Friday, 7 December 2012

Straight Road - recent artworks by Anthony Murphy at Christophe Edwards & Andrew Webb until 15th December

If you go down to Core One today you’ll be sure of a big surprise. The Core One gasworks is one of the few undiscovered hideaways of good quality art and design in London. It’s like Pimlico Road plonked into an industrial wasteland owing more to Blair-Bush Baghdad than Fulham. You would probably never find it unless you’re in the know. This is the hangout of about 10 dealers all with unique, high-quality tastes. If it weren't so far off the beaten track I'm sure it would have citywide renown as the ‘place-to-be’ outside of central London. I am there for an exhibition of recent work by artist Anthony Murphy.

Murphy is a man of three lives. Having won an Emmy in his early teens for playing the lead in Tom Brown’s schooldays Anthony shrugged off the famous rump roasting scene and forged a successful career as a corporate lawyer before settling in France with his paintbrush. He’s sharp as flint, with the same natural capacity for starting fires. Sat centre stage, engulfed in sofa and friends, Anthony views his crowd with the same suspicion they afford his paintings. Strains of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas are swiftly drowned when a third glass of wine lets loose uproarious tales of Murphy and Co.’s misspent youth. Reminiscing by Giles Roe Esq., an old chum from the student days, was priceless. He got the whole gallery singing along to such classics as “when you’re feeling glum, stick a finger up your…” before diving to the floor after an imaginary budgerigar in one of those jokes that you probably had to be there to get. All in all, last night’s hilarious proceedings at Core One succeeded in putting a fat middle finger up to all the usual art world pretentions.

On to the art! Anthony’s work covers the usual artistic concerns - beauty, sadness, nature, nymphomania and transgender angst. What he lacks in traditional draughtsmanship he makes up for in painterly style, daubing his oils onto the canvas; breaking straight lines into successive broad dabs. His technique and tendency to use vivid reds and oranges reminds me of tasty, exotic Moroccan souks. I would recommend checking out this Swanky Online Catalogue produced by the gallery to get a real idea for the way Murphy flicks between landscapes, situations, nudes and more. Whilst I would normally err away from deciding upon an 'overriding theme' as so many other writers do, these works are so disparate that I feel compelled to. In my humble opinion, which really should be better informed by the artist, these works are joined by their collective mission to give pleasure to both the artist and their future owner. They represent the efforts of a man who came to his craft much later than most; a man who was not bent into shape by art schools, nor tied to the commercial demands of contemporary gallerists. These works represent the wide-awake thoughts and dead-to-the-world daydreams of a man who loves to paint. 

As a final side note the painting of blue trees lining a road at the top of this post is titled The Road to Montsegur. It is the same French village that Mildred Bendall, of my last post, lived and died in.

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Swanky Online Catalogue

Friday, 30 November 2012

Georges Bernède – The Advent of Abstraction in Bordeaux – at Whitford Fine Art until December 21st 2012.

P007 - Composition  - Georges Bernède

The story of Georges Bernède, born 1926, starts with Mildred Bendall (1891-1977), a rather curious Anglo-French artist who studied under Henri Matisse in Paris. Having rejected a marriage proposal from Jean-Gérard Matisse, the great Henri’s son, she returned to her family home in Monsègur, Bordeaux where she lived out her days relentlessly painting landscapes and fish in her own increasingly abstract manner. Her life seems more peculiar the more you look into it; her father, a wealthy English merchant, insisted on flying the Union Jack from their rural, post-war home in Western France; and neither Mildred nor her two elder siblings ever married or left their childhood home.

Drawing on Bendall’s training with Henri Matisse, Bernède strived towards a figurative language akin to the Cubism of André Lhote, using colour to convey space and feeling. His disregard for convention led him to Abstraction during the 1950s, showing in a number of significant provincial exhibitions. For almost 20 years between the late 60s and 1984 Bernède’s work is of a colourful, lyrical style. Later, in the mid 80s, he almost totally eschewed colour in favour of black and white streaks ornamented with hints of blues and browns. These monochrome canvases came to be his trademark.

The Advent of Abstraction in Bordeaux at Whitford Fine Art brings together the works of a true Abstractionist. Bernède’s brushstrokes summon rhythm, texture and depth from the canvas. While his works can be likened to French modern masterworks by Kline and some Soulages Bernède was never an imitator. He himself admits that others’ artistic achievements never captured his attention; his art is the result of a personal mission for pleasure and perfection. The scope of this exhibition is broader than his previous Whitford show last September which was almost entirely made up of the artist’s later black & white efforts, it is great to see the artistic progression. Works on the cusp of this late phase, like Composition 84-30 (below), show a youthful, colourful vigour and playful quality which was on the whole supplanted by two-tone calligraphic gestures in later years.

C031 - Composition 84 - 30 - Georges Bernède
Bernède’s art belongs to the very same tradition that threw out the great continental modernists. Franz Kline was in the right place at the right time; so was Bernède – just a different one. Georges Bernède, though a living artist, is a part of the fabric of the 20th century. With proven provenance and a very competitive price range The Advent of Abstraction in Bordeaux is a must see for anyone who wants to snap up a piece of history before it’s too late.

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Thursday, 22 November 2012

Pets Academy! Frederique Morrel's patchwork menagerie at the Stephanie Hoppen gallery.

For some bewildering scenes of what-the-fuckery you should head down to the Stephanie Hoppen gallery on Walton Street. Running until December 21st - if it doesn't sell out before then - Pets Academy! is all about Ms Morrel's utterly bonkers fusion of taxidermy and embroidery.

The beasts are life-size, anatomically perfect and almost entirely covered in vintage stitch-work. Some of the fabric looks like it was looted from a church cushion factory. One is a vision of Velásquez's nude, pixelated by the cloth's deft needle-work. Real hooves protrude from fabric bodies. I have never seen anything like it. The most startling thing is that it's all brilliant!

The indefatigable Stephanie Hoppen was a wonderful host, on hand with the artist to explain all the finest details of construction with due passion. Choice cuts of fabric are carefully stretched over fibreglass taxidermist models, bringing to life what would otherwise be quite a crowded room of dead animals. Frederique's eye for detail is superb, the way a nude's curvy bum sits neatly into the muscular groove at the deer's rump shows real consideration for the final outcome. One wall is adorned with at least a dozen doe heads each made up with false eyelashes, a bit of bling and a few more horns than is normal in the wild. At the artist's insistence one of these is hung upside-down adding nothing and distracting a little from the point of the show. No doubt she had her aesthetic/academic reasons for this but unless they are shared and, at least in part, agreed upon, it's ideas like this that come dangerously close to toppling into the ever-broadening masturbatorium of for-the-hell-of-it contemporary art. The works hold their own without the gimmicks.

What could have been a grand orgy for those with a penchant for animal cruelty turned out to be an eclectic, eccentric, presumption defyingly tasteful and fun exhibition. While the turnout seemed slightly low, sales are through the roof; one client bought four before the show even started! This should come as no surprise to anyone as Frederique Morrel has done a fantastic job at creating curiously original works of contemporary art.

Other highlights of the evening include hearing of a client's vexation, and subsequent demands, at having bought a unicorn with a curved horn. And Anastasia, the Ukrainian gallery assistant's, attempts to serve me a cocktail snappily named "Prosecco with elderflower and vodka" - devised to make even the most lowly hobo put a deposit down on a life-sized, multicoloured moose head.

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Monday, 19 November 2012

East meets West - Contemporary Chinese Landscapes. Hong Ling @ Asia House.

The other day a friend invited me to Asia House for the first UK exhibition of works by Hong Ling, revered in China as the foremost contemporary landscape painter. What really excited me was that Xuefei Yang billed as "the world's finest classical guitarist" was to perform. After a decent speech by the organiser, Hong Ling took to the pulpit accompanied by his translator. He is Mr Miyagi's doppelgänger; an old sage who mastered his Pollock meets Turner craft by plucking flies from the air with paintbrushes. His elegant Chinese interpreter relayed his reasons for loving the UK (that we invented whisky and our ability to binge on it is one of the deepest cultural links between East and West) with unintentionally expert comic timing.

This segued neatly into Xuefei Yang's recital of traditional Chinese songs arranged for a traditionally western instrument. It was made clear that this was to be the theme of the night - between pieces she crowbarred in her thoughts on the East/West divide as evidenced in Hong Ling's splodgy landscapes. Throughout the performance I had the honour of standing near the back next to Hong Ling, the language barrier was a bit of a problem so we exchanged slightly awkward nods and bows in place of conversation.

As the performance concluded the crowd made its way to the basement to see the exhibition. He paints incredible landscapes - some brown, some white, some red - covering all the seasons. Its the abstract expressionist quality that makes them so original. Unlike an action painter where flow relegates precision, Hong Ling's technique gives deliberate intention to every speck of colour. A quote on the wall reads "The most singular contrast between Chinese and Western art is the difference in the source of inspiration, which is nature itself for the East and the female form for the West". Apparently Hong Ling was trained so that when painting a rock you must paint its inner feelings, making mountainsides a considerable mental effort. Do rocks dream of growing up, making pebbles and settling down somewhere pleasant? Probably not, but it's a charming thought adhered to by more than one whisky-sodden artist.

My personal highlight of the evening was when I complimented Xuefei Yang, 'the world's finest classical guitarist', she asked "Are you mixed race?"; "Well I'm half French..."; "But you look half Chinese!" 

In effect this summed up the evening, it was an East meets West diplomatic mission where the delegates were brought together and distracted by fine art, food and wine. Being told by the world's finest guitarist that I look half Chinese was a flattering, if slightly bizarre, peak in Anglo-Asian relations.

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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Mid-October saw the international art world flock to London as Frieze week and PAD London dominated the capital's cultural scene.

Mid-October saw the international art world flock to London as Frieze week and PAD London dominated the capital's cultural scene.

This month Frieze London returned to Regent's Park celebrating its 10th anniversary. Straddling the line between fair and event, and demanding answers to the age-old question “What is Art!?” Frieze has become an institution. Some reckon that Dante's journey through the innermost circles of hell would provide more amusement than an afternoon at Frieze. Others hold it to be the Mecca of present-day cultural achievement. Love it or hate it, you can't argue with the 55,000 visitors who made the pilgrimage to London's number one contemporary art show. A truly international selection of galleries from 35 territories exhibited challenging works from both up-and-coming and well-established contemporary artists. Giving young, fresh galleries a platform to show their best talent is part of the Frieze ethos, so, never one to rest on its laurels, this year's event featured a new section. Focus. Introduced at Frieze New York earlier this year, Focus puts the spotlight on twenty galleries, each showing works from a maximum of three artists. This splinter cell of the 175 strong exhibitor army bombarded its eager audience with artworks more baffling and disconcerting than the rest, no doubt this was chalked up as a win for culture.

Frieze Masters is the new kid on the block, with a mature attitude. Taking place in an enormous marquee located across Regent's Park from its contemporary sibling, Frieze Masters aims to present traditional works in a contemporary way. Amazingly the millennium is Frieze's cut-off point for what constitutes the work of a traditional master and “The contemporary way” is a treat for those who like their art in a sprawling monochrome pop-up warehouse conjuring up all the glamour and soul of the Argos waiting zone. Nonetheless the world's biggest and best galleries descended with stunning museum-worthy pieces from medieval icons to modern photography. 20th Century masters from both sides of the pond were well-represented; Warhols and Lichtensteins, Magrittes and Mirós, Picassos... the quality and heritage of the pieces on show rivalled many Modern Art museums. Especially eye-catching was the Helly Nahmad Gallery's stand where two gigantic Calder mobiles suspended from the ceiling swept round above your head. Had I been a few inches taller they could have helped inject a short-lived dose of excitement into the proceedings.

Many jumped at the opportunity to exhibit traditional works under the weighty Frieze brand seeing it as a sure-fire success. Yet Frieze's positioning as a cultural event rather than a traditional art fair seems to attract more window shoppers and socialisers than high-rolling collectors. Of course with such high attendance and equally high entry fee it’s not hard to see where Frieze's bottom line lies. Complimentary tickets aside, 55,000 people paying £35 for entry amounts to a staggering £1,950,000 made on the door alone. If the LAPADA fair were to gain so much from the public's pockets before they even set eyes on the works for sale then exhibitors could show for free! Whether or not the public clues up to this potential case of the emperor’s new clothes it is safe to say that Frieze will be able to reinvent itself. The Frieze brand appears to come first, its exhibitors second.

Sharing the structure used for our own LAPADA fair, the sixth edition of PAD London launched with a strong contingent of 60 leading galleries from Europe, America and Asia. 18 new exhibitors contributed to the fair's striking blend of Modern Art, Tribal Art, Photography and Design. The new layout was logical and relatively spacious, an intelligent departure from last year's labyrinthine warren of well-decked halls. In vibrant contrast to Frieze Masters, the design team did a great job at creating individual and inviting stands rendering the cursory glance from afar, a common technique of art fair attendees, redundant.

PAD, it seems, is starting to stretch its legs, taking its place among the capital's top-flight fairs. The quality of exhibitors, its location and its focus on design as well as art has enabled PAD to find its niche in the increasingly competitive fair calendar. Unlike Frieze, PAD's existence depends on the continued success of its exhibitors and judging by this year's edition it has no problems attracting the cream of the international art market.

Paris Biennale

The 26th Paris Biennale des Antiquaires was, as ever, a thoroughly lavish affair. No expenses were spared by fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld whose design saw 122 top international art dealers gather to share their works on an elegant Belle Époque boulevard staged under the magnificent glass roof of the Grand Palais.

The range of works on sale was larger than in previous years as exhibitors covered the broad cultural spectrum from pre-history to the present day. Contemporary works were presented for the first time helping to shift the Biennale’s longstanding reputation as a rather stuffy celebration of antiquity. New York and Los Angeles based L&M Arts’ stand, near the entrance, was a veritable who’s-who of modern masters, exhibiting seminal works from Picasso to Warhol; from Fontana to Hirst, their stand was a testament to the outstanding quality that resonates across the board at the Biennale.

At the other end of the scale we had the impressive archaeological offerings of Geneva based Phoenix Ancient Art. Displaying a variety of mostly sculptural works from the cradle of civilisation, highlights included the stone bust of a pharaoh dating back to the 19th century BC. The sheer age of this superb piece was topped only by Galerie Gilgamesh’s foot-long Neolithic flint with the rather vague and distant dating of 800,000 – 460,000BC. Galerie Gilgamesh of Paris was situated in the Salon d’Honneur, an upstairs sub-section of the Biennale housing thirty-eight dealers in a much more traditional fair setting, giving smaller galleries a chance to exhibit at the Biennale without the enormous cost attached to the main floor.

A clutch of high-profile jewellers dominated the central section. Cartier, Chanel, Bulgari and Wallace Chan were particularly prominent, showcasing their new creations and old classics to a swirling crowd of wide-eyed enthusiasts. Interestingly, Wallace Chan is the first Asian company to exhibit at the Paris Biennale, reflecting subtle shifts employed to boost links between the Asian and European art market. SNA (Syndicat National des Antiquaires) president Christian Deydier, whose Paris based gallery is at the forefront of ancient Asian art, expressed his excitement and trust in the Biennale’s ability to attract serious collectors from around the world and especially the emerging markets of the far-East.

Biennale veteran Richard Green of Bond Street showed an interesting breadth of works. Old Masters, Impressionists and Continental Modernists were hung side by side on a stand that drew in the crowds with its something-for-everyone approach. Jermyn Street’s Sladmore Gallery offered fine bronzes from the late 19th and early 20th centuries including sought after works by Rodin, Degas and Bugatti. Stoppenbach & Delestre of Cork Street was in its element. Their specialism for museum worthy French paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries was no doubt lapped up by both the home crowd and international collectors with a passion for French art. These galleries represent just a selection of the British dealers who exhibited at this year’s Biennale. All but two of the nine British exhibitors had taken part in the fair before; newcomers Mullany and Carpenters Workshop Gallery expressed that the fair attracted a potent mix of first-time buyers and serious collectors.

With exhibitors of the highest calibre displaying the very best of their respective disciplines, the 2012 Paris Biennale des Antiquaires has proved once again that it is among the most glamorous international art fairs. Equally captivating for well-informed collectors and those just looking for a cultured day out, the Biennale does not disappoint. I for one am eagerly anticipating the Grand Palais’ 2014 offering.

So! This is ArtBreaker's first post. I suppose I should tell you a little about myself and the aims of this blog. My name's Max and for the past 3 months I been working for LAPADA - The Association of Art and Antiques dealers. Work takes me to a lot of art fairs and exhibitions, many of which I review for our monthly e-newsletter which can be found here . This blog will mainly serve as an outlet for the stuff that doesn't make the newsletter. This is the place to find reviews and thoughts on current art exhibitions and fairs. It'll be slightly biased towards London as that's where I live but, especially with fairs, there'll be quite a few from out of town.

 So that's it! The grand ribbon cut is done and ArtBreaker is open to the public. Enjoy!