Posts Tagged ‘Sally Mann’

Blackpaint 237

December 31, 2010

Only half an hour to write the rest of my yearly review:

May 2010 – Henry Moore at Tate Britain.   Great exhibition, lots of sniping from critics.  I liked the early ones with marks scored on them.

May – Futurist room at TM.  That huge WWI Bomberg of the field battery.

May – Fra Angelico to Leonardo at the British Museum.  Not surprisingly, the anatomical drawings of Leo and Mick far outshone the rest.

May – Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh.  Has to be the Melville “abstracts”.

May – “Exposed” at Tate Modern.  Tillmans’ B and W photos of the flats.

June 2010 – Tate Britain; Rude Britannia.  Angus Fairhurst’s cartoons.  Also, the huge Ayres painting that was like bits of breakfast, and the early Bacon room with Goering’s dog.

June – Sally Mann at the Photographers Gallery.  The somewhat sinister pictures of her kids on the riverbanks.

July 2010 – Fiona Banner’ hanging flatfish Harrier at the TB.

July – Turtle Burners’ Portrait prize; the officer after the party.

July – Alice Neel at the Whitechapel; Warhol in his underpants.

August 2010 – Guggenheim, Bilbao; Rauschenberg’s Gluts.

August – Tate Britain; John Riddy’s great photo of tattered posters on a brick wall.

Aug -Frederick Cayley Robinson at the National Gallery; those little red dots in the picture.

Aug – Fakes exhibition at the NG; that terrible “Poussin”.

Aug – Agnes Martin at the TM.  Pristine.

Aug – Francis Alys at the TM; running into the dust storm.

Aug – Wolfgang Tillmans at the Serpentine; fantastic – those tendrils of coloured ink floating across the canvas.

Sept 2010 – Tate St.Ives; stunning Appel and Hoffman.

Sept. – Jeremy Deller’s flattened car from Iraq at the Imperial War Museum.  Is it art?

Sept. – Rachel Whiteread; “bodily fluids” on her bed drawing.

Oct. 2010 – Ai Weiwei’s sunflower seeds; I walked upon them and breathed the dust.

Oct – Gauguin at the TM.  Has to be Jacob Wrestling the Angel.

Oct – Turner Prize.  I would have picked Dexter Dalwood.

Oct – Clive Head at NG.   Yes, they look (to me) exactly like super – enlarged photographs.

Nov 2010 – Bridget Riley at NG.  That Big Flame one – beautiful.

Dec 2010 – Cezanne’s card players and pipe smokers (Courtauld); the little flecks of “dandruff”.

Dec – Tate rehangs; the Spencer “Woolshop” and Bomberg “ju jitsu”, and the Gary Hume cricket.

Dec – British Museum, fabulous drawings, “Picasso to Mehretu”.  I went again today.  Dine, Kitaj, Matisse, Richter …..

Thats it.  Best of the year: Sally Mann, Tillmans, Tate St.Ives, British Museum drawings.

The One that Got Away:  Joan Mitchell in Edinburgh, I’m sorry to say.



Happy New Year.

Blackpaint 159

June 24, 2010

Chelsea Degree Show (cont.)

A couple of items I missed yesterday that have floated back into my mind – again, all from memory, so apologies for any errors:

  • A whole wall filled with samples of knitting work, showing variations in style of ..well, knitting stitches (is that right term?)
  • A number of line drawings based, I think, on “The Joy of Sex”, that instruction book from the 70’s by Alex Comfort.  They were executed on paintings and photographs of paintings.
  • Curved blocks of wood, highly coloured – bright blue, I think – shaped like big cheese wheels and fitted around steps.

Depicting the Dead

Following on from Sally Mann’s photographs of corpses, more on the depiction of death, occasioned by the BP Portrait Prize being awarded to Daphne Todd for Last Portrait of Mother.  Todd’s mother is lying dead, aged 100, mouth gaping, against a big, lush, white bolster pillow and sheets.

I think it must have been done at home, since it’s executed in a Spencer/Freud style, which would have taken some time.  I can’ t imagine a hospital suspending the routines for a painting to be done – maybe a hospice?  Maybe she did it from sketches and memory or photos, or perhaps it was done at the deathbed; if so, how long did it take?

A couple of other things occurred to me; I wondered how the judges felt.  How do you compare someone who has entered a picture of their dead mother with someone who has entered their postman?  On pure merit, I suppose; it looks (in the Guardian photograph) to be a very good picture.

I also wondered whether it’s easier to paint the face of a corpse than that of a living person, in the sense that the emotions have gone; there’s no sparkle in the eye, as it were.

Finally, there is the fact that paint tends to “glamorise” ; paint, oil paint in particular, has sensuous qualities that are pleasing in themselves and can’t help but add that attractiveness to the least glamorous material.

Damien Hirst

The other death picture I saw this week was at Tate Britain; that photograph of a young Damien crouching and mugging next to the bloated features of a decapitated man’s face (presumably taken in a mortuary somewhere).

I used to find this picture ugly, callous and grotesque; I still do, but I think maybe Hirst is justified.  He is showing a fitting mindset for an artist – unsentimental, irreverent, objective.  you can’t avoid thinking, “Grin on, mate, that’ll be you some day with your head in a basket and some prat making fun of you”.  It won’t be, probably, as Hirst is rich enough to avoid dissection – but all the same,   “As you are now, so once were we”, as Christy says.

So it’s still disgusting, but it is art.



Blackpaint 157

June 22, 2010

Sally Mann – the Family and the land

As promised yesterday,  the show at the Photographers’ Gallery.  There is an excellent review by Sean O’ Hagan in the Observer which is no doubt online, but make sure you read mine as well.

It’s in four parts; two parts are pictures of her children, one is of Southern landscape and the last of corpses in a Tennessee forensic research “body farm”.  All the pictures are B &W, all taken on an antique camera and on some, imperfections in the developing process have been left in. 

The downstairs area contains huge close-up pictures of the children’s faces.  They were taken, like all the pictures, on a large antique box affair which was fixed in position above a table or board on which the children lay, looking upwards.  The faces fill the picture; no head outline.  The edges are ragged, torn and the paper has bubbled here and there.  The children are called, Virginia, Emmett and Jessie – the last is a girl, I was surprised to find, since her features are sharp, wild and boyish in these pictures.  In one of the pictures, the heavily freckled child’s eyes are closed, lids and lips appearing slightly darkened and swollen and the effect, for me, is of a death mask.  I was surprised to hear Mann say in the film that the faces, to her, seem full of life and hope.  They (apart from the death mask) could equally be seen to express resentment, aggression or fear, I think.

Upstairs, there are another dozen or so pictures, of the kids playing and posing in the Virginia woodlands and riversides.  They are formally beautiful, evoke Victorian images and have a sinister edge to them.  More often than not, the kids are naked and have knowing, even arrogant or challenging expressions.  In Perfect Tomato, a nude ballet dancer does steps on a picnic table.  Jessie at 9 is about to dive, naked, from a rock.  Approach of Alligator has the youngest girl “asleep” while a toy alligator appears to have emerged from the creek in the background. 

There are two images, however, which are most disturbing.  The first, entitled The Terrible Picture, shows the youngest girl looking as if she is hanging from a tree.  The second, entitled Candy Cigarette, shows the two girls, dressed for once, in casual poses, the older one staring at the camera,  a cigarette poised in her fingers.  The younger, hands on hips, has her back to the camera, watching her brother in the distance, blurred, up a ladder it appears.

The combination of the pose, the expression and (especially) the cigarette sends a dubious message, I think.  Maybe it’s my corrupted mind and no doubt others will see only a couple of lovely kids pretending to be adults.  I find it edgy, anyway. 

The question to me about these pics (and to the American teacher, lecturing the big party of teenage students while I was there) was how much has Mann posed the kids and how much is the result of  the kids posing themselves?

Deep South is southern countryside – Spanish moss, mist, rivers, decaying trees, gates, columns, those fantastic swamp trees tha tent out at the bottom.  Civil War echoes, death,  decay….

What Remains is – well, the remains.  A gaping, parchment-covered skull, frizz of hair, shiny, satin/oilskin rumpled shoulder and chest skin.  Next, a fleshy, bulging stomach and breast, not far gone; a man’s(?) body, on face, big ulcer things on limbs and trunk, like the woman Torrance hugs in “the Shining”; a close up decayed face, wispy hair,  remarkable orange-peel shoulder; lastly, head, neck and trunk of a man  face down, cork-like skin, deep cracks or wounds like stab wounds?  No chance here of anyone recognising a relative (See last blog).

The family pictures were by far the most interesting and disturbing – that seems to be the adjective of choice (see O’Hagan).  Great exhibition, free too; beautiful images that you won’t forget in a  hurry.  Haunted by death and decay; in the film, she referred to “the sanctification of the land by the presence of death.”



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.