Friday, 26 August 2016

Georgia O’Keeffe, Tate Modern, London (6 July-30 October 2016)

From the Faraway Nearby (1937)

If, like me, you thought you knew what to expect from an exhibition of work by Georgia O’Keeffe (flowers shaped liked vaginas, animal bones and deserts), the first two of the thirteen rooms in Tate Modern’s retrospective of the artist will come as an unexpected surprise and are alone worth the price of the admission.  They concentrate on O’Keeffe’s early mature works, beautiful minimal abstract works which demonstrate how skilful the artist was with handling colour even at the beginning of her career.  The perception of heat emitting from Red and Orange Streak (1919) is simple, yet stunning and contrasted effortlessly against the cool white tones of Abstraction (1921), which is equally sublime. 

Red and Orange Streak (1919)

Abstraction (1921)

Featuring more than 100 works, this is the largest ever exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe  (1887-1986) held in the United Kingdom.  Regarded as a giant of American 20th-century modernism, with the inclusion of more of her early (and later) work than those “iconic” flower paintings, this show seeks to redress widely held interpretations (from male art critics of the time and then later re-appropriated and celebrated by some feminist artists) that such paintings were depictions of female genitalia, interpretations which the artist always refuted.  The curatorial decision to show more works from the rest of her oeuvre in order to demonstrate that O’Keefe had far more to offer as an artist than this one interpretation, is a clever one and makes this exhibition far more interesting and engaging than I was expecting it to be.  The Cubist-inspired abstract paintings such as Line and Curve (1927) displayed in Room 2 is one of many examples of how O’Keeffe tried to shake of such essentialist views about her work, from the outset of her career. 


Top: Line and Curve (1927)  Bottom: Radiator Building Night New York (1927)

Between 1924-1929 O’Keeffe painted quintessential Art Deco views of New York, but for me these appear too stylised and stilted compared to the more organic and free-flowing abstractions of the paintings she made during the same period when she holidayed at Lake George in upstate New York.  With works such as From the Lake No 3 and From the Lake No 1 (both 1924), both O’Keeffe’s brushwork and colour palette are emancipated.

Left: From the Lake No 3 (1924)  Right: From the Lake No 1 (1924)

The artist’s colour palette changed once more, back from warm to cool, when she made her fist extended visit to New Mexico in 1929.  For O’Keeffe the desert landscapes, discarded animal bones and skulls she discovered became her true iconography, and it this body of work which positions her as a foundational figure in the history of American modernism.
What struck me most about this exhibition was not only how strong and capable O’Keeffe’s late work was (something which in my opinion rarely occurs as an artist ages), but also how contemporary these later canvases appear.  Work such as Front of the River – Pale (1959) and It was Blue and Green (1960), painted when the artist was in her seventies, could easily hang among landscapes by emerging artists today and not look remotely out of place.

Left:  Front of the River - Pale (1959)  Right:  Blue and Green (1960)

Georgia O’Keeffe’s career spanned more than seven decades.  The work included in Tate Modern’s exhibition aims to present a view which emphasises the pioneering nature of her career rather than the clichés it has previously attracted.  I think such clichés will always remain, but this exhibition has definitely provided a platform from which to appreciate O’Keeffe with fresh eyes and wider expectations.

Sky Above the Clouds III / Above the Clouds III (1963)

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Making & Unmaking, Camden Arts Centre, London (19 June-18 September 2016)

 Making & Unmaking (installation view)

I am a huge fan of textile art, from Ghada Amer’s sexually explicit needlework canvases, Louise Bourgeois’s fabric works and soft sculptures, through to Sarah Lucas’s Bunny and Nuds series.  On reading that Camden Art Centre’s summer exhibition “Making & Unmaking” was to feature a collection of work including painting, tapestries, traditional fabrics and ceramics and with Dorothea Tanning, Wangechi Muti and Sheila Hicks among the sixty artists featured, this was an exhibition which I was determined not to miss.
 Saint Louis (2015), Luis Monteiro

Taking up all three galleries as well as pieces in the central space and garden, “Making & Unmaking” was huge.  From West African textiles, Bauhaus jewellery to contemporary portraiture and sculpture and addressing themes that included portraiture, gender, sexuality, overall the exhibition explored the rituals of making that underpin an artist’s work, rather than being about textile art as a genre.  Curator and fashion designer, Duro Olowu brought his skills from both disciplines and brings together seemingly disparate artists into his eclectic vignettes, with sophisticated aplomb.  This interlacing of ideas, eras and influences (and materials) created a visually rich and stimulating mix.
Personal favourites included Étreinte (1969) by Dorothea Tanning (no surprise there) and Yinka Shonibare’s Butterfly Kid (Boy) II (2015).  I also really enjoyed Luis Monteiro Saint Louis (2015) video.

Top: Étreinte (1969), Dorothea Tanning    Bottom:  Butterfly Kid (Boy) II (2015), Yinka Shonibare 

However, as I walked through the galleries I started to wonder if there was too much on display and perhaps, just perhaps, the multitude of materials and textures was a little suffocating.  I found the decision to keep information on each wall of artists/works to one grouping at the end of each, rather than providing a sheet you could walk around with, very frustrating.  I think having to constantly return to one source of information while viewing definitely contributed to the premature arrival of gallery fatigue (along with the intense heat in the galleries themselves), which I haven’t felt for a long time at an exhibition.
Despite this, I would still recommend this exhibition.  Oluwo’s vision and passion have brought together rarely seen work in an ambitious format with surprising juxtapositions, which (labelling and temperature issues aside), Camden Art Centre excels at giving a platform to.

Making & Unmaking (installation view)