Painting with light

I defy even the most hardened hater of contemporary art not to enjoy Light Show now showing at the Hayward Gallery. It is like a theme park for adults, although, coming to think of it,  I’m sure most children would love it too. It has all the colour and all the fun of the fair and it doesn’t jiggle you about, except perhaps your eyes a bit, and it doesn’t turn you upside down, well only figuratively. There are over 20 works in the exhibition; these are just a few of them. Do go and see it and take an art hating friend.

Cylinfder II at the Hayward Gallery
Leo Villareal: Cylinder II

Leo Villareal’s Cylinder II does everything you want it to; the lights change in complex ways so that you are constantly seeing different patterns and combinations. As there are 19,000 of them, there is apparently no fixed sequence and no beginning or end. Satisfyingly they also reflect in the glass balustrades of the walkways turning them into artworks as well.

A splodge of light like paint from a tin is projected on the floor of the Hayward Gallery
Ceal Floyer: Throw

Ceal Floyer’s Throw is an extraordinarily simple concept but also hugely effective. A splodge of light is projected on the floor like fallen paint from a tin. If you can paint with light, it stands to reason you can spill it too.

Francois Morellet: Lamentable
Francois Morellet: Lamentable

Over recent years, neons have increasingly found their way into art galleries but too often they appear a lazy form of art and the wires detract from the overall effect, but Francoisy Morellet’s Lamentable is extraordinarily elegant. It is apparently lamentable because the segments could form a circle but are hanging instead from a single point. I suppose it would have been too immodest to call it Magnifique

Cerith Wyn Evans
Cerith Wyn Evans: Superstructure

I first saw Cerith Wyn Evans’ Superstructure at the De La Warr Pavilion on a freezing cold day when the fact that the pillars alternatively lit up and radiated heat was especially welcome. The only sculpture in the display that I noticed used heat, it made me wonder, as it had before, how else heat could be incorporated into artworks. I also wondered, rather prosaically perhaps, about the cost of the electricity bill.

People stand looking as Conrad Shawcross sculpture casts shadows in the Hayward Gallery
Conrad Shawcross: Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV
Shadows on the ceiling cast by Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV
Shadows on the ceiling cast by Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV

I mentioned that the exhibition was like a theme park and one of the effects of that, I found, was that my inner child increasingly wanted the artworks to do tricks – to move, to heat up or at least to flicker. This one, Slow Arc Inside a Cube IV by Conrad Shawcross, therefore really performed; a moving light revolving in this intricate grid casts ever-changing shadows on the walls, floor  ceiling and viewers. It is apparently about the process of mapping the molecular structure of insulin  by crystal radiography. You don’t need to know that to enjoy it; the changing patterns are themselves mesmerising.

Three figures stand in Carlos Crusz-Diez's Chromosaturation in the Hayward Gallery
Carlos Cruz-Diez: Chromosaturation

Carlos Cruz-Diez has created 84 Chromosaturation installations to date; about a year ago I saw one in Paris. I didn’t realise that time the way that it could cause visual disturbances I was just struck by the colours.  This time I gave it long enough and began to experience the colour in a different way and see it as more solid and somehow filling the space, like floaters in the eye – or perhaps I became aware of floaters that were there all the time. The effect was not totally pleasant but certainly interesting.

Olafur Eliasson: Model for a Timeless Garden - fountains under strobe lighting
Olafur Eliasson: Model for a Timeless Garden

When it came to disturbed perceptions it was Olafur Eliasson’s Model for a Timeless Garden which was the clear winner. For once visitors to the exhibition were on their own to touch or not touch the artwork as they chose. No attendant could stay in the room very long. Eliasson who also created the Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2oo3, has illuminated a series of fountains with strobe lighting. The effect was to create a series of sculptures as the water was momentarily frozen in time, creating a series of different forms. It was fascinating but for me it had the effect of giving me a strange sensation in my ears. This seemed to have no rational reason – my eyes I could have understood, but why the ears? Not only contemporary but surreal.

Light Show is showing at the Hayward Gallery until 28 April 2013

Installation at the Printworks

A week may be a long time in politics but it is precious little time to build an art installation. I know: it was an exercise I did last year on the Fine Art Contemporary Practice course at Sussex Coast College and though it was fun, it was also pretty stressful knowing that the Private View would happen at the end of the week whether or not you were ready. Yesterday, I was the visitor to the Private View put on by the first year students. They may have been stressed beforehand, but  I was enormously impressed. It was held at the Printworks in Claremont Street, Hastings which is  a wonderful building – atmospheric, great beams, exposed brickwork –  that kind of place. Many of the installations reflected its history.   Here are few of the works I liked the best.

To Print I and To Print II: Bev Thornley

To Print II is a  text installation  by Bev Thornley which projected quotations about people who might have worked in the building. The words appeared letter by letter making you aware  not only of what was written but also the interior of the building by the way that beams, plaster and missing plaster were brought to life by the light of projector. It was accompanied by To Print I which was a sound installation of the noise of printing machines.

Printed words appear in the corner of the exhibition space in the Printworks
To Print: Bev Thornley

The Metamorphosis in Space : Claire Henley

Made out of wire,  Hastings Observer newspaper clipping and coloured paper, these butterflies were designed as a symbolic representation of the changing passage of time.  They looked  striking at the top of the spiral staircase, the colours glowed against the dark background .

Rainbow coloured butterflies are suspended above the spiral staircase at the Printworks
Metamorphosis in space: Claire Henley

Stairecase Song: Barbara Mullen

Barbara Mullen also used the staircase; unfortunately her piece which was a sound sculpture cannot be shown: for that you had to be there. It was  created by recording the sound created when the  staircase was played like a xylophone. It was an imaginative use of the space, and as you walked up and down the stairs the sound of your own footsteps added to the effect.

Untitled: Carolina Lawson

This simple installation by Carolina Lawson appeared to be breeze-blocks improbably suspended by ribbon but in fact it was an illusion, created by the lighting and the wrapping; they were in fact made of cardboard. They certainly looked heavy and that made you think about the way the Printworks had been built.

Breezeblocks are apparently suspended by ribbon at the Printworks in Hastings
Untitled: Carolina Lawson

Strike Off: Aimee Whatford

Aimee Whatford was drawn to the close connection between telecommunications and  early newspaper printing and so created this installation out of galvanised wire. Suspended from the ceiling, it had a ghostly presence, reflecting past communications within the building while  the twin pillars which are somewhat convoluted, possibly suggest understandings and misunderstandings.

Galvanised wire forms are hung from the ceiling at the Printworks in Hastings
Strike Off: Aimee Whatford

Safe Journey Beautiful Boy: Jaz Schalicke

This strange video was most intriguing; two stills are shown below; among the tense stripes, words would fleetingly appear and disappear. They were gone before you could truly read them but I made out tears, loss and as you can see in the still on the right despair.

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Peep Holes into the Past: Janee Waters

Scattered throughout the building were these small circular prints. Janee Waters explained that she had discovered old newspapers and magazines in the toilets of the building, as well as old wallpaper and had reflected that they might have been printed on the premises. She therefore created the peep holes which took selected text from advertisements in magazines aimed at women as home-makers.

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Manet at the Royal Academy

A few months ago I visited the pre Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain and then went straight in to see the Turner Prize shortlist which seemed weak in comparison. I had not quite the reverse experience this week but close. I visited the new Manet Exhibition at the Royal Academy and then almost immediately went to A Greater Splash over at the Tate. To my mind A Greater Splash had it over the Manet and seeing the two together provided an object lesson on why art has to keep moving and innovate even if you don’t always like the innovations.  I will talk about the Greater Splash soon. Today it’s Manet.

Luncheon on the Grass
Déjeuner sur l’Herbe: the version you want to see is in Paris

The retrospective of Manet’s portraits Portraying Life  has been trumpeted by the RA as “singularly important” and  “unmissable”.  According to the Sunday Times 45,000 tickets were pre sold, more than those sold for Van Gogh at the same point, so getting there early in the run seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately, it is  the paintings you probably most want to see that are missing. There is no Olympia, the  Musée d’Orsay in Paris keeps it safely behind their walls and doesn’t let it go; there is only a small and rather miserably fuzzy Déjeuner sur l’Herbe borrowed from the Courtaulds, that pesky Musée d’Orsay has hung onto the big, bold, superbly painted one and the curators  had not even managed to persuade the Courtaulds to lend them the The Bar at the Folies-Bergère.

Music in the Tuileries Gardens: normally on show in the National Gallery

True there was the Music in the Tuileries Gardens, though this is normally hanging in the National Gallery, so not worth a special visit, the Railway and Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets which is currently plastered over posters on the underground. But they were diluted by what the RA described as status portraits, in other words portraits designed  to make their subject feel important. While wandering around this exhibition it was possibly intellectually to appreciate the loose brush work  which was to make Manet the father of  modern art, but I found it  impossible to feel emotionally why he was so revolutionary.

Indeed, for the most part, the paintings appeared decorative, safe and a little boring. They provided a glimpse of 19th century Parisian life, interesting if you recognise the spot where Music in the Tuileries Gardens were painted.  It was also instructive to note  how he used a dab of light to suggest noses or expressions and how well he could paint eyes. He had his failings too, which is encouraging for all artists whose work does not always go as planned.  I noticed, for instance, that he did not really enjoy painting hands. Of course he could if  he put his mind to it – he was Manet. But when he was doing portraits in a hurry either to satisfy rich clients or simply because he wanted to get on to the next canvas, you will see that hands get hidden more than the law of averages suggests  should happen. They were tucked in pockets, or in muffs,  behind backs or just below the bottom edge of the canvas.

Manet: Portrait of Georges Clemenceau
Isabelle Lemonnier with a muff
Manet: Isabelle Lemonnier with a muff

He was also not great at  horses, Look at the Cavalier (Equestrian Portrait of Mr Arnaud) the horse’s head has a slightly cardboard cut out feel. Apparently the x-ray evidence shows the portrait was completed by another hand – maybe it was the horse’s head that was painted by someone else – or  its hind legs, or ……well actually none of it is very good.

Manet : The Cavalier (Equestrian Portrait of Mr Arnaud) apparently finished by another hand

There were of course several superb paintings there, and ones which are not so easy to see without travelling further afield than Paris. The Luncheon painted in 1868 is particularly intriguing.

manet luncheon
Manet: The Luncheon – the young Leon looks past us with a haughty expression

Look at  the rather haughty  and bold expressions of the young man Leon, who might or might not have been Manet’s son. It  is similar to  the expression of the young prostitute staring boldly out of the picture in Olympia and also that of the nude in Déjeuner sur L’herbe . Whereas both the woman looks at us in the other two pictures, Leon’s gaze goes beyond us, looking at something or somebody he sees over our right shoulder but it still has the boldness, the quality of taking stock, that is part of what makes  both Déjeuner and Olympia so arresting.

I enjoyed seeing the Luncheon; I also liked the portrait of Georges Clemenceau, shown above; and Berthe Morisot with a Bouquet of Violets, though I had seen it so many times in the publicity for the exhibition, it was hard to summon up more of a reaction to it than – ‘oh yes, there it is.’ I now know more about Manet than I did before I went, but overall there just weren’t enough of the most celebrated pictures there to be satisfying. It was as if the Musée d’Orsay had put up a virtual sign at the exit saying, “you’ve seen the rest, now see the best.” I went as a guest of a member, but I can’t believe you wouldn’t feel a bit short-changed if you were paying the full suggested £17 entry fee. There was something else too. Without the best, the works seemed so strongly rooted in another time. Manet may have been the father of modern art, but at the Royal Academy, in this exhibition, you could really feel the generation gap.