= The Crawford Arts Review: May 2016

Friday, 27 May 2016

The Art of Charity

The House of Saint Barnabas at 1 Greek Street is such a beautiful Georgian building, with such a striking light work in its courtyard (see pic), that I hastened to see it and report.  

The building is a private members' club on the outside but inside it's a registered charity, supported by membership fees, and dedicated to breaking the cycle of homelessness among Londoners.

The light work, seen here alongside the Saint Barnabas Chapel, is Portal by the artist Nathaniel Rackowe. It will be on display until the end of June. Please note, all visits must be booked in advance, as must the art tours (see dates below).

If a visit or a tour results in your thinking your income might just stretch to a trendy Soho club membership, that would be a win-win. Your subscription would give hope to those who badly need some hope in their lives. In return you would have a beautiful Georgian house to relax and network in, a garden courtyard where meals are served, and an ever-changing vista of art and sculpture to inspire you.

Tour dates in June: 

Art Tour: Monday 6th June (12:30 - 1:30pm)
Historical Tour: Sunday 19th June (TBC)

The House of St Barnabas
1 Greek Street
Soho Square
London W1
020 7437 1894 | www.hosb.org.uk
email katie@hosb.org.uk

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Until Saturday 28 May

Moulène 1  at Thomas Dane Gallery, 11 Duke Street St James's

Here is someone who can draw and sculpt so well, whose fluidity of line is so assured, that I would urge artists to go and see his work.

Jean-Luc Moulène studied aesthetics and sciences of art at the Sorbonne. And before you say a word, take a look at his work - and you may decide to hie off to France and apply to join this course yourself.

Moulène's practice references both art and science and it shows . . ..

(And let me just slip this in painlessly and leave you to ponder at your leisure: "just as it shows in the Old Masters".)

But Moulène is a new master, he's 61. Working in Paris and about to have a show of new work at the Pompidou (autumn), followed by another at the Secession Building Vienna (spring 2017).

His London dealers are the perspicacious Mr Thomas Dane and his partners, who have skilfully curated a Moul
ène show for both London galleries that shows the multifaceted sides of the artist.

The first, the upper gallery at No. 11 Duke Street St James', shows the artist's mastery of line, colour and, if you look closely, geology.

Voyelles, Paris 2015 © the artist
and Thomas Dane Gallery
You can't really expect a French artist to reference anything other than his native culture (and in Voyelles Paris he references Baudelaire - I beg your pardon, Rimbaud) so here we have tricoloré colours, mixed media, and, well, gallic wit.

And the works have profundity. Who else can take a trumpet, breasts, a penis-like plastic object and a large black fly and make art out of it - and all in the French colours.
Houellebecq, yes, you're right, Houellebecq can, in print. It is a 'very' French wit. It will have you thinking philosophical thoughts at least until tea time.

Below we have Mix - an ant/dog hybrid, in fabulously difficult ink and watercolour on paper, that had me weak at the knees with admiration at the skill with which it is executed

Mix 2016 © the artist
and Thomas Dane Gallery
"It is a matter of celebration, I think, that in mainland Europe, this calibre of art is commonplace."
And, as a temporary sign off, for I still have the works at No. 3 to cover, let me pay tribute by showing you a work that is so full of metaphor, allegory and 'humour presque noir' that I hardly know where to start . . .

the scythe below with congealed red drips - aarghhh.

(Left) (detail) La Faucheuse, Paris 2015 © the artist 
and Thomas Dane Gallery

Moulène 2 at Thomas Dane Gallery, 3 Duke Street St James's

After reviewing the work of Jean-Luc Moulène at the Thomas Dane Gallery at No. 11 Duke Street St James's (above) I visited the gallery further down the street at No. 3. Here you will see another facet of this Paris-based artist, works in concrete.

Think deadlines. Let's suppose you are faced with a tight deadline for your next scheduled exhibition. What to do? You live and work in Paris. Now London wants to see your work! You dream up an idea and the following day you cycle off to the best-known garden statuary suppliers in Paris. You order the lot. Here are some examples of the genre (albeit from English suppliers).

Some short time later they arrive at your studio yard. You hire a concrete cutting tool, you power it up, you walk round each nymph, each bucolic group of figures. All the while you appreciate what the original artists sought to achieve, for the figures are all concrete and hopefully weatherproof copies of statuary made at some earlier time in stone, often marble, or bronze. You pick up your cutting tool. You intervene.

Here is an example - Moulène's lovely Bending, consisting of 3 graceful maidens bent about some household task, milking perhaps or buttermaking. You intervene. Purposefully. Brrrzzzzzzzzzzz. And suddenly the middle figure has lost half her back, a vertical slice from shoulder blade to pelvis (see pic below).
Bending 2016 concrete, gallery 
view, posterior © the artist
and Thomas Dane Gallery


And here they are from the front. 
Bending 2016 concrete,  
anterior © the artist 
and Thomas Dane Gallery

The extraordinary thing is this intervention works. I've seen many worse attempts to fill a gallery. And Moulène is, I think, partly sending up the world he inhabits, with wit and skill. And with a gallery rather than a garden setting, and with no moss, grass or ivy to distract you, it makes you look at the originals with a closeness that is almost meditative. 

In some works (Piggy here and Donkey at No. 11) pieces of animal bone are set into the concrete, more metaphor at work. But most works consist of the mock-stone concrete as it comes from the statuary suppliers.

One is Antonio Canova's The Three Graces, the first veined marble version of which is in the Hermitage Museum. The original, of course, is the subject of what must be 1000s of copies. The group have come to represent peacefulness, grace, harmony and balance. In Moulène's hands, they are subject to a brutal intervention, cut into then covered in epoxy resin and paint. In their new form they appear for your interpretation. For there are many, as in all art worthy of the name.

I will leave you with a link to some images from the Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris.

It would be nice to see more of this artist's work in London.

Thomas Dane Gallery
3 & 11 Duke Street St James's
London SW1


Wednesday, 11 May 2016

An outdoor exhibition of fine architecture

The Art Deco architectural style is something London does well (think Senate House, the Hoover and Daily Express Buildings, Florin Court). The buildings are beautifully proportioned with strikingly geometrical forms and ornament; the style is timeless.

BBC Broadcasting House, 1932

Because of the primacy of good proportion, new builds can look as good as the earlier buildings of the 1920/30s that inspired them. This is the case right now in the Haymarket where the bright new world of St James's Market is opening up. I like the way this new London quarter announces itself: "Founded in 1663, re-founded in 2016". Here is a clearly 2016 development that references the 1920/30s world of art deco, a beautiful building in its own right and one that pays homage to its equally beautiful 1955 art deco predecessor Haymarket House on the opposite side of the street.

Thus, in a single well-planned stroke we have a key central London street lifted out of the architectural doldrums of recent decades, establishing both a new West End quarter and a piece of new and most distinguished architecture of which Londoners can be proud for many decades to come. 

I recently took a walk around some of the other star turns of West End art deco in the company of Yannick Pucci, a celebrated London architectural guide and art deco buff. Yannick manages to be both erudite and concise, describing in a few words the key features of the style he is outlining and its historical context.

We started the walk near Leicester Square. This part of the West End is reinventing itself. You don't have to be in the habit of attending film premieres to know that the whole area is becoming well-brushed red carpet land. Time flashed by as we saw the Vue Cinema, the famous Odeon (its highly polished black granite shining in the sunshine) and the smaller art deco buildings around Chinatown. This was followed by art deco in Jermyn Street, including the stately Simpson Piccadilly building, front and back, of Waterstone's Piccadilly. 

We then walked north to Regent Street and it was here that Yannick produced his big surprise: the art deco interior hidden away in Superdry. The building was previously the flagship store of Austin Reed. Most of its original interior has, alas, gone.
However, the basement still has the original art deco fixtures and fittings. In its previous life it housed the posh Austin Reed barbers where men could have wet shaves, massages, and haircuts as well as visit the changing rooms to spruce themselves up before a night on the town.
Yannick had brought along archive pictures of what the original interior looked like, including a state of the art metal lift gates designed by Morris Singer in 1926 (see archive pic). 

Art deco lift gates, 1926 with
acknowledgement to
Press Archive / RIBA Collections
Anyone wanting to view this destroyed marvel should go to the relevant RIBA site and wonder loudly why it exists in archive but not in reality. It is the sort of functional piece of decorative art that has art lovers salivating as they board the train or the plane to Miami, Nancy, Napier (New Zealand) or Brussels. Who knows what became of it.

Yannick Pucci's next Art Deco in the West End walks also cover Bloomsbury, Strand, Fitzrovia, Mayfair, St James’s, Piccadilly, Soho, Knightsbridge, Belgravia, Kensington, Holland Park. Go to Eventbrite to book. 

Note: The term art deco seems to have come, via an unknown journalist's need to shorten their copy and find a catchy headline, from Exposition Internationale des Artes Decoratifs et Industriel. The exhibition took place in Paris in 1925 and was an architectural game changer in every respect.

Further reading: Art Deco in London, Arnold Schwartzman, Palazzo Editions, 2010.