American Desert Dreams

Photographers Nancy Baron and Pamela Littky explore the familiar and the strange in their studies of Palm Springs and Death Valley

When Nancy Baron and Pamela Littky first met at Paris Photo Los Angeles in 2014, a shared love for photography and similar artistic sensibility cemented their friendship. They had both produced books focused on the American desert, and when the opportunity to collaborate on an joint exhibition recently came up, the pair were excited about the idea. ‘In early January the Kehrer Galerie in Berlin approached us with the idea of showing together,’ says Baron. ‘Nancy and I both thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition,’ adds Littky. 

Their individual interests in the American desert came about in contrasting ways. While Baron had a fascination with the place she calls home – Palm Springs – Littky wanted to discover somewhere unfamiliar. ‘Years ago I was driving from Los Angeles to Las Vegas,’ says Littky. ‘On the drive, a giant water tanker piqued my interest. It said: “Welcome to Baker, CA: Gateway to Death Valley.” To me, it felt so ominous and macabre. I decided I wanted to get out and explore it.’ After several trips out to Baker, California, she started to research the ‘Gateway to Death Valley’. It was then that she discovered there was another town on the other side of Death Valley that shared the same name. ‘The towns bookended this part of the Mojave desert so I knew I had to see what was on the other side.’

Baron’s interest in desert life, on the other hand, came directly from her own experience. After 11 years as a part-time resident, Palm Springs still intrigues her. ‘Regardless of the different lifestyles found in Palm Springs and Death Valley, they are – each in their own way – brilliant examples of the American Dream and its different interpretations. The American desert has a freeing vibe and welcomes non-conformists living on or off the grid.’ 

American Desert Dreams is on show at the Kehrer Galerie in Berlin until May 6

City Nomads: Kazakhstan, 25 years on

 Atomik Architecture and the British Council transport us to Kazakhstan during LDF 2016, where we learn about the country’s vibrant cultural landscape 25 years after its independence from the Soviet Union

Running during London Design Festival 2016,  City Nomads attempts to retrace the country’s history pre- and post-Soviet Union, showcasing the work of contemporary Kazakhstani artists. Through their work, these artists bring forward questions of identity, legacy and memory: have they inherited the nomadic spirit of their forefathers? Has Soviet propaganda erased their history? How has globalisation affected Kazakhstan?

“Participants found answers through different discourse,” explains the show’s curator Asel Yeszhanova, hinting at the wide variety of film, photography, fashion and architecture appearing in the show. Many of these contemporary artists benefitted from the opening of the county’s borders, enabling them to get an education abroad. Bringing their newly-learnt skills back to Kazakhstan, they have paved the way for a new Kazakh identity, found somewhere between their traditional Kazakh culture and their recently-acquired global status.

Here, Yeszhanova and her Atomik Architecture colleague Mike Oades reflect on the changes brought to Kazakhstan by globalisation, the revival of traditional Kazakhstani crafts, and the question of national identity.

Film maker: Katya Suvorova, Photographers: Källström and Thobias Fäldt

Can you tell me about the history of Almaty?

Mike Oades: Almaty is the former capital city of Kazakhstan; Astana became the new capital in 1997 following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It is the largest city in the country and could still be considered the cultural capital of the country.

Not all Almaty’s new citizens arrived willingly. A number of leading dissident politicians, thinkers, writers and artists were exiled to the region. During the Second World War, a number of prominent industrial manufacturers and cultural organisations were relocated there. The legacy of these actions is certainly still felt today and continues to be propagated by the children and grandchildren of a generation of Soviets that made Almaty their home.

How has Kazakhstan been impacted by the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of globalisation?

MO: In Kazakhstan, the effects of globalisation can be seen in the cities, on the streets and in the hands of its people. I’m not convinced that the embrace of global brands and commodities is either blind acceptance or surrender, more an openness and acknowledgement that Kazakhstan is itself a global nation.

How has life been different for this new generation of artists compared with previous generations?

Asel Yeszhanova: With the acquisition of independence we have more freedom, cultural exchange and access to information resources. Open borders have enabled young artists to get an education abroad. There are new formats including  art festivals and exhibitions that bring artists together. It is under these conditions that the work exhibited in City Nomads has been developed, as the younger generation of artists seek the connections to their historical heritage.

It was this awareness of the values and authenticity of Kazakhstan’s cultural and physical landscape that inspired the previous generations of Kazakhstani artists. Their young followers continue this process by bringing a balance between an appeal to the global community and the local audience.

 

Designer: Assel Nussipkozhanova. Photographer – Kairat Temirgali

How have the artists tried to tackle the relationship between Almaty and its nomadic past?

AY: The project participants are all residents of the city. As artists, however, they are always in search of the original and its various meanings. At this historic juncture in the creative industries, there is a tendency to focus on the nation’s roots, on the pre-colonial past; and the work in the exhibition results from the symbiosis of the language of contemporary art and nomadic heritage.

For example, in the collaboration between Assel Nussipkozhanova and Kairat Temirgali, the main character of the story is a girl from a village who comes to the city to study. Her experience is manifested in the form of ornaments and embroidery on her coat (Shapan). Her coat is itself a symbol of nomadism, an element of steppe tradition, which wanders through the territory of the city. The route leads from railway station, to a hostel and eventually a night club. There is a kind of initiation, but the transformation on the Shapan is only external: despite the fact that its surface is generously covered with new illustrations, its shape remains unchanged.

 

Designer: Dias Murzabekov, Collaboration with concept store Experimentarium

What other questions are these artists bringing forward?

AY: One of the goals of the project was to explore the theme of new identity, which may be a constantly changing phenomenon. Nevertheless, for the purpose of the exhibition, we decided that it was important to fix this reality and asked the participants what is valuable for them at this point in time.

Memory has become a key component of the identity of the participants, but for each of them, memory is encoded in different images. For Bota Serikova, it was the ‘dastarkhan’ (a traditional tablecloth used for meals), which in the exhibition takes the form of a folded felt handbag – a container for the possessions and identity of an Almaty citizen.

Designer: Khan Kuchum, Photographer: Oleg Zuev, Model: Timur Bissembayev

How are the inhabitants of Almaty forging a new identity for themselves?

AY: Almaty is at the forefront of creative industries in Kazakhstan. The resources from the Soviet past were concentrated here and a good foundation for future development.

Due to the fact that the status of capital was given to Astana, a void was left for the self-construction of a new identity. It is important for the city to be a cultural centre. To date, the main initiatives that form the image of the city come from below rather than from above. A revival in traditional crafts to invent new forms of art: film; fashion; photography. It is this that is the treasure of Almaty’s cultural landscape – the new identity of the city.

Interview by Cécile Fischer

City Nomads is part of the London Design Festival and runs until September 23 at the British Council

PUNK: Anarchy in the UK

We meet the curator behind a new photography exhibition in London celebrating 40 years of punk in Britain

Four decades ago, London was turned on its head by the arrival of punk youth culture. This summer, London’s Michael Hoppen Gallery celebrates the anniversary with ‘PUNK’ — an exhibition of vintage prints that document the rise of the influential subculture. The photographs on show depict the disillusioned youth that rebelled against the ‘system’, challenged the status quo, and expressed their dissatisfaction by means of the clothes they wore and the music they listened to. With the impetus of designers like Vivienne Westwood (captured with Johnny Rotten in one of the photos on display), and bands such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols, punk spread across the English capital and was in full swing by 1976. Located on Kings Road, the Michael Hoppen Gallery brings it back to Chelsea, where it all started.

Johnny Rotten, Jordan and Vivienne Westwood (1970s) by Ray Stevenson, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

“I think the photographers in the exhibition were trying to capture the energy of a movement in its infancy. Whereas Punk now represents an aesthetic, in the 1970’s it was an anarchist movement,” explains, Clemency Cooke, gallery director at the west London space. “We see these photographs as capturing the experimentalism and revolutionary zeal of Punk prior to it becoming commercialised and neatly pigeon holed in the annals of fashion.” The exhibition showcases some of the most iconic images of the movement, including photographs by Ray Stevenson, who captured punk in all its authenticity and radicalism.

Punk (1970s) by Ray Stevenson, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

“We chose these specific photographers as we believe they captured the irreverent energy of punk in the 1970s. They are all vintage silver gelatin press prints and we love that their scarred and distressed quality mimics the aesthetic of the movement they portray,” adds Cooke. “Their backs are on scribbled and inscribed with notations from the time. They remind the viewer that these were images used by the press to depict a movement when it still had the ability to shock and disturb it’s audience.”

Interview by Cécile Fischer

PUNK runs until 26 August 2016 at the Michael Hoppen Gallery

A Beautiful Disorder: China’s new sculptors

PORT pays a visit to ‘A Beautiful Disorder’, a new exhibition at Cass Sculpture Park on the Goodwood Estate showcasing 18 works from some of China’s most promising young artists

Wang Yuyang, Identity. Photo: Barney Hindle ©2016 CASS Sculpture Foundation
Wang Yuyang, Identity. Photo: Barney Hindle ©2016 CASS Sculpture Foundation

The title and concept for ‘A Beautiful Disorder’, co-curated by Ella Liao and Claire Shea, arises from a quote from French Jesuit artist Jean Denis Attiret. He journeyed to Beijing in the early 1700s, writing to a friend to praise the “beautiful disorder” of Chinese gardens, and how they were able to provoke “violent or opposing sensations”. The letter became hugely influential in English garden culture, as designers, tired of the reign of Formalism, turned to an increasingly expanding world for inspiration. Sir William Chambers — architect to King George III and designer of Kew Gardens — said Chinese gardeners, were “not only botanists but painters and philosophers”.

Song Ta, Why  Do They Never Take Colour Photos? © Cass Sculpture Foundation
Song Ta, Why Do They Never Take Colour Photos? © Cass Sculpture Foundation

Almost 300 years later, a new exhibition at Cass Sculpture Park in Goodwood Estate has once again transplanted Chinese ideals inside 18th century walls. The works on display, comprising 18 pieces (16 of which are site-specific) from emerging Chinese artists, ranging from the monumental to the minute, portray a shifting Chinese landscape that reflects the growth of globalisation, and a new generation’s relationship with Chinese history. “The Chinese artists in A Beautiful Disorder were mostly born in the 1970s and 1980s. They did not experience the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and other political events during that era,” co-curator Ella Lioa explains. “China started the reform and opening-up policies when they were very young, and in some cases, before they were born. Their approach to art is broad – it is not purely political, as the ideology and their individual experiences are totally different to the previous generation.”

Zheng Bo, Socialism Good, Alternathera Plant (Joy Weed) Photo: Barney Hindle © Cass Sculpture Foundation
Zheng Bo, Socialism Good, Alternathera Plant (Joy Weed) Photo: Barney Hindle © Cass Sculpture Foundation

This conversation between the current generation and the one that came before it, is played out conceptually in a majority of the displayed works. The first sculpture to be seen upon entering the park is Zheng Bo’s ‘Socialism Good’, which recreates the titular 1950s slogan in local British flora. Tied to the grounds of Cass (subverting the possibility that the park, in which everything is for sale, could move it along), the work will change with the seasons, and the message disappearing as winter encroaches, and perhaps growing back with a different or unintelligible message in the spring.

Xu Zhen (Produced by MadeIn Company), Movement Field, Chalk, © Cass Sculpture Foundation
Xu Zhen (Produced by MadeIn Company), Movement Field, Chalk, © Cass Sculpture Foundation

These young Chinese artists often satirically point to the transient nature of the power systems that maintain global boundaries. Zheng Bo achieves this by casting a political mantra in an unpredictable flower bed, while Xu Zhen’s ‘Movement Field’ forces the viewer to follow protest paths from the last 50 years (copied from Google Maps), without knowing which protest they are committing to.

Cheng Ran and maquette of Crossroads, © Cass Sculpture Foundation
Cheng Ran and maquette of Crossroads, © Cass Sculpture Foundation

Elsewhere, artist Cheng Ran uses local participants in a film that accompanies his piece, ‘Crossroads’ – a bright white light that provides an unending sunbeam through the dark woods. Cheng Ran’s influences, which stem from New Wave cinema to Chinese ink painting, are representative of the expansive nature of new Chinese art. Art that is interested in redrafting expectations, interweaving cultural and political concerns, as well as different media. Ran’s short film included local British teenagers reciting Chinese poetry, both in English and in Chinese. “It’s about involvement,” Cheng Ran says, adding, somewhat disbelievingly, “They didn’t know anything about Chinese!”

Cui Je, Pigeon's House © Cass Sculpture Foundation
Cui Je, Pigeon’s House © Cass Sculpture Foundation

Cui Je’s work ‘Pigeon’s House’ sits on the edge of the park with the seemingly endless countryside stretching behind it. “Cui Jie’s 4.5m-tall sculpture is an amalgamation of the hybrid architectonic features that now characterise Beijing,” says co-curator Claire Shea. “Elements of Bauhaus practicality, Soviet rigour, Japanese vitalism, and the dynamism of the International Style, are impossibly twisted together into a singular vertical structure, as if by the very torsion of China’s urgent socio-economic development.”

Zhang Ruyi, Pause, Concrete, Dimensions Variable, Photo: Barney Hindle © Cass Sculpture Foundation
Zhang Ruyi, Pause, Concrete, Dimensions Variable, Photo: Barney Hindle © Cass Sculpture Foundation

The smallest work in the show is Zhang Ruyi’s ‘Pause’. She has dotted several electrical sockets and international adapters, cast in industrial concrete, throughout a wooden grove. They would be easy to miss without a guide, but once one is spotted, more and more appear. When I visited, a gaggle of viewers held up phones to try and capture the sockets and the grove in its entirety, but it is impossible to translate through a photo. One cannot see the woods for the plug sockets – an apt aphorism, perhaps, for modern times. “The increasing access to technology changes everything, not only Chinese art. Social media has changed conventional human relationships, with the Internet providing a virtual life,” says Liao. “Like many other artists around the world, Chinese artists appreciate the advantages provided by new technology employing new media, new materials and new methods to realise their work whilst questioning the social problems that accompany these changes.”

The sheer variety of works encompassed within the park is a massive feat. Ranging from grave to quizzical, boldly political to subtly satirical, enigmatic to alarming, Cass and these young artists have created a disorderly exhibition, and one that is certainly beautiful.

A Beautiful Disorder will take place at Cass Sculpture Park from July 3rd-November 6th 2016

Power and Architecture

PORT talks to curator Will Strong and artists Danila Tkachenko and Eric Lusito about photographing ruins and abandoned spaces

Power and Architecture is the theme for Calvert 22’s new season. Between their conferences and workshops, the foundation will host a four-part exhibition series exploring the complex relationship between architecture and its link to power, ambition and influence. Part 2, Dead Space and Ruins, focusses on Soviet architecture as an expression of power and a specific Soviet vision, and looks at how those structures are inherited by the post-Soviet world and citizens. The show sees photographers Danila Tkachenko, Eric Lusito, and Vahram Aghasyan turn their lenses to the decaying architecture of Eastern Europe’s Cold War era, and explore those abandoned ‘dead spaces’. The exhibition also features the UK premiere of Anton Ginzburg’s Turo, which explores the residues of the Soviet Constructuvist vision.

Here, PORT talks to curator Will Strong about the season, and photographers Danila Tkachenko and Eric Lusito discuss the inspiration behind their photographs.

Will Strong

“Across the former Soviet Union there are countless examples of the relationship between architecture and its uses as a device or expression of power. There are many buildings and spaces originally designed with a utopian ideology in mind, situated now in environments inhabited by citizens that no longer applies to. We are interested in what the relationship was between these spaces and the people who live with their legacy in a vast region questing for new national identities.

Power and Architecture is an opportunity for us to explore, both visually and thematically, what these buildings mean in a post-Soviet world.

“The aesthetics of ruined or abandoned spaces from the former Soviet Union and related socialist countries have, in recent years, have been fetishised in Western photography. But the footprint left behind in as large a territory as the USSR is rich; when we are talking about legacy, this is one of the forms it can take.”

Danila Tkachenko

Danila Tkachenko, Headquarters of Communist Party. Bulgaria, Yugoiztochen region, from Restricted Areas Series (2015). Courtesy of the artist.
Danila Tkachenko, Headquarters of Communist Party. Bulgaria, Yugoiztochen region, from Restricted Areas Series (2015). Courtesy of the artist.

“The project began in Ozyorsk, formerly a secret city, which is still a restricted area today. It is possible to enter by special pass, or by invitation of relatives living there (my grandmother still lives there). In 1957, there was an accident known as Kyshtym disaster: an explosion on radioactive waste, which spread contamination hundreds of kilometers beyond the town. The authorities managed to keep the accident secret for several decades. After visiting Ozyorsk, I decided to further explore this conflict between humans and technological progress.

“I am trying to fantasize and imagine the possible future, by documenting the objects and facts which already took place in history. For instance, the interesting fact about Memorial on a Deserted Nuclear Station is that this memorial was built close to the nuclear station which was in the process of construction. It was intended for the workers at the station, to raise the spirits and remind about the greatness of the nation which defeated the fascism. The station was never finished, though; the memorial didn’t have a chance to fulfil its mission.”

Eric Lusito

Eric Lusito, Site 131, 2nd Guards Tank Division, Mongolia, from Traces of the Soviet Empire series, 2009.
Eric Lusito, Site 131, 2nd Guards Tank Division, Mongolia, from Traces of the Soviet Empire series, 2009.

“I decided to go in the Eastern Europe countries with an old camper van and a camera as my only companions. I arrived in July 2002 to Novy Jicin in the Czech Republic, a little lost, I did not speak a word of the language. I met Radek, a young geography teacher, and we became friends and had long conversations in English about how people lived during the communist era.

“Observing my interest one day, he suggested we visit former Soviet military base in the North of the country. It’s a spectacle that is both amazing and desolate, but nonetheless it grabbed my imagination. I began to understand the strength of the Red Army and the fear it inspired. I then made the decision to travel the former Soviet bloc in search of these sites which represented the ambition and power of the USSR.

“These now decaying military buildings and structures once formed the very heart of the Soviet system. Ruins of a recently defunct civilization, these sites of power are doomed to disappear in the course of time.”

Will Strong on Vahram Aghasyan

Vahram Aghasyan, Ghost City, 2005 - 2007.
Vahram Aghasyan, Ghost City, 2005 – 2007.

“In terms of key works, I was drawn to Vahram Aghasyan’s Ghost City. The work documents the city of Gyumri in Armenia, which was hit by a devastating earthquake in the late eighties. The Soviet government responded to this crisis by building new homes for the citizens of Gyumri nearby. However, as the Union began to break down and despite vast amounts of money invested into the project during and after perestroika, these building remain unfinished and left to the elements. I felt that this series embodied very literally the idea of the ghost of a former strive for a future-facing and utopian socialist society.”

Interviews Cécile Fischer

Dead Space and Ruins is an exhibition staged as part of Power and Architecture season by Calvert 22 Foundation. The exhibition will take place from 7 July to 7 August 2016 at Calvert 22 Foundation, 22 Calvert Avenue, London, E2 7JP. For further information, please visit calvert22.org

Daydreaming With Stanley Kubrick

Musician and dj James Lavelle talks to PORT about curating a new exhibition at London’s Somerset House that celebrates the legacy of Stanley Kubrick

Curated by James Lavelle, DJ and artist and founder of Mo’Wax record label and British band UNKLE,Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick is a new exhibition of works by contemporary artists who have been asked to shine new perspective on the iconic film director and his oeuvre. Viewers will be immersed in a multi-dimensional Kubrick experience, containing a wide variety of mediums and a soundtrack created specially for the event by Lavelle.

Here, Lavelle discusses the journey from music to curation, the impact 2001: A Space Odyssey had on him as a teenager, and Kubrick’s influence on his own music.

6. © Warner Bros. Pictures
6. © Warner Bros. Pictures

You already have some curatorial experience behind you, having curated Meltdown Festival in 2014. How does one go from being a musician to an art curator?

It’s always a similar process – the way I make records comes from sample culture, so making music is like putting on a show. It’s a giant collage of trying to put unusual things together that somehow work. Djing is also creating a cohesive flow through different people’s arts, so it’s a similar process, whether it be music or culture.

Which film from Kubrick’s repertoire stands out for you and why?

2001: A Space Odyssey is the first Kubrick film I experienced as a young teenager. It was a life-changing experience for me and opened me up to his world; it heavily influenced my first album Psyence Fiction too.

The theme for this exhibition is based on Stanley Kubrick’s legacy. What sparked the idea?

I started the ‘Daydreaming’ series about five years ago, where I collaborated with artists and music from UNKLE. I wanted to take that idea into the Kubrick world, where artists and creatives from a wide range of influences and techniques could come together to create something special. Kubrick’s legacy is incredibly unique in that his impact is incredibly broad: from film technique through to set design, the language and the posters. It’s an extremely rich canvas to react to – I don’t think there are many other visionaries who had such a diverse influence on the world.

Left: 9. © Warner Bros. Pictures, Right: 7. © Warner Bros. Pictures
Left: 9. © Warner Bros.
Pictures, Right: 7. © Warner Bros. Pictures

How influential has Kubrick been for you, musically?

Hugely. He had such a unique way of using music and was incredibly progressive. For example, using classical music in a science fiction film and he was also the first person to use electronic music in a horror film. His musical process was so innovative and has been a massive influence for me and many others that I have worked with.

Since Kubrick passed, who have been the filmmakers that have caught your eye?

For me, the most interesting directors that spring to mind would be Paul Thomas Anderson, Jonathan Glazer, Alejandro González Iñárritu. As far as new directors, I would be really interested to see what Chris Cunningham would deliver as a feature film.

What part of the exhibition are you most excited for?

I am excited for the exhibition as a whole – it is very much about the whole experience rather than one piece. I am incredibly proud to be working with such amazing artists.

What is next for you?

Next for me is releasing a new UNKLE record and seeing where that takes me, as well as hopefully touring the Kubrick show.

Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick at Somerset House from July 6 until August 24 2016

 

Interview by Cécile Fischer

James Lavelle will also be performing with UNKLE on 17 July as part of Summer Series at Somersethouse.org.uk

Thomas Brown: Volume of Light

Photographer and PORT contributor Thomas Brown discusses his new ‘adoption-based’ exhibition, ‘Volume of Light’

Volume of Light (VoL) is a project by photographer Thomas Brown that started as a series of images, grew into an exhibition, and will culminate into a book due to be released in September. Inspired by websites that allow people to ‘buy’ square metres on the moon, or name a star, VoL invites the viewer to ‘adopt’ one of the 469 photographs Brown created in his studio by scrunching pieces of paper, hanging them on fishing line and bouncing light onto them. Viewers who adopt images get to volunteer a title, which will appear in the limited edition book, right next to the original caption. “I want to know how people are interpreting the work,” he explains, “and this is one way of doing that.”

Here, Brown tells PORT about the inspiration behind the exhibition, why he set up an adoption system and how he is attempting to change the way people view art.

E_151603_0630 Space Has Always Reduced Me To Silence

“I’m fascinated by the way we all perceive our environment and how life experiences, personality or education, can either drastically alter how one person might perceive something over another person, or in fact give them a shared understanding of the same thing. As a commercial photographer, I’m confronted with this phenomena every day, shooting to a brief that might require a certain mood or feel. It’s the translation of these subjective notions into a finished image that makes my job so rewarding/challenging and created the spark for VoL.

“By making all 469 images available for adoption, VoL invites the viewer to collaborate with me. Adoption requires the viewer to volunteer a title; it’s very much my image and your title, together forever.

F_153103_0478 Screw it! BSMJ

“I can’t say VoL offers a new way of experiencing art, people are visually assessing the world every second of the day, but maybe for some people it caused them to think a little more about what they were looking at, or to reflect on their experience of looking. It certainly offered an interesting way to interact at the exhibitions.

“In London, people were lifting the prints of the wall, sometimes collecting a few to compare, before committing to one. It got quite competitive! The exhibitions are just a way for people to come together and experience the images in a physical form; the internet is great, but nothing compares to touching and seeing things en masse.”

D_151103_0208 Pink Lady

Interview Cécile Fischer

Head to volumeoflight.com if you want to take part in the project.

Volume of Light at The Supermarket New-York from June 16 until July 24, 2016.

Dalí in China: A Surreal Legacy

PORT travels to Shanghai for the opening of a new exhibition exploring the relationship of one of the 20th century’s greatest artists, Salvador Dalí, and his relationship with the media

Napoleon's Nose, Transformed into a Pregnant Woman, Strolling His Shadow with Melancholia amongst Original Ruins (1945, Oil on canvas, 51.00 x 65.50 cm) © Image Rights of Salvador Dalí reserved. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015
Napoleon’s Nose, Transformed into a Pregnant Woman, Strolling His Shadow with Melancholia amongst Original Ruins, Salvador Dalí (1945, Oil on canvas, 51.00 x 65.50 cm) © Image Rights of Salvador Dalí reserved. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015

There’s a scrum at the opening of MEDIA – DALÍ at the K11 Art Mall in Shanghai. Those lucky enough to be on the guestlist have massed at the top of an escalator, adorned in flashing lip-shaped Salvador Dalí badges, as the guards are calling for calm. It is a testament to the popularity of both Dalí and the ever-growing curiosity for art in China that I have to fight my way through the restless, excitable crowd to reach the exhibition space below.

In the quiet before the exhibition opened, I sat down with Adrian Cheng who, apart from administering a vast portfolio of property, hotels and the largest jewellery company in the world, founded the K11 Art Foundation (KAF) in 2010.

“I realised the Chinese art ecosystem was very fragmented,” Cheng explains, when I ask him why he decided to establish the non-profit organisation. “There wasn’t a lot of audience development – most people won’t go to galleries or museums – but there is a lot of good talent and good curators here. So my vision was simple: I needed to create a new art ecosystem for China.”

Salvador Dalí in 1950s © Image Rights of Salvador Dalí reserved. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015
Salvador Dalí in 1950s © Image Rights of Salvador Dalí reserved. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015

Despite the ambition of the project, the KAF has, in a few short years, already partnered with some of the biggest institutions in western contemporary art, including the ICA in London, and the Centre Georges Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo in Paris. Following the success of Claude Monet – The Master of Impressionism at the K11 ‘Art Mall’ in 2014, this exhibition aims to explore the legacy of surrealism in Chinese contemporary art through the work of one of the 20th century’s most iconic artists.

“Dalí is the epitome of surrealism,” Cheng tells me, when I ask him why he chose to partner with the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, based in Figueres, Spain. “He is very well known here, so it’s a great way to attract people to the exhibition and to get them interested in learning about art.”

Left: PAN. Cover © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015. Right: TIME. Cover © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015
Left: PAN. Cover © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015. Right: TIME. Cover © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015

The exhibition is the product of five years of research by curator Montse Auger Teixidor, and focusses on Dalí’s relationship with the mass-media and how, in addition to painting and sculpture, he used newspapers, magazines, adverts and film to disseminate surrealist ideas. After appearing on the front cover of TIME magazine (shot by Man Ray) at the age of 32, Dalí’s profile, and his moustache, blossomed. His image – associated with mystery, originality and genius – became a regular presence on newsstands and billboards across the world. But Teixidor believes Dalí used this public persona to embody the themes of his painting and sculpture.

“I wanted to talk about his artistic output as a whole, and that includes Dalí as a work of art himself,” Teixidor says, explaining the concept behind the exhibition. “He was always looking for new inspiration, new forms of art – he was the first artist in the 20th century to use self-promotion.”

Loaned mostly from the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, where Teixidor is director for Dalinian studies, the extensive collection of magazines on display at MEDIA – DALÍ charts the establishment of this curated celebrity status.

Left: American Fabrics. Cover © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015. Right: New Yorker. Advertisement [Bryan's Hosiery] © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015.
Left: American Fabrics. Cover © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015. Right: New Yorker. Advertisement © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2015.

Whether it is the dream sequence for the Hitchcock film Spellbound, his set design for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde or an animated film – a collaboration with Walt Disney that was not released until 2003 – the exhibition makes clear that Dalí could imbue any medium with his idiosyncratic style.
Comparing Dalí’s less traditional works with the 12 oil paintings on display gives the viewer a comprehensive grounding in Dalí’s particular brand of surrealism, but it also helps to make the exhibition accessible. In taking work not just from the rarified world of painting and sculpture, but from familiar mediums like magazines and adverts, the curators ensure that the exhibition will engage with a wider audience. It is this broad appeal that Cheng hopes will also encourage the viewers to be curious about their own culture.

“We’re grooming the Chinese audience – we’re attracting them to the exhibition but also getting them interested in learning about art,” he explains. “It’s a great way to tell them about the legacy of surrealism in artists from their own country and to expose young artists.”

Left: The exterior of the K11 “Art Mall” in Shanghai replicated Dalí's design of the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres © KAF. Right: “Clothes Rack”, Zhang Enli (1995, Oil on canvas, 160 x 100 cm)
Left: The exterior of the K11 “Art Mall” in Shanghai replicated Dalí’s design of the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres © KAF. Right: “Clothes-Rack”, Zhang Enli (1995, Oil on canvas, 160 x 100 cm)

To this end, MEDIA – DALÍ is accompanied by two subsidiary shows that reflect on this legacy. Organised by Hong Kong-based curator Robin Peckham, the contemporary works are split between Shanghai Gesture, focusing on work from the first generation of Chinese contemporary artists from the 1980s, and Our Real, Your Surreal, which considers how the language of surrealism has entered the vernacular of emerging Chinese artists.

Clothes Rack, a work from 1995 by the painter Zhang Enli, is one of the works exhibited in Shanghai Gesture. “Before the 80s, no-one had heard of Dalí in China”, he tells me, when I meet him at his studio on the outskirts of Shanghai. “When Surrealism and Dalí came to Hong Kong, it was an inspiration for the Chinese.”

Peckham agrees and with Enli but believes Dalí’s legacy goes beyond simply introducing surrealism into China: “For young artists, Dalí showed that you could use humour in art and he proved that you could be engaged in painting and still have a multi-media practice in video, performance or conceptual art”.

Study for the Backdrop of Mad Tristan (Act II), Salvador Dalí, 1944 , oil on canvas. © KAF
Study for the Backdrop of Mad Tristan (Act II), Salvador Dalí, 1944 , oil on canvas. © KAF

In the work of the emerging artists of Our Real, Your Surreal, Dalí’s influence is not immediately apparent. The installation, video and paintings by six artists from the Chinese mainland do not draw on surrealist tropes, namely the unexpected visual juxtaposition that features so heavily in Dalí’s art. But through the freedom and possibilities that Dalí’s work offers – the “imaginative training” in the words of Ye Funna one artist from the exhibition – he has played a vital role in the development of Chinese contemporary art after 1979.

Some date the end of surrealism to Dalí’s death in 1989, but most accept that it ended much earlier than that. Despite this it was Dalí’s art that inspired a new generation of artists in a country just beginning to open up to the rest of the world.

“There’s always been an interest, a curiosity in Dalí,” Teixidor says of the artist’s enduring, global appeal, “and I think there always will be.”

MEDIA – DALÍ runs at the Chi K11 Art Space in Shanghai until 15 February 2016

We select an evening wear edit inspired by the Surrealist movement

Bed Time Stories with the Kray Twins

On the eve of a major new Joe Machine exhibition, curator Laurence Johns considers why he may be Britain’s most relevant living artist

Left: The Krays – Right: Member of a Rival Firm with a Razor Slash
Left: The Krays – Right: Member of a Rival Firm with a Razor Slash

I first came across the work of British artist Joe Machine at a Billy Childish exhibition in 2009. Since then I have sold many of his paintings, but the one thing that I have often failed to convey in any description is that ‘certain something’ that I, and those that collect Joe’s work, see in his art.

I used to assume it was some intangible thing, something about the duality of the human condition; the thin line between love, anger and the human need for contact that is present in all his work. Vibrant greens amongst a snowy landscape, the regal purples of a Russian fairy tale or the ruby red of a slashed face. Joe’s work is traditional, brutal, crude, uncomfortable and violent, yet is also refined, lonely and vulnerable. It has a sense of timelessness about it, but contains an element central to its message that still I cannot put a word on.

While hanging his current show, The Krays: Bed Time Stories at East London’s Lollipop Gallery, it become clear to me what that ‘something’ is. It’s Englishness. Not English in the ‘stiff upper lip, ‘cucumber sandwich and cream teas’ kind of way, but still very English.

The Twins with Violet
The Twins with Violet

What Joe captures in his work is the outsider – the underbelly, the parts of England that we don’t like to address, but that we all know are there. The artist presents an England of bare-knuckle fighting, of dogfights by the docks, of criminals glorified to the status of mythical kings, of eccentricity and of confrontation. Joe’s England is a violent and rugged land with an understanding of structure, and it’s this knowing look at England’s ‘underclass’ that makes Joe’s work so vital.

Above: Ronnie Kray Cutting a Man in a Pub. Below: Valence Road.
Above: Ronnie Kray Cutting a Man in a Pub – Below: Valence Road

The Krays: Bed Time Stories shows the dark heart of England and holds up a mirror to its bestial, violent and proud subconscious. What’s reflected is an internal landscape forged between the clash of fists and metal, of desperate men and sensual women, of right and wrong, and of sex and aggression. Joe’s Britain is a landscape where fear, anger, love, hate, violence and sex stagger together through its backstreets looking for meaning. Like William Blake, Joe is not interested in the England that England thinks it is; Joe is interested in England’s dark satanic mills.

The Krays: Bed Time Stores runs from November 13 to December 13 at The Lollipop Gallery, 58 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LT. For more information click here

Donald Judd: 101 Spring Street

Presented within his own studio, a new Donald Judd exhibition in Manhattan provides an insight into the life and work of a multidisciplinary artist

101 Spring Street – Image © Judd Foundation
101 Spring Street – Image © Judd Foundation

Donald Judd was an artist and designer famous for his minimalism; his use of straight lines and block colours has inspired a generation of both fashion and furniture designers. In other areas of his life, however, Judd was not so fond of established boundaries.

A politically active figure in the 1960s US art scene, Judd fought to save his studio space in 101 Spring Street, SoHo, New York, from being flattened by a planned highway connecting East and West Manhattan. He won his case, and went on to successfully lobby for a change in New York zoning laws, allowing artists to convert disused industrial buildings into live-work spaces.

101 Spring Street became one such studio. It housed a mixture of debates, performances, and creative activities, all curated and encouraged by Judd during his lifetime. Over the studio’s five spacious floors, Judd often exhibited his own art collection, which included over 1000 works of art and design he collected on his many trips around the world.

The studio has since undergone a complete restoration courtesy of the Judd Foundation, run by Donald Judd’s son and daughter, Flavin and Rainer. And as part of Donald Judd: Prints, an intimate new exhibition backed by Swedish fashion brand COS, Judd’s work is shown in the studio space he designed, neatly reflecting his views on the relationships between art, architecture, and design. Having found a fitting home in 101 Spring Street, the works provide an insightful look into the life of multidisciplinary artist and creative political force.

Here, PORT talks to the Head of Menswear Design at COS, Martin Andersson, about the exhibition and the lasting influence of Judd’s work.

Donald Judd: Prints, Bed 32 with Untitled, 1992-1993, set of ten woodcuts, 58.8 x 79 cm (23 x 30 ¾in), Schellmann 270, Ground Floor, 101 Spring Street, NY Image © Judd Foundation Photo credit: Sol Hashemi / Judd Foundation Archive Licensed by VAGA
Donald Judd: Prints, Bed 32 with Untitled, 1992-1993, set of ten woodcuts, 58.8 x 79 cm (23 x 30 ¾in), Schellmann 270, Ground Floor, 101 Spring Street, NY
Image © Judd Foundation
Photo credit: Sol Hashemi / Judd Foundation Archive
Licensed by VAGA

101 Spring Street seems like an apt place to exhibit Judd’s work. What do you think this setting add to the viewer’s experience?

As it is set within Donald Judd’s one-of-a-kind loft spaces, this installation offers an intimacy and immediacy which is unmatched in museum settings.

A part of the installation that I personally love is the integrated Judd-designed furniture that guests can use. This really creates a gathering space where visitors can experience Judd’s collection, home and the incredible prints.

How do you think Judd’s influence is still felt today and in what ways?

Judd’s work feels very timeless and we certainly find his work extremely relevant. Everything from his large sculptures located around the world, to the prints and furniture that you can see at 101 Spring Street, has an air of modernity to it.

Donald Judd: Prints, Seat/Table/Shelf/Seat 59 with Untitled, 1990, set of seven woodcuts, 60 x 80cm (23 ½ x 31 ½ in), Schellmann 199, Ground Floor, 101 Spring Street, NY Image © Judd Foundation Photo credit: Sol Hashemi / Judd Foundation Archive Licensed by VAGA
Donald Judd: Prints, Seat/Table/Shelf/Seat 59 with Untitled, 1990, set of seven woodcuts, 60 x 80cm (23 ½ x 31 ½ in), Schellmann 199, Ground Floor, 101 Spring Street, NY
Image © Judd Foundation
Photo credit: Sol Hashemi / Judd Foundation Archive Licensed by VAGA

Donald Judd’s work often plays with colour and proportion in surprising ways, while retaining its sense of minimalism. How does this relate to COS’ design values?

The core areas we look to in design are timelessness, modernity and functionality.

An area where we feel especially close to Judd’s work is the way in which we use proportion in an unexpected way. We look to reinvent timeless wardrobe pieces, like the white shirt or classic blazer, and the way in which we achieve this is by playing with the proportions of the styles or details. The colour and symmetry of Judd’s prints is also something we come back to season after season.

Prints: Donald Judd runs at 101 Spring Street until December 19 2015