= The Crawford Arts Review: August 2015

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Art and the architecture of the art gallery

In this review, both artist, Robert Motherwell, and gallery, Bernard Jacobson, are the stars of the show.

This is the centennial year of Motherwell's birth. So very, very much has been written about him, including, this year, a book, by Bernard Jacobson, Robert Motherwell: The Making of an American Giant.

To see that blackest of black Motherwell signature script stencilled onto the whiter than white back wall of the gallery, is to reacquaint oneself with acrylic paint laid down with an energy that is almost demonic. Art as sex? Motherwell in his own unique way invented it. Great money shots of paint that has clients in a polite drool of desire. The power of black and white. Motherwell himself likened it to the dialogue between life and death.

This newest exhibition, Robert Motherwell: Black of paintings, works on paper and limited edition prints surveys the importance of this dialogue in Motherwell's work, including his Elegy series to the Spanish Republic and the Spanish Civil War, a series the artist worked on throughout his career.  

As for the exhibition space, the home of the Bernard Jacobson Gallery for the past 6 months, not only is it in the beautiful mid-20th-century French Railways House, it is the result of a conversion that has turned an underground car-park (forgive the italics) into offices, exhibition space and viewing rooms.
Photo: Courtesy of Nick Gowing Architecture

The architect of the gallery space is Nick Gowing. The conversion provides a magnificent setting for art. Take the side entrance in Duke Street St James's (opposite the side entrance to Fortnum & Mason) to enter the gallery.

In residence at No.6 Cork Street since 2004, I imagine the Bernard Jacobson Gallery, like others prized from their historical base in Cork Street, suffered the pain of loss with stoicism. But all is spectacularly well in the new place: magisterial two-storeyed entry staircase, a well-chosen palette of materials, hi-tech LED lighting. The resulting light and airiness is not only beautiful but highly functional. Motherwell's biggest painting in this show (A View No.1, 1958, oil on canvas) measures 206.1 x 264.2 cm (811/8 x 104 in). Held with the professional caring skill of the handlers, it will have gone down those stairs not only safely but with a sense of belonging.

Bernard Jacobson Gallery
28 Duke Street St James's
London SW1

Monday, 17 August 2015

Bau Magazine from the 1960s and 1970s

Until Sunday 27 September

Born in Vienna, Bau: Magazine for Architecture and Urban Planning came to believe that 'Everything is Architecture' (Alles ist Architektur) (see the poster from its famous 1968 issue edited by Hans Hollein, below).

The message, of course, is that everything from a lipstick to a portrait, a rocket ship, a bird's nest, a computer is constructed, is built. The message too is that architecture, by default, is interdisciplinary.


In the ICA Fox Reading Room, the magazines have been opened out and displayed under glass. They show large format glossy pages in black and white. The first ussue of 1970 was dedicated to the Viennese architects and designers Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffmann (it marked the 100th anniversary of Hoffmann's birth). The pic on the left shows the staircase of the Loos House in Vienna.

A gallery tour of the Bau exhibition led by Jo Melvin takes place on Thursday 3 September at 6.30 pm.

ICA Fox Reading Room
The Mall
London SW1

 £1 day membership (free on Tuesdays)
Closed Mondays, Tue, Wed, Fri, Sat, Sun 11 am to 6 pm, Thu 11 am to 9 pm

Monday, 10 August 2015

Is there a third way to work architecturally with concrete?

I think of architecture as high art. Art that moves both the occupant and the passerby. Art that makes the toes tingle. When I first visited Prague, I was moved massively by the way every building combined this 'being art' with its functionality: the bicycle sheds were art.           Sally Crawford, 10/08/2015 

I constantly look for the above combination of art and functionality in London. Thrillingly, it occurs often. I feel the profession lets itself down each time it opts for one (function) over the other (art) when both are achievable, within the same cost and time frame, with the requisite effort. 

I attended RIBA's Brutalist Playground exhibition with trepidation. Concrete – b├ęton brut – used as a building material seems to me to declare not only that function trumps art, but that it doesn't much matter: the next generation will tear it down anyway. (Old Nick Barbon's modus operandi does not become the profession but it still operates.) It is the fabric of the living city that suffers as a consequence.

Raw concrete needs art in its formation to make it anything less than ugly. Le Corbusier had that art – that sensitivity to ratio, to scale, and to context. We have grey postwar estates, underground car parks and the Barbican. No wonder such buildings attracted the term 'Brutalist' (and I know the etymology) for those who worked with it so rawly.

RIBA are seeking to at least ameliorate this reputation with their exhibition, The Brutalist Playground, which finishes on Sunday 16 August.

Concrete's relative cheapness makes it one of the most useful (and flexible) of architectural materials. I can't say I've ever loved it until one day in May 2002 when I saw another exhibition – also at RIBA – that showed me what concrete was capable of. It ran for 2 months and, rather brilliantly, it was called HARDCORE: Concrete's rise from utility to luxury.

To my mind – writing, as I think In have explained elsewhere, as a user first and an exponent second – it was sensational. Here was a brave new world of concrete that wasn't coarse textured or uniformly grey; that was as tactile as stone (see archive links below). I wish they would repeat it.

Child playing on and beneath a high density foam
reproduction (to scale) of the 'flying saucer' originally built
in concrete as part of the Churchill Gardens Estate, Pimlico

In the present exhibition, RIBA have been true to the architectural struggles of the past – to deal with postwar shortages while at the same time provide housing and recreational space for postwar generations. The architectural collective Assemble and the artist Simon Terrill have been equally diligent in their investigation of the archives in order to faithfully reproduce the era in microcosm. Nothing disappoints.

A young architect demonstrates her building
skills using coloured foam hexagonals

I am sure there are many fine examples of 'post brutalist' use of concrete – this year's Stirllng Prize finalists provide some striking examples. The use of added pigment or textural aggregates, surface texture or lustrous finish, can give results that are inspiring for anyone working with or living with this material as part of their built environment. Expensive you say. Well, yes, if used for core and exterior. But expensive building stone can now be cut into thin facings that both look good and wear well. Concrete lends itself to the same treatment. Let's at least have some grown up Modroc, a uniform and thoughtfully produced layer of concrete that can be fused onto sturdy backing, cut to fit and fixed into place. Comments welcome.

RIBA's free exhibition, The Brutalist Playground, runs until Sunday 16 August at RIBA, 66 PORTLAND PLACE, LONDON W1.

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday 10am to 5pm and Tuesday 10am to 8pm

From the RIBA archive, HARDCORE: Concrete's rise from utility to luxury

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

You've probably seen one of these before

This reaction to light, this making with light, is the subject of an exhibition Photosynthesis: shedding new light on plants on until Sunday 27 September at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.

(with thanks to @NLinUK for tweeting details)

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Monday, 3 August 2015

Parasols in London

The beautifully calm area between
St Paul's Cathedral and the river

Continuing what is turning out to be a summer miscellany

The 2015 Serpentine Pavilion (designed by architect duo selgascano) is a fascinating light and colour filled space walled by transluscent plastic. It's sited next door to the Serpentine Gallery until Sunday 18 October. Fortnum & Mason are in residence as suppliers of food, drink, ice-creams and picnic fare.