Wednesday, 20 October 2010


If you haven't seen Chto Delat (or 'What To Do' ) at the ICA yet, I reckon you should see it!

The exhibition is by a group and looks at Russia after perestroika. There is variety and energy in the show; posters, a newspaper, illustrations on the wall and extra walls and levels.

I watched what looked like a filmed play with subtitles about a debate between two groups on politics. They were discussing whether communism was a good idea. It made us giggle because these ideas seem outdated. However the film forces you to review the ideas and imagine them, adapted in a modern context. Perhaps a dangerous avenue looking back, perhaps not if...

The theatre film was beautifully presented with rows of beds, but I did not feel like sleeping. Instead the viewing structure provided contemplative environs for the spectators. (There were three separate groups of us)

Visually, it mixes a folk look and look of political protests that gives you a feel of a show reflecting a country’s history and its legacy straight away.

On the news in the evening they discussed why the French could strike and be supported and why the English system makes it difficult and views protests or strikes as a nuisance to our routine. Maybe I should get fired up and march up the road to Buckingham Palace or the Houses of Parliament and say what can be better?

The exhibit finishes on Sunday, so do something and go!

Monday, 20 September 2010

I get it!

For the blogger who said – “heavy Eastern European art, impossible to get it, let’s have lunch” I thought I cannot leave my commentary about Czech art without talking about a contemporary artist, and one of my favourites at the moment, David Cerny.

It was delightful to pass one gallery and realise that there is a pack behind this leader. There was a whole group of Czechs showing art that was laughing and turning things upside down.

I saw a cat and dog that had been made into a rug similar to tiger rugs in showy, ostentatious houses. My friend and I laughed for ages. And then I asked why it was actually funny. My friend said it’s

“Because people show off about having a tiger because it’s dangerous and exotic. The pets look like a rubbish attempt at a copy. Who could show off that they’d caught a cat?”

This is true and the animals are so cute that you feel nervous about how to react. That also makes me get the giggles. But on top of this you could find it a quite shocking and you are not sure if it’s ethical.

These serious comments given in a humorous way are also characteristic of Cerny’s work. He is kind of interested in politics and especially in Europe at the moment. How they could let him make a huge public sculpture in Brussels is a mystery. If they had seen any of his work and got it – you could see it coming that it would shock but also make you laugh.

In the beautiful castle side of Prague there is a fountain. It sits in the centre of the old square surrounded by museums. The colours of the surrounding buildings go beautifully with the bronze of the fountain. And standing in the shape of the country itself are two figures, which, also as traditionally done, are weeing water in the fountain.

HOWEVER, these men move their hips and the fact that they are weeing into their country is a little inappropriate! If you send a text message to the fountain the figures will spell out your message, rather ineffectually in the water below them before going back to their own pattern.

Modern art or postmodernism can be very cynical. It subverts or stylizes old things to make a comment. This is not just a Czech thing. There is a certain sense of humour in different countries but there are less and less differences, in my opinion as I return to the Czech Republic. David Cerny is an internationally renowned artist so we all have to get him now!

Sunday, 5 September 2010


This is an odyssey to the country my parents were born in. My trip involves visits to cafés and sights and pubs and a soak in the tradition in this changing city. I saw an exhibition by Josef Sudek who was Czech and took many photos of Prague. I want to know about Czech culture and it has influenced me greatly. I am English, I am Czech, and what that means is up to me.

First I found the folk festival on two large stages in the centre of town. I remember being shown the traditional costumes as a child and learnt about being Czech from it. The cakes, the food, the dolls and toys, cut glass and later beer. There were all nationalities on the stages, showing off their skills. There was something similar about it all and a gentle atmosphere.

We visited four cafes in Prague. All of them were beautiful and from another time. The architecture in Prague is art nouveau and very decorative. It is also a medieval, gothic, cubist, renaissance and neo-classical city. I saw people sitting alone reading classic books and fancifully staring while sipping a cup of tea. A friend told me about their time teaching English in Prague and everyone would sit in a café talking about how they were writing a novel, and she then found they were also teaching English.

Café Imperial

Municipal House

Cafe Slavia

Cafe Louvre

I heard a heated debate about deep thoughts about what art should be in the Café Louvre. This was also where the Josef Sudek exhibition was. Why can’t we talk about these things? Even if we might sound pretentious.

Upstairs at the Louvre was fashioned like a French café with traditional Czech cakes, food and even a billiard room. Downstairs (photographed above) was modern and had upside down flower pots hanging from the ceiling (how?) and this was where the gallery was. It was one room and there was easy-listening music being played. This gave the whole place a relaxed atmosphere and they let me take photographs of all the work.

The first photographs I saw were poetic black and white pictures:

This classical fruit and bowl is simple and light but there is something personal and introverted about it. The tone is muted and quiet. The reflections in the picture from the surrounding space are interesting to me as they are part of how the work is seen.

The interest in light and ephemeral or transparent surfaces is investigated in all the work in this exhibition.

The artist’s pictures are very sensitive and play with the medium of photography, which picks up light very sensitively as well.

The most attention came for this picture and the relatively empty gallery had a crowd around this image.

The seated man is, on second glance, transparent below the waist. He is sitting in a garden but you are not sure if he is really there or if he is a ghost. You can see the whole gallery in the picture I have taken. The gloss of the photos was also interesting and there was one dark photo of a sculpture’s head, which showed your reflection in the same place as its head when you looked at the photo. The viewers look like ghosts too.

This reminded me of how it feels to be in such a historic city where you brush with the past. There were also photographs by Sudek that looked at the light in snowy or misty weather. He is an interesting figure, losing a hand in the war, he took photographs and became a popular and mysterious figure who did not attend his gallery openings. His pictures seem tied to Prague because they remind me of all the tourist pictures of Charles Bridge taken on a frosty morning.

In black and white the medieval city of a hundred spires, cubist rooftops and painted walls gathers around a castle sitting above, looming over the shaded narrow streets in the labyrinthine old town. Home of Kafka and Capek and from the café culture to flowing litres of beer drunk in public houses, chinking the precious liquid in heavy glasses. Opera and jazz, with the most sublime backdrop, ethereal as could be.

As the flight home leaves me exhausted, I am landed and fed up of fancy and romance. Well we all need to be a bit grounded eventually. It’s gritty realism and ***k you irony I feel like now….

Sunday, 22 August 2010


On my way to the Royal Academy I passed Chanel, Louis Vuitton and other such smart, luxurious shops. My thoughts turned to a past relationship. As well as playing with our desires, the high end pushes and fights for our attention. It is both seductive and disapproving and the Ritz Hotel is tempting to me but also causes anxiety to form in my head. Can I afford to be here? Do I fit in? Do I want to go there? Why do I care what it thinks?

My last boyfriend, James, expressed clearly how he felt in galleries, using words I might use to describe how I've felt in places like this.

“I’ve tried, but I don’t understand it. It doesn’t move me - it just leaves me cold. I feel uncomfortable. Sorry.”

Rather a strong rejection!

“Well I suppose it’s like music, it’s quite abstract, not everyone likes the same things,” I replied.

For James, it was constantly a case of judging whether something was good or not. Quite harshly, all art is put in one box. It's not always a fruitful discussion if we talk about all art instead of individual work and others that do so frustrate me. I do not judge James for preferring music, films or books to delight his senses with.

The summer exhibition is an event that attracts a huge amount of entries from anyone who wants to be considered by the academicians as worthy of a place on the crowded walls of the old establishment. I was preparing myself for a slightly dizzying display and overload of painting, sculpture and print.

I do it quite a lot in galleries that I judge: that one’s good, why did they choose that one? I saw people doing this a lot in the gallery. It was Friday afternoon and there was a Pimm’s stand in the middle of the gallery. Friends were chatting. A group was talking. “Did you see the Tracey Emin prints, did you see how many sold stickers there are on her work?” “Where?” lots of head shakes.

There were big names, established artists like David Hockney, familiar and much loved. I do always enjoy seeing another work by him. I love his freshness, using the computer to make new work. Other work in the summer exhibition is becoming familiar to me from last year, like recognising old faces when you go to parties with the same group a few times. It's easier when there are people you can go and say hello to.

I sent a text to my friend, Marie, hoping that she could join me straight from work. Whereas the last exhibition could have failed to move me as much if I had been talking to someone else, here I felt a little gossip might be fun. My phone had run out of batteries.

The first room was called Raw and this was a theme for the whole show (to show how unafraid and with it the Royal Academy really is). Huge canvases scraped, brushed, glued and covered brashly, and bold loud pieces, including sculptures were there. The work looked confident and made by practiced hands, not raw as a foundation degree show might be. I judged the curators choices well; it was good quality stuff. Well made and expertly done.

The only way to enjoy a large exhibition in the end is to scrutinize the whole room and focus on the most beautiful or capturing image. As the mood from before was one of escape and fantasy, I got lost in Fiona Rae’s painting, ‘I Wish to Fully Grow My Small Dream’, 2010. The room contained works that were based on fictional spaces. The painting was done with oil, acrylic and gouache, which gave different depth to different elements, which were painted in grey, light blue, yellow and pink, with pink hearts spaced on one plane. There were curved, cartoon-like lines and wash- like smears and flicked shapes floating in grey.

My mind floated into the painting for just a second and I left contented that I had felt a little escape. I had not really had the experience of speculating who would win the prizes and honours, but I had discovered a new work and chosen it as a standout. Next week I will be in the fairy-tale city of Prague, to celebrate a birthday.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Something in Common

There is a romance and intimacy to the first exhibition I went to today. I went to a gallery near Green Park Station; the posh-est part of London. After walking down Dover Street to Grafton Street, I tried to find the number of the gallery. There was a big bay window but you could not see in and I had to look around for a while to find the door and make sure I was going to the place I was meaning to go to. There were two teenagers sitting on the steps leading up to the entrance and I had to ask if I could get past to go in. They looked surprised and let me past. They were obviously not anticipating that their spot would be an entrance to a public space like a shop or a restaurant. I scanned the buttons for the doorbells, and a little hesitantly rang the bell before pushing the door gently and finding it was open and I smiled at the lady looking at me from her desk. I’d been here before, although I’d forgotten the name of the place but I had enough of a sense direction to enter the gallery to my right.

Once inside, the space in Spreuth Magers’ Gallery had been transformed. The walls were painted a deep blue and there were small, sparkly fragments sprinkled all over the wall, giving the staged feeling of a princess world in the night sky. The building has high ceilings and there was music playing from a ballet. I did not recognise the music but it was gentle, classical. The artists in the exhibition were both ballet lovers. Their relationship with their beloved subject matter was clearly different but this abstract feeling that each was a lover of the ballet was something they had in common.

I say abstract because, like each relationship it is not easy to express why we feel a certain way. It usually isn’t possible to explain why something is meaningful to you, and impossible to prove there is anything tangible or real about your belief. Therefore, you can express how you feel in different ways. Tracey Emin spoke about her ‘tearful break-up’ with art before she became successful. Something you build up a familiarity with, as can be with any interest, can provoke passion, turbulence, obsession and heart ache. It can also bring comfort, consolation, beauty and fascination. This is commonly seen with football fans.

One of the two artists, Joseph Cornell, had collected memorabilia from the Romantic Ballet. I was touched by the inclusion of hairgrips in his collection. He is an artist who spent most of his life as a carer and worked in isolation. His boxes are little containers of treasure presented with found objects and scraps of materials. They are so delicate and show a desire to escape to another place, looking like window frames or slices of spaces from another dimension.

The other artist, Karen Kilimnik, is a contemporary artist. Her paintings could be nineteenth century painting by artists such as Degas or other impressionists. They have bright colours and broad brush strokes. This gives them an expressive spirit. She is moved by the historic stage. Although the inspiration comes from the past for the work, it is viewed from the present. Romance is something we can still appreciate and be taken with. Like a mist it softens and melts us.

I got a glimpse of another perspective on something I did not even understand or experience and that’s a piece of communication. No one would write exactly the same as me above and I love that I got to share these artists' passion today. Like a tourist in a part of another’s brain, without words: it is a wondrous, alien place. I thought about relationships with other humans, and I thought about people I miss, how every bit of understanding and piece of attention given is precious.

The interior nature of the exhibit and the celestial design of the walls completely transported me and it was a surprise as I opened a door to an ordinary looking back space and deduced that it was only two rooms that were part of the show.

I left the gallery with all my thoughts and made my way to the busy Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy.