the shifting detritus on his studio floor into two large abstract canvases.
Asked about one of his own works in the show, Dominic is ready with another yarn. â€œThat photo was done as a tribute to Paul Young,â€ he tells me. Like the artist, the singer came from Luton. â€œHe used to work at Vauxhall [car plant] in the early 80s and he told someone I know in the canteen once that he was going to be a global pop star and then literally 18 months later he was, with Everytime You Go Away.â€
The track resonates with many a Lutonian and inspired a Dominic from Luton performance at an event called CafÃ© Almanac organised by Bedford Creative Arts. This involved sourcing an 80s wig from Luton Indoor Market, posing for a portrait artist in the shopping centre and getting 5,000 badges made to cover a cheap suit. â€œI just stood up in front of about 50 people in this Working Menâ€™s Club on a Saturday afternoon and sung my heart out,â€ recalls the artist.
This took place under a net filled with 200 balloons in the colours of the local soccer team, intended for release in the final verse. However â€œThe net got caught in all of my badges so I had 200 balloons attached to me and I panicked and – it wasn’t scripted at all – I basically ended up having a fight with these balloons and stamping on them and stuff and it brought the house down actually.â€
But despite the hazardous stagecraft, Dominicâ€™s â€œbiggest challengeâ€ is a self-proclaimed inability to sing. So it comes as no surprise that the artist thinks most performance art is too earnest. â€œPeople would argue with this, but I think there’s a duty to entertain,â€ he says, â€œThat’s just my take on it. That’s my little mantra.â€ Even the anecdotes which relate to each of his gigs are compelling experiences.
As a final aside, itâ€™s worth pointing out that the artist formerly known as Dominic Allan comes from one of the most derided towns in the UK. His â€œfrom Lutonâ€ tag is a sticky piece of cultural baggage. Dominic tells me that the name just came about through being easy to remember when he ordered materials.
Now, he claims, â€œItâ€™s just a very glorious vehicle for the idea of the underdog and also to shove it back in peopleâ€™s faces now because Lutonâ€™s one of those towns which people laugh about . . . The more I go on, the more I realise that it is serious, and it is seriousâ€.
So thatâ€™s Dominic, from Luton, easy to laugh with, hard to laugh at. Prepare to be entertained if he ever comes to your town.
Mark Sheerin is an art writer from Brighton, UK. He can also be found on Culture24, Hyperallergic, Frame & Reference and his own blog criticismism.com
Yesterday I came across this interview about Ai Weiwei. The interview takes place between Spiegel International and Roger Buergel, a curator who first invited Ai Weiwei to Documenta in 2007. Buergel is certainly quotable, and the thrust of his sentiment is that Western artists are not as bent out of shape about Ai Weiwei’s absence as we ought to be; he suggests an unconscious but palpable jealousness as the cause of our apathy. “Young Western artists are producing works that amount to nothing more than footnotes in art history, and then this Chinese artist appears who takes a totally different approach and makes 98 percent of the art world look very, very old.” It definitely shocked me into paying attentionâ€”what is perhaps the larger point of such statements. It is not about what is being said, but what might be done.
Ai Weiwei has been missing for 38 days, since the Police refused to let him board a plan to Hong Kong. His latest disappearance was not his first run-in with Chinese government authority. According to anÂ earlier article in The Washington Post,Â “In 2009, in the western city of Chengdu, Ai was beaten so badly that he required surgery to have blood drained from his brain. Late last year, he was stopped at Beijingâ€™s airport from flying to South Korea because authorities feared he might go to Oslo to attend the Nobel ceremony for Liu [2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner].” He was also prevented from having an exhibition in Beijing.
At the same time, I’m not sure what Buergel wants from us. What exactly is his call to action? It seems to me that twitter, facebook and a plethora of media outlets have been regularly fore fronting their concern for Ai Weiwei’s whereabouts. Petitions have been circulating for months now and artists have been making work in tribute. “Anish Kapoor has dedicated his largest ever artwork â€“ a truly enormous cathedral-like space made from inflated PVC â€“ to the missing Chinese artistÂ Ai Weiwei” (Guardian); Kapoor’s installation opens today, May 11th, and will be open to the public until June 23rd at the Grand Palais in Paris. It is called Leviathan, after Hobbes’ instrumental work about social-political structures.Â Kapoor suggest all the galleries and museums in the world close down for a day, in honor of this missing colleague.
What an amazing thought.
It’s horrifyingâ€”the idea of someone getting swept up into absence. Of course it’s unacceptable that anyone would have to undergo such an ordeal. Yet there seems to be a message in Ai Weiwei’s particular missing-ness, because he boasted such an international profile.Â “‘If they are willing to go this far with someone like him, then all bets are off,’ said Joshua Rosenzweig, who heads the Hong Kong office of the Dui Hua Foundation, a human-rights organization” (Wall Street Journal).
It is important to counter a sense of powerlessness. I certainly have no idea what someone could do to impact this situation, perhaps in part because there is nothing to see. The actionâ€”whatever it isâ€”takes place out of public view, in impossible-to-reach cloisters. Only the absconding was visible. Â We have no direct access to the artist, only public-go-betweens. Governments are big and it feels difficult, if not impossible, to imagine how to influence such powers.Â Nevertheless, Kapoor takes a positive step towards a solution, outlining a possible path in order to participate in an action that is poetic, peaceable and demonstrative of a trans-national solidarity.
Photos from Artissima, Turin’s contemporary art fair
“We make money not art” has uploaded a few of the many images they took at Artissima, Turin Italy’s contemporary art fair. If the photos shown are indicative of the rest of the show it looks to be something not to be missed. Read more here
This week in “Can’t Muster the Engergy to Not Even Care About This” is a toss up
Cant decide which is of less interest, work begins on Lady Gaga’s 8 wax figures at DC’s Madame Tussauds or Sophie Crumb (daughter of Robert Crumb) releases a book of drawings that make her father look like Albrecht Durer.Â Read more here & here
Someone is selling off their VIP Access to Art Basel Miami Beach
Someone has put their VIP packet up on Craigslist for a minimum of $500 which gets you access to all the major events hosted by Art Basel and theÂ SatelliteÂ Fairs. It doesn’t get you into the Delano Hotel though unfortunatelyÂ you still need an even rarer commodityÂ to do that, an actuall young & sexy woman on your arm to get the pleasure of paying $16 for a mojito. Buy your way in here
The British Government denys export license in effort to keep a Turner Painting Sold in Auction to Getty Trust Â in British Hands
The BritishÂ governmentÂ has announced Wednesday that the required export license for â€œModern Rome â€“ Campo Vaccino,â€ which Turner painted in 1839, will be held up through Feb. 2, and potentially until Aug. 1, to give potential buyers who want to keep the painting on British soil a chance to match the J. Paul Getty Trustâ€™s bid. Read more here
Rochelle Slovin Director of Museum of the Moving Image To Step Down After Renovation
Read more here
Amedeo Modigliani Nude Painting fetched a record-setting price of nearly $70 million
A wise woman with striking red hair told me a few weeks back that the nude is coming back stronger then ever and she may just be right. Amedeo Modigliani’s Nu assis sur un divan (La Belle Romaine) [Nude Sitting on a Divan (The Beautiful Roman Woman)], a canvas from an important series of nudes, drew five telephone bidders into a heated competition at the fall sale of impressionist and modern art ultimately selling to an anonymous buyer for $68.9 Million US. Read more here & here
The LA Times Wrings it Hands over Art Walks
The LA Times asks do Art Walks help or hurt the local scene, they might as well ask does wine production effect gallery openings; its a zen question that keeps getting asked and its ultimately pointless. Just be glad people show up at all since the overlap between the two worlds is so small if it was a Venn diagram it would look like a pair ofÂ spectacles. Read more here
The Art Newspaper Asks Does Sex Sell at Frieze
Read more here