Month: September 2015

A vibrant city in motion: Horacio Coppola’s Buenos Aires

Argentine Modernism is under the spotlight in a new retrospective at New York’s MoMa focusing on the works of Horacio Coppola and Grete Stern. Coppola, an Argentine of Italian descent, and Stern, a German Jew, met at the Bauhaus, the experimental German art school, in the 1930s. With the rise of the Nazi regime and the subsequent closure of the Bauhaus, they moved to Buenos Aires in 1936, via London, where they got married. With the knowledge and training they had received in Germany, they soon established themselves as pioneers of Modernism in Argentina, combining a sharp eye for abstraction and design with local themes and subject matters. One obvious approach to examining their work has been to consider the axis of influence between Germany and Argentina. However, another interesting and novel comparison is between Buenos Aires and Paris, as the Argentine capital has often been considered ‘the Paris of South America’. In a post-colonial context, such a claim is deceptive. It implies that Buenos Aires is simply an imitation of the Parisian capital, with …

Conflict remembered: Jo Ractliffe’s photos of Angola and South Africa

African photography is under the spotlight at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a moving exhibition of work produced in the last decade by the South African photographer Jo Ractliffe. South African photographer Jo Ractliffe (born 1961) explores the themes of conflict, history, memory and displacement with her camera. She has described her work as an attempt to “retrieve a place for memory.” Ractliffe was born in 1961 in Cape Town and currently lives in Johannesburg. She completed her BAFA and MFA degrees at the University of Cape Town. Three recent series of photographs are featured in this show, focusing on recent conflict in her native South Africa and neighbouring Angola. Her earliest series Terreno Ocupado (2007–8) was produced around five years after the end of the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002), during Ractliffe’s first visit to the capital, Luanda. Her images of shantytowns speak of struggle and land occupation, highlighting the vulnerability of the city’s infrastructure post civil war. Her photographs highlight the imprint that the Portuguese colonial occupation of Angola had on Luanda. …

Rogelio Polesello: the Argentine ‘industrial artisan’

The bright colours and bold shapes of Argentine artist Rogelio Polesello fast-forwarded Latin American art into the 20th Century. A year after his death, he is remembered in a comprehensive retrospective at the MALBA in Buenos Aires. Possessing a basic knowledge about the career of Argentine artist, Rogelio Polesello, already tells us a great deal about this artist’s work. Born in Buenos Aires in 1939, Polesello spent his formative years working as a graphic designer in the advertising industry. The art that he would later develop bears a strong resemblance to the forms of commercial advertising he would have been working on day-to-day. His experience of commercial work is also evident in his openness to interdisciplinary creative work, pushing the boundaries of what is traditionally considered ‘art.’ His work at times verges on architectural form and design, as well as public art interventions. Polesello graduated in 1958 from the Prilidiano Pueyrredón Fine Art School. A year later, he would have his first solo exhibition at the Peuser Gallery. He began to experiment with optic art, taking …

Reinventing the Renaissance: South Africa’s Wim Botha

South African artist Wim Botha’s expressive new series of sketches, More’s the pity, depict Michelangelo’s iconic Renaissance statue, Pietà. These 119 sketches, in oil on canvas and ink on paper, are based on a mirror image of the classic frontal view of the famous marble statue, which is found in St Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City. Botha experiments with colour and line through the repetition of the same modified image, which is seen as abstract in some instances, and figurative in others. In this way, these works disrupt the historical and conceptual meanings of the original piece, and revitalize the work in a contemporary way. Carry on reading about Wim Botha, and see more images of his work, in the latest issue of The Kurios. Photo: Wim Botha. More’s the pity (series of 119 sketches). Photo courtesy of Stevenson Gallery.

Domestic friction: Mexican artist Pia Camil’s ‘homely’ Modernism

Mexican artist Pia Camil draws inspiration for her objects, seen in the following pages, from contemporary consumerism, incorporating signs and objects from everyday life. The artist, born in Mexico City in 1980, also reclaims abandoned structures from highways, driven by her belief in the failure of capitalism. Her wide-ranging practice, which takes in hand dyed wall hangings, ponchos and ceramic vases, often ends with the presentation of multiple objects in the same room. She also undertakes live performances that experiment with notions of domestic space. Her work appears to create a friction between domestic comfort – indicated by the ‘homely’ crafted feel of many of her ceramics and textiles – and a more hard-edged Modernism. Carry on reading about Pia Camil, and see more images of her work, in the latest issue of The Kurios. Photo: installation view: Pia Camil. Pangaea II. Image courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London (c) Justin Piperger, 2015

The Belgian engineer who captured the lives of Chile’s remote Mapuche

The Belgian engineer Gustave Verniory (1865-1949) arrived in Chile at the end of the 19th Century to build a railway in the remote region of Araucanía, in the mid-south of the country. The region, occupied by indigeneous Mapuche tribes, had not become part of Chile until the 1880s. Verniory came to know a group of Mapuche people, and he began to photograph them, in their everyday attire. He also captured images of the railway’s construction and other viaducts and bridges that had been built as the Chilean government drove modernization of Chile’s remoter regions. His photos document an interesting time in the history of the province when industrialization was rapidly changing the lives of the Mapuche. The government had occupied Araucania in the 1880s to end the resistance of Mapuche tribes. Subsequently European and Chileans settled in the area, with the population of Araucania growing considerably in the early 20th Century. A region of mountains and lakes and fertile agricultural land, it came to be known as the “granary of Chile.” Around one third of …

Bringing abstraction to India: Nasreen Mohamedi

Nasreen Mohamedi (1937-1990) distanced herself from traditional Indian art practices in the early 20th Century, going on to become one of the first Indian abstract artists. Her non-figurative works were highly unusual at a time when Indian art schools were dominated by academic realism and an anthropomorphous aesthetic left over from the colonial period. Mohamedi’s art is now the subject of a retrospective at Madrid’s Reina Sofia that explores the intersections between the artist’s life and work. The exhibition features drawings, paintings, photographs and collages and focuses on the artist’s production from the 1970s. The artist’s career was defined by “the rigours of self-discipline and self-control,” the curators said. Her art leads us towards a “personal vision articulated around a frugal aesthetic and the use of simple mediums, where the mathematical, the metaphysical, the mystical were adopted in her search for a subjective and immaterial world,” they added. Nasreen Mohamedi, Waiting is a part of intense living, is on at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, until 11th January 2016. Photo: Nasreen Mohamedi, …

The artist as an agent for change: Russia’s El Lizzitsky

Russian artist El Lizzitsky (1890 – 1941) is being shown for the first time in Ireland at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, alongside the works of a number of Irish artists. One of the most important figures of the Russian avant-garde, El Lizzitsky’s life and career were founded on the belief that an artist could be an agent for change. Born to Lithuanian Jewish parents, he started out illustrating Yiddish children’s books to promote Jewish culture in Russia. He later designed various exhibition displays and propagandist works for the Soviet Union, alongside his mentor Kazimir Malevich. El Lizzitsky also helped Malevich to develop Suprematism, and he was in charge of a suprematist art group known as UNOVIS. Interestingly however, El Lizzitsky developed a suprematist creed of his own, known as Proun. El Lissitzky: The Artist and the State is on at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, until 18th October, 2015. Photo: El Lissitzky. Proun. Street Celebration Design, 1921. Courtesy of Irish Museum of Modern Art.    

Searching for the ideal: contemporary Asian art

After Utopia: Revisiting the Ideal in Asian Contemporary Art at the Singapore Art Museum explores the idea of utopia, a term originally coined by the writer Thomas More in the 16th Century to describe a fictional island in the Atlantic Ocean. From the Greek works for “good place” and “no place” the word refers to a place that possesses near perfect qualities. The exhibition is centred around four approaches to the idea of utopia. “Other Edens” explores how gardens are used as a symbol of the ordinary paradise to which we want to return, while “The City and its Discontents” locates our search for paradise in the contemporary worlds we inhabit. “Legacies Left” examines the ideologies that have left their mark on societies around the world in the last century. Meanwhile the final section “The Way Within” eschews grand narratives, locating the search for a utopia within the self. The image of a garden representing a utopia is seen in Geraldine Javier’s Ella Amo’ Apasionadamente y Fue Correspondida (For She Loved Fiercely, and She is …

The iconic Iranian arts festival that was ended by the revolution

For a decade between 1967 and 1977, the Festival of Arts was held among the ancient ruins of Persepolis and Shiraz, two ancient Persian cities. The festival, which was always held in the summer, was brought to an end by the Iranian revolution of 1978 out of fear for the safety of its performers. It is now the subject of a new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which has brought together original theatre posters, programmes and archive film and photographs from the festival. In its heyday, it was an eclectic melting pot of music, theatre and performance hailing from both East and West. A number of iconic performers took to the stage, including Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar – who famously inspired the Beatles, and the American composer John Cage. As well as music, avant-garde experiments in other art forms were prominent. American dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham’s dance troupe performed calisthenics – synchronized physical training — among the ruins. A play by English poet Ted Hughes and Iranian author Mahin Tajadod, Orghast, …

Forgotten corners: Aida Mahmudova’s tender paintings of Azerbaijan

Aida Mahmudova’s tender paintings address memory and nostalgia. The Azeri artist, born in Baku in 1982, draws her inspiration from the landscape and architecture of her native Azerbaijan. She works across installation, sculpture and painting to capture forgotten corners of a country that is fast developing and is in danger of forgetting its past. Her work also deals with the friction between reality and fiction, and the impermanence of identity. Her sense of ephemerality can be gleaned from the gentle layering of these works. As well as being an artist, Mahmudova — a niece of the president of Azerbaijan –is an important figure in Azerbaijan’s small but growing arts scene. To continue reading, please subscribe to the September/October 2015 issue here, or by searching for The Kurios App on your mobile device.  Photo credit: Aida Mahmudova. The neighbours. 2015. Mixed media on canvas. Courtesy Leila Heller Gallery.  

An eclectic life: Brion Gysin’s North African odyssey

The unconventional British artist Brion Gysin (1916-1986), whose work was heavily influenced by North Africa’s Sahara Desert, is the subject of an intriguing solo exhibition at London’s October Gallery, called Unseen Collaborator. The Africa-focused gallery has had a long relationship with Gysin, being the first to show the artist’s work in the UK in 1981. This new exhibition brings together a number of previously unseen paintings, from Marrakesh crowd scenes to calligraphy and grid works and architectural photographs. It also shows us Gysin’s work in other fields, including collaborations with writers and musicians like the jazz maestro Steve Lacy; and a rarely-shown film of the artist by Francoise Janicot, Brion’s Devils. The work on display spans three decades, from the 1950s to the mid-1980s. Gysin had his first retrospective in the United States in 2010, but is little-known in his home country, perhaps due to the fact that he spent most of his life abroad. Influenced by cultural practices in New York, London, Paris and Tangier, Gysin produced thoroughly eclectic work and was once described …

The intimacy of colour: Australian hand-coloured photos from the 70s

The 1970s saw a revival in hand-coloured photography in Australia, and the technique remains a significant aspect of the practice of many artists today. The hand-colouring of photographs enables an artist to personalize and individualize a print , as well as imbue it with warmth and intimacy. Australian artists like Ruth Maddison, Miriam Stannage, Micky Allan and Robyn Stacey revived the technique of hand-colouring photographs. They were recently on show at the National Gallery of Australia in Sydney, as part of the Colour my world: hand-coloured Australian photography exhibition. The hand-colouring of images goes back a long way in the history of photography. In the mid-19th Century, when photography was still a nascent art form, artists applied paint, dye or other media to black and white images. Hand-colouring would be used either to add aesthetic or economic value to an image, or to correct a photographic mistake. In the early 20th Century the practice declined as modernist artists sought greater technical purity. To continue reading, please subscribe to the September/October 2015 issue here, or by searching for …

Sensual in the Soviet Union: Nikolai Bakharev’s stunning photos of bathers

Russian photographer Nikolai Bakharev originally trained as a mechanic before working as a Communal Services Factory photographer in the 1960s. His arresting photographs of bathers were taken during the 1980s and 1990s when photographing nudity was strictly prohibited in the Soviet Union. In this way, these images of bathers on public beaches in Russia blur the boundaries between the public and private, and create a tension between public posing and private activity. From under a conservative exterior, a furtive eroticism emerges. To continue reading this article, please subscribe to the September/October 2015 issue here, or by searching for the Kurios App on your mobile device. Photo credit: Nikolai Bakharev, No .14, from the series Relation, 1980. Gelatin Silver print ©MAMM, Moscow / Nikolai Bakharev Collection of the Moscow House of Photography Museum.

Clouds talking: Yo-Yo-Gonthier and the erasure of memory

The group show Presences, at the Ivory Coast’s Galerie Cécile Fakhoury, brings together the work of four artists: Nestor Da, François-Xavier Gbré, Yo-Yo-Gonthier and Cheikh Ndiaye. The gallery has been turned into a shared studio space for the exhibition. Yo-Yo Gonthier’s work (seen in the photo above) is inspired by exploration, conquest, discovery and voyage, both of the physical and fantastical kind. Through film, drawing, printing, photography and performance, the artist “invites the viewer to a historic reading of universal forms and subjects,” the curators said. “Yo-Yo Gonthier is a composer – of lines, of meaning, of sounds. The materiality of his work is the result,” they added. Yo-Yo Gonthier was born in Niamey, Niger, in 1974. The artist now lives and works in Paris. His work deals with the erasure of memory in the Western World through its preoccupation with speed, technology and progress. To continue reading this article, please subscribe to the September/October 2015 issue here, or by searching for The Kurios App on your mobile device. Presences in on at Galerie Cécile …

Capturing West Africa’s elite: the photography of a different era

A new exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, In and Out of the Studio: Photographic Portraits from West Africa, presents over a century of portrait photography in West Africa. Many of these works, which were taken between the 1870s and the 1970s, are being displayed for the first time. There’s a broad selection of images on show, including postcards and original negatives as well as conventional photographs. The choice of photographers is similarly broad, taking in both amateur and professional photographers who captured life in Senegal, Mali, Gabon and Cameroon, among others. What is interesting about these photographs is that they present us with an image of Africa that is seldom recognized – it is often presumed that photographs of Africa from earlier eras were taken by foreign photographers. West Africa, where photography arrived in the 1840s, became a booming photography centre on its own terms. In other words, photographic production was not controlled just by foreigners – rather it was adapted by locals to their own traditions and aesthetic preferences. European and …