Posts Tagged ‘Balka’

Blackpaint 301

October 21, 2011

Tacita Dean in the Turbine Hall

..of the Tate Modern, of course.  Must be enormous pressure to do something spectacular.  She’s chosen to celebrate the medium of film and the display is a tall, window-shaped projection on the back wall, with film sprocket holes on either side.  Critics have variously described it as a cathedral window or a lift shaft – I tend to the latter.  So, what happens is that a series of images come and go for 11 minutes, then the sequence starts again.

The images include (from my memory):

Shaggy Ink Cap mushrooms; rapids, with the middle section flowing backwards); pink flower; lump of resin(?) suspended on string or wire; mountain (Matterhorn?) pictured in different colours; a human eye, opening and closing; large orange dots.  I’ve resisted the temptation to add more, gleaned not from memory, but other critics’ lists – and that’s the thing; you can’t help doing a cuddly toy – listing what you remember.  Not really what you ought to be doing when contemplating a great work of art.

So- it’s nice, but it’s not Eliasson; more in the class of the Rachel Whiteread.  Better that that thing with the bunk beds and paperbacks or the Salcedo split in the floor;  but I think the Balka was more memorable.  Actually that’s a lie; the Balka thing came to mind after I’d thought of all the others mentioned.

Gerhard Richter

Interesting that Richter is now the greatest living artist, according to various critics (Laura Cumming, for instance), when a while back, it was Boltanski, when he had his installation in Paris.  Latest thing, I suppose.

But the Richter at TM is great, and I’ll be going again, several times (we get in free as my partner is a member – cheap, if you go a lot).  I’ll take it in sections:

First, there’s the blurred photo paintings; bomber raids, Wehrmacht Uncle Rudi,  victim Aunt Marianne, with a baby in arms – is that Richter? – , the creepy, smiling dog with the clown face, couples, tiger, ruins… must stop this, making lists again.

Next, grey/black curved liquid spurt, reminded me of Bacon painting about which he was gleeful, apparently, at bringing off a perfect squirt of water. Also,  a grey swirl, with orange-green splats.

Next, “Damaged Landscapes” – Turner-ish grey Alps; Paris decomposing into curling, black and white squares and L shapes, like melting wax mixed with ash; kitsch snowy mountains; an empty, anonymous concrete city.

Grey Paintings – a dense undergrowth of grey sword-like strokes, recalling both Laurie Lee’s childhood jungle-garden memories and Christopher Wool’s paintings – although Wool’s are more slippery and soft-edged.

Figuration meets abstraction – brown cloudscapes, enlarged and smoothed out; two large coloured paintings that were originally little painterly sketches of – something that escapes me now – enlarged, blurred and smoothed until just two oblong blobs in pink and white.  A blurred Annunciation, based on Titian, apparently.

Genre Paintings and Early Squeegee – and the exhibition explodes into colour.  Blazing greens, reds, yellows, pinks; green tendrils of paint.  Completely overwhelming the little skull and candle paintings, and a fantastic iceberg.

Landscapes and Portraits – A huge abstract with seething red and orange on the right (of the picture) and cool, squeegee’d blues and greens sliding and curving on the left – can’t remember what’s in the middle.  Another with a shower of fat, purple bloody drops.  Betty turning away – apparently she’s looking towards a grey painting, although it looks like a plain dark background –  and another of her reading; both very slightly blurred “photographs”, it seems to me.  Some blurred landscapes with houses.

18 October 1977 – the Baader-Meinhof pictures.  Some Warhol-ish repetition of Meinhoff dead, although unlike Warhol, minor variation and blurred surface.  These, and the earlier, “Uncle Rudi” ones, brought to mind those blurred, sometimes touched-up photos you used to get in True Detective magazine, like Ruth Snyder in the electric chair or Charles Starkweather under arrest.

Abstraction in the 90’s – a huge beetroot – coloured squeegee job; a grey picket fence pattern; eight small, piercingly colourful scrapy abstracts, one with folds of scraped paint resembling bright leaf insects. 

2001 and beyond – the September picture that I have already written about (the planes hitting the WTC); the booklet appears to contradict the Guardian McCarthy article I cited – maybe I misread it.  OK, have reread it and I did misunderstand- it was a number of sketches that Richter thought to be abstract, until a friend pointed out that they showed the attack on the WTC;  Richter then based this picture on them.  Also, some great small ones in white with black line markings, like atom particle tracings on a metallic plate.

Cage – exhibition ends across cafe, in the room with the 6 huge scrapeys that are on permanent display.  Inspired by John Cage’s music, they look to me like swamp, scraped out in varying colours.


My mate Paul tells me he was deaf, which is why there’s not much music in his films.  Not many people know that.

Blackpaint (Chris Lessware)


Blackpaint 236

December 29, 2010

Review of the Year (Part 1)

OK, all the swanky broadsheet newspapers and TV culture programmes do an annual review, so Blackpaint’s readers are required to at least read the heading before – heading off in a more interesting direction.  Be reassured, however; I will only mention one thing under each heading.  So, assuming one of you is still reading, here goes:

Nov. 2009 – Balka box at Tate Modern.  Thick, felt blackness on your own in the morning; hordes of Spanish kids with phone cameras in the afternoon.

Dec. 2009 – Turner Prize Show.  Lucy Skaer’s whale skeleton and the powdered plane by Roger Hioorns – sorry, that’s two.

Dec – Mexican prints at British Museum.  Influence of Siqueiros on Pollock.

Dec – Updahl at Kings Place.  Purple skies over the fjords, amidst the corporate hospitality.

Dec – Photography at British Library.  Those weirdly humanoid X rays of frogs.

Jan 2010 – Photographers Gallery; Goldberg etc.  Afrikaaner boys on horseback with Easter Island expressions.

Jan – Chaldon Mural.  Demons like aliens, in Happy Valley.

Jan – Chris Ofili, Tate Britain.  The hanged man on the right of the picture.

Feb 2010 – Van Doesburg, Tate Modern.  Diagonal or square?  VD says former, Mondrian latter.

Feb – Arshile Gorky, TM.  Had no idea how influential he was on the Abstract Expressionists; didn’t like those fluffy white backgrounds, though.

Feb – Brighton Art Gallery.  The Christopher Wood and the Mods and (especially) Rockers photos.  Two again, sorry.

Feb – “Michelangelo’s Dream”, Courtauld.  Phaeton’s chariot and horses plummeting down.

March 2010 – Threshold; drawings at Whitechapel Gallery, curated by Paula Rego.  That Sutherland drooping, segmented penis on yellow background.  OK, I know it isn’t, but it looks like it.

March – Celeste Boursier – Mougenot at Barbican.  Birds on the guitar strings, everyone loving it; impossible name, though.

March – Paul Nash at Dulwich.  Overkill for me – but I love the Thames Estuary air war.

April 2010 – History of the World in 100 0bjects, British Museum.  The tiny carved reindeer, with no purpose other than to look good.

April – Shobdon Tympanum, V & A.  Wild, hippy woman in sailor top, who turned out to be Jesus enthroned in majesty.  Strangest British object I’ve ever seen (but see Chaldon, above).

April – Pompidou Centre, Paris.  Too much fantastic stuff.  The feminist videos stick in my mind, especially Hannah Wilke’s.

April – Musee d’Orsay, Paris.  Several crap paintings by genius painters (Van Gogh, Cezanne…)

April – Museum of Modern Art, Paris.  Fabulous Bonnards, Marthe in bath.

April – Tate Modern, permanent collection.  Sarmanto, disappearing pictures.

April – Kingdom of Ife, British Museum.  Mix of realism and stylisation in single sculptures – and those heads.

April – Christian Kobke at the National Gallery.  The roof painting, seven -eighths sky.

(Peep Show on now; this continued tomorrow).



Blackpaint 156

June 21, 2010

Sally Mann

I was hoping to do Sally Mann today, but Photographer’s Gallery closed on Monday.  Pity, because it sounds as if it sort of follows on from a couple of themes I’ve looked at in the last few blogs.  She takes antique-looking B and W pictures of her kids in the woods and riversides of Virginia.  The ones I’ve seen in the Observer and online look pretty risky, in the sense that stuff like this, naked and semi-naked kids, has been raided before in London on a complaint from the public; it might have been Mann’s photographs then, too.

The photos I’ve seen are posed, beautiful but sinister in the way that B and W photos set in woodland seem to be; looking at the Observer, they bring to mind Haneke’s “White Ribbon”, “Wisconsin Death Trip”, those Balka photos of the pond in the Polish wood (see Blackpaint 20 and 21).  It’s not just me, either; to quote Sean O’Hagan in the Observer, there is “an image entitled “The Terrible Picture”, in which one of her young daughters appears to be hanging by the neck from a tree”.

I suppose you could say that one of the functions of an artist is to confront terrible things that are part of human experience and to present them back to us in some form which embodies a truth or truths.  Whether or not Mann does this, I’ll have to wait and see, but I would have thought it takes some –  nerve?- to do this using images of your own children.  Superstition alone would stop me.

 If this weren’t enough, the other series of her photos shows decaying corpses at a Body Farm run by the University of Tennessee.  O’ Hagan asks two questions: should the scientists have let her take these photographs, and should they then be displayed as art.  I think the first question is tougher than the second; if I was the director of the Body Farm, I think I’d want permission of the relatives before letting some artist loose, especially if any of the corpses are recognisable.

As to the second, it’s not a problem for me.  We don’t see dead bodies all that often in Western society, so there’s an intrinsic interest. It’s going to happen to all of us sooner or later – or would do, if the undertakers didn’t get to us first – so it doesn’t seem to me to be totally ghoulish, just slightly morbid curiosity.  OK, then, on a Chamber of Horrors,  True Detective level; but whether it’s art…. I’ll go and see tomorrow.



Blackpaint 21

December 21, 2009

Last word on Balka for now

I think he was right not to specify how people should behave when visiting his big black box.  I saw on my second visit that a notice had gone up, asking visitors not to take photos or brandish mobile phones when inside the box, but I have an idea that it was the Tate people responding to complaints, rather than the artist – maybe I’m wrong.  

A couple of years ago, I visited Auschwitz – Birkenau with a group of college students.  It was a freezing day in November, we’d flown in overnight and sleet was being driven against us by a biting wind.  The visit was gruelling emotionally, of course,  and physically; there was a short service with readings and candles were lit and left on the railway tracks within the camp.

Like anyone who has had charge of a group of teenagers in such circumstances, I had been a little worried in case they should forget themselves and behave in an “inappropriate way”, during the long day; the site was full of young people from all over the world and some of them were pretty rowdy.  As it happened, my lot were fine.

As we walked back in the dusk, over the cinders  along the railway line, towards that square tower with the arch, I heard the kids chatting together and now and then laughing at some remark  and it struck me that I wasn’t scandalised at all (nor were any of the other adults); it seemed OK, even though we were where we were, between the barbed wire and the observation towers.  If it were being filmed, I suppose it would have been shocking to see youngsters chatting and laughing in the context but I don’t think they were being disrespectful; It’s very hard at that age to stay solemn for hours on end.  In any case, solemnity and reverence were not the objects of the visit.

The “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign, which was stolen, has been recovered in three bits and arrests made:  I understand why its theft was desecration, but it seems ironic that this sign, itself a mockery and form of desecration, has become so important as a symbol of the Holocaust.  I didn’t know that the same sign was used over the entrance at other concentration camps; the explanation I read was that it was part of the illusion the Nazis tried to create, that these were work camps, not extermination camps.  Maybe so, but I suspect many Nazis thought it was true in some perverted way; and I remember reading in Anne Applebaum’s book on the Gulag that Soviet camps had something similar over the entrance (must look it up).  The difference is that, for the most part,  the Soviet ones were labour camps, even though millions of prisoners died in them over 70 years or so.

Back to normal trivialities tomorrow.



Blackpaint 20

December 20, 2009

Balka (again)

Laura Cumming, in today’s Observer, reviews an exhibition by Miroslav Balka in Oxford.  Balka is the artist who has the big installation in the Tate Modern now, the container lined with black felt that I wrote about “I am Blackpaint”, my first blog.  Although Balka didn’t say so (avoided it, in fact, because he didn’t want to direct audience reaction), I immediately associated it with the concentration camps, seeing it as a giant cattle truck, the people entering, going “into the darkness”… the associations are obvious, although I don’t think it detracts from the effect – IF you see it under the proper conditions.  The proper conditions include an absence of chattering, shouting youngsters, brandishing their mobiles aloft to shed light around.

Anyway, Cumming describes in her review some of the exhibits at Oxford as “wintry, tense … maaking a point of uncertainty….In these film installations, Balka returns over and over again to a history one assumes must be Polish, because the artist is Polish, yet which tug the mind in all sorts of directions.”

There is a still from “Pond”, showing a ring of trees with a frozen pond within it and a black blob resembling a kneeling figure in the distance.  Cumming identifies it as “Birkenau, which is both a forest and a death camp.”  presumably, this is information supplied by Balka, in notes, perhaps, or a voiceover (unlikely).  This identification seems to me to conflict with the objective of “making a point of uncertainty”; without being told it was Birkenau, it could be a park anywhere; Clapham Common, New England, Sweden… As soon as you know the artist is a Pole, and more, that he lives near Treblinka (Ithought it was Cracow, near Auschwitz – maybe that was where he grew up) – the association is inevitable.  The trees across the pond loom in, the blob is a kneeling figure from those horrible photographs of mass murder by the Einsatzgruppen.

Anyway, the review is great and the exhibition sounds great too – but I want to consider the point above.  Is it possible for a Polish artist to avoid – assuming he/she wished to avoid – associations and inferences from World War 2 and the Holocaust?  Only, I think, if they were to avoid greys, blacks, browns, whiteouts, mist, forests, black and white film, huts, trains… you can continue the list.  If they were to specify “this work is not about the war” that would, of course, be taken as irony.  Some histories are so powerful that they can’t be escaped from, I think; even if the artists were able to free themselves , the reviewers and audiences would still contextualise.

And why not?  Once the work is on the wall or screen, it doesn’t belong wholly to the artist any more – that goes of course for poetry, music, all forms of art.  I remember seeing a Sean Scully in the Tate, mostly greys, whites and browns, that immediately suggested cattle trucks and concentration camps to me.

So, I don’t think that Polish artists can escape at least the question; how does this relate to the war?  They are constrained by their history, not necessarily to create, but  to be interpreted in this way.  Not for them the sort of trivia I deal in; colours, shapes, materials used for their own sakes and properties; they must be significant.  

Listened to: It’s Cold in China Blues, by Isaiah Nettles, the Mississippi Moaner.

“So cold in China, the birds can’t hardly sing;

And it made me mad, ‘cos you broke my diamond ring.”

Perfectly logical.