Munich museums: the Alte Pinakothek

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I have come to Munich, Bavaria's capital, for a few days to visit the city and in particular to explore its world-class art museums, mainly concentrated in the Kunstareal or art quarter, located next to Ludwig Maximilian University, North of the city centre. Munich became a sort of cultural capital of West Germany after the division of the country in 1945 and has by all accounts remained a hub of the arts ever since. After the stress of the final preparations I made it safely to my base in Schwabing, the quarter just Northwards from the museums and an area with an extremely loaded cultural tradition, having been home to many artists and intellectuals including two of my all-time idols, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Schwabing has also been the location of the Academy of Fine Art -Akademie der Bildenden Künste- since 1886.

The morning after arrival I headed straight to the Alte Pinakothek, which opened its doors in 1836 and is now primarily devoted to old master paintings up to the 1700s. Regrettably, as I was preparing my holiday I had failed to notice that most of the museum is still closed to the public due to lengthy renovations scheduled to finish later this year. Not currently accessible areas include early German, Flemish and Netherlandish painting and the German, Flemish and Italian Renaissance. You can imagine my disappointment, the one silver lining being that selected masterpieces from the closed-off sections have been relocated to the comparatively few rooms open to the public.

As it was, the visit to the accessible areas of this massive institution (built in austere Italian Renaissance style, and restored in the same vein after World War II) took the better part of a day and was full of beautiful surprises. Not to be missed is Leonardo da Vinci's Madonna and Child with Carnation (one of his earliest paintings), which looks unassuming in its temporary location in a side corridor, alongside Raphael's Madonna Tempi and pieces by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi. Entry to the collection is currently through the room devoted to Dutch Golden Age painting, including the museum's Rembrandts. Out of these I was particularly touched by his 1661 Resurrected Christ, whose very human expression stares disarmingly at us straight out of the canvas. The Alte Pinakothek is home to the five paintings of Rembrandt's Passion cycle (depicting scenes from Christ's death and resurrection), which at the moment share a wall with Albrecht Dürer's arresting Self-Portrait at the Age of 28, completed on the year 1500. The room also contains beautiful pairs of portraits by Rembrandt's Dutch contemporaries Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) and Rembrandt's pupil Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693). The room next door devoted to the Italian Baroque is also packed full of arresting pieces, including two depictions of Cynic Philosophers by Luca Giordano (1634-1705), painted realistically from live models in the style of Caravaggio and his followers, which Luca probably acquired in Naples from his master Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652). Equally not to be missed are two tremendous compositions by the Venetian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770), The Adoration of the Magi (1753) and The Holy Trinity seen in a Vision by Pope St Clement (c 1737). Out of the paintings in this room I was particularly touched by the searingly beautiful Noli me Tangere (the apparition of the resurrected Christ to Mary Magdalene) painted in 1590 by Federico Barocci (1535-1612). The room devoted to Spanish Old Master painting is equally noteworthy, including the unfinished 1631 portrait of a gentleman by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) which offers a tantalising glimpse into the master's working process; Other highlights include four of the five depictions of Seville street children by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-1682) owned by the Alte Pinakothek, as well as El Greco's striking Disrobing of Christ (c 1590?). It is relatively unusual to find a section devoted to French painting as large and detailed as that in this institution, which includes masterpieces by François Boucher (1703-1770) -including his iconic 1756 portrait of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV's official mistress-, Valentin de Boulogne (1591-1632), Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), as well as a fascinating section on pastel portraits from the 1700s by the likes of Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788) and Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), who was the subject of a recent exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

 

  Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna and Child with Carnation (c 1478), Alte Pinakothek

Leonardo da Vinci, Madonna and Child with Carnation (c 1478), Alte Pinakothek

  Raphael, Tempi Madonna (c 1508), Alte Pinakothek

Raphael, Tempi Madonna (c 1508), Alte Pinakothek

  Federico Barocci, Noli me Tangere (1590), Alte Pinakothek

Federico Barocci, Noli me Tangere (1590), Alte Pinakothek

  Luca Giordano, A Cynic Philosopher (c 1650), Alte Pinakothek

Luca Giordano, A Cynic Philosopher (c 1650), Alte Pinakothek

  Rembrandt van Rijn, The Resurrected Christ (1661), Alte Pinakothek

Rembrandt van Rijn, The Resurrected Christ (1661), Alte Pinakothek

  François Boucher, Madame de Pompadour (1756), Alte Pinakothek

François Boucher, Madame de Pompadour (1756), Alte Pinakothek

Pride of place in the Alte Pinakothek is given to the institution's stunning collection of works by Flemish artist (and international star of his time) Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). Rubens's oeuvre is displayed across several rooms and presided over by his massive 1617 The Great Last Judgement. At over 6 metres high, it is the only painting to have hung continuously in the same spot at the Alte Pinakothek since the creation of the institution, and in fact the need to accommodate this work was a constraint on the original design of the building. Personally speaking I am not a huge fan of the over-the-top flamboyant, unabashedly fleshy style typical of Rubens, but there are some portraits here which come across as much more direct and sincere and which are a pleasure to gaze at.

 

  Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Hendrik van Thulden (c 1615), Alte Pinakothek

Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Hendrik van Thulden (c 1615), Alte Pinakothek

Last but not least, I really enjoyed ambling through the Alte Pinakothek's side corridors to gaze at the small-format paintings which almost universally play second fiddle to larger artworks. What these works lack in size they often make up for in subtlety and attention to detail, two examples out of many being Adriaen Van der Werff's stunning 1703 Entombment of Christ and Rembrandt's small but perfectly formed 1629 self-portrait.

 

  Adriaen van der Werff, Entombment of Christ (1703), Alte Pinakothek

Adriaen van der Werff, Entombment of Christ (1703), Alte Pinakothek

The Alte Pinakothek is decidedly a must for any art lovers finding themselves in or near Bavaria, much more so after it reopens fully later this Summer. For a quick half-way stop you could do worse than heading to the museum's delightfully old-fashioned cafe with its mouth-watering selection of cakes (After much debating with myself I personally opted for the Apfel Kuchen but the other options looked equally appetising!). Don't forget to ask for the (very thorough and helpful) audioguide, which is included in the ticket price but which (as in other Munich museums) may not be offered as a matter of course by the staff.

Keep an eye out for follow-up pieces dealing with other major art museums in Munich.

Source: https://www.pinakothek.de/en/visit/alte-pi...

Valencia Exhibitions: January 2018 Round-up

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I was in my home town of Valencia, in Eastern Spain, over the Christmas holidays. Even though I was busy with personal stuff (besides visiting friends and family), and as I always do when I am in the city, I saw as many temporary exhibitions at the main local art institutions as I could (you can see previous reviews of the Valencian art scene on my blog, for instance this one from March of last year). Some of these shows are now in their last weeks and well worth a visit if you find yourselves in the area.

Institut Valencià d'Art Modern (IVAM, Valencian Institute for Modern Art), the flagship regional institution, has on its usual array of diverse and interesting offerings. L'Eclosió de l'Abstracció. Línia I Color en la Col.lecció de l'IVAM (The Abstraction Eclosion. Line and Colour in the IVAM Collection, 20/07/2017 - 16/09/2018) presents a selection of artworks from the institution's own holdings in an exploration of the development of a purely abstract language from roughly the mid-20th century onwards. Before the 2008 financial crisis (which badly shook public finances in Spain) IVAM had a pretty active acquisition policy and so this exhibition includes many substantial highlights by Spanish and international artists which, if you come from an English-speaking country, might reach outside your usual references. To name but a few, and moving past classics like Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974) or Karel Appel (1921-2006), I really enjoyed paintings by French painter Pierre Soulages ('the painter of black', b 1919), as well as a spellbinding display of sketchbook-size surrealist works on paper by Dutch CoBrA movement member Lubertus Jacobus Swaanswijk, known as Lucebert (1924-1994), who knew Spain intimately and kept a home and atelier near Xàbia, in the Valencian region. One of the rooms is filled by large-format works by Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012) and Manolo Millares (1926-1972), representatives of the so-called Informalist school who experimented endlessly with textures and incorporated all sorts of non-artistic materials into their paintings. The exhibition touches on other first-rate 20th century Spanish artists like Antonio Saura (1930-1988) and Eusebio Sempere (1923-1985) and moves eclectically through trends such as geometric painting, opt-art and minimalism, ending conclusively with José María Sicilia's (b 1954) huge 12-panel, wax and oil painting The Light That Fades (1996) and James Turrell's hypnotic installation Porterville (2004). A video introducing the exhibition with exhibition curators José Miguel García Cortés and Josep Salvador can be seen here (García Cortés is also IVAM's current director).

 

 Pierre Soulages,  Peinture, 11 juillet 1965 , oil on canvas, 1965 (IVAM collection)

Pierre Soulages, Peinture, 11 juillet 1965, oil on canvas, 1965 (IVAM collection)

 Antoni Tàpies,  Gran Díptic Roig I Negre  ( Large Red and Black Diptych ), mixed media on wood, 1980 (IVAM collection)

Antoni Tàpies, Gran Díptic Roig I Negre (Large Red and Black Diptych), mixed media on wood, 1980 (IVAM collection)

  José María Sicilia,  La Luz Que Se Apaga  ( The Light That Fades ), oil and wax on wood, 1996 (IVAM collection)

José María Sicilia, La Luz Que Se Apaga (The Light That Fades), oil and wax on wood, 1996 (IVAM collection)

Another first-rate IVAM offering is Les Constel.lacions de Julio González: Entre la Figuració i l'Abstracció (Julio González's Constellations: Between Figuration and Abstraction, 23/03/2017 – 30/12/2018), which presents IVAM's truly outstanding collection (the largest in the world) of works by Barcelona-born Modernist sculptor Julio González (1876-1942) alongside the work of other artists like Andreu Alfaro (1929-2012) or Miquel Navarro (b 1945). You can watch a video featuring exhibition curator Josep Salvador here. IVAM's current 'case study' -a series of one-room, information-packed exhibitions exploring the work and ideas of a single artist- looks at Ignasi Aballí (b Barcelona, 1958), whose conceptual work refers to cinema and the moving image and explores the ambiguous territory in between telling and withholding, showing and hiding, natural to the medium (09/11/2017 - 04/03/2018, watch the introductory video with the artist here). I particularly enjoyed Aballí's Desapariciones (Vanishings) series of film posters based on the screenplays penned by French novelist, filmmaker and essayist Georges Perec (1936-1982), a big influence of Aballí's. It is up to the visitor to suss out which posters belong to actually realised movies and which are Aballí's interpretations of Perec's ideas. Next door (in the relatively modest exhibition space next to IVAM's library) is a small gem of an offering, Somnis il.lustrats: Grans Il.lustradors per a Lectors Menuts (Illustrated Dreams: Great Illustrators for Small Readers, 14/12/2017 – 11/03/2018), which looks at how the Modernist avant-gardes in the first half of the 20th century tackled the task of creating comics and illustrated publications for young audiences. There are classic examples here such as French painter Edy Legrand's 1924 illustrated story L'Ile Rose, based on playwright Charles Vildrac's description of a fantasy journey to a faraway island, or photographer Laure Albin-Guillot's stunning 1930 photoillustrations for Alain Fournier's 1913 classic novel Le Grand Meaulnes. Radical Soviet artists such as El Lissitzky (1890-1941), Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958), and avant-garde figures such as Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948) (and, later, the likes of Andy Warhol and David Hockney) also produced output for young audiences and are represented here. The exhibition also looks at the evolution of children's illustration in Spain in the convulsed decades leading up to the 1931 Second Republic and the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War (here is an introductory video featuring exhibition curator Irene Bonilla and IVAM sub-director Álvaro de los Ángeles). Last but not least, Please Come Back- El Món com a Presó? (Please Come Back- The World as a Prison?, 28/11/2017 – 08/04/2018) gathers together a variety of responses in all media (from painting to video, conceptual proposals and oral histories) touching on the theme of conformity and the limitation of freedom and privacy in the modern surveillance society, a complex phenomenon which transcends the traditional categories of liberty versus socially dictated imprisonment. An interview (in English) with exhibition curator Hou Hanru is available here.

 

 Julio González,  Femme au miroir  ( Woman with mirror ), iron, 1936/7 (IVAM collection)

Julio González, Femme au miroir (Woman with mirror), iron, 1936/7 (IVAM collection)

 Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, photoillustration for Sergey Tretyakov's  Animated Animals,  1926

Aleksandr Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, photoillustration for Sergey Tretyakov's Animated Animals, 1926

As mentioned, I was a little short on time on this occasion and I had to skip some of the institutions which I regularly visit when I'm in town, but I did drop by the region's main art history museum, Museu de Belles Arts de València (Valencia Museum of Fine Art), which, frustratingly, continues to be partly closed for reorganisation and refurbishment. As always I was very impressed by the institution's stunning collection of works (mainly altarpieces) from the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance by first-rate regional artists like Joan de Joanes (1507-1579). Another favourite with visitors is the permanent space devoted to the work of internationally renowned Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida (1862-1923), often compared in style and approach to John Singer Sargent. The current temporary exhibition, Intacta Maria- Política I Religiositat a l'Espanya Barroca (Intacta Maria- Politics and Religiosity in Baroque Spain, 30/11/2017 – 08/04/2018, introductory video with curator Pablo González Tornel here) examines the unlikely but astonishingly fierce debate which raged in the country in the 1600s (and which was not officially resolved by the Catholic church until 1854) in relation to the dogma of the immaculate conception of St Mary. From the point of view of the art exhibited this offering, frankly, is not on the same level as previous efforts by this premier institution. Another fixture worth checking out in the city's arts line-up is Fundació Bancaixa, the private foundation now run by the Bankia financial group and which operates a multi-level exhibition space with an active programme of offerings throughout the year. On this occasion, Sorolla- Un Jardí per a Pintar (Sorolla- A Garden to Paint, 07/11/2017-19/03/2018, see the introductory video here) focuses on Sorolla's depictions of gardens and, in particular, the garden he had built (and helped design) at his final family home in Madrid, completed in 1911, at a time when the painter already enjoyed international acclaim. Further offerings at Fundació Bancaixa look at the work of two living Valencian artists, sculptor Vicente Ortí (Vicente Ortí- L'Intèrpret de la Matèria - Vicente Ortí, The Interpreter of Matter, 27/10/2017 – 25/02/2018, watch video featuring curator Martí Domínguez here) and multidisciplinary artist Manolo Valdés (Valdés- Una Visió Personal - Valdés- A Personal Vision, 06/10/2017-25/03/2018, see the introductory video with exhibition curator Kosme de Barañano and the artist himself here). Valdés became well known for his politically charged work with the Valencian team Equipo Crónica in the 1960s and 70s (during general Franco's dictatorship) and now lives between New York City and Madrid, having achieved broad international recognition. The paintings and sculptures in the exhibition (influenced by pop art and employing a dazzling array of textures and materials) bear witness to Valdés's skill, and are well worth a visit, but, in all honesty, they are a tad too commercial for my personal taste.

 

 Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina (c 1475-1536),  Resurrection of Christ , oil on wood (Museu de Belles Arts de València)

Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina (c 1475-1536), Resurrection of Christ, oil on wood (Museu de Belles Arts de València)

 Manolo Valdés,  Double Portrait AI 1 /    Double Portrait AI 2 / Double Portrait AL 3 , aluminium, 2017

Manolo Valdés, Double Portrait AI 1 / Double Portrait AI 2 / Double Portrait AL 3, aluminium, 2017

In the current climate of austerity good news for the arts sector are often few and far between, but I am happy to report on the opening (in mid-2017) of a new major arts exhibition centre in Valencia, Bombas Gens Centre d'Art, a former hydraulic pump ('bomba' in Spanish) factory adopted as its main seat by Fundació Per Amor a l'Art, a private foundation devoted to art as well as a number of charitable causes. Once the foundation had gathered a sizeable art collection it decided to look for a suitable space to share it with the public and to kickstart an ongoing exhibition programme. The Bombas Gens building, in art deco industrial style, was built in the 1930s as a series of large rectangular spaces next to an office block and had been abandoned (and half-wrecked by fire) by the time the foundation started rehabilitation works in 2014. During the Civil War the business was taken over by the Republican government and retooled as a munitions factory; As such, it became a target for frequent Fascist bombing air raids from the island of Mallorca and an underground shelter for the protection of the workers was built on the premises. The shelter was uncovered in pristine condition during rehabilitation and has become a big hit with visitors (as, incidentally, have others from that time scattered throughout the city center- If your go for a walk in the Old Town watch out for the word REFUGIO, in large art deco lettering from the period, with arrows pointing to the entrance steps. Please be aware that access details vary- If you are planning a visit find out beforehand what shelters are open to the public and under what conditions).

The two current exhibitions greatly benefit from Bombas Gens's inner open plan distribution. Ornament = Delicte? (Ornament = Crime?, 08/07/2017 – 25/02/2018, watch the introductory video with Per Amor a l'Art's artistic director Vicente Todolí and Bombas Gens Centre d'Art director Nuria Enguita here) presents a selection of abstract painting and photography from the foundation's collection. The abstracts (by Spanish and European artists) cover the period from roughly the 1980s to the present day, an era perhaps underrepresented in major exhibitions nowadays but in which the influence of Informalism is apparent. Photography is a major focus of the Per Amor a l'Art collection and I greatly enjoyed work by world-class figures such as André Kertész (1894-1995) and Daidō Moriyama (b 1938). The second temporary exhibition at Bombas Gens, La Blancor de la Balena. Paul Graham (The Whiteness of the Whale. Paul Graham, 01/12/2017 – 27/05/2018, watch an introduction in English with Graham himself here) brings together three separate bodies of street photography in which Graham (b 1956), an Englishman, explores contemporary urban life in the US. Of these, the one that stood out to me was A Shimmer of Possibility (2004-06) in which an ordinary moment in everyday life (often in a marginal setting) is explored with great sensitivity, not by a single photograph, but by a linked sequence of images which combine to tell the whole story. A smaller display in the former office block, Històries de Bombas Gens (Bombas Gens Stories, 08/07/2017-25/02/2018, watch the introductory video with curator Paloma Berrocal here) introduces the history of the building and its connection to the local community through objects, photographs, and testimonials of local residents and former Bombas Gens workers.

 

 Jorge Queiroz,  Le Cas de M , acrylic on canvas, 2015 (Fundació Per Amor a l'Art collection)

Jorge Queiroz, Le Cas de M, acrylic on canvas, 2015 (Fundació Per Amor a l'Art collection)

 Nicolás Ortigosa,  Sin Título  ( Untitled ), Triptych, graphite on paper, 2007-12 (Fundació Per Amor a l'Art collection)

Nicolás Ortigosa, Sin Título (Untitled), Triptych, graphite on paper, 2007-12 (Fundació Per Amor a l'Art collection)

I hope these suggestions are useful should you find yourselves enjoying the mild winters of the Med (The weather over Christmas was just gorgeous). Should you be planning a trip to the Valencian region for the coming weeks, do not miss the Joan Miró: Ordre I Desordre (Joan Miró: Order and Disorder) exhibition at IVAM which opened on 15 February (ends 17 June) and promises to be an absolute joy (feel free to leave a comment if you happen to see it!).

Source: https://www.ivam.es/exposiciones/leclosio-...

Workshop at HMP Pentonville with the London Shakespeare Workout

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Last month (on 15 December) I participated as an artist in a workshop at Pentonville Prison in London organised by the London Shakespeare Workout (LSW). The workshop was joined by about ten prisoners and roughly the same number of drama students from the Arts Education Schools London. The group rehearsed a reading of a play (based partly on Shakespearean texts) which was performed the following week so there was a tremendous amount of energy in the room. I didn't have a clear idea what I was going to do but ended up sketching non-stop to try and capture that energy and judging from the results I was obviously taken by the power of the spoken word.

 

LSW_Miguel_Sopena_1.jpg
LSW_Miguel_Sopena_2.jpg

 

It was my first-ever visit to a prison and I am hugely grateful for the experience.

The London Shakespeare Workout has worked with offenders and ex-offenders all over the world. More details can be found on their website.

 

LSW_Miguel_Sopena_6.jpg
LSW_Miguel_Sopena_10.jpg
Source: http://www.lswproductions.co.uk/

London Exhibitions: Red Star Over Russia at Tate Modern

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Drawing on the private collection of writer, designer and left-wing activist David King (1943-2016), Red Star Over Russia (Tate Modern, 08/11/2017 – 18/02/2018) commemorates the centenary of the October 1917 Revolution, which ushered Lenin's Bolsheviks into power in that country and paved the way for the birth of the Soviet Union a few years later.

The 1918 events were the culmination of the long struggle between the autocratic Tsarist regime and a variety of movements pushing for political reform. After Tsar Nicholas II (the last Russian Emperor) was forced to abdicate in February of that year (with the Imperial executive replaced by a Provisional Government and the parallel formation of Soviets -councils- of workers' and soldiers' representatives), the October Revolution made the Bolsheviks dominant over their rivals and marked the start of a bloody civil war between the Red Army and the counterrevolutionary Whites. The Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (USSR) was created in 1922, shortly before the final Red Army victory, and Joseph Stalin took Vladimir Lenin's place as supreme leader after the latter's death in 1924.

The collection amassed by King over his lifetime includes around 250,000 items of Soviet and communist graphic art and photography, and was purchased by Tate on the year of his death. King collaborated in the design of the exhibition and a video in which he introduces the collection also serves as presentation to the exhibition.

 

  Early Soviet propaganda posters in Red Star Over Russia

Early Soviet propaganda posters in Red Star Over Russia

A large part of Red Star Over Russia is devoted to political and propaganda graphic art from the first decades after the Revolution, when the Soviet government made a gigantic effort to communicate revolutionary ideals and goals to the peoples of the USSR and the rest of the world. Posters and printed publications were key to this effort, some in the bread-and-butter, highly readable wartime style favoured by the Bolsheviks to communicate with the Soviet masses, others featuring bold and elaborate avant-gardist proposals by the likes of El Lissitzky (1890-1941), Aleksandr Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara Stepanova (1894-1958). There are many items of interest here, including several issues of the periodical USSR in Construction, edited in many languages between 1930 and 1941 to document and promote the economic and social achievements of the USSR to a worldwide audience.

 

  Lithograph, 1919, unknown artist, The Train has Rushed to Us from Far Away with Precious Gifts, a reference to the agitprop -propaganda- trains which crisscrossed the country in the early years of the Revolution in an effort to communicate Bolshevik ideology to the masses.

Lithograph, 1919, unknown artist, The Train has Rushed to Us from Far Away with Precious Gifts, a reference to the agitprop -propaganda- trains which crisscrossed the country in the early years of the Revolution in an effort to communicate Bolshevik ideology to the masses.

It is perhaps one of the few faults of the exhibition that it does not include more examples of the cutting-edge Modernist designs produced by the likes of Lissitzky, the influence of which is felt to this day (an exception is a dazzling series of figurines for the cubo-futurist 'opera' Victory Over the Sun, first performed in St Petersburg in 1913 by a team led by avant-garde artist Kazimir Malevich). Boldly composed black-and-white photographs by Rodchenko recall the systematic exploration of the possibilities of this art form pursued by Modernist artists throughout Europe at this time. Moving on, the exhibition includes fascinating group photographs in which victims of Stalin's brutal purges of the late 1930s have been crossed out or (literally) cut out of the image, as well as a harrowing display of official photographs of purged Soviet citizens processed through the concentration camp system known as the Gulag. Another section is devoted to the Soviet pavilion in the 1937 Paris International Exhibition of Art and Technology in Modern Life, dominated by Vera Mukhina's 25-metre steel sculpture Worker and Collective Farm Woman (in heroic Socialist Realist style, which had by then been adopted by Stalin as the only permissible official Soviet art style) and which became a huge success with the public.

 

  El Lissitzky, New Man, figurine for the electro-mechanical show Victory Over the Sun, 1923

El Lissitzky, New Man, figurine for the electro-mechanical show Victory Over the Sun, 1923

  Vera Mukhina (1889-1953), Worker and Collective Farm Woman, 1937, stainless steel

Vera Mukhina (1889-1953), Worker and Collective Farm Woman, 1937, stainless steel

  Aleksandr Deineka (1899-1969), Stakhanovites [workers committed to exceptional achievement] (1937), oil on canvas. This painting served as a model for the mural placed at the centre of the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exhibition.

Aleksandr Deineka (1899-1969), Stakhanovites [workers committed to exceptional achievement] (1937), oil on canvas. This painting served as a model for the mural placed at the centre of the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 Paris Exhibition.

Red Star Over Russia's last room is mainly devoted to more wartime art and photography, this time from the 1941-1945, life-or-death struggle against Nazi Germany known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War. Some of these posters are probably among the most iconic examples of political art ever produced.

 

  Viktor Koretsky (1909-1998), Red Army Soldier, Save Us!, lithograph, 1943

Viktor Koretsky (1909-1998), Red Army Soldier, Save Us!, lithograph, 1943

  Nina Vatolina (1915-2002), Fascism- The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everybody to the Struggle Against Fascism!, lithograph, 1942

Nina Vatolina (1915-2002), Fascism- The Most Evil Enemy of Women. Everybody to the Struggle Against Fascism!, lithograph, 1942

Coming as it does from a single individual's private collection, Red Star Over Russia falls perhaps short of a blockbuster, but it provides plenty of food for thought and is well worth a visit over the festive period.

Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-moder...

A Tale of Two Cities solo exhibition at Matthews Yard, Croydon

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Great news! An opportunity came up at short notice to exhibit at Matthews Yard, in Croydon (the area where I live in South London). I am happy to report that my proposal for a solo exhibition was accepted and the result is A Tale of Two Cities, which will run from 1 December 2017 to 31 January 2018 and will bring together drawings and paintings made in response to two locations: My home town of Valencia, in Eastern Spain, and Croydon. Matthews Yard is a multi-purpose cultural hub in central Croydon with a very active arts and events programme (and sadly now under threat of closure- Help out by signing the petition here) and the exhibition will be open within the venue's opening hours (12pm-10pm Tue-Thurs, 12pm-11pm Fri-Sat, 12pm-6pm Sun, closed Mon). I had had the pleasure of exhibiting some figurative work at Matthews Yard once before.

The pieces in A Tale of Two Cities belong to the strand of work I create in response to my surroundings (natural or manmade, cityscapes or landscapes or details of the urban environment). For these pieces, the style of execution tends to be loose and instinctual but often a lot of work is involved until I am happy with the end result. These pieces are not straight reproductions of what I see; Rather, they are more in the tradition of capricci or very playful fantasies based on the atmosphere, the look and the light of the original location.

 

  The Valencia series: The Old Town I, acrylic on canvas, 92x73cm

The Valencia series: The Old Town I, acrylic on canvas, 92x73cm

It's fantastic to be able to show this work in a coherent exhibition and I am hugely grateful to Matthews Yard for this opportunity. All pieces shown are for sale. Do get in touch if you would like any more info and I hope you will consider visiting.

 

  The Valencia series: The Old Town III, acrylic on canvas, 92x73cm

The Valencia series: The Old Town III, acrylic on canvas, 92x73cm

  The Valencia series: Towers that Reach up to the Sky, acrylic on canvas, 92x73cm

The Valencia series: Towers that Reach up to the Sky, acrylic on canvas, 92x73cm

  The Valencia series: Rooftops study V, oil on paper, 47x36cm

The Valencia series: Rooftops study V, oil on paper, 47x36cm

Source: https://www.facebook.com/events/1470898959...

Sold one of the paintings I produced at the World of Co residency

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Great news! My painting Koprivshtitsa (Копривщица), which I produced during my recent artists' residency in Sofia, Bulgaria, has found a home with a private collector in the UK.

The beautiful, sleepy town of Koprivshtitsa was the birthplace of the 1876 uprising against the Ottoman Empire which eventually led to Bulgaria's independence two years later. We visited the town early on in the residency.

 

  Koprivshtitsa, 76x61cm, oil on canvas

Koprivshtitsa, 76x61cm, oil on canvas

Source: http://worldof.co/

Figurative Art Exhibition with the Dulwich Art Group

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Good news! I will be exhibiting three small figurative pieces with other artists from the Dulwich Art Group at the Copper Beech Café in Dulwich, South London (very close to North Dulwich train station). The Private View is tonight (Friday 3 November) 7-9pm and all are welcome to attend. The exhibition will subsequently be open during café hours (please see the website) until the end of November.

 

  The Redhead Model, oil on board, 30x24cm

The Redhead Model, oil on board, 30x24cm

I have attended the Dulwich Art Group's life drawing and painting sessions for over three years now and they are always impeccably run and with an ever-expanding set of activities which now includes drawing and painting courses taught by highly experienced tutors. Please see the website for the full events programme.

 

  The Dance I, ink and chalk on paper, 42x30 cm

The Dance I, ink and chalk on paper, 42x30 cm

The Group holds an Open Studio every year but this is the first time I have exhibited with them in an external venue which is very exciting. Artists in the Group have a strong preference for figuration so this is what you are likely to see if you choose to visit. Hope to see you there!

 

  The Dance X, ink and charcoal on paper, 42x30 cm

The Dance X, ink and charcoal on paper, 42x30 cm

New Studio Space at Turf Projects, Croydon

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Incredibly exciting news! Starting in October, I have rented studio space in Turf Projects's new venue at the Whitgift shopping centre in Croydon, South London. Turf Projects is an artist-run, Croydon-based initiative kickstarted in 2013 and which maintains an ongoing programme of exhibitions, workshops, events and other activities. The Whitgift Centre venue is massive for an arts organisation, with the reception and exhibition space located in the ground floor, two more floors above available for workshops and other activities, and the artists' studios housed in the basement.

Ever since I completed my portraiture diploma two years ago I have essentially worked from home, and, even though I literally moved into my studio space at Turf only a few days ago, I already feel incredibly energised by working in a larger and much less cramped space and being a part of a larger creative community. This is helped by Turf's really helpful programme of development activities for artists such as monthly crits and workshops (see the website for more info).

A few studio spaces are (I believe) still available. The rents are affordable and access is flexible within the Whitgift Centre's opening hours. More details on Turf's website.

Very, very excited about this.

Source: http://turf-projects.com/

London Exhibitions: Fahrelnissa Zeid and Soul of a Nation at Tate Modern

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I really enjoyed two current exhibitions at Tate Modern which, rather than being sideshows to the blockbuster Giacometti (10/05 – 10/09/2017), cast light on unrelated but equally fascinating facets of 20th century art.

Fahrelnissa Zeid (13/06 – 08/10/2017) presents the work of this Turkish artist, well known within artistic circles in Western Europe at the height of her career but whose achievements faded somewhat into obscurity after her death. The scion of a wealthy and influential Istanbul family, Zeid (1901-1991) grew up at the heart of what was still the Ottoman Empire, a major political power which would only be dismembered after its defeat in the First World War. Zeid's life is the stuff of fiction: Her uncle was Grand Vizier (Imperial Prime Minister) from 1891 to 1895, her father, the Ottoman ambassador to Greece, was apparently murdered by Zeid's brother, and Zeid herself, after divorcing her first husband, married an Iraqi prince (Iraq having split off from the Empire as a separate country after 1918) who became ambassador to Germany in 1935. After the German annexation of Austria in 1938 the couple returned to Baghdad, but the city didn't agree with Zeid and she adopted a cosmopolitan existence, shuttling between Paris, Budapest and Istanbul, where she held her first solo exhibition in her own apartment in 1945. In 1946 Zeid's husband became Iraqi ambassador to the UK and the couple settled in London, where Zeid's career as a painter took off, her openings being attended by many high society members, including the Queen Mother. Zeid lived, worked and exhibited between London and Paris, developing her mature abstract style (using huge canvases) in those years. In 1958 Zeid and her husband narrowly escaped the fate of the Iraqi royal family, assassinated in Baghdad in the course of that year's military coup, and, no longer in a privileged position, moved into a flat in London where Zeid cooked her first meal at the age of 57. Prince Zeid Al-Hussein, Zeid's husband, died in 1970 and Zeid joined her son, Prince Raad, in Amman, Jordan's capital, where she kept working, teaching and mentoring younger artists until her death in 1991.

One could be forgiven for suspecting that such a privileged social position may have granted excellent promotion opportunities to Zeid, perhaps out of proportion to the merits of her work, but from the start of the Tate exhibition I found Zeid's output bold, strong and personal and obviously animated by an incessant thirst for experimentation, as well as a huge capacity for work. Judging from the contents of the exhibition, Zeid's early paintings share a strong symbolic and narrative slant, reflective of her surroundings (Zeid made contact with and was influenced by avant-garde circles in Istanbul after her return there in the 1940s). Later work shows Zeid going back and forth between abstraction and figuration, but it was in her London/Paris period in the late 1940s and 1950s that she started producing the huge, colourful abstracts she is perhaps best known for and a few of which are on display at the exhibition. These whirlpool-like pieces are not just vast in dimension but they transmit a tremendous energy and an attention to detail that precludes any feeling of routine or repetition.

 

 Fahrelnissa Zeid,  Triton Octopus  (1953)

Fahrelnissa Zeid, Triton Octopus (1953)

Other highlights from roughly the same period include smaller but equally colourful and intricate abstracts as well as some beautiful works on paper. Large-scale portraits of friends and acquaintances from Zeid's later working period are shown in the last room but, in all honesty, did not resonate with me as strongly as her previous work.

All in all, a tremendously energetic and compelling offering, now in its last weeks.

Equally arresting is Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power (12/07 – 22/10/2017), devoted to the output of Black artists and collectives in the US at the height of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, which reached one of its symbolic peaks with the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King Jr's historic 'I have a dream' speech. 1963 is also the approximate starting point of the Tate show, which, far from limiting itself to 'protest art' or art with a direct political intention, moves through an extremely broad range of trends and proposals within the African-American artistic community in the period leading up to (roughly) the late 1970s. Personally speaking, I felt particularly drawn to the output which was tied and responded to specific historical conditions (rather than strands of work which, if interesting, appear to more or less share the concerns of contemporary non-Black artists). The exploration of the meaning of the African-American identity and experience preoccupied many of these artists, like the members of the Spiral collective whose work kickstarts the exhibition (don't miss Norman Lewis's paintings and Romare Bearden's collages). Next door the graphic art on the pages of the Black Panther newspaper calls for direct revolutionary action and resistance to racist oppression. Further along, Faith Ringgold's 1967 Die alludes in full colour to the violence of riots, which for most people would have been represented (if at all) as monochrome newspaper photographs. Assemblage takes on a political slant with Noah Purifoy's Watts Riot, put together from materials picked up from the street in the aftermath of the 1965 riot of that name in Los Angeles, whilst Melvin Edwards's 1960s Lynch Fragments sculptural series combines industrial materials to comment on anti-Black violence. That virtuoso technique is not incompatible with direct social commentary is proven by pieces such as Charles White's 1972 Mississippi or David Hammons's 1970 Injustice Case. Nor is pure abstraction absent from the exhibition, and if any proof is needed of the capacity of abstract art to convey emotion one need only look at Jack Whitten's extraordinary 1970 triangular painting Homage to Malcolm (meant as a reference to radical Black activist Malcolm X, assassinated in 1965). I found the section devoted to photography extremely interesting, this artform obviously being a key means of conveying the reality of Black life and Black struggle and Black photographers (like Black artists) often suffering from a scarcity of outlets to present their work. One of these pioneering Black photographers, Roy DeCarava, was also the first director of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective founded in 1963 whose members were also involved in the creation of The Black Photographers Annual in 1973.

 

 Romare Bearden,  The Dove  (1964)

Romare Bearden, The Dove (1964)

 David Hammons,  Injustice Case  (1970)

David Hammons, Injustice Case (1970)

From that point onwards the exhibition veers away from art linked in one way or another to societal conditions and, to my mind, somehow becomes less compelling, in spite of the work of artists such as Betye Saar (with her elaborate assemblages) or portraitist Barkley Hendricks. Abstract expressionist codes and the use of material deconstruction (strands of work widely pursued at the time by American artists of all backgrounds) are represented here, and the exhibition's last room refers again to the continuing difficulties Black artists experienced to show their work by showcasing the activity of the Just Above Midtown (JAM) Gallery in New York City, created by Linda Goode Bryant in 1974 as a platform for African-American art.

 

 Jack Whitten,  Homage to Malcolm  (1970)

Jack Whitten, Homage to Malcolm (1970)

 Roy DeCarava,  Lingerie, New York  (1950)

Roy DeCarava, Lingerie, New York (1950)

Again a tremendously compelling (and timely!) offering. Only a few weeks now left to catch these shows if you can.

 

Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/

Paintings from my Dénia series at the Genius in Beauty exhibition, London

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I will be showing two large paintings from my Dénia series in the Genius in Beauty group exhibition at the A&D Gallery in Marylebone, central London (51 Chiltern Street, W1U 6LY) on 19-23 September (gallery opening hours are 10.30-7pm Mon-Fri, 10.30-6pm Sat and there will be free coffee and croissants for all visitors on Saturday 23rd from 11 to 12.30pm). The exhibition is organised by The Hornshaw Gallery, who represent me along with Degree Art (you can see my available work on the Hornshaw Gallery website here). 

Genius-in-Beauty-2017-exhibition-poster.jpg

The Dénia series is an ongoing strand of work based on childhood and adolescence memories of the area near the town of Dénia, in Eastern Spain. The idea originated as an exercise in an abstract painting course at Central St Martins led by abstract painter Guy Noble, who encouraged us to produce work based on material with a strong emotional content. The series is inspired entirely by memory rather than by any actual imagery or physical mementos. Thus its theme is the persistence and emotional content of memory and the solidity of sensory impressions formed at an early age (light, colour, texture, the elements, the wind and the sea). This is an exciting opportunity as it is the first time I show more than one painting from the series together.

  The Dénia series: The Tower, 120x90 cm, oil on canvas

The Dénia series: The Tower, 120x90 cm, oil on canvas

  The Dénia series: Windows, 120x90 cm, oil on canvas

The Dénia series: Windows, 120x90 cm, oil on canvas

The PV will be held on Tuesday 19th at 6.30-9pm and is by invitation only so anyone interested in attending please drop me a line beforehand- Thanks!

Source: http://www.aanddgallery.com/pages/future.h...

Open letter to managerial staff, Royal Academy of Arts, London, re: Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 exhibition [UPDATE]

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

In March of this year, I wrote to the Royal Academy of Arts in London with regard to the recent Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 exhibition (11/02 – 17/04/2017). I was shocked at the treatment given to the exhibition by the curators, with a running commentary that, rather than exploring the fascinating subject of Russian art around the time of the 1917 revolution, sought to deliver an embarrassingly crude anti-communist and anti-Soviet message totally out of place in such a setting (my original letter can be read on my blog). The use (or rather, the abuse) of an art exhibition in an institution like the Royal Academy to deliver a blatantly partisan political message is like nothing I had seen in London before. In due time I received a reply from one of the exhibition curators, Dr Natalia Murray, which attempted to reduce my criticism to a difference of opinion on Soviet politics. I responded to Dr Murray's letter making my position as clear as I possibly could.

For any readers interested in this controversy, I am reproducing Dr Murray's letter, followed by my reply.

UPDATE [13/08/2017] Today I visited another exhibition devoted to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and its aftermath, Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths at the British Library. The exhibition presents a wealth of documents, publications, personal accounts and other information detailing the state of Imperial Russia in the decades prior to the 1905 and 1917 insurrections, the onset of the First World War and the Revolution, the post-Revolution civil war which raged across the country until the early 1920s, and the larger shockwaves sent across the world by the events of 1917 and the creation of the Soviet Union. I wholeheartedly recommend this offering which, like the recent Imagine Moscow exhibition at London's Design Museum, follows the usual standards of presenting information in a comprehensive, enlightening manner and staying clear of sweeping political judgements. It is a relief to see that most first-rate cultural institutions in this country still understand the importance of fundamental curatorial values like non-partisanship. Russian Revolution: Hope, Tragedy, Myths is on until 29 August 2017.

 

Royal Academy of Arts

3 May 2017

Dear Dr Sopena,

Tim Marlow [RA director of artistic projects] forwarded your letter to me and I am afraid that I find it to be as opinionated as it accuses our exhibition of being. I will try to identify your central argument for criticising the exhibition, apart from the obvious difference of opinion about Soviet politics. Incidentally, although I am Russian and grew up under the Soviet regime, the historical data which we used in our text panels is all from contemporary and more recent, sources, and as you will know, many archives relating to the 1917 Revolutions have recently been opened.

I feel the heart of your argument is that art should always be presented just as art, and not a child of its historical context. I would argue that art is almost always influenced by its context; imagine a crucifixion scene if you knew nothing of its story, let alone a thousand Marys with a baby on her lap. Artistic movements have almost always been the product of some element of social history, often as a reaction to a recent development artists favoured, or indeed rejected... for example, emigration to the US forced by famine.

In the case of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, art and artists were very strongly driven by current (now historical) events. Lenin planned the development of a totally new form of society; almost all former artists were condemned as being, from the bourgeoisie, and indeed many younger, more avant-garde artists were excited by the prospects that the Revolution offered, at least at the outset. But underpinning this was the Bolsheviks' need to use art to gain popular support for Bolshevik plans by addressing and persuading a largely illiterate population. His proletariat was formed of two groups that traditionally disliked each other, urban employed workers and rural, self-employed, deeply religious peasants (hence the hammer and the sickle). He needed to persuade people that they had participated in a mass revolution, while the Bolshevik members represented only 0.25% of the population; his failure in this was reflected in the disastrous civil war and famine. Under the direction of Anatoly Lunacharsky, on the one hand the number of new artistic movements and styles proliferated and on the other it was increasingly dedicated to serving the state.

I would argue strongly that ours is not a one-sided or partisan recording of history — it is a highly objective interpretation of Soviet history (which you obviously prefer not to accept). It needed to avoid the power of propaganda (both inside and outside the Soviet Union) and dwell on historical facts and archival documents.

In support of our work, I can report that most reviewers (actually all the reviews in British and Russian media which I have come across) remarked on the historical accuracy of our exhibition. For example, the biographer of Lenin, Victor Sebestyen wrote in his review (Evening Standard, 10.02.2017): 'What is so clever and imaginative about the exhibition is how the curators have fused revolutionary aesthetics and revolutionary politics to tell the story of Russia's tragic 20th century- how the great hope for a brave new world of social justice and freedom turned into killing fields and Gulag labour camps.' Also: 'There was repression from the start, a civil war that cost at least three million lives, the creation of a secret police that became the KGB - three letters that almost defined communism in practice. Insecurity led to a paranoid fear of being overthrown that all his successors felt for the next 70 years.'

Perhaps Karen Wright writing in the Independent on 13 February 2017, argues most clearly that our plan to show the art of the Revolution in its context succeeded:

The superb exhibition at the Royal Academy, Revolution: Russian Art. 1917-1932, is a fabulous display of extraordinary work never seen in Britain before. [...] What is so clever and imaginative about the exhibition is how the curators have fused revolutionary aesthetics and revolutionary politics to tell the story of Russia's tragic 20th century.'

I can add others:

'This is a thrilling, chilling show, of gripping interest beyond art history as a subtle panorama of life during an epoch little understood outside Russia.'

Jackie Wullschlager, Financial Times, 11 February 2017

`Stylishly designed, the show proceeds with verve, and has a lovely flow. It also contains several mesmerising works of art. [...] This is history made resonant and relevant.'

Alastair Sooke, The Telegraph, 6 February 2017

'This is a hugely ambitious show with loans obtained from Russia that you will never have seen and many that you will not see again [...] Leaving an exhibition on the downward swoop of a metaphorical rollercoaster ride, this is the type of ambitious exhibition that pleads for people to become Royal Academy members so that they may come freely again and again.'

Victor Sebestyen, Evening Standard, 10 February 2017

In conclusion, perhaps by using the term "keenly revisionist", Waldemar Januszczak in the Sunday Times Culture Magazine on 19 February 2017, puts his finger on what our correspondent is really reacting to.

'For evidence of how history progresses in thunderous waves, you can do no better than visit the Royal Academy's superb Revolution: Russian Art. 1917-1932. [...] Relentlessly interesting, packed with wows, keenly revisionist, this is exhibition-making of uncommon efficiency.'

I am happy to report that the exhibition is regarded as a major success by the Royal Academy both in Britain and in Russia, it had record attendance figures and your complaint stands alone against thousands of people who found our exhibition most interesting and educational and came to see it at least four times.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Natalia Murray

Curator and Lecturer in the History of Russian Art


 

21 July 2017

Dear Dr Murray,

Thank you very much for your recent communication regarding the Revolution exhibition at the Royal Academy.

I was disappointed to see that you either did not understand the argument I made in my original letter, or chose to misrepresent it. It obviously helps your case to present the issue as a difference of opinion about Soviet politics and the Soviet project, and, from a paragraph in your letter which appears to have been cut and pasted from another communication, that is how you presented the issue to other persons as well (I am guessing RA staff). This is, however, not the point here, as I made perfectly clear in my original communication.

I did not write to the RA as a person with specific views on the Soviet Union which had somehow been offended by the Revolution exhibition, and in fact I made clear in my letter that, regardless of my personal views, I am no expert on Soviet history. I wrote as an art lover who visits every major art exhibition in London and was distressed to see a major offering at the RA being used, not to present the contents of the exhibition to an audience in a genuine spirit of enquiry, but for blatant editorialising on political issues. This (to my knowledge) is unprecedented in the London art scene and so outside proper practices it barely requires further comment. It is the sort of practice one would expect, well, in an autocratic regime with no respect for intellectual integrity or plurality of views. You also state in your letter that I believe art should be presented 'just as art, not as a child of its historical context'. Whether this is an intentional misrepresentation on your part or not, it is so far from the spirit of my original letter it, again, barely requires further comment.

My point can be very easily illustrated by any number of thought experiments. Let us imagine the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art (which I recently visited) put on an exhibition on, say, American Abstract Expressionism. Let us suppose further that, instead of presenting the art (and its historical context, of course) in a way that is informative, insightful, non-partisan, and indeed centred on the art, the curators chose to use the opportunity to rail against, say, American imperialism in the 1940s, 50s and 60s (using, for example, the argument that heavily promoted American art helped provide ideological cover for aggressive foreign policies). I imagine you and many observers would rightly denounce such use of an art exhibition as a corruption of what such an offering should be. This would, of course, be the case regardless of the accuracy of the data used by the curators or the strength of their convictions on the subject.

The same would apply if a art museum, in, say, one of the surviving socialist countries put on an exhibition on American Pop Art which became a frontal, vicious attack on American capitalism and consumerist culture. Such an exhibition would rightly be dismissed by any neutral observers as an ideological propaganda exercise.

Just to provide another example, let us further suppose that I was given the opportunity to curate an exhibition of art from my home country of Spain from, say, the 1950s and 60s, when the country was a dictatorship ruled by General Francisco Franco. It is a fact that the regime supported the emergence of a school of abstract painting which was both artistically significant and, conveniently for the regime, not overtly political. Regardless of the strength of my convictions, regardless of how firm my grounds may be to criticise General Franco's regime, if I turned such a hypothetical exhibition, not into a thorough exploration of the subject matter, but into a frontal attack on the regime's record, I would be utterly failing in my duties as a curator, and the institution which employed me could rightly be accused of having stepped well off its remit.

Lastly, and to come back closer to home, let us imagine that a curator team was given the chance to curate an exhibition on European art from 1914 to 1918 against the context of the First World War, and let us further suppose that, instead of investigating the art and its context in a way that stays clear of harsh political conclusions, the team chose to launch into a tirade about how the blind militarism of European elites and the greed of European capitalists resulted in the senseless slaughter of millions of men and untold and pointless suffering being imposed on civilian populations across the continent. Regardless of the merits of the political argument (which, in itself, probably makes a lot of sense), that a major British institution would put on such an art exhibition (let me emphasise again, an art exhibition) does not bear thinking about, for obvious reasons.

Any number of additional examples could be thought of but I do not think there is any need.

That this is not at all a difficult argument to grasp is demonstrated by the Imagine Moscow exhibition recently on display at London's Design Museum (a comparison which I drew in my original letter but that you conveniently chose to ignore). This was a model, enormously thought-provoking offering (and, let me assure you, not at all a pro-Soviet one) which presented early Soviet design and architectural proposals (and more) in the context of the utopian Bolshevik conception of society (and in the light of conditions on the ground) whilst making no attempt to feed any predetermined political judgements to the audience.

As I mentioned in my original letter, I contacted the Royal Academy in the hope that it can be made to reflect on the extremely dangerous precedent set by the Revolution exhibition. What can we expect for the future, Dr Murray? That whenever RA staff, a curatorial team, the RA's funding partners, or any interested party with sufficient influence and authority has a political axe to grind about whichever topic an art exhibition will be organised to editorialise about such views and feed them to an audience? Is this what the legendary London art scene, a universal beacon for art lovers (and society in general) in a country which claims to be free and plural, is meant to become? If the Royal Academy is not capable of reflecting about the proper role of an institution of its kind then maybe the RA is indeed no longer the top cultural institution it once was. The Revolution exhibition remains a blemish on the RA's record. As I wrote in my original letter, I sincerely hope such errors of judgement are not repeated in the future.

Yours Sincerely,

Dr Miguel Sopena

CC Mr Tim Marlow, Mr Christopher LeBrun [RA President], Mr Charles Saumarez Smith [RA Secretary and Chief Executive], and others

Source: ...

World of Co residency's third exhibition

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I travelled back to Bulgaria at the end of July to visit my friends at the World of Co artists' residency (which I attended back in May). It was great to see Lidiya, Stella and Daniel again, to spend a few days in Sofia, and to attend the third pop-up exhibition organised by the residency. Exhibitions take place at the end of each month (which is the minimum attendance period). The July residents were Jessica Donley, Hochul Lee, Fiona O'Neill, Jane Walker, and Joshua Watts, all of whom presented work at the exhibition. The night was very well attended and great fun (as always) and the residency (which is a new initiative) continues to evolve with a new dedicated studio for the residents. World of Co is not running in August but applications are welcome starting again in September.

 

  The July residents

The July residents

  Twins, by Hochul Lee

Twins, by Hochul Lee

  Paintings by Jane Walker

Paintings by Jane Walker

Source: http://worldof.co/

Lovely Gallery Open Exhibition 2017

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

It was great to show a painting from my Valencia series at the Lovely Gallery Open Exhibition 2017 which ran from 6 to 16 July. The gallery is located in Sydenham, South London, and the exhibition was part of the Summer and Sydenham Festival. The opening night on 6 July was very hot but great fun and the exhibition was a vibrant and eclectic mix from photography to sculpture and from life drawing and painting to pure abstraction. The Lovely Gallery has an active programme of exhibitions, courses and activities which you can check out on their website.

 

  The Valencia Series: The Old Town I (acrylic on linen, 92x73cm)

The Valencia Series: The Old Town I (acrylic on linen, 92x73cm)

Source: http://www.thelovelygallery.com/

Back from the World of Co residency

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I just came back from my one-month stay at the World of Co artists' residency in Sofia, Bulgaria, which has been a fantastic experience.

I was one of the first-ever six residents to visit World of Co, a brand-new project put together by an enthusiastic, Sofia-based team with previous experience collaborating in similar initiatives abroad and who felt that Bulgaria was lacking a space where local and international art practitioners could meet, learn from each other, and create lasting links.

As any new and ambitious initiative, World of Co is in the process of changing, expanding and building on previous experience. Personally speaking I found my stay incredibly rewarding. We went on day and weekend trips away from Sofia to key locations in the history of the country like Veliko Turnovo (Bulgaria's historic capital), Koprivshtitsa (home to revolutionaries who plotted to gain independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s) and Plovdiv (Bulgaria's second city and an ancient Roman metropolis). We learnt the basics of traditional crafts like weaving (with Velika Stoeva), felt-making (with Marieta Nedkova) and wood-carving (with Steliyan Steliyanov). We were given unrestricted access to the National Art Gallery and had the enormous pleasure of visiting the restoration department where staff labour over centuries-old Orthodox icons and other treasures. We had the chance to meet internationally established practitioners like conceptual artist Pravdoliub Ivanov, sculptor Todor Todorov and visual artist Daniela Todorova, and glass artist Angelina Pavlova. As our shared working studio we were offered access to Kushta Creative Hub, a multi-purpose space run by an incredibly friendly and welcoming team (and a few cats!) which made our stay really unforgettable and gave us an insight into the underground Sofia art scene.

 

 Felt-making workshop with Marieta Nedkova

Felt-making workshop with Marieta Nedkova

 Visiting the National Gallery

Visiting the National Gallery

 The National Gallery's conservation department

The National Gallery's conservation department

The fact that a group exhibition was planned at the end of my one-month stay was a definite incentive for producing work (This will be the case at the end of each month, so the exhibitions may well become a fixture in Sofia's art calendar). My intention was to let myself be inspired by Bulgaria and Sofia and, besides learning about the country's historic and cultural legacy, I was particularly interested by the visual culture of Eastern Christianity, the icons and murals that cover the interior of Orthodox churches and monasteries and which I find extremely powerful in their hieraticism (for anyone interested I wholeheartedly recommend visiting Boyana church and the Alexander Nevski cathedral in Sofia -along with the outstanding icon museum in the cathedral's crypt- and the spectacular Rila monastery, about 120 Km to the South).

 

 In Todor Todorov's and Daniela Todorova's studio

In Todor Todorov's and Daniela Todorova's studio

 Sculptor and wood carver Steliyan Steliyanov, in his studio

Sculptor and wood carver Steliyan Steliyanov, in his studio

When time came to get ready for our final exhibition, the chosen space was the Cosmos Co-working Camp in central Sofia, which is no ordinary exhibition venue but worked terrifically well and the opening was not only incredibly fun but also very well-attended. In fact I had such fun in Bulgaria and was so happy to meet not just my co-residents but lots of other people associated with the residency that I extended my stay for a few days and felt very sad when it came time to return to London. Now that I'm back I can fully appreciate how much the residency renewed me and helped me think again about art and my own practice.

 

 The Virgin Gorgoepikoos ('She Who is Quick to Hear') with prophets, 13th-18th century

The Virgin Gorgoepikoos ('She Who is Quick to Hear') with prophets, 13th-18th century

 She Who is Quick to Hear, oil on canvas, 76x61cm

She Who is Quick to Hear, oil on canvas, 76x61cm

 Zaimov Park, Sofia, conte carre on paper, 59x42cm

Zaimov Park, Sofia, conte carre on paper, 59x42cm

 Koprivshtitsa, oil on canvas, 76x61cm

Koprivshtitsa, oil on canvas, 76x61cm

 Sveta Bogoroditsa, oil on canvas, 76x61cm

Sveta Bogoroditsa, oil on canvas, 76x61cm

From here a huge thanks to the World of Co organisers (Lidiya, Stella and Daniel), to my co-residents (who are now friends, Hochul Lee, Patrice Robinson, Yeon Jeong Yang, Bethany Walker and Evelyn Wong) and everyone who made the experience so incredibly fun and enriching.

I was interviewed by Asphalt magazine in relation to our final exhibition, the interview (in Bulgarian) can be read here.

Source: http://worldof.co/

Live Art Saturday at the Elizabeth James Gallery

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

In connection with the What it is to be me... exhibition at the Elizabeth James Gallery (12-24/04/2017, opening Tuesday 11 April at 7pm, all welcome) I will be also be creating art behind the gallery's window this Saturday 8 April from 1-4pm. These Live Art Saturdays have been going on for a while and are an invitation for people to step into the gallery and take a closer look at the creative process. It's the first time I do something like this so I have no idea what questions people might ask of me but hopefully everything will go OK on the day (!).

Source: http://www.elizabethjamesart.com/live-art-...

What it is to be me... exhibition at the Elizabeth James Gallery

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I will be showing some of my recent paintings at the Elizabeth James Gallery in South Norwood as part of the What it is to be me... group exhibition. The exhibition revolves around the theme of identity and will be up from 12-24 April 2017. I will be showing two paintings from my Valencia series and one from my Dénia series, all of which relate strongly to my background. If you can make it, join us for the opening on Tuesday 11 April at 7pm, The gallery is a very nice space with great light, located next door to Norwood Junction station in South London, and from what I hear the opening will be very well attended.

 

  The Dénia series: The Tower, 120x90 cm, oil on canvas

The Dénia series: The Tower, 120x90 cm, oil on canvas

  The Valencia series: The Old Town I, acrylic on canvas, 92x73 cm

The Valencia series: The Old Town I, acrylic on canvas, 92x73 cm

  The Valencia series: Towers that Reach Up to the Sky, acrylic on canvas, 92x73 cm

The Valencia series: Towers that Reach Up to the Sky, acrylic on canvas, 92x73 cm

Source: http://www.elizabethjamesart.com/

Painting selected for the London Coffee Festival's Coffee Art Project competition

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I was pleased to find out that a painting I painted specifically for the London Coffee Festival's Coffee Art Project competition has been shortlisted. Shortlisted entries will be shown at the Festival (which will take place on 6-9 April 2017 at the Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, East London) and available for purchase. The competition features cash prizes and visitors to the Festival will also be able to vote for their favourite entry. The Festival includes lots of activities including tastings, workshops, music, food, and more. Find out about the Festival schedule by visiting the website.

Source: http://www.londoncoffeefestival.com/Home

Open letter to managerial staff, Royal Academy of Arts, London, re: Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 exhibition

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Mr Christopher LeBrun, President

Mr Charles Saumarez Smith, Secretary and Chief Executive

Mr Tim Marlow, Director of Artistic Projects

Royal Academy of Arts, London

 

28 March 2017

 

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you to express my disappointment at the curatorial handling of the exhibition Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 currently on display at the RA.

Whilst I am not an art historian or an expert in Russian art of the period, it is well known (and it is obvious just looking at the pieces on display at the RA) that the years covered by the exhibition represent a decisive and hugely fruitful moment in the development of Russian and European Modernism in which artists who came from a figurative tradition coexisted with avant-garde currents like the Russian Futurists or, later, the Constructivists, along with visionary figures like Kasimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, El Lissitzky and others (whom you reference in the exhibition), besides, of course, developments in photography, theatre, dance, music and cinema.

For this reason, I was incredibly excited to visit the RA exhibition, anticipating a serious and insightful discussion on these artists and artistic currents, their influences, formative years and evolution, their ideas on art and the goals of their practice, how they communicated with and influenced each other, their legacy, and, of course, the influence the October Revolution and the onset of the Soviet period had on Russian art. I believe this is the sort of analysis visitors to a major art show naturally expect to find.

I was extremely disappointed to see that the RA exhibition contains very little substantial information about these artist and groups, other than a few biographical details. Instead, the curatorial commentary consists of a relentless, fiercely partisan, anti-communist and anti-Soviet tirade of an overtly political nature which continues room after room and caption after caption, leaving space for little else.

Whilst this sort of narrative angle and choice of language may be OK for an opinion column in the Daily Mail, I believe it is completely out of place in a major art exhibition, which should be, first and foremost, about the art. I believe this to be the case regardless of one's opinions on communism, the Soviet Union, or any other political topic. Details of the political and societal context are often provided in exhibitions, to the extent that they are important to understand the art (as they obviously are in this case), but the usual (and proper) choice is to keep such information concise, to the point, and non-partisan. If indeed the choice of the curators is to focus strongly in the interaction between art, politics and ideology, then those aspects should be investigated in a genuinely open minded and curious, nuanced, and enlightened (and enlightening) fashion. There are plenty of places and opportunities, I am sure, to publish an anti-communist screed. An exhibition about Russian Art at the Royal Academy should not be one of them. It shows contempt for the audience and, to the extent that it excludes (as it did in this case) serious, sensitive, and nuanced discussion of the art presented, it shows contempt for the art as well, rather than appreciation. It is disappointing, and, as a precedent, frightening. It represents a lowering of curatorial standards which does not befit a flagship institution like the Royal Academy. It is a big missed opportunity as well, as it may be many years before such a concentration of artworks from that key period in the history of Russian Modernism is once more on display in the UK.

I might draw a comparison with the exhibition Imagine Moscow: Architecture, Propaganda, Revolution currently on display at London's Design Museum, which, whilst covering much of the same ground in terms of Soviet ideology and the Soviet project (and whilst not shying away from potentially controversial political issues), treats these topics with balance, literacy, insight, and genuine intellectual curiosity (rather than rushing to deliver any sort of superficial verdict), resulting in a compelling and extremely informative offering.

I was left baffled and disappointed by my visit to the RA and I can only hope that such curatorial choices are not repeated and that future exhibitions treat art and artists with the respect and seriousness they deserve.

Yours Sincerely

Dr Miguel Sopena

Croydon, UK

Source: https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibition...

Artists' crit at Turf Projects, Croydon

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

I had a great time at the artists' crit I attended at Turf Projects, an arts initiative and art gallery which has existed since 2013 in Croydon, South London. The crit was led by Kate Turner and Alex McNamee alongside the Turf Projects artists and the atmosphere was incredibly helpful and friendly. The crits are open to all and a number of attendees presented work which was extremely interesting and varied and for which plentiful feedback was given in a rigorous and supportive fashion. I myself presented two large paintings from my Dénia series and the effort of lugging the canvases to the venue was absolutely worth it. This was in fact the first time I had offered up these pieces for comment and the feedback received was extremely valuable. Future crits are publicised on the Turf Projects website.

Given how valuable crits are, it is surprising that so few opportunities exist in London for those of us who are no longer involved in an academic setting so a big thanks to Turf Projects for making this opportunity available. Another organisation which runs open crits is Q-Art but they seem to have become infrequent (but check out the Peer Sessions website).

If you read this and find out about any other opportunities for artists' crits in London or nearby, I'd be very grateful if you dropped me a line- Thanks!

 

Source: http://turf-projects.com/

London Exhibitions: Robert Rauschenberg at Tate Modern

Added on by Miguel Sopena.

Now that I've been trying to acquire a grounding on art theory (if you're looking for a primer I would wholeheartedly recommend Richard Osborne's and Natalie Turner's Art Theory for Beginners and/or Cynthia Freeland's Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction) I was extremely interested to visit the Robert Rauschenberg exhibition at Tate Modern (01/12/2016 – 01/04/2017).

The loose assemblage of ideas known as Postmodernism (which are considered to have held sway roughly from the early 1970s onwards) systematically subverted, not just the Modernist project, but the very basics of the idea of art that had reigned supreme in the West since at least the Renaissance (with a few exceptions like Marcel Duchamp and the Dadaists which, more than anything, seemed to confirm the rule). A key component of the traditional view was the notion of authorship- That the creative process was a solemn endeavour undertaken by one or more individuals, carefully considering every decision and every ingredient that went into the whole in order to produce an object of artistic purity.

As brilliantly shown in the Tate exhibition, Texas-born artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), decisively influenced by his studies at Black Mountain College, in North Carolina (under the direction of former Bauhaus member Josef Albers), set off from the start to undermine this notion of authorship as well as traditional ideas on art making and art presentation. The first room of the exhibition shows Rauschenberg in the 1950s experimenting with arrangements of found objects, producing an artwork by inking up the rear tire of composer John Cage's car and having him drive over a very long piece of paper, and asking Willem de Kooning for a drawing and erasing it to create a new piece (titled simply Erased de Kooning Drawing).

The following rooms of the exhibition show Rauschenberg (who was determined to keep breaking new ground, as opposed to just becoming known for one strand of work and repeating himself ad nauseam) subverting received notions about art and art making in new and inventive ways. Rather than producing art that was pure and heroic, he picked garish and discordant elements from daily life (leftover bits of wood and metal, electrical appliances, a stuffed goat and a car tyre for his 1955-59 piece Monogram) and combined them in his paintings, often to withering criticism from an art world that was dominated at the time in the US by abstract expressionist painters (very much representative of the heroic tradition, see my notes here on the recent blockbuster exhibition on Abstract Expressionism at London's Royal Academy of Arts). Challenging the notion of creating pieces to be presented to viewers in a traditional way, at one point (with his Combines) Rauschenberg turned the act of painting into the artwork itself, creating pieces in front on an audience to a set time limit. Rauschenberg's interest in performance (documented in detail in the exhibition) is another extension of his pushing back the boundaries of art making, turning his actions and those of his fellow performers into the product to be presented to the audience.

 

 Monogram (1955-59)

Monogram (1955-59)

 Collection (1954-55)

Collection (1954-55)

 

In 1971 Rauschenberg moved his home and studio to Captiva Island, off the coast of Florida. His work from that time onwards, whilst compelling, feels less revolutionary, as if he was done making the big statements that had rocked the art world fifteen years previously (one could say that the times had finally caught up with him). Rauschenberg remained a socially engaged artist and, in 1984, he founded the Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange (ROCI, pronounced as Rocky, the name of his pet turtle), an initiative which saw him travelling to and engaging with audiences in countries where he felt artistic expression was being suppressed.

 

 Signs (1970)

Signs (1970)

 

I think if I enjoyed this exhibition so much was because Rauschenberg was obviously much more than a conceptual artist. For someone so determined to subvert traditional notions of art, he had a highly developed aesthetic and compositional sense which he put into his work. His pieces may be anti-art, but they are also beautiful. That was his genius.

Source: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-moder...