The Human Factor at the Hayward

The day I visited the Human Factor at the Hayward Gallery the exhibition seemed remarkably empty, probably something to do with the lovely weather outside, but the Photo Police were out in force. There was at least one attendant in every room and they had nothing better to do than to keep tabs on me, so I didn’t manage to sneak a single shot. (The ones you see here are gleaned from around the internet. ) I always prefer to take my own if I can manage it and  the shot I wanted to get  was of one of them standing uniformed and motionless, looking for all he world like an exhibit.

According to the Hayward blurb, the Human Factor shows how artists over the past 25 years have reinvented figurative sculpture. If the exhibition had been held fifty years ago contemporary would have largely meant semi-abstract, so the attendants would not have passed muster, but, today, they would have been well in keeping. At least half, probably more, of the sculptors participating were heading towards the realistic end of the reality/non-reality axis.

The effect of this was inexplicably strange because of course realism takes many forms and the jump from one artist to another, somewhat disconcertingly, made me feel as if I were going round a human zoo. Perhaps this was because the works were in such close proximity to each other; perhaps it was because the majority were roughly around human size; or because there was neither the relief of space, nor different kinds of work, to provide mental or physical distance.

A head and shoulders above the others, so as to speak, on the realism front were the sculptures by the American artist,  Paul McCathy.  Normally I don’ t much care for McCarthy’s work. It was he who made  the automated sculptures of George Bush humping a pig and the enormous inflatable dog turd. My dislike is not because they are shocking but because making them actually seems rather a waste of time – a cartoon, I’ve always felt, would serve as well.

In That Girl at least he has moved away from the grotesque. The work comprises three separate likeness of a young and beautiful woman, in real life  actress Elyse Poppers, sitting naked and of course because it is McCathy open legged.  The works are so lifelike that one’s first impulse is to adopt the strategy of the unsuspecting visitor finding themselves on a nudist beach or in a communal changing room and to concentrate on her face for fear of inappropriately looking at the body.  This effect is important because you are immediately placed in collusion with the artist as a voyeur. Yet at the same time, not for one second do you think that they are real.  So this is a work about the nature of reality. You could see everything but know nothing about her.

Though McCarthy formed the concept, it was clear from the accompanying video that showed exactly how the three sculptures were made, that it was very much a team effort. The fabricators, all men, and there appeared to be about six of them, are normally employed making props for the film industry. What made the work exceptional and actually quite moving, when it could have appeared tawdry and exploitative, was the dignity of Poppers herself. We saw her lying naked whilst automatic cameras scanned her form, completely motionless being covered in blue rubber mix which, judging from the results, would have gone into every crevice of her genitals and finally being cut out of the mould. Throughout she totally kept her composure.

Not quite as real, is Frank Benson’s male nude; here there is the twist of a statue imitating a man pretending to be a statue. Completely lifelike in form, it has the skin tone and texture of those living statues who cover themselves in grease paint in tourist destinations.


It was also good to see Wallinger’s Eco Hommo which was made for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Some commentators have  taken the view that the sculpture needed its plinth and should not have been brought down to ground level. I enjoyed being able to see it close up. In Trafalgar Square, where  the scale was dictated by Nelson’s Column and the lions, he looked small and vulnerable. In the Hayward, he seemed larger than I had imagined and indeed somewhat plumper but there was a feeling of privilege in seeing him as Wallinger would have seen him as he finished making him, rather than from below and at a distance.

Another work on the realist side was the small sculpture Maurizio Cattelan’s Him. As you approach it from behind, it appears to be a small boy praying but when you see the face you realise with a shock, or not if you happen to have read about it in advance, that the boy is Adolph Hitler. You are bound to reflect upon what he might be praying about: for forgiveness or for supremacy?

Him by Maurizio Cattelan

The casts of young naked ballet dancers have attracted lots of press attention. Beautifully made though they were, there was something about their averted glances which seemed a little coy, enigmatic possibly, but also just slightly irritating.


Much as I admired some of the realistic works, my preference, I found,  tends towards those that are not. My personal favourites were the two figures by Pawel Althamer,  Monika and Pawel,which shows him and his wife  as a modern day Adam and Eve. They are made out of straw,  animal intestine,  and hair  and unlike sculptures in marble or bronze are destined to decay, just as we are destined to do ourselves.


I also liked Rebecca Warren’s large, irrepressible and contorted headless female forms, which challenge the stereotype of the female body as portrayed by male sculptors. It was good to see how the artist had pumelled and worked the clay from which they were originally formed and which they still resembled, though apparently some are cast in bronze.

There were works which fell in between: half real, half not, most literally with the woman with a beehive instead of a head;  widely admired, for me this just produced the simple question of why? Why have a woman with a beehive instead of a head?   For me, it didn’t  say anything interesting about women, bee hives or indeed the space.   While we are about it, why was her whole head a beehive rather than just her hair-do?

Eviscerated, bee-headed, dead: human form explored in Hayward Gallery show



I also didn’t like the Jeff Koons’ Bear and Policeman, but then I don’t know if there has been a single piece of Koons’ work that I have liked, nor did I like  any of  the mannequins of which there seemed an awful lot.  Surely mannequins if they were once interesting are not so any longer. In one of the works by Thomas Hirschhorn they were half covered with blue gunge  and  coupled with photographs of atrocities, which I felt trivialised the latter rather than provided effective commentary.

But whatever your personal tastes, this is certainly an exhibition which will make you think about the way the human form is represented and how profoundly that representation has changed in the  last twenty five years. With over 25 sculptors included in the exhibition, nobody is going to like everything.   That being said, surely you must like Georg Herold’s  pink figure.   It is made from pieces of wood over which the artist has stretched wet canvas which shrinks when dry, containing and contorting the figure. The work is as much about the process of making as it is about the human condition; Herold has spoken about the figures resisting him during their construction. I suppose too you could see the work as a metaphor for the way that we are all contorted and constrained. But there is a playfulness about it that  I find joyful and what is more it is big and pink and shiny – what is there not to to like?

Appearing Rooms

With the weather yesterday hovering around 30C in London, children outside the Hayward Gallery proved that art can be enjoyed at any age. Of course it helped that the art in question provided jets of water and a definite sense of danger.

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Jeppe Hein’s Appearing Rooms is a very simple idea. Take a square, cut it in half and then in half again so that there are four squares within the square. Along the lines add jets of water that in a random sequence squirt up to form walls trapping anybody inside. Sometimes you can get in; sometimes you can cross to an adjoining room; sometimes you can get out but at all times you are in danger of getting wet.

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Not that getting wet seemed to bother any of the many children playing in it. Mostly fully clothed they were absolutely soaked. It could have been regarded as a sound installation because they were all squealing with delight.

There are fountains in many places across London but it was the forms of the people taking part that turned it into art.

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I wondered whether it was possible to go inside and stay dry. The trick appeared to be to stay very still in the centre of the smaller squares. I finally saw one brave man come out without needing a towel . I thought of going in myself but with no change of clothes to hand and a friend to meet for lunch I wimped out,

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I really wanted to be five and not to care.


Nice Installation

I have just returned from a lightning trip to Nice celebrate the end of the academic year and the half way point of my MA. Of course, I made a beeline to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, primarily to see the Yves Klein works;  more of that in another post.  But it was a work that I did not even know was going to be there that I found most inspiring; it was outside rather than  inside the building. Called A tribute to Alexander Calder, it was by  the Belgian artist Arnie Quinze.  It is made out of hundreds of pieces of orange and white timber apparently put together at random, yet amazingly forming a structure which swoops and soars outside the entrance to the museum. Alexander Calder, who died in 1976, five years after Quinze was born, was the originator the mobile.   To me the installation, which was not actually suspended but supported by pillars, seemed to reflect Nice’s role as a port and the lines reminded me of the masts, booms and gaffs of the sailing ships which would have visited the town over the years. Looking at Quinze’s website it turns out that he has constructed similar installations in Brussels and is far more inspired by chaos than history, so it just goes to show how you can project your own interpretations on to art works. None of that matters;  what I found really exciting about this particular work was how the aspect changed according to your position.

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From beneath it made you conscious of the sky and this awareness changed according to the weather. Sunny when I went into the museum, the installation looked completely different when it was  under cloudy skies a couple of hours later.

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When sunny you not only had the installation itself, but it also caused interesting shadows,

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….and  interesting reflections.

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From above you could see the shape of the whole thing.

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And could even see how part of it strayed beyond the outer walls.

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Finally, on leaving the museum, you could still see it peeking out over the tops of the trees.

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Writing about his work in 2011, Quinze said, “Cities like open-air museums, sounds like realizing my ultimate dream; a confrontation with the public surrounded by art every day. Art has a positive effect on human beings and their personal development; it can extend their horizon and can broaden their view.” He has likened the effect of seeing  his work to seeing a force of a nature.  That is quite an ambition, when you come to think of it,  but in the installation in Nice, do you know,  I think he had almost succeeded.

A tribute to Alexander Calder remains at the Museum of Modern and  Contemporary Art, Nice until September


Is the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition getting better?

I finally caught up with the Royal Academy Summer Show and found some works which I thought really exciting. This of course shouldn’t be a matter of surprise; there is always work there which is interesting and innovative. But the Summer Exhibition does not always give that impression: the sheer numbers of works on offer and the density of the hanging can make the good stuff  hard to spot. This year it felt a little more authoritative and a bit less like a local art show multiplied a hundred times. It was helped by the fact that the organisers had managed to bring in several really major works. I particularly admired the Anselm Kiefer;  I have seen loads of photographs of  Kiefer paintings but not enough of the real thing so I was pleased to discover that the RA is having a  major Kiefer retrospective from September 27 to December 14.


There was also a fine sculpture by the late Sir Anthony Caro


and a small and rather desirable sculpture by Phyllida Barlow which would be rather easier to place around the house than  Dock now showing at the Tate. It costs £60,000, and I idly tried to work out how much the Tate exhibition would be worth if it were priced pro rata by volume: I reckoned something of the order of £25 billion.



What is wonderful in any show, is when you find a new artist whose work you really like. The Caro and the Barlow were both in Gallery IV, curated by Hughie O’Donoghue and so was this piece by Irish artist Paul Mosse. It doesn’t photograph as well as it appears in real life, but, even here, you can see that the texture is fascinating.  It seemed, so far as I could judge, to be made at least in part by splintered wood. It made me look up Mosse’s other work. The interesting, muddy pink, fleshy colour appears quite a lot and on his website there were larger ones that I liked even better. Mosse tends to use unconventional and abject materials including packaging, dust, nails,  the everyday detritus of modern life. He works a lot by constructing,  deconstructing and restructuring  to produce a layered effect with fracturing and fissuring playing an important part. Though some of his works are proper 3D sculptures others, like this,  he describes as 2½D


Also in this room were works by the Guyanian born artist Frank Bowling. Bowling is known as a colourist and I particularly liked the vibrancy of Buttoned it up again from Barney and Marko. These pieces have a simplicity which is entirely deceptive. This work  essentially comprises three bands of  shaded colour plus some gold bits; anyone could do it, you might think,  but try yourself to produce banded colour that works and you suddenly find  how difficult it is. Those edges don’t just happen like that by themselves. Look at the photograph of the Caro and you can also see hanging above it, another of Bowling’s banded works – this time in blues and pinks and reds.


There was of course loads of stuff which I  did not like at all, some because it just seemed boring, or garish, other times remarkably amateurish, or all three. It made me muse about the Grayson Perry sentiment quoted on the RA website that “the difference between an amateur and professional artist is interesting. A professional is someone who got lucky and found an audience willing to pay for their work.” There is luck and luck. As I went round every now and then I would see a small picture which I liked and look it up only to find it was done by a name I recognised; often it was Cornelia Parker. Those that get lucky appear to have something that differentiates them from the rest.

However, I continue to be unimpressed with Martin Creed. Really, what is the point of a neon spelling out Assholes? Apart from anything else, Creed is British and should know that it is spelt Arseholes.

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I have this image of Creed’s headmaster telling him, “it is not clever and it is not funny.” The headmaster was wrong;  it may not be funny, but  it certainly is clever when you can get the British public to pay for them. They come as an edition of three each costing £53,036.

There were the oddities too. Towards the end of the exhibition was a work by James Turrell  called Sensing Thought which comprised a rectangle of light which the blurb on the wall said drew viewers in and held their attention. Surprisingly, I found it did just that, though the contemplative atmosphere was somewhat marred by a rather anoying soundtrack which I initially took to be part of the work but which then appeared to be coming from an exhibit next door.











In the architectural room there was a bicycle by Ron Arad, mystifyingly  called Two Nuns. It  was a striking enough object and which I took at first to be entirely sculptural.  A video on the wall showed that it could actually be ridden and suddenly it became a whole lot more interesting, though costing £100,000 it might be prudent not to use it for the daily commute and leave it chained up at the station bicycle rack.



You see I have put the price in again. That in itself is part of the fascination of the Summer Exhibition – the prices are visible. Everywhere you go, you hear people muttering, “do you know how much that cost? And if that is more generally said in shocked disbelief than in anticipation of a purchase, there is still plenty that is affordable. The rooms showing smaller works were as busy as ever. A couple of years ago I pointed out the pulling power of cats. It is still there, as are robins and scenes of London.  Tracey Emin was doing pretty well too with some small and moderately priced etchings. They have probably all sold out by now.

I suddenly realised that rather than survey the exhibition as a whole, you could get a pretty good impression of what was popular with the public by looking at the greetings cards. So here they are; the cards of the 2014 Exhibtion.


You can see on the bottom row that the robin is present and correct; oh, sorry it is Spare Stonechat.  There is the questionable sentiment that All schools should be art schools; there is a cat; there is a horse. What is that? There on the second row up is the Frank Bowling I admired. It does admittedly make rather a nice greeting card. Of well; it is still a very fine painting.

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition runs until Sunday August 17.


Brighton MA Fine Art Exhibition 2014

The MA fine Art Exhibition is now showing at Grand Parade until July 10. I think we have put on a pretty good show. What is fascinating is seeing it come all together after seeing the work develop during the year. Suddenly people’s different obsessions make sense. Take this stunning piece by Soohyun Kim A Monstrous Child, during the year I had seen Kim’s smaller doll sculptures and had not liked them very much; suddenly there was this piece in the gallery and I saw the point of it, and found that I actually liked the smaller pieces as well.



Another work which I think works wonderfully well in the exhibition is Caroline Pick’s piece in latex. Caroline made small latex work earlier in the year but it is only when they get to this scale that they become quite so fascinating. I really like the textures she has achieved.



 Helen Acklam’s work arose out of a residency she undertook a residency at the Royal Sussex County Hospital at the time the site was closed for redevelopment.  I particularly like the feeling of light and the sense of the open doors, leading to what? A ward? An operating room? Or perhaps, as the name Limbo suggests, to another world.




Look out too for Mima Chovankova her painting, bright, striking and hugely skilled in the way that she manipulates the paint, are up on the second floor. One of her influences is the Russian painter Kazimir Malevitch; you can see that in the black square; what would he have thought of the fluorescent pink? Personally I think he would have loved it.



Mercedes Ferrari’s work is always interesting and distinctive; these hands are no exception; walk past and they spring into action.


Another painter whose work I admire is Lucy Marks; in this exhibition she has moved away from the colour that characterised her work in the past; I loved her coloured work but the black and white pieces are hugely striking.




Also working black and white is James Dean Diamond, with his series of photographs in which he manipulates light to create the most fascinating effects.




 Rose Waterson uses light in a completely novel way; she combines her drawing with projected images or effects which bring them to life.



These are just a small selection of the works on show. If you do come along, do drop in and see my floating sculptures on the second floor; to tempt you, there is also a dead snakey thing. What more could anybody want?


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The MA Fine Art Show is open every day except Sunday till July 10 at Grand Parade Brighton