= The Crawford Arts Review: 2016

Friday, 18 November 2016

Until Saturday 14 January

An alumna of the Slade, artist Olivia Bax shows her new work "Zest" at Fold Gallery in Fitzrovia.
Olivia Bax, Drive, 2016,
© the artist & Fold Gallery
Not afraid to mix her media, Bax builds her work from materials such as plaster, hessian and motorcycle rubber, to wood, steel, paper, paint and polystyrene. In the eponymous "Zest" (not shown), the paint she uses is an appropriately zesty orangey orange. Left is "Drive", a wall-mounted piece that speaks of the artist's confidence working white on white.

Fold Gallery
158 New Cavendish Street
London W1
Opening times:
Wed-Sat 12-6 
or by appointment

Monday, 14 November 2016

Frieze Sculpture in Regent's Park until Sunday 8 January

A pleasing sculptural conceit by Mikayel Ohanjanyan
Senza Titolo (untitled), 2016 - chunks of marble banded with iron and made to look like parcels.

Frieze Sculpture Park 2016. Free. Scroll down the Frieze site for a full list of works.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Life of Clay: Two Views of the Same Work

The softness of clay; 

the hardness of clay. 

Work by students of the Bartlett School of Architecture from Life of Clay at RIBA  - until Thursday 27 November. Polish your shoes.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Jewellery as Art

Boutique modern jewellery shops usually come about from one person's passion for their subject. They tend to be special places. I am going to focus on four I know in London.

You will go there for a special occasion, yours or someone else's. You will buy. Fascinating, eclectic, shops where it's almost impossible to leave without making a purchase.

The first is online although the makers are based in London. onewemadeearlier.com 

The online store specialises in contemporary accessories, the brainchild of husband and wife team Emma and Rob Orchardson. With backgrounds in fine art and design, their work combines a playful sense of fun, with a striking geometric simplicity.

Art jewellery shops include Maggie Owen London in WC1, the Sir John Soane's Museum shop in WC2 and @work in SW1.


Maggie Owen of the eponymous Maggie Owen London.

Maggie is well known to Bloomsbury. Indeed she is the subject of a feature in the local quarterly Bloomsbury journal. Be prepared to be totally seduced by her wares.

The Sir John Soane's Museum shop is filled with the unusual.

Its selection always favours the trends popular in the 19th century and many reference architectural details found in the museum, formerly the home of Sir John Soane who was Professor of Architecture of the RA. Sir John was an important collector of art and antiquities. The Museum is free to visit; check website for opening times.

@work specialises in contemporary jewellery

The shop offers an eclectic and edgy mixture drawn from far and wide, often including unusual materials such as textiles or toy parts. You'll find it on the corner of Ponsonby Terrace and John Islip Street. The shop also holds making workshops, including how men and women can make their own wedding or other rings.




Maggie Owen London
13 Rugby Street
London WC1

Sir John Soane's Museum
13 Lincoln's Inn Fields
London WC2

35 Ponsonby Terrace
London SW1

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Dorothea Tanning Flower Paintings at Alison Jacques until Saturday 1 October

Flower paintings and some of their preparatory sketches at Berners Street. Stem, leaf and petal forms that are the stuff of dreams wet and dry, being subtexed with sexual forms and, well, orifices. Dorothea Tanning was 86 when she started them. 86 years young by the looks of it. She lived to be 101.
Siderium Exaltatum (Starry Venusweed), 1997
Oil on canvas
97 x 130 cm, 38 1/4 x 51 1/8 ins unframed
99 x 132 cm, 39 x 52 ins framed
Copyright The Destina Foundation, New York
published with kind permission
In Zephirium apochripholiae (not pictured) the artist seems, since this is a flower acting as the anus, to graphically reinvent the French term pets de nonne.
She painted 12 in all, one for each month of the year. She then sat down with the same number of her poet friends, including James Merrill, Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery, and together they made a book of paintings and poems Another Language of Flowers (George Braziller Inc, 2002). Since these were imaginary flowers, they then composed fictitious Latin names for them, some quite hilarious.

So we have Flagrantis speculum veneris, Convolutus alchemelia and the beautiful Siderium Exaltatum (pictured), which translates as Starry Venusweed. Here the artist really shows her command of colour, introducing painted light into the bell of the second Venusweed.

Photograph of Dorothea Tanning
Copyright pinterest.com
with thanks
Alison Jacques
16-18 Berners Street
London W1
Tue-Fri 10-6; Sat 11-5

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Skip the line tickets for the Van Gogh Museum - on until Sunday 25 September

The Guardian on Monday published its review of Kanye West's Famous sculpture ("So Kanye West has become a Famous artist overnight. Props to him"). We can take the word 'props' to infer all due respect. The rest of the review is rather more scathing. I disagree so here I venture to publish my own take on the work.

Serendipitous observation (observation being the key word) plays a large part in life. We notice things, and when we notice something in particular, maybe out of the corner of our eye, that can become a seed, and from that can grow an idea - and, if we're lucky, a practical result.

All arts (& indeed sciences) depend firstly on observation; good observation.

If we're very, very lucky, the result of observation, in terms of artistic or literary practice, will move others as the original observation moved us. I like to think that is what happened here. The original work, the seed, was US artist Vincent Desiderio's 2008 painting Sleep, a 2.4 x  7.3 metre (8 x 24 foot) work in oils. According to what one is told, Mr West saw it and had the idea, via his work on a video, for a sculpture. Where and when he saw the painting I've no idea. It could have been in the artist's studio (the work took over a year to complete even after it was first exhibited in New York). Alternatively, this may be a sophisticated way of name dropping because the ftinished work now hangs in a private Connecticut collection.

The photograph below shows the work Mr West has rendered as a sculpture, a room-sized bedful of famous people ranging from Donald Trump to Rihanna.
Kim Kardashian West at the "Famous" exhibition
at Blum & Poe in Los Angeles last week. 

picture © Rachel Murray/Getty Images
published 31 August 2016 New York Times

Why? Well, I take it he was moved by the original painting. Because people asleep, whether living or in painted form, young or old, share one outstanding characteristic. They look vulnerable, the mask of sleep melting away all of the masks they may have worn during waking hours.

Indeed, I recall something a surgeon once told me: that people asleep under anaesthetic all look the same - 'they look "beautiful"', he said (pause for an 'ah' and maybe a wry smile).

Certainly the sculpted figures look beautiful. West's people are mannequins - the result of his having the financial resources to commission these plastic likenesses. In addition, the commission has involved the makers using animatronics so that the figures appear to be breathing.

As they rest on their pillows, the observer will see what the artist saw originally - that vulnerability

So there is a punchline here, something that's universal. All humans, however 'famous', share this. The artist has included himself and his wife in the line up so the work becomes even more personal: 'look at us' it seems to say; 'we are on sleeping terms with all these celebrities'.

Note: sadly, the work can no longer be seen. It was exhibited for 48 hours at a private event put on by the Blum and Poe gallery in Los Angeles (address below). From now on, it will only be seen by buyers, be they private, corporate or institutional. The asking price is $4 million (£2,978,895). And on that note, it might be interesting if a body such as our own Tate Modern were to take an interest. The UK and the USA could even effect an arts swap: one of theirs for one of ours.
Blum & Poe
2727 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
United States
For the Gallery pic of the work, go to

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

The continuing mystery of Vincent van Gogh's illness and death

The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is showing its latest Van Gogh exhibition until Sunday 25 September.
Let me first turn to one painting in particular (see left). It shows trees in an orchard or perhaps garden setting. It's cool, precise work, a single figure in the midground striding towards what seems to be a building on the right. The painter's analytical eye captures everything: the scale of the trees compared to the human figure, the tree roots, the shrubs; the gnarled branches of a robust species, right down to the sandy brown earth beneath. Look at the black lines the painter uses to outline the main shapes. There is an almost geometrical precision in the way the trees are shown to grow out of the earth. I don't think Van Gogh rested. It's all so fresh, so vigorous. He used this same analytical technique for many of his paintings, especially perhaps, the late ones. Still life with a plate of onions, for instance (below) was painted in the same year as his tree painting, 1889, the year before he died.

Van Gogh's tree painting could be called "Trees of the Garrigue" (the term for the predominantly limestone soils of this part of Provence), or "Trees near Arles" where he produced so much work while staying at the Yellow House. Its title? Garden of the Asylum

This new exhibition, On the Verge of Insanity: Van Gogh and His Illness, examines all of this: the myth and reality (or at least what is known of the reality) of the before and after of the painter's stay at the clinic of Saint-Rémy. It shows the works he started or completed during this period. It even shows the gun with which he is thought to have shot himself that day in July 1890. 

Van Gogh brought a new eye to these landscapes that were so different to the predominantly alluvial landscapes of his native Netherlands. His close analysis of this scrubby forest floor that requires plant roots literally to delve into the limestone rock beneath, gradually breaking its surface, places it in many ways a heartbeat away from the abstract. Make a point of looking at Sunset in Montmartre, painted in 1887. If you think that here Van Gogh was able to look below the surface to produce a near-abstract rendering of the scene, the Museum would agree with you. The light and colours of Provençal France also influenced the artist's palette; his way of looking meant that he used colour not just to produce pretty pictures but as a way of heightening the emotional intensity both of his work and of the landscape he depicted.

No other artist I think has shown Earth to be such a working environment or, indeed was so unsparing of himself in order to do so. Look at what he's painting in (the unfinished) Tree Roots (below), look at how he's painting. This, as I've mentioned, is rock, limestone. First mosses and lichens then seeding plants use their roots to break into the rock surface, gradually working it into smaller and small particles so that it can let in the rain and windblown nutrients that the plants also need to survive. This is how soil is formed. 

Somehow, from his enquiries or his reading, Van Gogh 'reads' this landscape and the plants therein. His vision, always acute, is now hyperacute. This could be from his medication or the result of the situation he finds himself in. A risk to others and himself, he has, in today's parlance, been sectioned. Free to come and go during the day, he must return to the asylum each evening.

The exhibition goes into all of this in fine Dutch detail. Something terrible happened to him. Exhausted by overwork, angry at the critical dismissal of his work during the few times he exhibited, weak from a diet that included coffee and absinthe but not much else, and stressed beyond endurance by having the recalcitrant Gauguin as his house guest, he didn't survive. His brother, by now married and with a child and ill himself, was finding it difficult to support him, writing to imply they had to watch their finances. This, sadly, could have been enough to send Vincent over the edge. The visitor to this exhibition must look, look closer, and make up their own mind.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Garden of the Asylum 
Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, December 1889
oil on canvas, 72.0 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation)
published with kind permission

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Still life with a plate of onions 
beginning of January 1889, oil on canvas
Coll. Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo
published with kind permission

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), Tree Roots
Auvers-sur-Oise, July 1890
oil on canvas, 50.3 cm x 100.1 cm
Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam (Vincent van Gogh Foundation) 

published with kind permission

Van Gogh Museum
Museumplein 6
1071 DJ Amsterdam

Adults            € 17
Visitors under 18    free (school groups excluded)
Museumkaart holders    free

Gallery Different's gallerist Karina Phillips tells me there is now a new way of buying a designer handbag. Clients come in and buy one of her designer prints of the bags to hang on their walls instead. The collection includes two versions of the Birkin and a sensational Piet Mondrian inspired version. 

All this does not surprise me - what an after-supper talking point, especially when you tell guests a print costs £595 ready framed, considerably less than the £8000 it costs to buy one of the bags. In addition, once you've hung up your print, your hands are free and it's impossible to leave it on the tube. 

The rest of the show is pretty desirable too - two floors of brightness and summer flare.

The enterprising Gallery Different also runs an art buyers' club and a single acquisition buys you membership. Percy Street lies on the western side of Tottenham Court Road between Goodge Street and Tottenham Court Road tubes at W1T 1DR. It's a gallery that makes visiting that street a very pleasant experience indeed and you can pick up some Gail's bread at 11-13 Bayley Street across the road at the same time.

Gallery Different
14 Percy Street
London W1

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Cargobike art

The decorated cargobike used for Honey & Co deliveries at their new foodstore Honey & Spice at 52 Warren Street, W1

Monday, 25 July 2016

Tate Britain: Conceptual Art in Britain 1964–1979

Until Monday 29 August 2016

This excellent Tate Britain exhibition is subtitled "See the works that changed the way we think about art today". Such works certainly 'started' to change the way we think about art today. But I would say that it was looking outwards to Europe (joining the European Union in the mid-1970s) and America that also influenced the process that changed the way we think about art, as well as the way we think about so many other things.  

Let me start with cake (you'll see why in a minute). Fruit and custard (crème anglais) tart, the pastry thin and crisp. Accompanied by mocha, that seductive blend of coffee and hot chocolate. A visit to the Tate teashop, however brief, means that you are more likely to take your time - and art often needs that. You will enjoy the exhibition more - plus gain the advantage of familiarising yourself with the other wonders (most of which are free) of this place - flooded with sunlight at the moment.

This is a large exhibition, covering the work of 28 artists, Arrowsmith and Arnatt to Tremlett and Willats. No photographs (or mobile phones) are allowed.

The work is of its time of course. Made in 1964 to 1979,
it is art that references the first Labour government of Harold Wilson in 1964 and runs up to the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979. In fact it amounts to a monument to the art of the time. 

It was a period where artists were asked to intellectualise their practice. I can well imagine art schools in the late 1960s setting assignments that required students to get their minds around "concepts" rather than "subjects". To focus on "ideas", to "combine art and language" (art was their language); to "make art but avoid ego". It must have given rise, I also imagine, to quite a few sleepless nights among the student population.
But as this exhibition shows, they made an extraordinarily brave stab at it.

Part of Keith Arnatt's, Art as a Work of Retraction (1971) adorns the posters for the exhibition. The artist looks for all the world as if he were sucking appreciatively on an ice lolly. Then I remember myself. This is a play on the idea of the artist eating his own words (it's paper he's chewing); later we see him, with much artistic drollery, engaging photographically in 'Self-Burial' - Self-Burial (Television Interference Project) (1969).

Other gems are Stephen Willats's Clipboard analysing lunch (complete with pencil on a string, presumably for adding comments or perhaps new dishes. Bruce McLean's Their Grassy Places (1969), I take to be a pun on 'Their Graces', the Duke and Duchess of Bedford. It shows wonderfully executed blue grass silhouettes of the then Duke and his Duchess laid out on the greenery of the lawn at their country seat (and assiduously cared for by the gardeners).

Nothing captures the solemnity with which this art was received than the interview with artist Michael Craig-Martin by what I suppose to be an imaginary journalist/critic - or indeed the viewer:

(detail 1)

J. To begin with, could you describe this work?

A. Yes, of course. What I've done is change a glass of water [there it is, sitting on a shelf above the viewer's head] into a full-grown oak tree without altering the accidents of the glass of water.

The piece goes on, all typed meticulously on paper using the red part of an accountant's black/red typewriter ribbon, until:

(detail 2)

J. How long will it continue to be an oak tree?

A. Until I change it.
Michael Craig-Martin, An Oak Tree (1973), Glass, water, shelf and printed text
Tate. Lent from a private collection 2000
I like the way at least some of the artists got their revenge. The catalogue will tell you how, in 1966, the artist/teacher John Latham withdrew the St Martin's School of Art Library copy of Art & Culture, took it home with him, and, aided by Barry Flanagan and a group of artists and critics, tore out the pages, handed them round and proceeded to chew them and spit them out. The resulting pulp was then distilled and returned to the Library in a glass phial.

There are quite a few print periodicals on show too. The no doubt iconic 'Art & Language', vol. 1, no. 1 - somewhat male dominated in terms of editors and contributors - but that again is of its time (right?) as well as heady experiments with font size and painstaking records of temperatures and the like (just the numerals: no need I suppose to add the unit because at that time ALL temperatures were measured in the units of Mr Fahrenheit's scale). 

I was left with the rueful thought that if ever a country needed the colour and vivacity of Europe it was this one. 

Tate Britain
London SW1

Tate Membership
Tickets can be booked up to 8 hours in advance online or up to 24 hours in advance by telephone on +44 (0)20 7887 8888
£12 FREE for Members
Adult £12.00 (without donation £10.90)
Concession £10.50 (without donation £9.50)
Under 12s FREE (up to four per family adult)
Family tickets available (two adults and two children 12–18 years) by telephone or in the gallery

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The benefits of Tate Membership

Tate Britain interior
Some exhibited art takes time to sink in - more than one visit is desirable. I have just visited the Tate Britain Exhibition Conceptual Art in Britain 1964–1979 for the second time and suddenly I 'got it' (the gist of which revelation I will pass on to you, the reader, shortly). During the same visit, I had a cup of tea in the cool and spacious members' room, relaxed in one of their uniquely comfortable chairs, visited the shop, and immediately started planning my next visit. The beautiful cakes in the tearoom had nothing to do with it.

The Switch House main
staircase, architects Herzog
De Meuron

Some exhibited art on the other hand excites so much at the first visit you also want to go back again and again. For this reviewer, the same applies to the buildings that hold the art. When I first visited Tate Modern's new extension (The Switch House) I was so excited by the building I spent almost the whole of that visit admiring it inside and out. Again, I was able to ponder a while in the members' room and plan my next visit. And again I will be passing on the highlights of that visit as well as further visits to view the art.

The Tate members' card (back view),
© Martin Creed 2015

As an individual member, the cost of these greatly enhanced visits and access to the members' areas is £70 a year. Membership covers Tate Britain, Tate Modern and its new extension, Tate Liverpool and Tate St Ives. You also get an appropriately flash membership card designed by Martin Creed.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

In parks and gardens everywhere, encouraged by devoted gardeners, don't miss parental nature's free and ever-changing art show.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A fine example of Giacometti's portraiture at Gagosian

The wizards of the Gagosian Gallery Grosvenor Hill have combined the work of Yves Klein with that of Alberto Giacometti for this show.The colour experiments of Klein, notably the ultramarine-bright, eyeball-grabbing Klein Blues (also shown in one ot his Untitled Sponge Sculptures - SE 309 (1959)), look good against the black or low key painted or patinated bronzes of the Italian master.

The exhibition, which has already been extended, closes on Friday 17 June at 4 pm. So, while Tate Modern and its shiny new extension opens the doors to hordes of first visitors, you might like instead, diesel traffic permitting, to saunter through the sparkling streets of Mayfair. The Mayfair that is transforming itself into a starry place people want to live and work in, not to mention visit, might surprise you.

Go south along Davies Street, turn left into the exquisite little Bourdon Street and on the left you will find Grosvenor Hill and the Gagosian Gallery at No. 20. There are three big things to celebrate here:

- A streetscape designed by the architectural and engineering practice BDP. Clean and friendly, the space has seating, new paving, trees and lighting, the  whole prioritising those on foot (or bicycle).

- A gallery building whose interior, a double height, daylit space by Caruso St John, is spellbinding. The same partnership was responsible for the redevelopment of Tate Britain. The overall exterior of the building, which is multipurpose, was designed by TateHindle.

- The Art. 
Look particularly at Giacometti's portrait of the Japanese philosopher Isaku Yanaihara (1961) a subject he painted many times. Look at what Giacometti does with his palette of dead head colours - various shades of grey - the fluidity, the agility, of those brush strokes. Look at the modelling of the face. And look where colour occurs to move the painting out of the monochrome: on his subject's patterned tie. Nearby, you will also find the four studies Giacometti made of Yanaihara's face the previous year, sketched in blue ballpoint on a sheet of newsprint. You'll also find around 20 of the bronzes, including the 1960 L'homme qui marche I.

Gagosian Gallery
Alberto Giacometti Yves Klein
In Search of the Absolute
20 Grosvenor Hill
London W1
Hours: Tue–Sat 10-6

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Preserving London's fine retail heritage

Some of the most celebrated architects have been and still are responsible for London's retail buildings. Some of these buildings are relatively modest in scale. Most of Oxford Street, for instance, consists of the typical mixture of large department stores and relatively small boutique stores that suits London (and shoppers) so well.

Many of these buildings are not officially 'listed'; they come into the category of what Westminster City Council planning department in its wisdom call buildings of merit. 

I am taking a look here at one section of one street: the south-west section of Great Marlborough Street that leads to Liberty and Regent Street. No-one would think of altering Liberty, that marvel of Tudor revival, but what about the smaller buildings further along the street?

Here is one - a delightful step gabled building that used to house the London College of Music. Schott's wonderful music shop still operates next door. 

As I understand the development of this section of street, and borrowing from the Survey of London, the area in the 20th century became predominantly garment industry, notably millinery. Some of these buildings - I can think of at least two or three - now stand empty and face that often rather sad fate known as 'redevelopment'. 

Europa House at 54 Great Marlborough Street is one notable example (see pic); the building at 55-57 is another. These buildings have been empty for some years but recently the ground floor of No. 54 has been covered with hoardings. At first I felt relieved about this. At last, I thought, this beautiful little art deco building is going to be refurbished. Another fine example of the street's (and the area's) retail heritage is going to be preserved. The art deco lettering and style of the hoardings misled me I'm afraid. Now I'm not sure what  exactly is going on.

"These buildings too . . . are part of what people come to London to see."

Dusty and neglected these buildings may be, but there is much elegantly functional design value at risk here.The latest Westminster City Council planning department meeting notes I can find refer to "redevelopment behind retained street façades at 54 and 55-57". E-architect on the other hand suggests that "the new building (sic), at 54-57 Great Marlborough Street, will feature a new façade". E-architect goes on to say, referring to the Europa House building (see pic above), "the gentle curve of which has been designed to reflect the curve of the existing building at 54 Great Marlborough Street and the rhythm of the original streetscape". The curve referred to is of course the restrained curve of the typical art deco reworking of classical proportions. 

These buildings form part of London's light industrial and retail history, and of the family histories tied up with those industries. IThese buildings too, I would suggest, are part of what people come to London to see.