A Feminine Touch with Mechanical Art Devices

I wander into one of my favourite galleries in Geneva: the M.A.D. Gallery. It is a cool-chic space dedicated to wonderful mechanical things. I just sort of assume that this kind of beautiful stuff would be the exclusive domain of those born with a Y chromosome. Aren’t mechanics a boy thing? After all, we grew up with Meccano, Airfix and Lego and then graduated to tinkering with motorbikes that never started!

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Jennifer Townley, “Lift”

I am greeted warmly by Juliette Duru, the gallery‘s communications manager . “What’s new?” I ask. She introduces me to “Lift,” the work of Jennifer Townley from the Netherlands. Ah! A feminine touch in this exotic man-shed!

I stand before a silently moving arrangement of cogs and chains. The principal chain slowly draws ever-changing amoeboid forms on a round white background. All is beautifully proportioned. There is something immensely satisfying about it. It gives the impression that whatever this machine is designed to do, it is doing it calmly and efficiently. It is mesmerising precisely because there is an expectation of function but in fact, beyond the aesthetic, it has no mechanical function at all. I love it! No surprises that Townley’s major influence is the immediately recognisable and “impossible” graphic designs of compatriot, M. C. Escher.

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Gaby Wormann, “Callipogon tertius”

Juliette explains that this year’s collection includes another feminine touch. I am shown immaculately crafted glass display cases each containing a specimen of a huge insect the likes of which I have only seen in Africa or Australia. These are Gaby Wormann’s “Mechanical Creatures.” Stunning! She has delicately inserted hundreds of little cogs, springs and levers from watches into the exoskeletons of real beasts. I gasp at the originality, craftsmanship and attention to detail. Her pieces set up a kind of “What the ….?” moment. You could almost believe that the innards of these oversized bugs really were the stuff of a great horologist. I know that the next time I encounter some big beetle up close and in a quiet place I will creep forward and listen carefully just to make sure it is not ticking.

Wormann says she “deals with the themes of individual ethics and humanity’s uninhibited intervention in complex biological systems.” She doesn’t say “The viewer is invited to inspect a mechanical creature minutely and allow her- or himself to be filled with wonder!” For that is what one does instinctively; one doesn’t need an invitation.

When it comes to Mechanical Art Devices, I clearly have the boy thing wrong.

Love the Tate Modern

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

Yes, I love the Tate Modern in London. It lifts me up and makes my little beating heart sing.

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Alexander Calder, Triple Gong c.1948 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I went south of the river to see the current Alexander Calder exhibition. I now understand why people say he redefined the notion of sculpture. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff. Trademark hanging mobiles turn slowly and majestically in imperceptible drafts. The lighting is brilliant; each mobile casts a complex evolving shadow on the high white walls and those equipped with mini-gongs let out the occasional calming chime.

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Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red and Blue Dots c.1953 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I was mesmerised. As were many others. One lasting impression I have of this gorgeous exhibition is the vast Tate Modern rooms full of people, jaws agape, gazing up at Calder’s fabulous works. I would love to re-visit with a reclining chair to rest a while and soak it all up.

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Fernand Léger and his portrait, Photo: Walter Limot. © Limot / Bridgeman images 1934

Room by room, I stepped though the creative history of this fascinating man. He was one original thinker! In the 1920s, he created a toy circus comprising little mechanical people and animals hence his interest in wire and mobility as a medium. He became fascinated by abstraction after visiting the studio of Piet Mondrian. However, his most astonishing early works were his cartoony wire portraits. He described this as drawing in space. It is beyond me how anyone could consistently achieve effective three-dimensional portraiture with only wire. One such portrait is of the painter, Fernand Léger. I love the contrast between the smooth facial outlines, the tightly coiled eyebrows and the stiff little bristly moustache!

Bravo, Tate Modern! I said to myself. Then I thought I would have a look at what else was on show and I found myself in the heart of the building, the enormous “Turbine Room” O….M…..G…..!!!!

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Abraham Cruzvillegas “Empty Lot” Scaffolding and soil boxes, Hyundai Commission 2015

Now the Tate Modern blows me away with two huge scaffolding structures together supporting hundreds of what looks like triangular seed boxes. This is “Empty Lot” by Mexican sculptor, Abraham Cruzvillegas. The soil in each box is taken from parks, commons, healths or other sites all over London. They are watered and lit by a variety of whacky lamps. But not a single seed has been sown. What grows – and in some boxes nothing obvious is growing – is what is simply there. Just like an empty lot! Cruzvillegas has always had an interest in alternative means of building. He is inspired by the popular Mexican “self-construction” approach to home-making. He says “Empty Lot” is about hope and expectation referring to what may be constructed or what might grow spontaneously. The originality, grandeur and vision of the whole concept takes my breath away. I adore it.

I have a hope and expectation that somebody will send a photo of “Empty Lot” to Talking Beautiful Stuff in a few months time. Pleeeeeease!

Love the Tate Modern too!

A Letter to Tracey Emin

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

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Tracey Emin “My Bed,” Installation, 1998

Dear Tracey,

I know you’ve come in for quite some stick for “My Bed.” Is that really art? Anybody could have done that! How was that shortlisted for the 1999 Turner Prize? etc. etc. I have to admit I was a bit baffled myself. (Was it really worth that much?) But as I tootled happily around Tate Britain the other day, I happened upon “My Bed.” I found myself intrigued, then mesmerised and ultimately quite moved.

The blurb on the wall says “By virute of bringing the domestic into the public sphere without directly representing specific events, the installation is forcefully and compellingly suggestive of personal narratives.” I’ll say! I stood and looked. I walked around. I then realised that “My Bed” was boring into my heart. The mess of the soiled sheets together with the bedside scut of discarded underwear, fluffy toys, well-worn slippers, vodka, cigarettes and KY recalled a whole raft of good, bad, sad and indifferent moments of my life. So many things and times I might – or might not – want to leave behind! And then, to my surprise, I found the sad, saccharine squalor of it all quite eye-watering. In fact, it made my day. So, thank you, Tracey. I hope you’re doing OK now.

Lots of love,

Bonnie

PS I really went to Tate Britain to see the Frank Auerbach exhibition. Not my cup of tea!

PPS As you know, “My Bed” is installed next to two Francis Bacon paintings and a series of your own drawings. I’ve never liked FB’s paintings.

PPPS I need help with your drawings.

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Tracey Emin “I could feel you” Gouache on paper, 2014

What is “Western Art”?

When I set off on a nine week, ten and a half thousand mile road trip across the American West in March this year I knew of the works of Frederic RemingtonCharles Marion Russell and NC Wyeth. They painted and sculpted in bronze the exciting people and times of the American frontier around the end of the 19th century. Also, I thought that ‘Western Art’ only referred to the art of western Europe. In conversations with other Europeans it seems that ‘Western Art’, of which Remington and Russell were the progenitors, is barely appreciated if even recognised in Europe. If you are not familiar with it then may I present it to you?

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NC Wyeth – one of the biggest names associated with “Western Art.”

Whilst in Santa Fe, New Mexico I recognised that North American ‘Western Art’ is a distinct art genre. Over the rest of my trip I sought out and found a huge amount of it. It astounded me with the technical skills exhibited by its practitioners; skills that, for me, border on the superhuman. It has other qualities too: its sheer beauty, its link to and perpetuation of the culture of The West and the staggering amount of creative people involved. Magazines, galleries and museums are dedicated to it. It is now my favourite art genre; particularly as I have a deep interest in its subject matter and admire realistic paintings of animals.

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Robert Bateman – High realism, light, mist and dust adds extra dimensions to Bateman’s paintings.

As I became more familiar with ‘Western Art’ I attempted to define the genre. I discussed my definition with museum staff and gallery directors whom I met. Maybe this one sentence  is satisfactory? ‘Western Art’ is the portrayal, in two or three dimensions, of the history, people, landscape and wildlife of the area confined to the western regions of North America, in a highly realistic or realistic impressionist style and is inextricably linked to the culture of the American West.

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Carl Rungius – Specialising in portraying the big game mammals of North America, Rungius is one of the greatest names in Western Art.

In terms of that culture I particularly liked the way that ‘Western Art’ bronzes were displayed in public places. There was no obvious concern that they might be stolen and were remarkably undamaged. Best of all, they informed the viewer exactly where he or she was both in place and culture – the Great American West!

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Georgia Bunn – This guy was leaning there, across the street from my motel. Just wonderful!

One gallery director I spoke with said that he first found the genre ‘corny’ until he understood the skill and research put into the works. I felt the same about Country & Western music until I saw and heard it played on its own territory and realised how important it is to the westerner’s sense of identity. ‘Western Art’ proclaims to the world a pride in the American pioneer spirit, an understanding of and sorrow for the wrongs committed against the Native Americans, a deep respect for the wildlife of the region and a confident expression of the fact that there are no landscapes on Earth to surpass that of The West. It is also one of the few serious art genres that entertains an almost comic book style of action with dynamic perspectives as men fight, hooves kick up dust and wild animals butt, gouge, bite and kill.

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Roadside Bronze, Santa Fe – I did not discover the artist for this portrait of Native Americans.

I am sure that one can find this wonderful art all across America but my own limited experience of venues allows me only to recommend the galleries of Santa Fe, New Mexico and Jackson, Wyoming. In addition, for allowing me to take photographs shown here, I am indebted to the superb Buffalo Bill Center of The West in Cody and The National Museum of Wildlife Art of The United States in Jackson.

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Buffalo Bill Center of The West – 5 museums in one. For me, possibly the best museum I’ve ever visited.

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National Museum of Wildlife Art – Based on a Scottish castle it is built into the mountainside.

I can but mention a few others whose works left me breathless and added a superb and unexpected dimension to my road trip. Thank you Charles Schreyvogel, Al Agnew, Daniel Smith, Mian Situ, James Bama, Ken Carlson, John Fawcett, Chris Owen, Z S Liang, Martin Grelle and Bonnie Marris.

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Richard Loffler – This lifesize herd of bronze Bison roams wild outside the National Museum of Wildlife Art.

One of the greatest characteristics of ‘Western Art’ is that it polices its own quality. In other words, it has managed to create and maintain the highest, most exacting standards, equal to any found anywhere or at any time in history. It also speaks of the best in the spirit of the American people and is a wonderful and truly American phenomenon.

More Igor Mitoraj and… Love is the answer!

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I wrote about Igor Mitoraj‘s “Sleeping Head” two weeks ago. Last Friday was an unexpectedly cold and rainy day here in Geneva and I took a walk back down rue de la Corraterie to see if the promise of more of Mitoraj’s beautiful stuff would be fulfilled by the exquisite Galerie Bel Air Fine Arts. This time, the lights were on…..

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In the gallery window, I found another reason for sculptor’s global reputation: a magnificent two-faced bronze in his fractured classical bronze style. The two cheeks of this extraordinary piece rest in delicate, peaceful and affectionate contact. And…. Albert Einstein demonstrates in the background stating “LOVE IS THE ANSWER.” Can’t disagree! What a great little corner of Geneva this is!