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George Condo shot this selfie and painted this logo and these coverlines for our cover. We see it as an ‘anti-cover’ – a reaction to the slick imagery created by magazines and now universally imitated by social media

George Condo has been redefining art for more than four decades. As he unveils a body of work titled “The Mad and the Lonely”, the artist speaks with Maryam Eisler about the human condition and society’s outcasts. Condo created this issue’s cover and logo for LUX, and showcases these paintings for the first time below

Maryam Eisler: Charles Bukowski once said, “Only the crazy and the lonely can afford to be themselves”. Would you agree?
George Condo: I would agree with Bukowski. However, I would say the mad and the lonely are perhaps more victims of their own internal circumstances, as opposed to having the choice to make that distinction.

back of a man painting in his studio, with an image of various faces

George Condo at work in his studio

ME: Would you consider madness and loneliness as necessary precursors to the act of creation?
GC: I don’t think so. I imagine the mad and the lonely as a state of mind that comes over the artist in moments of joy and happiness as well. Suddenly, without warning, the subconscious kicks in and drives him, or at least myself, into dark corners within me to bring out reflections, or rather observations of those disparate souls in life who have no choice but to be outcast or peripheral to the everyday working-class person, and are unable to function within the constraints of such boundaries. At which point, they become either homeless or simply rejected from society.

a man who is an artist looking directly at the viewer, drawn with pencil

George Condo, Illustration by Jonathan Newhouse

ME: Henry Miller once said, “The artist is always alone”. Are you mad and lonely? If so, is it by choice or by necessity?
GC: I am not mad and lonely. However, the portraits I paint are depictions of those who are. I like to take selfies, like the one on the LUX cover, because they make me laugh. Miller’s books always make me laugh as well. They are practically selfies in and of themselves.

Artwork created for LUX, 2024, by George Condo

ME: Have we become sad, lonely and angry as a society? Have we forgotten empathy? How would you propose saving us?
GC: I cannot save the world from its own extinction. We are the new dinosaurs living through the ice age, the cyber age, the world of disinformation and scam; a world at war within itself, like fires that keep popping up in various cultures – cultures that have been driven to believe in war against each other, a rather brutal form of extinction.

 

a painting of someone between a person and an animal

‘Acceptance’, 1989, by George Condo

 

ME: Sciences help us understand the natural world; social sciences help us measure human behaviour. Is culture alone capable of understanding the individual’s emotions?
GC: The emotional aspects of a child are the purest. Once the child becomes hardwired into various systems of belief, whether by political pressures or religious pressures passed to them by their elders, is when the trouble begins. The actual science of medicine and the science of research are subject to government regulations that perhaps aid the big pharmaceutical companies to continue to produce drugs. Many of the drugs they have produced previously have led to the need of the new drugs. For all we know, there has been a cure for dementia or cancer that has been held back from us for years. For all we know, it’s like trying to get to the truth about aliens. I don’t have an answer to that. I find that art is the truth; it is the only manmade representation of what one truly has to say and can believe in.

ME: How would you qualify the individual’s experience when they are confronted with a great artwork?
GC: I think the first feeling is one of great joy in seeing the remarkable impact of either colour or form or the way things are depicted and the spirit of an artist’s true beliefs.

 

A face coming out of a purple and blue background

‘Appearance’, 2023, by George Condo

 

ME: It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who once said that we consume culture to enlarge our hearts and minds. Would you agree that the very best of the arts induce humility and empathy?
GC: I would say Emerson was able to express some of the most beautiful essays ever written and I agree with everything he has said. His quotes from Aristotle are particularly amusing.

ME: Do you agree that art has the power to render sorrow into beauty, loneliness into a shared experience and despair into hope?
GC: I do agree with that. I believe it’s possible in art to turn that which is negative into positive, and that some of the most beautiful art is of the melancholic. One might find in the music of John Dowland in the early 17th century such beautiful and melancholic songwriting and ensemble music, such as ‘Lachrimae’, or ‘Seaven Teares’ as well as ‘A Pilgrimes Solace’, that it becomes transformative. This mood pervades throughout the arts, in painting as well, from this period. One might think of Caravaggio’s ‘Death of the Virgin’, which is currently at the Louvre.

 

a red nun, in a painting

‘The Red Nun’, 2017, by George Condo

 

ME: Dakis Joannou said, “If it doesn’t have psyche, it cannot be art”. How would you describe the psyche when it comes to your own art production?
GC: The psyche is an Ancient Greek expression and it still stands true. If the art does not have a mind of its own, irrespective of the viewers, it’s no good.

ME: Are you excited by your upcoming collaboration with Dakis Joannou’s Deste Foundation for Contemporary Art on the island of Hydra?
GC: I’m very excited, I’ve known Dakis for quite some time now. He is a very wise man with an extremely acute sense of aesthetics and imagination – even to have realised the Slaughterhouse as a place to show art tells you just how brilliant he is.

 

a blue face with brownish red wide eyes, pointy eyebrows and a long nose

‘Dark Facing Light’, 2023, by George Condo

 

ME: Does Hydra itself play a big part in this excitement? If so, why?
GC: Yes. This is a mythical island and it has all the elements of the ancient and modern times combined within one place.

ME: What are you hoping to achieve with this initiative?
GC: My hope is to somehow combine minimalism and figuration in one exhibition and to have a kind of dialectic experience take place: the cold and the warm coming together and liberating the constraints of both forms of art from being anything less than human.

a sculpture of a head

‘The Renegade’, 2009, by George Condo

ME: Would you say that this is a big departure stylistically and thematically from what you have produced in the past?
GC: This will be the first time I have worked in such a way as to focus the attention on the outcasts of society and glorify or rather dignify them in the context of a high-art experience.

ME: Where have you found your main sources of inspiration? Have these sources shifted in recent years or for the work you are about to present in Hydra?
GC: My art is always in flux with my imagination. I don’t necessarily draw or paint in a representational manner; it’s more an internal dialogue in my mind that is thrust onto the surface of a canvas to express my inner thoughts and feelings.

Caravaggio painting with red and heads and someone dying

‘The Death of the Virgin’, 1606, by Caravaggio (Fine Art/Alamy Stock Photo)

ME: What are you fascinated by these days? What do you abhor?
GC: Well, I am always fascinated by food, I must admit. I love to cook and try out new recipes or recreate things I’ve eaten that I really love. I even had such a great Greek lamb sandwich in Athens that I recreated the food-truck experience for Dakis here in New York and he loved it! I abhor war and suffering. I wish the wars would all end.

ME: What are your plans after Hydra?
GC: I will just come back home. My daughter is expecting a baby girl and I’m hoping to spend time babysitting!

George Condo’s exhibition “The Mad and The Lonely” is at the Deste Foundation Project Space Slaughterhouse, Hydra, Greece, 18 June-31 October 2024;

deste.gr

george-condo.com

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Reading time: 7 min
Two giant men walking with a man in between
A man standing in a white shirt with his hands in his pockets in front of pieces of art on a wall
William Kentridge is one of the great artists to span the last century and this one. Recently the subject of solo retrospectives at the Royal Academy of Art in London and The Broad in LA, the South African maestro sits down with LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai to discuss extremism, absurdity and politics in art

Sitting with William Kentridge ahead of our interview, as an assistant takes our order for coffee and biscuits, I can’t help playing a little game with myself. What, I wonder, would I think the great artist did for a living, if I didn’t know already?

We are backstage at the Barbican Centre, London, in the staff canteen, a windowless space that is empty for the moment as it is mid-morning. We have seated ourselves at a small square table in a corner, beneath a couple of framed newspaper cuttings of theatre reviews. Kentridge is wearing a white collared shirt and navy round-neck sweater – as, coincidentally, am I. Well built, with plenty of white-grey hair, slightly tousled and prominent white eyebrows, distinguished and just a tad authoritarian in his demeanour, he gives the vibe of being a professional.

A painting of a tree with a sculpture in front of it

Maybe he is a lawyer, like his parents, two of the most celebrated human-rights lawyers in his native South Africa? His father, Sir Sydney Kentridge, represented Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia trial of 1964, at the height of the apartheid system, which saw the ANC leader jailed for 27 years for campaigning for racial equality. Sydney, now 100, only retired in 2013 at the age of 90. William’s mother, Felicia, who died in 2015, founded South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre, which gave legal aid to those being prosecuted by the apartheid state.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

But no; William Kentridge looks like a doctor. That’s it. I feel like I’m sitting with a veteran family doctor, a GP who has seen years of woes and is used to answering the same questions over and over. There’s his dryness, the sense that his mind has experienced the best and worst of humanity, his ability to anticipate a question and have an answer ready, delivered in a highly articulate, slightly deadpan way.

A man speaking to a man in a costume with a giant head

My silly thought exercise is no more than that. Artists come in types as varied as humanity itself. And I already know that Kentridge comes from a highly learned, cultured family of Jewish humanist professionals. But still, it does connect with something else: the breadth of knowledge, reading and intellect that is packed into Kentridge’s works.

In many ways, this old white heterosexual male (by current societal definitions), with a specialism in charcoal drawings, is an unlikely global artist of the moment. His show was the centrepiece of the Royal Academy of Arts in London last autumn, and he had a similar solo show at the equally prestigious The Broad in Los Angeles after that. Much of the political and societal challenges he explores are from the last century: apartheid, the Soviet Union. Kentridge himself is 68 this year.

A man standing next to a man in a costume wearing giant trousers

And yet his works, which range from charcoals to animations, vast tapestries to sculptures, theatre shows to his poster-like rubrics, have never had more relevance in a world where the absurd is becoming integrated into the cultural norm, and where the Enlightenment liberal humanism he displays is being sidelined by winds of unreason.

Coffee delivered and biscuits to hand (which are being nibbled at by Kentridge), I ask him exactly what type of artist he is. He is famous for his charcoal drawings, but he also creates stop-motion videos, animations, tapestries, opera and theatre productions, operatic films, operatic historic films… we are meeting at the Barbican because he is directing a series of short diverse performances here, developed by artists at his The Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg, which would, I tell him, for the uninformed viewer seem like quite a different art form to drawings. How would he explain what he does, in a nutshell, say to an ancestor from 100 years ago?

Two giant men walking with a man in between

“I would say I make drawings, which would be familiar from 100 years ago. Sometimes those drawings are set in motion as animated film, so, if we’re in the 1890s they might have recognised that. Sometimes those projected images are used as backgrounds for theatre performances, which they would have known from 18th-century theatre-projection techniques. And so sometimes they shift between drawing and animation and theatre production and sculpture. But they all start off as drawing. Drawing is the heart of it. Even if it’s working with an actor onstage, the logic is that of making a drawing.”

There is a precision in his answer, almost jarring with its immediacy. He gives thoughtful answers but doesn’t seem to take time to think – a sign of a sharp mind.

A man standing between two men with giant costume heads and the man is whispering to one of them

Walk around one of Kentridge’s grand retrospectives, like the one at the RA, or the simultaneous selling show, “Oh To Believe in Another World”, around the corner at Goodman Gallery in Mayfair, and you immediately notice how prominent the themes of politics and society are in his works. At the RA, a 1997 animation playing on a loop, Ubu Tells the Truth, referred to the horrors of apartheid South Africa, including state-sponsored murders. In Goodman Gallery, we saw glimpses of the brutality of Soviet communism in his latest film (of the same name as the exhibition) and other works.

And yet there is a feeling that Kentridge, while amplifying these extremes of negative humanity, is not ideological himself, not campaigning for some political end. “No, it’s not ideological,” he agrees, referring to “Oh To Believe in Another World”. “What it is, is saying, ‘Here are the paradoxes’; that something that started with such optimism descended into such instrumental brutality. And so it sets the question of how does one find emancipation? We understand that it’s not okay for the inequalities in the world to exist, but that some of the huge-scale plans to change that have really not worked.

A drawing of a man

Illustration by Jonathan Newhouse

“That’s the paradox it sets itself in. More specifically, how did Shostakovich navigate his way through the Soviet Union? How did an artist do it? It’s a mixture between making a space for anarchic stupidity and learning from what you do, rather than telling the world what it has to do.”

Speaking with Kentridge, you soon realise that every answer gives rise to another question, which is perhaps an allegory for artistic inspiration. I ask, for example, whether he is commenting on events in these works.

a yellow file note which says The Dead Report For Duty in large blue font

William Kentridge created the artwork The Dead Report For Duty, for this issue of LUX

“I don’t see it as a commentary,” he says, “because in a commentary you need a sense of what your comment is at the beginning. At the end we discover what it is we have made. For me, the most interesting artworks are the ones that end with a riddle. You know a riddle is the edge of knowing a meaning and you can’t quite put your finger on the right word, exactly what it is, and then you become complicit in trying to construct what it is, to fill the gaps, to leap over the gaps, and that’s the place where we are. One of the phrases that comes up is, ‘There is no good solution’. There are less bad ones, though.”

So am I correct to see a kind of dark, absurdist wit in these works, despite, or perhaps because of their subject matter: apartheid, communism in the Soviet Union and the Cultural Revolution in communist China?

A man dancing next to a man in a costume wearing giant trousers

“Well, there’s certainly an absurdism,” he says, and then qualifies it. “In England, the absurd often just means the silly or funny. I mention the absurd as a logic that has gone astray, and then following that bad logic with complete clarity and assiduity. And if you think of what apartheid was in South Africa, it was absurd. We decide who you are by whether a pencil will stick in your hair or not, and that will determine your future. So there’s an absurdity in that, but it gets followed through with all the violence of the state behind it. It would be impossible to describe what happened in South Africa without invoking the category of the absurd, so I find it a very central way of thinking. It’s also about giving an image the benefit of the doubt – doing it and seeing what happens. And that would be like in psychoanalysis, where you use free association on the basis that something may well come out, even if you don’t know what it is in advance.”

A man holding a trinket over a table

I mention, as context, that I feel I can understand his works a little because I studied Soviet history, and worked in post-apartheid South Africa as a foreign correspondent. Do people viewing his works need this kind of knowledge?

“Hmm,” he ponders briefly. “It’s like in one of the films at the RA, where there’s an image of headphone speakers put on a pig’s head, and then the pig’s head is exploded. If you’re from South Africa, then you’ll know that was actually an experiment done by the security police to check boobytrapped headphones – they put them on a pig’s head and blew the head up. If you don’t know that story, it’s nonetheless an image of extreme violence, dichotomies and the vulgarity of putting Walkman headphones on a pig and then blowing it up.

A man fixing a giant head on a costume and another person in a costume watching him

“I think people are very good at creating or either understanding or constructing a context – which may not be that accurate, but nonetheless fulfils us. So I don’t believe that you have to understand all the context. But it helps to understand what apartheid was, to understand there was a cultural revolution in China.”

I wonder what he thinks of the current cultural battles and universalisation of identity in the Global North. Identity was, after all, the basis of apartheid, its justification for an institutionalised racial categorisation that put white people at the top, black people at the bottom, and so-labelled “coloureds” and “Indians” somewhere in the middle – although, effectively, near the bottom. I mention that when I worked as a foreign correspondent in the 1990s, the only times I had been required to state exactly what race I was on a form, were in apartheid South Africa and left-wing councils in the UK.

A man holding an instrument and two people in costumes holding giant heads watching him

Do these conversations come into play in his works? His answer is, typically, a deep one that slides into a riddle before it quite gets to its point. “Not directly, but I think they do come into it. I mean, there’s a polemic against an identity politics in the world, both in the way I work with different people and in the way that if you say, like in South Africa, we had all those years of apartheid, of identity politics, black people must live here physically, this is the type of music they can listen to, white people can listen to classical music, black people must listen to jazz.

“Part of the struggle against apartheid is saying, ‘No, a black person can listen to opera, can be an opera singer.’ So there is a polemic in that. There’s a polemic in saying, ‘Why do you do it – art that is connected to politics, without it having a political message?’ It says it clearly: politics is much less clear cut, much more paradoxical, ambiguous. Much less certain.”

We turn briefly to the politics of South Africa, where the institutionalised brutality of the apartheid era briefly gave way to hope when Nelson Mandela became President in 1994, and has now degenerated into corruption and mismanagement. Is he pessimistic?

A man standing on some steps looking down

“I always feel that in South Africa to be an optimist or a pessimist is wrong, because there were two futures unfolding, an optimistic one and a pessimistic one, but the difficult future feels harder to escape. I made a film called In Defence of Optimism, which is about life in the studio: what is the optimism in here, in making something, in not leaving the paper blank, in resisting entropy? And that became a strong action rather than a theme. Downtown in Johannesburg, shockingly, they have seven hours a day without electricity, sometimes two days at a time with no water. So it means that the well-off have a generator, they have a 4 x 4 vehicle that can go over the potholes in the road, but if you’re anyone else your life is really, really difficult and messed up.”

But he is loyal. He is still there. “I am still there. And two of our three children are there. But so many of the collaborators, musicians, actors, are still there – that’s a strong pull. I would feel quite dislocated, I think, if I moved. In a way, I stay in South Africa because I don’t have to. Also, it is depressing when things are falling apart, but it’s a very interesting place to be. It would be interesting to see, when you see the whole series of performances, whether it’s, ‘Oh, my God, I’m just going to go home and slit my throat’, or whether it actually gives energy.”

two men having coffee at a wooden table

Is he disappointed in the ANC – once banned under apartheid but which has governed South Africa since 1994, and has, post-Mandela, proved such a poor governor? “Yes, I think we really messed up badly in the years of the Zuma presidency [2009-18]. And it’s difficult to get out of it – our new president hasn’t done much better.”

I say that I remember Cyril Ramaphosa, whose current presidency has been marked by corruption and mismanagement scandals, when he was an ANC negotiator in the optimistic years of the 1990s: he seemed like a perfect future president – wise, thoughtful, considered. “He was, and everyone kept giving him the benefit of the doubt, saying, ‘It just takes time, it just takes time’, but now it’s been many years.”

Read more: Christopher Cowdray on the Dorchester London’s Latest Renovation

Kentridge doesn’t give much away, but you cannot create monumental, moving works like his (and the occasional funny ones) without a big emotional burden. I ask, is drawing therapeutic?

“Drawing is completely therapeutic,” he says. “However bad I’m feeling, after two hours in the studio just quietly drawing, everything seems manageable.”

At that point, the powerful intellectual sitting next to me sounds, briefly, like any vulnerable, creative artist.

Portraiture and exhibition photography by Maryam Eisler

Find out more: kentridge.studio

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of LUX

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Reading time: 12 min

Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery

Pakistani engineer turned conceptual artist, Rasheed Araeen, is using his geometric art to highlight racism and inequality. LUX explores the history behind his celebrated works
A man wearing a beige jacket and striped shirt standing in front of a geometric painting

Rasheed Araeen

Rasheed Araeen is now considered one of Britain’s pioneers of minimalist sculpture during the mid to late 20th Century. But during that period, he received little institutional recognition for his contribution to the modernist discourse in Britain. Araeen’s Pakistani background side-lined him as a non-European whose work was consistently evaluated within the context of post-colonial structures, which inevitably resulted in far less exposure.

A yellow, blue, red and black wooden clock with cut out shapes hanging on a wall and open sided cubes in blue, yellow, greed and red on the wooden floor

Black Square Breaking into Primary Colours, 2016, from the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

This latent racism led to his work in the 1970s and 1980s – in performance, photography, painting and sculpture – developing an overtly political content which drew attention to the way in which black artists were invisible within the dominant Eurocentric culture.

pieces of paper with colourful drawings stuck on a wall

Untitled, 2015

Araeen is now famously known for using geometric structures, in which vertical and horizontal lines are held together by a network of diagonals, to play on the links between Eastern and Western thought and the frameworks of social institutions and aesthetics.

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He often overlays his photographs within geometric structures, to further emphasise humans and the social structure in which they exist.

Rhapsody in Four Colours, 2018. Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery

Araeen comments, “I’m sick of the avant-garde and I want to get out of it. It is believed that the idea of abstraction is a twentieth-century phenomenon. In Damascus, it took place 1200 years ago. Nobody wants to hear about that in Europe.”

Read more: Behind The Lens Of Sunil Gupta’s Photographs

purple, green and orange triangles on a black and white diamond background

OPUS TD 3 (2), 2017. Image courtesy of Aicon Gallery

Through his artworks and books, Araeen has become a key activist in establishing a black voice in Britain’s art scene, publishing ‘Black Phoenix’ in 1978, and subsequently ‘Third Text’ in 1987, and ‘Third Text Asia’ in 2008. Araeen also founded Kala Press, to spread information and recognition of unacknowledged African and Asian artists in Britain who contributed to the development of post-war British art.

Rasheed Araeen lives and works in London. He is represented by Grosvenor Gallery.

This article was published in association with the Durjoy Bangladesh Foundation

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Reading time: 2 min
two people walking by a river passing two sculptures

Togetherness, 2022, by Leilah Babirye, at the PAF’s ‘Black Atlantic’ exhibition, 2022

As the art world gets moving for Asia’s first major fair of 2023, the new Art SG in Singapore, we asked some movers, shakers and collectors which artists and curators around the world are catching their eye for 2023. Read on for the verdicts from Mickalene Thomas, Steve Lazarides, Phillip Colbert and many others

A woman laughing wearing blue sunglasses and a green jacket with a patterned blue and pink scarfMickalene Thomas, artist
Based: New York
Nominates: Leilah Babirye
I first encountered Leilah Babirye’s work in 2019, a year after she received asylum in the US from Uganda, when a friend introduced me to her sculptures. I immediately felt a profound, intense connection to her work. The composition of materials deeply resonated with me, particularly how she juxtaposes found objects with ceramics, metal and wood, and shapes the surfaces and imbues the materials with such a regal, ethereal, spiritual essence. Her sculptures transform seemingly disparate media into a powerful representation of her vision for empowering hybridity, queerness and trans selfhood. She shows with Gordon Robichaux and Stephen Friedman Gallery.

stephenfriedman.com/artists/66-leilah-babirye

A man wearing pink trousers and a blue and white jumper standing with his hands in his pocketsSteve Lazarides, artist
Based: London
Nominates: Tim & Barry
They are not exactly emerging, but Tim & Barry are definitely change-makers. They documented the birth of grime in an incredibly unexpected way, and it’s not often I say this but their work is exceptional. I love their visuals, and the way they work across multimedia. They basically set up Boiler Room before Boiler Room did.

A man wearing an Arabic headscarf and brown dress holding a microphone

Just Jam Omar Souleyman, 2014, by Tim & Barry

linktr.ee/TimandBarryTV

A man with patches on a black outfit sitting on a chair with paintings behind himPhilip Colbert, artist
Based: London
Nominates: Elsa Rouy
I am very excited about the work of Elsa Rouy, who shows with Guts Gallery. Her paintings have a dark, subversive edge with an undeniable femininity, and they are really punchy. Charlotte [Colbert] loves her, too – we actually bought some of Rouy’s works from one of her first shows.

A painting of a woman crying with black hair

I Could Always Crack a Joke, 2021, by Elsa Rouy

elsarouy.com

A woman wearing a red kimonoAlia Al-Senussi, cultural strategist and advisor in
arts and culture
Based: London and Riyadh
Nominates: Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al Saud
Prince Badr is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s first minister of culture and leads on various initiatives related to the implementation of Saudi Vision 2030. His curiosity, engagement and willingness to promote culture at the forefront of Saudi society and economy are unprecedented. His vision is clear and he is unstoppable with his energy and enthusiasm. I see his culture work as revolutionary, something that will impact generations to come.

silver sculptures in a desert

Dark Suns, Bright Waves by Claudia Comte at Desert X AlUla 2022, for whose Royal Commission Prince Badr is governor

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

moc.gov/sa/en

Maria Sukkar, collector and member of the International Council at Tate
Based: London and Lebanon
Nominates: Alex Petalas
Alex Petalas is a young, energetic, Swiss-born Greek art aficionado. In 2018, he opened the Perimeter, a beautiful mews house in Bloomsbury converted into an exhibition space where vistors can view part of his contemporary-art collection. He has also been involved in Tate Young Patrons for a long time and for three years was co-chair. Petalas is already starting to make waves in the art world by synthesising the roles of collector, public gallerist and curator all in one.

A painting on a wall of a hand and a peach

A view of Alex Petalas’s London gallery, The Perimeter, showing Sicily Morning, 2018, by Wolfgang Tillmans

theperimeter.co.uk

A blonde woman wearing a brown jacket and black topSophie Neuendorf, vice president, Artnet
Based: Madrid and Berlin
Nominates: Anthony Vaccarello
In 2022 six major Paris museums, including the Centre Pompidou, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay, have celebrated Anthony Vaccarello, the Saint Laurent creative director and patron of the arts. Continuing the legacy and ethos of Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé, Vaccarello launched an exhibition space at Saint Laurent Rive Droite. With Paris exhibitions and global pop-up shows (including Sho Shibuya during ABMB), Vaccarello is developing Rive Droite into a destination for collectors worldwide.

record players and CD Vinyls stacked up on a marble wall

Inside the Saint Laurent Rive Droite Paris boutique

ysl.com

A man wearing a a navy suit and white shirt with his arms foldedAzu Nwagbogu, founder, African Artists’ Foundation and director, LagosPhoto Festival
Based: Lagos and London
Nominates: Moufouli Bello
In February 2022 one of the smallest countries in West Africa, Benin, hosted the exhibition ‘Benin Art from Yesterday to Today, from Restitution to Revelation’. It marked the Musée du Quai Branly’s return to Benin of art that had been pillaged from the former Dahomey Kingdom in 1892, and celebrations were mediated through an exhibition of works by contemporary Beninese artists. Standout was Moufouli Bello’s Tassi Hangbe, a large painting that chronicled the journey of restitution, but also gave it an agency in the present and for time to come. Bello is also a film-maker and environmental activist, an art-world thinker and star for the future.

A blue painting of a woman sitting on a couch

Beautiful Silly Flowers, 2021, by Moufouli Bello

houseofafricanart.com/moufouli-bello

A man in a grey top sitting on a brown chair with books behind himDarius Sanai,
Editor-in-Chief, LUX
Based: London and Switzerland
Nominates: Jacopo Pagin
I fell for Jacopo Pagin at Frieze LA in 2022. I had missed the private
view because of a clash with Frieze events, and when I dropped round to the Make Room gallery, which is behind a car park in West Hollywood, a day later, all the works had sold. That in itself is not a guarantor of quality, but what you immediately see in Pagin’s works is his technical accuracy and training, combined with what appears to be quite a mathematical imagination. There is something unmistakably Italian about his style – he is a young Italian artist living in Brussels – but it sweeps across the eras: a touch of Fontana, memories of Leonardo da Vinci and his own intricate and occasionally nightmarish neo-surrealist dreamscapes. I am keeping an eye on him, or is that three eyes?

A painting of a black and green vase with a face on it

My Destiny in Fiction, 2022, by Jacopo Pagin

jacopopagin.com

Read more: Why the German art auction market is booming

A woman wearing a black top with her arms foldedVanessa Guo, co-founder and partner, Galerie Marguo
Based: Paris
Nominates: Rebecca Ness
Since graduating from Yale School of Art in 2019, Rebecca Ness has risen in the global contemporary-art scene. She excels in storytelling and monumentalising the mundane, painstakingly rendering fleeting impressions and her everyday world in oil – a notoriously slow and laborious medium. Her signature lexicon is subjective, realistic yet cartoonish and vibrant. Her work is collected by top institutions including the ICA Miami and the Long Museum, Shanghai.

A painting of a boy on a mans back walking through a forest

Herman Counts the Trees, 2021, by Rebecca Ness

rebeccalness.com

A woman wearing a black and white topRacquel Chevremont, collector and curator
Based: New York
Nominates: Vivian Crockett
I am very excited about Vivian Crockett becoming curator of contemporary art at New York’s New Museum, and bringing to it her focus on contemporary art of African and Latinx diasporas and the Americas at the intersections of race, gender and queer theory – everything I am most passionate about. We are lucky to have her back in NYC, further pushing the museum’s thriving curatorial history and proving that presenting exhibitions that push the many artistic voices overlooked and under-represented by most major institutional programmes not only brings more diverse audiences but can be deemed commercially successful.

A black and white checked floor and a painting on the wall with yellow walls and a check floor

Four Brown Chairs, 2020, by Jammie Holmes, from the ‘To Be Determined’ exhibition at the Dallas Museum of Art 2020, curated by Vivian Crockett

viviancrockett.com

A man wearing glasses and a white shirtLorin Gu, founder, Recharge Foundation
Based: New York
Nominates: Anna Weyant
Anna Weyant is a fierce force in a new generation of female artists and an emblem of Gen-Z’s desire to reinvent the art-history canon. Referencing influences from 17th-century Dutch painting to Pop, she features young female characters in tragicomic scenes and updates ideas on the female gaze. Weyant has lived and studied in Canada, the US and China, and considers the unifying qualities and experiences that women encounter in the world. Her portrayals of the underlying rebellious intent of young women show them fighting societal norms and exercising independence from the patriarchy. Weyant’s 2023 solo show at the Gagosian marks her as the youngest artist to be given an exhibition by the art powerhouse.

A painting of a woman sleeping in bed wearing an eye mask and yawning

Slumber, 2020, by Anna Weyant

gagosian.com/artist/anna-weyant

This article first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2022/23 issue of LUX

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An orange and green tapestry of a boy with his hands on his cheeks and messy hair
An orange and green tapestry of a boy with his hands on his cheeks and messy hair

Missing Home, Adolf Tega in collaboration with Qaqambile Bead Studio

Whilst you most likely have heard 1-54 is celebrating its 10th year in London at its flagship event at Somerset House, LUX casts an eye at one of their more surprising partnerships…Nando’s!

Founded in 2013, by Touria El Glaoui, 1-54 is the leading international art fair that focuses on contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora, with it name deriving from the 54 countries that make up the African continent. This year’s fair will host 50 international exhibitors across 21 countries, its largest number of countries to date. They will present over 130 artists working across an array of mediums from painting and sculpture to mixed media and installation.

A painting of women speaking

Women’s Conversation by Nkoali Nawa

For the last three years, 1-54 has partnered with, Christie’s, highlighting the renowned auction house’s dedication to showcasing contemporary African art to its global client base. But even more astonishing is 1-54’s other significant partner. Nando’s.

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The fast-casual chicken shop chain is one of the greatest supporters of Southern African artists and their families by providing career development opportunities and exposure. Nando’s art programme have given over 350 artists a platform to further their careers, partly by hanging their works in 1200 restaurants across 24 coutnries.

a painting of two men sitting on books wearing pink t shirts and yellow vneck jumpers

Maideyi by Adolf Tega

A man wearing a black t-shirt with a gold logo on the left side

Adolf Tega. Image by Retha Ferguson

“This opportunity is the pay-off for hard work and patience. It is a full circle moment for me; I recall so well receiving continuous feedback from Tamlin [Spier Arts Trust chief curator] to not be stubborn about my beliefs and preferences, to take my time to produce quality work and to find my own voice. Here I am now, seeing how far I have come and excited to be selected to present my work in London at 1-54. Thank you Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust for enabling my time to shine, it’s a very proud moment,” Says Adolf Tega.

A painting of ben ganging up on an other man with sticks over their heads

A Celebration by Nkoali Nawa

Read more: PAD returns to Berkeley Square

A man wearing a brown zip hoodie

Nkoali Nawa. Image by Retha Ferguson

Another artist on display who has become part of the Nando’s collection is Nkoali Nawa, who said “Nando’s and Spier Arts Trust are giving me a fantastic opportunity to expand my career and introduce my work to the international art market. It is so exciting that I will be able  to talk about my work, in person, on this platform with its incredible visitor base. It is the next step I needed as an artist, to grow.”

1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair is on at Somerset House, London, from Thursday 13th-Sunday 16th October 2022

Find out more:

www.1-54.com

www.nandos.co.uk/explore/art

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Reading time: 2 min
artist with artwork
portrait of a man in front of artwork

Photograph by David Taggart

Jeff Koons is the world’s most expensive living artist, creating works that reflect modern life in their interplay with kitsch, materials and art history. Koons chats to Millie Walton about communication, how art brings the sublime into the everyday and pink inflatable rabbits

Jeff Koons is making me sweat. He’s ten minutes late to our Zoom meeting, and at this stage, I’m unsure whether he’s forgotten, or I’m unwittingly engaged in some kind of power play.

Something I realised in preparing for this interview is that almost everyone has something to say about either Jeff Koons as a person or his work. One of my favourite anecdotes goes something like this: “My friend went to a house party and had sex beneath a Jeff Koons, and said it was the way they’d like to die someday.” When I heard it, I thought that’s probably exactly the type of story an artist who is famed for making explicit artworks of himself and his ex-wife Ilona Staller (who was also a porn star known as La Cicciolina) and shiny balloon sculptures would love to retell to fawning art collectors at swanky gallery openings in New York. It’s hard not to make assumptions about one of the world’s most famous and controversial artists.

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red balloon dog sculpture

Jeff Koons, Balloon Dog (Red) (1994–2000). © Jeff Koons, photo: Mike Bruce, Gate Studios, London/Courtesy the Royal Academy of Arts, London

A young, attractive woman (one of Koons’s studio assistants, perhaps) enters the screen to test the audio and camera, before he finally sits down, checks his ‘earpods’ are in place and gives me a Hollywood smile. At 66 years old, with gleaming white teeth, a full head of hair, barely any visible wrinkles and the glow of health, Koons could pass for early forties. He speaks precisely and slowly, maintaining eye contact and frequently dropping my name into the conversation, which has the destabilising effect of making everything he says seem both deeply profound and strangely orchestrated. “Millie,” he says mysteriously at one point. “What’s really interesting and beautiful about art is that what’s relevant and new is really quite ancient.”

porcelain sculpture

Jeff Koons, Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988). © Jeff Koons. Photo Tom Powel Imaging

Rising to prominence in the mid-1980s in New York, alongside Jean-Michel Basquiat, Richard Prince and Keith Haring, Koons has long advocated the idea of ‘accessible’ art. He takes everyday objects and pop icons as his subjects, often rendering them at a huge scale to disrupt cultural hierarchies and unsettle the viewer’s sense of perception. Of the making of Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988), for example, a white and gold porcelain sculpture of the musician and his monkey, the artist says, “I was really trying to make a connection with Renaissance sculpture and to show that something we can acquire in a gift shop can have this important meaning to us in life, and as much relevance to excite and stimulate us as the Pietà.”

Read more: Sophie Neuendorf on new wave collecting

Over the years, critics haven’t been so open-minded. His work has been variously labelled as “vacuous”, “crude” and “lazy”, but this has only increased his popularity. In 2019, Rabbit (1986), a metre-tall stainless-steel copy of a plastic inflatable bunny, sold for more than $91 million at Christie’s, breaking the record for a work by a living artist sold at auction set in 2018 by David Hockney’s 1972 painting Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), a record previously held by Koons himself. That might seem like an eye-watering price, but his work is highly technical and expensive to produce, which has, in the past, led to delays in completion and major lawsuits. In 2018, billionaire financier Steven Tananbaum sued Gagosian over the delayed delivery of three of the artist’s sculptures. Then, earlier this year, the artist shocked the art world by announcing his decision to drop both Gagosian and David Zwirner and to be represented worldwide exclusively by Pace Gallery, stating, “The most important thing to me is the production of my work and to see these artworks realised”.

silver sculpture of a rabbit

Jeff Koons, Rabbit (1986). © Jeff Koons. Photo Tom Powel Imaging

The desirability of his work comes not just from the promise of drama and luxury. There’s also an appealing sense of playfulness, nostalgia and recognition to be found in his vibrant colours and simple visual language that recalls a childlike innocence. “When we’re young, we’re more curious. We absorb tremendous amounts of information very quickly because we’re open,” he says. “Eventually, people start shutting down and making all of these judgements. I try to open myself up to everything.”

Koons is a ‘conceptual’ artist: a visionary, rather than a maker. He has multiple studios and a team of more than fifty people producing the ideas that he dreams up. It’s an approach to art-making that allows him to “have feelings and sensations, but not to be dependent on the hand”. It also allows him to pursue “Duchampian ideas” by taking a more “objective” viewpoint. Whether one can truly detach oneself from one’s own thoughts is debatable, but what’s important is the intention behind the work and, for Koons, that often comes from a personal experience or encounter with a material, colour or form. As a younger artist, for example, he recalls buying a pink inflatable rabbit and a yellow and green inflatable flower which he placed on mirrors propped up against the wall. “The colour, the reflection and this association was so intense, I had to go have a couple of beers to really come down from the excitement,” he says.

artist with artwork

Koons photographed in his Manhattan studio in 2021 with a work in progress. Photograph by David Taggart

His focus now is more on being in dialogue with the viewer than himself. “There’s joy in sharing the human potential with others, instead of just with the self,” he says. This idea of exchange is perhaps most evident in the artist’s ‘Gazing Ball’ series (2012–) in which he places a blue, mirrored, hand-blown glass gazing ball within a classical piece of art, such as Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. The ball reflects the surroundings and the viewer, literally drawing them into the work of art. For Koons, the object relates to his childhood in York, Pennsylvania where he recalls seeing gazing balls in people’s gardens. “I’ve always loved the generosity of [the gazing ball], but also that it’s a lawn ornament. It’s something that can be looked at in a very profound way and at the same time it’s frivolous,” he says.

Read more: How Durjoy Rahman’s art foundation supports cultural collaboration

painting with sculpture

Gazing Ball (da Vinci Mona Lisa) (2015). © Jeff Koons. Photo Tom Powel Imaging

The same could be said for many of Koons’s sculptures, which, at the very least, teach us that outward appearances can both charm and deceive. The reason he so often works with stainless steel is that it’s both highly durable – “A kind of a proletarian material; if people wanted to melt [the works] down to make spoons, forks, pots and pans, they could,” he says – and shiny in appearance. One of the artist’s most iconic pieces, Balloon Dog, explicitly plays with these material qualities by suggesting the bulging soft surface and lightness of a balloon while harnessing the sculptural strength of the metal. “Only the surface has a visual luxury, and when I say a visual luxury, I’m speaking about the excitement of stimulation, reflection, abstraction and change,” he explains. “That’s the type of luxury that my works are interested in.”

public sculpture of a ballerina

Jeff Koons, Seated Ballerina (2017) at the Rockefeller Center, New York. © Jeff Koons. Photo Tom Powel Imaging

Has the material worth of his work changed the way he feels about his practice, and art in general? “I love art, I love the idea of how it can really better the lives of people as an educational tool. It informs us, not only of our history, but of all the human disciplines, how we can incorporate them, fit them into our lives. It’s always a dialogue about becoming,” he says. “If the market, at some point, became interested in me, I’d like to believe it was because I was able to communicate some of those ideas to people, and that they found relevance in the belief of this type of transcendence.”

Find out more: jeffkoons.com

This article was originally published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue.

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shiny balloon dog sculpture
shiny balloon dog sculpture
Although Jeff Koons has had a profound impact on contemporary art and remains one of the world’s most influential artists, recent data supports a strong decline in his market, reflecting the tastes of a new generation of art collections and wider cultural shifts. Sophie Neuendorf reports

“I love the gallery, the arena of representation. It’s a commercial world, and morality is based generally around economics, and that’s taking place in the art gallery,” Jeff Koons

The above quote perfectly sums up the ethos and reputation of Jeff Koons. Love him or hate him, Koons has shaped contemporary art in profound ways over the course of the past few decades. One of the reasons for this is that his work is globally recognisable and relatable – you don’t need to have studied art history to understand where he’s coming from although if you have there are deeper layers to be found. In a sense, he bridges the gap between high and low culture.

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Koons rose to fame in the 1980s, developing iconic works such as Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988), the Made in Heaven (1990–1991) series, and Puppy (1992), which has been installed in Sydney Harbour, Bilbao, the Palace of Versailles, and Paris. While he’s most closely associated with his brightly coloured, shiny, oversized sculptures of kitschy souvenirs, toys, and ornaments (see his Celebration (1994–2011) series), Koons continues to seek new and surprising outlets for his creativity. In 2017, he teamed up with the luxury brand Louis Vuitton to produce an edition of bags printed with iconic European paintings, and more recently, he teamed up with high-street brand UNIQLO to create a line T-shirts and hoodies printed with some of most famous sculptures.

art auction graph

Courtesy of artnet

In 2019, his fame seemed to reach an all time high: Rabbit sold for a record-breaking $91.1 million at Christie’s auction house, making him the most expensive living artist. However, according to the artnet Price database, that single work accounted for the lion’s share of the artist’s $100 million (approx.) auction total that year. In fact, since peaking at more than $150 million in 2014, the artist’s  overall auction volume has been slowly trending downward. In 2020, it was down to less than $3 million. While the pandemic undoubtedly played a role in the decrease of sales and things have picked up slightly since (to about $36 million to date) it’s still a far reach from earlier years. More worryingly, 48 (20%) of the 239 Koons lots offered this year at auction have failed to sell entirely.

Read our interview with Jeff Koons from the Autumn/Winter issue

Over the past few years, major cultural shifts in the art world and beyond have contributed to the rather rapid depreciation of the Koons market. First and foremost, there has been a generational shift, with a new group of young collectors becoming the driving force behind the rise of Ultra Contemporary artists and a wider change in tastes. Peers of the BLM, MeToo, and climate change era, these young collectors are looking for more depth and meaning than Koons’ shiny kitsch seems able to offer. Quite possibly, the extravagant prices and controversial subject-matter (namely Koons’ Made in Heaven series which featured explicit images of his former wife, porn star Ilona Staller) have, ultimately, overshadowed his career, but this change can also be seen as a natural evolution. In fact, the only category in art that is more or less immune to changes in taste are the ultimate “trophies” that are so exceptional and rare in quality that anyone able or prepared to spend more than $100 million on a single artwork cannot afford not to go after them, if and when such works become available. Nearly everything else is and always will be affected by the evolution of culture.

art market graph

Courtesy of artnet

Additionally, and importantly, the health crisis of the past two years has had a profound impact on not only the art market, but also on the popularity of the hyped pre-pandemic artists. Internationally recognisable artists such as Richard Prince and Takashi Murakami have also seen a depreciation in their average prices at auction, indicating a decline in their popularity. Perhaps, this is because these figures are seen to be representative of a pre-pandemic era, an era which was more superficial and frothy than today’s.

Read more: The Best Art Exhibitions to See in January

Koons currently ranks as number 57 in artnet’s list of the top 300 most popular artists, but if the market is anything to go by, he’s in danger of slipping off it altogether. “For me, at a certain point it became so much about the money that I couldn’t look at a shiny outdoor [Koons] sculpture without thinking about dollar signs,” commented American art advisor and specialist in modern and contemporary art Lisa Schiff. “When it becomes too much about the money, it’s just not interesting. I feel like where he started is somewhere very different from where he went.”

Now, Koons’ new dealers at Pace Gallery (the gallery announced exclusive representation of the artist in April after he left Gagosian and David Zwirner) are faced with the daunting task of rekindling his market. His latest works –  stainless steel replicas of porcelain figurines – are set to appear in a solo show at Pace New York in late 2023 but only time will tell if the market can be swayed once more in his favour.

Sophie Neuendorf is Vice-President at artnet. Find out more: artnet.com

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Rashid Johnson in the studio with a work from his series Anxious Red Paintings. Photograph by Sheree Hovsepian

Rashid Johnson is a cult superstar among contemporary artists, inexorably leading the cultural narrative. His wife Sheree Hovsepian, herself an acclaimed artist, photographs him for LUX at their New York home, while Millie Walton speaks with him about culture, identity and the future

Chicago-born artist Rashid Johnson is on his ‘daily constitutional’ around his neighbourhood in Long Island, New York where he lives with his wife Sheree Hovsepian (also an artist), and his son Julius. We’re speaking on the phone and occasionally, the whoosh of passing cars, birdsong and the artist’s breathing filter down through the speaker. As for many of us during lockdown, walking has become a vital addition to the artist’s daily routine that normally involves him being in the studio from 9am until 3pm.

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During those hours, Johnson says he is not always actively making art, but it is the time he commits to “laying [his] creativity bare… you can’t just wait for it to happen, you have to show up and work. I get a lot of joy from making art, and I say joy specifically because I don’t really know how to participate with happiness or what that is, but I also experience a lot of frustration and disappointment. All of those things feed into my project and why I’m doing it.”

artist portrait

Portrait of Rashid Johnson by Sheree Hovsepian

I wonder how this period of prolonged confinement, reduced travel and fewer physical exhibitions has affected him. “I feel like I’ve been crazy busy,” he says, “in both making artworks and doing a lot of talks and community engagement projects, but I’ve also spent a lot of time with family. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot from watching them so closely.”

Johnson is one of the most influential of contemporary American artists. He is a cult figure, in fact, among many collectors and others in the art world who see him as the voice of a generation and a commentator on the issues of race and social upheaval.

paintings and installation

From right to left: Untitled Anxious Audience (2016) detail; Fatherhood (2015) by Rashid Johnson. © Rashid Johnson and courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Johnson found early success following his inclusion at the age of 24 in the celebrated group exhibition ‘Freestyle’, at the Studio Museum in Harlem. His intimate portraits of homeless black men taken with a large-format camera immediately grabbed the attention of both the art world and the wider public. Since then, the 44-year-old artist has racked up an impressive list of solo museum shows and commissions, including a major project for the atrium at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow and, most recently, an installation at MoMA PS1 in New York entitled Stage (on view until autumn 2021), which comprises five microphones standing at different heights on a raised platform. There are references to protest and public oratory in this work, and also to hip-hop culture (a recurring influence on Johnson’s practice). The microphones are available for anyone to use; their words will be recorded, archived and, occasionally, broadcast via the museum’s website. The use of everyday objects is familiar Johnson territory, but the installation’s straightforward simplicity and direct call to action mark a new direction.

Read more: Artists to watch in 2021 – Arghavan Khosravi

As a black male artist, Johnson’s work is inevitably being seen in the context of the protests following the killing of George Floyd. This might risk an over-simplified or less nuanced interpretation of his work. When asked about this, he’s patient, self-analytical, and explains carefully his way of thinking. “[My work] is about how I identify and how I’ve grown in that identification – both realising when I should consider the collective nature of being a man, a black man, an American and a man in his forties, and also getting really granular with it: what are my obstacles? Which aspects of my life am I most interested in talking about? What are my character defects, and how do I start the process of unpacking some of those?”

mosaic and installation works

From right to left: Falling Man (2015); and Standing Broken Men (2020) by Rashid Johnson. © Rashid Johnson and courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Has he ever felt under pressure to make a certain type of art? “No, but I knew that when I made decisions they were going to be interpreted in a certain way,” he says. “Oftentimes, as an artist of colour, in particular a Black American artist, people imagine that the effects of racism and slavery and other oppressive aspects of our history reflect on me and my project in specific ways, but what I’m really interested in is how those more monolithic racial concerns are filtered through someone like me. I’m searching for autonomy, which I think, in some ways, is what every artist is searching for.”

artist portrait

Portrait by Sheree Hovsepian

This process of self-reflection has, for Johnson, largely been through various forms of abstraction – a build-up of spontaneous gesture, vibrant colour and embedded layers of symbolism – which, as Megan O’Grady points out in a recent article in The New York Times, aligns his practice with a new generation of black abstract painters such as Mark Bradford and Shinique Smith who are also making non-representational work in ‘defiance’ against traditionally narrow expectations of how their work should express black identity. “None of us want to be the representative of any kind of idea or concern,” Johnson continues, “and that’s not to suggest that I see the purpose of an artist as being an individual genius – I don’t subscribe to that concept at all – but I do see the artist as an individual living in the world and interpreting that world from a very specific location.”

Read more: How will the art industry change post-pandemic?

Inevitably, that location changes over time, and Johnson’s initial interest in the art world was that it might be “really exciting to be a filmmaker”. Arriving at Columbia College in Chicago, however, he found he had registered too late and all of the film classes were full. He ended up graduating with a BA in photography in 2000, and later, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, he took up painting, sculpture, installation and film. His directorial debut, Native Son, released on HBO in 2019.

man standing inside sculpture

Photograph by Sheree Hovsepian

He has become known for his distinct visual language, which comprises specific, non-art materials that reflect his own experience as well as referencing history, literature and philosophy – subjects he was taught to deeply respect by his mother who was a poet and lecturer in African history. One of his most frequently recurring materials is shea butter, which he sometimes carves into dense, golden, bust-like forms that appear amongst leafy plants in his large-scale steel structures. “One day, I was putting it on whilst listening to the Tavis Smiley Show on the radio and I just thought to myself: this is it, the honest space,” he recalls. “It’s a material that I’m actually using in my life and on my body and it talks about Africanness, and displacement and healing and moisturising and utility.” Interestingly, the more recent additions to his ongoing Anxious Men series see the artist returning to more traditional materials (oil and linen) and consciously placing himself “within the discourse of art historical engagement”.

man on the beach at sunset

Photograph by Sheree Hovsepian

Ever since his Anxious Men made their first public appearance, coinciding with the initial rumblings of Donald Trump running for president, the wild, boxy characters, rendered in a scratchy, urgent style, have become the symbolic protagonists of the artist’s practice. But it is the Broken Men series (2020) that leave an even deeper impact. Monumental to the point of being intimidating in their scale, the works in this latest series comprise fractured mosaics of cartoon-like figures assembled from cracked ceramic and glass, scribbled over with paint, melted black soap and wax. Standing before them at Johnson’s solo exhibition ‘Waves’ at Hauser & Wirth in London at the end of 2020, I found myself struck by an allusion to the end of one era and the uncertain beginnings of the next. “We are now deconstructed, we will never be exactly the same,” Johnson agrees. “I’m not suggesting that the world wasn’t tragic and problematic prior to all of this, which of course it was, but this is my relationship to it now. We’re putting [the world] together again through a piecemeal process.”

With thanks to Maryam Eisler
For more information, visit: hauserwirth.com

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue alongside Rashid Johnson’s logo takeover.

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exhibition installation
exhibition installation

Installation view of A History Untold curated by Lisa Anderson at Signature African Art London. Photo © Mora Ltd

Lisa Anderson is an independent curator and the founder of the Instagram account @blackbritishart, which she uses as a platform to promote the work of Black British artists, past and present. Following the opening of her latest curatorial project, A History Untold at Signature African Art London, LUX speaks to her about art as an educational tool, the role of social media and the exhibitions she’s looking forward to seeing

Lisa Anderson

1. What led you to set up the Black British Art Instagram account?

Back in 2015 when I created @blackbritishart, the visibility of Black British artists on Instagram was nothing like it is today. There simply were not as many artists online and there was no access to a fluid, intergenerational conversation about Black British art practice on the platform that brought together the works of established pioneers, alongside the exciting waves of emerging talent.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

As an art nerd, who enjoyed following accounts that featured artists across the African Diaspora globally (Europe, the United States of America, the Caribbean etc) and from across the African continent,  I desperately wanted to see an account that championed the variety of black artistic practice in the UK, reflecting the tapestry of works they create across the mediums of painting, drawing, digital art, sculpture, assemblage, collage, textile art, ceramics, and film. I knew the artists were out there, but there was a big digital hole on Instagram, so I decided to fill it.

When I started the platform, no one had yet claimed the hashtag #blackbritishart. There are now tens of thousands of works tagged, which I’m proud to have contributed towards. So, the genesis was curatorial curiosity and passion for celebrating the depth and breadth of fine art produced by Black artists in the United Kingdom – past, present, existing, and persisting.

2. Do you think social media is making art more accessible?

Undoubtedly. Through hashtags and the networked nature of these platforms, you can scroll your way through to an education in your favoured corner, or corners of the art world. I built Black British Art up by finding artists this way and exploring the artists, gallerists, curators, writers they were connected to. As Instagram, in particular, has evolved, the content has expanded beyond just the image or film content. It has become even more informational. Some Instagram pages are designed specifically to promote and educate followers about arts events or provide accessible show reviews through accounts such as @thewhitepube, which is one of my favourites. I have discovered and connected personally with artists online whose works I’ve bought, sold, and featured in exhibitions, such as Enam Gbewonyo and Irvin Pascal. Earlier this year there was also a huge boom in global arts networking through ClubHouse, which allowed arts enthusiasts to access, previously quite exclusive conversations about the art market that have empowered some emerging collectors to make more confident forays into their collecting journeys. And I don’t think the gold rush for NFT Art would have been possible without social media.

3. Tell us about your curation process for A History Untold at Signature African Art. How did you go about selecting the participating artists/works?

The brief for the exhibition stems from the failure of the British educational system to address British history in a truly inclusive and authentic way. In a way that honours all its citizens, thereby fostering respect the variety of cultures and ethnicities represented in modern Britain. In this case our focus is on the absence of a more holistic, complicated approach to Africa in the educational system. Our exhibition tackles this by choosing artists across the African continent and from the African Diaspora in the UK, whose works speak to under-examined areas of history such as Africa’s contribution to the study of mathematics, metallurgy, the development of paper for writing, the political power of jazz music as well as the contribution of African colonial subjects to the building of modern Europe through their efforts in the Second World War. We wanted to choose artists from various countries, whose practice resonated with these themes and art mediums.

two hanging paintings

4. The exhibition aims to reveal the lesser-known stories of Black history. In developing the show, did you personally learn anything new?

Prior to the show I didn’t know about the Ishango bone and the relevance this has as a marker of mathematic knowledge in the world. It’s such a beguiling and profound artefact. Perhaps the oldest mathematical artefact in existence, unearthed in 1950 in the then Belgian colony of the Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) and dated to the Upper Paleolithic Period of human history, approximately 20,000-25,000 years ago. This is why I think art should be used more in education. Once you learn about the Ishango bone, it explodes so many myths about where ancient knowledge comes from. It was also interesting to learn more about the variety of African civilisations that developed mastery of metallurgy.

Read more: Director of The Stand Beth Greenacre on the rise of buying art online

In terms of more contemporary history, however, one of the most moving discoveries was the personal histories of the black British artists in the show, Adelaide Damoah and Peter Adjaye, who are collaborating on a sculptural and sound piece. Their work explores the personal legacy of colonialism, as both have Ghanaian ancestors who fought for the second world war. I vaguely knew about the contributions made to the World War efforts by colonial subjects, however, learning the personal stories of these artists has redoubled my commitment to learn and share more about this history.

mixed media artwork

Damilola Okhoya, Once Upon a Time Under the Blue Skies I, 2021

5. How effective is art as an educational tool?

I believe art is one of the most powerful educational tools, because of its capacity to represent both real life and conceptual ideas in profound and transformational ways. Whether it’s a painting depicting the horrors and madness of war, a sculpture depicting the beauty of the human form, a picture of flowers conveying lost love, or a film work depicting the terror of racial violence, artwork can leave an emotional, intellectual and spiritual imprint that leaves you changed forever. I developed a whole new appreciation of my vulnerability to responsibility for nature’s cycles and the power of the sun after I experienced Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project at the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003. Truly one of my most treasured art experiences. For this reason and many more examples, I could provide, I believe that art was woefully under-utilised as a resource for basic education in my time. But I think the digital realm makes this much more plausible for future generations.

6. Now that museums and galleries have reopened, what are you most looking forward to seeing?

I’m so glad you asked that; I’ve been starved of seeing art in the flesh. There are countless shows I’m looking forward to. Through my Black British Art platform, I promote a list of shows to see that include works from black British artists. This month, I’m especially looking forward to a couple of group shows in London: Self Portrait, featuring a group of black female photographers, on show at Ronan McKenzie’s art space called Home and Citizens of Memory at The Perimeter curated by Aindrea Emelife. I’ve still not seen Lynette Yiadom Boakye’s show at the Tate Modern and really want to see the James Barnor show at the Serpentine. Further afield, I would highly recommend Phoebe Boswell’s show at the New Art Exchange in Nottingham.

“A History Untold”, presented by Maro Itoje and curated by Lisa Anderson features works by Giggs Kgole, Djakou Kassi Nathalie, Steve Ekpenisi, Damilola Okhoya, Adelaide Damoah and Peter Adjaye. The exhibition runs until 19 June at Signature African Art, Mayfair, London. For more information, visit: signatureafricanart.com

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collage artwork
portrait of artist in her studio

Iranian artist Arghavan Khosravi

In our ongoing online series, renowned art consultant Maria-Theresia Mathisen profiles rising contemporary artists to watch in 2021. Here, she speaks to New York-based Iranian artist Arghavan Khosravi about the power of visual metaphors, juxtaposing imagery and how her work reflects on her experiences of growing up in Iran

Maria-Theresia Mathisen

Arghavan Khosravi’s work is not only visually compelling but also loaded with socio-political commentary. I discovered her work in late 2019, a few months before the pandemic, on Instagram and was immediately taken by it. Bright colours and smooth skin are juxtaposed with uncanny elements such as ankle bonds, bombs, fragments of sculptures, shattered structures, ropes and keys. There are recurring symbols for censorship, such as locks, masks and bonds, reflecting the artist’s experience of growing up in Iran.

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Over time, I noticed that her compositions are becoming increasingly complex, and her paintings more and more sculptural. Arghavan is very ambitious and curious, constantly developing her practice, as if she is trying to solve a problem, or perhaps find a solution to some of Iran’s, or even the world’s problems.

To me, Arghavan’s work feels extremely important right now as it tackles human rights issues with a particular focus on the oppression of women in autocratic systems.

mixed media painting

Arghavan Khosravi, The Key, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: You are born and raised in Iran. When did you move to the US and why?
Arghavan Khosravi: I was born in Iran and spent almost my whole life there. In 2015, I came to the US to go to graduate school.

LUX: Was it a culture shock?
Arghavan Khosravi: To be honest, I didn’t face that much of a culture shock. I think nowadays, with globalisation and the internet, people from all over the world that are coming from similar cultural classes and generations have lifestyles that are not hugely different. The only thing that I can think of, which still wasn’t a culture shock, but a huge difference (and relief) was that in the US I could wear whatever I want in public; there was no more compulsory hijab (which is an unjust law for women in Iran).

mixed media artwork

Arghavan Khosravi, Connection, 2020. Courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

LUX: You have four degrees, two from Iran and two from the US. Why did you choose to do both undergrad and graduate degrees again in the US?
Arghavan Khosravi: I actually have three degrees. I got my BFA in Graphic Design and MFA in Illustration both in Tehran. After being a graphic designer for almost 10 years I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a painter and moved to the US, but since I didn’t have much professional or academic experience in that field, I decided to apply for a one-year non-degree post-bacc program in studio arts at Brandeis University (Waltham, Massachusetts). Over the course of that one year, I could make a body of work which enabled me to apply to a few graduate programs. Eventually, I ended up in Rhode Island School of Design’s graduate painting program.

three-dimensional painting

Arghavan Khosravi, On Being a Woman, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: Your earlier work from 2016 is heavily influenced by Iranian miniatures, but your style seems to have evolved a great deal in the past few years. What were the museums you visited the most upon coming to the US and which of them provided new sources of inspiration?
Arghavan Khosravi: Persian miniature paintings have always been one of the main sources of inspiration for me. Every time I look at them, I get inspired by one aspect of these works, whether it’s their mesmerising colour palette; their compositions; the way figures are depicted (there’s not much facial expression and the expressive qualities are heavily dependent on their poses and body language); or the way architectural spaces are depicted so that there’s no perspective and no vanishing point, which has a flattening effect. When I place figures that are rendered realistically into that unreal space, the juxtaposition gives a sense of distortion and displacement which can be read metaphorically too. The more I focused on this aspect of the paintings, the more I got involved with building shaped panels (instead of the regular rectangle) to emphasise these architectural elements of the space. This helped the paintings to increasingly exist as a 3D object rather than a 2D surface, which opened a whole new door for me and led me to experiment with different ways to explore three dimensionality in the paintings.

Unfortunately, over the past year I haven’t been able to visit museums due to the pandemic, but when I look back at the few years before that, a few museum exhibitions stand out. One of them was a retrospective of Jim Shaw’s works at the New Museum in New York in 2015 and another exhibition of his works a few months later at MASS MoCA in Massachusetts which truly fascinated me. The way he’s always exploring new different ideas and his never-ending creativity was very inspiring for me. The other inspiring museum exhibition that I can think of was David Hockney’s at the Met in 2017. One of the most inspiring aspects of his works for me was colour.

three dimensional artwork

Arghavan Khosravi, Isn’t it time to celebrate your freedom?, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: Your work fluctuates between pop, symbolism and surrealism. Which genre, if any, do you feel most comfortable being associated with?
Arghavan Khosravi: I can mostly relate my work to the surrealist movement and I think symbolism is one of the tools in surrealistic storytelling. In my paintings, I like to depict moments that might be impossible to happen in real life. I also use an indirect and subtle approach to convey what I have in mind. This approach slows the audience’s reading of each painting and hopefully, leaves a more effective and longer lasting impression on them.

Read more: Philip Hewat-Jaboor on discovering art through materials

LUX: Can you tell us about some of the recurring objects in your work such as strings, disembodied limbs and floating heads. What do they represent for you?
Arghavan Khosravi: In general, I am interested in depicting scenes and situations that at the first glance, might seem peaceful, normal and comfortable, but the more you look at what’s going on, you find moments where something dark and slightly violent is occurring. The body fragments, for example, give a feeling that the characters in the painting are lacking control not only over the situation, but also their own body. You can look at it as a metaphor for the suppression which happens under autocratic systems.

Another metaphor I use for suppression is the red string. I am thinking about all the “red lines” that are drawn which mustn’t be overpassed. These lines can be drawn systematically by an authoritarian regime or can be drawn by tradition in more patriarchal societies, which mostly, target women. I am mostly interested in using visual metaphors that don’t look too violent at first, but present an underlying sense of suffocation or disturbance.

Arghavan Khosravi, Black Rain, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: You seem to like adding sculptural and three-dimensional elements to your paintings, and often use a shaped canvas. Do you start a painting knowing that you will use a shaped canvas or do you sometimes change the shape after starting a painting?
Arghavan Khosravi: The sculptural elements started when I decided to experiment with shape panels, which I talked about earlier, I stretch canvas over the shaped wood panels, so it’s almost impossible to change its shape after I start a painting. Therefore, I pre-plan most of the painting before building the shaped panel, and I have a clear idea what imagery is going to be painted within that shape.

LUX: Another formalist aspect of your work is the ‘trompe l’oeil’ technique, which sometimes makes it difficult to delineate what’s painted and what’s not.
Arghavan Khosravi: I am interested in the idea of juxtaposing a two dimensional painted surface which mimics three-dimensionality with actual three dimensional elements in the paintings. I like how it can invite the viewer to explore more time with the piece in order to figure out which part is which. I am also interested in the notion of duality and having contrasting visual elements. This contrast can be in materialistic aspects of the paintings (like the contrast between a 2D surface and a constructed 3D element) or it can be more about the subject matter. For example, the juxtaposition of imagery appropriated from an Eastern context beside Western, or the contrast can be historic versus contemporary and so forth.

mixed media painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Entrapment, 2021. Courtesy Carl Kostyál Gallery

LUX: In one of your works the red string is physically wrapped around a canvas so that you can see dents at the edges. How did you do it?
Arghavan Khosravi: To achieve that effect, before stretching the canvas over the wood panel, I carved the sides of the wood panel in a way which makes the hard surface of the panel look like a soft smooth material that’s being compressed when a rope is tightly wrapped around it. This approach again aligns with the notion of duality and contrast that I talked about in the previous question. This time it’s the contrast is between a soft and a hard material.

Read more: Uplifting new paintings by Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar

LUX: Another Iranian artist that works a lot with trompe l’oeil is Mehdi Ghadyanloo. Do you know his work?
Arghavan Khosravi: Yes, I am very much familiar with his work and really like it. I first encountered his work when he used to make large murals all over Tehran where I grew up and was living before immigrating to the US. It was so fascinating to see his creative ways to give the illusion of depth and space in his murals so that the 2D painted surface of the wall seemed like the continuation of the actual buildings and space surrounding it. Before him (with a few exceptions), most of the murals were at the service of the state propaganda or had ideological purposes.

painting of a mystical woman

Arghavan Khosravi, The Balance, 2019. Courtesy the artist.

LUX: Who are your favourite Iranian artists that deserve more attention in the West?
Arghavan Khosravi: One Iranian artist that comes to mind is Bahman Mohasses. I also really like Nazgol Ansarinia’s work.

LUX: Born soon after the Islamic Revolution, you witnessed Iran’s transformation from a Western-friendly monarchy into a suppressive theocratic republic. How did you experience this growing up and what did your parents teach you?
Arghavan Khosravi: I was born and grew up in a non religious family, so there was a more secular/liberal way of thinking and living, but when I stepped out of that ‘private space’ into the ‘public space’ I could see that everything was very different. So, like so many other Iranians, I was taught by my parents how to navigate this dual life from an early age. For example ,there were certain things we did at home that mustn’t be mentioned at school, or we did things at school that I personally didn’t really believe in like saying prayers with other students which was compulsory in my middle school. Or we had to pretend to abide by some rules in public, which we don’t really believe in, such as the compulsory hijab. I think the notion of duality that I’m exploring in my paintings is a result of reflecting on those life experiences and memories from Iran.

textured painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Fragility of Peace, 2019. Courtesy the artist

LUX: In your 2017 Muslim Ban series you use pages of your Iranian passport as a canvas and there’s also your Self-Censorship series. Can you tell us more about those works?
Arghavan Khosravi: In early 2017, only a week after I came back from a short trip to Iran during the school’s winter break, an executive order was signed which prevented citizens of six muslim-majority countries from entering the US. It meant that if I had returned to the US a week later, I could have got stuck in Iran and wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree. Also, it meant that I wasn’t able to exit the US for an unknown period of time. My first reaction to the news was anger and a feeling of being treated with disrespect. I thought of using this anger as fuel in my studio, but the blank canvas didn’t feel right. So I had this idea of painting on pages of my expired passport and weaving my narrative into the visual structure that was already there.

When you grow up under the suppression of an autocratic system which limits freedom of speech, you start to develop self-censorship as a defence mechanism, and sometimes you’re not even aware of it. Therefore, you start to suppress your own freedom of expression to avoid getting in trouble. In the Self-Censorship series I was interested in exploring these themes using a symbolic language. It is worth mentioning that symbolism itself can be one of the tools to circumvent censorship because when you use symbols and metaphors to convey certain thoughts you can always say that this particular thought is the viewer’s interpretation of your work and not necessarily your own idea. But of course when I use symbolism now, where I have freedom of expression, I have different reasons for this choice.

collage painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Hafez (The Muslim Ban Series), 2017. Courtesy the artist

LUX: Your paintings are so intricate they seem very laborious to produce. How long does it take you, on average, to finish a painting and do you work on multiple paintings at the same time?
Arghavan Khosravi: Depending on the size, it takes me about 2 to 5 weeks to finish each piece. Usually, the paintings with 3D elements and multi-panels take longer because there is more than one surface to paint on. I rarely work on several paintings at the same time because if I leave a painting unfinished and move to a new one, I get very excited about the new piece and won’t feel like going back to the older piece. I have works lying in my studio from two years ago that are still left unfinished.

3d painting

Arghavan Khosravi, Four Elements, 2021. Courtesy the artist and Rachel Uffner Gallery

LUX: Finally, tell us about your current show In Between Places at Rachel Uffner Gallery in NYC. How do you think your practice has evolved or changed since your last show in NYC at Lyles & King in 2019?
Arghavan Khosravi: This latest body of work was made in isolation during the past year of quarantine. The works build upon my previous explorations of techniques taken from historical painting genres, such as the use of stacked perspective in Persian miniature paintings, while also incorporating new sculptural and three-dimensional elements that further emphasise qualities of illusion and artifice. The paintings are rendered on surfaces that have been layered to create visual depth, which somehow evoke the structure of a theatrical set and the corresponding implication of a not-quite-real world built on false appearances.

“Arghavan Khosravi: In Between Places” runs until 5 June 2021 at Rachel Uffner, New York. For more information: racheluffnergallery.com

Arghavan Khosravi’s solo exhibition at Carl Kostyal, London opens in June. For more information, visit: kostyal.com/exhibitions

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artist portrait

Antony Micallef in his London home turned studio. Photograph by Maryam Eisler

British artist Antony Micallef’s practice blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture. His textural artworks are the result of a unique method that combines oil paint and beeswax to create striking, three-dimensional forms. Before the national lockdown, LUX contributing editor Maryam Eisler visited and photographed the artist in his London studio

Maryam Eisler: What made you decide to turn your home into a studio?
Antony Micallef: I have always loved this flat, and I think you really have to love the place where you work. I feel it has a lot of warmth and personality. I was very lucky to eventually buy a new flat on the same road, and the original intention was to use that as a studio, but after some time, I realised that the light in the new space wasn’t as good as my old flat. Getting paint on the walls for the first time was a bit like wearing your best clothes and jumping in a puddle of mud so I had to get rid of that preciousness! It is quite an intimate private space, and that’s the beauty of it. I don’t have many visitors here.

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Maryam Eisler: As a newcomer to your studio, I sense a great deal of physicality in both the act of painting but also in its end delivery – your works glide between painting and sculpture. They’re ‘weighty’ and solemn. And around the studio, there are lots of palette knives, and mountains of stacked paint.
Antony Micallef: I am really glad you sense that. I am really interested in looking at the physicality of my paintings and in the objects they turn into. I’ve often found myself looking at the works of Tony Cragg and John Chamberlain, but also at rock formations while trekking, and early Alexander McQueen. I didn’t know how to fuse all these ideas together so I came up with a new method. I now mix beeswax and oil paint, which allows me to take the paint beyond its normal function. I use heavy palettes, loaded brushes, and loaded paint. It’s a forceful way of painting.

artist studio

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Can you explain more about how you’ve developed and altered the capabilities and texture of paint?
Antony Micallef: I have changed oil paint to a physical texture, which is like dried oil strips and I manufacture the strips in my flat. If it were solid paint, it would fall off the canvas and so I’ve developed a honeycomb structure that I combine oil with beeswax. It’s a kind of laced oil, which I paint onto. It has spaces in between the strips; it’s solid because I have taken the oil out of it completely. It’s a slow process. I call them carcasses. You stick them down with more paint and then you build your figure, using them as a base.

Read more: The serene beauty of little-known Alpine resort Drei Zinnen

They’re kind of hybrids to me. You’re right in saying they lie somewhere between sculpture and paint. They become objects in their own right. Here, I am constructing this sort of Frankenstein figure from scratch! You see, every artist has an ego, and I just wanted to say that, ‘I’d done this. I came up with this process. My process is unique to me!’ It is such an interesting territory to own and I guess sharing this with the wider audience makes me feel good; it’s great for my mental health.

Constructing Auras No. 1, 2020, Antony Micallef, oil and beeswax on linen

Maryam Eisler: I assume there’s a great deal of recycling going on in your work with unused strips for example.
Antony Micallef: Yes, you’ve touched on something important. All these bits you see here and there, I have cut them off the studio walls and off paintings. It’s all recycled paint. The studio in a sense then becomes part of the process, the walls, the floor… It is a bit like ‘harvesting’. That is why I am really precious with some of my pieces. I could never get these pieces again because the material comes off my studio walls. I have literally carved them off the wall over years. And that, to me, is a really important part of my practice.

cigarette box paintings by Antony Micallef

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Have things changed much for you since lockdown?
Antony Micallef: I generally don’t see a lot of people, and I’ve seen even fewer this last year. Sometimes, it feels like you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a very small boat, but I have to say that having a visitor in your studio really helps. As an artist, you choose to be on your own, but when it’s inflicted onto you, it becomes something else.

Photograph by Maryam Eisler

Maryam Eisler: Can you tell me more about the body of work which you’ve been developing over a period of four years, and your recent show in Hong Kong?
Antony Micallef: Constructing Auras was my tenth solo show. As you’re nearing the time when the work is about to be picked up, everything starts bubbling inside your head. You’ve lived with these creations for so long and they are about to flee the nest, but it gets to a point where art needs to live on its own in the outside world.

Constructing Auras No. 5, Antony Micallef

Maryam Eisler: How did studying under the renowned landscape artist John Virtue influence your practice?
Antony Micallef: I was taught by John at Plymouth University. I was really lucky to encounter him. He completely changed the way I thought about painting at the time. He taught me discipline. He also taught me how to look at life, figures, how to use a palette, all the mechanics. He was quite brutal with his teaching, which I loved. There was no faffing around. It was so nice to be taught by someone whose enthusiasm energises you.

Read more: Maria-Theresia Pongracz profiles 2021’s artist to watch Sofia Mitsola

I think the best art – that moves you and everyone else around you – is when you can feel that the creator has taken a risk. When you’ve pushed it to the limits of what it is capable of. I remember someone asking John: ‘How do you know when it’s finished?’ To which he replied, ‘Well, the train slows down. Imagine a train going as fast as it can, and when you get into the 90% level that is when the magic starts to happen. You then have to apply the breaks and it’s got to stop right before it hits that wall! If you can get it to 98%, that’s when and where it really happens.’ I always say it’s like throwing a jigsaw piece into the air. When it lands and it all fits together, it feels amazing!

Constructing Auras No. 8, 2017, Antony Micallef, oil and beeswax with raw pigment 

Maryam Eisler: Do you ever bin your work?
Antony Micallef: Everybody bins their work, but you wouldn’t get those few you are really happy with if you didn’t!

Maryam Eisler: I can see the influence of the School of London painters in your work. Is that a conscious reference?
Antony Micallef: I never had the intention to paint like them, but I admire them, of course. When cooking, you have to have your own mixing bowl. You slowly find your own way of preparing a dish. The same holds true in painting.

The V&A had an amazing exhibition called Fashioned from Nature a few years ago. And that was pivotal for this body of work. Sometimes you walk into a show and something clicks.

View Antony Micallef’s portfolio: antonymicallef.com; @antonymicallef

 

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apple artwork

Artist Clara Hastrup in her studio at the Royal Academy of Arts in London

Danish artist Clara Hastrup graduated from the Royal Academy of Arts in 2020, and is one of the selected artists in this year’s New Contemporaries exhibition. Here, she speaks to Millie Walton about experimenting in the studio, the symbolism of blue and finding beauty in everyday objects 

1. Where does your creative process typically begin?

I have to look backwards to see how things begin. I have a lot of things lying around in the studio that I find and buy –  everyday objects -, and I like to continually experiment with these objects and make small models. Through this chaos, ideas come about. I also read and research things I am interested in, and play is an important part of my practice. I play around with functions of the objects, and see how they can lead from one thing to another. I usually have multiple things going on at the same time, and I try and connect these ideas.

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2. What draws you to the objects that you collect or buy?

I look at colours and visual qualities. For example, with Lapdog Tabernum, I found the colour of Doritos interesting, and the fact that you can transform them into a material similar to sand that has a lot of new associations and meanings. At other times, I’m drawn to a pattern of some sort. So much design and thought that has gone into these low value, everyday objects, and I try to look for the beauty even if it seems like it has little meaning or value. It’s a combination of allowing intuition and logic to come together. Everything, to me, is a potential material.

installation artwork

Here and above: Lapdog Tabernam, 2019, Clara Hastrup, installation view at URBANEK Gallery, South Dulwich, London

3. The colour blue seems to recur in your work quite frequently. Does it have particular significance for you?

I have always been very drawn to blue. It is a colour that represents a lot of emotions. It kept popping up for me particularly in relation to the Lapdog Tabernum installation, and I allowed it to tie the materials together. It’s a very vibrant colour, but a sad colour as well, and I like that contrast with the humorous gestures. At the same time, it’s a colour which is often used as a backdrop as it is associated with the sky and ocean.

Read more: Anne-Pierre d’Albis-Ganem on championing artists

4. How did your Instant Sculpture series come about?

It started because I had these travel magazines which I took from my bedroom and brought into the studio. I started cutting them out and making these small gestures, but I didn’t know what to do with them as they only existed in the moment. I wasn’t sure if they were sculptures or images, but then I started photographing them, and repeating the process. Sometimes, these kinds of experiments don’t lead to anything, but perhaps they will become bigger sculptures. That’s often what happens with my work, I start by doing a lot of small things and occasionally, it makes sense to transform its meaning which excites me.

apple sculpture

A work from Hastrup’s ongoing Instant Sculpture series

5. Where do you go for inspiration?

Museums like the Tate or galleries in Mayfair, but inspiration, for me, could come from anywhere – botanical gardens, nightclubs, music, reading.

6. What do you have planned for 2021?

I am part of the New Contemporaries exhibition which opens on 13 January at South London Gallery. Also my degree show, which was postponed from last year, is taking place in June this summer.

View Clara Hastrup’s portfolio of work: clarahastrup.com
For more information on URBANEK Gallery, visit: urbanekgallery.co.uk

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contemporary female nude
artist in the studio

Sofia Mitsola (Portrait). Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo: Mark Blower.

In our new online series, renowned art consultant Maria-Theresia Pongracz profiles rising contemporary artists to watch in 2021. Here, she speaks to 28-year-old Greek painter Sofia Mitsola about mythology, the female nude, and her artistic inspirations

Maria-Theresia Pongracz

I first discovered Sofia Mitsola’s work during Condo London at Pilar Corrias Gallery in January 2020. Condo which takes its name from ‘Condo-minium’ is a gallery exchange program founded by Vanessa Carlos in London which now takes place all over the world. I always make great discoveries during Condo and so it was no surprise to come across Sofia’s powerful work. Curiously it was one of the last great shows I saw just before the first lockdown.

With a lot of figurative work in contemporary art recently, it isn’t easy to be surprised. It is also hard for an artist to tick all the boxes and equally master innovation, composition, technique, palette and detail. Sofia really does it all. Her work is seductive and slowly draws you in. Colours, nudity and voluptuous forms are striking, but it is the details and mysterious looks of her subjects that have a haunting effect. The work is beautiful and appalling at the same time. The best art should be challenging and ideally never fully understood.

Abstract figurative painting

Afterglow Zenaïda, Sofia Mitsola, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.
Photo by Mark Blower

LUX: To what extent are your paintings influenced by greek culture and mythology?
Sofia Mitsola: Growing up in Greece, you study a lot of history, which, when I was little, I only enjoyed when it was about ancient times. I was really into mythology too, and many of the things that impressed me as a child have somehow found a way into the work. When I am painting, sometimes my characters remind me of a mythical presence that I might have read about, or seen in a painting, and once I start imagining them this way, they are almost turned into that.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

After moving to London, I spent a lot of time in museums sketching from sculptures and paintings that I admired. These soon became the starting point for developing ideas and works. When I first began working with figures, I used to visit the British Museum and make drawings from the sculptures at the Egyptian room. I remember a small sculpture of a sphinx I drew from, and reading what these female-like creatures symbolised, made me think of the characters I was trying to compose in a different way. When standing behind them, they are seen as goddesses of protection. When standing before them, they metamorphose into devouring beasts that strangle anyone who dares confront them. I really liked how perspective was used in mythology to give dual meanings, and it was then I started thinking of my own characters as divinities with alluring enigmatic gazes and magical powers.

painting

Cactilus, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

LUX: How do you go about creating the physicality of your characters?
Sofia Mitsola: When I am composing a character, I am trying to understand who I want them to be and what their relationship is with the viewer. In my paintings, there are usually two focal points, one is the face, and the other the genitals, which are often in the centre of the composition and almost level with the eyes of the viewer. I want the protagonists’ colossal size and bareness to be intimidating yet something to be inviting about their young, innocent like faces and seductive gazes. In my mind, they invite the viewer into a flirtatious game of looking. They stand naked and exposed before them but they don’t shy away. With their persistent gaze and outspread bodies, they take control back. Very much like sphinxes with magnetising beauty and beastly bodies, my figures share similar qualities. Their flushed, angelic faces contradict their gigantic, distorted bodies that border pornography making them a crossbreed of the divine and the monstrous that attracts and repels, invites and drives away.

painting install

SPY, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

LUX: Can you talk to me a bit about the female nude in your work and how it relates to art history?
Sofia Mitsola: For me, the theme of the female nude is very interesting because there are many ways it can be viewed. I understand it from the experience of living within my own body, by relating to them, and also by stepping back and investigating it as a painter/viewer from a distance.

Read more: Artnet’s Sophie Neuendorf on the rise of a new Renaissance

I am attracted to ancient Egyptian and Greek depictions of the female form, that were made to be seen as deities, to be adored and feared. These appear larger than life, geometric, and austere with penetrative gazes. I am attracted to prehistoric figurines that show raw, unashamed, sexual bodies to depict fertility goddesses. In some western paintings I admire, the female nude is shown small and fragile and shy, looking away. There seems to be a safe distance between the nude and the viewer that allows the later to comfortably examine and take visual pleasure from the former, unbothered. But I really like the intimacy in them, the realness of the characters. The feeling that these people lived and breathed and were humans. I feel that for my work, I want a sense of intimacy that I receive when looking at western painting, and at the same time to create a game of power dynamics between the figure and the viewer that is closer to antiquity.

female nude

Darladiladada, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.
Photo by Damian Griffiths

LUX: Where are your favourite places to go for inspiration in London?
Sofia Mitsola: My number one is The British Museum. I always go to the Egyptian sculpture section on the ground floor, and the Egyptian paintings and funerary treasures upstairs. I never miss the Greek vases with the beautiful line paintings, I discover something new every time I look at them and appreciate the simplicity of the marks. Also I really love the National and National Portrait Galleries. At the National, I am always going to the Sainsbury Wing to say hello to one of my favourite paintings, Portrait of a Young Man by Petrus Christus, and then on the other side to see Holbein’s Christina of Denmark. I also love Nymph by the Stream by Auguste Renoir downstairs. At the National Portrait, I enjoy spending time with the Tudor paintings. The Wallace collection is a very special place for me too, where I love to go and see the miniature paintings.

Gorgoneion, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower

LUX: What did you get up to during lockdown?
Sofia Mitsola: I was lucky to find my current studio during the first lockdown in May, and since then my life has been pretty much the same. Studio, home, studio. But I’ve really enjoyed how quiet it has been, with no distractions.

When I was stuck at home, I drew a lot, and worked with watercolours and oils on paper, I watched some amazing documentaries about Troy and ancient Egypt and the Russian Revolution, read Nabokov’s Ada or Ardor, Anais Nin’s Little Birds, and Writings from Ancient Egypt, and listened to lectures from a Greek historian, Maria Eythymiou, about the history of the world starting from the first human societies! I also took daily walks in the park, and spent a lot of time cleaning my flat!

Read more: Artist Shezad Dawood on the endless potential of virtual reality

LUX: How the pandemic affect your practice?
Sofia Mitsola: I had the time to slow down a bit and think more of how I want to work in the studio and how to push the practice. I made a lot of drawings which help me give direction to the work, wrote more consistently which for me is another way of drawing, developing ideas, or getting a sense of the atmosphere that I want to convey. I was also making paintings. It’s one of the first times that I worked this way, with all the elements that consist of my practise happening at the same time and it has been really helpful, I feel that the work has had more time to mature.

painting

Tonguelets by Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London.

LUX: Which artists do you admire the most?
Sofia Mitsola: Paula Modershohn-Becker, Leonor Fini, Amedeo Modigliani, Etel Adnan, Petrus Christus, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Artemisia Gentileschi, Konstantinos Parthenis, Paula Rego, Lisa Yuskavage, Hans Holbein the Younger, Alex Katz, Auguste Renoir.

LUX: Are there any contemporary artists with which you spend time and exchange ideas?
Sofia Mitsola: Konstantinos Sklavenitis, Nada Elkalaawy, Ahae Kim, Miriam Naeh, Roy Efrat, Antonia Showering, Alvin Ong, Emma Fineman, Patrick H Jones, and Jane Yang.

female nude

Spoilt, 2020, Sofia Mitsola. Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo by Mark Blower.

LUX: Do you think it’s important for an artist to build a good working relationship with their gallerist?
Sofia Mitsola: I guess it’s different for every artist, but for me it’s very important to work with people that I have a good chemistry with and that we can build a relationship. Trust too. You can usually get a sense of that from the first meeting. If it’s good, it’s good. And with Pilar (Corrias) and Charlotte, who I work most closely with, it has been good from the beginning. They support me in every way and always give me complete freedom. And they are a great help when I feel stuck too!

Personally, I really like working with a gallery because it takes the pressure off and allows me to concentrate on the practice and making work. Admin or dealing with collectors can sometimes be very time consuming, and to be honest not my favourite thing. So I am really glad that they can help there. Also, I think that for a lot of young artists like myself, it is difficult to know how to protect the work, and what choices will help or not your career, and it’s quite important to have someone you trust to talk to about it.

LUX: What are your plans for the future?
Sofia Mitsola: I have a couple of projects for later next year so I really want to take my time planning the paintings. For the development of the work, I want to make big drawings with different materials like charcoal and oil bars, I will try to work in three dimensions, possibly with clay that I play with when I am not in the mood for painting, and continue my miniature paintings. When it comes to painting, I have started thinking more about the space, composition and perspective as well as narrative, so this is where the work is heading to at the moment.

Follow Sofia Mitsola on Instagram: @sofiamitsola
Follow Maria-Theresia Pongracz on Instagram: @mt_mathisen

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woman with red hair

Yayoi Kusama portrait with La Grande Dame x Yayoi Kusama Limited Edition © Yayoi Kusama

Contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s artistic impressions of Veuve Clicquot’s new vintage La Grande Dame 2012 pay tribute to the lasting influence and creativity of Madame Clicquot

After her husband’s death in 1805, Madame Clicquot took the reins of the eponymous champagne house. In era when women were excluded from the business world, this was an achievement in its own right, but she was also extremely good at her job, earning her the nickname ‘La Grande Dame of Champagne’. Two centuries later, Veuve Clicquot is paying tribute to her legacy through their latest vintage and a stunning artistic collaboration with Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama.

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Renowned for her flamboyant, quirky aesthetic, Kusama’s designs for the bottle and box incorporate flowers and her signature polka dot pattern in yellow, referencing the champagne’s bubbles, and expressing a sense of joy and energy.

floral sculpture

My Heart That Blooms in The Darkness of The Night, special object designed by artist Yayoi Kusama for Veuve Cliquot

polka dot interiors

Yayoi Kusama at Selfridges’ Corner Shop

She has also created an exuberant floral sculpture, in continuation of her Flowers That Bloom at Midnight series, that wraps around the champagne’s bottle. Available in only 100 numbered pieces (12 are available for sale in the UK), the sculpture is cast in fibreglass reinforced plastic and painted by hand in vibrant hues.

The La Grande Dame x Yayoi Kusama designs will be on display within the Selfridges Corner Shop in early Spring 2021. The limited edition is available to purchase online via: selfridges.com For enquiries regarding the special object visit: veuveclicquot.com

 

 

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public sculptures
public sculptures

Installation view of Looking Up, Helaine Blumenfeld’s exhibition at Canary Wharf 2020. Photo © Sean Pollock

Helaine Blumenfeld OBE is best known for her large-scale public sculptures whose undulating, ethereal forms evoke a sense of fragility and movement, transforming the environments into which they are placed. In the light of a major exhibition of her works at Canary Wharf, Digital & Art Editor Millie Walton speaks to the artist about working intuitively, the importance of touch and how public art brings people together

LUX: What’s your creative process like? Do you follow a routine, or need a particular atmosphere to create?
Helaine Blumenfeld: I think I have quite an unusual creative process which has changed in a few ways over the years, but essentially, it has always been a process of trying to coordinate what I am feeling and thinking with what I am doing with my hands. That has taken a very long time. Now, when I go into the studio, I am able to disconnect from everything that is going on around me. Francis Bacon used to say that to release that [creative] energy he would either need to be drugged or drunk or both, to allow him to enter into a kind of trance state. I can go into that state, happily, without drugs. For me, it is a state of being. I go into the studio, close the door, and I am there.

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I don’t really look at the work whilst I am making. I take clay and I just keep adding to it or taking away. I have no plan of what I am going to do; I have no drawings. I just communicate with it, and that is how I have worked almost from the very beginning.

I had been working on a doctorate of philosophy, and I could never find the exact words I wanted, but when I made the very first piece in clay, I just thought: ‘This is just incredible! Did I really just do this?’ It was a talent that I had never understood I had, and yet it was so clear. Every piece I made in those early days was a wonder to me and then, we moved back to England from Paris and during the move, some of the pieces got broken. I thought I’ll never be able to do anything like that again.

Now, I do not have that feeling; I see it more as a process. There is a communication between what I am in terms of experience, and the work, and if one piece is interrupted or breaks or collapses, the next piece will follow it.

woman with sculpture

Helaine Blumenfeld with one of her sculptures. Photo © Sean Pollock

LUX: You mentioned that you were studying philosophy – when did you start making art?
Helaine Blumenfeld: I always had these amazing dreams that I could never seem to translate. The only way that I knew was words, and yet, to have an incredible dream and then to use words is so bizarre because it is a completely different language. For a while, philosophy seemed like the right method for my expression, but I was never satisfied. When I discovered sculpture and began to understand what very simple forms could communicate, I decided I wanted to be a sculptor.

I think that being an artist is not just about having something to communicate, but also finding the right way to communicate it, and if you don’t, you can be frustrated. Discovering sculpture opened up the whole world to me.

small abstract sculpture

Helaine Blumenfeld, Exodus V, 2019, Photo © Henryk Hetflaisz

LUX: Was lockdown a creative time for you?
Helaine Blumenfeld: Well my main studio is in Italy, so I have not been able to go back at all. In fact, because I had this very big show [Looking Up] in Canary Wharf, I was meant to go back before we had finished the installation to bring back two pieces that I had not quite finished, but my husband said not to go. It was lucky that he did because otherwise I would have spent the whole lockdown without my family.

In the end, we managed to get the entire show of 40 pieces up at Canary Wharf just two days before lockdown. The opening, which didn’t happen, was intended to be the day of lockdown. When I went back to Cambridge, I was suddenly aware of the virus and what it was doing, which I hadn’t been, and the first two weeks were very anxious. I thought I would have contracted it because I had been working with so many people, including one of my assistants from Italy who had come over, and whose wife had the virus. But after that period, and I think a few artists will tell you the same, it was one of the happiest periods in my whole life. No pressures from the outside world, no commitments, no engagements, no travelling back and forth to Italy, which I normally would do for two weeks here and two weeks there. I was with my husband all the time which I hadn’t been since the beginning of our marriage. And I had clay; I had all the clay I needed. I was working, and I have done more work in the period of lockdown than I have in the last three years I think. So, yes it has been immensely creative.

Read more: Confined Artists Free Spirits – artists photographed in lockdown by Maryam Eisler

LUX: Do you ever start a sculpture and decide to abandon it if it’s not working?
Helaine Blumenfeld: There are different ways of working. Someone like [Constantin] Brâncuși, who I admire enormously as an artist, was held back by his own sense of perfection. Each piece had to reach what he wanted, and it never did, so he would have to abandon and try again. He was tied to certain ideas, whereas I believe that each piece is as good as it can be. I work through the idea rather than trying to get it right in that particular piece. As I said, I never have a clear idea of where I am going or a vision that I need to achieve; the vision comes in the piece.

large scale public sculpture

Helaine Blumenfeld, Taking Risks, 2018, Photo © Henryk Hetflaisz

LUX: That sounds very liberating.
Helaine Blumenfeld: In sculpture, the gesture can be completely yours. When I am working, I don’t look at what I’m doing I feel it intuitively as it happens. Very often when I am in Italy, I finish something in clay and I cover it and wrap it with wet cloth, and then when I go back, I have no idea what I am going to find. I have never seen it objectively or critically, I have just seen it intuitively. When I do unwrap it, then sometimes I will say  ‘Oh, that doesn’t work’, and I won’t go on with it. At that moment, I am really seeing with a critical eye. It’s like seeing your lover in another way from the corner of your eye or a different angle which allows you to seem them objectively for a moment. When I come back to the work, I am able to see it objectively, and at that moment, I know intellectually whether or not it is working.

It is a bit of a different process if I want to do a large piece, however, because when I am working, I have no armature or inner support system. If I had that I would know exactly what I was going to do because the inner structure would dictate what I was going to make. Without that structure, the sculpture is initially incredibly fragile and if it is going to last, I need to have it cast in plaster quickly. Then, when I know the forms, I don’t feel the same resistance to having an armature. At that point, I have an assistant who will mechanically enlarge the piece for me with a proper armature and leave it in a rough state for me to take over. It does happen when I think a piece is very good, but when the scale changes, it doesn’t work. I think that is a mistake that certain sculptors make, thinking that everything can be large when some pieces work better on a small, intimate scale.

small marble sculpture

Helaine Blumenfeld, Exodus IV, 2019, Photo © Henryk Hetflaisz

LUX: What role do you think public sculpture can play in urban environments such as Canary Wharf?
Helaine Blumenfeld: I think that sculpture, in general, in a public place, creates a private space for people to enjoy. In a way, it creates a space that people can claim ownership of. My idea is to somehow mediate between the personality and the mechanism of a landscape and to create something that is personal and that people can relate to. For example, my first public commission was in centre of a walkway, and I went around and had a look at how people used space. There was a gigantic sculpture there that people would walk around to avoid. Somehow the massiveness of it mirrored and competed with the architecture in a way. So, I decided to do a sculpture in five pieces, that people could walk in between and interact with that would be on a human scale, and it was such a success.

sculpture

Helaine Blumenfeld, Fortuna, 2016, Photo © Sean Pollock

public art

My piece Fortuna, which was put up in 2016, was originally meant to go to the new area of Wood Wharf. When it was finished, it was temporarily put into an area in Jubilee Park, and in a very short space of time, that area in the park was overwhelmed with people coming to interact with the sculpture. When word got around that it was going to be moved, people were horrified. That particular area was meant for changing exhibitions, but the piece remains there and people still go to see it.

Read more: American artist Rashid Johnson on searching for autonomy

Also, in that same area, there is a sculpture called Ascent. After lockdown when you could have groups of six, I went back to see the piece and they had made circles on the ground around it so people could sit in those circles and know that they were social distancing. On that lawn there were six different circles of people sitting. They obviously knew each other and they were celebrating something. I had gone there because wanted to photograph the piece. When I arrived, a man looked at us and said ‘Oh, I see that you want to photograph Ascent‘ which was amazing, that he even knew the name. He said ‘Let me show you the best view!’ He took me round to the side and in fact, it was my favourite view. My friend told him that I was the artist and he knew my name too. He announced to the group of people in their circles: ‘This is the artist’. Every person in that area stood up and clapped. It was like it had been an opening. He told me that he came to the sculpture every day and that it was his point of light in the darkness, it gave him some hope that things could be better. It was an amazing experience for me.

bronze public sculpture

Helaine Blumenfeld, Flight, 2019, Photo © Sean Pollock

LUX: Speaking of intimacy, you’ve said before that you like people to touch your sculptures. Why is that important for you?
Helaine Blumenfeld: Oh, I think it is vital for people to touch the work. I think we do not touch enough in our society. So much of our feeling and experience comes from touch. As babies, our world  is all about touch, but we are are losing that. Very early on I had a show with people from LightHouse for the Blind, and all they could do was touch. You would be astounded at what people could feel from touching a sculpture, another level of understanding, from just their hands.

You can see that people are entering into the sculptures where the bases have worn away. I often ask the children who are sitting inside, ‘What are you feeling?’ And they say something like, ‘I am in a secret forest and I am protected from all the things around me.’  It is lovely to see how a sculpture encourages imagination.

Often at public exhibitions, whether it is in a cathedral or in Canary Wharf, I see people discussing with each other, and they don’t know each other. ‘What do you see in it? What are you looking at?’ Not only does art introduce a huge audience to beauty, it is also allows people relate to something outside of themselves, it introduces them to another realm. I think that is an incredible way that art brings people together.

LUX: One final question: what’s inspiring or interesting you at the moment?
Helaine Blumenfeld:  It is hard for me to use the word inspiration; I feel incredibly moved. When an artist dreams a dream that is so deep within his own being, it is not just his dream, it is not just his pain, it is universal. That is what I hoped I was doing before, it was coming from within, but much of what I am doing now is coming from without. I am thinking about how people are trying to connect at this time, to reach out and see the perspective of other people. There is a much greater effort because we are all in this together. It has broken down that sense of isolation which I felt was leading to the precipice. So instead of expressing something deeply personal, I am trying to feel something that effects everyone. I think that is where the new work is going.

‘Looking Up’ by Helaine Blumenfeld runs at One Canada Square until 6 November 2020 and throughout Canary Wharf until 31 May 2020.

For more information visit: helaineblumenfeld.com

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contemporary art print

Aquajenne in Paradise II Elevator Girls (1996) by Miwa Yanagi. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection

At the heart of Deutsche Bank’s worldwide art programme is one of the most interesting and diverse corporate contemporary art collections in the world. It is part of the bank’s sponsorship of the Frieze art fairs and instrumental in the bank’s support of this year’s innovative curatorial and philanthropic projects, including a collaboration with London artist Idris Khan. Arsalan Mohammad reports

DEUTSCHE BANK WEALTH MANAGEMENT x LUX

This turbulent year marks not only the 150th anniversary of the founding of Deutsche Bank, but also the 40th birthday of its iconic art collection, one of the most substantial corporate collections of contemporary art in the world. A specialised assortment of works, numbering some 55,000 pieces, the collection spans styles and genres and reflects a global mix of talent, from art megastars to exciting newcomers. The art is predominantly works on paper, as this somewhat neglected medium was considered ripe for collecting and institutionalising when the collection was first initiated by the management board in the late 1970s. The collection is bound by only one other rubric: that the works should provide creative, cultural and intellectual inspiration to the creative, cultural and intellectual inspiration to the bank’s employees, clients, visitors and artists alike.

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The Deutsche Bank Collection, which is part of the bank’s Art, Culture and Sports programme, is based in multiple sites across Germany and in its offices worldwide. It also sits alongside a calendar of art events – the bank is the long-term sponsor of global art fair Frieze, it publishes an acclaimed arts magazine, engages in numerous exhibitions and presentations worldwide, and maintains an active purchase programme that prioritises discovering fresh ideas and idiosyncratic thought from young and older artists around the world. You can witness this for yourself at the bank’s impressive PalaisPopulaire complex, in the heart of downtown Berlin. A purpose-built forum focusing on arts, culture and sports, here one can enjoy works from the permanent collection alongside works on loan, as well as a lively calendar of music, film and cultural happenings.

black woman shouting

Molo, Kenya (2008) by Zohra Bensemra. Courtesy Zohra Bensemra/Reuters.

This profound commitment to culture is central to the bank’s ecosystem and is a vital component in its identity. It recalls the pioneering spirit of corporate evolution that began when billionaire philanthropist David Rockefeller began the Chase Manhattan Bank’s art collection back in the 1950s. Since then, the notion of a corporate entity finding inspiration, identity and creativity within art has become standard practice, a means of fulfilling social responsibility, nurturing employees’ potential and attracting clients and business from the world’s wealthiest investors.

grand town house

The PalaisPopulaire, Berlin. Image by David von Becker

A significant part of this success is due to Deutsche Bank’s Head of Art, curator Friedhelm Hütte, who has managed the collection for more than 25 years. A quiet and learned person, Hütte’s strategy of proactively engaging with, encouraging and supporting new and unexposed talent over the years has given him an appreciation for edgy new art and access to the creative minds behind it. Since beginning at the bank’s cultural division in 1986, he has carefully steered its growth, enriching the bulk of the collection with a knack for spotting talent early. Thus, the bank’s inventory includes early works by Damien Hirst, Gerhard Richter and James Rosenquist, all acquired when the artists were yet to become as famous as they are now. “We always want to discover new artists,” says Hütte, “This doesn’t mean that the artist has to be young – it could be that an artist is older but hasn’t found the success that we feel he or she should have.”

Read more: The market for modern classic Ferraris is hot right now

As well as supporting artists through purchasing work, the bank is also committed to emerging talent via its Artist of the Year prize, which has catapulted artists from around the world at the start of their careers, such as Wangechi Mutu, Yto Barrada, Roman Ondak and Imran Qureshi, into the global limelight. “It’s not simply a prize of a sum of money, it’s really to support the artist, so they can reach a new level,” explains Hütte, who offers the example of how an exhibition by Qureshi led to his being represented by Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris, “one of the top ten best galleries in the world!”

abstract art

Detail of Blessings Upon the Land of My Love (2011) by Imran Qureshi. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection.

In the summer of 2020, amidst social distancing and other pandemic restrictions, the PalaisPopulaire continued with its planned exhibition of work by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Christo, who died in May 2020, is best remembered in Berlin for his 1995 performance in which he and his wife Jeanne-Claude wrapped the Reichstag in fabric. The plans, blueprints, ephemera and sketches for that mammoth undertaking have been on show as part of a major exhibition entitled ‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude: Projects 1963–2020’. The exhibition features approximately seventy works loaned by Berlin collectors Ingrid and Thomas Jochheim, friends of the artist and catalysts for the show.

drawing on paper

Wrapped Reichstag (Project for Berlin) (1987) by Christo. © Christo.

“We showed Christo the [PalaisPopulaire] museum last year,” Ingrid Jochheim recalls. “And he was very fond of it. He had partnered on projects with Deutsche Bank several times in the past, always successfully. Just four weeks before his passing, he wrote to me and asked me to give his compliments to the team there.”

But this being 2020, there are more pressing matters at hand. The reconfiguration of partner Frieze London in the autumn as an online event has afforded Deutsche Bank the opportunity to present a curated selection of works that are relevant to our challenging times. The resulting presentation, curated from the collection by the bank’s international art curator Mary Findlay, gathers a selection of more than 30 artists from around the world, each of whom articulate perspectives inspired by issues such as Black Lives Matter, gender equality and sexuality.

Read more: British artist Marc Quinn on history in the making

Titled ‘Taking a Stand: Art & Society’, the online exhibition will show work by a broad spectrum of artists, including Banksy and Joseph Beuys, Iran’s Shirin Aliabadi and Algeria’s Zohra Bensemra, black American artists such as Kandis Williams and Kara Walker, and well-established artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Imran Qureshi and Albanian photographer Adrian Paci.

man's hand

Black Lives Matter protest, Union Square (2014) by Wolfgang Tillmans. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection

At times such as these, Deutsche Bank’s fleet-footed operation means their global team have not only been able to respond rapidly and with creativity to events, to build shows on an online platform for Frieze or cope with physical restrictions on visitors to PalaisPopulaire, but also to build on their one-world progressive ethos and take direct immediate action to address the entrenched problem of diversity in the arts.

In association with Frieze, Deutsche Bank are launching a fellowship, The Frieze & Deutsche Bank Emerging Curators Fellowship, to support curators from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds in the UK. Financing the mentorship and education of a curator is a complex process, but at Deutsche Bank a solution has been found in which one of their prestigious collection artists, Idris Khan, is to design a face mask for sale, based on a design inspired by Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’. The plan is in its final stages of preparation, but the energy and enthusiasm inspired by the chance to make a difference is palpable in conversations between the Frieze and Deutsche Bank staff involved.

people standing on plane steps

Centro di Permanenza temporanea (2007) by Adrian Paci. Courtesy Deutsche Bank Collection.

“The fellowship is about fostering systemic change,” explains Frieze London’s artistic director, Eva Langret, who came up with the idea. “It’s about organisations across the nonprofit and private sectors recognising that diverse programming is not enough, and instead working together to embed more diverse voices within arts institutions and organisations that lead the agenda.” In its first year the fund will be supporting a curatorial fellowship at London’s Chisenhale Gallery and the intention is to inspire an ongoing strategy to empower arts professionals from across communities to make an impact on the country’s art scene.

Read more: Four leading designers on the future of design

Curating change is at the heart of the idea, and at 2020’s Frieze London, we will witness, albeit online, how well this approach fits with the Deutsche Bank Collection. “Where we can, we buy works that make a difference,” says Findlay. “There is this idea about artists using their creative platforms as activism – well, we are buying art to make our offices stand out and look exciting, but in some of those works, we are very much looking at what the artists are trying to articulate. This concept is about us engaging with society and the virtual platform will have all sorts of different types of work. There’s lots of interesting work here. I wish we could put it all on a wall and not online, but there you go!”

While there is every sign that the complex workarounds, compromises and challenges that have come to characterise 2020 will continue into our hazy and uncertain future, in surveying this tapestry of arts from across the globe, we can at least draw solace and wisdom from the world of art to inspire, educate and support our frazzled minds at times of crisis. And with the Deutsche Bank team’s deep-rooted commitment to giving a platform to some of the world’s most urgent and pressing issues, there’s every reason to support and engage with it yourself this autumn.

artist in studio

Idris Khan in his studio. Photograph by Stephen White

Behind the mask

British artist Idris Khan has been asked to make an artwork to help fund the bank’s new fund for emerging curators. Here he talks about his inspiration for the new work.

“During lockdown, my partner Annie and I decided to leave London for the countryside. When we arrived, the trees were bare, everything was brown and black. But over the months, I focused on the changing colours, something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. It was almost like watching four seasons within two months!

“I took several copies of Vivaldi’s ‘The Four Seasons’ and decided to paint all those colours that I saw during lockdown.

“The image on the mask is my version of bluebells. First, I watercoloured the sheet music, scanned each page then digitally layered the music on top. It’s like capturing many moments of time of looking intensively and also the time represented in musical notation, so it’s titled Time Past, Time Present. I think that this represents what we’re all going through, hence the reason to wear a mask.

“I think this fund is incredibly vital, as a lot of funding and support has been cut, especially during the pandemic. I believe the fund will give curators the opportunity to make incredible exhibitions and will go on to support diverse exhibitions, so that when this nightmare is over we can all enjoy looking at exceptional art.”

Find out more: db.com/art

This article features in the Autumn Issue, which will be published later this month.

 

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Reading time: 9 min
protest painting
artist studio

Marc Quinn in his studio with his work Viral Painting. A Man Tapes Himself to the Colorado Soldiers Monument, Artnet (2020)

From his sculpture for Trafalgar Square’s fourth plinth to his recent guerrilla monument to replace the toppled bronze of a slave trader in Bristol, British artist Marc Quinn has shown a commitment to giving form to political urgency. Maryam Eisler talks to him about his time during lockdown, his engagement with history in the making, and his renewed excitement at creating art

Maryam Eisler: Marc, tell me about your lockdown experience.
Marc Quinn: It’s totally abstract and totally real at the same time. This moment is one of the most real things we’ve lived through. There are people dying. People’s businesses are closing. Horrific things are happening. And then when you go onto the street, until very recently, there’s no-one around. It’s not like a normal war or natural disaster, where there is visible chaos. This experience is quite abstract. In the end, apart from the people who are near me, the only way I know about what is going on in the world is via my phone and the internet.

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This time has also been about a completely new way of thinking. We have been forced to learn how to navigate the difference between our virtual selves and our real selves.

In terms of making work, it’s been great. It’s me, alone in the studio making things. It’s like going back to square one again and rediscovering my roots. It’s about making art in a way that I used to do 25 years ago. And I really enjoy it.

It’s a great time for transformation. People are actually engaging with the world. There has been a whole resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement after the horrific death of George Floyd. That is amazing, and hopefully something lasting will come from it this time around. We’ve had moments of focus on these types of issues before but never to this extent. I think it’s a time when societal tectonic plates are shifting. Our old life is also shifting.

Collage artwork

Viral Painting. If You Are Neutral in Situations of Injustice You Have Chosen the Side of the Oppressor, Marc Quinn, 2020. Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio

Maryam Eisler: Tell me about your series History Painting and how it has led to the new series Viral Paintings. How are they made?
Marc Quinn: History Painting is a series of paintings that I have been quietly working on for about ten years. The history of art tells you about how art was classified in the 18th and the 19th centuries, with the lowest genres being portraiture or still-life and the highest being history painting. Works in that genre were commissioned by the state or by the aristocracy. When I saw images taken during riots, such as in London following the death of Mark Duggan in 2011, I thought to myself that this is actually quite interesting because the genre is being flipped on its head. History is now being made from the bottom up, coming from the people instead of the other way around. I thought I could take this idea behind the history painting genre and make new history paintings that are about the day, the moment.

sculpture of a head

Hassan Akkad (2020) from the series 100 Heads. Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio

sculpture of a pregnant woman

Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005). Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio. Photograph by Todd-White Art Photography

For the first in the series, I found an incredible press photo of a masked man on the streets of Hackney, which was the most iconic one. I contacted the photographer. I bought the rights to make a painting from it. And then I spent three months making a painting of it. At the end, I took all the paint that was left on the palettes and chucked it on top. It’s called History Painting (London, 8 August 2011) ROYBWN. I had this sense that the paint was disrupting it, in a way. But it was also sort of freezing it. And it was also about looking at matter. You can view it as a sculpture; when you squeeze a tube of paint, you always feel that it has so much potential. It’s about that beautiful moment before you actually crystallise it into something that may or may not be good. The paint that’s thrown on top is paint which exists as potential, as matter, as energy, as the unconscious. In a way, this process creates a screen. That screen is between the image’s dematerialised world of the image and the material world, where the paint exists straight from the tube. That was quite unconscious for me, I think. It also felt like it was about change, about movement, about how things are reconvening.

protest painting

History Painting Ieshia Evans Protesting the Death of Alton Sterling (Baton Rouge, 9 July 2016) GPBW (2017). Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio

I made those types of paintings for about ten years, including a few about the Black Lives Matter movement. One painting focused on the photograph of Ieshia Evans protesting the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, an important, big picture. The large paintings would take six months to paint, so I couldn’t make that many and I had to really focus.

Read more: Gaggenau is bringing global attention to regional artisans

When the events of 2020 started unfolding, starting with Covid-19, I felt like history was in fast forward at high speed. I don’t have time to spend six months painting each picture. I have to make these in the moment. So, I had to let go of all that craft, but also of my idea of what a painting should be. I have a big printer that takes canvas, so I just thought I’d take a screenshot from my phone of events in the news as they take place, I’ll print them up and paint on top of them. This is how the Viral Paintings were born.

collage painting

Viral Painting. Baby Erin Bates (Painted 15 April 2020), Marc Quinn, 2020. Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio

Maryam Eisler: So, you had to revisit your own practice from a whole new perspective?
Marc Quinn: Yes. It just felt so good because I went with the situation, and it took me somewhere completely new, which was really exciting.

Maryam Eisler: It’s an exciting time to be making work.
Marc Quinn: Absolutely. I always want to be excited by the work, otherwise I’d just stop. Great work has historically been produced during moments of crisis, I think. Times like these make you focus quickly on what’s important in life. And what, on the other hand, is a load of bullshit. It gets rid of a lot of fluff and noise. You also realise that your relationships with other people are important. How everyone gets along in the world and how people are treated are important. Love is important. It makes it pretty simple. Times like these bring us back to what being human is all about, and it’s an exciting time to make art because of this potential for change that seems to be all around us.

Maryam Eisler: Colonial history means that events in the US relate directly to what’s going on in the UK and in Europe.
Marc Quinn: It’s all connected – enslavement is a part of colonial history. The roots of our systematically racist present stems directly from that, a colonial history that we’re all involved in. Britain, Europe and the USA were all involved.

collage artwork

Viral Painting. Dazed 100, Dazed, Marc Quinn, 2020. Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio

covid painting

Viral Painting. Bafta-Winning Film-Maker Becomes Hospital Cleaner, The Guardian (Painted 10 April 2020), Marc Quinn, 2020. Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio

Maryam Eisler: Tell me about the increasing importance of public art at this particular time.
Marc Quinn: It’s quite interesting to see how public art, which normally no one looks at, has suddenly taken on this urgency and this real symbolic value within society, in a way that it has never had in the past. I think that’s really interesting and it started in Bristol when they tore down the statue of Edward Colston. It’s incredible to experience the power of art in catalysing change, even if it’s iconoclasm.

Read more: Looking back on 125 years of Swarovski and into a new era

Maryam Eisler: Yes, you made a replacement sculpture. Tell me why you did that.
Marc Quinn: Jen Reid [one of the protesters] created the sculpture when she stood on the plinth and put her arm in the air. That incarnation of the artwork lasted just three minutes. When I saw the picture of her on Instagram, I immediately got in touch and asked if she’d like to collaborate and crystallise her original action for a bit longer. We then created the resin piece and put it on the plinth to activate the space. It was always conceived to be a temporary installation, to create debate about the idea of representation in the public realm and to continue the momentum of the BLM movement. We both felt it did exactly that. Its 24 hours on the plinth was enough to have the impact.

public art statue

A Surge of Power (Jen Reid) 2020, Marc Quinn, 2020. Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio.

Maryam Eisler: Do you think art has been too politicised?
Marc Quinn: Most art is purely decorative and that’s not the kind of art I want to make. Art should be political. I make art about the world. I want to reflect and affect the time that we live in and the issues that are most pressing today through art.

Maryam Eisler: What effect is social media having on the art world?
Marc Quinn: Social media and the sharing of online images is great for the art world. It’s a way of making art more accessible and visible to new audiences who may not always go to a traditional gallery or museum. Instagram in particular is a brilliant platform for following emerging and established artists. Of course, as with most public forums, there can be a downside and there can be negativity.

bronze statue

Zombie Boy (Rick) (2011). Courtesy and copyright Marc Quinn studio.

Maryam Eisler: How do you see the art world changing?
Marc Quinn: I think that there will be, and should be, a greater emergence of black artists, curators, writers, architects, and so on. Can you believe that only one per cent of practicing architects today are black? Another interesting angle is that black people and white people are coming together to talk about issues that involve us all. If you don’t do anything about it, you’re complicit in it happening. So, you’ve got to act and speak up. There is no choice. It resonated with me when [US journalist and teacher] Jelani Cobb said, “I’ve probably gotten this question 50 times from white students who ask me if it’s okay for them to write stories about people of colour and racism. And I was like, you absolutely have to write these stories.”

As a privileged successful white artist, I have access to an audience. If I don’t use that influence to talk about what matters, then what’s the point of it all? That’s what I love about the Viral Paintings – they’re tracking what I’m engaging in, now, every day.

Maryam Eisler: How do you think art history will change now, after these events?
Marc Quinn: What’s exciting is that we don’t know what the future holds, but it’s largely in our hands to open a new future and to consolidate some of the gains that have happened during this period and not just go back to the old ‘normal’.

Maryam Eisler: What about the future of museums and art galleries post-lockdown?
Marc Quinn: I think that will be really interesting to observe. No one’s really talked about it, but all the museum schedules have been completely thrown off. Most museums’ programmes work on a two- to five-year lead time, so, they can never really react to the moment. Perhaps this is a time for museums to rethink their planning and do exciting new shows that offer immediate reactions to what is happening around us. It’s an opportunity for these institutions to take an active role in the dialogue. Better representation of black curators and people in art institutions means the work of black artists can be properly contextualised and celebrated. I hope for a more inclusive art world that mirrors the diversity of the world today and celebrates artistic talent from all backgrounds and perspectives.

Find out more: marcquinn.com

This article features in the Autumn 2020 Issue, hitting newsstands in October.

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Reading time: 11 min
Parmesan and grapes

Orange peeled with glassware. Image by Patrice de Villiers

In this series of interviews conducted in partnership with Gaggenau, LUX speaks to four artists, who are seeking to alter our perspectives of the world through their innovative practices and meticulous craft

Creativity is an essential part of humanity. Whether it’s a painting, sculpture, building, object, or a plate of food, we make things to better understand and appreciate the world in which we live.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

As one of the original pioneers of kitchen design, German-brand Gaggenau has long supported craftsmanship through the making of its own range of elegant high-tech products, and through collaborations with like-minded makers. Each of the four artists below was asked to create a work of art to celebrate the launch of the brand’s new steam oven range, engaging with the themes around sensory experiences, sustainability, and innovation. Here, we discuss their unique forms of creativity.

The Dance of the Flying Fish. Image by Patrice De Villiers

Patrice de Villiers

Food photographer

What made you decide to specialise in food photography?

I studied photography, film studies and English Literature at university. Back then, my photography element mainly consisted of shooting portraits of aspiring musicians and actors. It wasn’t until I came to London to assist a still life photographer that I was introduced to the concept of using food as a subject matter, and looking at it in a different way. Still life is a difficult discipline I think, but with food you have everything already there; it’s got form, texture, and colour. It gives you a head-start in making what’s hopefully an amazing and impactful image. 

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What comes first the ingredients or the photographic concept?

If it’s a commercial job, I’m given a brief and an ingredient and the concept comes out of observing it, thinking about it. I always try to think about it differently so that if you look at the image of parmesan or asparagus or whatever it is, you think I would have never seen it visually in that way. But then at other times, as I do now with a new project, I have a particular concept in mind and in my forays to the markets, I’ve been thinking about which ingredients would best suit the idea. 

How do you think an image can contribute to a person’s experience of food?

It can inspire. If you see an ingredient or dish photographed in a beautiful way, then why wouldn’t it inspire somebody to go off and create something? A publisher once said to me that most cookbooks are aspirational, meaning that an awful lot of cookbooks are bought not necessarily to cook from. People have them as pieces of art to simply look at. 

The Octopus and the Belt. Image by Patrice de Villiers

Parmigiano with Grapes. Image by Patrice de Villiers

Your images often have a distinct painterly quality, how do you achieve this effect with a camera?

It’s less to do with the camera and more about the lighting craft so I observe the object and I experiment with light on it in various compositions. With experience, you learn instinctively where things should be and equally, where they shouldn’t be.  When I come up with my ideas, I certainly don’t do it all on set; I sketch out almost all of my work. 

When I was at Uni, I was particularly struck by Edward Weston and his beautiful photographs of peppers. They’re black and white so you’re not distracted by colour. He just wanted to focus on the incredible form and texture, but the beauty of the ingredient, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. When I’m shooting a food editorial that needs let’s say a pepper or an orange, then I will go and get it because if you’ve only got that one thing in the image, as Weston only had his pepper, it has to have character. 

Read more: Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos on the poetry of jewellery

Jan Wines (with sketches) by Patrice de Villiers

‘Food is definitely a natural form of art. The joy of photography is that I get to […] abstract it so that what people might view as something purely edible becomes something else.’

I was shooting some endives for the Independent a few years ago. It was when I went closely in with a longer lens that I could see they had tiny hairs coming off the leaves. It was about the intimacy [of the image]. The hairs of the yellow endive were just close enough to slightly touch the red one – it’s a tiny thing, but it’s about finding that beauty. I’ve photographed practically everything on the planet in the edible world and there’s usually something incredible about it whether it’s something quirky or beautiful.

Touch Softly. Image by Patrice de Villiers

Tender Kiss. Image by Patrice de Villiers

Celery Cheese (with sketches) by Patrice de Villiers

Has this current period affected your perspectives and relationship to food?

During this time, working from home, being isolated, I think food and meal times have become the punctuation for many people’s days. It gives you some sort of schedule, something to focus on when everything else is so hazy, something to look forward to.

How do you think your practice aligns with Gaggenau’s ethos?

I feel that we come from entirely the same place. There’s a shared dedication to craft and to [producing] the ultimate in quality. We both pay attention to the really tiny details and have an eye for beauty.

@patricedevilliers
patricedevilliers.com

‘The Rising Tide’ (2016), The River Thames, Vauxhall, London by Jason deCaires Taylor

Jason deCaires Taylor

Underwater artist

How did your interest in ocean conservation progress into making underwater art?

I studied public sculpture at university so I always envisioned a career in the arts, but at the same time, I had a love for the sea and I trained to be a diving instructor, which I thought could be a hobby or part time thing, but then slowly, I started to think about the two things being connected. I became disillusioned by public art because besides its inherent message and aesthetics, I felt that it also needed a practical reason to occupy the space. It was through diving and exploring the underwater world, that I realised I could create artworks that also worked on a practical and functional level.

Read more: How Andermatt Swiss Alps is tackling climate change

What are some of the challenges of working underwater?

They are all very challenging projects; I haven’t done an easy one yet. First of all, there are the materials. Most public sculpture uses metal either foundry castings or armatures, but underwater, that’s not a very sustainable material, and practically it’s quite difficult to implement so we use types of cement that are formulated with marine biologists. We have to make the works extremely heavy to survive the harsh marine elements as there are a lot of forces taking place underwater. There’s a balance between trying to make the works that are solid and can be attached to the sea floor without creating monumental logistical challenges on land.

How much does the location of the sculpture influence its form?

It’s really vital that each project has a strong connection to the place where it’s set. There are a lot of community consultations and for a lot of the projects, I’ve actually lived in the locations for many years. It’s only by spending time with people, learning the languages and getting to know the local culture, that you’re able to produce designs that are relevant. I’ve also cast a lot of people from local communities so that they feel more connected to the work. On a practical level, there are many different regional currents and the transparency of the water differs, along with the marine life, which are all important considerations when creating a work. 

Top image: ‘The Coral Greenhouse’ (2019) at MOUA, The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Below: Installing ‘Disconnected’ (2016) at Museo Atlantico, Lanzarote. Both pieces by Jason deCaires Taylor

Jason planting fire coral on his sculpture entitled ‘Man on Fire’ (2011) at MUSA, Mexico

As your works are naturally transformed by the sea, they appear as ruins from another age or culture. How do you think this contributes to the way viewers respond to the works?

I always felt that it was like looking at ourselves from a wider angle or from much further away. We have this inbuilt desire to conquer nature; there’s that traditional mentality of ‘man over nature’. I hope that my work shows that we are integral part of nature, but also that we are, ultimately, at its mercy.

‘The Coral Greenhouse’ (2019) by Jason deCaires Taylor at MOUA, The Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia.

‘There’s something about seeing ourselves in a different environment and with a different sense of time that contextualises our lives, but also makes us aware of our underlying fragility.’

What role do you think your art plays in wider discussions around the environment?

We need a fundamental reset of our relationship to the natural world. The capitalist system of us looking at the natural world as a giant resource has to change, and it will change because we can not continue as we have been going. From a marine point of view, it’s a harder challenge because it’s an environment that’s out of sight and out of mind for most people. I hope my work brings the underwater world into urban environments.

Read more: How Gaggenau is innovating the ancient art of steam cooking

Scientists put forward all of these figures and stats, but we’re extremely emotional beings and we respond much better to an emotive argument than to a factual one. I think that’s where art, and hopefully, my work, can play a fundamental role; it can transform those facts into an emotional message, and also bring these kinds of issues to a more mainstream audience. 

What led you to collaborate with Gaggenau?

Over the years, I’ve been approached by quite a few different brands and I very rarely do them, but Gaggenau has a good appreciation for the arts and supporting artists. Their products are about quality, good design and engineering, which I think complements my own practice.

Calcareous tubeworms on part of a piece entitled ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ (2018) by Jason deCaires Taylor at Museo Atlantico, Lanzarote

‘Inertia’ (2014) by Jason deCaires Taylor at MUSA, Mexico

Have you managed to create in lockdown?

I have two young children so it hasn’t been that easy to come up with new ideas or designs, but at the same time, it’s an opportunity to reset. We have all been living too fast, and it’s a time to re-evaluate what’s important. In terms of actually creating, I get excited about an idea, and then, sometimes I feel that things are a bit futile, that I’m just finding ways to preoccupy myself.

Are you afraid of the future?

Yes. It’s hard to comprehend the magnitude of what’s happening. There are three monumental challenges that we are facing: the virus, the economy and climate change. I think it could go one of two ways. It could be an amazing opportunity to rebuild ourselves in a more sustainable way, but it’s also going to really test humanity as to whether people will think only about their immediate reality and their families, or whether they can look past and see themselves as part of a global entity. It’s tricky when fear is involved. Fear can be used for manipulation, and I worry that might happen.

@jasondecairestaylor
underwatersculpture.com

Prudence Staite and her team creating an edible countryside landscape from popular breakfast foods to celebrate Farmhouse Breakfast Week. The artwork used 11 different types of breakfast cereal, including 169 wheat biscuits and 42 shredded wheat parcels, 500g of porridge oats, 21 slices of bread, 14 bread rolls, 14 crumpets, 2 jars of marmalade, 12 rashers of bacon and 42 apples.

Koala CFA made from nuts & seeds by Prudence Staite

Prudence Staite

Food artist

When did you decided to combine your passion for food with making art?

When I was doing my art degree, I got bored of what we were supposed doing – it was an old fashioned art school, very traditional – and instead I started creating artworks out of chocolate and sugar. The idea was that people could interact with the artwork; you could go into the gallery and actually eat it. Art to stimulate all the senses. Initially, my tutors were totally against it and said that art isn’t something you’re supposed to touch, it’s something you’re supposed to look at, but my degree show was made out of food. It was a room that you could actually go into; you could look through chocolate windows, and you could eat the chocolate skirting boards. The idea was to make people think how interiors link to real food. For example, how ceiling patterns sometimes look like frosting. That was back in 2000, and I set up my company the day after I graduated. 

Giants Codway by Prudence Staite

Are all chefs are artists?

The way you set up to create a painting or a sculpture is quite similar to how you set up a plate of food. You’ve got a canvas or a plate and you have to collate ingredients or your artistic materials, and you plan and you prep. So yes, I think artists are chefs and chefs are artists.

What are some of the challenges of using food as an artistic material?

One of the main challenges is the lifespan of the food substances. Also, all of the work that we tend to do has incredibly short deadlines. We’re always chasing our tail and juggling different jobs. We try to always come up with new things that haven’t been done before, but often, we don’t have time to see whether it will actually work so we just have to figure it out whilst we’re making it. It’s fun and I love it, but it can be challenging. 

Read more: In conversation with ballet dancer Sergei Polunin

We had one job where we had to use edible insects and chocolate. Since a lot of our artworks are eaten, we always have to make sure that it’s  safe and meets food safety standards so for this project, there was a legal limit of how many insects you can have per ratio of chocolate and we had to get a veterinary certificate to make sure the insets been harvested correctly. For that kind of thing, there’s a lot of paperwork and a huge amount of planning. 

Much of your artwork is assembled on site, why did you decide to work this way?

For me, it’s that part of the theatre of my artwork. I like that people can see it all coming together. Often they see the vegetables, cheese, chocolate or whatever we’re working with, but they can’t see how it’s going to turn out. I think that seeing that process adds something to the eventual eating experience. Having people watch me work can also be a little bit stressful because things do go wrong, but overcoming the problems is part of it. Also a lot of the projects we do are large scale so you can’t transport them easily in one piece.

‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ created by Prudence Staite for Gaggenau’s steam oven launch, 2020

‘My whole philosophy is to give people a different viewpoint so that they can appreciate the art of food.’

What led you to partner with Gaggenau?

I was approached by the brand and asked whether I could create something that reflected the ingredients that could be used in their new steam ovens. Their ethos is very much that the products are masterpieces in themselves, they’re works of art, and that really fitted with my philosophy that food is art. The ovens are not so much of a tool, but a vehicle to create masterpieces at home. I love that idea. Gaggenau’s colour scheme had the feeling of Dutch Old Masters [paintings] with lots of rich greens and purples, which inspired the idea of re-creating The Girl with a Pearl Earring using vegetables.

How do you think your artworks contribute to the viewers’ experience of food?

My whole philosophy is to give people a different viewpoint so that they can appreciate the art of food. Food should be an enjoyable experience and not something you just quickly shovel down your throat to fulfil a calorie intake. It’s about getting people to stop and think about where we get food from and how it’s grown.

The making of ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’

Chocolate Motorbike Exhaust by Prudence Staite

Have you been creating in lockdown?

We were working on three different projects and they were all put on hold because a lot of what we tend to do is in a public place or in a restaurant. So, I’ve been looking at new inspirations and I’ve been experimenting with making a series of chocolate vinyl records that are actually play music. I’ve also been trying to get a rainbow, the light spectrum, captured in chocolate, which I’ve managed to do by using diffraction grading so when you move the chocolate around under the light, you can actually see a rainbow.

What’s next for you?

I never really know what’s coming next – it has been like this for twenty years. One day I’d love to do a twelve course dinner which are  all individual works of art served within a chocolate art gallery. So you can go and eat all the walls, the doors, the floors, ceilings, the chairs that you’re sitting on and chocolate records are playing music as entertainment whilst you eat. I would also like to work with more fresh produce and flowers, and to experiment with immersive produce installations.

@prudenceemmastaite
foodisart.co.uk

Brill from the menu at Paris House

Paris House in the Summer (top) and Phil Fanning in the kitchen

Phil Fanning

Executive Chef & Owner of Paris House 

Your cooking focuses on seasonal British produce – where do you generally source your ingredients?

The general principle is that we find purveyors of the best quality produce and we rely on their connections with suppliers, farmers and producers. We are keen to use local people as long as their product is good. The quality of the product is paramount.

Read more: Fashion designer Erdem Moralıoğlu’s guide to east London

What appeals to you about Japanese cooking techniques?

I’ve always loved Japanese culture. My wife and I are sushi addicts. I’ve been into martial arts all my life and I’m an amateur carpenter; Japanese carpentry is incredible. When you set up a business, you need some kind of USP or direction so it made perfect sense for me to follow that route. The principle behind Japanese food is the quality of technique, driving towards a kind of simple perfection. It’s to do with extracting the best flavours from what you put in. What I especially love about Japanese culinary techniques is that you don’t necessarily know it’s Japanese from a flavour point of view so you can enhance British ingredients with Japanese techniques without turning it into Japanese food. 

Native Lobster at Paris House

How are you incorporating sustainability into your kitchen?

We have a kitchen garden so all of our vegetable trimmings go on the compost heap and the compost heap goes onto the garden and the produce from the garden comes back into the kitchen. We are closely advised by our fish suppliers as to what is the best fish to be using that season. We very recently flipped our entire kitchen to induction services and low energy refrigeration, which saves us a huge amount of money and also means that we’re not wasting energy. We also recycle everything we possibly can. There’s plenty more we could do, but we have already improved in many areas. 

Who or what do you think influenced your tastes in food and cooking?

It stared off with Gary Rhodes who was on TV. His passion and enthusiasm was infectious. Then my grandpa, bought me a Ken Hom wok when I was about ten – I’ve still got it and it’s used on a regular basis – which opened my eyes to the Asian route. I also had a very powerful mentor: Michael MacDonald who now owns the Vanilla Pod in Marlow. He directed my skill set and greatly influenced my understanding in the kitchen. Then, there’s my chef idol: Thomas Keller.

How do you think your cooking style has evolved over the years?

As the years go by you work out what it is that the guest wants, more than what it is you think they want. In other words, you become better at understanding your customer base’s requirements. So I think I’ve become closer to what my customers like and I’ve definitely focused more on Asian techniques.

Read more: Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar & the artistic revival of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat

Craftsmanship is the cornerstone of what we do. Over the years, I’ve become better and better at my craft, but I don’t think I’ve drastically changed what I’m doing. Every time you go out for a meal you get inspiration and gain a deeper understanding, but you always cook what you like. Fundamentally, if you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t cook it. Yes, you have to listen to your customers and ensure you fit into the market, but you have to cook food that you love. 

‘The fundamental principle is that you eat with your eyes. A good dish needs to taste, feel and look amazing; all three of those things have to be right.’

What’s your process for developing new recipes?

Our current format is heavily driven by tasting menus. We have a six, eight, and ten course tasting menu, which are influenced by the Japanese concept of Kaiseki. It’s an incredibly seasonal and locally driven food concept, and as with all things Japanese, there’s always a reason for dishes to be in a specific order, combination or at a specific time of the year. There’s a set of principles that you follow to build the Kaiseki menu.

By using some of the same principles in our menus at Paris House, we have a better and more consistent way to develop dishes. Now, we have dish “holes” so we know, for example, the dish at the beginning has to be slightly bitter, it has to be really fresh and probably seafood or vegetable-based. The next one down has to be hot, vegetable-based and with a fried element. These principles build a nice flow. Point one for us is to think about those principles, and then to look at what’s seasonal and whether there are any new or exciting ingredients, and the third point is if we want to try and incorporate any new techniques into the menu. Then, there’s experimenting and tasting. It takes about three to four months to bring a menu together. 

Crab (top) and Beef Rib dishes from a menu at Paris House

A plum dessert at Paris House

Do you consider yourself an artist, and is cooking an art form?

I think I’m a craftsman, but you could argue that all craftsmen have an element of artistry. The fundamental principle is that you eat with your eyes. A good dish needs to taste, feel and look amazing; all three of those things have to be right. The taste and texture of the piece is definitely down to craftsmanship, but the visual representation requires an artistic perspective.

What led you to collaborate with Gaggenau?

We’ve worked closely with Gaggenau for many years now. They’re a massive producer of technology, but they’re so artisan about what they do. For Gaggeanu, it’s never about mass production, it’s about quality, which fits with what we do at Paris House.

What have you been cooking in lockdown?

I’ve been cooking more than I have for years. At work, I’ve been doing the take-out menus, but at home, we’ve been baking baguettes, pizzas, sausage rolls. My favourite thing to eat in the sun is bouillabaisse so we made a big batch with mussels, which was incredible. Usually I don’t have a chance to bake bread at home, and in the first few weeks when the restaurant was closed, I was baking pretty much every day. I love baking bread – it’s such a therapeutic process. Spending more time with the kids has also been a huge silver lining.

@parishousechef
parishouse.co.uk

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Reading time: 26 min
public gardens by residential towers
Tree sculpture

Conrad Shawcross’s sculpture Bicameral at the pedestrian entrance to Chelsea Barracks.

Chelsea Barracks has already established itself as one of the most desirable places to live in London. Its gardens, with their planting schemes, public artworks and open access, are adding to the city’s continuing and defining history of garden squares, as Anna Tyzack reports

There are many measures by which London could be said to be the greatest city in the world. It is a (possibly the) financial and business hub; a crossroads between the Americas, Europe and Asia; a cultural centre that combines 2,000 years of history with being on the world’s leading edge in creativity in the 21st century.

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It is also the world’s most liveable great city. Yes, there are surveys published in trendy publications each year that tout the virtues of earthy locations in crispy-clean countries. But successful, ambitious humans want to live and work in a place where they can be surrounded by their peers: to be right in the heart of a city teeming with global leaders in finance, the arts, creativity, science, philanthropy and international trade. And yet they also crave a standard of living. Their villa on Cap Ferrat for summer and lodge in Aspen for winter have infinite light, space, nature; and London is the only city of its level in the world that can offer these semblances of space and green alongside its myriad other draws. London is the greenest city in Europe: almost 50 per cent of its surface area is parks, gardens, natural habitats or water.

In the most authoritative measure of its kind, London and New York regularly swap places at number 1 and number 2 slots in the Knight Frank Wealth Report Global Cities Index: but for the ‘lifestyle’ subsection, London is, in 2020, at the top.

Leafy walkway along a building

Bourne Walk at Chelsea Barracks

One unique aspect of London lifestyle is its garden squares. They developed naturally as spaces for inhabitants to relax and play as the city grew; became protected in law; and now many of them are the most desirable addresses in the city. Garden squares in London can be public (run by the local councils) or private (owned and used by the local landowners); the best are hives of culture, leisure and joy.

And now there is a new crop of squares coming to life. Uniquely, they are in central London, an area not known for its propensity to be developed. They are the creation of Chelsea Barracks, a new super-luxe five-hectare residential area built between super-prime neighbourhoods Chelsea and Belgravia on the site of what was for 150 years an army barracks.

Read more: In conversation with ballet dancer Sergei Polunin 

It is also unique in its concept and ambition. Rather than build yet another cookie-cutter set of branded residences inside an enclosed compound, sell them off and take the money, owner Qatari Diar is in for the long term: the aim is to create a new neighbourhood, not just for those fortunate enough to afford the residences lining the new streets, but to welcome anyone who is drawn in by the beautiful and distinctive urban planning.

And the squares. There are two hectares of garden squares and public spaces, open to all, in the development: in all, seven new squares are being created. The idea is that residents can enjoy them permanently, and through an artfully curated cultural programme, visitors can pass through, linger and enjoy the first, and last, new area on this scale likely to be developed in central London for, well, probably ever.

Residential building

Whistler Square is named after the artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler who once lived in Belgravia

They are also very much not a recreation or pastiche of existing garden squares. “Our gardens are very different from the traditional idea of railings around a set of trees and a lawn – we didn’t want rules or hostile architecture giving any sense that people were being segregated,” says Richard Oakes, Qatari Diar’s Chief Sales & Marketing Officer Europe & Americas. “Given we were working on what is going to be the most exclusive addresses in London, we had to find a new way of considering what is a garden square.”

This takes a delicate balancing act. The open spaces at Chelsea Barracks (which amount to a lot more than just garden squares) are aimed at attracting visitors and establishing the area as a cultural hub; while residents still feel a sense of exclusivity.

Read more: Van Cleef & Arpels CEO Nicolas Bos on the poetry of jewellery

The landscaping is contemporary in style, while referencing the traditional garden square, with water features to bring a sense of calm and tranquillity and bulbs and flowering trees such as magnolia to add colour and structure throughout the seasons. The red Chelsea Barracks rose, inspired by the intricate petal-shaped window in the restored Garrison Chapel, and cultivated for Chelsea Barracks by grower Philip Harkness, features prominently in the planting. “The gardens provide a spectacular new front door for Chelsea Flower Show, which takes place next door, at the Royal Hospital,” Oakes says.

public green spaces

public gardens by residential towers

Here and above: Mulberry Square’s garden planted with lavender, rosemary and strawberries

In Mulberry Square, for example, residents overlook a shallow water rill and a fragrant garden planted with lavender, rosemary and strawberries, a tribute to the patterned canvases of artist Bridget Riley. Here there are benches to sit on with a book or to enjoy a peaceful moment listening to the sound of the water.

Read more: How Gaggenau is innovating the ancient art of steam cooking

Meanwhile Whistler Square, in the northern part of the Barracks, is named after the artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, who lived in Belgravia and Old Chelsea. It has as its focal point a bronze-edged Cumbrian black-slate scrim, no deeper than a finger nail, decorated with fragile etched lines to represent the lost rivers of London.

But culture, as much as gardens, is at the heart of the development. Garrison Chapel, which forms the centrepiece of the development, is a restored, listed and significant historical structure. It has been painstakingly restored by a host of British artisans including lime plasterers, fresco artists and stained-glass experts and will once again be a place for locals to gather. The new bell, an exact replica of the damaged original, was commissioned from Britain’s last surviving bell maker, John Taylor & Co of Loughborough.

Strikingly positioned, it will be the centre of an art and culture programme, which will spill out into the squares and spaces. It will involve performance art and installation as well as static art, with a focus on giving young and emerging artists a bedrock in the centre of London, an area for so long dominated by art dealers rather than artists. Striking also is the focus away from just retail: life, space and culture, rather than transaction, is what this new area aims to be about.

Public artwork at Chelsea Barracks

A tree-like sculpture by Conrad Shawcross is the first public artwork to be installed at Chelsea Barracks. Casting dappled shade onto Dove Place, the pedestrian entrance to the development, Bicameral comprises 693 components and stands 8m in height. It can be  seen, as Shawcross explains, as an Arcadian symbol for reason, humanity, rationalism, progress and hope, and it was designed to pay homage to the craftsmanship found at the Barracks. The sculpture was created entirely without welding; its interlocking forms are held together by techniques derived from Japanese wood joinery.

Chelsea Barracks in numbers

  • Apartments in Chelsea Barracks cost from £5.25 million.
  • Townhouses, each with a roof terrace, spa with pool, gym, garden and private garage, cost from £38 million.
  • The Garrison Club is for the exclusive use of residents. With all the advantages of a private club, amenities include a 1,800 sq m spa and gym; private cinema, games room, residents’ lounge and business suite with two boardrooms.

Find out more: chelseabarracks.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue.

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Reading time: 6 min
fine jewellery
fine jewellery

L’Arbre aux tourmalines (1976) by Jean Vendome © MNHN/F. Farges.

The heritage of Parisian jeweller Van Cleef & Arpels is being honoured by an exhibition at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris, in which their gems from across the years are being shown alongside the raw stones that such jewels are made from. On the eve of the show’s opening, LUX meets with the maison’s CEO, Nicolas Bos
Red carpet photograph

Nicolas Bos & Cate Blanchett. © Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty.

LUX: How does seeing the raw beauty of stones extracted from the earth affect your appreciation of fine jewellery?
Nicolas Bos: The aim of this exhibition is to show alongside each other the raw minerals, faceted gems and finished jewellery creations. This juxtaposition really emphasises the stones’ journey from the depth of the Earth into the craftsmen’s hands that will reveal their beauty. In front of raw minerals, we cannot but be humble and admire what nature can create. It is also with great pride that we can see what we are able to accomplish today with these treasures through our know-how.

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LUX: The exhibition shows that humans have always been drawn to adornment. Is the lure of jewellery today different to ancient times?
Nicolas Bos: Since ancient times, both men and women have enjoyed adorning themselves with precious and rare materials. Over the centuries, jewellery and lapidary techniques have evolved, new materials have been found and new sources of inspiration and artistic movements have forged new creations. Society has also significantly evolved, with changes in how jewellery is perceived.

blue and diamond necklace

Cravat necklace, 1954. © Patrick Gries.

Jewelled bluebird clip

Bluebird clip, 1963. © Anthony Falcone.

LUX: Jewellery companies seem to be doing ever more exhibitions – why is this?
Nicolas Bos: Exhibitions are a great way for a centenary maison such as ours to reveal the evolution of its style across the decades. Furthermore, for Van Cleef & Arpels, transmission, education and culture are fundamental values. That is why we conceive or participate in exhibitions (be it patrimonial or even contemporary). We display creations not just by the maison; we also focus either on the spirit of a particular era (the 1970s and Alhambra, for example), or on a source of inspiration, or on a particular material such as gems. The maison has over several years initiated relationships with great cultural institutions such as the Musée des Arts Décoratifs or the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, both in Paris, to encourage thoughtful and pertinent dialogues between jewellery and other fields such as mineralogy or the decorative arts in general. The collaboration with the American artist Bob Wilson, in 2016, with a scenography based on Noah’s Ark’s highlighting a high jewellery collection, also expressed this wish to link our creativity with other arts. Another example, in 2017, at the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto, paralleled traditional Japanese craftsmanship and Van Cleef & Arpels jewellery expertise in the exhibition ‘Mastery of an Art’.

Read more: How Gaggenau is innovating the ancient art of steam cooking

LUX: How would you summarise the brand or aura of Van Cleef & Arpels to a new client?
Nicolas Bos: I would say that the maison puts poetry and enchantment at centre stage in all its creations, be it high jewellery or jewellery or timepieces. Over the years, Van Cleef & Arpels keeps reinventing itself while always staying faithful to its original DNA. Its sources of inspiration range from nature and couture to dance, astronomy and imaginary worlds.

vintage jewelled brooch

Eucalyptus seed clip, 1968. © Bertrand Moulin

LUX: The ‘Gems’ exhibition includes modern recreations of significant historical jewellery, such as the Toison d’Or worn by Louis XV. What does a piece of historical jewellery tell you about how the wearer once lived?
Nicolas Bos: I’m not a history expert and the maison did not participate in these recreations but it is true that they are impressive. The Toison d’Or underlines the magnificence in which French monarchs used to live and it highlights their taste for exceptional stones and adornment in general. I would like also to mention a special piece that belongs to the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle collection and is of real interest – the tourmalines mobile/tree created by Jean Vendome. This is a real masterpiece that exemplifies the fine work bringing together jewellery, sculpture and design.

LUX: Are lab-grown gems a threat?
Nicolas Bos: We do not consider them as such at Van Cleef & Arpels. They are another type of material which has nothing to do with our idea of jewellery. They are industrial objects which don’t have the rarity, the preciousness or charm that natural stones gain after spending millions of years in the depths of the Earth.

vintage decorative jewellery

Gladiator clip, 1956. © Anthony Falcone.

LUX: Does learning about the origins of gemstones in an exhibition such as this teach us about the earth from which they came? Does it influence Van Cleef & Arpel’s attitude towards provenance and sustainability?
Nicolas Bos: Sustainability is a core value of Van Cleef & Arpels: we are a certified member of the Responsible Jewellery Council (RJC) which has the strictest standards of responsible practices for the jewellery industry. We also ask our suppliers to be certified with the RJC in order to promote good practices in the supply chain and we audit them as well. All diamonds purchased by Van Cleef & Arpels are compliant with the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme which has worked since 2003 to put an end to the trade in conflict diamonds. We also work with multi-stakeholder initiatives on responsible sourcing and supply-chain due diligence, in particular for coloured gemstones.

LUX: Can you describe the Van Cleef & Arpels high jewellery piece that is inspired by the exhibition?
Nicolas Bos: In order to fit in with the central theme of the exhibition, the maison imagined a unique high jewellery object comprising stones, gems and jewels, some faceted, some polished, some raw. Through the work of craftsmen’s hands these stones speak with each other, adding a highly original piece to the history of Van Cleef & Arpels. It provides a fittingly precious and poetic conclusion to this exhibition.

The exhibition ‘Pierres Précieuses’ runs until 3 January 2021 at Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris 

View the collections: vancleefarpels.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 2020 Issue, out now.

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Reading time: 5 min
Architectural image
Image of fabric like water

Photogenic Painting, Untitled 75/31, Barbara Kasten. Copyright & courtesy the artist

Barbara Kasten is one of the most intriguing and influential photographic artists of the past 50 years. Born in the US before the second world war and initially influenced by the Bauhaus movement of the 1930s, her work seems to meld two dimensions into three and defy easy categorisation. In a rare interview, she speaks to Millie Walton about some of her techniques ahead of her postponed solo show at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany

“I do not think of my work as abstract photography. My abstraction is a search for a fleeting moment in time when a nondescript, real thing is transformed and perceived in another state of being. By definition a photograph records reality. I use photography to capture a unique abstraction of perception which can only happen with the interaction of light. It’s about how materials interact with light and how light is so essential to the way that we look at the world.

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“Normally, my interest is in the material that I’m using and its properties so there’s a lot of controlling and experimentation, and that’s the initiating point for me. I make shapes out of these materials that have no representational value; they are basic geometric shapes, building blocks, which is where the relationship to architecture comes in. Everything that I build in front of the camera is not held together, it’s balanced on each other. I’m building something that looks like an object, but I don’t want it to look like an object so I cancel it with what happens when the light hits and the shadows create other objects that are fleeting. The shadows also become building blocks, but they’re not there so it creates this contrast between the real and the unreal.

Colourful architectural scape

Architectural Site 19, July 19, 1989, Barbara Kasten. Copyright & courtesy the artist

Architectural image

Architectural Site 17, August 29, 1988, Barbara Kasten. Copyright & courtesy the artist

Artist in studio

Architectural Site 15, Whitney, 1989, installation shot with the artist. Copyright and courtesy the artist

Read more: In the studio with the radical New-York based artist Mickalene Thomas

“All of my work is in the studio so I can move the light to achieve a different perspective of the object, but I don’t move the camera. I build in front of it and because [the viewer] is large, I can look at it as I might look at a painting where if a shape is not in a compositional relationship to another shape that I like then I can go in and change it by moving the object or the light. In that way, it’s a very painterly organisation and composition that I create, but then there’s also the three-dimensionality of the sculpture that is a different experience to the three-dimensionality as it is translated to the flat surface. I think that’s one of the reasons why more recently I’ve been taking what I call the set-ups in front of the camera and treating them more like standalone sculptures. I don’t make a photograph, I just use the same kind of material elements and I allow the audience to see what I see before I go to the back of the camera because once I’m looking through the camera, it’s my point of view and it’s frozen in the moment. Now, I’m more interested in how I can broaden this experience so that other people see the discovery for themselves.”

sculpture of coloured glass and metal

Crown Hall, Artist City, 2018, Barbara Kasten. Copyright and courtesy the artist

Due to Covid-19, the artist’s solo exhibition ‘Works: Barbara Kasten’ at Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg has been postponed, and is expected to open later this year. For updates, visit: kunstmuseum-wolfsburg.de

View the artist’s full portfolio of work: barbarakasten.net

This article will also be published in the Summer 2020 Issue, hitting newsstands in May 2020.

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Reading time: 3 min
Artist at work sculpting marble
Artist at work sculpting marble

One of the participating artist’s in the process of sculpting marble at the inaugural edition of Jeddah’s Red Sea Sculpture Symposium

Saudi Arabia is working hard to rediscover its cultural roots, promote contemporary art and establish itself as a cultural destination, with a series of new art events and residencies. Following on from the inaugural edition of Jeddah’s Red Sea Sculpture Symposium, Art & Digital Editor Millie Walton investigates the rise of the coastal city as a new cultural hub

In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been creating for itself a cultural renaissance, catalysed by the reforms of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the country’s 32-year-old de facto leader. In 2018, the Kingdom opened the doors to cinemas after a forty-year hiatus, announcing the start of a new vision for the country’s ongoing cultural development, with an aim to support local craft as well as attract international creatives. Led by the Ministry of Culture, the vision seeks to reposition the country it as a dynamic place for business and leisure, responding to the demands of a new, youthful generation who are tech-savvy and plugged into the pulse of global culture.

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Jeddah is one of the main hubs in this strategy. Once seen as culturally conservative, the city is now home to hip contemporary art galleries, graffiti murals and public art installations. Later this year, Art Jameel, a nonprofit organisation set up by the wealthy car-dealing family of the same name, is due to open Hayy (derived from the Arabic word from neighbourhood), an ambitious creative complex with studios and exhibition spaces, whilst the Ministry of Culture launched its first arts initiative in the city last year in the form of a cross-cultural live-sculpting event.

Artists sculpting marble sculpture

Artist sculpting marble

The artists could be watched live sculpting at a location in Jeddah’s historic district of Albalad

The inaugural Red Sea International Sculpture Symposium invited twenty international and local artists to hand sculpt free-standing monoliths over a three week period (21 November – 10 December 2019), using blocks of white marble imported from the Sultanate of Oman. Participants were asked to create artworks in response to the city’s geographical location and historical heritage as a trading hub, whilst also drawing on the diversity of its contemporary society.

Abstract marble sculpture on column

Agnessa Petrova, 2019

Marble sculpture on black plinth

Takeshi Kubo, 2019

The sculpting itself took place between 8am and 6pm at a location in Jeddah’s historic district and UNESCO heritage site Albalad, purposefully distanced from the city’s main cultural attractions and tourist hotspots so as to welcome new art audiences whilst also providing artists the opportunity to interact with local residents throughout the day.

Artist free sculpting marble structure

‘This global interaction reflected Arab and international cultural experiences on the artistic and cultural scene in historical Jeddah. This enriches the local scene because it shows positive results and contributes to the recipient’s diverse visual nutrition,’ commented Issam Jamil, one of three participating Saudi sculptors along with Rida Alalawi and Kamal Almualem. European artists included Michael Levchenko (Ukraine), Kamen Tanaev (Bulgaria), Jose Carlos Cabello Millan (Spain), Mario Lopes (Portugal), Jo Klay (Germany), Sylvain Patte (Belgium), Butrint Morina (Kosovo), Aggnessa Petrove (Bulgaria), Anna Maria Negara (Romania) and Anna Rasinska (Poland) with Asian artists Takeshita Kubo, Fan Chilung-Lien and Lin Li Jen, and Arab artists Ali Jabbar (Iraq), Hisham Abdulmuty (Egypt) and Hany Fisal (Egypt).

Read more: Why we love Hublot’s limited edition spring timepieces

Whilst all of the selected artists’ practices incorporated stonework, each participant specialised in different materials and techniques, and for some, it was their first time carving marble, a material chosen for its aesthetic appeal, durability and historic significance.

Abstract marble sculpture

Ali Jabbar, 2019

The finished pieces varied in both scale and style with some reflecting the city’s architectural magnificence and the natural environment of the Red Sea, whilst others evoked modern and abstract minimalist forms.

Still standing in the location in which they were originally sculpted (with plans to relocate around the city in the near future), the works appear haunting and luminous against the vibrant colours and textures of Albalad, providing a striking symbol of the city’s new-found creative energy.

Abstract white marble sculpture

Anna Rasinska, 2019

An introduction to Jeddah’s wider cultural scene

Jeddah’s Art Residency Initiative

This year, the creative momentum is set to continue with Jeddah’s newly launched Art Residency Initiative, which invites artists to attend six-week residency programmes at various points across the year. Alongside the residencies, the city will also feature events, showcasing the Ministry of Culture’s annual theme: the ancient artistic practice of Arabic calligraphy.

21,39 Jeddah Arts

Organised by the Saudi Arts Council, 21,39 Jeddah Arts is a contemporary art festival featuring gallery exhibitions, workshops, and panel discussions with many of the region’s leading creatives. This year’s edition (open until April 19) is entitled I Love You, Urgently and focuses on the global climate emergency with artists presenting a diverse collection of work including everything from Islamic painting techniques and calligraphy installations to ethically-made clothing and digital print collages.

Red Sea Film Festival

Whilst the launch might have been postponed, the inaugural Red Sea Film Festival promises a diverse 10-day program of screenings and talks, supporting emerging and established talent from Arabic and International cinema.

Hayy: Creative Hub

Set to open in the winter of 2020-21, Haay: Creative Hub is a 17,000-square-metre arts complex developed by non-profit organisation Art Jameel. Designed by UAE design studio waiwai, the space will include art and design galleries, performance and comedy clubs, cafes, artist studios and a theatre as well as an independent film cinema designed by Jeddah-based practice Bricklab.

To learn more about the Ministry of Culture’s forthcoming initiatives, visit: moc.gov.sa/en

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Reading time: 4 min
Exhibition of kitchen appliances
Exhibition of kitchen appliances

Gaggenau’s new combi-steam ovens 400 and 200 series

Last week, LUX attended the launch of Gaggenau’s new combi-steam ovens, presented alongside underwater artworks by artist Jason deCaires Taylor and food prepared by executive chef Phil Fanning

Steaming food might be the latest trend in healthy eating, but it’s also a way of enhancing the natural flavours of ingredients. With an increased capacity of 50 litres, Gaggenau’s new combi-steam ovens offer chefs – both budding and professional – the opportunity to get creative with their steaming.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

At the brand’s launch event in Fitzrovia, London, executive chef and owner of restaurant Paris House Phil Fanning showed guests the kind of results that a Gaggenau combi-steam oven can achieve with not just vegetables, but also meats, baked goods or pastry.

Chef preparing food in the kitchen

Chef Phil Fanning preparing dessert using a Gaggenau combi-steam oven

Gaggenau’s ovens work by combining hot air with varying percentages of humidity (ranging from 100 to 0%), whilst an in-built probe monitors the temperature and continually revises the estimated cooking time to ensure best results and the preservation of nutrients.

Read more: Chef Alain Ducasse on the importance of telling your own story

Gaggenau’s new ovens shown alongside artworks by Jason deCaires Taylor

Strikingly sleek and minimalist in design, the ovens were presented alongside a series of intriguing glass-encased underwater sculptures by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor. Made from pH-neutral cement, deCaires Taylor’s sculptures are ordinarily encountered on the seabeds where they transform into coral reefs as they are consumed and naturally transformed by aquatic microorganisms. Viewed in this new setting, the artworks appeared even more otherworldly, whilst also inviting guests to reflect on the poeticism of the steaming process.

For more information visit: gaggenau.com/gb/

 

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Reading time: 1 min
Sculpture of hands in a bridge
Sculpture of hands in a bridge

Building Bridges (at the Venice Biennale 2019) by Lorenzo Quinn

Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn has been commissioned to create artworks for the likes of the Vatican, the State of Qatar, and the Venice Biennale. Here, the sculptor speaks to Charlie Newman about poetry, the symbolism of hands, and durability.

Monochrome portrait of man holding his head

Lorenzo Quinn

1. Can you talk us through your creative process from the conception of an idea to the finished piece?

Once I feel the inspiration, I begin by drawing a sketch of the idea. This sketch might change many times until I feel it is right. Then I make a model in my studio, this model could also vary from the sketch as I go. Finally, when I am satisfied with the model, we proceed to cast the piece in metal.

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2. How does your approach differ when you’re working on public art compared to smaller sculptures?

The approach is the same, apart from when we are considering a sculpture with large dimensions, we also have to consider the public safety implications, engineering and durability. We might choose different materials or different ways of constructing and engineering the sculpture.

3. What compels you to sculpt the human body, and specifically, hands?

I choose hands because I want to have a dialogue with the public, to have a conversation, and we have to do [this] through a common language. If I did abstract art, it would be a monologue, not a dialogue. The hands allow me to get closer to the public through a language that everybody understands and relates to.

Sculpture of hands against a building

Support by Lorenzo Quinn

4. Do you have a preferred medium to work with?

Metals, especially bronze because of its durability.

Read more: Knight Frank’s 2020 Wealth Report focuses on insights for UHNWIs

5. You often pair poetry with your sculptures. How do you feel this contributes to the work?

I don’t conceive of one without the other. I need poetry to make the artwork or else it would be just a three-dimensional piece. I have always believed, nonetheless, that my sculptures need to go beyond that and into the fourth dimension, which is connecting with people and with the actual artwork. It’s about finding something beyond the physical, and poetry does that very well for me.

Sculpture of a woman pulling a globe

The Force of Nature I by Lorenzo Quinn

6. Which artists have been most influential on your practice?

The classic masters such as Michelangelo, Bernini, Rodin as well as Salvador Dali and my own father…

For more information visit: lorenzoquinn.com

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Reading time: 2 min
Design exhibition with contemporary furnishings
Design exhibition with contemporary furnishings

Italian design studio Draga & Aurel’s ‘Mimetic Dialogues’ took inspiration from the Alpine setting of St. Moritz

Earlier this month, the invitation-only design fair NOMAD returned to St. Moritz for its third edition, showcasing collectible objects and furniture in the grand setting of Chesa Planta mansion. Rebecca Anne Proctor shares her highlights from the fair

Giustini/Stagetti Rome

Roberto Giustini and Stefano Stagetti’s gallery favoured a minimalist aesthetic to showcase pieces from Italian design masters such as Gio Ponti, Franco Albini and Gino Sarfatti alongside a selection of international contemporary designers. Andrea Anastasio‘s collection of glazed ceramic ‘blossoming’ white vases, Giacomo Moor‘s ash and olive wood desk, and Paolo Tilche‘s wicker chair were amongst our favourites.

Design exhibition display with minimalist display

Giustini/Stagetti Rome at Nomad St. Moritz

The Masters by Au Départ + Mazzoleni

Founded in 1934 as one of four original Parisian luxury trunk makers, Au Départ was reborn in 2019 with a fresh collection of products designed for the contemporary globetrotter. The NOMAD exhibition showcased the company’s collaboration with Mazzoleni art gallery, displaying a new line of bags alongside exclusive carpets by Illulian Design Studio that have shaped Au Départ’s physical environments since its launch. On the walls, were striking works by Italian post-war artists such as Agostino Bonalumi, Alberto Burri, Enrico Castellani and Lucio Fontana.

Design display with contemporary objects and furnishings

Draga & Aurel’s display featured resin-topped furnishings

Mimetic Dialogues by Draga & Aurel

Multi-disciplinary Italian design studio Draga & Aurel’s presented a unique display of sculpture pieces made especially for Nomad and inspired by the Alpine setting. We loved the glassy resin-topped stools and benches set on industrial cement bases.

Grand drawing room with plush furnishings

Volumnia at Nomad St. Moritz

Volumnia

Gallerist Enrica de Micheli‘s newly opened art and design platform Volumnia presented a selection of renowned Italian design objects including a rare coffee table and lamp by Max Ingrand for Fontana Arte, Lady armchairs by Marco Zanuso for Arflex and a sofa by Federico Munari, alongside contemporary pieces such as a Mongolian fur carpet by Pier Francesco Cravel and Marcello Bonvini, and a chandelier by Simone Crestani and Davide Groppi.

Luxurious interiors of a drawing room with contemporary furnishings

Mercado Moderno at Nomad St. Moritz

Mercado Moderno

Rio de Janeiro-based Mercado Moderno presented voluptuous and earthy interiors from the likes of the Mameluca Studio, Gisela Simas, Gustavo Bittencourt and Inês Schertel. The most striking piece on display was the Cafofo Shelf by Mameluca Studio, which was custom-made for the exhibition space. Inspired by Brazilian natural diversity, the shelf offers an alluring multi-level assembly in various woods.

Find out more: nomad-circle.com

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Reading time: 2 min
Artist working in his studio vintage photograph
Artist working in his studio vintage photograph

Picasso and ceramic (owl) by David Douglas Duncan (Spring 1957), Villa La Californie, Cannes © David Douglas Duncan © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019. Courtesy the estate David Douglas Duncan

For a special exhibition at Vieux Chalet in Gstaad, Hauser & Wirth brings together ceramics and paintings by Picasso alongside a series of portrait photographs by David Duncan Douglas to provide a fascinating exploration of creativity, intimacy and space.

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Duncan himself was a renowned war photographer and photojournalist, who first encountered Picasso in 1956 when he  infamously rang the doorbell of La Californie, the artist’s home in Cannes. At the time, Picasso was in the bathtub and allowed Duncan to photograph him right then and there, leading onto a lasting friendship which granted the photographer unprecedented access into the artist’s creative processes. Over the course of seventeen years, Duncan took approximately 25,000 images of Picasso, documenting not just Picasso himself, but also his family and friends.

Father and son playing wrestling

Battle between Claude and his father wearing Gary Cooper’s cowboy hat by David Douglas Duncan, July 1957, Villa La Californie, Cannes © David Douglas Duncan © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019. Courtesy the estate David Douglas Duncan

Painter and a painted portrait of a woman

Pablo Picasso with the portrait Jacqueline à l’écharpe noire (1954) by David Douglas Duncan, 1957, Villa La Californie, Cannes © David Douglas Duncan © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019. Courtesy the estate David Douglas Duncan

Duncan’s photographs and Picasso’s artworks are displayed side by side throughout the domestic spaces of the chalet, emphasising the intimacy of the photographic perspective as well as the connection between the two distinct artistic mediums. In some of the images, Picasso is seen actively engaging with the lens whilst others are more candid, showing the artist amongst his easels, books, brushes and paints.

Read more: How Galerie Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar aims to inspire change

Ceramic vase painted with man's bearded head

Bearded man’s head (1948) by Pablo Picasso © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2019Courtesy Succession Picasso

The artist’s ceramics are amongst the most captivating works on display, as everyday objects such as bowls and vases are transformed into animal-like creatures through warped swollen shapes and dynamic painted lines. Seen alongside Duncan’s photographs, Picasso’s creative energy becomes even more palpable as does the friendship between the two artists caught in subtle gestures and glances.

‘Picasso Through the Lens of David Douglas Duncan’ runs until 28 February 2020 at Le Vieux Chalet in Gstaad. For more information visit: hauserwirth.com/hauser-wirth-exhibitions/26682-pablo-picasso-lens-david-douglas-duncan

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People standing in water holding boats
People standing in water holding boats

Still from Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River (2008), a film by Francis Alÿs. Photo Roberto Rubalcava

This year, Francis Alÿs becomes the seventh artist to receive the Whitechapel Gallery’s prestigious annual Art Icon award in partnership with Swarovski. Previously won by the likes of Rachel Whiteread (2019) and Mona Hatoum (2018), the award celebrates what Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick calls “The lyrical vision of Alÿs’s actions, films and paintings which transcends social and national boundaries to reveal a common humanity”. Though the Belgian-born artist works with everything from painting and sculpture to video and installation, Alÿs’s preferred choice of artistic medium is often the human body – his own or that of a collective.
Children playing musical chairs

Still from Children’s Game 12 (2012), a film by Francis Alÿs.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 Issue

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Artist sitting by sculpture of a gorilla
Artist sitting by sculpture of a gorilla

French artist Richard Orlinski is known for his large-scale vibrant sculptures

The contemporary art world might turn up its nose at Richard Orlinski’s Disney collaborations, but the French artist couldn’t care less. For him, it’s about connecting with as many people as possible. Here, Jess Brown speaks to the artist about making his work accessible, saying yes to every opportunity and his love of Andy Warhol

Pikachu sculpture in yellow

Pikachu (yellow resin) by Richard Orlinski

LUX: Can you talk us through your sculpting process? Do you begin by sketching, or by experimenting with your chosen material?
Richard Orlinski: It really depends. Sometimes I start with computers, sometimes I start just by watching nature. I’ve been somewhere like Mexico, for example, watching the animals for inspiration and then I will make a mould. I have so many ideas, I know what I want to do, but what about the size and about the material? So as I said, sometimes I draw the design on computer to try it out and then I 3D print it to see what will happen. So there’s a big block of polystyrene foam and  a real robot picking away at the material until a sculpture appears. Then I can change it by hand and make a mould. For one sculpture, I need 10,15, 20 sometimes even more moulds. These are for the resin and then we stick them together. But I also work with aluminium and stainless steel which requires laser cutting. I’m not working alone though, I work with a big team and together we work out how to fix things. Of course, I have the final say but I always listen to what my team says about the creation – having ten brains is better than one.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

LUX: How long does it typically take to make a piece?
Richard Orlinski: I’m like a kid. I’m always very much in a hurry to make things, but sometimes, it’s not possible to do it quickly. It depends on the complexity of the project and sometimes it can take a very long time. Time can be a real problem if I have a big commission, for example, someone asking for something to be ready in 15 days. Even if the person is offering me billions, it still wouldn’t be possible. Some of my pieces can take six months to create, sometimes a year.

LUX: How do you think your artistic style has evolved over the years? Was there a moment when you felt that you’d found your niche?
Richard Orlinski: I have no red line underneath my work. One day I do, that day I do something else. I find inspiration everywhere and I want to be free, but also for the auctioneer and the art buyer customers to feel free to take what they want from my sculptures. I find it interesting that you can ask three different people about one sculpture and they’ll say something different: ‘Oh it’s against petrol or it’s against pollution.’ People read the piece through their own emotion and I’m okay with that. I love watching kids seeing the sculptures and laughing. For me, it’s about connection and sharing with the world, I suppose that’s my ‘niche’. I’m really mainstream. I like commercial music, I like the things that everyone likes and I don’t want my work to be elite.

Sculpture of a red stag

One of Richard Orlinski’s resin animal sculptures

LUX: Speaking of sharing and connecting, your work has been exhibited on the ski slopes of Courchevel. Do you ever consider where your work is going to be exhibited when you’re making it?
Richard Orlinski: No, never. In Courchevel, we put animals because it goes with the snow: the wolf, the bear. But you know, my work can go anywhere. Last year, I was in old coal mines in the North of France. All of the people are poor there because there’s no more more work since the mines shut down. I put my sculpture there and they were so happy. I really like that it’s not for money, it’s for sharing and I was so happy to see their reaction. I was supposed to stay for one hour, but I stayed for two days in the end because there were so many people to meet.

Read more: Why we love the ‘Jeux de Liens Harmony’ necklaces by Chaumet

LUX: Do you have a particular type of person that your work is aimed at or is it for everyone?
Richard Orlinski: Any religion, any age, from all kinds of backgrounds. We have sculptures for a million dollars and sculptures for a few euros because I make some co-branding with Disney and you can find a small Mickey Mouse for fifty pounds. I’m very proud of those kinds of collaborations. Many of my followers, don’t have money to buy sculptures, to buy art, but they can maybe afford to buy the Mickey Mouse and they’re proud to show that to their friends. I like this connection with people. Not everyone likes that approach though. I’m not loved by other artists or by the establishment because I break the code.

Large sculpture of a gorilla beating its chest

‘Wild Kong’ by Richard Orlinski

LUX: What draws you to sculpt animals in particular?
Richard Orlinski: It’s really simple. You would have made the same choice. What do you like when you’re a kid? You like to to go to the zoo, you like animals on TV. Basically all of the cartoons have animals in them, and even if you look back historically, humans have always had this connection with animals. Think about ancient Egyptian culture, Greece, all of the old civilisations. So when I was a kid, maybe as young as four years old, I started created small elephants and hippos.

Read more: Jewellery designer Theresa Bruno on authentic bespoke design

LUX: Which artists from past or present have been the biggest influence on your work?
Richard Orlinski: I think maybe Andy Warhol, not so much his work, but I think he is really amazing. He was from the commercial side, he was a publicist and he did so many things. I think if he had internet during his time, he would be huge now. I mean he is still huge now, but he would be like a king of the world because he was making movies, books, kitchen appliances and everything was amazing. Anyway, he started from the commercial side of things and nobody loved him, but I think he opened a way through pop art. I like his mind, his way of thinking.

Product image of a white watch

Richard Orlinski has an ongoing collaboration with luxury watch brand Hublot. Pictured here: Classic Fusion Tourbillon Orlinski Sapphire. Below: The artist wearing the Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph Orlinski

Man wearing a watch draped over a sculpture

LUX: You also make lots of different things: music, sculpture, fashion. How do your artistic mediums intersect or influence one another?
Richard Orlinski: For me, art is not just sculpture or painting or music – art is everything. Nowadays, we tend to put people in a cage, we categorise them, but I think when you have a certain sensibility, you can feel something about music and about sculpture. At my studio, I have a sculptural studio and my studio for music downstairs. I work with a lot of different people: people from music, people from TV, rappers. It’s a real melting pot. I like this mixed energy.

LUX: Finally, what are you currently working on?
Richard Orlinski: I have so many projects. I’m working now on a club in Belgium, and then we’re going to build a huge disco in Europe. I get a lot of offers for collaboration and I always want to say yes, sometimes I can, sometimes I can’t. I also have my sculptures, of course, and my ongoing collaboration with Hublot. I like doing new things, taking on new opportunities.

Find out more: richardorlinski.fr

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Installation view of exhibition
Installation view of exhibition

Installation view of Betye Saar: Call and Response, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art © Betye Saar, photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA

Following a major exhibition at MoMA at the end of last year, Betye Saar’s latest solo show Call and Response at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is the first ever to focus on the artist’s sketchbooks. Spanning the entire length of the artist’s career, the show examines the relationship betwecen her sketches and finished works by showing 18 sculptures and collages alongside annotated drawings.

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Artist sketchbook with pen drawing and notes

Sketchbook (1998) by Betye Saar. Collection of Betye Saar, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, © Betye Saar, photo © Museum Associates/ LACMA

Ironing board installation artwork

I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break (1998) by Betye Saar. Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Gift of Lynda and Stewart Resnick through the 2018 Collectors Committee, © Betye Saar

Saar’s practice is primarily one of assemblage in which she builds sculptures from household objects to examine issues of race, gender, and spirituality.  I’ll Bend But I Will Not Break (1998), for example, is created from a vintage ironing board that the artist found in a flea market. In the finished work, a flatiron is chained to the leg of the ironing board, which has two images printed onto its surface: one is a 18th century British diagram of the packed hold of a slave ship in the Middle Passage between Africa and the Caribbean, and the other is a photograph of a black woman bent over her ironing.

Behind this assemblage, hangs a crisp white sheet clipped to a clothesline as if straight off the ironing board; in barely visible thread, the sheet bears an embroidered monogram: KKK. Viewed alongside the sketchbooks and accompanying annotations, this complex artwork is metaphorically disassembled, allowing the viewer to both recognise and appreciate the unification of the parts.

Dress hanging from the ceiling installation

A Loss of Innocence (1998) courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, © Betye Saar, Photo courtesy Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale, AZ, by Tim Lanterman

Whilst the exhibition is on a smaller scale than some of the artist’s recent museum shows (the work fills only one room), Call and Response offers a rare insight into Saar’s creative process.

‘Betye Saar: Call and Response’ runs 5 April 2020 until at LACMA’s Resnick Pavilion. For more information visit: lacma.org/art/exhibition/betye-saar-call-and-response

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Sculpture of a head standing on a counter in a kitchen
Sculpture of a head standing on a counter in a kitchen

A sculpture by LouLou Siem installed in Gaggenau’s Mayfair showroom

Last Wednesday evening the doors of Gaggenau’s Mayfair showroom were locked for a private party hosted by LUX with an exclusive art installation by LouLou Siem. Here, we recall the event

If you happened to be wandering past Gaggenau‘s showroom last week, you might have raised an eyebrow as sculptures of human heads were passed through the door. These were the works  installed by LouLou Siem for a private evening event hosted by Gaggenau in collaboration LUX.

A small gold head sculpture inside an oven

Sculptures shown in kitchen setting

Here and above: sculptures by LouLou Siem installed inside the Gaggenau showroom

The artist’s heads and various other sculpted objects appeared looming on counter-tops and illuminated in ovens, lending a touch of macabre to the sleek kitchen interiors. The space provided a unique setting in which to not only view the art, but also appreciate the contrasting textures of the sculptures and Gaggenau’s appliances.

Follow LUX on Instagram: luxthemagazine

The evening began in proper with a champagne tasting led by LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai. A champagne collector and self-professed geek, Sanai introduced four champagnes showing the different styles of what he considers an under-appreciated wine. Guests started with a Louis Roederer Brut Nature 2009, a champagne with zero dosage (effectively, no sugar added) with a label designed in collaboration with Brut Nature fan Philippe Starck. Next was a Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs 2010, made with 100% Chardonnay in a clear, bright style. Next, a Blanc de Noirs, a champagne made with 100% Pinot noir grapes, showing a richer, deeper style. And finally, Louis Roederer Vintage 2012, which was full-bodied, broad and complex.

Artist with artworks in showroom

Two women in conversation on high stools

Above: LouLou Siem with her artworks. Here: The artist in conversation with LUX Digital Editor Millie Walton

Then followed a live Q&A in which LouLou discussed her practice and installation concept with Digital and Arts Editor Millie Walton. After which, guests descended downstairs for dinner and to admire LouLou’s table installation of gold heads arranged on a bespoke table-cloth with small ghostly faces placed on each napkin.

Read more: Why Crans-Montana is the perfect early-season ski resort

The menu, devised by acclaimed chef Henrik Ritzen, followed a Swedish theme with a main course of fallow deer, caramelised celeriac puree, and lingonberries, followed by frozen vanilla parfait and warm almond cake served in soup made from dried rose hips.

Artworks on a table setting

Small ceramic face on napkin

Guests dined amidst the artworks with a menu by acclaimed chef Henrik Ritzen

For more information visit: gaggenau.com

 

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Gold contemporary art piece
Abstract artwork with digital rendering

A pregnant woman wishing her child to be beautiful must look at beautiful objects by artist LouLou Siem

Young British artist LouLou Siem’s latest solo exhibition entitled A pregnant woman wishing her child to be beautiful must look at beautiful objects at MAMCO Pavel Șușară in Bucharest centres around contagion, or more specifically the contamination and interplay of materials. Working chiefly in sculpture, Siem’s work delves into the realm of the macabre, presenting a perverse kind of beauty that’s born out of mutilation and sickness.

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The faces and objects Siem sculpts appear drowning in their materials, as if the work of the artist is less about giving shape to her own creativity and more about returning the material to its raw state. Throughout the exhibition there’s a palpable sense of struggle that’s simultaneously repulsive and compelling. It’s the struggle of the artist and her materials, but also of life and object. As the viewer confronts the rippling gold shapes seemingly erupting before the eyes, we are invited to more closely consider the value of artefacts and the processes of their making.

Gold contemporary art piece

Sculpture of a woman's head formed in clay

‘A pregnant woman wishing her child to be beautiful must look at beautiful objects’ runs until 3 November at Pawel Susara Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest, Romania. For more information visit: loulousiem.com

 

 

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Photograph of classical sculptural with human body part draped over
Portrait of two women

‘Charline & Blanche’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

Dutch artist Viviane Sassen is known for her visceral portrayals of the human form in all its beauty and frailty. Maisie Skidmore meets the Deutsche Bank Lounge artist for Frieze London this year to discover more ahead of her new photographic series set in Versailles

DEUTSCHE BANK WEALTH MANAGEMENT x LUX

Tucked quietly into the extensive grounds of the Palace of Versailles, on the outskirts of Paris, the historic Small Stables contain the Galerie des Sculptures et des Moulages. It’s a secretive institution, closed to the public except for special events, within which the Palace’s damaged sculptures are kept for restoration. For many, the rows of fractured alabaster bodies make for an eerie sight. For Viviane Sassen, discovering them was like stumbling upon buried treasure.

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“I started shooting the old sculptures, many of which were broken, missing hands, or legs, or arms, or heads,” she says, her voice quickening in excitement. The Dutch photographer’s masterful work has long distorted and elevated the human form, so the Galerie made for fertile soil when she was granted run of the Palace’s grounds to create a new series inspired by Versailles. The resulting work, Venus and Mercury, is on display as part of the Visible/Invisible exhibition in the Palace’s Grand Trianon until October 2019, when it will be reconfigured for Deutsche Bank’s Wealth Management Lounges at Frieze London & Frieze Masters. “It was amazing to see. Usually these bodies don’t have flaws, they’re beautiful, sculpted to perfection,” she says. “Seeing them in decay, ripped apart, or in storage with stickers on them…” It couldn’t be more appropriate given the illicit and often disease-ridden underbelly of life at the French court in days gone by. “I loved it.”

Bust of a woman's head wrapped in fabrics

‘La Mauresque’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

Sassen’s fascination with Versailles’ regal sculpted forms had been seeded long before, when her parents first brought her to visit the Palace at the age of 13 or 14. Then, coming from her small hometown in the east of Holland, its sensuality came as a pleasant shock to the system. “I vaguely remember being overwhelmed by its beauty, the very first time I visited Versailles,” she recalls. “I was especially drawn to all the nude sculptures in the gardens. I think it triggered my imagination on an erotic level; as a young teenager I was just waking up, in that sense. Seeing all these gorgeous bodies…” Her soft, clear voice still sounds somewhat awestruck. “And you’re allowed to look at them!”

Classical bust with graphic coloured edits

‘Penicilline’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

The human form has long been a source of fascination for Sassen. A sensitive and intuitive child, she was born in Amsterdam, but spent three formative early years in Kenya, where her father, a doctor, ran a polio clinic. Sassen grew up playing with young friends whose bodies looked profoundly unlike her own, marvelling together at their similarities and differences. Later, back in the Netherlands, when an adolescent growth spurt propelled her slim frame to just under six feet tall, Sassen’s curiosity with the body manifested in strange corporeal sculptures which she would create herself, standing naked in front of her mirror. Limbs contorted into unexpected shapes, and twisting torsos closely cropped, have been a recurring motif in her work ever since.

Read more: Spanish artist Secundino Hernández on flesh & creative chaos

Which, of course, serves to set Sassen apart from her peers in fashion photography – an industry whose primary occupation is to reify the human body, and a world she has deftly kept one foot in for many years. She has worked with Dior, Hermès, Missoni and Miu Miu, and has shot editorial fashion images for many magazines. All the while, her personal practice continues quietly but fervently, news of a new solo exhibition or book surfacing with stunning regularity.

Abstract sculptural photograph with red circular graphic

‘Syph #01R’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

How does she switch so effortlessly between the two? It’s a question of balance, she says. “To travel in a light and simple way in Africa with my husband and son, and two weeks later, to be in a studio shooting in Paris with a big team, with so many professionals. I feel very lucky that I’m able to go in and out of these very different worlds.” The two sides seem to maintain a symbiotic relationship, she continues; the fact that they are so unalike in nature doesn’t faze her. “I’m really drawn to opposites,” she says. Light and shadow; introversion and extroversion; heaven and earth; they all underpin her practice. She mirrors them in her character, even. “On the one hand, I am, like the Dutch generally, very blunt and straightforward, practical, pragmatic. On the other hand, I’m a dreamer.”

Photograph of classical sculptural with human body part draped over

‘Occo’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

Nonetheless, Sassen’s practice is rooted not in logic, but in emotion; it’s often only in hindsight that a series’ conceptual roots within her own lived experience becomes clear. Take, for instance, Umbra, a 2014 project about shadow and, more abstractly, a way to wrestle with the idea of death. “It was a kind of revisiting of my past,” Sassen says, softly. “My father passed away when I was 22. He ended his own life. That has been a huge influence in my life and also on my work. He was a doctor, and the human body as a form of expression – but also containing many ambiguities and paradoxes – that is always present for me somehow. In Venus and Mercury, it comes across again; the erotic, or the body as a sculpture, but also the decay. Fear of sickness, fear of death…

Read more: Art photographer David Yarrow on his image ‘The Unusual Suspects’

“But after I did Umbra, I had this urge to do something about life and fertility, and my own motherhood. Femininity and the organic, as opposed to the more masculine and the abstract.” Looking back, she can trace the origins of these ideas to their starting points within her own story, she says. “[But] when I start working on something new, I often don’t really know what it is about. Along the way it becomes clear. I think, ‘Oh, wait a minute, this has something to do with me!’”

Abstract photograph of a person covered in jeans

‘Leïla’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

Looking at her most recent body of work through this lens, Sassen has yet to determine the resonance of Venus and Mercury, which extracts five stories from the Palace of Versailles’ tumultuous history for examination in image form. The result is at once sensual and sinister, often profoundly poetic. But it’s vivid and experimental too; the images are punctuated with paint and pigment, multimedia studies of subjects, scenes, manuscripts from throughout the Palace’s past and grounds.

As is often the case in Sassen’s practice, the stories it tells were unlocked in part through the characters she cast to enact them. Stepping outside the Palace’s sprawling confines for lunch in a nearby Japanese restaurant, she met Leïla, a French-Senegalese teenager, who seemed an ideal candidate to disrupt the oppressive interior. “She was such a cool girl – she had these grey braids, she was wearing cool clothes, she studied psychology in Paris. So I invited her to be photographed at Versailles, and to bring her friends.”

Photograph of a letter with pink dye

‘Secret letter/pink’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

The resulting juxtaposition: of a troupe of young women at ease in denim within the gilded walls, is irrepressible; a modern-day incarnation of the frivolity we can only imagine once took place there. “They went wild doing their own photoshoot while I was shooting them – on their phones, doing selfies, owning the place and themselves in it,” she continues.

Seen through Leïla and her friends’ eyes – and, in turn, through Sassen’s watchful lens – Versailles’ ornate monument to opulence becomes fresh, exciting and relevant once more. “It would be amazing, wouldn’t it, if they could gatecrash their predecessors’ party?” Sassen says, laughing. We can only imagine what Marie Antoinette might have thought.

Male nude classical sculpture with red dye

‘Agias, Red’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen

HIDDEN HISTORIES

In Venus and Mercury, Viviane Sassen sheds light on the history of Versailles through five stories. Here, she shares some of the tales from the palace’s heyday that still fascinate her:

Photograph of code on paper with blue ink dye

‘Code/Blue’ (2019), by Viviane Sassen.

1. “In the 17th and 18th centuries, Versailles and its gardens were full of prostitutes. There was a lot of syphilis. One of the signs that people had suffered with it was that their noses caved in to their faces, so they wore prosthetic noses. I was fascinated by the fact that all these people are long dead, but their noses are still there.”

2. “Historians still don’t know exactly what the relationship was between Marie Antoinette and her longtime friend Axel von Fersen – if it was purely platonic, romantic or sexual. They kept up a correspondence from when they met for the rest of their lives. Now those letters are in the Archives Nationales in Paris, where I photographed them. They’re written in code.”

3. “La Mauresse de Moret was a mixed-race child who was brought to an orphanage in the South of France, where she became a nun in a convent. She was supposedly the daughter of the Queen of France, Maria Theresa of Spain. The French court always denied it. Nobody knows exactly who her father was.”

4. “La Voisin was a kind of witch who lived in 17th-century Paris. She made potions. People in the upper classes went to her – she was very renowned. But later, she was convicted of poisoning people, sacrificing newborn babies to use their blood in Black Mass, and was sentenced to death.”

5. “In 1783, Marie Antoinette had herself painted by the female painter Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, who became a friend of hers. She painted her in a muslin dress, which was very modern at the time. But it became a scandal; it was too sensual.”

Viviane Sassen’s series ‘Venus & Mercury’ will be exhibited at the Deutsche Bank Wealth Management Lounges at Frieze London & Frieze Masters from October 2-6, 2019. For more information visit: deutschewealth.com

This article was originally published in the Autumn 19 Issue.

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Reading time: 8 min
Man sitting on the floor in front of sculptures of dinasours
Man sitting on the floor in front of sculptures of dinasours

French artist Richard Orlinski with two of his T-Rex sculptures

French artist Richard Orlinski is known for his bold, pop-art sculptures, which have appeared at French Grand Prix and on the slopes of Courchevel. Most recently, he collaborated with luxury watch brand Hublot and last month, saw the opening of his first London gallery on New Bond Street. Here, he tells us about falling in love with art, colours, and wild animals

1. When did you first realise that you wanted to be an artist?

I remember very well the moment I had a kind of love at first sight for creation. At school, when the other little boys used to play the brawl, I would prefer to create small terracotta animals. I was only 4 years old when my teacher called a local TV to come and discover my little sculptures. But growing up I ended up choosing a more steady job before I dropped it off to become an artist.

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2. Do you need a specific atmosphere to be able to create?

I don’t need a particular atmosphere to create. Everything inspires me, people’s daily lives, wherever I am, I can find an object, a feeling or an environment that inspires me. Afterwards, I get a lot of inspiration from animals for my sculptures. The first piece of artwork I created was a red resin crocodile. This mysterious animal has always fascinated me and humans in general. It has been on earth for a hundred million years. It is a witness of mankind. My creations are a reflection on the animal instinct and human nature. I have always been attracted to wild animals.

Large sculpture of a gorilla beating its chest

‘Wild Kong’ by Richard Orlinski

3. Many of your recent sculptures have taken the form of a wild animal – which animal from your series do you think you’re the most like and why?

The work with which I identify most is my ‘Wild Kong‘. It is one of my most emblematic works, but it is above all the one that comes closest to man and the human being. Strong and protective at the same time – he is a little bit like the ideal man without the hairs!

Read more: Inside the penthouse apartment designed by Roksanda

4. How has social media changed the art world?

My goal is to make art that speaks to the greatest number. I like to provoke an “immediate emotion” for both adults and children. I attach great importance to popularising my art by making it accessible. I like to exhibit my sculptures for free and in the open air. It’s very important for me. Social media has helped me a lot with that. This world of the instantaneous is quite fascinating.

Sculpture of a red stag

One of Richard Orlinski’s resin animal sculptures

5. You work with a distinct colour palette, what draws you to those particular shades?

The first piece I ever made was red. I love [to work with] a very colourful palette. All of my resin pieces are so pop and joyful. The pop colours give an immediate feeling especially with children. From one colour to another, the emotions could be different. We’re all time thinking about new colours and we always want to work with new matters, which can change the sculpture’s colour.

6. If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?

An artist!

See Richard Orlinski’s full portfolio: richardorlinski.fr

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Coloured paper cutouts scattered on a wooden floor
Coloured paper cutouts scattered on a wooden floor

‘Atelier’ (2014). Thomas Demand.

German photographer Thomas Demand has become celebrated for his compelling, sometimes shocking, abstract recreations of the everyday. He talks to Anna Wallace-Thompson about the homogenization of our worlds, finding power in the banal, and Saddam Hussein’s kitchen.
Portrait photograph of a man wearing a white shirt and glasses

Thomas Demand

There’s a particular moment of calm – let’s call it suspended time – when things have settled down while still retaining the memory of the movement that filled them a split second before. Think of the moment when that last dust mote finally settled after drifting down a shaft of light, or the ghostly echoes of the last flutter of a piece of paper as it relaxes into place. Or when you don’t know if the door just slammed shut or is about to burst open. Or sensing the presence of people only through their absence. That’s the moment German photographer Thomas Demand is interested in.

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In fact, at first glance, Demand’s photographs appear simply to be snaps of ordinary places, unremarkable for their sameness, from half-empty supermarket shelves to a bath awaiting its occupant. (This is something that struck him about modern urban spaces, particularly when he first arrived in the US.) Yet, these seemingly humble snaps of everyday situations have earned him a place in the collections of international institutions such as the Guggenheim and MoMA. At auction, his works have sold for more than $100,000 at Christie’s, and he was included in the sale of Mario Testino’s personal collection at Sotheby’s, alongside luminaries such as Wolfgang Tillmans, Richard Prince and Cindy Sherman.

Close up photograph of pale pink blossom against a blue sky

‘Hanami’ (2014). Thomas Demand

So what is it about these seemingly everyday snaps that has everybody so hooked? Well, further examination reveals each portrait to be a meticulously built paper recreation. Yes, paper. Working in often quite large dimensions, Demand reconstructs the most complex real- life scenarios out of the humblest of materials. They are perfect – or rather, perfectly imperfect, for at the heart of Demand’s work is an interest in the world as a filtered rendering – that is, the paradox of examining past moments through the lens of the present – and even then, through a canny reconstruction of that original moment. “Perfection and beauty are very often seen as interchangeable,” says Demand. “However, if something is too perfect, then it becomes sterile.” And so, working from found photographs of banal scenes (be they supermarket aisles, hotel rooms or office interiors), Demand meticulously reconstructs these tableaux out of paper – warts and all. It is these sculptural paper sets – often quite large in scale – that he then photographs, imbuing the finished image with such an uncanny realism that the eye is often fooled into believing it is looking at the ‘real deal’.

Stacks of folders photographed against a red and white background

‘Folders’ (2017)

“What I have been doing over the years is replacing the time frame of the [original] photograph with another time frame, which is no less a point in time,” explains Demand when we speak. “The original scenario in the media photograph may no longer be there to look at – although it may be from an event that is still in our short or long-term memory, depending on when it was taken. What I suppose you can see in my work is a paradox of time standing still that is both my own fragile paper construction (complete with all the little imperfections and details of ‘reality’) as much as it is a memory of the moment captured in the original photograph.” The sense of transience in Demand’s work is further compounded by the fact that he often discards the sculpture itself (and, in fact, originally began photographing them purely for the purposes of documentation).

Photograph of abstract bright geometric colours

‘Rainbow’ (2018)

In person, Demand is more tidy professor than wild-child artist, his neatly trimmed hair and beard perfectly in sync with his nifty vest and jacket. Get him talking, however, and you can almost hear the thoughts galloping inside his head. When he gets going, he talks a mile a minute, as if the thoughts inside him were moving faster than his ability to articulate them. They tumble out almost in a stream of consciousness, except just when you think he might be going off on a tangent, like a master conductor, Demand deftly brings all the threads together, eloquently and precisely articulating his point.His powers of observation, too, are key to the vision behind the work. Growing up in Munich in the 1960s and 70s, it was when Demand visited the GDR that he first began to pay attention to the power of mass production (or, in the case of the GDR, the lack thereof), and Warhol’s Brillo boxes, for example, remain a key influence: “I grew up in Munich, which is in West Germany, which had plenty of everything.”

Read more: Why we love the New Perlée creations by Van Cleef & Arpels 

As a young artist, travels and study followed – Düsseldorf, Paris, and Goldsmiths in London – as well as the US (he is now based in both LA and Berlin). During this time he began to notice what he refers to as global “homogenization” – a hospital ward in one part of the world looks very much like it does anywhere else, for example, and, with our mass-produced products – be they Nike trainers or even the Tupperware found in Saddam Hussein’s kitchen – we are more united than we think. “When they found Saddam, and showed the photographs, there were so many remarkably recognisable objects,” says Demand. “In one way, it’s the devil’s lair, but in another, it’s possible to see it in parts as your own kitchen. Maybe it’s a little dirtier, but he had the same objects as you and me.” The resulting work – Küche/Kitchen (2004) – could truly be a picture of a kitchen anywhere. “It’s funny how far objects circulate worldwide: you look at photographs of upheavals in Africa and people are wearing the T-shirts of a local bank in Texas, or plastic sandals made in China and marketed in California can end up in Ethiopia. I am fascinated by how the everyday links us to other cultures, from the pervasive blue computer screens that illuminate of office buildings out of hours, or the industrial slickness of an airport.”

Photograph of a small silver gas cooker and kitchen

‘Küche/ Kitchen’ (2004)

Window blind photographed

‘Daily #16’ (2011)

As well as the tableaux of media images that he is known for, Demand has experimented with more intimate scenes familiar to social media. The ongoing ‘Dailies’ series begun in 2008 features an ashtray, a plastic cup shoved into a chain link fence, or even a leaf about to fall through a sewer grate. “I was looking at doing something shorter and easier,” he says. “We all have cell phones in our pockets, and the images being circulated are now private photos – subjective little notes that might not make the news, but are still a form of communication and a culture in itself.”

Read more: In conversation with Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson

These ‘smaller’ works also offer a welcome break from larger and more ambitious set- ups. “In a good year I can make five works, but in a bad one just one,” sighs Demand. “Also, working occasionally with a team of 30 people means that if you’re two months into a particular set up, it’s too late to stop, so you keep going until it works, there’s no way around it.” For example, the work Lichtung/ Clearing Demand created for the 2003 edition of the Venice Biennale took months to get just right due to it being displayed en plein air, and therefore needed to be in some harmony with its verdant surroundings, the challenge being that the Venetian foliage kept changing with the seasons while the image was being built.

Coffee cup wedged in a wire fence

‘Daily #15’ (2011)

They leave things open – can you imagine how they might they be reused for something else?” This is particularly evident in pieces such as Rainbow (2018), part of ‘Model Studies’, in which abstract circular shapes in a range of yellows, oranges and reds hint at the full potential of the building they might perhaps one day have been, yet also present themselves as abstract colourscapes.

Most recently, Demand has had a major monograph published. The Complete Papers presents a survey of his work over three decades, and proved to be both a challenge as well as something of an eye opener, as he was able to see an evolution in his work that he had never noticed before. “I thought I was pretty organised, but it turns out there were so many pieces I’d forgotten about – and now that the book is out, there are so many more pieces I realise I would still need to add,” he laughs. “I can see that my work, since the beginning, has been moving slowly towards abstraction, though photography and abstraction can be a bit of a bad marriage in that photography, by its very nature, is figurative.” So what’s the endgame? “If my work were to become too abstract then it would all become a pointless exercise. To be something, the image has to stay on the very edge of nearly becoming something.”

Find out more: thomasdemand.info

This article was originally published in the Summer 19 Issue.

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Reading time: 8 min
Ceramic sculpture in a museum
ceramic sculpture in a museum

‘that pause of space’ (2019), Edmund de Waal, on view in the North Hall, © Edmund de Waal. Courtesy the artist and The Frick Collection; photo: Christopher Burke

Edmund de Waal is known as a contemporary ceramist, who pushes the preconceived ideas of his discipline, by questioning an object’s narrative, their place in collections and how they are displayed. His installations are interventions, which resonate with their historic locations, creating an intriguing dialogue between art and space. By contrasting old masters and his new forms, de Waal offers a comment on time, memory and the journey of objects, reminding the viewer that context is integral to the meaning of art.

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Ceramic sculpture in a museum

‘that pause of space’ (2019), Edmund de Waal, on view in the North Hall, © Edmund de Waal. Courtesy the artist and The Frick Collection; photo: Christopher Burke

In de Waal’s first solo US exhibition Elective Affinities at the Frick Collection in New York, his ceramic sculptures have been placed amongst the museum’s permanent collection; rooms which comprise of Henry Clay Frick’s Old Master paintings and objets d’art, including works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velásquez and Goya. de Waal’s artwork ‘that pause of space’, is situated between Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s ‘Comtesse d’Haussonville’ (1845) and an eighteenth-century French side table of blue marble and gilt-bronze, commissioned by the Duchess of Mazarin.

Read more: Life on the thrillionaire trail by Geoffrey Kent

that pause of space is a gold-framed, floating vitrine containing both glazed and unglazed porcelain beakers. de Waal’s framing and fragments of gilt porcelain on the beakers ties the work to the surroundings through a common materiality. There is a unification of the works in terms of formal qualities, but equally as a collection as the works are all displayed within a gilt-frame. However, the contemporary aesthetic and context of de Waal’s pieces allows us to also view the works as distinct objects, each with individual stories. The beakers’ white, minimal and slender forms present their modern creation in comparison to the light and dark of Ingres’s chiaroscuro portrait painting.

ceramic sculpture in a museum

‘on an archaic torso of Apollo’ (2019), Edmund de Waal, on view in the Fragonard Room, © Edmund de Waal. Courtesy the artist and The Frick Collection; photo: Christopher Burke

The exhibition features nine of de Waal’s artworks in total, each provoking a dialogue between modern and old, object and context, as well as offering fresh perspectives on the space itself.

Rosie Ellison-Balaam

‘Elective Affinities’ runs until 17 November 2019 at The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, New York. For more information visit: frick.org

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Reading time: 2 min
Two businessmen standing beside a giant sculpture of a blue gorilla
Two businessmen standing beside a giant sculpture of a blue gorilla

Ricardo Guadalupe (left) with Richard Orlinski and one of his ‘Wild Kong’ sculptures

Luxury Swiss watchmaker Hublot is letting artists design their timepieces, and their customers and collectors love them. Rachael Taylor examines a new trend in horological branding

Hublot chief executive Ricardo Guadalupe was on a skiing holiday in the exclusive Courchevel resort in the French Alps when he spotted unusual sculptures rearing out of the powdery white slopes. The giant faceted animals, including a howling wolf, a chest-beating gorilla and a bright red Tyrannosaurus rex, were the work of contemporary French artist Richard Orlinski, and this chance encounter with a mountain-top menagerie would go on to inspire a surprise hit for Hublot.

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“Maybe Hublot was surprised, but I wasn’t,” laughs Orlinski, commenting on the success of the first watch he designed for the brand. “I don’t know if I have talent, but with my eyes I can see what people see. I’m a mainstream guy. When I like something, a lot of people like it.”

Indeed, Guadalupe has described the demand for Orlinski’s Hublot watches as “unbelievable”, and impossible to fulfil. The collaboration first started in 2017 with the Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph Orlinski, a polished titanium skeletonised model with a sharply faceted case and bezel that mirrors Orlinski’s iconic sculptures. The Swiss watchmaker, passing creative control to an artist for the first time, created a modest run of 200 watches, unsure of how they would be received. The collection quickly sold out, attracting existing Hublot collectors, as well as aesthetes, art buffs and quite a few of Orlinski’s famous friends who were new to the brand.

A black wristwatch pictured against a black background

Hublot’s Classic Fusion Tourbillon Orlinski Black Magic

Since then, Orlinski and Hublot have partnered to create a further 10 editions of the watch. These include a vivid-red ceramic version that launched last year; the colour, which is technically very difficult to achieve and is exclusive to Hublot, matched a shade applied to many of Orlinski’s sculptures. For luxury collectors, there is the Aerofusion Chronograph Orlinski King Gold Jewellery, a 18ct solid-gold version set with more than 300 diamonds. And at the top of the range is the Tourbillon Power Reserve 5 Days Orlinski Sapphire, limited to just 30 watches, with a case made entirely from polished sapphire crystal.

Read more: Trevor Hernandez’s surreal urban photography

The faceted cases and bezels of Orlinski’s watches dazzle with light and shadow, adding a sculptural edge to the design. Keeping the watch functional, legible and wearable was important to Orlinski, who is himself a watch collector. “I know a lot about watches,” he says, but admits that until this collaboration his hoard did not include a Hublot as it was focused on vintage timepieces. “I wanted to make a mix between a watch and a sculpture – something you can wear every day, not something very strange.”

Hublot was not the first watch brand to come knocking at Orlinski’s door. Others had tried, but they offered the chance to customise rather than create. For Orlinski, this was not enough. “I always declined because they wouldn’t let me do anything,” he says. “Hublot treat me as a watch designer.”

Portrait of artist Richard Orlinski with one of his sculptures

Richard Orlinski

By giving Orlinski autonomy over the watches that bear his name, the mainstream magic that the bestselling French artist claims to wield has rubbed off on Hublot, making it a commercial success, while also giving it a dose of art kudos. The collaboration has also had benefits for Orlinski’s art, as the global exposure he has enjoyed while touring the world for Hublot events has widened his fan base.

Such synergy between the contemporary art and luxury worlds has led to many such hook ups, as brands use artists to inject fresh vigour into heritage labels. Last year, Chaumet celebrated modern African art by enlisting Kenyan graphic designer Evans Mbugua to create a collection of high-jewellery brooches, while Dior invited 11 artists, including Isabelle Cornaro, Li Shurui and Poppy Apfelbaum, to reimagine its Dior Lady Art handbag.

Side view of a red wristwatch

The Classic Fusion Aerofusion Chronograph Orlinski Red Ceramic

“Nowadays, art gives a credibility to brands,” says Orlinski. “A lot of them understand that they have to tell stories; selling things is not enough now. We live in the World 2.0, and things are changing so fast. If you want to stay in the game, you have to be open minded. People want something different.” It’s also, he says, about using popular art to engage with a wider audience: “Even if you are a luxury brand, you have to talk to everyone. If you only talk to the rich people, you’re dead. The brands that don’t change are going to die.”

Read more: Art collector Kelly Ying on the contemporary artists to watch

As art and watch collectors line up to own a wearable piece of Orlinski, Hublot plans to keep this particular point of difference very much alive and ticking. While the core design of the watch will stay true to its faceted form, Orlinski believes there are myriad possibilities for the future, such as fresh colourways, new materials and increasingly complex horological complications. And at Baselworld watch show in March 2019, the first line of Orlinski Hublot watches for women will be unveiled, opening up a whole new market. “This model will evolve a lot,” says Orlinski. “I have so many ideas, we can go on collaborating for 20 years. It’s just a matter of talent, energy and brainstorming.”

A man and a woman standing on stage holding a watch with street art behind them

Orlinski with actor Jacqueline Bracamontes at the launch of the Mexico variant of his Hublot watch

The case for collaboration

Hublot, like most watch brands, is best known for its sporting collaborations – its long-running partnership with Ferrari continues to be the vanguard of such alliances. Deals like this, and its sponsorship of the Fifa World Cup in Russia last year, are, according to chief executive Ricardo Guadalupe, the “premier league” of collaborations, to use a suitably sporting analogy. Uniting the worlds of timing and art is a less obvious strategy, but brings other benefits that Guadalupe is keen to cultivate.

“We’re always looking for new inspirations, and we have found that we should not stay in our industry, but go outside,” he says. “When you come with something unique and different, I think consumers are really waiting for that.”

Read more: Why you need to see Sarah Morris’ latest exhibition at White Cube, London

As well as working with Richard Orlinski on his hugely popular line of faceted watches (“The demand is still unbelievable. We can’t keep up with it”). Hublot has also engaged Los Angeles-based street artist Tristan Eaton and London tattoo studio Sang Bleu to reinterpret its Aerofusion and Big Bang models.

“[Working with artists] positions us as a trendsetter in creating new designs for watches and this is really important,” says Guadalupe. “We are at the beginning of the process with Richard Orlinski, with the tattoos, so this is something really new that is appearing in our world. Probably it will bring new consumers into our brand, but it also allows our actual consumers that love Hublot to buy a new watch. You must bring always something different and innovative. [Through art] we are creating a new way of making watches.”

Find out more: hublot.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 19 Issue.

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Reading time: 6 min
Artist Philip Colbert pictured in his London studio
Artists Philip and Charlotte Colbert wearing matching suits

Philip and Charlotte Colbert in their fried-egg suits designed by Philip

In a warehouse in east London, Philip and Charlotte Colbert are creating a world of Pop art and sculpture that is putting them on the global map. Darius Sanai speaks to the dynamic enfants terribles of the London art scene while Maryam Eisler photographs them

At the back of a warehouse in east London, Philip Colbert sticks his head out of a doorway. “Come in,” he says, smiling, while simultaneously holding a conversation with his phone on one ear. “No, it needs to be there tonight. Right,” he says, into the phone. His tone is soft, firm, a gentle Scottish accent is present but inconspicuous, almost shy.

Inside, workers are cutting and daubing in an area full of canvasses and paint, and behind a rail of pop-coloured clothes, four more people are on their phones, sitting at desks. Through a space in the wall is another artist’s studio, this one tidier, less colourful, more precise, hung with sculptures of curved forms and creatures.

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Welcome to the world of Philip and Charlotte (through in the other studio) Colbert, the enfants terribles of the London art scene. Philip has been called all sorts of things, including a worthy successor to Andy Warhol; in his zany coloured suits he is a mainstay of the party (and social media) scene and with his classical education (philosophy, St Andrew’s University) combined with his cheeky-to-outrageous art he is one of the capital’s most desirable dinner party guests.

Colbert has created everything from lobsters sold in his (now closed) Paris namesake store to partnerships with Peanuts and Rolex; he has bucket loads of celebrity followers (Cara, Sienna, Gaga) and he’s big in China.

Artist touching a pink ceramic sculpture

Charlotte with some of her flocked ceramics

But as his latest works show, he is also a proper artist. His ‘Hunt’ paintings, shown recently by the Saatchi Galleries in both London and LA, around each city’s Frieze art fair, are a kind of Raft of the Medusa for contemporary society, riffing on themes around social media’s banal power, swatches from his favoured artists [Dalí, Lichtenstein, Hockney], and providing a poignant commentary on the chaos of contemporary society. They are also vibrant, colourful (as pop art should be) and, frankly, rather beautiful. He thinks of himself as a “neo-pop surrealist”, though a case could be made for him being more pop-impressionist: out of the microcosms of his creations there emerges a whole image of something quite different.

Read more: 6 artists creating new experiential spaces

His wife Charlotte, meanwhile, has created her own artistic world, one which shocks and smiles at the same time. Youthful, photogenic, and with enough wit not to take themselves entirely seriously, the Colberts may just be among the most interesting artists to emerge from Britain in the last decade. And you feel their whole future may just be ahead of them.

Artist Philip Colbert pictured in his London studio

Philip Colbert

LUX: How would you describe yourself ?
Philip Colbert: I’m someone who’s trying to create a world. I started out creating a sort of art brand, with artworks and furniture and was, in a way, trying to expand what the idea of art was beyond painting. But recently I’ve come back to painting in a big way and I think fundamentally my journey is about just trying to make my own sort of artistic world. The lobster alter-ego is really an articulation of my artistic persona.

LUX: Why a lobster?
Philip Colbert: I’ve always been into symbols. The lobster was a symbol of surrealism for a lot of surrealist poets and Dalí as well. I like the idea of bringing it to life and taking it on a journey.

Artist philip colbert surrounded by lobster imagery

Philip Colbert with his iconic lobster alter-ego

LUX: What is art about, for you?
Philip Colbert: The simple essence of art is human freedom, and pushing the creativity that we have. And if you push freedom forward and create more, you push reality and create more freedom for art. There’s something I like about taking the idea of art and trying to inject it with new energy and a new sense of possibility.

LUX: Should artworks be beautiful?
Philip Colbert: It’s an important part of communicating, to understand visual language. A cornerstone of my art is to try and be very positive and use primary colours and really radiate a sort of energy from my works. Even though they may still have a sort of darker undertone, I still like to give them the essence of a sunflower.

Large scale pop art work by Philip Colbert

‘Untitled II’ (2018) from Philip Colbert’s ‘Hunt Paintings’ series

LUX: Can you talk about ‘The Hunt’ series and how your work has developed?
Philip Colbert: ‘The Hunt’ paintings are important for me. I have been engaging with the idea of contemporary culture and the mass saturation of images and the internet. At the same time I’m still having a conversation with painting. The Old Masters are such a powerful part of art history and I like the idea of making my contemporary Pop culture paintings to be informed by and in conversation with them.

Read more: 6 questions with art collector Kelly Ying

LUX: Symbols from painters – how do you choose them?
Philip Colbert: Well, I was really drawn to elevated images, such as in history painting, with heroic battle depictions by artists such as Rubens. I wanted to underpin the violence of contemporary culture and use the analogy of a more traditional battle scene, to structure it like an Instagram feed. We consume so much today, and we see so much, we’re aware of so many amazingly escapist ideas juxtaposed with a lot of darker elements, like global warming or political instability. A lot of artists have been exploring abstraction or exploring obsession, but I wanted to capture more of this play of light and dark. I thought that the analogy of the battle scene was a good way to explore these tensions.

Artist Philip Colbert at work on a painting in his studio

Philip at work on ‘Screw Hunt II’ (2018)

LUX: Have you felt pushed back by contemporary art establishments?
Philip Colbert: I think of myself as an outsider in a way, because I studied philosophy and really just developed my own practice. I’m not looking for validation from anyone. I feel that in the art world, people are sometimes groomed to want to please, but I’m much more interested in just connecting to people on a real and direct level.

LUX: Are you here to sell art or create art?
Philip Colbert: One hundred per cent to create art. The sales side of it is obviously an essential part of being able to grow because it allows one to do more, but I’m not deliberately engineering my works to be purely reflective of the market, which is not necessarily a bad thing either – Warhol was very good at mirroring what he felt the system wanted. My paintings are complex and intense and highly saturated, so are not the easiest to sell via Instagram, for example.

LUX: Talk about your use of social media.
Philip Colbert: If I think of my paintings as a reflection of my interaction with contemporary culture, social media are a significant element within that. There are some different strands of my work. I’m really developing a lot of these big history paintings, but also I’ve developed ‘Lobster Land’, a virtual reality world, which is the digital world where my lobster character lives. And in Lobster Land there’s a Lobster Bank, Lobster Coin, there’s a museum. I’m building my own reality there, which is one way of engaging with contemporary technology.

Large scale pop art collage featuring digital imagery

‘Hunt Triptych’ (2018) from the ‘Hunt Paintings’ series

LUX: How did you get started in China?
Philip Colbert: It happened very organically. When I had my first exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, curators from China came along and they featured some of my paintings in a group show in China. That was maybe June last year. It was amazing – I saw a crazy energy in China when I was there. So many people came to the show. It has simply evolved from there.

LUX: What are your influences?
Philip Colbert: There’s very much a ‘celebration of appropriation’ in these paintings. I was putting myself at the centre of the piece –you get the idea, it’s like my character is the narrator of the painting but then there’s art history effectively having a sort of ‘battle dialogue’ with this voice. This sort of dialogue is present in an artist’s mind when they’re creating an artwork. There’s the idea of place and time in the relationships to other philosophies and ideas within art, so by putting them into a battle sequence, it represents my own philosophy battling with other ideas and also being able to present a much bigger holistic idea, to create an orchestrated, ‘multi-philosophied’ painting. I’ve referenced loads of things deliberately. Léger was, for me, a very important proto-Pop thinker/painter, and his work was influential on people like Lichtenstein, who often even referred to Léger in the bottom corners of his paintings. My paintings are an evolution of Pop art – I have those references while I’m still playing with abstraction and different varieties of painting styles within a single painting.

LUX: This sounds more like it’s from inside someone’s mind rather than culture?
Philip Colbert: Yeah, I think of the paintings as like mind-maps in a way. I was really interested in ideas of art, so that’s why I like to use preconceived ideas because for me they are language. I could create my own characters but I wanted to use branded ideas that people could understand. So, when people look at the paintings, they will immediately understand ‘That’s Van Gogh’, or ‘that’s a Gucci handbag’. It’s using things that are already loaded with meaning.

Portrait of artists Philip and Charlotte Colbert

Philip and Charlotte Colbert

LUX: Is it strange not coming from a family of artists?
Philip Colbert: No, I don’t think so. Some people’s parents are artists and they follow suit and are inspired by a world they’ve already been presented with. For me, I was always just connected with art and so it was always the language I was immediately connected with. As you know, I went into making clothing first, but I wasn’t making clothing to be a fashion designer, I was making clothing and thinking about artwork. I was more interested in this idea of ‘wearable art’ and trying to use the idea of a brand as a vehicle for art.

Read more: Maryam Eisler in conversation with Kenny Scharf

LUX: What plans do you have for the future?
Philip Colbert: Well, I have an exhibition in Shanghai at the end of June, then I have two shows in Hong Kong, a show in a museum in South Korea, and then another in Moscow in September in a multi-media art museum.

LUX: Do you and Charlotte collaborate?
Philip Colbert: Well, we’re married, so we inevitably interact and have an influence on each other’s work. We have quite a different aesthetic and even though we’re both interested in a lot of the same things, our end picture is very different, which is nice. But I think we both understand each other’s DNA, so we can help each other.

Artist charlotte colbert in her studio

Charlotte Colbert with ‘Self Portrait in Lucian Freud’s studio’ (2018) from her ‘Screen Portrait’ series

Charlotte Colbert

LUX: Tell us about your photography.
Charlotte Colbert: I have done a couple of series. I started in 2013 with ‘A Day at Home’. It correlated the madness of the writer and the madness of the housewife in this domestic space that was both a prison and open to the landscapes of the imagination. It sort of chronicled the porousness of the world around the woman in a decrepit house in East London. We kept shooting as the place was being demolished, so we were getting layers of that story-telling within the building itself. Then I worked on ‘Ordinary Madness’ [2016], which was about our relationship to the digital age. The idea was that we expected aliens to come from outer space and somehow conquer us. But, little by little, we are becoming the cyborg, and technology is being absorbed into our bodies and changing the fabric of our being until we’ve become a new sort of human.

LUX: The video sculptures, ‘Screen Portraits’, are they bronzes?
Charlotte Colbert: No, they’re made of Corten steel. The first one was done for the Korea Institute. I came across this beautiful but heart-breaking story of a South Korean woman, Lee Soon-Kyu, who was 79 when I met her. She was pregnant when the Korean War started in 1950, but was separated from her husband who ended up in the north. She was able to meet him many years later, and went to North Korea with her son, who was then 65, to see him for the last time. It seemed fitting to do her portrait at this moment in her life, after she’d been in this Cold War kind of narrative for decades. She had to stay very still with just one light on her face. The filming of the sculpture was an extraordinary moment.

A woman hiding behind a sculpture

LUX: The one with a nuclear explosion, tell us about that.
Charlotte Colbert: That’s a piece called Disassociation. It’s a self-portrait. The eyes and the face are very much at peace and the head contains the nuclear explosion. I made it when I was seven months pregnant, at a time when you feel disconnected from the world around you. But I feel that in some ways it’s like an extreme version of everyone’s relationship to the world.

LUX: Neighbouring studios with Philip – how does that work?
Charlotte Colbert: Funnily enough, we’ve done loads of stuff together and I think in some way, we do look at each other’s works and comment on them, but our worlds definitely haven’t fused. I feel like both of us have pushed the identities really as defined against each other.

LUX: The studio, it seems very serene.
Charlotte Colbert: It’s amazing but there’s a lot of interesting characters around, and the building’s quite fun and it’s got all these layers of history. I think at one point it was a kennels, so there were dogs, now there’s more little mice. It’s a really amazing location – we’re so lucky.

Find out more: philipcolbert.com and charlottecolbert.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 19 Issue.

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Reading time: 12 min
Rachel Whiteread sculpture on the edge of a lake in the US
Rachel Whiteread sculpture on the edge of a lake in the US

One of Rachel Whiteread’s so-called shy sculptures, ‘Cabin’ (2016), on Governors Island in New York, her first major permanent public commission in the United States

Rachel Whiteread, winner of the 2019 Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon award, has illuminated the world’s art scene with her blazing originality, her wit and her unique perspectives, for more than 30 years. She speaks to Darius Sanai about creating something out of nothing, the joys of London, and the importance of being bored
Colour portrait of artist Rachel Whiteread in her studio

Rachel Whiteread in her studio, 2011

LUX: Your works create something from nothing. Is it a kind of anti-matter that you are creating?
Rachel Whiteread: That’s exactly right. I’ve always tried to make something out of nothing.
Something I used to do at college a lot was just stare at a white wall or a floor and visualise what I’d want to make from that space. I’d see what it was, so it was still something but it was out of nothing. It’s still a practice that I do, I suppose like a meditation, but I didn’t ever call it that. It was just, you know, staring at the wall.

There’s probably not enough staring into space done now. Everything’s always about looking at images, like on Instagram. Everything is just so full up that what I try and do is empty out. You wouldn’t think it from the chaos of my studio, though.

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LUX: Is there just too much social media around now?
Rachel Whiteread: Yes, I think so. People don’t know how to be bored anymore – I must have been saying this for years. Being bored is one of the most essential things of life, because what you do is you then work out how to not be bored, and by doing that, you open up a creativity in your mind. Even if it’s just deciding that you’re going to cook something or you’re going to read –whatever your creative outlet is – people just don’t do this anymore. They’ll scroll through Instagram instead and look at thousands of everyone else’s borrowed images. I think there’s something to be said about really slowing down the brain; it can be a very useful thing to do.

LUX: Will distraction of this kind affect future artists?
Rachel Whiteread: I suspect it will, but I also think that there’s going to be a backlash to all this and that people will just start to shut down a bit and try to be quieter about what they do, because you can’t just scream and shout about it. It’s hard for young artists. I’ve got two sons, they’re 13 and 17, and it’s difficult for them to be young anymore, to be able to play and enjoy life in a certain way, because you can just turn on the computer and you’re immediately entertained and distracted.

Rachel Whiteread's shack sculpture in Joshua Tree National Park

‘Shack I’ (2014), one of two concrete casts of cabins in the Joshua Tree National Park in California.

LUX: How do you decide what to create next?
Rachel Whiteread: Normally one thing leads to another, to be honest. I have had an exceptionally busy year de-installing and installing at the Tate, in Vienna and Washington. I have just come back from Washington where the exhibition has just opened, and also cast a very large piece, another one of my ‘shy’ sculptures, that’s in the Dalby Forest in Yorkshire – it’s a cast of a Nissen hut that’s been made as part of the First World War centenary. I have had a busy time doing all of that, and I am now having a breather before I get going again. I am at the pre-production phase of a new body of work.

LUX: Do you ever consider the reaction to your work while you are planning it?
Rachel Whiteread: I am very fortunate to be in a position to be able to do what I like. There has been a lot of controversy over various works I have made, but this is not something I court, it is simply in the nature of the objects.

Rachel Whiteread's cushion sculpture

‘Cushion’ (2006)

LUX: What gives you the most satisfaction?
Rachel Whiteread: Luckily for me, the show at the Tate gave me an enormous amount of satisfaction. It was five years in the planning and has travelled very successfully to Europe and America including the National Gallery of Art in Washington. I have very much enjoyed doing the retrospective, looking back at thirty years of work – it has been really helpful.

Read more: PalaisPopulaire & Berlin’s Cultural Revolution

LUX: What are your frustrations in making your art?
Rachel Whiteread: It is becoming harder and harder to find large studio spaces. Gone are the days when artists could colonise derelict areas in London. Consequently there is a lack of places for young artists to work. Luckily for me I am able to stay in London and carry out some of the more ambitious things, but it is very expensive. But what are the annoyances? That the day isn’t long enough, that I’m getting older and don’t have quite as much energy – I’ve got a bad back [laughs].

LUX: You’re carting heavy materials around…
Rachel Whiteread: That’s down to years of not looking after my back properly; it catches up with you. You think you’re forever young, especially when people were constantly calling you the YBAs [Young British Artists].

LUX: London – is it an integral part of who you are?
Rachel Whiteread: It’s totally integral to who I am. At one point we looked into moving out to Norfolk or Essex. To get a place with land where I could build a big studio, but I thought, actually I can’t. I need the frisson and busyness of London.

Rachel Whiteread's Nissen Hut sculpture

‘Nissen Hut’ (2018)

LUX: What do you love about London?
Rachel Whiteread: I love the multicultural world, the soupiness of London. It’s the one of the best cities of the world. I love the way the people are mostly extremely tolerant of each other. I love the way it’s an enthusiastic city and it has so much to offer culturally – even if you don’t go to that much you still feel it around you – it’s a bit like osmosis, it touches you somehow. I love the green spaces, I love the built-up spaces, I love the Thames, I love the canals, I love the way in which London can have these complex urban spaces and then these very beautiful but still very urban spaces. And so much has been done with trying to get wildlife going. It’s just a great community – a load of really good, interesting villages all stuck together – that’s sort of what London is, isn’t it?

LUX: After so much progress in tolerance over the past few years, are things now going the other way?
Rachel Whiteread: Completely, yes. Terrifying. I hate to think what we’re going to be leaving our children and grandchildren. There’s a sour feeling in the world at the moment and it’s not pretty.

LUX: It’s inexplicable, isn’t it? There are a people with a lot of money feeling angry.
Rachel Whiteread: A lot of it has got to do with Brexit. There are so many people who were sold a line that they just didn’t know what they were voting for. And the reality of that is sinking
in. It’s an appalling waste of money, time and energy – and for what, in the end? In the UK in particular there are a lot of people who are angry in London, and outside London, too, and quite rightly so for being neglected and ignored. Money is not coming in to pay for things that are needed, resources are at an all-time low, and there’s not enough housing. So for all of those things it’s a really complex city to live in, but when things work, they work brilliantly and people cross-culturally can really rub shoulders together and get a lot out of each other and that’s a great thing.

Installation by Rachel Whiteread at Tate Britain, London

‘Untitled’ (100 Spaces) (1995), installed at Tate Britain in 2017

LUX: Your art has a blend of seriousness and wit – would you agree that this also describes yourself as a person?
Rachel Whiteread: My work is me, I couldn’t make anything else. It is totally me, it’s how I think, how I exist in the world.

Read more: Gender stereotypes and the male nude in art

LUX: Is there a responsibility with your influence? Are you tempted to use it?
Rachel Whiteread: I’ve got two children and a job, and I don’t have the energy for it. Maybe later on. My parents were both very political and it’s certainly in my DNA. The ways I can influence people are by giving lectures, by sharing my work.

LUX: How does it feel to be the Whitechapel Gallery’s Art Icon for 2019?
Rachel Whiteread: It’s nice to be recognised for the many decades of hard work, and everyone likes to be recognised. It is a great honour. The Whitechapel is a fantastic institution doing fantastic things and has such a great and rich history.

Large scale holocaust memorial by Rachel Whiteread in Vienna

‘Holocaust Memorial’ (1995-2000) in the Judenplatz, Vienna

LUX: Do you believe that gallery funding should come from the state?
Rachel Whiteread: When they’re very much community-led galleries, which places like the Whitechapel are, then I would say yes. They’re for a community as they’ve always been. It’s just extremely hard raising money for galleries, and now there are a lot more than there used to be, they all need funding and they all have to find ways of making money. It’s complicated. But they are therefor the public and therefore the government should fund them.

LUX: Does the amount of money being spent in the art market seem strange?
Rachel Whiteread: The whole economics of the art market doesn’t sit comfortably with me. A lot of artists are generally left-ish, and a lot of them find that dichotomy difficult, because it’s a tough thing to think about.

LUX: Is it true that the punk movement influenced your generation in the art world?
Rachel Whiteread: Absolutely. I grew up in the seventies in London, I went to a few punk gigs. They were a bit rough for me to be honest [laughs]. But I was quite young at the time, so I’d go to the Marquee in Wardour Street [in Soho]. The gigs were pretty scary but they had an enormous influence upon me.

Trafalgar Square art installation by artist Rachel Whiteread

‘Monument’ (2001), installed in Trafalgar Square, London as part of the Fourth Plinth Project

LUX: Did you have any idea at art school what kind of art you would go on to produce?
Rachel Whiteread: No, the whole development of making my art was a gradual process, but certainly the seeds were sown at Brighton [Polytechnic] and the Slade [UCL London].

LUX: Did you always plan to be an artist?
Rachel Whiteread: Not initially, though my mother was an artist and there was always a strong familial influence. However, I always imagined that I would have to teach in order to sustain my practice as an artist. I have been very fortunate though, and my art has supported me.

LUX: Was it serendipity that you and the other Young British Artists, such as Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst, were contemporaries?
Rachel Whiteread: It was total serendipity. People say it was a movement, but it just happened to be a certain moment in time where this political and creative energy came out. One of the artists I relate to most is Sarah Lucas. She grew up just down the road from me and I didn’t know her when we were children – we came from very different backgrounds. I was from a middle-class home and she was from a working-class family, but there was definitely the London energy in the work we both made. The YBAs were simply how the stars were aligned and we were fortunate to be doing our work together at the same time.

Rachel Whiteread is the Whitechapel Gallery Art Icon 2019 with Swarovski. Visit whitechapelgallery.org/support/art-icon-swarovski

This article was first published in the Winter 19 Issue.

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Philip Colbert lobster art installation
Contemporary artist Philip Colbert pictured standing on a ladder in front of one of his oil painting collages

Artist Philip Colbert in his studio

London-based contemporary artist Philip Colbert works within the self-defined movement of ‘Neo Pop Surrealism’. His distinctive, wildly vibrant aesthetic speaks of a hyperactive age swollen with imagery, media and symbols. His oil paintings are chaotic, visual overloads, creating imaginary surrealist dreams of swirling Colgate toothpaste roads, falling currency signs and laugh-crying face emojis.

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The exhibition “Hunt Paintings” presented by Unit London at the Saatchi Gallery pop-up in Los Angeles, coinciding with this month’s Frieze art fair, brings together a diverse range of artworks, including large-scale paintings, sculptures, and a virtual reality experience which transports viewers into ‘Lobster Land’. The title makes reference to the old master hunt scenes, depicted in works by artists such as Reubens. Reflecting on the violence of these scenes, Colbert’s collages teeter on the edge of nightmare, reflecting on the darker side of pop culture that lies beneath the sheen, slogans and humour.

‘The Year of the Lobster’, a collaborative work with art auctioneer Simon de Pury, is the most striking satire and an exhibition highlight. The surreal video is an art auction come pop song come music video, ridiculing the art world, consumerist society, advertising and modern day paranoias as de Pury calls out brand names and slogans, continually asking the viewer: “You do like that lobster, don’t you?”

Art sculpture by contemporary artist Philip Colbert

Philip Colbert lobster art installation

Installation shot of ‘Hunt Paintings’ by Philip Colbert at Saatchi Gallery, Los Angeles

“Philip Colbert – Hunt Paintings” runs until 11 March 2019 at the Saatchi Gallery pop-up, 8070 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles. For more information visit: theunitldn.com/whats-on

Check out the next issue of LUX magazine, on sale from May 1 for a fabulous collaboration with Philip and Charlotte Colbert.

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Swiss sculptor Giacometti's famous collective of female sculptures entitled Women of Venice
Swiss sculptor Giacometti's famous collective of female sculptures entitled Women of Venice

“Women of Venice (Femmes de Venise)”, 1956. Alberto Giacometti. Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Succession Alberto Giacometti, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018

Black and white portrait of Alberto Giacometti in his studio surrounded by sculptures

Alberto Giacometti, 1951. Photograph by Gordon Parks

Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti is renowned for his figurative sculpture and dedicated exploration of the human condition. His work, in my view, best represents the transformation of early 20th century philosophical thought from Freudian psychoanalysis to De Beauvoir and Sartre’s existentialism.

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The current retrospective at the Guggenheim Bilbao presents the evolution of Giacometti’s remarkable career through five decades, from his early surrealist heads to his rough, slender figures, characterised by their raw, layered process.

The Nose sculpture by artist Alberto Giacometti

“The Nose (Le Nez)”, 1947. Alberto Giacometti. Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Succession Alberto Giacometti, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018

One of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibition is the artist’s seemingly contrasting representation of gender. In Three men walking, for example, the figures are caught in movement or more specifically, stride, and whilst they are sculpted as a collective, the viewer is keenly aware of their individuality as they move in separate directions. By contrast, we might consider the stillness of the figures in Women of Venice or Four woman and a base; here Giacometti presents us with collectives which are stagnant to the point of seeming distant and un-relatable. There is a sense of fear and intimidation in these latter sculptures, but also of an obsession — an obsessive need to understand.

James Houston

“Alberto Giacometti – A Retrospective” runs until 24 February 2019 at the Guggenheim, Bilbao. For more information visit: guggenheim-bilbao.eus

walking man sculpture by swiss artist Alberto Giacometti

“Walking Man I (Homme qui marche I)”, 1960. Alberto Giacometti. Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Succession Alberto Giacometti, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018

a biro sketch by renowned swiss artist Alberto Giacometti

“Men’s Heads (Têtes d’hommes)” ca. 1959 Fondation Giacometti, Paris © Succession Alberto Giacometti, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018 Alberto Giacometti

 

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Two colourful sculptures of men standing in a lush green garden
artistically decorated living room with large mural over fire place and two colourful sculptures standing either side

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s sculptures stand alongside Jean Cocteau’s murals in Villa Santo Sospir

Last week saw the private view and opening of French-Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s latest exhibition. LUX Editor-in-Chief Darius Sanai was entranced.

The mesmerising Villa Santo Sospir on Cap Ferrat in the south of France, once home to Jean Cocteau, played host to Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s private view of his Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau exhibition; LUX was privileged to be invited.

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Two colourful sculptures of men standing in a lush green garden

The villa itself is something of an anomaly on Cap Ferrat, perhaps the swankiest real estate spot in Europe. Walk down the steep drive from the little road (just around the corner from the Four Seasons Grand Hotel du Cap Ferrat) and you are transported into the 1950s. No bulletproof glass or architect-designed pavilions here: just a low-rise villa, its gardens festooned with bougainvillea and bamboo, and, inside, walls decorated with intricate murals by Cocteau himself.

Party on the edge of the sea as the sun is setting people gather around colourful sculptures

Those attending included Lily ColeRichard BiedulNathalie EmmanuelKiera Chaplin and Jo Wood.

A line up of guests at art opening along with Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar and and Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar

From right to left: Natalie Rushdie, Maria Behnam-Bakhtiar, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, Melissa Tarling, Richard Biedul and Nathalie Emmanuel

Kate Slesinger with artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar and LUX editor Darius Sanai

Kate Slesinger, Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar and Darius Sanai

Model and TV personality Jo Wood poses with her son at art opening

Tyrone Wood and Jo Wood

Guests were scattered through the cosy living room, onto the terrace, down the stairs on another garden terrace, and on a final, lowest level near the sea, but the stars of the show were Behnam-Bakhtiar’s sculptures (which also adorn one of the special covers of this issue of LUX magazine) and a soundtrack which featured Cocteau himself, present among us.

Artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar in conversation with British actress Nathalie Emmanuel in an artistically decorated living room

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar with Nathalie Emmanuel

A crowd of people and sculptures on the cliff edge as the sun sets over the ocean in the distance

Silhouettes of guests merge with Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s sculptures as the sun sets

As a storm cleared and the sun set over Cap d’Antibes and the Massif de l’Esterel in the distance, the melancholy and joy of Behnam-Bakhtiar’s creations added an extra note to the end of summer in an area that has inspired artists for generations. Who knows, perhaps its the start of a new life for the Cote d’Azur as an artistic hub, generations after the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Van GoghCézanne and Dufy were mesmerised by the light, shapes and people here.

Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau runs until 30 September at Villa Santo Sospir

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Life-size sculptures of male silhouettes with one real man at the back of a line of three

Sculpture of a man in front of colourful mural depicting a mystical figure

Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s latest exhibition responds to the work of French polymath Jean Cocteau. Virginia Blackburn travels to the Cote d’Azur to meet the artist and his muse

“The sea,” says the French/Iranian artist Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar, gesturing out at an exceptionally beautiful cove on the Cote d’Azur, “is a symbol and a direction of life. It’s where we all came from. As long as you are facing the sea you are on the right track.” And it is not just Behnam-Bakhtiar who is facing the Med: beside him is Jean Cocteau, or at least a representation of Cocteau, leading a line of luminaries from the Villa Santo Sospir in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat to face out at the spectacular view.

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Inside the house, Cocteau is in conversation with Behnam-Bakhtiar, for this exhibition, Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau, has its roots in a video Behnam-Bakhtiar came across that Cocteau made in 1962; the younger artist discovered that his preoccupations and fears about the way the world was going were identical to the older man’s. And so the idea took root.

Man sits on arm chair surrounded by colourfully painted sculptures of male figures

Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau, which runs from 6th to 30th September is comprised of two aspects, visual and aural. The visual element is spread throughout the villa and its grounds: it consists of 32 wooden sculptures in six different sizes, representing both the historical figures who visited the villa when Cocteau and its owner, the socialite Francine Weisweiller, lived there, and what could be termed humanity itself.

Detail image of sculpture of a man in bright painted colours

Each sculpture is double sided, to represent the masculine and feminine aspects of the individual, although it is up to the viewer to decide which is which; the wood is bois marine, or sea wood, the type used to make boats. It was treated three times and then painted in Behnam-Bakhtiar’s signature style, embodying energy, stripe after stripe of differing colours fighting to make their way through to the top. “I didn’t want the sculptures to be super-clean but artisanal,” explains Behnam-Bakhtiar, adding that the work took nearly a year and changed him in the process. “So many great things came out: who are we? What are we doing here? Why these sculptures?” he says.

Read more: Why we love Club Dauphin on Cap Ferrat right now

Inside the villa the recorded conversation between the two artists takes place, in which they discuss their fears about the almost robotic world in which we live, the emphasis on material success despite the very high price it exacts. The setting could not be more appropriate: Cocteau’s extravagant murals cover the walls and the ceiling; outside his mosaics bring the myth of the minotaur to mind. One mosaic is doubleheaded, which is reflected in Behnam-Bakhtiar’s double sided sculptures, that dual identity being a preoccupation with both men.

Image of the sea with sculptures of men dotted in garden on the cliff edge

To walk among the sculptures in their stillness, their complexity, induces a feeling of eternity, of contemplation, of timelessness. Visitors to the exhibition will be encouraged to do exactly that, imparting their own life energy to the statuary as they make their way towards the imposing figure of Cocteau, slightly taller than the rest.

Read more: Northacre CEO Niccolò Barattieri di San Pietro on creating dream homes

One figure stands out for a slightly different reason: he is covered in shades of black, although some colour is struggling to get through. “He had it a little rougher than the others,” says Behnam-Bakhtiar. To the viewer he symbolises death, but with hope – the light is trying to break in, even here.

Life-size sculptures of male silhouettes with one real man at the back of a line of three

This is a remarkable exhibition based on a brave and remarkable concept: artists in conversation across decades, sharing the same space. And catch it while you can because the group will be broken up at the end of it, dispersed among museums and collectors, while the villa is closing for a couple of years for major renovations. It is a treat, visually, and balm for the soul.

Oneness Wholeness with Jean Cocteau runs until 30 September at Villa Santo Sospir. Visit Sassan Behnam-Bakhtiar’s website for more information or follow him on Instagram at @sassanbehnambakhtiar

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New Museum New York Gender Exhibition Installation View
Gender exhibition installation view at the New Museum in New York

“Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon,” 2017. Exhibition View: New Museum. Photo: Maris Hutchinson / EPW Studio

The New Museum is well known for its radical programme of exhibitions targeting issues of social representation, but “Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” is arguably one of the most important to be housed by the space. Bringing together work from over forty intergenerational artists (including Josh Faught, Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel, Ellen Lesperance, Mickalene Thomas, and Candice Lin), across a variety of mediums and genres, including film, video, performance, painting, sculpture and photography, the exhibition contests the gender binary, exploring fluid and more inclusive expressions of identity by developing new vocabularies and imagery.

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Tschabalala Self artwork Mane for gender exhibition in New York

Tschabalala Self, Mane, 2016. Lewben Art Foundation Collection. Courtesy the artist; Pilar Corrias, London; T293, Naples and Rome; and Thierry Goldberg, New York. Special thanks to Pilar Corrias and T293

Yet these works are by no means mere utopian reconstructions, the artistic practices are plugged firmly into current gender discourses, recognising the complex intersections with race, class, sexuality, and disability. One of the most notable works includes a braided sculpture by Diamond Stingily that trails from the fourth floor down to the lobby, alluding to the racial dimensions of beauty conventions as well as to Medusa, whose gaze could turn men into stone. It’s a powerful reminder of art’s potency as, in the words of Schiller, our ‘second creatress’ of new worlds and perspectives.

Millie Walton

“Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon” runs until 21st January 2018 at the New Museum, New York

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An artistic interpretation of Runiart Champagne House by Scottish Artist Georgia Russell
Hubert Le Gall's artistic interpretation of Runiart champagne house

Ruinart 12 months Vineyard Shadows by Hubert Le Gall

Ruinart has long been a supporter of contemporary arts. Since 1896, the champagne house has commissioned renowned artists to present their own unique vision of the brand, with the most recent interpretation by internationally acclaimed Spanish artist and sculptor Jaume Plensa. Today, in the run up to Frieze London and Frieze Masters, Ruinart (the fair’s official partner) has opened a hub at the Rosewood London for art and champagne lovers to further explore the brand’s artistic history.

The Ruinart experience at Rosewood London begins with a walk through the lobby and Mirror Room to admire six of the artworks previously commissioned by the champagne house by Maarten Baas, Georgia Russell, Gideon Rubin, Piet Hein Eek, Hubert le Gall and Erwin Olaf. The selected pieces represent each artist’s interpretation and celebration of different aspects of the Maison Ruinart including the vision of its creator, its history and the specialised art of champagne making from vine to bottle.

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Runiart champagne bottle Blanc de Blancs

Runiart Blanc de Blancs

Visitors can then enjoy a glass of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs by the glass or a Ruinart Champagne Cocktail expertly created by the Rosewood London mixology team and paired with a Lobster Croustade, Avocado and Wood Sorrel canapé. There are also specially curated menus to be enjoyed amongst the artworks in the Mirror Room  including the Ruinart Champagne Breakfast Menu with ‘Lobster Eggs Benedict’ and ‘Fresh Strawberries and Ruinart Mimosa Granite’ and the Ruinart Afternoon Tea Menu inspired by Hubert Le Gall’s artwork on display in exhibition.

An artistic interpretation of Runiart Champagne House by Scottish Artist Georgia Russell

The Grand Livre by Scottish artist Georgia Russell for Ruinart

Read next: Richard Mille’s Art & Elegance in Chantilly

For true decadence, the hotel’s Ruinart x Frieze Experience includes a one night stay in a deluxe suite for 2 people with a bottle of Ruinart champagne on arrival, Ruinart champagne cocktails and paired canapés in the Mirror Room, chauffer driven BMW transfers to and from Frieze London, plus VIP access to Frieze London and a glass of champagne at the Ruinart Bar at Frieze London. Yes, please!

The Ruinart Hub at Rosewood London runs from 25 September to 25 November.

 

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Luxury kitchen appliance brand, Gaggenau, gets creative with Brazilian-born artist, Mayra Sérgio, to host an exhibition, ‘Sensorial Shelter’, in their Grade II listed building on London’s Wigmore Street. Celebrating coffee, craftsmanship, design and creativity this installation sees coffee become an art medium in the form of bricks, reflecting the rich architectural history of English bond brick laying. Kitty Harris speaks to the artist about her career, love of coffee and inspiration behind her sculpture.

Kitty Harris: You worked as a set designer for five years in Brazil – how did your studies in Amsterdam influence/change your experience as a creator and artist going forward?
Mayra Sérgio: Studying in the Netherlands [at Gerrit Rietveld Academie] changed completely how I perceive and experience the creation process. I learnt that when starting a new project the least you know what it will be in the end, the better. Not knowing for a while where you are heading can be hard, but that’s when truly new ideas can come around. I also learnt to not only shape materials with my ideas but also let the ideas be shaped by the limitations and possibilities of the material. It’s a dialogue.

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KH: Why set design?
MS: Since I was a kid I was crafty, always making collages, objects or paintings. When I entered film school and we started making short films it came very naturally that I would be the one in charge of creating and building the sets and props. Along the years I developed a strong sense of how to tell a story through spaces and objects.

KH: How did your relationship begin with Gaggenau?
MS: What brought us together was coffee. Their vision of the meaning of a cup of coffee completely resonates with my work. It feels like a great match.

KH: Where did the inspiration behind the ‘Sensorial Shelter’ come from?
MS: I was busy investigating about what brings a sense of belonging to people. Being a foreigner myself, I started questioning how the spaces and objects around me interfere in that feeling.

Food carries a highly evocative power that enables one to feel ‘at home’ through its look, smell and taste. Food has the power to overcome an estranged space and transform it into a place of belonging. A mug of coffee can be stronger in making me feel at home than any built architecture.

Kitty Harris: What is it about coffee that resonates with you?
Mayra Sérgio: Coffee resonates with me in many different levels. To start with it is a delicious drink. But also, like many people, I carry various warm memories of sharing it with my friends or family. And the more you learn about its process, blends and different types and origins the more interesting it gets. So there you have it in a cup: taste, smell, geography and memory all connected.

KH: How would you describe your art form?
MS: I have an interest in creating works that enable different layers of experience. That can be at the same time sensorial and make people reflect.

Read next: British model Hazel Townsend on learning to be a clown 

KH: You were fond of the English brickwork technique called English bond – what other mediums would you like to work with?
MS: The English bond idea came from presenting Sensorial Shelter in London. It would never have happened elsewhere. I find it fascinating that context can shape the work as well. I like the idea of using materials in unusual contexts.

KH: Is the process of creation different when you are commissioned to do a piece to when you are not?
MS: Commissioned pieces give you a frame to work within but in the end the way you connect ideas and create comes through anyway.

I think it’s healthy to balance both. Commissions are usually based on what people already know from you but when you create something on your own you have the opportunity to explore completely new themes and languages.

KH: What’s next for you?
MS: There are two paths ahead: I’m working on a new art installation but I also want to develop the coffee bricks further. Coffee is an incredible material with a lot of potential so I intend to collaborate with a more scientific partner to fully explore its possibilities as a product.

mayrasergio.com

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contemporary african art
Peterson Kamwathi contemporary african artist

Peterson Kamwathi, Medical Establishment-from the Sitting Allowance series, 2009, Courtesy of The Heong Gallery

Robert Devereux, former partner of the Virgin empire, served as chairman of the board of Frieze, the Tate Africa Acquisitions Committee and as an advisor to 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair. Kitty Harris caught up with the African contemporary art collector at The Heong Gallery at Downing College Cambridge for the exhibition of his Sina Jina collection: ‘Where the Heavens Meet the Earth’ to discuss the evolution of the art world, the importance of museums and his long African walk.

Kitty Harris: After completing your degree in History at Cambridge University you went into to publishing and then to work for your then to be future brother in law, Richard Branson. How did this journey lead you to the arts?
Robert Devereux: I got into the arts primarily because of my family. My mother, who particularly loved literature and my dad who had a great love of the visual arts and artefacts. We spent a lot of our summer holidays in Italy which involved going to museums and art galleries. Every year for my mother’s birthday and Christmas present, from the age at which I had pocket money, I brought a reproduction of a Tallantyre piece from Morpeth where we lived. She loved Bruegel’s work so our house was full of them; sadly, none of them were originals.

KH: And why did you start buying art?
RD: It’s so long ago now, I’m not sure if I can remember the answer. I started buying in the late 70s and early 80s when my wife had an art gallery. I don’t suppose I would have become a collector if I hadn’t started in order to support the gallery, maybe not. I started because Vanessa [Branson] had a gallery in Notting Hill. Interestingly, she had three or four African artists in her stable which was highly unusual and completely coincidental, because that was before my engagement in Africa.

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KH: What draws you to the art you do buy?
RD: Like all creative endeavours, an emotional response. Be it excitement, intrigue, interest. I wouldn’t buy a piece if it didn’t move the hairs on the back of my neck – not an intellectual approach I know, but then I begin to try to understand the works. I am fascinated by the thought process – why? Does it mean anything? And if so, is it purely pictorial, sculptural or is there some other significance?

KH: You’ve expressed an aversion to being called a “collector”, preferring the term buyer…
RD: A supporter. Often people say a Patron, I suppose there is nothing wrong with being a Patron but it does also have the connotation of patronage. I would like to think that both my collecting and my creation of the The African Arts Trust are for the support of the artists.

KH: How do you think the purchasing of art has changed since you began in the 70s and 80s?
RD: It’s changed out of all recognition. I was collecting mainly British art then and buying from London galleries, mainly Vanessa’s. The number of collectors, certainly of contemporary art, you could count on the fingers of one had. There were practically none of us. And now, it’s a huge industry and there are hundreds of collectors. There’s been an extraordinary snow balling effect. The creation of the Tate Modern, which has nothing to do with collectors, but it’s interesting that contemporary art has become a huge contemporary cultural phenomenon. The Tate Modern is one of the most visited institutions in the world and that’s amazing given what its content is.

African contemporary art

Aida Muluneh, No. 7 from the 99 series, 2013. Courtesy of The Heong Gallery

KH: Museums seem to have become the attraction of cities…
RD: Yes. Take the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain. Now everybody knows that if you want to create social and economic regeneration you do it with an arts project, which is great. I had an interesting conversation with some older artists the other day who said, “When we left art school the thought of being a full time practising artist and earning our living from it never occurred to us. We went to teach or went to work in a museum.” And whilst they would have said it is definitely better now, there is something missing from that period when artists never had to think about selling work, or creating art for gallery deadlines or commercialising. Which is not to say that I think all artists do commercialise because I think most don’t. I think the commercial marketplace does have an effect on the art produced.

Contemporary african art

Lynette Yiadom Boakye, High Power, 2008, Courtesy of The Heong Gallery

KH: Do you think that the role of ultra-high net worth’s in purchasing art has changed the art world? Do you think there is a disconnect between creators and consumers? Or that perhaps artists create for consumers?
RD: I think we live in a very mixed ecology. I think all of the above. It happens in places where there is no real art market where an artist finds that they do something and the local tourists buy it and so they continue to do that because they know it will sell. And then there are artists who completely ignore that phenomena. One thing I find unattractive is art as a fashion and there is a strong element of that in the art market. Of art having become just a display of wealth, a sign of good taste (whatever that means) and a status symbol. I’m not going to name names but suddenly artists take off and it’s very clever artist manipulation by galleries and a few collectors.

KH: You served as Chairman of the board of Frieze, what do you think of the term ‘Fair Fatigue’ and what future do you see for art fairs?
RD: I think they will remain undoubtedly. I don’t say this to support Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp [the founders of Frieze]. There are as many art fairs as there are because they serve a valuable purpose. Are there too many of them? Maybe there are, maybe there aren’t. I think there will be ups and downs and peaks and troughs. I don’t have any doubt that art fairs will be a critical part of the future of the art world. They are wonderful and dreadful at the same time.

african art collecting

Nandipha Mntambo, Enchantment, 2012, Courtesy of The Heong Gallery

KH: You sold your 416 works of post-war British art in 2010 with Sotheby’s to start The African Art Trust. Was it hard to part with those works?
RD: I should probably say it was. Not at the time, it actually wasn’t. Partly because I got to the point where I needed to do something and inevitably as any collector does, you end up with work in storage which I think is most unfortunate. I had come up with the notion of The African Art Trust and the only way I could afford to fund it was to sell the works. I think that made it relatively simply because I think I felt I was doing it with clear and worthwhile purpose. Now, six years later, there are probably parts of that collection that I miss more now than I did then. I don’t really miss them. I miss them in the sense that I still think about them and they are in my imagination. That’s great because in a way I haven’t lost them.

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KH: The funds went to establish The African Arts Trust, a body that continues to fund grass roots organisations in expanding opportunities for artist. Why Africa? And what was your priority with this organisation?
RD: Africa because I had spent a lot of time there and I had been collecting African art for seven or eight years. I suppose I felt with a relatively modest sum of money, it was possible to make, hopefully, an impact there. Whereas if I’d have spent that amount of money in the UK it would have been a drop in the ocean. Also, I think the need there is much greater, which is not to pretend it’s not tough being an artist wherever you are; even in an extremely bright developed economy like ours. I do support The Showroom here, but in a much more modest way. I recognised there were lots of wonderful artists there who could do with a leg up, or some help or some support or some recognition.