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Posts Tagged ‘The Pit’

Another visit to Masterpiece London, an extraordinary art and antique fair with museum quality exhibits in a stunning temporary structure in Chelsea. This year’s art crop included Canaletto, Picasso, Chagall, Warhol and Banksy, all for sale. It’s hard to believe people come to a marquee, albeit a luxury one, to buy things like this, but they do.

I didn’t think the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition lived up to recent years, but the bonus was seeing an excellent painting of a friend, and it’s always worth a punt. Upstairs, Painter of Disquiet, an exhibition by relatively unknown late 19th century Swiss-French painter Felix Vallotton, proved a treat. An extraordinarily diverse range of subjects and styles, but all rather lovely.

I love seeing the work of artists I’ve never heard of, and after my second time at Van Gogh & Britain at Tate Britain, I took in the Frank Bowling retrospective. Not all of his experiments with paint caught my imagination, but much did, so he was a welcome find.

The Michael Rakowitz exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery was more interesting than aesthetically pleasing. The best installation linked the break-up of The Beatles with events in the Middle East at that time and included footage of them discussing playing live again, possibly in North African amphitheatres. They ended up playing on the Apple building roof, of course, and the installation included film of a recreation of that on a Jerusalem rooftop!

Two treats at the NPG starting with the queen of the selfie, Cindy Sherman, who only photographs herself, but in all sorts of guises, mostly satirising society and fashion. Sometimes spooky, but strangely compelling. I followed this with the BP Portrait Award exhibition, which is of an astonishingly high standard this year.

Lee Krasner at the Barbican Art Gallery proves she was much more than Jackson Pollock’s wife, having lived her life in his shadow. The abstracts weren’t all to my taste, but it was a comprehensive and worthwhile retrospective.

The AI: more than human exhibition at the Barbican was a bit hit-and-miss. In the first part, the background, in The Curve Gallery, there was too much in a small space with too many people, but some of the interactive stuff, like the all-around projections in The Pit, were great – and the cocktail making robots were huge fun.

Beyond the Road at the Saatchi was a very creative immersive exhibition which combined art, film, sound, light and original music to create a hugely atmospheric space to explore. Two of the Punchdrunk boys and musician James Lavelle were behind it. Whilst there I took in two small exhibitions by Chinese artist Mao Jianhua and Sudanese artist Ibrahim El-Salahi, both interesting, but neither particularly striking.

Initially I thought my first visit to the Zabludowicz Collection for Rachel Rossin’s video & VR work Stalking the Trace was going to be another of Time Out’s wild goose chases, but there was also a quirky mixed show and an artist showcase and the converted chapel proved to be an interesting space for art.

Cutting Edge: Modernist British Printmaking at Dulwich Picture Gallery was simply stunning. The work of people from the Grosvenor School of Art in the 1920s-40s, there wasn’t one item that didn’t please in some way. One of the best exhibitions of the year in what is fast becoming one of my favourite galleries.

Manga at the British Museum surprised me. Its traditions go back to the 19th century, and influences beyond that, and the BM has been collecting it for 10 years. It’s a very broad review, very informative, a real showcase for the skills of its proponents.

Kiss My Genders at the Hayward Gallery sets out to explore gender fluidity but goes off-piste quite a bit. It’s way off-the-wall and only occasionally engaging. In the Project Space at the same venue, Hicham Berrada’s Dreamscapes were rather fascinating, using scientific processes like chemical reactions to create art.

A visit to the newly, beautifully restored Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing was a double treat because of the Anish Kapoor exhibition, 10 new ‘mirror’ works, in their gallery next door to the house, which itself is a peach of classical architecture and design. To justify the long schlep West, I also visited the Heath Robinson Museum in Pinner, also a double treat with a small exhibition of Tim Lewis’ automata, Post Nature, alongside the small permanent exhibition of Heath Robinson’s work and displays about him and his family.

My companion described the V&A’s Food: Bigger than the Plate exhibition as a bit like a school project. It certainly started out like that, but there were interesting sections on recycling and sustainability, a terrific silent movie showing mass food production and a tasting bar where they made you something on the basis of the three words you chose from the fifteen available, so worth a visit, if not wholly successful.

A fascinating triple bill at Tate Modern, starting with the playful Olafur Eliasson retrospective In Real Life. Coloured shadows, a 13 metre tunnel of haze and colour, a wall of lichen and all sorts of reflective stuff. Great fun. Natalia Goncharova’s retrospective proved how diverse her paintings are, both in terms of style and subject, and how beautiful her use of colour. The ballet sets and costumes were a bonus. Takis: Sculptor of Magnetism, Light & Sound was just that, mostly metal pieces that moved or made sounds which I liked more than I thought I was going to. All three added up to a bit of a quirky art fest.

I went into town to take in two exhibitions, but as is often the case walking between galleries in Mayfair leads you into others – sometimes successfully, sometimes not. My first planned destination was Gagosian for Francis Bacon: Couplings, fourteen double-figure paintings. I felt it was just more Bacon, with the curatorial coupling idea adding nothing. The first distraction, at Halcyon, was Bob Dylan’s surprisingly good paintings of American life, painted whilst on tour. I’m sure they wouldn’t get such a showcase if he wasn’t Bob Dylan, but he is a talented painter. The less said about his gates made of recycled iron items the better, though. At Camden Arts Centre’s pop-up in Cork Street, I wandered into Time Out recommended Wong Ping: Heart Digger, which is a combination of subtitled Chinese animations and inflatables; I yawned a lot, but the youngsters seemed to enjoy bouncing on the inflatables. Art. My second planned destination was the treat of the day. Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck (1862-1946) is virtually unknown here, but when you see her sixty-five pictures at the Royal Academy you can’t help wondering why. Perhaps the fact her work changed and evolved meant she didn’t have one style, at a time when artists were known for and by their style. Mostly portraits, including a whole room of seventeen self-portraits spanning sixty years of both her ageing and her art, I found it captivating. Popping into Pace, a commercial gallery in the RA building, passed five minutes just by the walk through, as there was little need to stop and look at the mainly white ‘abstractions’ of At the Edge of Things: Baer, Corse, Martin, three artists I don’t think I’ve seen before and have little desire to see again.

I’d never heard of the BJP (British Journal of Photography) Award, or been to the T J Boulting Gallery in Fitzrovia, and it was Time Out again that sent me to see this year’s winning project, Jack Latham’s Parliament of Owls. It tells the story of the highly secretive Bohemian Club’s summer camp in Northern California, through photos from the outside. Its members have included nine presidents – five republican ones from the last fifty years! – and it’s a magnet for conspiracy theorists. The photos are well taken ones of dull places and subjects, but I did get caught up in the story.

At the Serpentine Galleries, the Faith Ringgold retrospective was a brilliantly uncompromising selection of paintings, quilts and embroideries which seemed to shout ‘black lives matter’, even though most were made well before that phrase came into general use. Luchita Hurtado: I Live I Die I Will Be Reborn was less fascinating, but with enough interesting pictures to make the short detour worthwhile

The annual Freize open air sculpture show in Regent’s Park was way better than last year, with quite a lot of treats amongst its 20 or so sculptures. Particularly enjoyable on a sunny afternoon in the park.

I’ve seen a lot of Dale Chihuly‘s glass works in the US (Denver, Tacoma & Seattle), at a selling exhibition in London, and once before at Kew Gardens. This time, though, it was at night walking through the gardens and in one of the greenhouses, where live music accompanied them. A lovely experience, though now I need to see them in daylight to appreciate the difference. A great way to end my summer of art in London.

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I decided on one blog for the Barbican’s International Beckett Season after I’d written about Sydney Theatre Company’s Waiting for Godot (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/waiting-for-godot) so here’s the rest…..

Rough for Theatre I & Act Without Words II

I’d seen both of these short plays before, but their pairing, and the outdoor location, made this a very different and somehow more intense experience. In the first a blind man is playing, well scratching, his fiddle on the street when he is befriended by a one-legged man in a wheelchair. They seem to be exploring the possibility and potential mutual benefit of hanging out together.

The second piece starts with two men in sleeping bags. One is prodded by a rod from the side and proceeds to get out of the sleeping bag and dress, an agonising process which takes an age. After he undresses again and returns to his bag, the second man does the same, except he’s quicker and the process is easier, with more than a touch of OCD. When he returns to his bag, the first man starts again as the play ends. Both characters are mute.

They took place in the Barbican Estate, the first outside St. Giles Cripplegate and the second by a small lake nearby. The evening sounds – planes, a helicopter, birds, passers-by, children playing, a distant choir – all seemed part of it. It was a lovely evening and rather a unique experience and the performances by Trevor Knight in the first, Bryan Burroughs in the second and Raymond Keane in both were superb.

All That Fall

When I saw this radio play on stage 2.5 years ago, I wondered what it would be like on the radio (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/10/22/all-that-fall). Well, this was the next best thing – listening to it siting in a rocking chair in a carpeted Pit Theatre, with gentle orange light emanating from lots of light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. We’re all facing the same direction, a wall of orange spotlights, and that’s it. The spotlights sometimes shine, in differing configurations, and the overhead bulbs come on and off, bright and dim, but it’s also pitch black at times.

The experience didn’t really live up to the excellence of the idea, I’m afraid, adding too little value to what I would imagine it’s like listening at home. The answer to my earlier question appears to be that it’s better staged after all, even if that wasn’t Beckett’s intention.

Krapp’s Last Tape 

This sits alongside Waiting for Godot, Endgame and Happy Days as one of only a quartet of Beckett’s ‘fully formed’ pieces and actors are understandably attracted to the monologue of a 69-year-old man looking back and listening to his annual recordings as he begins the final one. American avant-garde artist Robert Wilson has lengthened it by 20 minutes. It begins with a long period of very loud rain and thunderstorms with a mute Krapp in clown-like make-up on stage eating two bananas. He eventually sits at his desk, though it then didn’t feel like any other performance of this piece. I can’t be sure, but there seemed to be a lot less dialogue, both live and recorded. The vast Barbican stage had high level windows on three sides, what looked like cages at the rear and tables with boxes and papers on both sides. Everything is monochrome, except Wilson’s red socks. It’s a very different playing space to any other I’ve seen this piece in.

He had a lot to live up to as I’ve seen Max Wall, Harold Pinter, John Hurt and Michael Gambon as Krapp, and he didn’t. I was surprised that someone as precious about his work as Wilson would take such liberties with someone else’s, especially as he knew Beckett. I was also surprised the Beckett estate didn’t intervene as they have in the past (Deborah Warner’s Footfalls, to name but one). This is Wilson’s Krapp, not Beckett’s.

I missed the brief visit of Lessness and had seen Lisa Dwan’s Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby at the Royal Court (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/not-i-footfalls-rockaby), so that’s it!

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Well, there I was sitting on a bench in a changing room with a swimming cap on listening to coach Ken’s motivational talk 10 minutes before me and my team are to head to the pool for our water polo match thinking ‘what on earth posessed me to come to this?’.

The changing room has been created backstage at the Barbican’s Pit deep in the bowels of the complex. There are eight of us, six women and two men. I’m old enough to have fathered all of them. Ken’s the only one we see, but there’s also a nameless female voice which we hear through headphones in our swimming caps. Still with me?

non zero out’s interactive piece explores teamwork and they seem to have chosen water polo to level the playing field, as it were i.e. no-one is likely to have any experience of it. In addition to listening to Ken’s encouragement we have to participate by revealing things about ourselves (though you can of course make them up) and engaging with our team mates in various bonding exercises. It all lasts for about an hour and if you hang around for a few minutes you get a team photo!

I admire them for trying something different and it does indeed make you think about teamwork. Somewhat bizarrely, as I looked at and talked to the other seven when we were waiting for our photos I did seem to see them as my team (well, I’d decided to wait for the photo after all). It was however, a bit ‘forced’ for me and when you’ve ridden the You Me Bum Bum Train I suspect all other site specific / immersive / interactive theatre is going to seem rather tame.

 

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It’s been a long time since I had an Improbable fix. This might be a minor Improbable, but minor Improbable is better than no Improbable. This one is effectively a long adults-only Punch & Judy Show.

There’s an oversized booth with lots of ‘holes’ of various sizes, some big enough for people and some just big enough for heads, with the traditional Punch & Judy size curtained aperture at the centre. It’s a mixture of live, somewhat gothic, characters including historical puppet masters Harvey & Havey, and puppets including a whole litter of piglets!

From a typical Punch & Judy starting point, we move on to Mr Punch’s trial for murder, his meeting with the hangman and his descent into hell. It’s all very macabre, but also often funny, and there are a couple of lovely songs for good measure. Other pleasures include a group of bell ringers – just the hands and bells popping out of various apertures in the booth!

It’s overstays its welcome a bit at 100 minutes, but it’s inventive and fun. Julian Crouch’s imagination hasn’t diminished, even if he is showcasing it on a smaller scale.

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