Sunday, 27 November 2011

Marble Arch of Litter by Miguel Romo review

Where: Marble Arch, Hyde Park
Verdict: Worth a look

What is it? A replica of Marble Arch made from the litter collected from Oxford, Bond and Regent streets in one 7 hour stretch. It's volume is 25 metres cubed but that doesn't mean much to most people so I'd describe it as 2 metres tall and 2 metres across - don't let the picture below convince you that it's bigger.

Verdict: My first impression was 'is that all they could find?'. I was a little underawed as I imagined that there would be more litter to be found.

The artist has teamed up with Westminster council to raise awareness of the fact that we litter on our streets and though this sculpture does draw attention to this, it does feel like you could collect the same amount of litter from the streets of any bustling metropolis. In India, I think you could make a scale replica of the Taj Mahal just with the litter from Delhi.

Still, it's more than it should be and there is no excuse to litter as there are many bins around – preach over. It's worth a look if you're passing by but nothing to go out of your way for – like I did, hence the disappointment.

Dates: Until November 29 2011.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Paul Noble: Welcome to Nobson review

Where: Gagosian Gallery, King's Cross
Verdict: Give it a miss

What is it? Paul Noble has created a world of his own through a set of sculptures and intricate architectural drawings.

Verdict: The Gagosian and I have had a chequered past with their exhibitions being very hit and miss, though one my favourite exhibits – Sustaining Light by James Turrell – was displayed there last year.

It has always come across as over-pretentious with all the gallery staff being suited and the previous time I was there, two staff were talking quietly and were told to quiet down by the manager. Possibly to preserve the mystique of the place, as neither I nor the other viewers seemed to be bothered by the conversation. So it can be very good or downright awful.

Come the turn of Paul Noble to see whether he classifies as good or bad, but in this case it's the all new category of ugly. The segmented beings he has created to inhabit Nobson resemble turds and that seems fitting for such a poor exhibition. The drawings are intricate and there is no doubting that the artist has talent but with the drawings only being limited by the artist's imagination, it's surprising that he has come up with architecture that's so unimaginative and flat. He's clearly been inspired by Escher but his work has none of Escher's intelligence and creativity.

I do feel bad savaging a free exhibit, it feels akin to shouting at a puppy; but this puppy has pissed on my shoes and it deserves a telling off.

This one's definitely not worth the visit.

Dates: November 10 - December 17 2011.

Private Eye: The First 50 Years review

Where: Victoria & Albert Museum, South Kensington
Verdict: Go see it

What is it? The British satirical magazine has been going strong for 50 years now, so we have an exhibition to mark the highlights to date.

Verdict: Private Eye has the ability to make you laugh with some of their surreal humour that is reminiscent of the 'Far Side' comic strip. For example, the penguin and a woman sitting at a breakfast table with their child flying around the room – with the penguin saying 'well, he doesn't get it from my side of the family'. Or a man coming out of a 'we print anything on a t-shirt' shop with a t-shirt with the word 'anything' on it.

It also enjoys making fun of politics and the British way of life. Such as a man looking at an MC Escher styled house and remarking that it will need disabled access. Another speciality is in making fun of political figures, such as Mugabe, below.

However it really comes into its own when taking on the controversial subjects that the rest of the media daren't take on. The priest seeing a group of choirboys and remarking that 'it's like everyone I've ever slept with is here' and the Muslim cleric handing a grenade to a young boy and saying 'I'd love to join you in heaven but I'm needed down here on earth'. The publication has a history of accruing lawsuits and this exhibit highlights how they love to stoke the fires until they've taken it one step too far – sometimes it's what we're all thinking but wouldn't say in public. 50 years of doing this and they've outlasted all their comparators like Spitting Image and even Eminem – same social commentary, if a different medium and a chasm of difference in the subtlety of delivery.

This exhibit is guaranteed to make you laugh and well worth a visit.

Dates: 18 October 2011 – 8 January 2012.

The Power of Making review

Where: Victoria & Albert museum, South Kensington
Verdict: Go see it

What is it? An exhibition that celebrates the manufacturing of objects from across the world, from handcrafted to machine made objects, and from the everyday to the truly unique.

Verdict: As soon as you enter the exhibit you come to face to face with a life-sized gorilla made entirely of coat hangers that is remarkably realistic; thus setting high expectations for the rest of the exhibit.

The next few items of the exhibit are quite mundane. Though I'm sure dry wall and a saddle are hard to make, I have no aspirations of leading a medieval life and the displaying of everyday objects seems like a waste of the limited exhibition space. I recognise the need to show that a lot of what our society makes is for everyday use, but they were the items that least interested me.

Videos showing manufacturing in progress provide some valuable insight but the real stand-outs are the truly unique items. The highlights being: an imagined prosthetic suit for Stephen Hawking that looks like a wooden robot from a B-movie, a Ghanaian coffin in the shape of a lion, a Lego model of a dissected frog, a six necked guitar known as 'the beast', a strange leopard/flower hybrid sculpture made out of sugar, a shark made of tyre rubber and a cake in the shape of a baby that is scarily realistic. These are the ones that most caught my eye but everyone will see objects that really make you smile with their invention.

This exhibition is testament to both human imagination and the ability to realise it. The only downside is that the exhibit is so small that it leaves you wanting more of the same.

Dates: 6 September 2011 – 2 January 2012

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

World Press Photo 2011 review

Where: Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo
Verdict: Go see it

What is it? An award that celebrates the best photos taken by press photographers around the world over the course of the last year. The collection of photographs proceed to tour the world spending a few weeks in each major city they visit. I saw this exhibit last year and it seems that London has held on to the November slot from last year, same venue too. The pictures range from those that capture a major moment from the last year to those that are brilliant photographs in their own right.

Verdict: Proof that a picture can speak a thousand words. The deserved winner is the harrowing picture you see above of an Afghani woman who 'dared' to leave her husband, was 're-captured' and had her nose and ears cut off for her 'defiance'. Yes that's a lot of inverted commas but they're justified when you realise the insanity of the occurrence and especially so when it's pointed out that it's not an uncommon experience in Afghanistan.

Other photographs depict daily life, yet seem bizarre to most of us and it demonstrates what a sheltered life we lead. I like to think I know a thing or two about foreign cultures but was taken aback by a picture of a man carrying a shark through the streets of a Somali town – only to read the accompanying text and learn that shark is a staple for many fishing towns in Somalia.

One of the most shocking photographs, yes another shocking one, is of a matador being gored by a bull and it takes a few seconds for what you're seeing to sink in. The photo has captured the moment as the bull's horn has pierced the man's throat and is sticking out of his mouth – it needs to be seen , and you will wince when you do see it. Another stand-out is of a cape gannet flying towards the camera, it appears so large that it's almost like a monster out of a b-movie.

These are just a few examples of some arresting pictures and there are many more to be seen in the exhibit – I would estimate there to be around 50 photos on display in total.

Like last year, this exhibit consistently delivers. A great photograph from last year's exhibit was a birds-eye view of a stealth bomber doing a fly past at a packed stadium for an American football game, and only a college game at that. I'm still not entirely sure how they managed to get that picture – surely helicopters can't be flying that high. Anyway it's a regular event to mark in your calendars and not to be missed.

Dates: 11 – 29 November 2011

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Unilever Series:Tacita Dean review

Where: Tate Modern, Waterloo
Verdict: Go see it

What is it? The latest exhibit to take up the vast space that is the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern. Previous turbine hall exhibits have been large interactive installations but this is different as it's a giant 13 metre screen displaying an 11 minute video. The video is a series of short shots of nature and civilisation, often interspersed with coloured dots. Coloured and monochrome filters are also used freely. In each shot the video camera always remains still and so it almost seems like a cross between video and photo.

Verdict: Mesmeric sums it up in one word, but this wouldn't be a very good review if I didn't expand on it. It's got a tough act to follow, as the previous turbine hall exhibit was the porcelain sunflower seeds by Ai Weiwei. I was lucky enough to walk on the sunflower seeds before future visitors were only allowed to look but not touch – due to health concerns. It was a truly great feeling, almost like walking on crunchy snow (not the easiest thing to imagine).

I have to admit, I walked into this exhibit expecting to be disappointed. “A film, what's the point. You could just put that on the side of a building – a complete waste of space”. I didn't doubt the ability of film to convey art, but I just didn't think this was the best venue for it – how wrong I was. As there is no sound accompanying the video, the darkness of the turbine hall allows you to become fully absorbed into what you're seeing. I never would have imagined that I could almost be hypnotised by a close up of an escalator going past the screen. The use of coloured filters sometimes gives the images an otherworldly feel and only adds to the captivation. The film is brilliantly edited, moving from one beautiful scene to another, which all draw you in – and the environs only adds to the experience. A must see.

Dates: 11 October 2011 – 11 March 2012.

'Sicilia il Viaggio' review

Where: South Bank, Waterloo
Verdict: Go see it

What is it? A selection of photographs of Sicily taken by a native, and clearly very talented, photographer. It's on display in the open, along the South Bank. The photos range from the scenic (beaches, azure seas and birds eye views of towns) to those showing daily life.

Verdict: All of the photos are visually stunning. I can't take anything away from the stunning views of azure seas and hidden beaches but these are the kinds of photos we've all seen before. The overhead views of towns full of closely packed buildings and close ups of architecture are a bit special. But, the real gems are those of Sicilians taking part in daily life – the stand-outs being a beautiful Sicilian woman standing in a doorway and a fisherman at work.

This was a pleasant surprise to stumble across and it even made me want to visit Sicily. I've travelled a lot of Europe but I've never even considered Sicily as a location, now I'm seriously re-considering it.  You can't get a better seal of approval than that ... that said I'll probably have a quixotic change of heart and take it off the list of places to visit.  That's more a knock on my decisiveness than the inspiring nature of the photographs.

Dates: 7-20 November 2011

Monday, 21 November 2011

'Art by Offenders' review

Where is it? Royal Festival Hall, Waterloo
Verdict: Give it a miss

What is it? A rarity in the art world, an exhibit whose name sums up what's on display. The website claims that the visual arts are not just by prisoners but by secure detainees as well – whatever that means. I assume that means people who have been locked up for the good of the public though they may not have committed a crime – but that's just me speculating. It's a collection of writing, poetry and sculptures; but the vast majority of exhibits are drawings and paintings.

Most of the pieces are available to buy, with the proceeds going to a charity - no it doesn't go to the prisoners, so you can make a purchase guilt-free, and with a sense of having contributed to a good cause.

Verdict: As you'd expect from people that are locked up, a lot of the art has recurring themes of depression, isolation, abandonment and religion. My favourite piece being this haunting self-portrait:

It's clear that the artists on display have talent and, considering they are detained, they must have plenty of emotion to draw on. However, I just didn't get the impression that this raw emotion came across in the art itself. Now it may seem like I'm kicking people when they're down – it's not enough for them to be locked up but their sole artistic outlet must be criticised as well! However, on the plus side, we know that we don't have too many talented artists locked up.

I saw this exhibit last year, in the same location, and the pieces on display then were much more visually arresting. Who knows next year may be even better than the previous year. I, for one will still check it out, as there are many pieces on display every year so the odds are in your favour of finding a few pieces you like.

My verdict of 'give it a miss' is based on a false assumption as I managed to catch this on the last day and it's now closed. But like I've said, it will be back next year if you're keen to see it.

Dates: 22 September - 20 November 2011

Sunday, 20 November 2011

'Ghosts of gone birds' review

Where is it? Rochelle school & club row, Shoreditch
Verdict: Worth a look

What is it? The website says “the show is dedicated to breathing artistic life back into the bird species we have lost”.  It’s a collection of artworks featuring extinct bird species from the well known such as the Dodo and the Great Auk, down to species I’d never heard of, such as the Guadalupe Caracara (an extinct bird of prey in case you were wondering).

As with most wildlife exhibitions, this exhibition comes with a message – to note all the birds that are now extinct (mainly at human hands) and to make us more conscious of the species that we are about to lose, as well as the number of birds that are currently being killed by poachers and the fishing industry.

There are over two hundred pieces of art – largely drawings, paintings and sculptures; and they are all for sale - ranging from the hundreds, to several thousands, of pounds.

My opinion:  Firstly, let me clear the air a little.  I have nothing against conservationism; in fact I have a lot of admiration for those of us who are out there doing our bit to save endangered species.  At the same time, I like to appreciate art for what it is and my appreciation is not increased when I know that there is a message behind the art.  For this reason, my opinion is purely based on my view of the art and not the worthiness of the cause it’s representing.  

First impressions are that most of the works are done by talented artists.   There are many artworks of extinct birds in their natural habitat or imagined scenarios of the last of the species being killed off.  One of my favourites is a sculpture of a bird being attacked and consumed by a horde of ravenous ants coming out of their nest (a hole in the floor).  The quality of the sculptures is of a higher quality than the paintings ranging from the many albatross heads emerging from the walls to an inspired wooden sculpture of an emu.

My favourite installation has to be an outline of a bird filled with shotgun shells found in Malta – where illegal shooting of birds is still commonplace (picture below).  Yes, it’s not subtle, but environmentalist art seldom is.  Still it’s less subtle than a bunch of nude women covered in fake blood … if markedly less eye-catching.  Another highlight is a room full of painted caricatures with imaginary birds all with clever play on words names.

Yet again, this is another exhibit that I only got to see close to the end of the exhibition, so if you want to catch it you’ll have to hurry.

Overall it’s a mix of good and average artworks and though I really enjoyed some pieces, most were of a high quality but a tad uninspired.  But with 200 works available you’re unlikely to walk away without finding at least a couple of gems – though you may need deep pockets to walk away with the artworks themselves.

Dates:  2nd-23rd November, 2011.