Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Das Kunsthistorische Museum, Vienna

This museum and art gallery is just about as outrageous as it gets. The only concession to normality is the cloak room. Everything else screams empire, wealth, kleptocracy and vanity. It’s great.

Recently, our favourite art historian, Andrew Graham-Dixon, made a series of four documentaries about the British Royal Collection. It’s a familiar story of European royals, they have all used art for propaganda, as a store of value, diplomatic gesturing and self-gratification. The Habsburgs were no different. Their collection is equally outrageous, but at least the Austrian Bundes Republic now owns the collection and a grand building in which to display it.

David Teniers’ fantastic picture of Leopold Wilhelm (1614-62) inspecting his haul of 51 Italian works from the collection of the Duke of Hamilton in Brussels (above left) just captures the obscenity – or scale economies – of art buying and collecting. It is simply my favourite picture in the Italian collection on show which took us 3 hours to view with as much respect that we could.

The curators enjoy juxtaposition. Some of which vaguely work. Others not. Putting Titian up against Picasso is an interesting one (above right). Titian’s intimate portrait of Pope Paul III (1546) was, I sense, intended to humanise him, without diminishing his stature as Pope. He sits. His hands and arms are almost close enough to touch. But not quite. By contrast, Picasso’s portrait of Carlotta Valdivia (painted, not surprisingly, in his blue period in Barcelona, 1904) is not accessible at all. She was not ostentatiously rich, but her pearl earring and cowl suggest more wealth than Picasso had at that time as a bohemian. The slight rosy colouring of her face suggests, apparently, a former physical beauty swept away by the years.

This flattery of sitters is not uncommon. In England, we know that Holbein, Henry VIII’s court painter, overdid it on Anne of Cleves before the King married her. Probably not a good idea. This overdoing is on display again with Titian’s second  portraits of Elisabeth d’este (1534) who looks amazingly good for her 60 years’. Good work.

Over the years we have learnt a lot about how to look at pictures and, indeed, what to look for. Andrew Graham-Dixon taught us to go for the detail. For example, Lazarus in, what is simply a landscape painting by Pieter Breugel. So, when viewing landscapes, it is the little detail that makes the difference. Take, for example, the view of Schönbrunn Palace gardens (1758/61) by Tintoretto (right). There are lots of court figures in the grounds. But, of course, to keep everything perfect, the groundsmen had to follow them with their rollers. And look closely (left), we can see them!

More recently, Waldemar Januszczak’s documentary about Mary Magdelene, has us always looking for her in depictions of Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. To be honest, I’m not sure if I have found her at Jesus’ foot in The Lamentation of Christ by Savoldo (around 1513, right), but probably.

Another Graham-Dixon prompt is to look for Ghouls, particularly done by Germans. Now this one doesn’t quite qualify, but by goodness, that is one heck of a snake (Raphael in 1518) that St Margarete has to slay (left).

The Gods are always good value in 16 Century art. Venus and Adonis, in particular. Of course, Adonis is destined to be killed by a wild beast (Venus knows this because she has that most awkward of powers, the divine power of prediction). But when if comes to affairs of the flesh, this does not really matter. I trust that when one’s nipple is being squeezed (right), the future is of little concern. Veronese’s picture tries to warn us with storm clouds, but my eyes are elsewhere.

Tucked away in one of the small rooms off the main gallery is a series of four pictures about the seasons by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1566). Each one has a profile portrait to make the point. The portraits are entirely made up of non-human components – for want of a better word – such as fruits and, here (left), fish. They are extraordinary pictures. Peculiarly unsettling.

There are, of course, pictures that remind one of earlier times. My mother was particularly enamoured by the biblical story of Samson and Delilah. Delilah was a lot of a baddie, and not only took away Samson’s strength by cutting off his hair, but also had him blinded. My mother was keen for me to grow my hair, which I did, but I was never strong enough to push down a temple (top panel, right Tintoretto 1543).

Finally, there are some pictures that quite simply do not belong in this part of the collection. There’s a Turner, for goodness sake (another attempt at juxtaposition). There is also Bathers by Paul Cezanne (1890, left).

OK, we had no time for the huge collection of low countries art, Gustav Klimt and Dürer. We’re coming back, soon, to mop up.


Seville in December – Museo de Belles Artes

Take your passport for free entry into this wonderful example of a city gallery celebrating the work of its sons, if not artist daughters.

There is a lot of extraordinary medieval – largely religious – art here from the likes of José de Ribera, Juan de Valdés Leal, Taller de Zurbarán and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. But also some more contemporary work from the likes of José Garcia Ramos, Rafael Senet, Jose Villegas Cordero and Gonzalo Bilbao Martinez. There are some cameos by influential Flemish artists including Jan Brueghel de Velours, Pieter van Lint and Sebastian Vranckx. There’s also the odd German; namely, Lucas Cranach.
The building is a former monestery (left). It has two floors and an inner garden courtyard. The religous art tends to be about alterpieces. There’s plenty here with lots of virgins with child and grusome crucifixions. I recall Andrew Graham Dixon on his Art of Germany series that no one does ghouls better than the Germans. That may be true, but the Spanish and Flemish artists throw them in, too. Martin de Vos’, The Last Judgment (1570), has some pretty nasty ones dragging the sinners to their eternal damnation (right).
There’s a couple of paintings by 17th Century painter, Francisco Pacheco. His Portrait of an Elderly Lady and an Elderly Man (c1630) is chilling in its wizened-ness (left).
Alonso Vázquez’s The Last Supper (1588) has a wonderful sinister feel, notwithstanding Judas with his bag of money. There is something decidedly inedible on the table and some creepies on the floor. The apostles are muscular figures deeply concerned about the traitor amongst their number.
Maestro del Papagayo’s Holy Family (right) seems wholly mischievous. The child squeezes the nipple but is tempted by a grape! The symbolism is, I assume, fertility and the blood of Christ?
There is a lot of St Francis of Assissi going on in this gallery. For example, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo’s Stigmatisation of St Francis (left) dating from c1645. More of Murillo’s wonderful work was in a special gallery where no cameras were allowed.
Another favourite son is Taller de Zurbarán. The gallery houses some rather large canvasses of saints; for example, St Anés with lamb (whom I know nothing about) and St Dorotea with fruit and flowers (both 1650, right). Dorotea was a legendary virgin martyr who may have lived in the 4th century. She is called a martyr of the Diocletianic Persecution.
Francisoco de Goya y Lucientes finds a place in this gallery as well as the cathedral. In the gallery, one finds his dark portraiture; for example, that of Canon José Duaso y Lastre (1824, left). This is the precursor to Goya’s black paintings, and you can see why.
 So, back to the Flemish artists, Jan Brueghel’s depiction of paradise with its paired animals, verdant backdrops and the odd naked Adam and Eve (right) delights in its detail and idealism.
This being a local museum, quite a bit of space is given over to paintings of dubious value. There are something like 8 canvasses by Domingo Martínez charting the route of a allegorical carriage through Seville in 1747 (left). It seems reminiscent of those major cavasses representing street scenes in Venice. Clearly important for the city but not necessarily for art. Though Martínez was very much a student of Murillo and the depictions are rare examples of secular art of the time.
 Talking of which, the more contemporary art occupies a few rooms on the second floor. Two things are really important in Seville. Flamenco and bull fighting. Both are represented in the collection, but not always as one might expect.
The dancing, for example, has a modesty about it; it is street flamenco. For example,Manuel Rodríguez De Guzman’s Baile en la taberne (right) and José Garcia Ramos’s Baile por bulerias (left). These both strike me as capturing the spontaneity of flamenco in Sevillian society. All you need is a spanish guitar (and someone to play it) a frilly frock, some shoes and maybe a male partner. And knowledge and passion, for I have no doubt that it is a technical art. Whilst I find flamenco myself to be rather dull to watch, I do not doubt its importance to the culture. Also nothing dies, unlike with the bullfighting.
The matadors are heroes. When one is lost, it is captured on canvas by the likes of José Villegas Cordero’s La Muerte del Maestro (1913, right).
Back to the real heroes, the people of the city. Part of the city’s wealth came from tobacco. Gonzalo Bilbao’s La Cigarreras (1915, below left) lets us into the working environment in one of the cigarette factories. It looks like a cathedral rather than a factory; it has all humanity in it.
Rafael Senet’s La Pescadora (1885 right) also draws on the lives of ordinary folk. The fisherwoman walks the beach with her large basket and exposes her feet as she tries to keep her dress from getting too wet.

Finally, I share, what is clear from our visit to Seville. The people love to dance and celebrate. Gustavo Bacarisas’s Sevilla en fiestas left (1915) captures this nicely with, what seems to be a night-time scene where the light captures three woman all dressed up with somewhere to go.

If you are in Seville and are looking for somewhere to go, this gallery is a gem.

University of Brighton Graduate Show 2017 – Fine Art

I have given quite a bit of attention this year to the 3-D objects. But the fine art remains the star attraction and it is fine indeed. As noted in my earlier post, I was a shade rushed, so my review is curtailed. Again, apologies to fine artists that I have not selected.

This year seems to me have been dominated by scale artwork. Big. There is also a good number of portraiture such as Jessica Zaydner’s work (above left). This is quite a face, despite its youth. There is something going on beyond the gaze, and I am not sure how good it is.

There is landscape as well, but not of the realist genre. The work of Bethany Carter is interesting here. Carter calls on influences from 1960s psychedelia to insist that we detach ourselves from our digital lives to think about the natural world. This psychedelic imagery spells out the interconnectivity between landscape and animals and what is natural anyway in the increasingly soiled environment “downtrodden” by human beings. Carter is asking a lot of questions in her work, not all of which I understand or agree with. But as a scale piece, A New Earth, works.

Next is the disconcerting work of Victoria Suvoroff (left). This piece belongs to her Phantasms show. Her work seeks to challenge gender’s social construction. The vehicle for doing this is to present body parts as phantasms (seen but not necessarily rooted in a physical reality). It is striking work.

Emily Alice Garnham’s work I picked out because of its allusions to one of my own favourite artists, Paul Nash. Nash drew on his experience of war to paint is often disembodied figures. Garnham draws from urban landscapes.

Working from photographs the finished work is not a depiction of an existing cityscape. Rather it is the creation of what she calls “an original utopian scape”. The green hue alludes to the interaction between nature and concrete.

Lucia Hamlin (left) admits to grappling with being brought up as a catholic. She nicely brings together colour, history/archaeology and superstition. The history, it seems, tells us that extended craniums were often seen as belonging to gods or God-like figures. She makes her figures deliberately offensive and immature “as a dig at the narrow-mindedness of religion, and to put across the idea that God has stopped caring and is now mocking the obsceneness and immorality of modern humanity”. Hamlin’s work is on canvas and also as 3-D structure suitable for sharing a selfie (right).

Finally, my PhD many years ago was about railways in the UK. The logo for British Railways is a design classic. Two lines with arrows oppositely directed brilliantly captured the purpose of the railways, particularly in its modernisation phase after WW2. An artist (whose name I could not find) has taken this logo and embedded it in something slightly bigger. I leave readers this year with the BR logo and the songbird (left). Naturally, my favourite piece.


University of Brighton Graduate Show 2017 – 3D design, textiles

Annually this show is a delight. There is always originality and discovery. I apologise to all students that I did not get to see the whole show – one needs a day of high stamina to get around all of the galleries. I had neither a full day nor stamina. But here are some of my highlights.

With regard to originality the garment on the right by Martina Stefkova Simeonova ticks many of the boxes. It is not a piece of art as I had first thought. It is very much a wearable garment. It is made of Lycra – so, probably not that easy to put together especially with bright orange stitching. The influence, according to Simeonova is vintage tennis gear. The skirt – which is probably not that practical on a tennis court – is pleated and held rigid by kebab sticks. Sensational.

Then there is the furniture. The example on the left is the work of Liam  O’Hagen Paul and is essentially cycle routes around Brighton. He argues that the journey is better than arrival. This may be youthful exuberance – as a keen youthful cyclist myself many years back I am sure I once felt the same – but if this is the collateral, then keep it up. I’d love this in my house.

And then this stunning chair. Probably not the most comfortable but beautifully made capitalising on the natural bends and imperfections of the wood. But more interestingly, perhaps, is the influence of the roof timbers of an old tithe barn. Another piece by the same furniture maker (left) illustrates this better. It is a cabinet, I think made of oak, and wonderfully arched like the tithe barn roof.

Ever wondered what a migraine looks like? I have to say that I haven’t only because I have never suffered from such pervasive pain. Jemima Bellamy has investigated the condition and has produced some visually representative jewellery that, as she argues, “challenges the visual and physical parameters to both alleviate and aggravate the migraine”. I am not sure exactly how it works, but the pieces are special (see right, for example).

Staying with the theme of health and illness, Ember Vincent represents her own experience of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME). These bowls are a fusion of ceramics and metals. Ultimately they represent the tendency of sufferers of ME and other illnesses to hide their “broken selves” behind tough exteriors. The utility of the bowls is not high. But they are wonderful.

There is always room for tea, I feel. Xufei Zhu undertook a study of Chinese and British cultural differences in relation to tea and life – in particular, contemporary living and its stresses. These are captured in her tea pots, cups and utensils. This foot shaped teaspoon is exquisite.

The next artefact to bowl me over was Teenie Connolly’s kingfisher. Made of reclaimed materials collected on walks between Brighton and Newhaven, they – and the complementary pots – represent the weaving undertaken by birds to make nests. She says that she has enjoyed a close relationship with birds in nursing a number back to health. Her underlying theme, however, is sustainability.

Next up is this extraordinary bowl made of desert ironwood and embellished with copper powder and epoxy resin. It has been precisely machined and sanded to 1200 gsm (I assume that is also precise). Because the wood is so dense it has a discrete functionality.

Finally in this section, I was beguiled by these lamps (left) by Darwin Simmonds. His theme encapsulates playfulness, childhood, fun and, ultimately, happiness. They are certainly uplifting in their bold colours and light emission.

Fine art to follow.


Two gigs in a week – the Handsome Family and Austra

Life is good with a colleague who extends an invite to gig featuring a band you’ve never heard of. On 3 March the Handsome Family (left) straddled the stage at Concorde 2 in Brighton to present their brand of – what I am reliably informed is called – goth country. That does not mean to say that they turned up dressed in black with white faces.

The Handsome Family are essentially a husband and wife team, Brett and Rennie Sparks who sing songs about things like frogs, holes in the ground and murder. Brett Sparks’ deep voice bosses the songs with Rennie Sparks offering harmony. The show is punctuated by choreographed bickering between the two, for example, whether today’s sandwich had the right filling.

Rennie Sparks provides the lyrics, bass and autoharp (banjo is also in her armoury, but was absent from this performance); husband Brett does the music, guitar and keyboards. Touring as a four piece, the drummer did sterling work; the fourth member was a multi-instrumentalist. Largely playing guitar, but this being country he flirted around with a steel guitar and bizarrely a keyboard instrument that seemed no bigger than a 1970s stylophone! The climax was an extraordinary duel between the two guitars, culminating in Brett Sparks requiring a major re-tune of his guitar before he could give an encore. Rennie Sparks narrated this activity expressing her own bemusement of her husband’s guitar abuse. Presumably it happens every night.

Anyone wanting to hear more try this link. The tour goes on.

Austra is the music vehicle for Toronto’s Katie Stelmanis. I became aware of Austra in the days when the Guardian newspaper had live sessions. Me and my beloved caught up with the band in its extended form in Munich in 2011; they did a short BBC Music stage performance at Latitude in 2013, we saw that. I got a sneak preview of the new album, Future Politics, when in November 2016 Stelmanis did a free gig/Q&A at Kamio in London. And then on 9 March Austra appeared as a foursome at Ampere in Munich. Stelmanis, I understand, had opera training for her voice. It is extraordinary – it hurts just thinking about how she uses it. But she is also politically engaged. It is like that she could sing fascists into submission, much like Slim Whitman saw off the Aliens in Mars Attacks!

This tour is about the third album, Future Politics (left). I still have not fully digested it lyrically, but Stelmanis is open about its allusions to humanity’s failure to place itself as a carbon life form on a finite planet (Gaia). This leads away from Utopia – her call to a plausible brighter future. Stelmanis is also hugely melancholic about relationships. Her second album, Olympia, was over-burdened with this melancholia; for example, an unfaithful partner on Forgive Me. Future Politics’ relationship dystopia comes out in I love you more than you love yourself. “There is nothing in your soul tonight, I only see darkness” sings Stelmanis. However, in contrast to the Olympia album, Stelmanis manages throughout this album, irrespective of the lyrics, to evoke the positive, even to the ability to dance to the song. And what is more it sounded so much better live. That is why I would recommend seeing Austra live and not rely on the recordings.

As  a foursome, they create a lot of sound. In Munich, Stelmanis’ voice did not have enough amplification, but Maya Postepski’s percussion was awesome (right), and the two male supports (Dorian Wolf on bass and moog, and Ryan Wonsiak), chalk and cheese as they were, ensured no one left melody-less.

This was as good a gig as I have been to. The tour continues:

Astra Kulturhaus, Berlin, Germany
BikoMilan, Italy
Les Docks Lausanne, Switzerland
Dampfzentrale Bern, Switzerland
Gloria Theater Cologne, Germany
Uebel & Gefährlich Hamburg, Germany
Patterns (formerly Audio)Brighton, UK
Village UndergroundLondon, UK
Summerhall Edinburgh, UK
The Deaf Institute Manchester, UK
Button Factory Dublin, Ireland
Le Grand Mix Tourcoing, France
Les Trinitaires Metz, France
Le Trianon Paris, France
Le Metronum Toulouse, France
Museo de Arte Contemporáneo Gas Natural Fenosa (MAC) La Coruna, Spain
Teatro Barcelo Madrid, Spain
La Rambleta Valencia, Spain
Sala Apolo Barcelona, Spain
Mascotte Zürich, Switzerland
L’Epicerie Moderne Feyzin, France
La Sirene La Rochelle, France
Le 106 – Club Rouen, France
AB Box Brussels, Belgium

Tilman Riemenschneider

dscf1599We were introduced to Tilman Riemenschneider by one of our favourite art historians (AGD) on his BBC series, “Art of Germany“.  Riemenschneider was a very fine carver and sculptor working in the 15/16 Century, largely in the Franconian region of northern Bavaria. Würzburg is the region’s capital; it was there that Riemenschneider had his studio (a prolific producer of largely religious icons, popular at the time with the wealthy Bavarians and staffed by a series of journeyman carvers). He utilised property that came his way through (four) marriages to set up the study (at least three of his wives died – he was not a mass murder as was my original concern). He was also a political figure in the region, holding a number of official posts, including Bürgermeister in 1520. However, when in 1525 the  peasants revolt reached Würzburg, he found himself on the wrong side of the victorious Prince Bishop. He was briefly imprisoned. He died in 1531 and was quickly forgotten. It was not until his tombstone was found in 1822 that his work was re-evaluated by Carl Gottfried Scharold, a significant local historian.

He worked using regional materials, in particular lime wood and sandstone. It is for that reason that it is amazing that so many pieces have survived these years. Take, for example, the “Sad Mary” (above left) who can be found amongst the largest single collection of his work in the  Mainfrankisches Museum in Würzburg. Dating from 1510, she belonged to a fdscf1592amily in Ochsenfurt, a significant town on the Main river. She hung from a hook around shoulder level; but seemingly she was not well loved. In fact, she was feared. She was also rather black having some sort of fire damage (she was stored in the attic near to the chimney). Her maker was recognised by Johann Valentin Markert as part of Riemenschneider’s rehabilitation.  Her robes are just exquisite. The representation of folds, creases, seams, hands etc. are carved out of a tree and are trademark Riemenschneider. The carver’s faces are distinct, something that helps scholars and amateurs alike identify his own work from that of the journeymen in his studio.

St. Antonius Kapelle and St Jakobus, Großlangheim

The carving of “Holy Nickolas” dates also from 1510. This piece came from the “Chapel of Marriage” in Würzburg. Nickolas’s face carriesdscf1527 the features of a sage; however, one assumes that most senior clergy at that time were sages? This look with oval eyes, ageing lines and long noses is repeated endlessly.

AGD told us that some of the best pieces are to be found in small churches dotted around the Bavarian countryside. In particular he said that there were a couple of seemingly forlorn pieces in a small chapel (St.-Antonius-Kapelle) in Großlangheim. To enter one needed to get the key from Frau Sterk, the owner of the nearby liquor store. Actually, the chapel was open when we investigated (Frau Sterk still looks after it, though). Moreover, there were four pieces in the Chapel, not the two featured in the documentary. St. Antonius, depicted above left, is signature Riemenscheider. We were directed in particular to the belt around his waist! The light in the chapel was not really conducive to photography, unfortunately.dscf1517

AGD did not tell us, however, that Großlangheim had two places of worship, both of which boast Riemenscheider sculptures. The Catholic church, St. Jakobus, is brimming with Riemenschneiders. For example, the sculpture of St. Anna with child and Mary (Selbstdritte) is beguiling, full of colour and symbolism. dscf1522

Another common subject is Mary and the dead Jesus (left). The Virgin’s clothes contrast absolutely with the dead Christ’s grey skin. A reminder, presumably, of the horror of the crucifixion and mortality, at least for the body.

There are professional reasons for this approach to colour. At that time such many works were
church commissions. If the commission was given to a painter, naturally any sculpture subcontracted as part of the commission would be painted. Carvers were not allowed to paint their own sculptures (or not). Where altarpieces were involved, there were also cabinet makers who could actually earn more than the carver for creating a hinged box (see St Jakob, Rothenburg, below).

Maria im Weingarten, Volkach

AGD had advised us to visit the Riemenschneider sculpture hanging in the Church, Maria im Weingarten, in Volkach. In his TV documentary he spent quite a bit of time discussing this carving dating from 1522 20160901_131924(right). It is certainly impressive, hanging as it does from the ceiling of the church. It depicts Mary standing on a crescent moon with the child, Jesus. The five roundels depict events in her life (the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Adoration and Death). The child is enthroned on the virgin’s left hip. It was stolen in 1962 and returned only after the payment of a ransom. But there is some doubt about how much of it was carved by Riemenschneider himself, rather than one of his journeyman carvers. Like many carvings and sculptures that are likely to be difficult for people to inspect closely, fine detail is not required.

Altarpiece of the Holy, the parish church of St Jakob in Rothenburg ob der Tauber dating from 1505. 

img0024The centrepiece of this fine altar (pictured left) depicts the Last Supper. In the centre is Jesus and next to him to the right is Judas (bearded and about to receive bread, a symbol of sin, from Jesus) being exposed as a traitor. Pilgrims enter the space in the westimg0007 choir of the church from the right, just like Judas, the sinner. Forgiveness is possible for pilgrims. St. Philip (left of Judas) points to the alter base where sinners should kneel and confess sins to receive redemption. One has to step back to see the real point of the altar – the relic of the holy blood encased in a glass cross (right).

It seems that this wonderful piece – we spent at least an hour with it – had to be done relatively cheaply. The master, concentrated his attention on the cluster of figures arounimg0003d Jesus, whilst his journeyman worked on the five apostles to the right of Judas (pictured left) seemingly trying to work out who the traitor was. The relief on the left of the central shrine of the altarpiece depicting Christ’s entry into Jerusalem does not seem to be Riemenscheider. In particular, the figure of Christ himself is insufficiently proportioned and the faces of the figures are stylistically different.


Altarpiece of Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, Detwang – 1505-8

By way of contrast, this altarpiece (right) is thought to be wholly by Riemenschneider, although it was not originallyimg0020 designed for this church (it had to be narrowed fit in the space). The central section is a classic crucifixion scene with mourning women and St John to the left and the soldiers around Caiaphas to the right. The panel on the left depicts the agony in the garden, the one on the right, the resurrection. All are deemed to be stylistically coherent apart from some of the bodies in the resurrection scene.

Würzburg Cathedral

dscf1548Würzburg Cathedral is a wonderful space in the centre of the city. Riemenschneider was commissioned to carve a couple of tombs for former bishops. The founding bishop, Rudolf von Scherenberg, is celebrated in the stone carving (left) which is a masterwork in ageing human form. The Bishop gets the old-man treatment – though the contract specifies precisely how he was to be presented, with artefacts (swords, etc.), coats of arms and attire. dscf1549

Later, Riemenschneider did the same for Bishop Lorenz von Bibra (right). This depicts a younger, age-indeterminate man, but is a mis-mash of styles. Riemenschneider is credited with the figure, puttis (something that he liked doing, seemingly) and the lion vanquishing the dragon (at the base).


Walk down the knave and one comes across yet another Mary and child (left). Again, she stands on a crescent moon. The child is cradled on her right side (in contrast to the depiction in Volkach, above) and her leg protrudes forward. She stands on a plinth ahead of the altar.


The cathedral used, also, to be the home of Riemenschneider’s stone Adam and Eve sculptures (1493). Go there now and replicas flank the south portal of the Lady Chapel. The originals are now in the Mainfrankisches Museum in Würzburg (see above). They ended up there because the provost of the cathedral in 1894 was offended by the nudity and had them removed. The replicas were installed in 1975.

Botdscf1568h have missing arms. Eve is depicted as round and earthy in a renaissance style. She has the apple in her remaining hand and a serpent at her feet. Her hair confidently drapes her back. Art historians, however, have been a shade confused about the figure of Adam. Traditionally he is depicted as being mature and, naturally, bearded. This one is youthful, innocent – and a victim of female wiles. He’s late gothic in depiction; hence he is not particularly endowed with muscles (renaissance Adams often have six-packs). Adam’s face and hair are similar to Riemeschneider’s St Johns in altarpieces (for example, Münnerstadt, not discussed here).20150825_130318

Our tour was not complete. Münnerstadt, for example. But equally, the masterpiece at Creglingen 20150828_144631Herrgottskirche (right) and Bamberg cathedral (left). Unfortunately, there is a lot of geography involved and not enough time.

What I have tried to do is give a flavour of the life and work of Riemenschneider. Not only was  he a fine carver, but also a politician -clearly with some morals – a husband – though accrued much property by this means – and a businessman. He worked to specification and gave, usually, what was asked at the requisite quality. For tourists, focusing on a single artist can be an exciting and meaningful way of exploring a region. And if you have access to the language, there are lots of people to fill in the gaps for you. We are indebted to the attendant in the Mainfrankisches Museum for extra info about artefacts, and the woman in Großlangheim who told us about both churches and their treasures.

Additional source for text: Kalden-Rosenfeld, Iris (2004) Tilman Riemenschneider: The Sculptor and his Workshop. Translation by Heide Grieve. Karl Robert Langewiesche Nachfolger Hans Köster Veerlagsbuchhandlung KG . Konigstein im Taunus.


Rijks Museum, Amsterdam

20160824_145714One of our favourite art historians recently made a programme for the BBC about the refurbishment of this national museum in Amsterdam. It was – and still is – home to the Dutch nation’s treasures, including its Rembrandt paintings, most especially The Night Watch (left) which is itself watched over by two museum bouncers, just in case.

The museum was first opened in 1885. It was apparently a controversial building. The architect, Pierre Cuypers, a20160824_163209 catholic, created a very catholic building for a staunchly protestant city. And Cuypers knew this. So much so that he sculptured himself into the building looking very sheepish, as well he might (right).

The museum’s transformation from staid national museum (seemingly stuffed animals and dull artefacts), to compelling home of the nation’s treasures took much longer than anticipated. If I understand the story correct, the architects plans (Spanish practice Cruz and Ortiz) involved closing off the cycle route literally through the centre of museum. This did not go down very well; reconfiguring the designs in order to retain the cycle route took some time. That said, there was also a small matter of asbestos that extended the task from 3 to 10 years.

20160824_145623Now it is expensive, at least for tourists – €17.50. It is easy to gain a day in there. There are 80 rooms and just under a million artefacts (clearly, not all are being exhibited at the same time). The galleries are now organised chronologically (rather than by type – paintings, ceramics, textiles etc.). This means one gets a mix, adding important context to one anoth20160824_120211er in the process. However, some galleries are exclusively art such as those where one finds Rembrandt, Vermeer, etc. (above left)

We started on the 3rd floor with the 20th Century. These floors celebrate Dutch water engineering (the Dutch made a lot of contemporaneous films of the building of their phenomenal water projects); innovative architecture such as Rietveld’s model orphanage housing project in Bergeijk Le Courbusier’s 1958 20160824_125709Philips World Fair Pavilion (model of); mischievous art in Ferdi’s Wombtombdesign such as the fusion of Mondrian’s geometric art with Yves Saint Laurent’s couture (right); and most sinister of all, a Nazi chess set (the Nazis were white, naturally. Their weapons were bigger and more up-to-date).20160824_125048

Other wonderful artefacts include Lion Cachet’s substantial 1902 sideboard with handles suspended from monkey heads (right); Petronella Dunois‘ intricate dolls houses c1676; Sam Schellink‘s finely-decorated porcelain c1900; and spectacularly, Frits 20160824_131136Koolhoven’s FK23 Bantam fighter from 1918 (left).

In terms of art, the museum tracks both the careers of Dutch masters and the significance of their work in telling the story of the country. For example, in much of Europe in the 17th Century, artists were employed by the Church or wealthy families (think Medici in Florence).20160824_150258 The Netherlands is a relatively new country reclaimed from the sea. It is also a maritime country built on heroic trade (Rudolf Bakhuysen’s Warships in Heavy Storm, right, is not untypical). The wealth was in the hands of a merchant class who, not surprisingly, enjoyed their images being reproduced on canvas.

20160824_152923The landscape features, too. Joseph Constantin Gabriël’s, The Month of July (left), is illustrative of the genre. We were also delighted to find Thérèse Schwartze’s Portrait of Lizzy Ansigh, a fellow painter in the female group of artists known as the Amesterdamse Joffers. This is at least a recognition that females were active in this period without in any way over-representing their work.

Finally there is recognition of particular schools of painters – the Hague School (1840s), with its20160824_153128 emphasis on the lives of ordinary folk and the Amsterdam impressionists of which Isaac Israel’s Donkey riding on the Beach (right) is a fine example.

Van Gogh is there, but if readers want to see his work, the adjacent Van Gogh museum is the place to go. It too is a special place, but much much busier.

Along with the reconfiguring of the physical museum, the curators also produced an excellent app for iPhone and Android. It saves hiring an audio guide; and if your mobile runs out of fuel, there are free fuelling stations.



University of Brighton Graduate Show, 2016: Part 1, paintings and graphic art

This year’s show is an absolute cracker. Well done to all. Here are my observations and personal highlights under the following themes: anger, self, beauty, environment and miscellaneous.


DSCF1389I was listening earlier to the veteran American documentary maker, Michael Moore, discussing the current political situation in his own country and also in Europe. He echoed what I have been saying to my students in recent times. He said that he’s surprised that younger people are not more angry with their parents when it comes to the state of things. There is a lot to be angry about. I felt this in this year’s show. There are a few exceptions such as the work of Sadie Leigh Hudson – Frustrations of an Art Student (left), but even then, maybe just a little easy to brush aside? I like the sentiment, however.

Somewhat more effective in the angry theme was Omelle Palmer’s piece Right Move. Palmer’s anger is focused on homelessness in Brighton.DSCF1392 Cleverly, Palmer has imaged the spaces occupied by rough sleepers as houses for sale in the window of estate agents. It’s effective and takes a welcome swipe at estate agents and the concept of ownership and privilege. It made me feel uncomfortable.

DSCF1404Next on my angry list is the work of Izdehar Afyouni (left). The portfolio is mixed paintings and sculpture – all with that menace that comes with the depiction of the mess that humans can sometimes make. The accompanying statement by Afyouni  is presented as an angry letter (to James) whose failure to understand and respect ‘others’ leads to exclusion, discrimination and repression. Angry it is!


Choosing a subject for a portfolio is never easy. I struggle sometimes with this blog to decide what to write and when.DSCF1412 So artists are forgiven for resting on the familiar; namely, family. There are two exceptional examples of family in this year’s show. First, the work of Sophie Williams (right). Sisters, a nonchalant brother, Matthew (with better things to do) and a meal make up her striking troika painted over a single weekend.

DSCF1414Second, is a reflection on childhood and home in Cyprus by Eleni Papageorgiou. This series of paintings reproduced from photographs represents what is familiar to all whose childhoods were protected and nurturing. Papageourgiou here presents an affectionate portrait of her father washing the dishes. Ah yes; food, home and sunshine. Compelling.

Another fabulous set of autobiographical images are presented by Michaela Yearwood-Dan (right)DSCF1418. Set in South London against the backdrop of parental immigration from the West Indies, the sense of community huddled into a kebab shop is familiar and wonderfully reassuring. A far cry from tropical Barbados, but humanity frequently congregates, temperate urban or otherwise.

By way of contrast, the work of self-described millennial, Sam Creasy, depicts what for my generation may appear DSCF1420rather dystopian, bright, garish, kitsch “waste imagery assembled from internet content”. Creasy cites as influences SciFi novels (in particular Phillip K Dick), films (Ex Machina and District 9) as well as current science (cybernetics, information technologies) and hints at a breakdown of social order.



Very much in the eye of the beholder, here. First, Megan Martin’s work (right) seems to have beeDSCF1416n a conscious attempt to avoid the danger of missing the point of painting if one reproduces from photographs (something that is common this year). Martin’s work has that lovely touch of unreality whilst capturing a the partial reality of our own engagement with otherness, in this case a dog and wonderfully shaped horse. The translucent nature of the human figure makes this picture for me. Martin’s key influence, Sidney Nolan, is on my list of further investigation.

DSCF1402A number of years ago I discovered the work of Paul Nash in the process of my absorbing the work of European surrealists. Nash was never officially part of the group but his work, influenced by his WW1 experience, led to some memorable pieces, a copy of one of them, Landscape from a dream still sits over my bed (the original is in the Tate for others to see). Not surprisingly when seeing the picture on the left, Sea Foam, I thought of Paul Nash. The palette has a similar washed-out appearance. The birds seem to be a hybrid of organic and non-organic flying objects. And, for me at least, there is an uncertainty between land and sea.

Nature also is at the heart of two more contrasting beautiful pictures. DSCF1400 Ellen Balcomb fuses nature and landscape with eastern traditions of painting and representation and the National Geographic. Balcomb states that her work is aesthetically driven in pursuit of beauty. In those terms, the job is done; which brings me on to the work of Jake Grewal.


Jake Grewal has starkly imagined a dystopian future. On a trip to Borneo, he writes, he has seen the ancient forest and its inhabitants being absorbed by the modern mega city with its technology, culture and ideology. He discovered that the jungle dwellers are not like the indigenous people of DSCF1399the past. These people wear western clothes, have mobile phones, burn plastic waste. Much of this seems to be possible by their complicity in the palm oil industry (we western consumers drive the demand for palm oil) – clearing the forests to enable mono-culture rather than exploit nature’s diverse bounty in some sort of harmony. Grewal’s canvasses are large, bright and disconcerting (for example, left). They have a lot to say, and they stay in the memory.DSCF1409

The picture with the most interesting and telling title is Alice Trull’s piece, Jake the Dog and Finn the Human (right). This is fantastic at a number of levels. The dog does take centre stage. His look is one of gratitude to Finn. They clearly are fond of one another as the escape some sort of flood. The monocrome amongst some peripheral colour is wonderfully juxtaposed.


DSCF1410I am not quite sure what to make of Terese Jönsson’s work (left). There is an element of surrealism – familiar environments and situations (in this case the office) – with disconcerting components (animal sculls rather than human heads). Now these are stock images – we are probably familiar with many of them used on Powerpoint presentations or in newspapers. Here is the originality. And it is effective.DSCF1395

Jessica Forest’s piece (right), Breakfast, is eminently edible. This could have gone into my self category, above. There is nothing more self than one’s food. This is a massive canvass for a banana!

DSCF1387And finally, Liorah Tchiprout. The puppets as figures and then represented on a canvass is curious. The puppets are both beautiful and ugly. They are equally creepy and faithful to the human form and fashion. This is where we started at the top of the building. I think it is a fitting summary to my review of this year’s art show.

Part 2, however, will review crafts. Please come back soon.

Any errors to names, etc. please let me know. I am not intending to mis-represent any artists.

University of Brighton degree show 2015 part 2 – fine art and sculpture

2015-06-12 18.07.01I think the show this year is exceptional. Forgive me for omissions, with few exceptions, the pictures were all brilliant. They are also diverse in styles and subjects. Thematically, food seems to be important this year. Anna Choutova (left) presents a huge jar of olives; Louis Staples’s avocados (right) 2015-06-12 18.08.16are almost graphic design and  his melting butter (bottom left) positively spreadable. There is a hint Paul Nash about the image in terms of colour and surrealism. Talking of which…

2015-06-12 18.09.40A positive highlight was most certainly some familiar surrealism. Again, the artist’s name was absent, but we were at least given an email address and the name of the paintings. First, then, And onto Man, Nothing Shall Pass (right) 2015-06-12 18.11.14positively dripping Dali. The lion with a zip on its back is intriguing. At first I thought it was a switch. But when I looked again more closely I saw the teeth of the zip. I trust the lion is being zipped up.

2015-06-12 18.12.35The same artist is responsible for An Allegory of Pride (The Seven Vices and Virtues of Tragedy, left). The title invites the return of the lion, this time in a very Magrittian ensemble of characters, locations and colour.

Nettle Grellier presents a delightful picture (below right) simply entitled Outside In. The 2015-06-12 18.15.58theme is flowers, birds, sunlight, fecundity. It has a feelgood factor about it without being overly challenging. It is a bit of a tapestry that, ultimately, asks, what is inside?

2015-06-12 18.20.29It is almost as if Dexter Gonzales (left), gives us a possible answer to that question with his exquisite view of a garret. Many of us have inhabited these kinds of spaces in our lives. This image looks warm and inviting. Often they are neither.  Gonzales cleverly uses frames to limit his images. It works.

2015-06-12 18.30.49Sophie McKenna’s work (left) is beguiling. Look closely and there is not much to say. Move away, and any number of things come to mind, most of them relating to nature. I can see an aerial view of roaming Wilderbeast (or their continental equivalents). I can see bees, trees, clouds. The cloud element is helped by the scratchy swirls that would not be out of place on a weather chart. Probably I write nonsense?2015-06-12 18.31.50

Human identity is a perennial topic for artists. There were, for me, three particular examples of note. First, Alexander Kay’s Existence I (right). This nude is both erotic and tormented. The environment is not friendly, though she may ordinarily 2015-06-12 18.40.04be in some passionate embrace. If she is, this is armageddon. Is is the existence merely feeling human?

Second, is James Hicks’s self portraits (left). The mirror seems to distort the image (not least the impossible walking shoes). It is not a comfortable image, but the artist has some guile in presenting himself in this way.

Finally, Ellie Seymour’s disconcerting portrait (right)DSCF1111 is part of a series entitled Misshapen I-V. As the title suggests, the images are deliberately distorted in a bid to subvert media representations of feminity, without, it seems, rejecting it completely.

Perhaps the darkest and most unnerving work this year is that of Victoria Jenkins (below left). These three enclosed figures are trapped, despairing, claustrophobic. The materials used include a resin that compounds this feeling. Like a tar pool that trapped early 2015-06-12 18.36.38mammals.

There was not much portraiture this year. The most photoreali2015-06-12 18.23.53stic of the small sample was the series of self portraits by Sam Glencross. This one (right) depicts the artist at 17 (though the panel said 21), devoid of neck. Frowning. The eyes are a cold blue and the hair…a problem in later life.

2015-06-12 18.34.52It is worth, briefly, going back to food. These fried eggs (left) by Amber Manser are perfectly edible.

2015-06-12 18.54.03And so to sculpture. Sculpture is not the most accessible form for me. There are three observations from this year’s show.

Robert James Gordon’s, Stay, is simple in its effectiveness. A resin dog sits infront of a mirror. Look into the mirror one can also see his piece, Upwardly Immobile. This piece depicts a very young child in a harness suspended from a not-inconsiderable height. The child is so young that there is a degree of abandonment about it. The title also suggest limited life chances. Suspended between ambition and reality. Hunger, loneliness. 2015-06-12 18.55.12

I must say to the curators of the sculpture exhibition, the aviary with living birds is not art. Please do not incorporate live animals into exhibitions.

The final example of grotesqueness is captured in the work of Rachael Power (right). Essentially, this DSCF1115work is a walk-in vagina installation. The author herself is attempting to reclaim the vagina as an aesthetic entity from the pornographers. She seeks to return the penis to its ‘protective roots’. The installation certainly appropriates the penis and even at the rear of the installation creates a second vagina from the male body.

download_20150615_225544 Finally, Rose Harris (left) presents a spread of wonderful aesthetic prints. The eye is drawn to this lucious example (left). The detail in the leaves is tremendous. It is like a carving. And whilst it was the first collection that we saw, I leave my review with this image as symbolic of the show overall. Apologies to the textile artists. Somehow we both missed the galleries and ran out of time.

University of Brighton degree show 2015 pt 1

Here is my annual review of the best (in my humble opinion) of the degree show. In light of the recent election result and my passion for students and young people more generally to engage with the political process, I highlight in the first instance the work that prompts thought about change and the environment.

First, let us start with the graphic designers whose task is surely to help us navigate the complex environment in whichDSCF1127 we live and to alert us to dangers both real and imaginable. There were seven exceptional examples in this year’s show starting with Hannah Jeffery (right). It never ceases to shock to learn just how few examples of these extraordinary animals there are left; largely because of poaching and game hunting.

DSCF1120Next, Amy Fullalove who asks, how do we alert future generations to the dangers associated with a huge nuclear waste repository in Finland (Onkalo)? I think these symbols (left) will do the trick!

Sasha George (below right) has another approach. Now this is my interpretation, and hence it might be entirely wrong. The artist seems to have presented a series of six extraordinary pictures depicting DSCF1129nature reclaiming human despoliation. There is a toppled Statue of Liberty (somehow on land); trees growing through houses and abandoned vehicles. The array of animals – tigers, bears, birds and fauna is fantastic. And to me at least, it shocks.

DSCF1125Next Lossie Ng Lei (left) takes on global warming with a challenge to feel the difference that 2 degrees makes with a set of oceanic images and a push towards veganism (as a solution).

Next, Beth Ducket (below right) who is in fact a print maker rather than graphic design. It is not clear exactly how explicit the artist is about the impact on the environment of consumption, but even by accident the reproduction of so many receipts makes a clear point. Her accompanying script could even be MarxistDSCF1117 with references to alienation (meaninglessness) and mass production/consumption. Perversely the artist has reproduced by hand the receipts on the one hand claiming artisanal value but also this wonderful ability to see art in the mundane and a deep commitment to classification.

My penultimate choice goes to an artist whose work seems not to have been labelled. I do not know DSCF1123whether this work is a critique of modern communication technology or a celebration of it (left). Every individual in the series of six pictures is completely consumed by a mobile phone. If it is a critique, well done. If it is a celebration, we really are doomed.

Finally in this section (fine art and sculpture to follow), Holly MacDonald is going to go far withDSCF1131 her caricatures of British politicians. There are two in this example (right). And they are brilliant and correct.