Starting the year as I mean to go on...
Whitworth Art Gallery - Manchester
Having lived 'abroad' since I left university in 1994, I am always excited on returning to England to visit the art galleries which all still share that same beautiful notice - ENTRY FREE OF CHARGE.
A hop and a skip from my sister's house in Didsbury is the Whitney Gallery; renovated to double its original size and subsequently becoming the deserving winner of the Art Fund Prize for museum of the year 2015. The thing that strikes you first is the space - the space and the beauty - the space and the beauty and the friendly (ecologically and humanly) light atmosphere of the high ceilinged, glass walled rooms which you can wander around freely for free.
The current Andy Warhol exhibition (no extra charge for non-permanent shows - i.e. free) is a treat. Three large rooms of work famous, familiar and even more compelling works less well know but which convey the same immediacy and iconic brilliance of his most popular paintings.
The highlight for me however was on the first floor in the 'modern sculptures' room where you are greeted by 'Exfoliating Curve Lines (total cushioning) 2015' by this year's Turner Prize winner Helen Marten. It is described in the museum pamphlet as 'a limb-like ceramic structure and metal basket, decorated with an absurd range of detritus'.
I prefer Helen's own, more basic description of her materials which she diligently lists on the piece's Wall Label 'Ceramic, acrylic paint, metal basket, yoghurt pot, hair clip, glue, salt shaker, tape measure, paper, match box, string, spoon, plastic bag, iris...' and her list goes on. Sweeter and much more poetic than 'mixed media' or 'absurd detritus' I think.
The portrait room is a smorgasbord of vastly different styles hung in no formal oder of time, artist or recognisable visual pattern. Like a huge pub quiz picture round with the answers on the information handouts only. No wall labels here. I found it pleasantly challenging looking up the names I was familiar with on the handout and attempting to match them to a single painting nestled amongst hundreds of others.
The very least any country, county, city or town can do to entertain and educate its inhabitants is provide it with a decent library, free galleries and free museums. The cost of entry to all the National Gallery sites in Prague are quite frankly a ball ache for all of us who enjoy visiting such places even when they are not on holiday.
9-12-2016 to 22-1-2017
Vaclava Spaly Gallery - Narodni 30, Prague.
Another great space and 'almost' free at a nominal 40kc entrance fee is the PPF funded Vaclava Spala gallery on Narodni currently showing the fiercely talented painter Martin Sarovec.
I attempted to pay with a 500 kc note and was let in for free.
'Strange Garden' as well as being a spry, colourful feast of expressionistic delights, and an obviously invigorating playground for the artist, is also a dark, nightmarish garden with one particular image which I found physically startling.
'Night Time Incident' - Upper floor. Be warned.
All are acrylic on canvas or board with a wonderful varnished sheen to the rich, bloody, burnt umbers and deep deep blacks surrounding the haunting images of creepy children and expressionless adult characters from no particular time scape.
Josef Bolf sprang to mind, not because of any similarities in style, but because of the queasy, anxious feeling both artist's paintings radiate.
The beleaguered gawp of the gallery assistant conveniently accompanied by a homeless man's tortured moan/chant in the street outside the gallery window could well have been contrived to compliment the work and add to the experience, which it did.
I saw war, hell, domestic violence, ghosts, fear, horror, family ties and pain. If that all sounds like your cup of tea, don't miss this arresting collection of paintings on at Vaclava Spaly gallery until the 22nd of January.
Vernisaz, 3rd January 2017
Rock Cafe, Prague
13 bold, sexy, provocative, vehemently unique, sequinned, nail varnished, ink-touched, gel penned, enhanced and lovingly manipulated photo/paintings shimmeringly grace one wall of the Rock Cafe's gallery space, opposite 13 bold, sexy, provocative, vehemently unique, sequinned, nail varnished, ink-touched, gel penned, enhanced and lovingly manipulated photo/paintings shimmering on the facing wall. Hence the '13' which stands in for the 'B's in the exhibition's title.
I don't just want to buy all of them; I want to start using nail varnish and sequins and copy Lusi's work method outright. As evidence of their desirability, one of the pictures was stolen just three hours after it had been hung the night before the opening. She had to replace it on Tuesday with an almost equally lovely print.
Lusi's mischievous energy is evident in her paintings which depict strong images of independent, confident looking women of all ages, sizes, shapes and gender identities.
She has exhibited in many venues in the Czech Republic, Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Bolivia and Peru. She is also the only artist I know of who has exhibited her paintings in a sex shop.
Not one to go tramping around door to door asking for a chance to show her beautiful pictures, Lusi says that each exhibition she has done has come about through chance meetings with kindred souls who have, understandingly, evinced a genuine interest in her work.
I recommend that you go to the Rock Cafe and evince your own interest by purchasing as many of her wee beauties as your purse will allow.
1st year MFA show (Prague College) - 5th January 2016 4-7pm
David Cerny / Madeline Grendel / Tommy Jay / Akshaya Krishnamoorthy / Panik Panagiotis Polyviou
Under the mad misapprehension that the David Cerny amongst the list of five exhibitors in this show was the famous Czech infant terrible, I was expecting large, mechanical, humorous bits and bobs hidden about the Orco building. What I found was a lot more interesting.
Whilst ruminating on what the white prints on the foyer floor represented, Madeline approached us and explained that the dots on the paper were not in fact brail but were a record of every door on every floor in the building. Panik's doing. 1533 doors to be precise.
What followed was the friendliest welcome and guided tour of an exhibition I can honestly say I have had the pleasure to experience.
The tour was offered and quickly accepted as the works of art were scattered about the six floors (basement bath houses included). I was encouraged to bring along a glass of wine (bottles kindly provided by the students themselves) and so I did.
I know the building slightly having visited my co-ehxibition-visitor's studio there a few times. Neither of us had ever been down to the bath houses before though. The bath house is without a doubt the eeriest place in Prague.
"You ever seen Hostel?" Madeline asks us before we enter David Cerny's site specific installation, 'Bath Frottage'. "I love horror," she tells us, chuckling.
The flood damaged floors and walls were traced onto large sheets of paper by David and hung in the bath doorways. They were accompanied by appropriately chilling sounds of the drilling and general sounds of demolition which will fill the building in roughly five years time.
On the way to and from the basement rooms Madeline's own work was hung sporadically on the walls. Madeline's pieces consisted of instinctively applied ink scratchings on paper. Madeline allowed the creakings and grindings and breathing of the building to speak to her and guide her hand to make the marks on the pages which actually resemble avant garde sheet music / dancing will-o'-the-wisps. Madeline plays violin and had considered playing the 'notes' for the show, but decided against.
We were soon introduced to the equally friendly and forthcoming David Cerny (not that one) guiding a small group of visitors down into the horror movie set.
On the first floor we met the lovely Akshaya who's work 'VENTing Boots' was a very well placed sound piece involving an audio collage of various corridor footsteps leaked through the door vents of her shared studio space.
The ghostly echoes of people wandering down an empty hallway worked beautifully.
Tommy Jay shares a studio with Akshaya and it was there that we learnt that just half an hour before we arrived, Tommy had been travelling naked, sat on a toilet seat reading a newspaper, up and down an old style open elevator shaft. 'Traveling Privacy'
He got away with this for thirty minutes before the disgruntled security guards told him to get the fuck out.
Fortunately this dastardly deed was filmed and we watched it on his laptop.
It was a reminder that while we travel in our digital worlds we are quite often, unwittingly, lay ourselves bare to a whole host of strangers.
Madeline took us onward and upwards to more of her 'Composed Frequencies' highlighting some of the noises made by the airshafts and distant deep machinations of the building breathing through its creaking limbs. Then she took us back to the foyer and bade us drink more wine.
The show was one night only . As we prepared to leave, the wine and work were whisked away. The five students have been there for 3 months only and it bodes well for them that they are so amicable, proactive and united, not least to mention talented. The 5 site specific pieces worked so harmoniously together but each spoke independently of a young, hopeful, energetic voice itching to catch hold of the ephemeral spirit of the moment and pin it down in the most curious, sensitive, haunting, transcendent, powerful way they can.
I look forward to seeing where this experience will lead them.