Saturday, 30 July 2016

Serpentine Summerhouses

Lots of architectural activity in Hyde Park around the Serpentine Gallery this summer with the installation of these four summer houses responding to the Neo-classical Queen Caroline's Temple built in 1734, and also the annual Serpentine pavillion commission.

I enjoyed the ephemerality of this summerhouse, and the energy and movement in the wire's loops and whorls. It is by Yona Friedman and was designed so that it can take on a variety of different configurations.

This summerhouse by Asif Khan was inspired by the fact that Queen Caroline's Temple was positioned to allow it to catch the sunlight from the Serpentine lake. It consists of 100 wooden staves which appear to grow out of the ground and two metal discs inside to reflect the light and frame the vista. The staves give really interesting optical effects as you wonder through this structure.

This is Queen Caroline'sTemple a neo-classical structure built in 1734, the inspiration for the summerhouses.

Kunlé Adeyemi's summerhouse is a deconstructed version of the Queen Caroline Temple, and the surfaces are meant to reflect those of the Temple. I like the chunky solidity of this structure.

I loved the fluidity and elegance of this summerhouse structure by Barkow Leibinger, based on a design for a pavilion which used to stand in the Park that would mechanically rotate to offer 360 degree views of the park. I was so disappointed to arrive to see it fenced off whilst undergoing repairs because of all the rain that fell in June. Apparently German design and precision engineering is no match for the British summer!

The main draw architecturally however is this pavilion designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), which is described as being 'an unzipped wall of fibreglass bricks'. It is a triumph, and perhaps the best of the pavilion designs of recent years.

Serpentine Pavilion and Summer Houses
until 9th October
Kensington Gardens
London, W2

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings

Visited the Courtauld for another wonderful exhibition of abstract artworks by yet another (though lesser known), female artist. Georgiana Houghton (1814-1884) - like Hilma af Klint, whose work was shown earlier this year at The Serpentine gallery - took her artistic inspiration from the spirit world who guided her hand to create extraordinary abstract images, which pre-dated those of Kandinsky and Malevich by many years. Af Klint hid her spirit inspired works away, fearing that critics and the public wouldn't understand them. Houghton, however had the courage of her spiritualist beliefs, and organised an exhibition of her work at a Bond Street gallery in 1871 which, surprisingly given their abstract imagery, recieved critical support and acclaim but wasn't a commercial success. The costs of this enterprise nearly bankrupted her.

Mediumship and séances to contact the deceased were very popular in the Victorian era following the sensational events at the home of the Fox sisters in Hydesville, America in 1848 which heralded the birth of modern spiritualism. As a spiritualist medium, Houghton (1814-1884), was able to channel the spirits of past Renaisssance masters such as Corregio and that of Royal Academician Sir Thomas Lawrence who guided her hand when creating some of these works whilst in trance.

Many of her earliest spirit pictures referenced family members in their titles and were floral in subject matter, and were characterised by their beautiful flowing lines which, along with the vibrant colours, were to become her signature style. Spiritual flowers are said to blossom in spirit when a child is born on earth.

All of the work created by Houghton is on a much smaller, more intimate scale in comparison to the huge pieces of Hilma af Klint, and the mark-making seems more intense and almost frenzied in places. The pieces below seem almost psychedelic, and like the work of artists experimenting with mark-making whilst under the influence of mind altering drugs. Magnifying glasses are provided in the exhibition to better see the very fine, almost pointillist white dot work which is stippled over the other colours.

Houghton saw the pieces that she created as being a new form of religious art, and the titles such as - The Glory of The Lord, The Eye of God, The Sheltering Wing of The Most High, certainly suggest access to higher, heavenly realms whilst creating the drawings in trance.

The backs of some of the paintings are just as beautiful as the front. There are copious notes executed in a beautiful script which are overdrawn with some handsome line work. They reminded me a little of Leonardo's sketchbook drawings.

There are more of Houghton's artworks on display along with the artwork of other mediums and spirit photographs from 1856 to the present day at The College Of Psychic Studies, South Kensington, 14th- 20th August, 12-5pm daily, free admission.

Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings
until 11th September
The Courtauld Gallery
Somerset House

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Yayoi Kusama

There have been some really good exhibitions by women artists in London so far this year. We've had Hilma af Klint, and currently work can be seen by Etel Adnan, Georgiana Houghton and the mighty Georgia O'Keeffe. This exhibition however, one of two, across both sites of the Victoria Miro gallery, by Yayoi Kusama is another joyous addition to that list. I was so happy on visiting this show to see the return of her fabulous, gigantic, dotty, bronze pumpkins which I last encountered in 2014 (here). 

This latest exhibition of Kusama's work at Victoria Miro is very popular, so be prepared to queue if you make a visit. Most visitors seem to have come solely to visit the installation below - All The Eternal Love I Have For The Pumpkins (2016), which provides great imagery for their Instagram and social media feeds. It is a fantastic installation to be immersed in however, although it is also a victim of its own popularity as you are timed on entry to the installation, and only allowed a minute to enjoy it before being turfed out. It is arguably the most successful of the works in the show, and the combination of mirrors, dots, neon pumpkins and subdued lighting have a mildly disorientating effect on the viewer.

Chandelier of Grief (2016), below, is another intriguing installation where you are once again enclosed in a mirrored environment and subjected to the dazzling illusion of infinity and lighting effects.

In the outside garden space at Victoria Miro, is Kusama's Narcissus Garden (1966), an impressive installation of stainless steel spheres in the pond.

Sadly in my opinion the Kusama paintings in Gallery II of the space come as a bit of an anti-climax after the drama of the above installations. The three Infinity-Nets paintings below really struck me though, because of the combination of colour, surface textures and mark-making

I really recommend a visit to this exhibition, (but again be prepared to queue as it is that popular), and I hope to make the accompanying second exhibition of Kusama's paintings at Victoria Miro Mayfair before that closes later this week.

Yayoi Kusama
until 30th July 2016
Victoria Miro Gallery
16 Wharf Road N1
14 St George Street W1