Monday, 16 July 2012

The Summer Exhibition 2012 at The Royal Academy

     The Royal Academy, located in Picadilly, has showcased Britain's best every year, since 1769. We've seen Emin, Hockney, Gore, Frost and Grimshaw in recent years, a few examples of "The Big Names" that attract thousands of art enthusiasts through the grand entrance every day. At the 2012 exhibition, the billboards inevitably belong to Tracey Emin, famous for arranging beds and embroidering tents with profanities. The way in which the Summer Exhibition works is as follows; every visitor is handed a "List Of Works" as they enter the galleries. This acts as a little catalogue, numbering each work, giving it a sentence of introduction and then showing its price on the side. With prices ranging from £300 to £600,000, very little of the visitors will be buying, but nevertheless, big money will be going to a few artists.
    The wonder of the exhibition starts at the beginning. In the courtyard, a sculpture, which could only be described as lengthy, is placed. The sculpture, named "Landscape to Portrait" takes centre stage, stretching thirty metres. It consists of metal rectangles, gradually rotating one by one, to eventually turn from landscape to portrait, hence the name. It certainly wasn't subtle, and unlike most modern art it didn't leave you jaw-dropped, fixated and with a need to inspect it from all angles to find its real meaning. Was it a sign of things to come? Certainly not, but was it a slightly underwhelming heap of metal to plonk in front of one of the most prestigious exhibitions worldwide? Without doubt.
    The best aspect of the Summer Exhibition has always been the way it introduced new artists. It was all very well seeing Emin's work there surrounded by a substantial clique of art students all taking photos, but new real talent was unearthed in the small corners of each room. For instance, a head made entirely out of matchsticks, perfect and so subtle. Look at it from a distance, and you think someone's made a head, big deal. One step closer, you see how there are gaps. Maybe it deserves another step, you see it isn't one object, and the last step confirms it. The head is made entirely out of matchsticks and the person who's made it is a complete genius, worthy of all of Emin's praise and maybe a co-lease on a billboard is due. The matchstick head was only one of many, fascinating sculptures, the better of which were not for sale. In another room, the architectural offerings lie. Admittedly, the most outstanding models were not made by artists, but by professional architects. A model of the future London Bridge Station is simply thrilling. Carved out of wood, the train station is so detailed it would be effortless to explore its two square metre plot for hours on end. With five hundred human figures in the train station, each individual figure is unlike any other, and it has a satirical resemblance to a late night London tube stop. You see the late night worker, jacket in hand, suitcase in the other, running for the lift. Whilst doing so, the worker has to fight his way past the drunkard. Bottle in hand, shirt in the other, tottering along, barely avoiding his falling on the tracks. Within hugging distance of the sleazy drunk man, an arguing couple. Woman, bag in hand, the other slapping her husband's cheek. Even though everything was still, it was so easy to imagine the next minute of activity in the station, and all that from a model. That's exactly what you hope to gain from a piece of art. A good few minutes of all angle inspection. 
     If sculptures aren't your bag, then only a room away are some truly remarkable paintings. One shows a spectacular garden, with hedges intricately trimmed and the grass perfectly level. 'Wow,' you think. Whoever keeps this garden must be really organised. But, then you look at their house. The paint is cracked from the walls, the windows are all broken and the chimney has fallen down. Not complicated, but requires thought. But, like all art galleries, the ridiculous has to be seen, and modern art turns its ugly head. A truly grotesque pink fairy is standing next to a pink something or other. It looks like it was plucked from Disneyland. Then the last room. The crowning jewel of the entire exhibition. But, at the entrance are neon letters, spelling out the word 'DOGS.' They flash viciously in an alarming cyan. And then the end is officially unsatisfactory, the last painting being an Emin. And it is one word scribbled with paint on to canvas, the word being; 'UPSET.' And guess how much it's worth? £165,000. Nevertheless, the Summer Exhibition has succeeded in enlightening all visitors, pointing them to new, innovative talent. And that's what art is about, it's nice seeing famous pieces, Emin's especially, but it is an experience to see the kind of work that is out there. But if one lesson is learned, an entire face made out of matchsticks and the entire story of a late night tube stop is much more stimulating than a pack of static yet irritating, cyan dogs.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Picture from

Please click the link above to see a short piece that I wrote for Chicago Teen Museum recently. It's about the suicide that occurred in Athens, Greece. I happened to be staying in Athens at the time, so I shared my experiences with CTM. Remember to send us your critiques on the arts. Keep them under 600 words and e-mail them to ! Thanks!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Battleship (2012) Review

"Man Down," as Rihanna might say. Actually, lots of men down. Just as many ships sunk. This film has action, destruction, humour and it has aliens with beards. Whilst it has that, it lacks good acting and a good story. For example, the film boasts Liam Neeson in posters. Liam Neeson has played Zeus and Oskar Schindler. He is the voice of Aslan. He is the star of thrillers such as Taken and Unknown. I wonder how he's turned up in Battleship, alongside Rihanna. Neeson takes a minor role as a navy admiral, he is on our screens for a very short time and his character's path in the film is very boring. He doesn't even kill anyone, which in a film festooned with weapons and death, is rather pointless. Rihanna's contribution on the other hand was much better. Her performance is good, her character is believable. Her transition from microphone to screen was smooth, unlike Neeson's transition from thriller to 'killer.' That is unfortunately the end of the brief list of stars, and they don't even take the big roles.
The first scene sets the tone for the film. The gist of the first scene is Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), a foolish alcoholic and a stolen burrito. He breaks into a shop to steal this burrito to give to Samantha (Brooklyn Decker), a girl who has taken his fancy. The scene ends with Alex getting tasered by the police, as he places the burrito in Samantha's hands to the hysterical laughter of the entire cinema. I personally found it a disappointing way to start a Liam Neeson blockbuster. Advertised an alien film, I was raring to see how these creatures were brought to life. Yet another disappointment. The beasts in this film were ten foot tall humanoids wearing armour. They had flourishes of orange hair protruding from their mouths and thick eyebrows over their reptile eyes. It was rapidly turning in to a farce.
Fortunately, the worst was yet to come. After one ship had sunk at the hands of the bearded lizards, the surviving crew had to find a new battleship. They found a seventy year old steam ship, which they unfortunately had no idea how to drive. The bearded lizards seemed to have this in the bag. Until, of course, randomly placed around the ship, twenty navy veterans all in aviators appear. They're raring to help. Cue the slow motion camera and cheesy music. It was official, I was  witnessing a farce. After two hours had very quickly passed by, the aliens had been sent home, the crew rewarded medals. The moral of the story had been, 'Steal a burrito and you'll be involved in intergalactic war.' It had been an essential experience, not because it will change my life but because it cheered me up. In a sort of, 'Thank goodness it's over,' way.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Richard Wilson 20:50 at the Saatchi Gallery


The smell is what I noticed first. The scent of oil reaches me as I walk on to the viewing balcony of this vast exhibit. The funny thing is that I don't see the oil that my nose detects. I look down, peering over the viewing balcony.There's a floor several metres down from me. I see that it's completely symmetrical and identical to the roof above, the pillars are exactly the same length, each shadow mirrors the other. Everything is the same. Judging by the symmetry of everything, I realise that the floor can't be real. 'It must be a mirror' I think, but why is the reflection so much darker than the real ceiling? Is the mirror waxed? Is it painted? To clear the matter I consult the exhibit's description. It turns out that this parallel world is merely a reflection made by a tank brimming with sump oil.
This is 20:50 by Richard Wilson. This exhibit is the only one in the Saatchi Gallery that is permanent. It's left people baffled, making it one of the world's largest puzzles. After taking minutes trying to work out what the exhibit was, I then examined it. Looking down I could see little puddles where the more inquisitive visitors had tried to spit in it to see if it's liquid. I could see the occasional ball of chewing gum which had been dropped by the daring. Some would call that vandalism, I think it's art. Those pieces of gum and puddles of spit had contributed to the entire piece. I wonder if Wilson expected people to do that, if he wanted them to vandalise his art by dropping their pennies in to it. The huge, dark mass of sump oil has drawn in these people, driven them to such curiosity that they can't resist the temptation to subtly spit at it. The artist has succeeded in luring people in, making them think for minute after minute. He's created a trap; a trap for humans.
A mini-pier stretches out in to the black void, so the vulnerable humans can walk straight in to the trap. It gives you a whole new understanding of the word space. When you realise that it's sump oil, you see that you're actually in quite an intimate room. The ceiling is only three metres above you, and the other side of the room is only seven or eight metres away from you. The presumption that this is an immense, spacious room is a wrong one. Again, Wilson has succeeded. He is trying to make you notice things for what they are, even when they're staring at you in the face. He's asking you to pause and to ponder about what you're seeing. And I wonder if unlike most artists, he's completely fine with you tampering with his work, disturbing it with your chewing gum. He has me and everyone else on tip-toe, peering over a rail to stare at a pool of cheap sump oil. This is modern art at it's best.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

 The Muppets - Movie Review

Video from Muppet Studios

           Mahna mahna. A song where pure silliness has turned in to high culture, now everyone sings it with passion, not just the children. A film which combines heart warming songs, excellent dance, romance and a large dose of absurdity. You'll have to forgive its weak plot, but the Muppets certainly make up for it in raw fun.
           The film begins with a new character. Meet Walter, the latest muppet on the block. He lives in Smalltown, a village in America. Somehow he's part of a human family. A montage of Walter and his brother Gary's heights being measured against a wall appears. As Gary grows up, Walter's height stays the same. He realises that he's different. That's when Walter's life changes, he finds the Muppets. And that's what the film is about, introducing the Muppets to a new generation. I certainly didn't know of them. It's also why this isn't just a kid's film, it's for those nostalgia junkies (a bit like my mum) who grew up on Sesame Street and the Saturday Muppet Show every week. Summed up by Bobo the Bear very nicely, 'I love geriatric humour.'
           There was a certain colour to it, a 'glossyness'. That vibrance was directed and created by James Bobin and written by the star of the show Jason Segel. It's cast was star studded too, a perfect example why you shouldn't write the Muppets off as, 'dead'. Jason Segel played Walter's brother, Gary. Segel executed breathtaking dance sequences matching the quality and scale of those in High School Musical. Amy Adams played Gary's wife, Mary. Adams will be remembered for her songs which were funny and feel-good. Also appearing were Jack Black, playing a kidnapped Jack Black. And there were cameo performances from Micky Rooney, Emily Blunt, Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, Neil Patrick Harris and Kristen Schaal. But all the credit must go to the songs. 'Man or Muppet' recently won 'Best Original Song' at the Oscars. And rightly so since it was witty and absolutely unmissable.  

Man or Muppet: Oscar Winning: From Muppet Studios

          Once again, the Muppets have found their way in to our hearts and they will stay there as long as they continue to entertain. You'll find Bobo the Bear hilarious, Statler and Waldorf will make you chuckle and the entire affair will charm you to death. Death by schmaltz.                      




Thursday, 1 March 2012

Joy in People - Jeremy Deller at the Hayward Gallery

             This is the first time that anybody has brought together an extensive exhibition of the work of British artist, Jeremy Deller. This is obscure art. I don't think he paints, draws, sculpts, assorts random objects together or anything you would expect to see from an art exhibition. This man is different, he focuses on re-enacting significant historic events. He makes bold statements which define the way we feel about specific things and the way we co-operate to share ideas. He's a psychologist in many ways, an art psychologist. So how do you make an exhibition about somebody whose art can't be hung on a wall or placed on a podium?
             A destroyed car is the feature of a bland room, simply plonked on the floor, picked from a bombsite. It had been been blown up in Iraq. Standing by the car was Esam Pasha, an Iraqi who recently sought refuge in the USA after fleeing the devastation of his homeland. He stood in front of this wreck ready to answer questions about Iraq. I didn't know what to ask, how to approach the man, mainly because I wasn't sure what to feel. But this art installation, entitled, 'It is what it is,' has started thousands of conversations after the tour it took with Deller and others. Deller's idea was excellent. He took an RV and mounted the car in the back, took Pasha and Jonathan Harvey, a former US soldier who served in Iraq. He drove them from New York to Los Angeles. Coast to coast, pit-stopping at random towns to talk to the inhabitants. Pasha and Harvey answered their questions and moved on, spending nights at the towns, inspiring the people and gifting them with a profound insight in to the brutal war that their country was involved in. That's how he operates, Jeremy Deller creates experiences for people to involve them in an event or an emotion.
             But then the exhibition went downhill. I left Iraq and entered Orgreave. A town in South Yorkshire, and the scene of a riot which occurred in 1984 during the miners strike. A vicious battle, which defined the strikes. This was a perfect subject for Deller, but I found it a colossal anti-climax. He had employed hundreds of people, some actual participants of the real riot, to be police and miners. They had a rigorous routine where they attempted to recreate what happened almost thirty years ago. He turned it in to a film, accompanied by pictures and posters. I sat through the film and felt thoroughly disappointed. I had anticipated an edgy, involving and stimulating exhibition which really worked on me, as the car did. But it was pointless. It lacked the bite of 'It is what it is,' the audience participation where you could ask questions from a man with experience.

            At least there was one film which really reached out to me, quite literally; 'Exodus,' a twelve minute three dimensional film which followed a colony of bats soaring into the twilight sky. I, along with the rest of the theatre, was in awe at the bats swarming out of the screen. This was a harmonious pairing of art and digital technology. It was simply beautiful, like being in a wonderful dream, unless of course you have, 'batphobia.' I don't doubt Deller's ability to arrange events and create art, and it must be brilliant to participate in that, but what doesn't work is when he bottles it up in an art gallery. It starts off as Fizzy Pop but turns flat at the Hayward Gallery. The irony was that the exit of, 'Joy in People,'  was a huge black wall with the words,' I love melancholy,' printed on it. Black on black. Crouching against the wall, Deller places a young woman silently reading a book. To be honest I felt like grabbing her by the hand and dragging her upstairs to have a bit of fun at David Shrigley's exhibition.

By Freddie