Material Worlds

At the weekend I visited the new Material Worlds wing at Tate Modern.

 

The work on show features artists who utilise all kinds of materials, often in larger scale installations. These included found objects, natural materials, textiles stitched in secret locations and even endless ropes of human hair.

 

Sheela Gowda,  Behold  2009

Sheela Gowda, Behold 2009

Magdalena Abakanowicz,  Embyology   1978–80

Magdalena Abakanowicz, Embyology 1978–80

 

I was most excited to see work by one of my favourite artists, Louise Nevelson, in this new exhibit!

 

Louise Nevelson   " An American Tribute to the British People" 1960–4 Painted wood, 3110 x 4424 x 920 mm  

Louise Nevelson "An American Tribute to the British People" 1960–4 Painted wood, 3110 x 4424 x 920 mm 

 

This piece was gifted by Nevelson in 1965, titled "An American Tribute to the British People", Nevelson's her dealer said that the artist felt that it was appropriate for our monarchial country:

"Its cathedral-like aspect, which seems to present the viewer with an altar at which to kneel, perhaps to receive some royal blessing, and its gilded splendor … were considered peculiarly appropriate.’

Originally born in Czarist Russia, Nevelson lived most of her life in New York, and was heavily influenced by her surroundings. This glorious gold sculpture also reminds me of the iconic cities luxurious sky scrapers.

Art Deco plaque of the Empire State Building, New York.

Art Deco plaque of the Empire State Building, New York.

The display caption tells us that Nevelson worked on this assemblage over a number of years, continually recomposing the found objects within it. Close-up it reminds me of the stacks of old paintings in gilt frames in auctions and junk shops. The golden coating they share emphasises the sense of a treasured item from another time. Covered and gathered they display an inherent value despite being cast away when no longer valued individually.

 

I first found Nevelson's work when I was at school and instantly captivated by her impressive structures. 

 

Growing up in a home where nothing was thrown away, I would scavenge interesting bits of wood from piles of timber and broken furniture in my dad's workshop and in Nevelson's sculptures I could identify the balustrades and chair legs amidst the hand sculpted pieces. 

The way she used a single colour to envelope her carefully assembled finds into these impressive structures had a huge impact on me. Nevelson liked black paint because it conjured "totality, peace and greatness." 

 

Louise Nevelson  Black Wall  1959. Painted wood 2642x2165x648mm

Louise Nevelson Black Wall 1959. Painted wood 2642x2165x648mm

There is such sensitivity in her compositions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the New York was redeveloped in the 1950's Nevelson faced eviction from her home and studio. The partially demolished buildings left detritus left from everyday lives, and she found her materials in the debris.

Some of her arrangements like Black Wall,  remind me of the different people living in apartments.

Harking back to the crowded cities like New York I can imagine these wooden boxes as a neighbourhood of personalities housed in different rooms. 

A community is made up of individuals. Living next to each other, but separated by these divides they are shown that they are all one.

If you are one of those inside it you can only see yourself and the four walls around you. Only we can see they are all unified by being able to look at the whole thing from a wider perspective.

 

 

 
 

The new Material Worlds wing is free & on now at Tate Modern.

Gold: A Material Possession

The recent eye-catching display of my favourite art shop, Cornellison & Son ( a trove of amazing traditional materials, professional pigments and art supplies, estd 1855!) to accompany their array of gilding materials.

The recent eye-catching display of my favourite art shop, Cornellison & Son ( a trove of amazing traditional materials, professional pigments and art supplies, estd 1855!) to accompany their array of gilding materials.

Ancient gold jewellery from Manchester Museum's Ancient World's exhibition.

Ancient gold jewellery from Manchester Museum's Ancient World's exhibition.

"Gold-the most universal of archetypes. It's allure gleams in liturgical traditions and Pagan rituals, royal celebrations & alchemical transformations. The splendour of this precious metal has limitless visual potential. While it's use can veer dangerously close to signalling excess & kitsch, gold is nevertheless flamboyant & resplendent - a spectacle to behold. Somewhere between elegant & overpowering, it became a catalyst for creativity suggesting the transformation of a raw material into a work of art to be admired." Dries Van Noten exhibition, the Decorative Art Museum, Paris

Golden garments, at Dries Van Noten's current Paris exhibition including a beautifully embroidered antique piece.

Golden garments, at Dries Van Noten's current Paris exhibition including a beautifully embroidered antique piece.

 

What I like about gold is the fact that it's NATURALLY OCCURRING, which I think can be forgotten because of it's expense. Valued since it's discovery for it's beauty and rarity, it is also a material with unique properties made up from a combination of ingredients found in the universe. The desire it has created and it's limited availability means it's used as a means of expressing wealth, giving it the reputation for being showy and gaudy. But unlike a wad of paper bank notes for a man made currency, if you found a nugget of gold gleaming amidst the gravel of a muddy stream, or peeking out of a rocky wall it immediately catches the eye as something special irrespective of knowledge of it's outside "worth". Real gold is a wonderful material to work with but causes creative limitations by it's expense. I love pyrite (fool's gold) which as well as having it's own unique qualities also shares some of the appeal of the treasured material. It's natural, it sparkles, it's warm and shiny, I WANT IT on a deep level. And I can work with it creatively on my artist budget and use larger pieces to make a big impact with objects in this lovely, sunny metallic hue. Yuuuuum.

 

 
An pyrite specimen I used recently for a bespoke ring.

An pyrite specimen I used recently for a bespoke ring.

 
Hubert Duprat's beautiful jewelled insect homes I saw in the Dries Van Noten exhibition in Paris last month.

Hubert Duprat's beautiful jewelled insect homes I saw in the Dries Van Noten exhibition in Paris last month.

A wonderful surprise at the Dries Van Noten exhibition was the inclusion of Hubert Duprat's amazing caddis flies which I had never seen in real life before! I love the way he has used jewels and precious materials in this way, showing them as natural things. To us, we know how "expensive" they are in our society, but to the caddis lavae they are just a handy building material to make their little home.  In a similar way, the pearl is known to us as a rare find in the watery depths, romantic, elegant and precious. However, to the oyster it is a way of dealing with an annoying speck of grit so it doesn't damage it's delicate insides, a biological process.

 

Pearls at The Museum of London

Pearls at The Museum of London

These are animals protecting themselves in beautiful ways.

A new exhibition has also just started at The Manchester Museum, From the War of Nature. Coinciding with the commemoration of the start of World War One, the exhibition looks at " the story of predation, competition, co-operation and collaboration... (revealing) that living things resolve conflict in many, often unexpected, ways and aims to challenge the perception that war is an inevitable outcome of conflict." I say hopefully we can form a pearl of wisdom out the irritating grit that gets in our shells. :)