The electric garden of our minds

Last month, on my way back down the Euston Road after seeing the window displays at the Wellcome Trust, I had time to go to the Gagosian Gallery for Crash — Homage to J G Ballard. The experience was of overload, but I got the chance to pop back again last Thursday. Two visits certainly paid off.

… only a commercial gallery of this pulling power could manage the loans to flesh out Ballard’s text so grandiloquently; no museum could have responded so quickly, or quirkily, to the novelist’s death last year. The idea of a visual tribute to a writer is so marvellous and generous that one wishes it was as standard as a memorial service or an obituary. — Jackie Wullschlager, FT

As some reviewers have suggested, there are works on show here that seem … a little beside the point. All the same, some of these are striking:

Works with an, at-best, tangential connection to Ballard stand out, foremost being Paul McCarthy’s “Mechanical Pig”, an astonishingly life-like plastic sow cruelly wired up to machinery, twitching and heaving in a tortured coma. This freakshow attraction goes beyond sensationalism to bring us face to face with our mechanised use of livestock, and is a great example of contemporary art’s relationship with impact advertising. I was mesmerised by its laboured breaths, each one threatening to be its last. — Ballardian

I liked … the Eduardo Paolozzi:

Gagosian: Crash — Homage to Ballard

Three decades before Andy Warhol immortalized the Campbell’s Soup can, Eduardo Paolozzi (1924-2005) was crowding childhood scrapbooks with images of American popular culture he found in old magazines, newspapers, and comic strips. … As the novelist J. G. Ballard noted in his introduction to General Dynamic F.U.N., “Here the familiar materials of our everyday lives, the jostling iconographies of mass advertising and consumer goods, are manipulated to reveal their true identities.”  Nothing is as it seems and irony abounds.  Lady Godiva rides a motorcycle; Christ’s image is profaned as a paint-by-number; flesh turns green and lettuce grows blue.  Paolozzi reconfigured unrelated images to form a tangle of references and connections, leading viewers in as many directions as there are ideas, images, and products in our modern world. — Saratoga Today

The artist’s friend and sometime collaborator, J.G. Ballard, described General Dynamic F.U.N as a ‘unique guidebook to the electric garden of our minds’. … For Paolozzi, the modern age, exposed as ephemera, is a necessarily fragmented collision of visual stimulus and influence, and his work is a ‘health warning for an uncreative and thriftless society’. — Southbank Centre

The Warhol, Green Disaster (Green Disaster Twice), 1963 (reflected: Richard Prince — Elvis, 2007):

Gagosian: Crash — Homage to Ballard

The Jane and Louise Wilson DVD projections:

Gagosian: Crash — Homage to Ballard

Peter Campbell, writing in the LRB (about the exhibition’s catalogue):

On the page facing Allen Jones’s Archway (a sculpture in the Heathrow Hilton, Ballard’s favourite London building), you read that ‘sitting in its atrium one becomes, briefly, a more advanced kind of human being. Within this remarkable building one could never fall in love, or need to.’ Even when the overlap between a work and anything Ballard wrote is accidental, or vague, there is common ground in his attention to the look of things. He saw them as a painter might. His language was precise and often technical: his vocabulary when cars are involved is that of a maintenance manual; his sex scenes look like an atlas of anatomy.

‘I’ve always wanted really to be a painter,’ he said in 1975. ‘My interest in painting has been far more catholic than my interest in fiction … I’ve said somewhere else that all my fiction consists of paintings. I think I always was a frustrated painter.’ He not only envied visual artists, he believed in their power. ‘I didn’t see exhibitions of Francis Bacon, Max Ernst, Magritte and Dalí as displays of painting,’ he wrote in 2003. ‘I saw them as among the most radical statements of the human imagination ever made, on a par with radical discoveries in neuroscience or nuclear physics.’ … In the catalogue Will Self writes of Ballard’s ability to see the nature of what has grown up around us: ‘Bleak man-made landscapes, technological, social and environmental developments and their psychological effects – these are aspects of the dystopian society we all live in now. Ballard may have started out as a science fiction writer, but his texts now read as social fact.’ …

Ballard’s sense of something wrong with the world our appetites and ingenuity have created makes ordinary things – suburbs, roads and high-rises – look different, as they might in the lurid glow of an approaching storm. It is a gift to art that has been appreciated.

The Independent has a nice gallery piece where Charlotte Cripps talks to some of the artists involved. Loris Gréaud:

J G Ballard was not in the future but in the ultra-present.

Banksy goes Stateside

via Jason Kottke, news that Banksy has installed 'four pieces in New York's most prestigious museums - The Brooklyn Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, and the Museum of Natural History' — Wooster Collective : A Celebration of Street Art.

The Brooklyn Museum:


The Metropolitan Museum of Art:


The Museum of Modern Art:


The Museum of Natural History:


Staff at the New York Met discovered and removed their new aquisition early Sunday morning while Banksy's discount soup can print took pride of place in the MoMA for over three days before being torn down. As of now, the other two pieces currently remain firmly in place...

Photos of Banksy installing his works ('This historic occasion has less to do with finally being embraced by the fine art establishment and is more about the judicious use of a fake beard and some high strength glue') at Wooster Collective.

Hockney on Photography

Photographs have been much in the news. The most powerful government in the world has been badly shaken by one portfolio of shots of American soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners. Meanwhile, one of the most prominent figures on Fleet Street has been blown right out of his editorial chair by another set of British soldiers in Iraq, because they turned out to be a hoax. All of this is of considerable interest to one of Britain's most celebrated artists, David Hockney, who has spent half a lifetime pondering on the veracity of the camera.

The other day I went to see the new video portrait of David Beckham asleep by Sam Taylor-Wood at the National Portrait Gallery. But it's just an hour's worth of observation of the subject. You don't see layer upon layer of scrutiny. The portrait of me by Lucian Freud that is on show around the corner took 120 hours — and there you do see those layers. That's why it's infinitely more interesting.

BBC News

81, and so much younger than Damien Hirst

Highly appreciative Guardian review of the new Lucian Freud exhibition of 22 paintings, at The Wallace Collection (Manchester Square, London W1; March 31-April 18): 'Britain's greatest living artist', his work 'has none of the facile emotional posturing that appeals to the kind of institutional adman's taste, the bratty cynicism and quick-fix sensationalism that pervades the ('Fresh Blood' show at the) Saatchi collection'.


Ever since I first read this on Matt Jones' site, aleatoric has remained in my head and refused to go away. So I'm exorcising it now by posting it here. Aleatoric occurs in many associations on the web (Google lists some 8,940 occurrences): there are aleatoric places ('places decided by chance'), aleatoricity is central to Psychogeography, there is (most famously) aleatoric music ('The term was devised by the French composer Pierre Boulez to describe works where the performer was given certain liberties with regard to the order and repetition of parts of a musical work'), there are aleatoric methods for creating graphics ... The list goes on and on.

Aleatory and Aleatoric — Composition depending upon chance, random accident or highly improvisational execution, typically hoping to attain freedom from the past, from academic formulas and the limitations placed on imagination by the conscious mind. There is a tradition of Japanese and Chinese artists employing aleatoric methods, many influenced by Taoism and Zen Buddhism. In the West, precedents can be found among artists of ancient Greece and later among artists of the Italian Renaissance. Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452-1519) recommended looking at blotches on walls as a means of initiating artistic ideas. Aleatory (methodology) was also employed by numerous twentieth century avant-garde artists. Followers of the Dada and Surrealism (movements) produced numerous examples. Jean Arp (French, 1887-1966) made collages by dropping small pieces of paper onto a larger piece, then adhering them (to) where they landed. André Masson (French, 1896-1987) and Joan Miró (Spanish, 1893-1983) allowed their pens to wander over sheets of paper in the belief that they would discover in those doodles the ghosts of their repressed imaginations. Similarly, Tristan Tzara (Romanian, 1896-1963) created poetry by selecting sentences from newspapers entirely by chance. (adapted from ArtLex)

Jean (Hans) Arp, Collage Arranged According to the Laws of Chance, 1916–17
Torn-and-pasted papers on gray paper, 19 1/8 x 13 5/8" (48.6 x 34.6 cm)
Purchase © 2002 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn

This elegantly composed collage of torn-and-pasted paper is a playful, almost syncopated composition in which uneven squares seem to dance within the space. As the title suggests, it was created not by the artist's design, but by chance. In 1915 Arp began to develop a method of making collages by dropping pieces of torn paper on the floor and arranging them on a piece of paper more or less the way they had fallen. He did this in order to create a work that was free of human intervention and closer to nature. The incorporation of chance operations was a way of removing the artist's will from the creative act, much as his earlier, more severely geometric collages had substituted a paper cutter for scissors, so as to divorce his work from "the life of the hand". (MoMA)

Lichtenstein at the Hayward (until 16 May)

White paint and an exemplary installation currently give the Hayward Gallery an of-our-own-time presence. But the paintings by Roy Lichtenstein which line the walls - the early ones anyway - are now so well established as an ironic commentary on pop culture that they read as decoration, as conventional and period-flavoured in their way as chintz. The general effect of the show is cool and spacious. You could be in a fashion store which has decided to go retro and jazz up the decor. To see more than decorative wit you must try to think of the moment in 1962 when Lichtenstein's show of enlarged frames from war comics and romance comics at the Leo Castelli Gallery put out the news that another artist - he was not well known - had taken a sharp turn off the path most American high art was following.

There are pictures in the Hayward show from right up to the last year of his life - 1997. In the Bernard Jacobson Gallery in Clifford Street, W1 you can see, until 27 March, the last things he did: prints of interiors in which the usual elements are used to such bland effect that they could have been turned out by a Lichtenstein computer-graphics program. The comic-strip frames, which are still the Lichtenstein pictures one thinks of first, are not in a majority at the Hayward, and the other subjects are connected with them only by the use he made of the accidents and conventions of cheap comic-book drawing and printing - heavy outlines, flat colour and coarse mechanical screens. Among them are hard-edged drawings of big fluid brush marks - a mockery of gestural art. Or perhaps a tribute to it. There are pictures of rooms, a car tyre, an exercise book and a golf ball. Right at the end are paintings in which graded tints show hills rising out of mist with a tiny kitsch-Oriental boat or bridge in the foreground. But only by going back to the original moment - the moment when Life magazine headed an article, 'Is He the Worst Artist in America?' - can you imagine the force of his transgression. LRB


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Henri Matisse, Dance (first version), 1909 Oil on canvas, 8' 6 1/2" x 12' 9 1/2" (259.7 x 390.1 cm) Gift of Nelson A Rockefeller
in honor of Alfred H Barr, Jr © 2002 Succession H Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Museum of Modern Art is now in the midst of the largest building project in its history. Designed by Yoshio Taniguchi, the new Museum will open in midtown Manhattan in winter 2004–05 to coincide with its seventy-fifth anniversary. The 630,000-square-foot Museum will be nearly twice the size of the former facility, offering dramatically expanded and redesigned spaces for exhibitions, public programming, educational outreach, and scholarly research. ... MoMA QNS, The Museum of Modern Art in Queens, is open with a full exhibition schedule while the Museum's building on West Fifty-third Street in Manhattan is closed for renovation and rebuilding. The new Museum of Modern Art will open in early 2005.