Walled Garden Theatre opened in Barbados

img_1761In a wonderful start to the new year, the Barbados Museum and Historical Society unveiled its brand-new Walled Garden Theatre, part-sponsored by Catherine & Keith.   It is a great pleasure to be a part of this important new venture for culture in Barbados.  The Museum’s Chairman, Sir Trevor Carmichael said it was “a dream come true.”  We hope this new facility will become a much-loved feature of the museum, helping to grow audiences.

One of the Theatre’s first events will be to host the opening gala of the Barbados Independent Film Festival on Wednesday 11 January.

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Discussing a point with festival sponsor Ian McNeel
Discussing the building with festival sponsor Ian McNeel

Binary Bon Bons

Susan Rosenberg, Hide n Seek at the Atelier, pastel, graphite, archival ink on paper, 112 x 82.5cms, 2013
Susan Rosenberg, Hide n Seek at the Atelier, pastel, graphite, archival ink on paper, 112 x 82.5cms, 2013

For the British Computer Society column this month, it’s the annual end of year
special – a celebration of work submitted by readers of the column, BCS & Computer
Arts Society members. This demonstrates the wide variety of work being produced today with digital technology at its heart.  Here is just one example, by Susan Rosenberg, fresh from her London exhibition.  Read it here:http://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/51769

Grayson Perry: “Michelangelo would be making CGI movies & 3D printing”

Grayson Perry said in his Reith Lecture this morning that if Michelangelo were alive today he wouldn’t be painting ceilings he’d be making CGI movies and 3D printing.  He pointed out that artists have always been early adopters of new technology; it was an acknowledgement that perhaps the real innovation in art today is happening away from the traditional art world coterie of dealers/ galleries/auction houses and is engaging with technology or even taking place in cyberspace.

Image from BBC Radio 4
Grayson Perry (image from BBC Radio 4)

The 3 lectures so far have made for wonderful listening – I especially enjoyed hearing him take a strip off international art English (in first lecture) which is rife in the art world, spreading since the 1970s via the art press.  Quoting artists Rule & Levine and their e-flux website language analyser – this type of art bollocks (sorry semantics) rebukes ordinary English for it’s lack of nouns. Perry said he gets metaphysical sea-sickness from reading this sort of text.  There was a hilarious piece – an A to Z guide to fluent Artspeak, by Philip Hook, (whose new book about the art world is out this week), printed in this week’s Sunday Times Culture.  My favourite Viewing Experience, Hook says is a nauseating term to denote looking at a picture in that it offers a highly engrossing viewing experience.

After today’s standing ovation at the lecture, I’d say Perry is seriously in danger of becoming one of Britain’s Greatest Living National Treasures.

Michael Stanley 1975 – 2012

I was incredibly saddened to learn this weekend of the sudden death of the director of Modern Art Oxford, Michael Stanley. I got to know him a couple of years ago when he took up the post at Oxford and always found him to be an enthusiastic and determined advocate for the arts, ambitious for his museum and plans for its expansion. I enjoyed more than one intellectual discussion with him about the state of arts funding and patronage in Britain today. He was a gifted curator and his exhibitions programme was carefully thought-out and scholarly; my favourites were George Shaw’s selection of Graham Sutherland and, just finished, Exercise (Djibouti) by John Gerrard, beautifully presented in the Old Power Station, an outpost of the museum. There is no doubt in my mind that Michael easily had the ability and charisma to reach the top of his profession and would have had a great deal more to contribute to contemporary art. It is a tragedy; the art world has lost one of its good guys.

Report from the Venice Biennale

The 54th Venice Biennale (titled ILLUMInations  get it?!) is, as to be expected vast but manages to be largely underwhelming, full as it is of found objects, re-positioned, a la Duchamp. However there are some gems to be uncovered spread around the city, if your feet can take the seemingly unending strain.

The prize for Best Artist, rightly in my opinion, went to Christian Marclay for The Clock, 2010 (previously shown in London). The artist has made a composite of film clips that show clocks and watches; he runs these in real time  so if it’s 3.30 pm we might see a clip starring, let’s say, Tom Hanks’ acting in a film in which the fictional time is 3.30; a minute later we might see Nicholas Cage (from a different film) looking at his watch and it’s 3.31. The artist must have used literally thousands of clips from old, middling and current movies; some last a few seconds, others maybe a minute. As an artwork it works on several different levels: It is incredibly seductive to watch. And fun to try and spot the films from which his clips are taken. Marclay also manages to run a loose narrative  people from several different films clips run up stairs, for example, or it rains for several minutes  in a couple different clips. Even people who don’t like art seem to love it. The time involved to produce this, not to mention the skill, is seriously impressive. Can we please have a DVD, so we can watch the entire 24 hours at home?

Here are some more of my highlights:

The Japanese pavilion displays animation by Tabaimo (Ayako Tabata) a young artist inspired by traditional floating world woodblock illustration and contemporary manga imagery. The result is an imaginary city invaded by a creeping sense of unease; at one point a hair-like mass takes over the city a subversion of her inspirations, but a work that still manages a pleasing aesthetic.

Tabaimo, “teleco-soup” still image, 2011 video installation
Tabaimo, teleco-soup still image, 2011 video installation

At the Guggenheim Collection (the former home of American art dealer-patron Peggy Guggenheim), is a show of New York dealer/curator Ileana Sonnabend. A delicate Sol LeWitt wall drawing joins a host of other exquisite things collected by Sonnabend during the 60s and 70s, all of which have a connection with Venice (where she too had a home). Wonderful to see this historic stuff exhibited in the same city as the cutting-edge Biennale art, but makes me wonder if we’ll pay to see the work of today displayed in 40 years time.

Sol LeWitt, Arcs From Four Corners, 1971
Sol LeWitt, Arcs From Four Corners, 1971

Apart from the official exhibitions, many other Venice museums and institutions mount shows during the months of the Biennale. To my mind one of the most rewarding of these for the art lover is at the Palazzo Fortuny (entitled TRA. Edge of Becoming). Here on view is a wonderful kinetic art work by Davide Boriani (b. 1936) from the early 60s  Superficie magnetica. It consist of tiny metal filaments encased in a clear disc, a hidden magnet rotates behind that moves the grey filaments around creating intriguing patterns. This is just the sort of thing, with its connotations of entropy, that pioneering cybernetic artists would have found fascinating.

Superficie magnetica by Davide Boriani
Superficie magnetica by Davide Boriani

Here are rooms full of a wide variety of art and objects from a range of periods and locations collected by the Fortuny family over many years which presumably they lived with and loved, displayed to great effect in a palace which is currently under restoration. What makes this such a marvellous place to visit is not only the opportunity to glimpse a collector’s mindset  they were clearly attracted to the weird, the surreal, light and optical illusions (including a James Turrell light installation), but also the manner in which diverse objects are put together with much thought and care as to placement and ideas (a whole floor is devoted to the concept of doorways). An interesting comparison can be made with the Francois Pinault collection on view at Ponta Della Dogana at the end of the Grand Canal. Here we have a fabulously wealthy collector who appears to have bought, almost as if from a catalogue, one of each of the most famous and bankable contemporary post-pop artists (Hirst, Charles Ray, Jeff Koons, etc). This is not to do down these artists particularly, nor indeed the beautiful restoration of the former Venice customs house that houses it all, but the collection clearly lacks that idiosyncratic, personal touch of artwork acquired over a lifetime, that tells us of the collector and makes a collection like the Fortuny so memorable.

But the best thing so seen so far at this year’s Biennale is an exhibition entitled Penelope’s Labour: Weaving Words and Images at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on San Giorgio Maggiore (the same island that hosted last Biennale’s wonderful Peter Greenaway digital installation). This thoughtful and beautifully-curated show explains the importance of the Jacquard Loom, especially in relation to contemporary tapestry art. I particularly like the apt quote from Ada Lovelace to Charles Babbage (from 1843), printed up on one wall which arguably marks the beginning of the digital age.

Ada Lovelace quote
Ada Lovelace quote

Alongside antique tapestries are displayed works by British artists Marc Quinn and Grayson Perry, whose Walthamstow Tapestry, (following the example of the Bayeux piece) tells an ironic story of 21st Century consumerist life in Britain and is a magnificently witty contribution to contemporary art that deserves to be put on display somewhere permanently. (I hear some of his work is heading for display at the British Museum later this year, maybe this work will make it?) Perry is a consummate draughtsman and this fine work does justice to a skill sadly too often overlooked in avant-garde contemporary art. Here is a blind Guggenheim being led by a guide dog – Sotheby’s:

Detail of Walthamstow Tapestry by Grayson Perry
Detail of Walthamstow Tapestry by Grayson Perry
Marc Quinn quote
Marc Quinn quote

Space Synapse

A talk by artist, designer and entrepreneur Anna Hill, founder of Space Synapse Systems, is scheduled for Thursday 19th May at 6.30pm at Birkbeck, Gordon Square. Space Synapse aims to bring the experiences of Space to the Internet through gaming, virtual edutainment and environmental engineering.

All are welcome at what promises to be a fascinating presentation by this artist who has worked with NASA.

For address and map see: http://www.computer-arts-society.org/

Anna Hill Space Synapse Systems
Anna Hill Space Synapse Systems