Friday 21 December 2012

Ok so they might not have been 100% right on the end of the world but it's not all bad...

Well here I sit on the 21/12/2012 and luckily the world is still spinning, the polar ice caps are intact and there are no flaming meteors heading for earth ... touch wood. So this seemed like a perfect time to have a little look at Mayan Art.

The Mayan's were a highly developed civilization located in what we now know as central America. Putting to one side their lack of psychic powers, lets face it a feat that no civilization is likely to truly achieve, they had a developed written language of glyphs, they built huge cities such as Tikal which reached a size of approximately 6 square miles and they even developed calenders. The glyphs which are decipherable have given historians a fantastic insight into Mayan culture.
Sadly as with all early civilizations the art works that remain represent only the tip of the iceberg and what an awe inspiring iceberg it would have been. In London's British Museum we are lucky enough to have 6 of the lintels (a type of architectural detail) from Yaxchilán.

Yaxchilán is a complex of temples located on the Mexican side of the border between Mexico and Guatemala. The fragments in the British museum would have belonged on structure 21.

A birds-eye view of the complex... thank you google maps!
These reliefs which according to their glyph inscriptions were commissioned by the king Bird Jaguar IV (awesome name) show the fairly gruesome practice of blood-letting common in Mayan culture and most commonly undertaken by societies elite using a stingrays spine. This instrument can be seen in the hands of the women (Bird Jaguar's wife) in the carving immediately below.

If you want to visit these incredible pieces they are located in Room 27 of the British Museum which focuses upon Mexican art. Oh and it's free!

And for more fascinating in depth information about the reliefs head to : 

Saturday 15 December 2012

Hollywood Costume: A Smash Hit

This exhibition is thoroughly enjoyable and perfect for this time of year. I went with my brother, mother and some old friends from America and there was something for everyone. My brother was slightly skeptical at first about going to an exhibition all about clothes.... But as soon as we went into the exhibition it was clear that clever curating had provided a broad range of costumes from diffuse eras and film genres, with a fairly even split between costumes for men and women. Making it fabulous for a family day out during the Christmas period although pre-booking is definitely a good idea as it has proved very popular. We managed to just turn up on a Monday and get tickets at 3. 45 so it is always worth giving it a try. The V&A has such a fantastic permanent collection anyway that if you can not come by tickets there is always a great back up plan.

Of course there is much more to this exhibition then just looking at the clothes. The curators, Deborah Nadoolman Landis, Sir Christopher Frayling and Keith Lodwick, have placed the costumes alongside pertinent companion quotes from the designers, the actors or the directors. These make you really examine the costumes and give some insight into the important role that they play within the creation of not only the image but the character.

Possibly one of my favorite sections of the exhibition, pictured below, addresses how the transition from black and white films to colour cinema has effected costume design. Here the lighting is manipulated so that the costumes themselves can be seen in black and white and then in colour.

Of course a big part of the fun for myself, being quite a girly girl, was picking which costume I would most like to take home. Of course there were numerous contenders but I think I managed to cut down to a short list of the stunning dress from Atonement, the beautiful Shakespeare in love dress  and the slinky gold number that Kate Hudson wears in How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, complete with the to die for Harry Winston Necklace of course. On the other hand my brother went for the magnificent red cloak of Dracula. If you are going with youngsters or even just for fun I recommend this virtual shopping approach as a light-hearted way of looking around the exhibition. Particularly useful as due to the exhibitions popularity the rooms are crowded and without being seriously persistent you were not always able to have a good read of the information.

The exhibition is infused with a really nice feeling of fun especially in the last room where you must not forget to look up.....

I thought that looking at all the care, attention and delicate craftsmanship that goes into costume design I wouldn't ever be able to watch a film in the same way again. But as I realised when I went home and re-watched on of my favourite films, Breakfast at Tiffany's, the magic of great costume design is precisely that you do not realise you are looking at costume design.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Master Drawings from Mantegna to Matisse

This exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery is entering it's last couple of weeks, finishing on the 9th of September. At first glance the exhibition seems small and unassuming. This first impression is fleeting. In fact, the two rooms with their collection of approximately 60 drawings from the Courtauld's prestigious collection pack a considerable punch. The exhibition guides us through some of the most famous names in art history; Michelangelo, Pinturicchio, Seurat, Manet, Rembrandt, Matisse, Van Gogh, Ingres, the list goes on. 

The scale of the exhibition space and the undeservedly limited attendance does allow those of us that have visited this delightful exhibition to do what you must do with drawings... get up close and personal with them. There is no such thing as standing too close to a drawing, the nearer you get the more you will be able to appreciate the intricacies of linear work on paper. The guards on duty are relaxed enough to allow this close inspection, (within reason!!).

The exhibition also dispels the notion that drawing is merely a stage that comes before painting. Although some works in the exhibition are preliminary studies for well known paintings many can not be linked to a surviving art work and perhaps never work. They are experiments in which artists push the boundaries of their talents and explored the work of other artists and studies from nature and life.

For me I think the highlight of the exhibition was viewing Seurat's nude in the second room. 

I have always been skeptical about this artist and his highly technical methods based upon early 20th century scientific theories. However this drawing, one of only a few in existence, jumps off the Courtauld wall. It has necessitated my revisiting of this artist, who died at the age of just 31, which is what any good exhibition should do. During this revisit I came across an interesting examination of his works on paper which took place at MoMA in 2008:

Every drawing in the exhibition allows the viewer a new insight into the artists works, this is merely the one that stuck me most. So for the small price of £6, (which allows you access to the galleries breathtaking permanent collection as well) get down there and start exploring to find your favourite!

Monday 6 August 2012

The year Britain remembers what makes it Great

In the throws of the Olympics in which our sportsmen and women are excelling it has become what an incredible year 2012 has been for Great Britain so far.

Between the Jubliee and the Olympics patriotism is at an all time high. I have even managed to paint my finger nails with union jacks!

Naturally this patriotism is expressed in our cultural institutions. No where more so at the moment then at the National Portrait Gallery and if you feel like celebrating the incredible year then it is definatly the place to head down to.

On the one hand there is the traveling exhibition The Queen: Art and Image being showed in the gallery, it's final location, until October. The exhibition charts the evolution of our monarch's public image a public image a process which continues to this day with her infamous first film appearance in the Olympic opening ceremony.

The exhibition also allows us to see some of the most iconic images of the age by some of it's most incredible artists of the past century, Warhol, Freud, the photographer Cecil Beaton, Pietro Annegoni.

More pertinently for the current climate there is the Road to 2012: Aiming High exhibition. An exhibition of some truly inspirational photography focusing upon the myriad of people involved in the Olympic games, athletes, organisers, designers, political figures, physios to name but a few. Essentially all of the people responsible for the unbelievable spectacle we are all glued to.

The exhibition includes commissions that have been planned and executed since London first won the games.

Be sure to take in all of the spaces not only the one on the ground floor. Particularly the small room in the lower level where you can see the photos charting some of the projects currently taking place in the Olympic boroughs. While this room may not include some of the most famous faces that are currently dominating our screens, it does show some possible up and coming Olympians and celebrate their dedication and their love of sport.

Some of my favourite images have to be the incredibly atmospheric painting of the paralympic athlete Tom Aggar photographed at Eton Dorney by the duo of Anderson and Low whose seamless partnership furnishes the exhibiton with some of it's gems. Including their depiction of the women's gymnastic team, including Beth Tweddle who finally won her well deserved Bronze medal today.

And the black and white photograph of the discus thrower Lawrence Okoye who qualified for the final today.

The Road to 2012 exhibition is completely free and I think it is frankly unmissable.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

A Bearded woman

Magdalena Ventura of the Abruzzi with her husband and child, Ribera, 1631

OK so strictly speaking this isn't in London, it is in the Museo Fondación Duque de Lerma in Toledo, but I have included it by way of an apology for my absence from the blog. I mean it's not often that you see a bearded woman breast feeding a baby.

This is Magdalena Ventura of the Abruzzi, at the age of 37 after having two children she grew a beard. Here she is shown carrying her third child.

Growing a little bit of extra facial hair was not very kindly looked upon in the seventeenth century, Ribera has probably been a bit over dramatic. Poor woman!!!

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Lucian Freud at the National Portrait Gallery

Lucian Freud has always been one of my favorite artists so the prospect of going to see the exhibition of his body of work was tantalising!
It truly did not disappoint.
It showcased the incredible range of the individuals that he painted, from criminals to the former husband of Camilla Parker Bowles.

 The Brigadier 2003-4

The highlight of the exhibition for me was being able to see the early works of Lucian Freud as it is these works that do not translate so well to the printed image. Their incredibly precise treatment renders them slightly oppressive when printed. In person they are unfailingly brilliant with intricately rendered features, the most notable of which are the eyes.

One of my impressions of the works on display is that the only figures that look truly happy in the images are the animals, with whom he had a great affinity.

If you fancy brushing up your knowledge before the exhibition then as per a previous post I recommend Martin Gayford's book. The portrait that this focuses on is included in the exhibition.

Thursday 23 February 2012

What's rocking up on the fourth plinth?

So today, the 23rd February saw the most recent sculpture to grace the fourth plinth being installed. It was a delightful day for the installation, the clear blue skies set off the intriguing work to great effect.

The sculpture is by artists Elmgreen and Dragset. This dynamic duo work within the medium of sculptural and architectural installations and the fourth plinth must have been a tantalising opportunity for their particular brand. They have experienced increased critical acclaim and success during the 2000's. And their successful proposal for the fourth plinth which has been host to work by other significant contemporary artists including Marc Quinn and Antony Gormley will no doubt add to this.

There is a self-evident playfulness to this work particularly when set up against the serious and intentionally awe-inspiring equestrian sculptures on the other plinths in Trafalgar Square.
The sculpture is intended to act as an alternative to this visual language which refers to victory and power. Instead, this joyful sculpture creates a ‘non-powerful’ element within the square, suggesting that life is not always about victory or defeat.

The sculpture is just a new layer in the rich heritage of the fourth plinth of which here are just a couple of my favourite examples.

Marc Quinn, Alison Lapper pregnant, 2005

Thomas Schütte Model for a Hotel 2007

And Finally ...

Yinka Shonibare, Ship in a Bottle, 2011

A campaign has been launched by the Art Fund to purchase Ship in a Bottle for the National Maritime museum for information visit :

Monday 20 February 2012

Recommended Read

If you are planning a visit to the unmissable Lucian Freud exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery then I thoroughly recommend Martin Gayford’s ‘Man with a Blue Scarf: On Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud’.

It gives a fantastic insight into this artist world and working practice and will help you brush up your knowledge before the exhibition.

The painting ‘Man with a Blue Scarf’ is even included among the exhibits.

Lucian Freud, Man with a Blue Scarf, oil on canvas, Private Collection

Rather spookily this was the book that I was reading when I read in the paper that Lucian Freud had passed away.

P.S. If you want a ticket for the Lucian Freud exhibition I would get in there quickly on as they are selling like hotcakes!

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Top 10 Romantic Art Works

A selection of some of the most romantic art work. (Just in my opinion of course)

10 - Venus and Mars - Botticelli, c. 1483, National Gallery

9 - Print - Baccio Baldini - c 1465-80, British Museum

8 - Musician Angel - Rosso Fiorentino c .1494- 1540, Uffizi
7- The Kiss Gustave Klimt, 1907-08, Österreichisches Galerie Wien
6 - Summer Evening Edward Hopper, 1947, Private Collection
5 - Dancers Renoir, 1883, Musee d'Orsay

4 - Romeo and Juliet Frank Dicksee, 1884, Unknown

3 - Dance me to the end of love Jack Vettriano original painted in 1998

2- Le Mariée Marc Chagall, 1950, Private Collection Japan
1- The Kiss Auguste Rodin, 1882, Musee Rodin

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Some reflections on the glass Shard

Sorry for my absence, have been in Italy for a while, casually giving an accidental presentation to Stephen Fry in Perugia.

Initially my feelings about the shard, the innovative and contraversial new building currently going up in Southwark, were fairly negative. However, having watched in emerge from the landscape over the last year I have become quite fond of this unusual structure.

This fondness is mainly due to the amazing visual parallel that it sets up with the steeples of nearby churches. This parallel will only be increased as the building work progresses. I think it sets up an interesting connection between old and new, unifying these two contrasting elements of the city.

A View of the Shard from the rail approach to Waterloo Station

A View from outside of Waterloo Station

Keep an eye out for these interesting views and see what you think!

Also for more information check out the Shard website: