BogeArt Review: Beauty and the Beard

Me and my bearded friend

Me and my bearded friend

Beards. Like ‘em, love ‘em or hate ‘em, Somerset house is bringing them to us in everyshape, size and colour. Only open for the month, BEARD is an exhibition showing a series of photographs taken by award winning photographer Mr Elbank. Elbank’s concept originated as a collaboration with his friend Jimmy Niggles, who is behind the charity Beard Season, which raises skin cancer awareness by encouraging men to grow beards.

The beards on show belong to the old, young, male and female. It largely addresses the beard as a trend/fashion statement/self-expression, with many of the subjects displaying other conscious fashion ‘statements’ in their appearance, such as tattoos, unusual hairstyles and bold clothing. They mention how beards have been ‘scorned, mocked, celebrated and legislated against. Worn by kings and warriors, radicals and revolutionaries they have symbolised power and intimidation or individuality and defiance’; but the images on display are firmly rooted in the 21st century (some of the subjects were found via Instagram) and the focus is on self-image.

The beard is a distinct look, and today one would assume to have a beard is more of a conscious effort than to not, but how did this begin? In a time before grooming (at least to the degree that we know it) surely having a beard must have been the norm for the male gender, as would long hair and pubic hair, it is only in recent history that is has become otherwise. Surely not shaving is more natural than shaving? Regardless, today clean shaven is common and beards have become distinct, and, as these photos show, one can experiment with them just as much as we can the hair on our heads.

The beard is a signifier of many things. Perhaps the most obvious one is masculinity. Women cannot grow beards. Beards are an outward extension of the body, like a penis. The bigger/stronger the beard, the more masculine you are. This exhibition showcases many beards of all shapes and sizes to illustrate a variety of masculinity, as would an exhibition of penis photographs. Mr Elbank draws attention to the usual phallic qualities of the beard, by the inclusion of a portrait of a drag queen sporting a strong beard and a female (The British lady Harnaam Kaur) who has grown one of the more competitive beards in the show. Surprisingly the portrait image of the woman manages to avoid having a circus vibe, instead she blends in quite well as one of the more beautiful bearded specimens to be photographed.

Whilst the beard is a symbol of masculinity, many of the ones displayed are so carefully thought through and groomed that they have gone past the point of masculinity and are verging on the point of feminine. Many of the beards photographed are more metrosexual than manly, and I think the exhibition manages to touch on the changing gender boundaries of the 21st century. What it means to be ‘male’ or ‘female’ is something that is constantly challenged today, with homosexuality, transvestites and transgenderism being accepted on a growing scale. What is expected of us, because of our gender, is, thankfully, losing its rigidity.

In addition the beard, to a modern viewer, has many connotations unrelated to gender. To what many are calling the ‘me-generation’, individuality and distinctiveness are central; and beards, no matter how common they are right now, remain distinctive. Beards can be a strong and bold fashion statement, but if the masses make strong and bold fashion statements, what are we left with? Right now beards seem particularly fashionable, and they do not rely on ‘god-given’ facial features to be successful, unlike the clean shaven look. All they require is testosterone.

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Theoretically it is an accessible trend (although I’m sure many of my male peers who struggle in the facial hair department would disagree), and if it can make the average male face a little more exciting its popularity is understandable. Many members of the older generation seem to find it a rather scruffy trend, but this is a very shallow association. Throughout history the beard has meant very different things, but I think the most relevant, and perhaps interesting, to the ‘me-generation’ would be its role as a symbol of anti-establishment. Not only do quirky beards feel like a stance against the systematic and faceless corporations that have defined economic life, but they have a place in anti-capitalist history. Karl Marx was identified by his thick dark beard and moustache; his writing partner Friedrich Engels held a ‘moustache evening’ with his peers in opposition to clean shaven bourgeois ‘philistinism’; and Che Guevara, fashion’s favourite communist, sported his signature facial hair. Note how only the trendy communists (China is not known for its facial hair) sported the beard.

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Self-image, especially in regards to the subjects of this exhibition, is a curation. The upkeep and grooming of the beards photographed requires commitment, as the grooming guide in the brochure explains, and I am confident that each person photographed is conscious about how they want to be perceived. Then again how can they not be when they are posing for a photograph? I doubt that any of them are consciously thinking about masculinity, anti-capitalism or Che Guevara every time they reach for the clippers, but the beard does imply all of these things. But some vein of these implications is present when a man (or woman) is curating their self-image, even if they just like the ‘look’ of beards.

Two qualities of the beard as an image I feel are not addressed by these photos (perhaps hinted at, but only by default) are the concepts of disguise and religion. Beards can be a disguise, as they prevent us from knowing the beard owners facial features exactly. There is an insincerity to them, the owner might be hiding something underneath the mass of hair. Beards have lots of religious connections, they’re an integral part of some religious practise, but ‘hair and religion’ would need its own exhibition, probably a bigger one than BEARD, and I’m beginning to think I’ve already taken too much from what is essentially a trendy charity exhibition.

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Olly, 20, French and German student

Why do you think the beard is so popular right now?

‘We all want to be unique- just like everyone else’

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt Review: Pipilotti Rist, Worry Will Vanish at the Hauser and Wirth

Pipilotti Rist, Worry Will Vanish, 2014 Image courtesy of Time Out: http://media.timeout.com/images/101837153/660/370/image.jpg

Pipilotti Rist, Worry Will Vanish, 2014
Image courtesy of Time Out: http://media.timeout.com/images/101837153/660/370/image.jpg

The Hauser and Wirth Gallery seems like an ideal choice for Pipilotti Rist’s Worry Will Vanish: small, with blackened out windows and an entrance that is not the easiest to find (it took us two attempts to find the right door), but thus making the experience all the more gratifying, as if finding a hidden, bejeweled, secret cave amongst the hustle and bustle of Savile Row. With its dimmed lighting, the exhibition hall immediately reduces its visitors to a whisper so that the numerous video installations that spurt out onto objects from hidden locations (like the shoe rack opposite the entrance) are duly noted.

Yes, the shoe rack. Worry Will Vanish also invites you to take off your shoes, so that you can fully absorb the sensory experience that you are about to be subjected to, for its only after you’ve taken off your shoes that you notice the squidgy, grass coloured carpet under foot. As you cross the black curtained boundary that separates the exhibition into two parts, you begin to realise why the de-shoeing was important. The large cloud like duvets on the floor spell it out a little more clearly: Rist wants us to completely immerse ourselves in her work, not only through sight, but also through sound and touch.

This makes the spectator experience unlike any other. Once comfortably positioned on a duvet, the only thing left to do is stare up to the screens of the video installation Worry Will Vanish (2014) and watch Rist’s images unfold. Some might describe these intertwining images of the human body, space and nature as mesmerising, others may see them as slightly distressing, but its clear that this swirling psychedelic experience allows the viewer to take the time to delve into their own thoughts, unlocked by the images projected on the screens. Rist allows us to travel through space, earth, the ocean and even the human body, accompanied by the soothing sounds of crickets in a field or bubbles rushing up to the surface.

But are her works successful in diminishing our worry? Yes, the pillows, the spongy floor and the stunning visuals seen throughout the exhibition are an outstanding effort in trying to relax the spectator in such a usually uptight environment like the gallery, some may say even the privileged area of Savile Row, or to offer a ten minute interlude from the stresses of everyday life. Some people had even fallen asleep to the work (it is believed that Rist based her video on a number of relaxation techniques). However, in some cases (rather ironically) worry did not vanish, as was the experience of a friend, who found the images and bright lights had brought on a sort of motion sickness and a headache, so maybe not the best idea to go with a hangover.

Still, through her ingenious installation work, Rist successfully emphasises the power that sight, sound and touch can have on our state of mind as well as our physical condition, be it positive or negative. This absorbing exhibition offers us a chance to leave our busy, city lives at the door and enter into a delicious array of sights and sounds on a large scale which tap into the self through her clever manipulation of the senses. Rist’s exhibition is perhaps not the most ambitious of recent years (in regards to her Eyeball Massage exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in 2011), but her kaleidoscope images do not cease to entice and literally attack the senses.

Maddy Martin: BogeArt

BogeArt Review: Lights of Soho Presents God’s Own Junkyard

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The neon sign. A symbol of capitalism, consumerism, seediness, Soho and the sex trade. In the middle of Soho, next to a sex shop with multiple neon signs of its own, is Lights of Soho’s farewell exhibition to the king of neon: Chris Bracey. Consisting of signs taken from his Walthamstow gallery God’s Own Junkyard, the exhibition is right next to a sex shop with its own collection, albeit a less sophisticated one, of neon signs. It feels like the perfect place for this show, as these sex shops were where Bracey’s career began.

In the late 70’s, he catered to West End’s burgeoning sex industry, helping shape the Soho we know and love today with his provocative and alluring signage. “I did 99 percent of every sex establishment in Soho for 20 years,” he told the BBC last year. “For me, it was an artistic endeavour.” He influenced and helped other more famous artists who wanted to dabble in neon. Grayson Perry was a frequent visitor to God’s Own Junkyard, Tracy Emin had her own neon series, and Martin Creed even used Bracey to illuminate some of his works. The exhibition alludes to the art world connotations with prints of different pieces by Emin and Gilbert & George. By doing this Lights of Soho also raises the question/ draws to attention that the neon king was viewed by critics very much as a craftsman- less so as an artist. Unlike Emin and Creed who enlisted others to fabricate their concepts, Bracey made each neon sign himself.

Definitely worth a visit whilst you are doing your Christmas shopping nearby. When I asked my friends what they thought of the show they both came to the same conclusion: ‘neon signs are cool- I wish my flat looked like this’. Worth a visit purely for interior inspiration, and the tacky light up Jesus Christmas card is the best thing I have seen all December.

Photos courtesy of Jessica Miley http://instagram.com/jessmiley94/

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

BogeArt Review: Brancusi Museum Paris

By The Centre Pompidou in the Place Georges Pompidou Renzo Piano has created a space that is open to the public yet feels hidden, cut off and internalised: the reconstruction of Atelier Brancusi’s studio. It was created, not to be an exact replica of the original studio near Montparnasse, but to communicate ‘the unity that Brancusi created between his sculptures inside that studio space’.

Brancusi valued the studio as much as he did the work inside it. Towards the end of his life he stopped moving works from his studio as he believed he had found the perfect arrangement for them to be viewed in. In the 1920s the studio became his preferred place for the presentation and comprehension of his sculptures. He eventually stopped making new pieces and instead focused on expanding and metamorphosing existing ones within their space. This relationship between Brancusi’s sculptures and the space around them became so important to him that by the 1950s he would replace works he sold with plaster copies as not to disrupt the unity of the studio.

When in the Brancusi museum the individual pieces on display are not what we are meant to focus on; they are all plaster replicas for one, a glass barrier separates the viewer from the studio, and there are far too many of them to zoom in on specific sculptures anyway. In the museums leaflet the say that Brancusi endowed on plaster ‘the importance of marble’; I can’t say this translates effectively when spectating. If the sculptures had been in marble, the dense, weighty and historical medium, might have encouraged us to attempt to zoom in on specific pieces rather than understanding the sculptures as a collective. Perhaps the plaster copies work better in the studio than the originals.

As I write that I realise how my argument simultaneously agrees with and contradicts Brancusi. Showing work in a studio draws to attention the process and materials involved in sculpting. Brancusi saw the role of the artist as one who reveals the ‘cosmic essence of the material’ lying at the very heart of the medium being used. Brancusi wanted to convey the material in its most honest and plasmic form, and display the sculptures in the most organic environment, where this cosmic essence was first unveiled- the studio. All the tools on display at this studio replica remind us of these principles.

As a real fan of Brancusi’s work (he is my favourite sculpture along with Rodin), I do feel there is something sacred about aesthetically appreciating one of his works in a singular way, without focusing too much on the space around it. I am in two minds though about enjoying his work this way though as part of me feels I am being unfaithful to what Brancusi was trying to communicate. Therefore whilst sitting in the museum reflecting over the Brancusi heads and phallic shapes, I realised that this reconstruction gives us the best of both worlds. We get to see the bronze and marble sculptures in other institutions in more singular spaces where we can have more intimate and personal responses; and we get this serene place in the center of Paris to aid our understanding of Brancusi’s body of work as a whole.

BogeArt; Isabella Bornholt

BogeArt Review: Robert Mapplethorpe at the Grand Palais.

Iggy Pop 1981 by Robert Mapplethorpe 1946-1989

Prior to visiting Paris recently, I had been largely unfamiliar with Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. I had only really known him as Patti Smith’s boyfriend in the late 1960s, who had famously taken the cover for her legendary album ‘Horses’, and as the protagonist in her autobiographical book ‘Just Kids’. Coming into the exhibition with only a vague idea of what to expect, I quickly became excited by what I saw. Mapplethorpe’s photographs are bold, beautiful (and at times rather naughty), but their powerful ideal of beauty and identity is something to be strongly admired throughout the exhibition.

The retrospective of Mapplethorpe’s work held at the Grand Palais celebrates the life and art of the artist, guiding us through his life, loves and inspirations crucial to his repertoire of stunning photographs. Born into an English-Irish Roman Catholic family in Queens, New York, Mapplethorpe studied graphics at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn where during that time he became close with singer-songwriter Patti Smith. It wasn’t until the the early 1970s that he first picked up a polaroid camera and well, the rest is history. Even in his photography, Mapplethorpe’s interest in the fine arts (particularly sculpture) remains potent; he once exclaimed that his works should be viewed first as art and second as photography. Truth be told, it is difficult to view them any other way.

The exhibition begins with a series of high contrast photographs of black and white bodies that twist and turn, flexing muscular limbs and showing the aesthetic possibilities of the male (and female) form. The influences of Greek, Roman and Renaissance sculpture quickly shine through and it is these their humanist view that Mapplethorpe cleverly translates into a photograph: turning sculpted figures into real flesh and blood, instead of the other way around. Mapplethorpe plays with the beautiful past and makes it his own beautiful present. But as well as achieving what Mapplethorpe considered to be aesthetic perfection (see photographs of Lisa Lyon), he was also a master of portraying a poignant sense of identity in his portraits. Around the corner from his stunning flower photographs, the exhibition comes forward with the iconic portraits of Patti Smith that he took in the 70s. Smith’s effortlessly cool air and haunting beauty are perfectly encapsulated in Mapplethorpe’s black and white portraits, in which one later became the album cover for her most iconic album, ‘Horses’.

But Smith was only one amongst a host of influential names that Mapplethorpe worked with up until his death. A whole wall is dedicated to these varying artists in the exhibition. This ‘wall of fame’ includes such faces as Andy Warhol, Louise Bourgeoise, Yoko Ono, Blondie, Isabella Rosolini, David Hockney, Roy Litchenstein and Iggy Pop. All of which seem to have been cleverly portrayed in terms of their sense of self; whether it is achieved through Mapplethorpe’s composition, lighting or glamorous styling, each portrait seems to hit the nail on the head.

However it doesn’t quite end there. Before leaving I found myself wondering into another small compartment of the exhibition. Through a beaded doorway (I imagine like walking into the back room of a seedy video shop) you come across Mapplethorpe’s highly erotic and rather X-rated photographs of the male genetalia. Linked with the underground S&M scene in New York in the 1970s/80s which Mapplethorpe was part of, Mapplethorpe expresses his own interest in the male anatomy and sex whilst still maintaining his high standards of beauty. Once again his symmetry, lighting and composition come in to play, but perhaps with some more humorous touches in his work this time, if we think about a personal favourite, “Peeing in a Glass”.

This retrospective at the Grand Palais, overall, seemed to honor the life and art of the late artist, who tragically died of AIDS in 1989. Amongst the timeline of his thought-provoking and bewitching photos, a sense of awe seemed undoubtedly present in the air that day. Mapplethorpe was a master of beauty and mind with a contemporary twist, and artists and photographers alike will continue to look at his work as the epitome of vision, glamour and sex. See a collection of Mapplethorpe’s work now in one of the artist room’s in the Tate Modern (on until 26th October)

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/display/artist-rooms-robert-mapplethorpe-tate-modern

(Images courtesy of Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/display/artist-rooms-robert-mapplethorpe-tate-modern)

Maddy Martin: BogeArt

BogeArt Review – Matisse: The Cut-Outs at the Tate.

Henri Matisse, Two Dancers. 1937-1938. Image courtesy of www.wikiart.org

By 1941, Henri Matisse was bedridden and wheelchair bound due to health problems. His mobility declined and thus his ability to paint quickly became impossible. Despite his lack of strength, Matisse turned to a new medium which would allow him to continue to create his vivid and bold creations. With the use of an old pair of dress making scissors, Matisse arguably created the most charming and dynamic works of his life: The Cut-Outs.

The Tate’s curation of the exhibition follows the origins of Matisse’s cut outs; from the beginnings of him experimenting and reappropriating his own pieces such as Still Life with Shell and his Dancers into collages, through to his ambitious and colossal sized works as he neared the end of his life. The rooms transport the crowds through a maze of exhilarating colour, form and texture, with fragments of shapes surrounding our vision like a paper jungle. Needless to say, the exhibition is captivating from start to finish and is one that ignites a fundamental sense of joy.

What the exhibition offers, which is perhaps impossible to fully appreciate elsewhere, is an opportunity to view these famous works in a three dimensional sphere. In comparison to the postcards in the Tate gift shop, both the smaller and larger cut outs hold a sense of presence and energy through their overlapping textures. This becomes evident in pieces like Two Dancers, where small strips of paper are held down by pins, allowing the paper to flail from the surface creating a feathery like texture. It is only through seeing these works up close and in real life that this sense of movement is really appreciated, injecting the exhibition with more excitement and vigour than I had perhaps anticipated.

I think what Izzy and I found most interesting however, was the video of Matisse projected onto one of the walls in room 6. Here we see Matisse stuck in his wheelchair, guiding his dressmaking scissors through brightly coloured paper, gently snipping and slicing away like some sort of Edward Scissorhand-type figure. Matisse believed that using scissors was the “graphic, linear equivalent of the sensation of flight”. Just like the fictional character, Matisse’s scissors resist their violent connotations and instead become the tool to create something beautiful. After seeing this video showing the physical act of cutting, I then began to fully appreciate Matisse’s natural eye for colour and form, giving his works in the exhibition a second coating of impressiveness.

It is this idea of cutting and arranging in terms of the medium of collage that I made comparable links to the actual curation of the exhibition. As you reach the end of room 5 you are confronted by a whole wall covered in small framed collages, arranged in such a way that the wall echoes the medium of the works themselves. In fact, the whole exhibition is like one large collage. The Tate pieces Matisse’s works together to tell the story of his remaining years, only to create one whole final product which celebrates the perseverance of a dying man and his love and optimism for life and art.

Maddy Martin: BogeArt

(Image courtesy of Wikiart: http://uploads6.wikiart.org/images/henri-matisse/two-dancers-study-for-rouge-et-noir-1938.jpg)

BogeArt: Humans of Art

'They (the cut-outs) are so vibrant. There is so much movement in these pieces of paper pinned together. Just what you need on a gloomy day'

‘They (the cut-outs) are so vibrant. There is so much movement in these pieces of paper pinned together. Just what you need on a gloomy day’

Anisha, 20, Student; Tate Modern

BogeArt Review: Kenneth Clark- Looking for Civilistation

http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/exhibition/kenneth-clark-looking-civilisation

Production shot of Kenneth Clark at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, for Civilisation 8 - The Light of Experience 1969

Production shot of Kenneth Clark at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, for Civilisation 8 – The Light of Experience 1969

Kenneth Clark broke the barriers of what an art historian could be. He tried to appeal to the masses in a way that no hArtstorian had done previously. He sought to spread an appreciation of art and aesthetics; and he succeeded in doing so throughout his career in a variety of ways.

The exhibition approaches his life and relationship with art in a chronological and compartmental way. It begins with a room dedicated to Kenneth Clark ‘the subject’, as his father was also an art lover and there are many portraits of the family. We trace his youth and when it was his love of art began to grow- his nanny took him to a Japanese print exhibition where ‘I was conscious for the first time in my life…that beauty is something timeless’. It was then he had a realisation of the ‘aesthetic experience’, of the ‘aesthetic sense that holds those other mental activities together’. Sometimes I feel that today the aesthetic and its importance can be neglected in art criticism.

The next room concerns Kenneth Clark ‘the collector’. Clark was head of the National Gallery at 30, and his goal was to modernise and democratise the gallery during his time there. He was responsible for the introduction of electric lighting and the photographic department- without which there would be no postcards. He made few noteworthy purchases for the galleries collection and did not identify as a collector personally either. Saying that there are a few gems in his personal collection which are displayed, namely some delicate drawings of gothic architecture by Ruskin. Kenneth Clark describes them perfectly: ‘they are some of the most beautiful records of architecture ever made, for Ruskin is able to combine knowledge and love, sensibility and precision in a way that is extremely rare’. I find myself admiring his eloquent and accurate commentary over the collection.

Have we started worshiping critical thinkers in the way we do artists? There are many articles on how art is a religion and we worship artists*, and here is the Tate Britain giving us the same platform to worship Clark that they normally give to artists: an exhibition. It’s not a small exhibition either. I had never been to an exhibition centred around an art historian, rather than an artist or theme, before this exhibition at the Tate Britain. If artists are the prophets of this religion then the art historians/critical thinkers are the saints.

The exhibition is big, perhaps a little too big, and my suggestion would be to dip in and out of the collections, there is too much material to spend time on every piece. It gets more exciting when the focus shifts to Kenneth Clark ‘the patron’. Clark took on a rather renaissance approach to the role of the patron; he financed art not just for the love it but also to support art and artists. Like the renaissance patrons he is playing a part in art history. There is a lot of Henry Moore and Stanley Spencer in this part of the show, as they are two acclaimed artists whose careers owe a lot to Clark. They have some wonderful Henry Moore prints and drawings. What looking at these works with Clark in mind does do is give the pieces some context. In the Tate Britain there are many famous Henry Moore sculptures, and in these early prints and drawings we can see the beginnings of a great artistic career. With this exhibition we can look at the works through Clark’s eyes, being by young exciting artists trying to carve their careers, not quite in the same stuffy museum context one normally sees Moore’s and Spencer’s works. Kenneth Clark became an important figure for the Neo-Romantics.

The exhibition also addresses Kenneth Clark’s role during WW2. He was head of the National Gallery when the collection had to be evacuated to caves in the depths of wales in order to protect them from bombings. He was the brains behind the gallery’s program to show one of its masterpieces every month to the public. Whilst the chosen masterpieces would be temporarily at risk, it was important for morale that the British public had the opportunity to be reminded of man-made beauty and achievements at a time when they were acutely aware of the destruction humans were capable of.

The exhibition concludes by addressing the project Kenneth Clark is perhaps most famed for; the 13 part television show ‘Civilisation’. Clark felt that one had to move with the times, especially when it came to making art available to the public, and found television a new and exciting way to appeal to the masses. He created and presented the first popular, large scale, art history based series. The response was mammoth. It was released in 1969, when western civilisation had recently felt threatened by the anti-establishment violent student protests of 1968, and fans of the program felt it had re-affirmed and reclaimed the positive achievements of ‘civilisation’. It was there to reassure the public at a time when ones cultural identity was being challenged. It was extremely well received by Kenneth Clark’s peers and the general public. At a private screening of ‘Civilistaion’ that Clark attended, he was so overwhelmed by the cheers and applause that he hid in the loo for 15 minutes and just wept.

A fascinating retrospective on a fascinating man. The one thing that really endeared me was the fact that above all Kenneth Clark comes across as an art lover. Like us wondering about the exhibition, he is a fan. He wanted to make art more approachable and this exhibition makes him more approachable.

Isabella Bornholt; BogeArt

*http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/artblog/2007/may/30/howartreplacedreligion http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9049701/Hay-Festival-Jonathan-Franzen-Art-is-a-religion.html