Ten wooden sculptures by the German artist Georg Baselitz, each shaped from an individual tree trunk, stand and recline and hover over the daylight-lit rooms of the Serpentine South gallery. Some are enormous, carved with twisting and turning shapes and crude, rough edges. They are at once overpowering yet soft and gentle. And there is humor and humanity in their interactions.
“Georg Baselitz: Sculptures 2011-2015” is the first public showing of this body of work, created between the dates on the title and modelled on himself and his wife Elke, a life-long inspiration and artistic partner, with subjects that reflect on history, personal life, childhood memories. “What is essentially being exhibited is like a cabinet of wonders: a sphere within a sphere within a sphere from a tree trunk with a chainsaw,” says Baselitz of the exhibition.
Two generations of photographers, displayed side-by-side, powerfully capture the lively energy of West Africa. ‘Meeting at the Volta,’ at David Hill Gallery in London, features Sanlé Sory’s gentle studio-shot monochrome portraits of Burkina Faso in the 1960s-80s alongside contemporary photographer Kyle Weeks’ bold and colourful body of work, taken within the last six years on the streets of the Ghanaian capital Accra.
What happens to art and the artist when their work is exhibited outside a traditional gallery space? And do unusual venues and experimental curations set culture free to be explored and experienced in new and exciting ways, and by a public way beyond the original borders? What are the limits and the possibilities?
I put this to Neil Wenman, partner and global creative director at Hauser & Wirth, the leading commercial gallery which has been exploring unusual spaces to present art since opening the Somerset gallery on an old farm in 2014.
Elsa James ‘Ode to David Lammy MP’ (2022) at ‘Rites of Passage’, Gagosian Gallery, Photo Lucy Dawkins
In ‘Rites of Passage’ published in 1909, the anthropologist Arnold van Gennep spoke of the concept of liminality, and how we mark critical transitional events through ceremonies with a ritual function that transcend cultural boundaries.
The idea forms the premise for an interesting exhibition currently at Gagosian Britannia St. London. Borrowing the book’s title, it explores the idea of liminal space through the lens of nineteen contemporary artists, primarily based in the UK, who share the story of migration.
The work on display come in various mediums, for a lively discourse challenging linear narratives and fixed concepts of identity.
It’s good to see such complex and varied conversations around movement, migration – really relevant themes that have to be explored further and further, and through multiple voices and lenses.
‘In Water Lilies #1, I integrate Monet’s Impressionist painting, reminiscent of Zenism in the East, and concrete experiences of my father and me into a digitised and pixelated language,’ explains Ai Weiwei of his latest and largest Lego artwork based on the painter’s Water Lilies (1914-26) and created for Design Museum London to coincide with Ai Weiwei: Making Sense, the artist’s biggest UK show in eight years.
He continues, ‘Toy bricks as the material, with their qualities of solidity and potential for deconstruction, reflect the attributes of language in our rapidly developing era where human consciousness is constantly dividing.’
Depicting the lily pond and garden at his home in Giverny, Normandy, Water Lilies beautifully captures nature’s serene beauty. And by choosing Monet’s painting, but then working with cold plastics and standard colours, Ai wants us to challenge our notion of reality and beauty.
And to add to the disorientation, on the right-hand side sits a dark portal, representing the door to the underground dugout in Xinjiang province where the young artist and his father, one of China’s most renowned poets, Ai Qing, were forced to live in exile in the 1960s. It forms a stark contrast to the waterlily paradise that dominates the scene.
‘Our world is complex and collapsing towards an unpredictable future,’ says Ai. ‘It’s crucial for individuals to find a personalised language to express their experience of these challenging conditions. Personalized expression arises from identifying with history and memories while creating a new language and narrative. Without a personal narrative, artistic narration loses its quality.’
At over 15m long and made from nearly 650,000 studs of Lego bricks in 22 colours, Water Lilies #1 will span the entire length of one of the walls in the Design Museum gallery in London when it goes on exhibition next month.