Imaginary Cities

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Thanks to the wonderful Influx Press gentlemen for an excellent cover for my forthcoming book (out next summer). Despite writing it painfully one-eyed in the nocturnal hours, it might not be too much of an abomination, fingers crossed. Here’s an introduction of sorts and if you’re on twitter say hello.

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Total Recall

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‘It is a mark of the age we live in that much art seems to have lost the transgressive power it was once accused of possessing. Our daily saturation of images plays a part, as does a sense of fatigue following a century and a half of artistic provocation. In the midst of the barbarisms of the real, the fictional no longer has the same capacity to shock. What use is there for Guernica in an age of Guernicas? To engage with an audience inoculated against and suspicious of direct confrontation, the more astute, radically minded artists opt for the Trojan Horse approach. One such example is James Rosenquist’s F-111 (1964-65), which appears initially as a frivolous even decadent pop art folly, but gradually reveals itself to be a clever and damning indictment of a hegemony that has commodified everything, even youth and death. And yet the work appears to be celebratory and was embraced by an art-world given to commodification as well as the very hegemony it opposed.’

Looking back at the late great prophetic artist Gretchen Bender, currently featured at Tate Liverpool.

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Beyond the visual

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‘There are several routes to avoid or subvert [the tyranny of the gallery]. One is open revolt, as the Italian futurists demonstrated with their manifesto incitements to flood, demolish and ignite such institutions. Another is to showcase work outside galleries; on gable walls or in sculpture parks, for example, where the work can be said to breathe and interact with the real world. The most interesting path is to take the gallery and turn it into something else entirely. This has been a surprisingly tentative but radical process since the days when Vladimir Tatlin and Kazimir Malevich got into fistfights over who could hang their work in the corner of the 1915 0.10 Exhibition. Yet it has come to fruition in recent years. Often the core appeal of recent art has been what the artist does with a space and how they remake it, from Ai Weiwei to Louise Bourgeois. In the finest examples, the reconstituted space is the art; for example in the sublime work of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, where you enter less a gallery than a Kafkaesque torture chamber or the hermitage of some mysterious gifted lunatic.’

On Carsten Höller’s LEBEN exhibition at Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna

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The Prisoners

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‘Michelangelo Buonarroti is one of those touched supposedly by the hand of God as a kind of Renaissance saint, even though he continually emphasised that his achievements were hard-earned. The artist left us a vital clue as to the real origins of his brilliance in his series of sculptures that became known as The Prisoners. These statues are haunting, mesmerising works, in which the half-finished writhing figures seem to be for ever trying to wrench themselves free from the stone. The illusion, of course, is that they are the stone, and Michelangelo was a genius not for what he added, but for what he removed. In doing so, he revealed, perhaps in unparalleled terms, the vast potentiality that lies within things and the ingenuity needed to bring it out.’

- On Fritz Wotruba & Michelangelo for Studio International

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The Fourth Man

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‘We are moving across the landscape in a morning dream, a grey-green misted landscape punctuated by churches and palaces. The spires look gothic, Romanesque then eastern, a reminder that the Ottomans were once at the gates and stayed in the sense that an absence can become a presence. The horizon dissolves into the sky until it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins and we’d be lost without the train-tracks, guiding us east. The land vanishes altogether as we enter the tunnels and an underwater pressure forms in the head like the mountain closing up around the Hamlin children. I flick through the history book. Wolves have been sighted within the walls of Vienna. The English ambassador disappears on his journey home. Mozart is buried in a mass grave. My business, if I have one, is elsewhere; to track down the ghost of the poet Georg Trakl…’ Continue reading

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Books, damned books and twitter feeds

52a8a2d2345b0cc15fa20bea30b9b707 I had the pleasure of speaking to Tanvi Misra for CityLab about the forthcoming Imaginary Cities book and the accompanying twitter feed. You can read it here. Continue reading

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Icons of iconoclasm

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‘The portrait has always had the problem of the pose. The most interesting portraits are those that subvert the pretence of the sitter and the situation. This can be done through brutal and beautiful honesty, as evidenced in the work of Rembrandt, Lucian Freud and Jenny Saville, or by suggesting narratives (Vermeer) or symbolic clues (Jan van Eyck). It can be achieved through biting satirical mischief, as in the work of Otto Dix and Raoul Hausmann, or by showing the subjects in positions and scenes that no rational person would want to be publicly viewed in, as in Francis Bacon and Edvard Munch. The greatest icon-makers are often the secret iconoclasts…’ Continue reading

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