Month: September 2015

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.