= The Crawford Arts Review: April 2014

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Martin Creed: What’s the point of it?

Hayward Gallery

Southbank Centre
Extended until May Bank Holiday, Monday 5 May

The Hayward has permitted its every space to be opened up – and every room, including a glass-walled temporary room for 7000 large white balloons, the outside sculpture terraces, the lift, the toilets, the exits and the entrances – to be filled with the art of one man, Martin Creed's retrospective. The result is industrial

It's industrial both in scale and in many cases in concept.
The I-beam for Creed’s Mothers, is 12.5 metres long. The neon letters are 2.5 metres high. If you add the fact that the whole thing turns like a rather rickety giant rotor it is seriously scary.

The artistic metaphor of course is that when you are small, your mother (or father for that matter in the case of little girls) is really big. There's something about the very sound it makes that is unsettling: until you realize that it comes from 39 metronomes, all deliberately set to tick out of synch. 

The exhibition then starts to get hugely worthwhile and I start to see the point of the piano
The viewer should be aware that, apart from the fixed concrete benches on the terraces and the aforementioned toilets, there is absolutely nowhere to sit down: you are part of this art. So let's plough on to Room 2. Someone is playing the piano – a glossy black upright, highly polished, with shiny brass hinges and small cacti in pots on top. What is wrong with the sound? People are gathered round the pianist (who has a seat). The keyboard is intact but the sound is achromatic as if some of the notes were missing. Cue someone (possibly me) asking: “What’s the point of it?” It’s just an ordinary out-of-tune, piano after all (Work No. 736 Piano Accompaniment (2007)).
The work I find most beautiful . . . is an austere series of white-framed paper works

The exhibition then starts to get hugely worthwhile and I start to see the point of the piano later when a different pianist takes over. He, with the solemnity of a concert pianist, makes his way up the keyboard and down again, each note played with equal sonority (this is a performance grade upright), with a tempo that achieves the magisterial. The art piano is thus given the same importance as its brethren in the surrounding concert halls (please don't tell @RFHPiano I said this).

The work I find most beautiful, moving in fact, is an austere series of white-framed paper works, the first a sheet with the words ‘Ink on paper’ typed on it, the second a sheet that has been crumpled and straightened out, the third a sheet that has been folded again and again to make a small fat rectangle then straightened out. In their frames they look 2 dimensional but in fact even the typed sheet will carry the indentations of the printer, making all three sheets 3 dimensional. Like many people I think of myself as familiar with paper and ink. Here was Martin Creed showing me something simple that was also profound and beautiful.

There are over 160 works displayed, the output of more than 30 years of endeavour, from a self-portrait that dates from when the artist was around 16 and a work based on a sculpture (of a clenched fist) that he also made as a schoolboy. Work No. 1421 (2012) is a joyous thing, a bronze fist, plated in gold so that it takes on a fiery glow. I also liked the collection of balls arranged sculpturally on the floor as what Mr Searle in The Guardian called ". . . a sports solar system"; and oddly satisfying.

The three sculpture terraces contain a single work each: (1) a wall of brick – beautiful with its precise courses of coloured brick, almost a catalogue of "brick"; (2) a car that gives you all the experience of “car” without going anywhere. Doors and windows open and close, the horn sounds, lights go on and off, a football commentary blares from inside, there is the smell of petrol. In fact, just as Creed has made a domestic version of his Turner-Prize-Winning The lights going on and off (2000)
a standard lamp – Work No. 312 A lamp going on and off (2003) – this car too could well have spinoff potential, a work for the suburban living room perhaps. (3) is a large-scale projection (in slow motion) of his black and white film of an erect penis that cantilevers up and down, a study work should there be any engineers visiting. 

Let me not fail to mention the dildo cactii, a row of Acanthocereustetragonus or Pilosocereusroyenii (both of which are dubbed the dildo cactus), thin, spiky and aggressive and arranged in order of height. Considered to be a sexual innuendo that relates to both men (anus) and women (vagina), perhaps the latter is the most likely thought to occur to the casual viewer. Would that Mr Creed had nuanced this work perhaps with the addition of small sombreros
– or even bowler hats perched on top or left the work in the studio to amuse his friends. I didn't think it was needed here. 

There is also a nicely produced Children’s Guide to Martin Creed: What’s the point of it?

 Work No. 1363, 2012
© Martin Creed, Image courtesy the artist
and Hauser & Wirth with thanks to The Standard

The Other Art Fair
Ambika P3
University of Westminster
35 Marylebone Road
London NW1

Enjoy the work of 100 artists; buy online; take part in an online auction. Check out the work of Mat Kemp ('Looks like rain'  old Thames boatyard nails set in a diagonal series in plaster),  Ben Parker ('The Flying Donkey' and other mythic works that are superbly grounded), and Hitomi Kammai (moving images that reference Hiroshima and Fukushima
-- sold out!).

Learn more from editor Sophie Roberts' blog


Thursday, 10 April 2014

London Brings German Renaissance Art into the Light

Strange Beauty: Masters of the German Renaissance
Until Sunday 11 May

National Gallery Sainsbury Wing
Daily         10am–6pm (last admission 5.15pm)
Fridays     10am–9pm (last admission 8.15pm)

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well, yes, but the eye can be and often is influenced by the environment in which an artefact is seen, either at the time of its making or as history unfolds. None perhaps more so than the art of the German-speaking world before and after the First and Second World Wars. With this exhibition, curated jointly by the National Gallery and the University of York, we are able to take a fresh look at paintings, as well as drawings and prints, by artists of the German Renaissance
Holbein the Younger, Baldung Grien, Dürer and Altdorfer as well as Cranach the Elder. To emphasize the point about what was acceptable viewing when the National Gallery was founded in 1824, Room 1 shows a Raphael (Saint Catherine of Alexandria), a van Eyck (The Arnolfini Portrait), a Cuyp (A Hilly River Landscape with Figures) and other paintings of a religious or domestic nature, the first three examples being paintings acquired in the Gallery's inaugural year, a nice touch.

From the Gallery's own collection comes what is, for me, one of the star exhibits, Cranach the Elder's Cupid complaining to Venus. Apart from times when it has been on loan, it has been in the National Gallery since 1963 when it was acquired under the tenure of Sir Philip Hendy. Venus is also depicted in Hans von Aachen's The Amazement of the Gods (Room 5) painted some 65 years later as a titillation piece for the Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. The theme is the Emperor (as Jupiter), having abandoned Venus, shown embracing their daughter Minerva. Venus herself is being disrobed by a putto, a display that leaves nothing to the imagination. Subtle, erotic, and probably just what the Emperor ordered (top, left). 

 Painting with oils was only beginning in the 15th and 16th centuries so for many of these artists it was a relatively new medium. Room 4 shows a work from the beginning of the 16th century from the workshop of Albrecht Dürer: The Virgin and Child ('The Madonna with the Iris'). Lovely as it is, in terms of perspective, the Madonna's head is set rather far back. The shape of her knees seems to jut out awkwardly beneath the fabric of her robe; the sunlit arch on the left of the picture plane could be said to detract from the overall compositional harmony (left). But as Dürer himself shows in Illustration of perspective from 'Four Books on Measurement' Unterweysung der Messung) and Two studies for the child genius in the engraving 'Melencolia', both lent by the British Museum, practice makes perfect. 

The results when they got it right can be seen in prime positions on the walls as well as in vista position as you move from room to room. They include Holbein the Younger's Erasmus, a superb portrait of the great thnker, and a loan from the Longford Castle collection, his Anne of Cleves (a watercolour miniature on vellum), A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, and 'The Ambassadors'. We have Albrecht Altdorfer's Christ taking Leave of his Mother, Matthias Grünewald's An Elderly Woman with Clasped Hands (charcoal or black chalk on paper), Master of the Saint Bartholomew Altarpiece (Saints Peter and Dorothy), Hans Baldung Grien's Portrait of a Young Man with a Rosary and Unknown Swabian Artist's Portrait of a Woman of the Hofer Family.

This is a particularly scholarly exhibition, a piecing together of the works and artists of the Northern European Renaissance and well supported by renaissance events as well as events related both to this exhibition and other exhibitions in the Gallery's 'Renaissance Spring', including the Italian Renaissance beginning with Veronese: Magnificence in Renaissance Venice.

But back to the Cranach Venus in Room 5. Just look at her (above). She seems to have abseiled down from a Mount Olympus garden party, minus her dress, but wearing a fashionable hat, and a bejewelled collar. She picks her elegant way out of the apple orchard into which she has descended, right next to the angry bees whose hive her son Cupid has raided. And there is the little scamp, showing mummy his stings and as the title says "complaining". The picture is stuffed with allegory and not just the idea that with pleasure eventually comes pain. It is loaded into every gesture and emotion with which the artist has endowed his subject. What is the expression painted into her eyes? Fondness, certainly, but exasperation too. What is the meaning we read from the gesture of her right hand? She is looking sideways at us. Her hand looks arrested. Is she implying 'look at the imp, but how can I punish him?' or is her hand about to open and she to imply 'Watch me, I'm going to hit him'. Compositionally, the work is both beautiful and daring.

In conclusion I would say that these works are not strange, merely different
and in many cases marvellously different.

For advance tickets or to book, visit the National Gallery web site.
Full price  £7
National Art Pass (Art Fund) holders  £3.50

Under 12s free with paying adult
Joint Strange Beauty/Veronese ticket  £5

Picture credits:

Hans von Aachen, The Amazement of the Gods

The National Gallery, London. Bought 1982
© The National Gallery, London

Workshop of Albrecht Dürer, The Virgin and Child ('The Madonna with the Iris')
The National Gallery, London. Bought through the Art Fund, 1945
© The National Gallery, London

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Cupid complaining to Venus
The National Gallery, London. Bought 1963

© The National Gallery, London

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Art and Commerce Beautifully Mixed

RUSH, it's the final day of ICA Off-Site: Dover Street Market at 17-18 Dover Street, W1.

It's a perfect mix of art and commerce and it closes at 5 pm today, Sunday 06 April - unless you can persuade the organizers to give you a private view. And if you're the New West End Company and/or the Oxford Street Association I hope they will.

Because it's the perfect solution for the quirky shops of east Oxford Street, the section from Oxford Circus to Tottenham Court Road. 

I hope these images give you some idea of the way the retail spaces have been handled. All credit to the designers, Julia, they're crammed with international chic.


This section of Oxford Street has everything that Londoners and visitors to London need. It's home to the transport hub of Crossrail, the nearby British Museum (and St Pancras International), the charming medieval street pattern of Hanway Place, and the quirkily gabled buildings of Oxford Street itself.