Mead Gallery

Kaleidoscope of colour or limited palette – exhibitions explore both

Two current Midlands exhibitions couldn’t be further apart in their titles. At the Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre there is Kaleidoscope, Colour and Sequence in 1960s British Art, and at The White Room Gallery in Leamington is Black and White.

The Mead’s exhibition is a touring exhibition from the Arts Council Collection, and exhibition info says it “brings into focus the relationship between colour and form, rationality and irrationality, order and waywardness in art of the 1960s.”

The point is also made that the featured artworks include bold, artificial colour, and capricious shapes, but also a lot of order, sequence and symmetry.

Walking into the exhibition and looking across at the works in one sweeping gaze, the colours and varied shapes leap out, and the first impression is of some sensory room aimed at stimulating the senses, or even a large play area for children.

Richard Smith’s Trio from 1963 is an orange, yellow, blue and white oil painting showing his influence by American abstract impressionism. There’s also an inevitable op-art black and white work, Movement in Squares, by Bridget Riley from 1961.

A small painted steel sculpture is Anthony Caro’s contribution, and Thebes is the work on show by William Tucker, consisting of three triangular shapes in red, yellow and blue reflecting his work in the 60s on repeated units which must all sit on the ground.

Robin Denny’s Over Reach is a canvas with large straight areas of colour, and John Hoyland’s 15.5.64, named for a date, features bright colours combined.

Tim Scott’s Quinquereme is a mix of geometrically-shaped pieces of acrylic, and Philip King’s Point X is a large structure using squares, circles and triangles to create a symmetrical but also oddly shaped design.

All together there are works by more than 20 artists in this exhibition, spanning, as the publicity says, Op Art, Pop, Constructivism and New Generation sculptures. It’s interesting to read in the excellent exhibition guide what they were exploring and trying to achieve and ponder 50 years on if they achieved it. The exhibition runs until December 9.

Meanwhile in Leamington Spa, the White Room Gallery is staging Black and White, an exhibition bringing together monochrome works by a range of artists from the local to internationally famous. The items featured cover a range of media including etchings, photographs, silk screens, oils and lithographs.

It features amongst others a diamond dust limited edition print of Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, a large diamond-studded skull.

There’s also a print of Lamp and Lung Ch’uan Ware by Patrick Caulfield, an artist I always associate with bright colours and it’s hard to see this work of a lamp and vase in shades of white and grey.

Antoni Tàpies’s L’apocalisse del opera is a strange abstract in black and white, and there is a Picasso print of Henry VIII After Holbein, a startled looking image which is an unusual one to be associated with Picasso.

There’s a Rachel Whiteread work, Ringmarks, showing wine glass-type marks on laser-cut plywood.

Locally-based artists who feature include Horace Panter, with one of his Robot series in monochrome, and photographer Ray Spence’s Reflection of a woman reflected in glass. Tim Southall who has exhibited at the White Room before is showing a Venice sea and landscape with lots of detail.

It’s a show of some interesting works, though linked only by their use of black and white, and does rather leave the visitor crying out for more colour in the world outside.

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Subodh Gupta’s vision turns village mementoes into works of art

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Subodh Gupta, Chanda Mama door ke (From Far Away Uncle Moon Calls), 2015, found aluminium utensils, fish strings, steel. Photo Ken Adlard, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Once on holiday in San Gimignano, I wandered down the crowded, sweltering hot street, and caught a glimpse that made me stop, and slip into a cool, unknown space. Hundreds of silver cooking pans and tiffin pots were arranged in a beautiful, tumbling art work. On the floor were rows of low metal stools arranged as if ready to seat 45 for a traditional Indian meal in front of round silver trays full of bowls.

There were other items too, but it was those two which took my breath away.

I made a note of the name of the artist and felt entranced by the contrast between the shiny but utilitarian Indian utensils turned into art works, and the expensive designer shops in the Tuscan tourist mecca outside. It was 2008 and I didn’t think I’d ever see his works again

Since then I’ve accidentally come across an enormous nuclear explosion of his stainless steel utensils filling a huge space at the Tate in London – and now he has a solo exhibition in Coventry until March.

Subodh Gupta – the name copied down several years ago – even visited the Mead Gallery at the University of Warwick for an In Conversation with Curator of the Mead Sarah Shalgosky before the official opening.

The exhibition itself shows relatively few pieces in the large space. One of the larger pieces, which I had seen in Italy, is School, a work showing five rows of nine low stools, with a table in front set with a sparkling thali dish ready for a meal. Each brass stool is cast from that of the artist’s father, with patterns and initials clear to see on it.

This combination of homely items and mass-produced pieces is typical of Gupta’s work. In the In Conversation he ran through more of his art works from over the years that reflect that.

He showed an image of 29 Mornings, from 1996, which consisted of wooden stools with items from everyday life placed on top; they were memories of life in the village he grew up in, when he had moved away to the city. Similarly, small bundles of sticks used to brush teeth in the village, then discarded, are turned into an artwork. He said: “When it’s been cast in aluminium it becomes closer to me and further away from the people who are now not going to use it.”

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Subodh Gupta, There is always cinema (v), 2008, Three elements – found object, (wood, cement, paint), brass casting nickel painted, brass casting coated. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photograph Zurich. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

There Is Always Cinema (V), which was also made specially for the show I saw at Galleria Continua in San Gamignano, consists of three ‘sack trolleys’ used to transport goods around. One is in its natural state, one cast in bronze and one nickel plated apparently suggest the idea of worn items being able to move things around to a brighter part of the city.

Another piece that is in the Mead show is Two Cows, a pair of bicycles cast in bronze and hung with chrome milk pails. As he said before the opening, in the village he would get milk from the cow, but in the city it was carried in pails on bikes, hence the name.

The attention-grabbing work is clearly Chanda Mama door ke, or Far Away Uncle Moon Calls, which is a reference to a Hindi children’s nursery rhyme in which the child is talking to the moon as though her uncle. The work consists of dozens of used cooking pots, some very used, burned and bent, hanging from the ceiling on fishing line, looking from some distance like a re-imagined moon. It’s spectacular but in a way simple too.

Gupta trained as a painter and there are three paintings in the show, close ups of used pans or plates.

One of his themes in his work he explained is the cosmic and the everyday, and “I can see the universe in my plate.”

Some of his new works include two Pressed for Space exhibits, consisting of old cooking pots crushed into rectangles, with bits of cloth mixed in with them.

He explained that in some larger pieces eyes look out at the unexpected viewer; was he trying to shock Sarah asked. No, he said, he didn’t want to do that, but he liked to mix performance and sculpture and had a strong sense of the audience looking at his works: “We live in shock, we don’t know where we are going.”

Other topics and works covered in the talk included God Hungry, a huge work in Lille featuring cooking pots seemingly cascading through three windows of the church, and This Is Not a Fountain, a mixture of pans with taps poking through, focusing on, Gupta said, the big issue of taps being left running in India parks.

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Subodh Gupta, Two Cows, 2003-2008, bronze, chrome. Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photograph Zurich. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

He has also been a performer, and showed a clip from a video which was engrossing and also gross; he was he said “showering in cow shit”, and he’s last seen in it, naked and coated in the brown stuff walking out of a room. He said it related to the importance in India of cow dung, used wet for painting and rituals, and dried and used as fuel or for building. His work My Mother and Me from 1997 was a creation of a cow dung tiled house.

There was some discussion too about the relationship between his works and that of Duchamp, though he reiterated there was no connection, as he said Duchamp made an object into an art work, but he, Gupta, made an object into a material and in that form becomes the art work. It was an interesting discussion and one that could go on.

It felt like there could have been more at this exhibition, but I have been spoilt by seeing some of his largest, most spectacular works before. The exhibition – on until March 11 – is still definitely worth seeing and a breath of fresh air in he 2017 exhibition scene.

 

The Human Document makes engrossing study of suffering and desperation

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Photographs of people facing despair and suffering, decades and thousands of miles apart, make up the engrossing exhibition The Human Document.

Subtitled The Photography of Persuasion from 1930s America to Present Day, the exhibition at the Mead Gallery, is based largely on works shown at a 1962 New York Museum of Modern Art exhibition, The Bitter Years.

This used 200 images taken in the 1930s by a group of photographers working for the Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration Programme, with the aim of proving to better-off Americans the desperate state of rural communities and the need for the New Deal programme.

During the Second World War 70,000 prints and 170,000 negatives were transferred into the Library of Congress in Washington (and many are now available to be downloaded).

This exhibition shows many of the images from The Bitter Years exhibition, alongside photographs by contemporary photographers also documenting sides of life that would otherwise remain hidden to many people.

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The American photographs are fascinating. All small and black and white, they show an unimaginable life. In the first image inside the door, by Arthur Rothstein, two wagon wheels lie in a pile of dust in front of abandoned farm, making the point that the resident of the shack behind isn’t going anywhere useful on their cart any more. Rothstein’s other images include an animal skull on cracked ground, and a withered crop. He also showed people being forcibly moved from living alongside a road to land between the Mississippi and the levee, and abandoned furniture of those on the move.

Marion Post Wolcott’s Old Negro shows a miserable man picking at a thread on his worn clothing. Ben Shahn has captured images of destitute Ozark people in Arkansas, including a girl clutching a damaged doll, itself wearing rags, and a little boy cuddling two kittens, his clothes as ragged as the those of the doll.

Dorothea Lange’s many images are some I kept returning to. She has photographed a sharecropping family on the move, mum in a bonnet clutching her baby, a sad little boy and anguished father.

She also pictured black cotton pickers, who worked from 6am-7pm for $1, and the image is hung next to another of hers, showing a fat white plantation owner with his car; the documentary and persuasive nature of the photographs is important to note too.

However it wasn’t as simple as black vs white; a white tenant family’s home is shown, a plain bed on the porch of a house propped up with bricks. Lange is particularly good at capturing images of young mothers, old before their time, trailing across the country with their husbands and children in search of any sort of better life.

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Her photograph of the 32-year-old ‘migrant mother’ of seven children, Florence Thompson, pictured (above) with a baby and two young children in a pea picking camp, became a famous image, her tough life leaving her looking more like 45, and is included here, as well as a fascinating interview with Florence in the accompanying free catalogue. Despite her incredibly hard life she lived to 80, though her own mother had made 108.

Lange also photographed an old woman in Kern County migrant camp in California, her only comfort a rocking chair in an open-fronted tent.

There are countless images here all showing homelessness and suffering seen many times around the world, including of course now on the daily news.

The works by contemporary artists are mostly also from the west, and show a side of life missed by many. Three sets stand out.

Chris Killip’s photographs from the north of England from the 1970s-90s, show bleak back streets in Tynemouth, and what appear to be travellers but are specifically sea coalers, people who harvest then sell washed-up coal. Their messy camp and a little girl playing with a hoola-hoop next to a burnt-out fire and wrecked furniture document a difficult way of life at the time.

Paul Graham’s colour collection, Beyond Caring, is made up of covertly-taken photographs of people in social security offices. Fed-up faces, and bored body language dominate here. People forced into a community in the offices where they don’t communicate with anyone.

Richard Billingham’s Ray’s A Laugh series are painful for the knowledge they feature his own family. His dad falls from a chair in their cramped flat, or glares at a cat hissing on a cabinet cluttered with ornaments. His mum hand feeds a kitten, and his brother licks yoghurt from the lid of a basic brand.

Different times, and different viewpoints set the more recent works apart, but it’s a show not to be missed for work by talented photographers capturing images from the times they lived in, and looking to tell a story to others.

* Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick, until December 10.

Don’t miss University of Warwick’s art collection on show at Mead

An exhibition not to miss is on for only a couple more weeks in Coventry.

Imagining a University: Fifty Years of the University of Warwick Art Collection is on at the Mead Gallery at the university until June 20.

I have already written about it in the Coventry Telegraph, but it also seems worth mentioning again alongside the book produced to go with it, which is a delight in its own right.

The book contains pictures of the university when the site had just a few buildings in open green fields, and art works in position from the early days. There are also many beautiful photographs of the works of art discussed. The book contains a series of essays by experts in the field which add a lot to our understanding of the foundation of the collection and the Mead Gallery.

Simon Patterson, Cosmic Wallpaper, 2002, digital wa

Simon Patterson, Cosmic Wallpaper, 2002, digital wallpaper

Alan Powers writes what is logically the first chapter on The University of Warwick: the architect, the collector and the patron, which explains how it came to be built, the brutalist architecture and the founding of the collection.

The exhibition tells the story with Coventry Telegraph newspaper cuttings about the permission being given for the University of Warwick and six others to be established in the 1960s to provide higher education for a more socially diverse cohort of students.

Some of the first paintings are those discussed by Powers and by Beth Williamson in her chapter on Becoming a Collection. There are some of the nine huge, colourful abstract paintings given by Alistair McAlpine. Large abstracts dominate the first room, including two works by Patrick Heron, and one by John Hoyland, and one full of zig zag lines by Roger Barnard, who travelled from Japan to the exhibition opening, plus Terry Frost’s Red All Over.

Williamson discusses the difficulties that went with the decision for the collection to not be kept in a gallery or store room, but to be displayed around the place to add to everyone’s education. Along the way some pieces have regrettably been damaged, but others have become part of people’s daily lives.

Throughout this book, current and former member of staff and students explain the importance of individual pieces to them, sometimes as an irritant but more often something to gaze at for inspiration or to escape daily life.

In my own five years as a part-time Warwick student I remember several pieces in rooms in the humanities block, and when my mind wandered to them I knew it was time to concentrate harder on the seminar. Other works on library stairs had me causing a crush when I stopped to read the labels.

Later, as a part time university worker, I was delighted in my first office to have a Michael Rothenstein one side of the doorway and a Stanley Nolan the other; sadly an office move left me lacking that daily art. Visits to University House were a joy to see a Terry Frost, or Maggi Hambling’s portrait of a former VC on the way to a meeting room.

The exhibition gives a chance for everyone to see artworks from all over the University gathered together.

Screenprints and lithographs feature in one section, including Birmingham Race Riot by Warhol, and Roy Lichtenstein’s red and blue Sandwich and Soda. There are 12 Paolozzi screenprints inspired by Wittgenstein.

The exhibition moves on to a wall of screenprints and etchings, including works by Paula Rego, Babe Rainbow by Peter Blake, a Kitaj collage, and two small works by Coventry artist George Shaw, showing desolate garages and fence posts by a hedge, lacking a fence.

There are some works donated by Cyril Barrett, a Jesuit Priest and Reader in Philosophy at Warwick, including two boxed mixed media works by Harry Thubron. Other works came into the collection with the merger with Coventry College of Education in 1984, whose principal Joan Browne had collected paintings and ceramics.

A collection of land art works include The Wet Road by Richard Long, and Hamish Fulton’s Callanish, A Five Day, One Hundred Mile Walk photograph, as well as Andy Goldsworthy’s Bullrush Debris, a photograph created on site when he was the university’s first artist in residence. In the catalogue, former registrar Michael Shattock writes of focusing on this work during many meetings, and being grateful for then discovering the artist.

Newer additions to the collection include Hannah Starkey’s posed photograph of a woman with leftover office flowers in a bag, Olga Ivanova’s two photographs of people in Russia from a 2014 exhibition, and the painting Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, a George Shaw work showing nearby Tile Hill.

Other essays in the book cover the forming of the Mead Gallery in the 1980s, the development of the collection and site-specific installations, and its future.

Wherever it goes in the future, don’t miss the chance before June 20 to see so many fantastic works brought together in one place.

*The book, Imagining a University: Fifty Years of the University of Warwick Art Collection, is £18 or £25 after June 21. The exhibition is free to visit.

Picture this – your work at the Mead

There’s a chance for people to get involved in the exhibition opening next weekend at the Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre, University of Warwick.
The gallery will be showing the first solo museum exhibition for 10 years of photographs by Hannah Starkey, works which are described as creating a tension between figure and environment where ‘each appears to reflect and define the other’. She apparently composes scenes which give a sense of a story presented through small clues, such as the position of a glass, a shadow or someone’s averted gaze.
The Mead is calling on people to get involved by finding a space in Coventry and creating an image in response to Starkey’s work. If it arrives at the gallery before January 14 it will be added to the public wall and exhibited online throughout the exhibition. Images arriving after this will be added as soon as possible after they arrive.

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