Art Chronicles: Malevich at Tate Modern

 

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In a not dissimilar way to Tate Modern’s Arshile Gorky retrospective in 2010, its current (till October 26th) – and, it seems to me, if you have any interest in 20th century art, unmissable – Malevich exhibition shows him moving through a range of early influences as he searches for a style of his own. So, as with Gorky, there are brushes with the Post-Impressionism of Cezanne and then the early Cubism of Picasso and Braque, as he moves towards a personal form of abstraction which takes him in a very different direction, leading to his famous, or infamous, Black Square, which seemed to block out/black out all that had gone before: an iconic full stop that would propel him towards the splendour of colour and form that he was to call Suprematism.

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To stand in Room 7, at the pivotal centre of this exhibition, is to be surrounded by a glorious and controlled outpouring of image and ideas that was to dissolve only a few years later in the wake of Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

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Painting died, Malevich said, like the old regime, because it was an organic part of it.

He taught, and, when his work resumed it signalled a return, under the increasing strictures of Stalinism and Socialist Realism, to landscape, figuration and portraiture. With his death in 1935, his work all but disappeared from view, only re-emerging, in part, in the 1950s; it was not until the 1980s that his Black Square painting would be displayed again.

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Photography: Red for Go

Wandering purposefully round the Tate Modern exhibition of William Eggleston photographs with my daughter, and, for once, getting my  hands on the camera, I chance this shot …

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… which set me delving into her archive to prise out a selection from the photographs she’s taken over the last couple of years incorporating the colour red.

All these photos © Molly Ernestine Boiling.

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Art Chronicles: Saloua Raouda Choucair

Barely known in this country, little known one suspects outside her native Lebanon, the artist Salouda Raouda Choucair is the subject of a new exhibition at Tate Modern, a small – just four rooms – but altogether delightful show which concentrates on her abstract paintings – mostly gouache on paper – and the wood or stone sculptures she concentrated on making from the mid-1950s onwards. Now in her nineties, but no longer making new work, this is Choucair’s first major retrospective in this country and may, indeed, be one of very few outside Lebanon itself.

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Influenced both by western modernism – between 1948 and 1952 she was in Paris, where she worked in Leger’s studio and from where she travelled to Marseilles to visit a modernist housing project designed by Le Corbusier – and, predominantly, by the curve and line of much Islamic art, Choucair’s abstract paintings are quite beautiful, their geometric patterns lit up and softened by an exquisite use of colour. There are similarities, in a number of the pieces, to the work being produced by Ben Nicholson at a similar time, and one work in particular is so reminiscent of a David Bomberg that I had to look twice to make sure I hadn’t been confused.

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The sculptures, many of them very much architecturally based, are impressive for the use of basic materials – several of the wooden pieces, in particular, just cry out to be touched – and the intricacies of their sequential form.

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All in all, it’s a very pleasing and welcome show and thanks are due to Tate for introduced me to the work of an artist of whom I’d previously been ignorant.

 

 

Photography: Simon Norfolk & Afghanistan

In the small Level 2 gallery at Tate Modern – a space I’d not seen used before – there’s a compelling exhibition of contrasting photographs of Afghanistan, some taken by the Victorian photographer, John Burke, during the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-1880, the others by Simon Norfolk in 2010. The exhibition’s there till July 10th and I urge anyone interested in photography or what’s happening – politically, militarily –  in Afghanistan, to go and see it if they can.

Norfolk has photographed in Afghanistan before, in 2001, and there his work, as he says, was “informed by romantic paintings of the 18th century, with their golden light of progress. The, despite the destruction, there seemed to be some kind of opportunity, a better future perhaps; rational, perfectible. A liminal moment at the close of one thing and the beginning of something new.”

This is different.

Taking as their starting point – and their inspiration – the albums of photographs that Burke made towards the end of the 19th century, Norfolk’s images – through the way they often mirror or comment upon the Victorian originals – place the current conflict squarely in the line of British imperialist endeavour, an endeavour which, Norfolk suggests, will fail in part due to a lack of historical awareness.

“The lack of an historical perspective on the part of the West allows them to blunder back for the fourth time thinking that you can turn Afghans into western liberal democrats and feminists by bombing them.”

As he explains in the excellent little film which accompanies the exhibition – and which gives him ample opportunity to make clear his attitude, vent his anger – Norfolk uses the beauty of his photographs – and they are, some of them, strikingly, if astringently beautiful – to lure us in, to capture our attention for long enough that we might consider what is actually being photographed – evidence, for instance, of the vast spread of military bases – Kandahar  is the biggest NATO airbase in the world, with more air traffic that Gatwick Airport – and consider its implications.

Which are bleak, indeed.

As Norfolk says …

‘The war in 1878 was based in false intelligence about how popular our presence would be; all our money was pitched on corrupt politicians who were less popular than they promised; lies about the efficacy of our military technologies and methods – and all this driven along by colonial politicians in the grip of an ideology that was more important that reality. Does any of this sound familiar?”