Thursday, 28 May 2015

Photo London 2015

by  George Upton  I
The inaugural Photo London was held across three wings and several floors of Somerset House last weekend. The largest ever exhibition dedicated to photography, with 70 galleries from 20 countries, 3 commissioned exhibitions, 2 installations and a comprehensive programme of talks attracted over 20,000 visitors to Somerset House. 

It’s location, a palatial 18th century building on the banks of the Thames, was notable for avoiding the vast, makeshift gridded expanses of most art fairs, and this added much to the experience. In a setting that encouraged you to wind your way around the stunning architecture of high ceilinged rooms, the photographs are discovered, appearing and disappearing, and exploring the fair became an all consuming experience. 

Here, digiQualia presents a selection from the vast variety of photographs at the fair.

London, 1954 © Marc Riboud, courtesy ATLAS Gallery (London)
London, 1954 by Marc Riboud - exhibited by ATLAS Gallery (London)
ATLAS Gallery exhibited this image of London in the 1950s taken from a series of photographs by the French photographer Marc Riboud that documented his journey ‘From Paris to Peking’. A year before this photo Riboud joined Magnum, the celebrated photography agency that also included Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Cappa, and went on to make his fame as a photojournalist for his extensive reports of the East, especially his unusual access inside Maoist China. 

Evoking a very different London to the one in which it was exhibited, this photograph with its rich contrast, saturated with the language of desolate industry, speaks of the newly found prosperity that would go on to fuel the burgeoning economy of the 1960s. In the same year that this photograph was taken, rationing finally ended in Britain and the austerity which had followed the end of the Second World War nine years earlier began to ease.

In Pursuit of the Object at a Proper Distance #7, escheweiler ©Conor Clarke, courtesy Galerie Pavlova (Berlin)
In Pursuit of the Object at a Proper Distance #7 by Conor Clarke - exhibited by Galerie Pavlova (Berlin)
As the debate on climate change becomes ever more one sided, the evidence for man’s effect on the planet indisputable, stock images of smoke billowing from chimneys into the atmosphere and blocking out the sun have become ubiquitous illustrations to news reports on the subject. Conor Clarke’s photographs then, titled In Pursuit of the Object at a Proper Distance #13, take this trope of man-made armageddon and instead muses on its suitability as a photographic subject, cropping closely despite shooting long distance, and subtly gives comment on the struggle to find the right approach to take on climate change by governments worldwide, when the problem is wrought large in front of them. 

Encouble #32 ©Delphine Burtin, courtesy Gallery Fifty One (Antwerp)

Uncouple #32 by Delphine Burtin -  exhibited by Gallery Fifty One (Antwerp)

Delphine Burtin’s work falls into the long tradition of still lifes, traditionally a style of painting that has always been an arena for artists to demonstrate their skill and compete with their peers. Here Burtin is reimagines still lifes, confronting their role in the age of photography and conceptual art art where the idea has become more important than the skill used to make the work. This is done through the skill used in taking the photograph itself, the image beautifully minimal, crisp and delicate in tone but also through the subject matter - paper. Paper was the foundation of imagery until imagery was digitised. This photograph therefore succinctly looks back through the history of art while demonstrating how far art has come.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy of Art

by  George Upton  I
The work of Richard Diebenkorn defies simple classification - at once inheriting the tradition of Abstract Expressionism from his American compatriots and at the same time flirting with figuration, often on the same canvas. His paintings constantly question the nature and purpose of painting in a process that explores all aspects of art, what it is and what it will become. A concise and informative survey of the artist’s work at the Royal Academy of Art in London runs until 7th June. Its fittingly simple title - ‘Richard Diebenkorn’ - belies the artist’s uniquely inquisitive and experimental approach to art and art making.

Richard Diebenkorn 
Cityscape #1, 1963 
Oil on canvas, 153 x 128.3 cm 
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Purchased with funds from Trustees and friends in memory of Hector Escobosa, Brayton Wilbur, and J.D. 
Copyright 2014 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Cityscape #1 from 1963 evokes the sun-bleached languor of California where Diebenkorn spent most of his life, the shadows stretching long at the end of the day. A nod to Cezanne in the work’s simplified flat plains and colour palette, here Diebenkorn toys with abstraction. After all, at first glance and when encountered at close range in a gallery space the painting, not overwhelmingly large but still sizeable enough to be reduced to unintelligible blocks of colour until you take a few steps back, is an abstracted reality. It is sanitised of the ephemera of street furniture, unpopulated, condensed down to an idyllic, idealised concept of a certain place and time. 

And yet this work has none of the self assured, bold, uniform treatment of paint of his AbEx forbears such as Rothko or Hofmann, or even of his Cali-contemporaries such as David Hockney. For, once you have invaded the painting’s personal space, the forms of roads and condos not only break up into forms but the forms themselves disintegrate to reveal a rough, intensely worked surface, a gentle violence subsisting beneath the indolence and prosperity of suburban California.

Richard Diebenkorn 
Ocean Park #27, 1970 
Oil on canvas, 254 x 203.2 cm 
Brooklyn Museum. Gift of The Roebling Society and Mr. and Mrs. Charles H. Blatt and Mr. and Mrs. William K. Jacobs, Jr., 72.4 
Copyright 2014 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Cityscape #1 is crucial as it anticipates a series of 125 paintings that Diebenkorn executed between 1967 and 1985, the last eight years before his death in 1993. The Ocean Park works carry through to a purer form of abstraction Diebenkorn’s soft, faded pastel colours, as if they have been left in the sun to discolour.

It would be easy to compare the Ocean Park series to Mondrian’s work -  the thick white bands that break up the geometric, coloured forms, the vague evocation of a mechanised landscape, seem to acknowledge this precedent. But while Mondrian draws attention to the flatness of the canvas through a perfect uniform surface, denying the three-dimensional, liquid properties of paint, Diebenkorn makes a point of the materiality, the almost sculptural nature of painting. His works are riddled with pencil lines that show through painted regions that are not solid forms but fragile and translucent layers of suspended pigment, manipulated in an imprecise, essentially human manner. 

Richard Diebenkorn 
Ocean Park #116, 1979 
Oil and charcoal on canvas 
208.3 x 182.9 cm 
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, museum purchase, gift of Mrs. Paul L. Wattis 
Copyright 2014 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

As a result there is a depth and emotion to Diebenkorn’s paintings. As the painter and Royal Academician Ian McKeever observes there is a pregnant space, a sense of expectation that prefigures the conceptualisation of meaning throughout all of Diebenkorn’s work. The paintings are waiting for the indeterminate landscapes of abstracted place and time, first depopulated and rid of purpose, and now with form obliterated, to be reconstituted from the incoherent mass of pencil and paint. But ultimately Diebenkorn’s work is a celebration of painting, of the simple joy of applying paint to a freshly primed canvas. 

Richard Diebenkorn 
Berkeley #5, 1953 
Oil on canvas, 134.6 x 134.6 cm 
Private collection 
Copyright 2014 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Alberto Biasi at Tornabuoni Art Paris

by  George Upton  I
Despite the eclecticism of contemporary art - the myriad of styles and mediums and concepts - the vast majority of artists working today have attended art school at some point in their lives. It is significant then that Alberto Biasi, who is being exhibited for the first time outside Italy at Tornabuoni Art in Paris, studied not Fine Art but Industrial Design at the Institute of Architecture in Venice. It is clear that this object and engineering based approach has influenced his work which is characterised by its physical space and experiential necessity.  

Alberto Biasi, Senza titolo, 1998 acrylic on canvas
cm 60 x 60 / in 23.6 x 23.6 Courtesy Tornabuoni Art 

Born in 1937 in Padua, Biasi founded Gruppo N in 1959 with Ennio Chiggio, Toni Costa, Edoardo Landi and Alfredo Massironi in 1959. With them he conducted his first “optico-dynamic” experiments which drew him into his first exhibitions of lumino-kinetic art. Biasi likes to consider his work with Gruppo N as separate from his personal work and that rather than the Group influencing his personal work, his individual practice was absorbed by the collective. It was an exercise in stepping back from the ‘cult of personality’ and subjectivity through which Biasi could concentrate on research and exploring new materials. Nevertheless, this spurred Biasi on to develop his work and increased his renown through the 12 exhibitions the group held.

Alberto Biasi, Light prisms, 1962-1965 (detail)
wood, plastic, glass and methacrylate, electric motors and light projectors dimensions variable
Courtesy Tornabuoni Art 

One of the most distinctive works in the exhibition, Light Prisms, was first exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964 and later in 1970 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome. The work expands on the theme of movement in the artist’s practice as it consists of four unequal, asymmetrical prisms that rotate, causing ever shifting permutations of refracted light to be cast in a darkened room - specially made over a year and a half for this exhibition. Referencing the scientific approach to optics of the late 19th century that resulted in pointillism, Biasi manages to translate new and original images in a non-pictoral way while acknowledging an art historical precedent. 

Alberto Biasi, Yellow rain, 1992
PVC strips
cm 103 x 88 x 4 / in 40.6 x 34.6 x 1.6 Courtesy Tornabuoni Art 

The title of kinetic artist, however, has never sat easily with Biasi as only a few of his pieces, like Light Prisms, actually move. Instead the majority of his oeuvre, and this exhibition, focuses on sculptural optical effects that require the movement of the viewer. It is this which makes Biasi’s art so engaging (and so unphotographable) - you are compelled to move around the artworks, to engage spatially with them. The viewer becomes the kinetic element of the artwork, a practical manifestation of the idea that art only exists once it has been consumed. It is highly effective - minimal and yet through its almost infinitely varied views, endlessly engaging.

The exhibition runs until 27th June at Tornabuoni Art in Paris.

Alberto Biasi, Variable square image, 1962-1991 PVC strips
cm 98 x 98 x 4 / in 38.6 x 38.6 x 1.6
Courtesy Tornabuoni Art