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Art in memory of Oscar

October 30th, 2016 No comments

 

20161030_110147A visit to the memorable Artangel installation at Reading Gaol, that most Victorian of prisons with its red-brick cruciform shape and wire-grilled segregation.  I filmed ‘Oscar‘ for the BBC here when it was still an active prison some 20 years ago; it closed in 2013 and is now scheduled to be sold off.  But before it is, Artangel have continued their bold and imaginative curating of art spaces that no one normally reaches by getting artists and writers like Ai Weiwei and Anne Carson to leave messages in the cells that reflect Oscar Wilde’s incarceration here.  The finest of these offerings by far comes from Steve McQueen – a sculpture in which a prison bed is swathed in mosquito nets like a cocoon of the imagination.

20161030_111831I revisit Oscar’s cell – C.2.2.  When I filmed here, it was being used by two inmates so was even more crowded than in Wilde’s day – although he had to endure a harsh regime of physical labour.  ‘The most terrible thing about it is not that prison breaks one’s heart – hearts are made to be broken – but that it turns one’s heart to stone,’ as he wrote in De Profundis, his book-length letter from the cell.

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Wilde’s cell with a rose left as offering

On the day I visit, Patti Smith gives a three hour reading from De Profundis in the prison chapel.  She sings a short burst from two songs at the opening and close – first from Nina Simone’s  ‘Wild is the Wind’, then from her own ‘Wind’.  There are sections of the letter where, as Patti admits (‘What did that last bit mean?  I have no idea…’) Wilde can lose the reader as he goes off on wild and lonely tangents.  But there are also passages of haunting beauty: ‘I threw the pearl of my soul into a cup of wine.’  It is a fitting tribute and one Patti delivers with passion and empathy.

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Steve McQueen’s ‘Weight’, with gold-plated mosquito netting

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Oscar, the film I made with Michael Bracewell for the BBC, is still available on iPlayer

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the ‘lost’ Swedish artist Hilma af Klint

April 15th, 2016 1 comment

20160405_163959[1]Regular readers know that this blog occasionally touches on great art exhibitions I chance across, but rarely, as frankly there aren’t that many of them about.

But the new exhibition at the Serpentine of the ‘lost’ Swedish artist Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) is definitely worth celebrating.

Although a pioneer of early abstract art – predating Klee, Kandinsky and many others – she was only rediscovered in the 1980s, as she worked well out of the mainstream. Fearing that she would not be understood, she stipulated that her abstract work should be kept hidden for 20 years after her death. After a few exhibitions around the world, she is now being hailed – rightly – as a maverick and visionary.  Both qualities I value.

Not unlike Yeats and some of the Surrealists, she wove together spiritualist sources that we might now find dubious, from Mme Blavatsky to her mentor, anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner, to create art of luminous integrity.

Her abstract paintings, perhaps because she was making up the rules as she went – and she was not part of the 20th century mainstream – feel very different; perhaps her nearest equivalent would be, much later, Sonia Delaunay.

The Paintings for the Temple sequence – which af Klint thought she had been ‘commissioned’ to paint by a celestial entity named Amaliel – are at their most magnificent in the eight large paintings celebrating the passage of life which fill the central gallery at the Serpentine.

20160405_162118The looping circles of colour are matched by her similarly looping handwriting, as if giant pages from a molecular notebook on life – and she worked for a while as a draughtswoman at the veterinary institute in Stockholm in 1900.

To stand in this gallery was one of the most intense artistic experiences I’ve had for some time.

Paris after Charlie Hebdo

February 12th, 2015 No comments

SAMSUNGStruck on a visit to Paris by the changes that have taken place in recent years – and also going in the shadow of the recent Charlie Hebdo tragedy which has had the effect – a little like the July bombings in London did a decade ago – of reminding citizens what a multicultural city they now find themselves in.

 

Also struck by the wealth of modern art – the shows at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (a museum often ignored in favour of the more grandstanding Pompidou Centre) are superb –  retrospectives of veteran Sonia Delaunay, whose work spanned the 20th century, and of Canadian newcomer David Altmejd, whose fecund world of fur and crystal covered giants, and Perspex mazes, was new to me but endlessly exciting.

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Sonia Delaunay

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David Altmejd