Friday, 30 December 2011

Gesamtkunstwerk: New Art from Germany

Verdict:  Go see it
Where: Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea
When: 18 November 201130 April 2012

What is it?  The Saatchi gallery always clears out the entire gallery for a new show every six months or so, add this to the fact that it’s free to enter, in a great location and an excellent minimalist interior makes it one of my favourite galleries.  This exhibit is showcasing the latest contemporary artworks from Germany.

What did I think?  This is the exhibit I went to console myself with, as I had gone to the National Gallery to queue for the Da Vinci exhibit only to be told that I was too late and the existing queue already had the 1,000 on the day tickets allocated.  So this exhibit had a lot to achieve; and it does … in parts.

Richard Wilson’s 20:50 is the closest the Saatchi gallery has come to a permanent exhibit and it still brings a smile to my face every time I see someone new approach it.  The room has been filled with sump oil but it’s so dark and reflective that at first you don’t know what you’re looking at and can only smell it, until it finally dawns on you and only then can you appreciate the contrast of the oil with the white minimalist style of the room.  The Saatchi will always be a worth a visit as long as this remains on display.  But, on to the main event.

All the Saatchi gallery exhibits have a certain hit and miss aspect to them, after all we are populating 13 galleries, and ‘hit and miss’ and ‘contemporary art’ go hand in hand, but there are some terrific works on display

The unifying theme of this German art exhibit seems to be about scratching under the pleasant exterior surface to discover the darker aspects; some pieces do it subtly, others more vividly.  The two main styles used to get this message across are the use of bold colours and strong lines (a la Matisse), and the use of layered imagery. 

Matisse pioneered the use of bold colours and sparse detail, and it’s hard to go wrong by following in his footsteps.  However, this also makes it harder to build upon - some pieces use too much colour and become too jumbled to convey any message at all.  Markus Selg breaks free of this trap by mixing a bold palette in one part of a painting and a darker palette for a contrasting background, this works to great effect in conveying the sense of foreboding in ‘Dream of the Saracen’.   The dark intensity in colour of Andro Wekua’s ‘Sunset’ makes it seem as if the water is boiling and is almost akin to a John Martin piece.

The layered approach has been used to brilliant effect by another German artist not featured here – Friedrich Kunath.  Earlier this year he had an exhibit at the Hoxton White Cube Gallery and his paintings had mesmerising depth, ‘always summer’ is one to behold if you get the chance.

None of the works in this exhibit can reach ‘Kunath heights’ but there are some brilliant sculptures and paintings with a similar motif.   The four that stood out for me were:

  • Isa Genzken’s ‘Bouquet’ for its imaginative mix of metal and flowers to create a multi-faceted interpretation of man vs. nature vs. man.
  • Jutta Koether’s ‘Mede’ that only becomes realised once you get close to it and spot the wailing faces  beneath the bright and smiley exterior.
  • Max Frisinger’s ‘Noah’s Ark’ for showing that an assortment of random objects can emit a feeling of togetherness once in a display case
  • Corinne Wasmuht’s ‘is always today’s use of vivid colours creates a futuristic feel, which until now I thought was an oxymoron.

A mention must also be reserved for Jeppe Hein’s cheeky ‘Mirror Wall’ which vibrates quickly once you move close to it creating a distorted and disturbing self-reflection that makes you smile and slightly wary at the same time.

Sure not all the pieces will grab you, but some will definitely resonate with you - in one case literally. 

Thursday, 29 December 2011

‘I saw square triangle sine’ by Haroon Mirza

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: Camden Arts Centre, Finchley
When: 7 October 20118 January 2012

What is it?  A melange of musical instruments that are programmed to play set sounds accompanied by a drum kit that visitors are allowed to have a go on and an LCD display unit that repeats a sound wave followed by the title of the installation.

What did I think?  I’m a big fan of mixed media and can see how music and art can intersect but this installation just didn’t work for me.  It wouldn’t be experimental art if the instruments played a tune but the exhibit largely produces a sound that is more noise than anything rhythmic or harmonic.

The addition of a drum kit that allows the viewer to interact with the art has the potential to be involving but I just felt like I was adding to the noise.  If I knew how to play the drums then maybe I could’ve added to the work but an installation should never require the viewer’s direct involvement to complete it.

While playing the drums you can gaze at the Pollock-esque paintings on the back wall but these seem divorced from the rest of the exhibit and don’t seem to add anything to it.

This didn’t hit the right notes for me so I would suggest passing it by.  However, if you’re in the Camden Arts Centre to see ‘A world of glass’ then you should pop in and see if it has a similar effect on you.

'A World of Glass' by Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Camden Arts Centre, Finchley
When: 7 October 2011 – 8 January 2012

What is it? Two rooms with two claymation films displayed at either end, with accompanying music, and glass objects set out on tables in the middle of the room.

What did I think? Claymation is always thought of as a child's medium (think Morph or Wallace and Gromit) but it's used to explore distinctively adult themes in this installation.

The videos all feature claymation animals and three out of the four films also feature nude humans in a macabre dance of sensuality and violence. The first two videos feature animals savagely attacking nude women and the rough medium of claymation adds to the brutality of the imagery. The words that appear on screen suggest that what we are witnessing is the projection and anthropomorphism (does that work for animals) of a lovers tiff, with the human figures often pleading with and assuaging the animals.

The glass objects in the rooms are just replicas of those that appear in the videos and only supplement the exhibition rather than act as an integral part of it.

The real stand out of this exhibit is the music by Hans Berg that truly ratchets up the tension when the videos are reaching a crescendo. Without it the videos would not come across anywhere near as powerful or emotive as they do with the music.

The final video is arguably the most powerful as it is of a bull in a glass shop that accidentally breaks some glass pieces, then proceeds to destroy the entire stock and finally slice off its flesh with the glass. It's a brilliant, if hyperbolic, manifestation of suffering.

The videos may not be to everyone's tastes and they do lack in subtlety but it's worth seeing (or hearing) for the dramatic music alone.

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Verdict: Worth a look

What is it? A private art collection in Dulwich consisting mainly of portraits and landscapes from the Renaissance onwards, but not so far as to extend to modern art.

What did I think? I was at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (DPG) to see the 'Painting Canada' exhibit (see previous review), but as it was my first time at the DPG I thought I should review the permanent collection as well.

First, the location. Dulwich is strange in having the feel of a suburb but being close to Central London and surrounded by the shall we say more 'urbanised' areas of Brixton and Streatham. Even the bus stops have a quaint feel by having wooden benches and roofs. The only problem is that Dulwich isn't very well connected by transport and I could travel from home (Wimbledon) to the very Northern edges of London in the time it takes me to get to Dulwich, which is on my side of the river and so a lot closer in terms of distance.

The collection itself is spread over a small number of rooms, the space dedicated to the temporary exhibit takes up at least a third of the gallery. The permanent collection is a quality collection of portraits and landscapes including works from notable names such as Canaletto, Rembrandt and Rubens. In any other city, the gallery would be an easy recommend but in London where you have the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, that are free to enter (DPG charges a £5 entrance fee and £4 extra for access to temporary exhibits), it is difficult to place the DPG as high up the priority list.

The easiest comparison in terms of size and degree of collection is the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. However, the Courtauld has been able to carve out a niche by specialising in Impressionist art; the DPG however has a collection of classical art ranging across many time periods and movements, and this works against it.

I'm not saying that the DPG should be overlooked but it's probably only worth checking out if you're in the area, seeing a temporary exhibit there or have seen all that the National Gallery or National Portrait Gallery has to offer (no mean feat).

Painting Canada: Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich
When: 19 October 2011 – 8 January 2012

What is it? An exhibition of a Canadian art movement in the early twentieth century, inspired by Impressionism and the Canadian wilderness.

My opinion: When you're told that an art movement is inspired by Impressionism it does make you wary, as you know it will always struggle to compete with the original movement and has its work cut out to appear as anything more than derivative.

The first two rooms focus on Tom Thomson, who founded this movement. It's clear that he drew inspiration from the pointillism of Seurat and the broad brush strokes of Cezanne. His works, though impressive, can never measure up to the French Impressionists but he does break new ground when capturing the wintry scenes of Canada.

The exhibit then moves on to his successors and they surpass their 'master' by creating a more realistic style that is more unique to the movement itself. J.E.H MacDonald's 'Falls, Montreal river' and Frank Johnston's 'Algoma Arabesque' showing a gripping sweeping landscape and a vivid forest respectively.

A small section of the exhibit is dedicated to English artists that tried to take up the mantle of the Canadian painters but this was the most disappointing room as it didn't seem to bring anything new to the movement.

When the movement truly broke free from their Impressionist beginnings, they started to carve out their own niche that grabs the eye and takes the viewer beyond the 'I've seen this before' position. The focus on the clouds, constituting two thirds of the painting and almost popping out of the canvas in Johnston's 'Fire Ranger' is novel, and Arthur Lisner's 'Evening Silhouette's use of bold lines is so striking that it's almost tribal.

The final part of the exhibit is dedicated to Lawren Harris who really took the movement in a completely different direction, so much so that he's almost separate to the movement itself. The striking lines and bold forms in 'Iceberg, Davis Strait' and 'Mt. Lefroy' are closer to the abstract work of Picasso than the landscapes and sunsets of Monet.

The evolution of style throughout the exhibit is a joy to behold and I challenge anyone to walk away from this and not see at least one painting that grabs them. The mixture of styles makes you think you've seen a set of related exhibits and not just an exhibit of one movement, definitely worth taking some time out to see it.

Rubens and Britain

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: Tate Britain, Pimlico
When: 22 November 2011 – 6 May 2012

What is it? A selection of sketches by Rubens that relate to Rubens interactions with Britain and the monarchy in particular.

My opinion: Like most others, when I think of Peter Paul Rubens, I picture the large baroque masterpieces mixing of Flemish and Italian styles, that stem from his upbringing and training respectively. Rubens was a prolific painter (try and find a major gallery without one of his works) and that may be why he is constantly under-rated; I recall a room in le Louvre of primarily Rubens large canvases that has remarkably low traffic through it.

I went into this one room exhibit expecting large impressive paintings and was disappointed with only seeing sketches. The counter argument is that this exhibit relates to Rubens work in Britain, and there weren't many but this could easily be explained away in a short article or with a few pieces – dedicating an exhibit, albeit one room, to it seems overkill. One to overlook.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

John Martin: Apocalypse

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Tate Britain, Pimlico
When: 21 September 201115 January 2012

What is it?  An exhibition of the works of John Martin; a Victorian artist who was famed for painting large dramatic scenes of disasters.  He was very popular in his time but derided by art critics for being overly sensationalist.

My opinion:  I came into this exhibit with no foreknowledge of John Martin’s work but as I am a fan of sweeping landscapes (who isn’t), I was intrigued and further so by the entrance fee - £14 is quite steep for a relatively unknown artist.

The exhibition takes you through the ups and downs of his career, so although it may seem a little haphazard in its arrangement, that is probably an accurate representation of his life.

His early works highlight his excellent attention to detail, on a par with Canaletto.  However, when painting the day to day his paintings seem stale and lifeless, allowing you to sense that his heart isn’t in it.

It’s only when his imagination is let loose that his truly inspiring works are created.  Whether he is painting biblical or mythological scenes his use of a deep red, hellish background gives a sense that the canvas itself is bleeding – one can only imagine how vibrant it must have looked before the years faded its impact. 

The exhibition informs us that people flocked to his exhibits but the critics were less than impressed – he was the Roland Emmerich of his time.  Not many people would place Independence Day in their top 5 movies of all time, but everybody enjoyed it.  The exhibit points out that many film directors have been inspired by his work and its obvious to see how – most disaster/epic movies look like they must have had Martin in mind when designing setpieces.

The paintings present a strange contrast in that the titles of the works suggest that the people are the focus of the paintings yet they are overshadowed by the scenery, but still the persons are painted in a manner that makes them stand out while the background seems to fade away in comparison.  This contrast is apparent in the ‘Destruction of Pompeii and Herculaneum’ where the exploding Vesuvius first catches the eye but the fleeing masses in the foreground are accentuated to the point where they seem like they may pop out of the painting.

The level of background detail in his works can leave you staring at each painting for a good 15 minutes before you can absorb all the detail – ‘Belshazzar’s feast’ has so many detailed actors in the piece that it adds to the chaotic feel to the scene, with priests sacrificing children almost hidden away in the centre of the painting.  This painting is one of several of the fall of Babylon and it’s interesting to see that the focus is on the city itself and the famous Tower of Babel is marginalised as an outline in the distance.   
In his middle career, Martin switched to black and white prints as they earned him more money. This is a shame as although the medium can be emotive it lacks the grandiosity and subtle detail of his larger works – though ‘Destroying Angel’ is still very impressive.

Later in his career, Martin did return to the sweeping landscapes and definitely upped his game to show that he could use vivid colour to bring about a positive emotive response – the heavenly landscape of ‘The Eve of the Deluge’ being a prime example, and appearing to be a clear inspiration for the skies of Tatooine in Star Wars. 

The ‘Celestial City and the River of Bliss’ along with its sisterpiece ‘Pandemonium’ show how colour can be used to bring about opposite emotions and the stark contrast of hanging them side by side only heightens this effect.

The exhibit also features a 10 minute presentation on three of his pieces.  Kudos to the Tate for embracing the grandiosity of Martin’s work and having over the top narration mixed with clever visual effects that bring his paintings to life, including shimmering water and distortions mimicking earthquakes.  I imagine this is how audiences at the time would have viewed the paintings (obviously sans visual effects) - critics may not like the sensationalism but forget them, Martin’s work appealed to the people and the exhibit reflects that.

John Martin may have been a one trick pony but many artists are, and this is a great trick. Apocalypse is definitely worth seeing and this artwork is unique enough to merit devoting at least 2 hours of your life to.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011: In the presence

Verdict: Go see it
Where: Institute of Contemporary Arts, Westminster
When: 23 November 201115 January 2012

What is it?  An exhibition of works of contemporary art from 40 recent graduates from UK art schools.  This is regular feature held at the ICA (as far as I can tell anyway, as it was there last year).

My opinion:  With emerging talents there is always going to be a certain degree of hit and miss – though probably no more so than you’d expect with any modern art exhibition.  My view is that this year’s crop is more promising that last year’s; it has more inventive artworks and a greater number of pieces that I would recommend.

Proving that the classic medium of painting hasn’t been exhausted is Anna Ilsley with her impressionistic pieces that mix the enchanting with the macabre – a melting pot of Cezanne, John Martin and Bosch’s styles that sounds like it shouldn’t work, but does (pictured below).

I’ve always been a sucker for an imaginative use of colour (blame Matisse), and Marie Angeletti’s photographs bring an almost festive touch to photography – ‘winter’s egg’ being particularly vivid.

The medium that shines the most at this exhibit is video, ranging from the humorous to the inventive:

  • Hyun Woo Lee’s video of a rhythmic pulsating sprinkler watering a football field with the words ‘I hate this job’ appearing in sequence on screen, made me smile.
  • While Savinder Bual’s stop motion images of a train coming towards the viewer delivers a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ moment as you try to understand why the images don’t look right.
  • George Petrou’s video of a face split in half revealing crystalline insides is not exploring anything new – the theme of something magical underneath the skin has been done to death but there is something mesmeric about the video that draws you in.

Judging by this exhibit, the future of British art has a solid foundation to build on, let’s hope these artists get the publicity that they deserve.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize

Verdict: Go see it
Where: National Portrait Gallery, Westminster
When: 10 November 2011 – 12 February 2012

What is it?  60 selected entrants for the portrait prize, including the 5 prize winners.   This doesn’t mean all the photographs are simple portraits of just one person, but it does mean the people in the photos are the focal point.

My opinion:  If I have to pick between landscapes and portraits, landscapes always win hands down for me, so I entered this exhibition with slightly lowered expectations but I was surprised to find there are quite a few portraits that I loved. 

Photographic portraits can be split into three types:

1) Story known:  This is where the photographer picks someone famous / who has been in the news, so you don’t need to read the blurb to understand the significance of the portrait; you already know.  A perfect example in this exhibit was the moody photo of Julian Assange.  This is my least preferred style of portraits as it’s dependent on my emotions towards the subject rather than the portrait evoking an emotional response itself.  Even if the photo itself has artistic merit, this tends to get marginalised by the background story.  Having said that, the portrait of a Pakistani boy knee deep in still floodwater, reflecting everything around him, is brilliant.

2) Story accentuation:  These photos do stand out, but the story that goes with them adds poignancy.  A photo of ‘Gianni’, a hermit on a mountain path surrounded by his dogs all looking out across the forest below expectantly is a prime example.  The knowledge that since his wife died he spends all his time alone with his dogs brings an extra touch of sadness to his searching gaze.  The photo by itself would have been impressive but the back story gives it extra emotional weight.

3) Standalone: These are my favourites, portraits that stand out by themselves, are of unknown people and don’t need an explanation to be truly admired.  The portrait of ‘Claudia’ a face among a crowd on a busy street has been captured so that it seems she is the only person not moving on that particular stretch of pavement, yet it creates a sense of spontaneity that suggests it hasn’t been posed for.  Another great example being a portrait of a man who was badly burned at 14 and is now 60 years old, but has had over 120 operations to repair his face.  Your mind tells you that everything isn’t quite right in the photo but you can’t quite place him as a burns victim as the repair was carried out at a young age and the ‘new skin’ has aged with the subject.

This exhibition has plenty of all three types of portraits so should have something for everyone.  There’s something surreally appealing about a young boy in a mac under a shower with the photo capturing the splashing droplets in glorious detail.

The only disappointment was the winners.  I am not a big fan of the fifth to second prize winners as I think there are many more noteworthy photos in the exhibition that are superior to the prize winners.  However the intensity of the winner (‘Harriet and Gentleman Jack’ pictured above) is brilliant.  The complementary nature of Harriet’s hair and the guinea pig’s coat provide a sense of intimacy in the photo, yet the sterility of the white coat create the opposite effect with a sinister undertone of experimentation.

Overall, any fans of photographic art and/or portraits should definitely check this exhibit out, and it’s easily worth the £2 entrance fee.   

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Caroline Gibello – ‘Water and Dust’

Verdict: Worth a look
Where: Mufti, North Kensington
When: 10 November 201110 January 2012

What is it? Photographs of both animal and plant life in Africa, mainly in black and white with colour and contrast used to accentuate the photo’s subject matter.

My opinion: Mufti is a strange location to display art as it is what I can only describe as an antique furniture shop.  The shop has a cluttered intimate feel which is ideal for selling its wares but not the best for displaying art.  The subtle black and white photographs seem to blend into the background and look like they are just part of the general ambience of the store.  Some of the photos are behind beds and tables that prevent you from taking a close look.  The shop did require me to travel out of my way to see it as it is located on a local high street.

The two reasons above are why I haven’t given this exhibit a ‘go see it’ verdict for the photos themselves are superb.  Gibello filters the colours to purposefully highlight or blend in the subject matter.  The vegetation is ‘whited out’ so that the animals in the photos look even more prominent, whether they are elephants, giraffe or hippopotamus. The opposite effect is also used to show you how well a lioness blends into the long grass and becomes near invisible to its prey.

These are some excellent photographs, worthy of a gallery to be displayed in.

Jeff Wall

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: White Cube gallery, Mayfair
When: 23 November 20117 January 2012

What is it?  The exhibit is split into two parts.  Upstairs are photographs of Sicily from an older exhibit and downstairs are the newer photographs designed to capture particularly poignant moments from everyday life.

My opinion:  Firstly, as I’m sure I’ve said before the White Cube galleries are two of my favourites (I’m yet to visit the new one in Bermondsey) but the Mason’s Yard one is the best for it’s visual impact.  You are just off Regent Street, surrounded by imposing grade listed buildings when you spot a turn-off along a covered cobbled path leading into a secluded square.  And then it hits you, a giant white cube that isn’t visible from the street and the minimalist contemporary design is a terrific contrast to its environs. 

But on to the exhibit itself.   The ground floor displays some photographs of Sicily that are trying to capture different aspects of the island but pale in comparison to the Sicilia il Viaggio photographs I reviewed last month.

As you move downstairs you get the impression that there may be something more imaginative down here.  There are scenes meant to capture moments of spontaneity but seem so staged that they lose their poignancy like two boys boxing in a living room or capturing the moment a boy falls out of a tree.   It’s the most realistic photos that do impress; a photo of a rock paint covered in body paint performing to a sparsely populated crowd that are mostly disinterested reminds me of gigs I’ve attended featuring artists  trying to make it big.  The fervour of the band’s performance is a brilliant contrast to the crowd’s apathy; but this was the only standout piece for me.

‘The King, The Island, The Train, The House, The Ship’ by Paul McCarthy

Verdict: Give it a miss
Where: Hauser & Wirth, Mayfair
When: 16 November 201114 January 2012

What is it?  Photographs and sculptures with nudity and sexuality being a central theme, with references to politics and pop culture.  The installations are in two locations within walking distance of each other, there is supposedly a third location outdoors in a public square but the square was closed on the weekend and I couldn’t see any sculptures inside.

My opinion: I knew nothing of this artist beforehand but as I walked into the first building on Piccadily, the sign warning of graphic content set some expectations.  The building itself is a magnificent aged and impressive building; it makes you appreciate the power of art that it is able to command such great exhibition spaces, in Mayfair no less – Haunch of Venison being another similarly grand venue.  But unfortunately for me, the grandeur of the building was the only unexpected pleasure.

It’s clear that the works are designed to shock with significant nudity on display, and though shock is a legitimate, and potentially lucrative, way of making a statement (just ask Damien Hirst) it just doesn’t work here.  Nudity without artistic merit is just pornography.

The centrepiece of this exhibit is an installation called ‘The King’ that has a nude and disfigured model of the artist sitting on a throne with pews arranged in front of it so you can sit and ‘gaze in wonderment’.  It’s not the most subtle of statements but just doesn’t work; if Paul McCarthy was a household name then he might be able to pull off the satire, but I found it overly pretentious.

The second location on Savile Row has mechanized sculptures of George W. Bush sodomising pigs with a rhythmic motion - no subtlety here either.  Firstly, targeting Bush is getting very passé considering he isn’t president any more and secondly, he’s an easy target that everyone has picked on before and this fact reduces the impact of sculpture.  That said the motion sensors that mean the heads follow you round as you circle the installation, is extremely creepy.

I was expecting to be shocked and that never materialised; nor was I impressed. Thumbs down all round.

Modern Toss

Where: Imitate Modern Gallery, Marylebone
Verdict: Go see it
When: 9-18 December 2011

What is it?  Drawings, posters, cartoons, and one installation piece all displaying the same puerile and childish sense of humour of the artists – and I mean that in a good way.

My opinion:  This exhibition is set in a road just off Harley Street in an area not associated with art and it’s hidden away on a side street.  The gallery itself is small but possibly due to its secluded nature it wasn’t the busiest when I went to see it on a Saturday afternoon.

The first piece that hits you and the one that is the centrepiece of this exhibition is the periodic table of swearing; an interactive table top with over a hundred offensive words and phrases. All visitors hover over the table with a sense of trepidation, as you know the sound will travel throughout the gallery, before plucking up some courage and picking one of the least offensive words.   The joy of this installation comes in the serious tone that the word/phrase is spoken and the highlights are the made-up phrases that don’t make sense, such as ‘a*seholes for goalposts’.   All the columns of elements are related to each other and get worse as you progress downward much like properties of the same group of elements in the actual periodic table do for reactivity and other properties.  So where the halogens would normally be, you have the word tit and variations of it in the same column.  This piece was the favourite amongst visitors and it set the scene of what to expect for the rest of the exhibit.

Other works in the same vein included a picture of Piers Morgan on the front of a book title ‘Britain’s biggest c*nts’ – ‘soon to be made into a TV series’.  My favourite has to be the punctuation networking event, as it has a clever sense of humour about it – the @ symbol remarking that he got lucky and now has steady work thanks to the guy who invented email.

This sense of humour is present in all of the works and it can be a little hit and miss but it’s done knowingly so you can’t help but get swept up in the inanity of it all. It helps that it’s a small selection on display as you get the feeling that too many of these kinds of works in one viewing would start to grate – something I refer to as the ‘Family Guy effect’.  I should point out that I’m using asterisks to clean this review up but the exhibit doesn’t hold back so if you’re easily offended by crude language, this may be one to avoid.

Prints of most of the works are on sale and reasonably priced (for limited editions), but if you don’t want to spend so much there are a selection of £2 postcards available.

It’s a very limited showing, both in size and time on display, but definitely worth going to see while you still can. 

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.