Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Lecture Notes: Valerie Fraser on Stubbs/Perez

Amador Perez, Drawing 1

It’s always good to have more than one pair of eyes focusing on a work of art. The other day after lecturing on 18th century landscape painting I arranged for us to look at a couple of drawings from our collection of Latin American art based on a painting by George Stubbs of 1786. The original, now in Tate Britain, shows a very successful team – jockey John Larkin on the racehorse Otho – both very stiff and proud against a stormy sky. 

200 years later, in 1986, Brazilian Amador Perez reworked aspects the picture on a very small scale - we were taking it in turns to get a really close squint - and guess what? Sharp-eyed students spotted things in one of the drawings that I'd never noticed: a white horse with no rider and just a suggestion of wings, and a horse and rider conflated into a sort of blurry centaur who instead of a riding crop holds a bow and arrow. Wonderful! Perez is extending ideas of the speed, power and man-horse teamwork involved in horse racing into the realms of mythology – of Pegasus the winged horse, and Sagittarius, the bow-and-arrow carrying centaur.

So thank you, students, for helping me see Perez more clearly, and thanks too to Perez for helping me to see Stubbs in a new light. Very satisfying.

George Stubbs, Otho with John Larkin up

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Exhibition Spotlight: Radical Geometry at the RA

By Suzanne Nolan

Radical Geometry: Modern Art of South America from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection opens at the Royal Academy on the 5th of July, and runs until the 28th of September. The exhibition

"spans a dynamic periods of South America art, charting the emergence of several distinct artistic movements in the cities of Montevideo (Uruguay), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Caracas (Venezuela), from the 1930s to 1970s."

In addition, the exhibition is co-curated by two of the Art History department's alumni, Dr. Adrian Locke and Gabriel Perez-Barreiro, which makes it doubly exciting for us. I was lucky enough to have been invited to the Press View on the 1st of July, and a number of our staff, alumni, and friends went along to the Preview event that evening.

Carlos Cruz-Diez's Physichromie No 500, 1970
Photo: Royal Academy of Arts

I should start by saying that it was a roaring success, and I have no doubt that it will continue to be exceptionally popular while open. Even for people who know little to nothing about Latin America Art. The timing of the exhibition has been perfect - as the world looks across to Latin America for the World Cup, so more light is being shed of the culture of the South American countries.

And what a culture it is. While the works were clearly inspired by the likes of Kandinsky, each takes on a unique perspective. Presented with abstract geometry, I was impressed with just how the works affected me as I walked through the space. While Abstraction developed in Europe, these South American artists have taken it above and beyond, and deftly made it their own. Their use of lines and shading recall pre-Columbian motifs and architecture, developing a modern artistic style while retaining their heritage.

Joaquín Torres-García’s Construction in White and Black, 1938

And the exhibition has been masterfully put together. Moving through the Sackler Wing, the works jump from the light grey walls in a flurry of bold colour and design. The clean, dull aesthetic of the space itself allows the works to shine, and allows them to have the impact they so clearly deserve.

Stepping through the rooms, you will eventually be faced head on with Jesús Soto's Nylon Cube (1990). This piece alone deserves special recognition. It is fun and dynamic on its own, but placed within he centre of the room, it adds new dimensions to the works around it. Looking through the nylon treads at the other Venezuelan artists gives new perspectives to otherwise stand-alone pieces. It creates another gallery entirely, looking through Soto's eyes.

I cannot recommend this exhibition more. It combines beautiful aesthetic with excellent design to create an exhibition that really does present a 'radical reappraisal' of the movements, the countries, and the decades it spans. Not only that, but that Art History at Essex has been involved in the making of two such talented Curators - well, that's just a bonus.