Sunday, 20 January 2013

London Art Fair 2013 - Highlights

I managed to catch the very last hour of the London Art Fair, so had to rush around the 120 galleries as fast as possible trying to absorb all the art while noting down artist's names and the galleries that represent them.

I probably owe a few people apologies as I stuck to the cursory and rhetorical 'hi, how are you?' as I dashed past some familiar faces.

Anyhow, several works by artists I haven't come across before stood out to me, so I've listed them below, complete with images of the work:

Alberto Duman, View of the palace of Westminster and Big Ben. Courtesy England Gallery

If ever you needed proof that a picture paints a thousand words, this is it. Love the devilish sense of humour in using 'lots of people' and 'cloudy sky'.

Itamar Jabani, Man Holding a Child. Courtesy the artist

The version at the fair was similar but was protruding from the wall with a baby, as if offering it to passers by so that it may be saved.

Pamela Stretton, Skin Deep. Courtesy Mark Jason gallery

What's not visible is that this image is made up of tiny labels, all for skincare products such as Dove of Nivea. It's sensationalist yet the sepia tone gives it a more subtle feel. Still it does a great job of mocking the unsubtle marketing campaigns of the cosmetics industry.

Renaud Delorme, Angelina Jolie. Courtesy Absolute Art Gallery

This wasn't the exact picture there but loved the technique. Sure Nick Gentry's floppy disk canvases look better but Delorme adds the extra dimension of painting on plexiglass held over the mixed media background - this way the image looks different whichever angle you see it from.

Zac Freeman, Steve. Courtesy of the artist

Yet another inventive use of objects to create a portrait - this time it's toys. What I particularly enjoyed was that something playful has been used to create images where all the faces have a stern look upon them.

Russell West, Square Rainbow. Courtesy the artist

This brought a smile to my face, just the bright colours and chaotic style in which paint has been applied to an uneven frame is so expressionistic and bursting with creativity.

Carl Melegari, Merthr Miner. Courtesy Kooywood Gallery

It's great how the miner appears out of the gloom and the style reminds me of the work of Francesca Leone.

Jeremy Kidd, Thames 2. Courtesy of the artist

There were many photo-collages of cities on display but it's hard to go up against the superb work of Tom Leighton. However, the transition from day to night is a new angle and Kidd's sky above the HMS Belfast with Tower Bridge lit up in the background is glorious.

Tim Flach, Golden Tabby Tiger from Tiger breeding series. Courtesy Osborne Samuel

Firstly I didn't even know Golden Tabby Tigers existed but apparently they are a rare sub-species of the Bengal Tiger. On top of this the portrait is so unnatural, akin to a model shoot in a studio.

Emily Allchurch, Urban Chiaroscuro 4: Rome (after Pironesi)

This Escher-esque landscape also has a Da Vinci feel to it. It's a cauldron of so many different styles yet it works so well. Her larger works got more attention but this was the one that caught my eye as it felt like a real cityscape that's been contorted.
Matteo Negri, Lego's Mondrian Homage. Courtesy TAG Fine Arts

Another work with a great sense of humour about it and a knock at al of those who look at Mondrian's work and say 'anyone can do that'. I think it would've been more poignant if it was a replica of one of his famous compositions in red, yellow and blue, but still made me smile.

Helen Maurer, Eclipsed by the Boy. Courtesy of the artist

This viewpoint doesn't do this work justice but what's on the back wall is a reflection of the glass shelf that forms part of the work. It's an innovative piece, similar in technique to those of James Hopkins that are currently on display at Scream gallery.

Francesco De Molfetta, Snack Barbie. Courtesy of the artist

This one has been grabbing the headlines as soon as the London Art Fair opened. Yes it's another unsubtle reference to consumerist culture but the execution is brilliant. Barbie is often heralded as the reason for young girls having self-image issues so it's nice to see her getting her comeuppance so to speak.

Richard Estes, D-train. Courtesy Artnet and the artist

These hyper-real train views caught my eye. They seem to revel in both providing perfect detail yet also appearing dream-like.

The above are just the new artists I've noticed. There were plenty of old favourites on display including Andrew Salgado, Nancy Fouts, Suzanne Moxhay and Ye Hongxing.

Look forward to visiting London Art Fair again next year.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men

Verdict: Go see it
When: 19 October - 14 April 2013

Wax anatomical model of female human head showing internal structure of skull, German(?), 19th century. Image courtesy Museum of London

There was never any doubt whether I'd be intrigued by this exhibition, after all I did spend much of my second and third year at university dissecting human cadavers. Even today, recounting stories of my dissection days merits askew looks and some revulsion from others at the thought of taking apart another human being.

This exhibition does an excellent job of highlighting how much more controversial it was back in the early 1800s. Religious superstition was prevalent and the commonly held belief was that your buried self ascended to heaven so dissecting dead bodies was on a par with mutilating a living person. Novels such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein also had people concerned that doctors would be able to re-animate the dead. 

Yet at the same time medicine was advancing, and it needed to. This was a time when broken bones were treated with an amputation without anaesthetic followed by cauterising the wound - the pain must have been unimaginable. So doctors and medical students needed dead bodies to practice on but they were in short supply. Nobody would even consider donating their bodies and the only legitimate source of cadavers were from executed criminals.

To meet this growing demand an illicit trade in body snatching started up and these so-called 'resurrection men' would dig up bodies and deliver them to hospitals and private medical schools. The doctors would have known they were not legally sourced but they chose to turn a blind eye - perhaps convincing themselves that practising on these bodies would heal future patients and so this was all for the greater good.

All of this information and more can be found in this exhibition and it's remarkable the lengths that people would go to to prevent these grave robbers from taking their loved ones after they'd passed. There is an iron coffin from the period that was impregnable to attack by crowbar and a bear trap that would've been left in a graveyard for unsuspecting thieves.

But the depravity didn't stop there as some criminals went even further, resorting to murder and then passing the bodies over to doctors as having died of natural causes. The most infamous pair were Burke and Hare but there's also a video looking at three other criminals who murdered a boy and tried to pass him off as a disinterred corpse. But the fresh nature of the body led doctors to raise the alarm and they were arrested. The final irony being they were executed and therefore their bodies were used in dissections. The video itself is very much over the top with a cockney Ray Winstone-esque narrator who is more comedic than threatening.

It was only in 1832 that a law was passed that any unclaimed body could be used for dissections. It was a tough battle to get this law through as opponents argued it would unjustly single out the poor but proponents countering that the medical knowledge would help the poor who were in greater need of medical treatment. After the law came in it led to the closure of the private medical schools and also the end of the dark era of resurrection men. 

This exhibition is full of interesting facts about how dissection took place in the past even down to the fact that preserving bodies was nigh impossible at the time so dissections could only take place during the winter months. Yet despite primitive medicine being practised the wax and bone models used by medical students of the time are impeccably detailed (as seen above).

Even the decor fits in with the grisly past with paint splattered on the walls to look like dried blood and blood-red plastic curtains dividing sections of the exhibition.

We then move on to more recent discoveries. In 2006, excavations at the Royal London hospital produced the remains of several persons used for dissections, this is the event that triggered this exhibition. A room is dedicated to this finding but it's not as fascinating as the previous rooms.

The display ends brilliantly leaving visitors mulling over some philosophical questions. There's a video about whether people would donate their organs to save others and there's still a lot of stigma attached to this with people wanting to be buried 'whole' and one person believing an urban legend that doctors are less likely to resuscitate an organ donor. It even touches on whether the UK should have an opt-out rule so that everyone is an organ donor unless they explicitly opt-out.

The final thought I was left with was, as donated bodies for dissection are still hard to find, should I feel some guilt for having dissected two bodies (albeit shared with others) and not used that learning in my current career?

This exhibition is intriguing, entertaining and thought-provoking. An excellent insight into a grisly past and well worth the £9 admission fee.