Self-Deceit

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Self-Deceit (Roma), Francesca Woodman, (1977-78)

It has been a long time since I have posted on this blog. For me, this has always been a platform for expressing my creativity and although I am inherently and without question a creative person, my creative impulses have recently been more dominated by my academic ones. The reason for this is I am currently doing a Masters in Modern and Contemporary Art History at The Edinburgh University. I therefore spend most of my time reading, an impulse that has always been natural to me, but until now one I have never been able to nurture quite to this extent! Already, in the time since September, I feel I have gained so much knowledge and learnt so much. We are constantly learning in our day to day lives of course, but I feel so privileged to be able to dedicate this time to my specific field of interest. This university course, although incredibly challenging at times, is perfect; I get to combine my love of reading, art, history and writing in one.

Alongside this Masters, I am doing an Internship with The National Galleries of Scotland (NGS). Another creative outlet which allows me to express love of writing and research. Below therefore, I attach a link to one of my written texts which has been published on the National Gallery’s website. My focus was American photographer Francesca Woodman, b.1958. Although most of the works in the National Gallery’s collection are co-owned by Tate under the umbrella organisation of Artist Rooms (see more information here), there were five works in NGS’s collection which I had permission to write about. See link below for more (in order to view this essay, you must first scroll right to the bottom of the page and click on the ‘plus’ sign at the right hand side, adjacent to the ‘more about this artwork’):

Self-Deceit, (1977-1978), Francesca Woodman

See also my publications page for more.

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Surreal Encounters: Collecting The Marvelous

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Installation shot including various works by Salvador Dali

“Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions.”
– André Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism

Recently I visited the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on what I thought would be a brief afternoon excursion. Almost four hours later I emerged from’Surreal Encounters: Collecting The Marvelous’ enlightened and inspired. Marvelous; there could not be a more apt word to apply to this broad collection of artworks. Immediately upon entry you are greeted by renowned and famous names including Picasso, Man Ray and Duchamp. Seeing a collection of those artists merely in the corridor – before I’d even entered a room – made me realise the sheer stature of this exhibition. This was and is quite the collection of Surrealist works. Never before have I seen so many Dali and Magritte pieces clustered in such close proximity. The result was mesmerizing. I felt like Alice in Wonderland tumbling down the rabbit hole into a world of dreams, blue endless skies, obscure depictions and dripping, blurring creatures. For someone who has read countless books on Dada and Surrealism, two art movements that changed and shaped the course of art history, it was like walking into a shrine dedicated to works of the past. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing.

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Installation shot hosting the works of René Magritte

The exhibition was beautifully curated and very insightful in terms of how the collections came about. As a viewer you are given an in depth account of how Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch came to acquire the works. This was done through a series of conducted interviews. I thought this was a very effective component of the exhibition as in among all of these monumental and historical works by Miro and Magritte, there were TV screens with the interviews being played out. With the giggles between partners Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch echoing throughout the space as they discussed their plans for their collections, I couldn’t help but feel that their stories brought the collections and the artwork even more to life. As a viewer, not only were you busy plummeting into a whimsical world within the frame and trying to decipher and make sense of something so non-nonsensical, but you also became aware of how it came to be hung on the wall in front of you. The care and thought that went into the collections and the articulate eye required to amount such works, was extraordinary. It was fascinating hearing how Gabrielle Keiller had realised Duchamp’s artistic potential and decided to gather his works. Of course it was equally fascinating seeing the works themselves; Duchamp’s mini replication of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors‘ was rather mesmerising in itself. 

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‘Female Fig Leaf’,  Marcel Duchamp, 1961

Marcel Duchamp is an artists I have studied very closely, so for me seeing his work was kind of like seeing a celebrity on the red carpet. His concept of the Readymade turned the art world upside down when he declared a urinal a work of art. A Readymade is a work that consists of objects that were, believe it or not, ready made. They become an artwork essentially through the declaration of the artist. This of course caused outrage in the artworld at the time and Duchamp’s urinal, or ‘Fountain‘ as he named it, was in fact refused entry to the Parisian Salon des Indépendants. At the time it was revolutionary and outrageous, now this act and the creation of the readymade is just another dictionary term in the art collection alongside Minimalism, Impressionism and all of the other movements which were not accepted at the time as they are presently. I loved’Female Fig Leaf‘ (above), I think it was one of my highlights of the exhibition not only because it was a Duchamp piece, but also because of its cheekiness. It is an imprint of the female genetalia, which Duchamp actually gifted to his wife. 

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‘Nude Woman Lying in the Sun on the Beach’, Pablo Picasso, 1932

Picasso, dare I say it, has always been very hit or miss for me. I can appreciate his work, his technique, his skill and his status. However his work has never quite struck the cord with me on a personal level. That is of course with the exception of ‘Guernica’ (1937), one of his most famous works depicting the horrors and brutalities of war. However, in this Surrealist exhibition, I was for once incredibly taken by a Picasso piece in the form of ‘Nude Woman Lying in the Sun on the Beach’. It absolutely fascinated me. The title provided the perfect insight into the subject of the work and the colours and composition were incredibly satisfying to my eye. I love the muted and restricted palettes of mint green and baby blue alongside the triangular creations. I was so drawn to this work that I even bought a postcard of it as a momento to the exhibition! 

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‘Couple aux tȇtes pleines de nuages’, Salvador Dali, 9136

‘Surreal Encounters’ was surreal for me in more ways than one. It was of course surreal in the sense that I was seeing the biggest body of Surrealism I have yet witnessed in my lifetime, but it was also because I was in a dumbfounded haze of surreal disbelief at seeing works such as these. Particularly the large scale Dali pieces. The skill and techniques, the mastery Dali displays with his paint and the colour choices and balances are all compiled together to form compositions so breathtaking that I was grateful to be able to occupy the seats dotted throughout the gallery space! It was one of those exhibitions where you really have to sit down and just breathe in and absorb the work in front of you. Realise how insignificant you are when faced with these grand works, grand scales and even grander artists. There was a room filled only with Dali and Magritte pieces which has to have been my favourite. Mainly because René Magritte is in fact one of my favourite artists. Coming from someone who has a very long list of favourite artists, that is quite the compliment to Magritte. I will never forget the first time I saw his work. It was at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. Again, there was a room filled primarily with Dali and Magritte and I remember feeling as if the air in my body had been physically knocked out of me. I had only ever come across these works in books or on the internet prior to that moment and to be greeted face to face with the brush strokes (or lack of them) of Magritte was truly one of my most memorable moments in my experience of viewing art.

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‘La Représentation’, René Magritte, 1937

Walking into the Dali/Magritte room in the Modern Art Gallery was very much like experiencing my Guggenheim epiphany all over again. Seeing Magritte’s countless sky scapes, his mysterious face reflections and erotic depictions cast a spell of serenity over me. Time seemed to stand still as I immersed myself in the works, trying to read them and imagine what strange things had been blurring through the mind of Magritte as he painted. I tend to avoid reading the information that sits alongside a painting, at least until I return to the exhibition a second time, as I prefer to formulate my own ideas and opinions about a piece before giving in to the direction leaflets and writings provide. Trying to read a Surrealist work however is quite the task and I decided that the best way to do this was to free my mind. To allow my conscious to let go of assumptions and float and drift instead into more sporadic realms.

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‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’, Dorothea Tanning, 1943

I think ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik‘ was one of my favourite works within the exhibition (not counting all of the Magritte’s, that goes without saying given how big a fan I am!) However, I have never come across Tanning’s work and this piece really stuck with me. It’s predominantly the bold colours that appeal to me; the blood red carpet against the sunshine yellow of the sunflower. The angles of the staircase alongside the open door at the end of the corridor. The way in which the girl’s hair appears to be sucked and gusted upwards towards the ceiling, yet she remains stood still and straight as if the presence of a giant sunflower on the stairwell was a perfectly natural occurrence. Yet there lies the success of the Surrealists; the ability to take the abnormal, the strange, the absurd and transform it into something so nonchalant that we begin to question our own senses of normality. They take the ordinary and transform it into such an extraordinary that we are left both stunned and speechless yet simultaneously brimming with an overflowing cauldron of ideas in our heads. In heads thatupon witnessing these works of art suddenly feel too small for all of these bizarre and beautiful notions. Consequently, the only thing that we can do is release ourselves to the surreal and the experience it provides. Needless to say, this exhibition succeeded in providing that experience and more. I was left reeling and contemplating it for days and this contemplation will continue, as will our own surreal encounters. 

 

We were not allowed to take photographs in the exhibition,therefore my images are sourced from the following websites:

https://www.nationalgalleries.org

http://georginacoburnarts.co.uk

http://www.arts-press.co.uk

 

 

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

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It’s weird, but sometimes the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art is the thing that makes me feel most Scottish! That’s not because there’s a bunch of Scottish memorabilia in it – far from it! Instead there’s an impressive collection of artworks ranging from Francis Bacon, to Andy Warhol, to David Hockney, to one of my favourite artists Samuel John Peploe (part of the Scottish Colourist movement). Having lived abroad most of my life, there are moments where I struggle to find places where I feel truly at home or have a strong connection with. This Gallery has become one of those places of nostalgia. I remember visiting it for the first time when I was seventeen, living back in Scotland for the first time. Sixth Form was what I’ll call my ‘art awakening’; the period in which I realised what kind of art I wanted to be making (Barbara Kruger was a key influence at this point). So the combination of this revelation along with several art trips to this Gallery during that time have made it a very sentimental place for me. 

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This of course is partially due to the sheer beauty of the place. The gallery’s architecture in itself is stunning (I think it’s safe to say I have a crush on Edinburgh architecture!) and the lush greenery surrounding it only enhances the feelings of tranquility. As does the presence of water, which on a beautiful sunny day like last Friday, sparkles and dances in the light. 

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Walking around this landscape is an incredibly serene experience and although it is still relatively central to Edinburgh’s center, the hectic bustle of the city seems distant and far removed. Almost as if you are stood in an art filled bubble of peace. This swirling blend of land and water can’t help being viewed as an impressive Land Art piece, which for me brings to mind the works of Richard Long and Robert Smithson with his iconic ‘Spiral Jetty‘. 

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In the grounds there’s also works by Henry Moore, who in my opinion is the father of all sculpture. His ‘Reclining Figure‘ series, one of which is pictured above, was a huge inspiration to me at the time I discovered it. I was and still of course am, fascinated by the blend of abstraction and figuration; by the way in which he has designed his pieces to allow the eye to travel smoothly along the figure. Barbara Hepworth is another sculpture pioneer who I greatly admire and on my list to one day visit is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park! Although I greatly enjoy modern art, I also love stepping away from it and looking to older masters. Particularly given my interest in the human body; there is nothing more exciting than exploring how body art has evolved throughout the decades.

Jim Lambie at GoMA

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‘Forever Changes’, Jim Lambie

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As well as visiting Kelvingrove at the weekend, we also visited the Gallery of Modern Art – or as it’s known in art slang – GoMA. There was an interesting collection of work on display, some that appealed to me, some that did not. The mix included well known art world names such as Karla Black, David Shrigley, Claire Barclay and of course Jim Lambie to name but a few. Yet a name is not everything as I felt some pieces really did not belong or were misplaced within this gallery setting. Particularly when set against the backdrop of another work. Frankly, anything alongside this exciting piece by Lambie took a backseat for me! I have a real thing for colour at the moment. I don’t know if it’s all the Colour Talks I’ve been attending in uni which are led by my friend and course mate, or if it’s just that I haven’t properly painted in so long I’m starting to yearn for physical colour again. Probably a mix of the two.

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Either way, the colour and apparent clumsiness of this piece instantly appealed to me. What appears as a cluttered and chaotic arrangement of useless half-chairs, is in fact a highly considered and contemplated arrangement. As Eva Hesse would say, “it’s chaos structured as non-chaos”. It’s almost like something Alice would find in Wonderland. There is no sense of guidance for the eye to travel over, it is merely left to its own devices in registering and comprehending the work.

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I thought the mirrored handbags were a fantastic addition to what was already a very exciting work. I have not researched the work, but I wonder if they are a commentary on our commercial and self-absorbed society. After all, women (and men) spend hundreds on an item used simply to carry other items. Then there is the addition of mosaic mirrors which allow us as viewers to view our own reflections. I am simply contemplating here but this was my interpretation of the piece. I may be entirely wrong and be taking far too obvious a reading from it. Either way however, Lambie is an artist I will definitely be looking into more following this absorbing experience!