Monday, 24 July 2017

Review of Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933 at Tate Liverpool

24/07/17
Portraying a Nation: Germany 1919–1933
Tate Liverpool
23 June – 15 October 2017

In its 14 years (1919-33), the Weimar Republic – as the newly established German state was unofficially known – faced numerous problems, including hyperinflation, unemployment, political extremism (with paramilitaries – both left- and rightwing), and troubled relationships with the victors of the first world war. It was also, however, as is common in such periods, an era of remarkable cultural renaissance, a boom time for clubs and bars, and a phase of great creativity in terms of literature, cinema, theatre and music. Visual artists, too, responded to the sociopolitical climate, with Otto Dix (1891-1969) in particular combining realism and criticality with his singular artistic vision to produce paintings showing the manifold extremes of this tumultuous interwar period.



For this dual exhibition at Tate Liverpool, a selection of Dix’s work, primarily from his years in Düsseldorf between 1922-25, and including his barren series of 50 etchings The War (1924), is set against more than 140 photographs from the Artist Rooms collection of photographer August Sander’s monumental project, People of the 20th Century. Photographing subjects from all walks of life, and later categorising them according to his self-devised, ever-evolving system, Sander (1876-1964) produced an incomparable record – or collective portrait – of a nation in flux. Shown here chronologically, alongside an informative textual timeline, the gelatin silver prints set the sociopolitical backdrop against which Dix’s dramas, across the hall, play out. While each exhibition is strong enough – and large enough – to stand alone, together they provide a comprehensive and fantastic insight into the life and times, the ups and downs, and the joys and horrors, of the Weimar Republic.



Read this review here



Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Essay: ‘The end is where we start from’. Laura Moreton-Griffith’s history painting of the future

18/07/18
‘The end is where we start from’: Laura Moreton-Griffith’s history painting of the future

In a series of lectures delivered at the University of New Brunswick in 1950, professor of political economy Harold Innis decried the ever-increasing loss of respect for the past and the future. This ‘present-mindedness’, as he termed it, was, to his mind, a symptom of capitalism, which had fostered the measurement of time, facilitating the use of credit and the rise of exchange-based calculations of futures that were deemed predictable and insurable. In his 2016 essay, ‘A New Politics of Time’[1], Professor John Keane similarly discusses the ‘myopia of democracy’, ‘encouraging a fixation on the here and now […], discriminat[ing] against younger generations [b]y allocating health care resources for the elderly and financing social insurance schemes out of current taxes […],turning a blind eye to long-term environmental degradation and […] the risks associated with bio-genetic engineering and burgeoning population growth’. These beliefs, Keane adds, are all ‘egged on’ by claims that we are facing ‘the end of history’ (as proposed by the American political scientist and economist Francis Fukuyama in his 1989 essay of the same name [2]) and the arrogant conceit that we have solved all the problems of the past.




The idea of a politics of time plays a key role in Laura Moreton-Griffiths’ dystopian installation, Truth Lies Within (2017). A ‘three-dimensional history painting’, it entraps and entwines the viewer in the act of storytelling, implicating her in the denouement of its disturbing plot. Walking amidst the ensemble of characters, she takes on a participatory role, bearing the burden and the guilt of every false decision. It might be described as a postmodern, post-truth, post-whatever-you-like scenario, but this would, in fact, be a misnomer, since the real key to Moreton-Griffiths’ work is the fact that it stands outside of time, or, at least, outside of the linear model of time on which modern – western – history is predicated. Instead Moreton-Griffiths employs the concept of non-linear, cyclic time, and weaves the elements of her work together as an author might weave a work of speculative fiction.

The term ‘history painting’ was introduced in the 17th century to describe paintings with subject matter drawn from classical history, mythology and the Bible. Derived from the wider sense of the Latin word historia, it essentially means ‘story painting’ and is a genre defined by its subject matter rather than any specific artistic style. In the 18th century, the term began to be used to refer to more recent historical subjects, usually depicting a moment in a narrative story, rather than a static subject. Typically a history painting would be large scale, made as a propaganda piece for those in power to represent and demonstrate the effect(-iveness) of their regime. For Moreton-Griffiths, however, history becomes the future – and a future which, discordant and undesirable as it seems, ‘could’, as Margaret Atwood says of her own works of speculative fiction, ‘really happen’. The social structures and power relations necessary are all already in place; they are all already (mis/dys)-functioning – the artist merely mirrors and exaggerates what she knows.


Each laser-cut standing figure adds to the painstakingly constructed tableau of cultural and art-historical references, conflating past, present and future in one pictorial event; a timeline of interacting and cascading cause and effect. Classical and Renaissance sculptures stand in ruins, symbols of the true democracy of times gone by, when oral tradition enabled the collective achievement of a healthy balance between time gone by and time still to come. Semi-bionic, the victims of technology, these sculptures are transitioning to computer-directed automata. Yet even these robots are at risk, positioned – helplessly rooted – amid armed putti on hoverboards, swooping menacingly, dancing the dance of the demon alongside dragonflies, which, on closer inspection reveal themselves to be military drones (sourced, Moreton-Griffiths says, from the CIA flickr site). Virtual reality headsets, voodoo dolls and segments of indecipherable binary code: the closer you look, the more threatening the scenario reveals itself to be. The work collages themes of propaganda, false information, and algorithms that target us with personalised political messages. The installation, or combination of elements as a whole, takes precedence over individual painted or constructed elements: the crowd, rather than an individual; the complex and daunting narrative of a mob. Them against us. But who is the us? Clearly, the ‘Other’, the lesser, the victim. Do we, the ‘Othered’ viewers, then stand united, or is it each man and woman out for him- and herself?

Moreton-Griffiths wants her timeline to be multidirectional – like a choose-your-own-ending teen fiction book – but does this allow for undoing one’s false decisions, redressing one’s mistakes, redeeming society from the sins of the past? In One Dimensional Woman [3], philosophy lecturer Nina Power speaks of ‘a feminism of failure’ – a model in which women would have the freedom to fail, to be uncertain, to question, experiment and ultimately define – and redefine – themselves. Might Moreton-Griffiths’ dystopia be read as a dystopia of failure – a dystopia that might yet be inverted, rescued, even rendered utopian?


Perhaps what is represented is a form of limbo, or purgatory, an indefiniteness of time as much as of identity and direction, a place of looping back in order to move forward, or of looping forward in order to move back. A place of the conditional perfect, of would-have-beens and could-have-beens, but not necessarily ought-to-have-beens, for in a model of non-linearity, such uni-directional modals cease to exist. Anything becomes possible. The actors becomes the directors. We, the protagonists, build and arrange the next act. ‘Time present and time past/Are both perhaps present in time future/And time future contained in time past,’ writes TS Eliot in Burnt Norton (1935). ‘What we call the beginning is often the end/And to make an end is to make a beginning/The end is where we start from.’


© Anna McNay, July 2017

Images: © the artist 2017

Laura Moreton-Griffiths' website






[1] John Keane, ‘A New Politics of Time’ in The Conversation, 2 December 2016, http://theconversation.com/a-new-politics-of-time-69137 [accessed 16/07/17]
[2] Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’ in The National Interest (16), 1989, pp3–18 https://www.jstor.org/stable/24027184?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [accessed 16/07/17]
[3] Nina Power, One Dimensional Woman, Zero Books, 2009

Review of Ida Applebroog: Mercy Hospital Hauser & Wirth, London

18/07/17
Ida Applebroog: Mercy Hospital
Hauser & Wirth, London
19 May – 29 July 2017

In 1969, Ida Horowitz (b1929), a struggling artist and mother of four, recently moved from Chicago to San Diego, was driving her two young sons to the zoo when suddenly she felt herself unravelling. She was unable to tell red from green, and her children had to guide her through set upon set of traffic lights. Later that day, recognising the danger, she checked herself into the mental health ward of Mercy Hospital.


Ida – who went on to become the internationally successful feminist artist Ida Applebroog (a made-up surname adopted when she felt the need to distance herself from both her maiden name, Appelbaum, and her married name, Horowitz) – had with her a sketchbook. During her six-week stay on the ward, she filled this with drawings and scribbled thoughts, and it is these excavations of her mind that now – after 40 years buried in a basement locker, until they were rediscovered by an studio assistant in 2009 – fill the walls of Hauser & Wirth London’s south gallery in a revealing and insightful show.


Read the review here




Monday, 10 July 2017

Review of Howard Hodgkin: Painting India at The Hepworth Wakefield

10/07/17
Howard Hodgkin: Painting India
The Hepworth Wakefield
1 July – 8 October 2017


On a damp, grey British summer day, a dozen weary journalists are herded into a concrete building on the River Calder. The building is David Chipperfield’s prize-winning The Hepworth Wakefield. Inside the white cube galleries, a riot of undiluted colours – reds, greens, yellows and blues – radiates heat and light from the walls, enough to revive even the least caffeinated of the troop. This is Howard Hodgkin: Painting India, an exhibition of approximately 35 works from the past 50 years, since the artist’s first visit to India in 1964, to his death at the age of 84 in March this year, two months after completing the final work on display here.


Read the rest of this review here




Friday, 7 July 2017

Review of Alice Neel, Uptown at Victoria Miro

07/07/17
Alice Neel, Uptown
Curated by Hilton Als
Victoria Miro, London
18 May – 29 July 2017


“No matter what adventure we have, man is the catalyst … Man is everything.” For Alice Neel (1900-84), born at the start of the new century, her conviction and dedication to analysing and capturing the essence of the individual in a figurative style endured throughout an era of proliferating abstraction. Despite regularly mixing with avant-garde writers and activists, and sharing their political ideas, she didn’t adopt their styles. She ignored the critic Clement Greenberg’s comment that figurative painting was dead and radically proved him wrong, becoming the first living American artist to have a major retrospective in Moscow in 1981.



Read this review here