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Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

When I was last in New York, I came across a woman sitting on a chair in the middle of the road, winding a huge ball of yarn around her head. This was art- of course! On the same street (on just an ordinary weekday), I saw half a bicycle supposedly sinking into the pavement, and a children’s playground inhabited by stuffed gorilla suits and spiderman outfits. I think there was a Santa Claus on the swing.

All in a day’s work for an artist down in Billyburg, I guess. But it’s not the sort of thing that always translates well. Imagine that same woman on the streets of London. She’d probably get moved for health and safety reasons. Or for getting in the way of oncoming traffic.


In any case, what people really want to see is life. The trans-Atlantic symbiosis is not about being clever. It’s not even necessarily about art, or fashion. It is, sometimes (often), about competition. But mostly it’s about two divided siblings wanting to reconnect. The thing is, when you’re standing and staring at an installation or show in the street, it’s rare that you can really break through the dividing screen between life and art. Londoners have been enchanted by New Yorkers for decades, and vice versa. I think it’s pure curiosity.

Manhattan in the ’60s was the original hotbed of collaboration- think New York School of Painters, New York Poets, the Beat generation and then, of course, Warhol’s Factory. Since then, the concept of collaboration has massively expanded. Interaction doesn’t need, necessarily, to be contained in a finite space. It can span an ocean. I think the reason we’re so intrigued by Warhol’s Factory is that it marked an era when people realised that barriers of artistic genre and form could be completely dissolved. Music, art, fashion and culture came together in one uncompromised, uncontrolled fusion- and there is no going back from the shift. It shook so far as to reach even our own stiff upper lips. It’s a good thing we’ve got the images to help us remember.

The late Nat Finkelstein, one of the most respected photojournalists of modern times, played a huge part in this. His work provides a pervasive visual narrative for these years, which were creatively formative not just for New York but for the entire Western world. Finkelstein’s photos are on display at Idea Generation Gallery in Shoreditch at the moment- but not for long. It’s the way of the modern metropolitan not to hang around.

The opening of the exhibition was an amazing night, a true case of worlds colliding, and in the best possible way. Finkelstein’s widow, Elizabeth, was flown all the way from the Big Apple to the Big Smoke by Metrotwin, but found herself quite at home among Nat’s old posse and his iconic photographs.


This stunning retrospective brings together Finkelstein’s diverse portfolio: from Factory scenes to civil rights and anti-war protests of mid-60s America, from intimate portraiture to a continuing exploration of the subcultures of 80s and 90s New York. The scenes- the Factory, protests and subcultures- interlaced by the recognisable glamour of Edie Sedgwick, Duchamp, Dylan and Warhol, capture the spirit of the age. Finkelstein doesn’t himself ever feature in front of the camera – he was too busy recording the life he saw. What you see is the world perceived through his eyes. And so this show is really one not to be missed.


“When all is said and done, when everything is gone, the photograph is what’s going to remain.

The photographer is the producer of history.” Nat Finkelstein


Nat Finkelstein: From One Extreme to the Other, is open until the 14th February.

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I have been thinking about Chris Ofili a lot lately- artistically of course. On the back of his mid-career retrospective at the Tate Britain, there have been a lot of reviews (the inevitable flurry of mostly good, but also bad and downright ugly). There has been a lot of debate around his audacious subject matter, his stunning technique and his blatant use of elephant dung (think “Ofili” and think “elephant dung,” right?).

In short, Ofili made his name alongside some considerable controversy- still, he has had his work exhibited on 3 continents and remains a superstar of the Hirst-Emin generation.

I guess it could be precisely this- the concept of the artist-celeb- which preoccupies me, and which makes me really want to know about the man behind the canvas.

We tend not to (or choose not to) see artists as normal human beings, but as entities set apart.So i was pleasantly surprised to hear Ofili at his exhibition talking modestly through one of his recent works with a  couple of viewers. “It’s completely made up,” he said. Laconic. Almost apologetic. How refreshing not to have a song and dance. How wonderful that he didn’t need a posse to signal his presence at every turn. How has the Turner Prize-winning artist retained such seeming normality a decade on? How has he managed to avoid the lure of the NY-Lon art scene and the arrogance often earned by being, well, one of its successful inhabitants?

The Tate’s retrospective tells all, and around a third of the works on show are previously unseen in the UK. Yes, of course his earlier work is all there- in the ‘90s, elephant dung abounds, adorned in glitter, as do naked women and giant afros. “Painting with Shit on it,” “Spaceshit,” “The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars” are indeed his paintings’ typical labels, but- despite such titles (and often subject matter)- these pieces are really quite stunning.

Many of the works on display are familiar faces. There is “No Woman No Cry,” the piece Ofili famously created following the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1998. There is the 1997 piece “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” which was based on the prostitutes around Kings Cross, near where Ofili was working, and features a collage of black celebrity role-models (among them the previously unblemished Tiger Woods) arranged around the beaming face of a gigantic penis. There is also the infamous piece, “The Holy Virgin Mary,” which brought on a spectacular lawsuit between the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the then mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, when it was showcased as part of the “Sensation.” In place of the holy cherubs and seraphs, Ofili had positioned not myriad angels, but myriad female genitalia (wing-shaped, but otherwise undisguised), and- of course- elephant dung. From afar, the pornographic images could be mistaken for butterflies. From up close they could not. There’s much to be said for dung, I have to say- it is a valuable source of fuel and has even been used to make paper in some parts of the world. I’m not sure I can give the same credit to the genitalia.

Moving through the rooms, Ofili’s work shifts (literally) away from the shit. Works from the late nineties and early noughties leave behind the rounds of dung, which previous works are exhibited resting on, and instead hang (!) from the walls themselves. Before long we are amid large flat canvases- covered in oil paints, not collage and resin. And not a speck of dung in sight.

The blue period, the collection which intrigues me most, is marked by three imposing works, each almost filling an entire wall. “Blue Stag,” a favourite of mine from the show, stuns in its bleakness. Chris Ofili has a way with colour. He knows how to use it, and he knows what it does. Whether it’s a ‘90s stomper in luminous pink and acid blue, or a thoughtful and understated introspection, the effect on the viewer is immediate. Looking at “Blue Stag,” from some angles the whole canvas appears black. From others the subtle nuances imply the baring of a soul.

Most artists strive to earn freedom from their predecessors- those masters whose work forms the basic guidance in an artist’s education and ultimate perspective. Chris Ofili strives, it would appear, to be free of himself. And all the associated shit.

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Andy Holden isn’t your average 20-something-year old guy in many ways. For a start, he knits.

When he was 14, on a family holiday, he visited the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Giza. Shunning the rainbow-coloured stationary, rock candy and faux marble of the tourist gift shops, he settled on a more authentic prize: a piece of stone stolen from the pyramid itself.

Thirteen years on, he determined to right his wrong, revisiting the pyramid in the hope (vain, I fear) that he might return it to its rightful home. This is all documented in a video, recorded by a local he enlisted in a nearby café- and I say “all” pretty lightly here. I watched the film all the way to its very (abrupt) end, at which point Andy was still wandering aimlessly around the pyramid, up and down, pressing the guilty article onto random areas of stone. I’m pretty darn sure he didn’t find the spot.

The video is on show at the Tate Britain as part of its latest Art Now installation, alongside Andy’s giant replica of the rock, knitted (yes, knitted!) out of sandy-coloured wool and set around a huge frame- a physical manifestation of his guilt, and perhaps even some form of spiritual atonement for his sin. Meticulously painstaking, it is a laboured reflection of one man’s ever-swelling sense of guilt.

In its current home, a cosy little corner off the Tate Britain’s central hall, the piece really is a presence in the room. For us it’s just a rock, for Andy it’s an elephant.

In terms of the sculpture, then, I think it’s unbelievable. On Holden’s quest to Egypt, however, I can say only this: he must be a nice lad…

and it’s the thought that counts.

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