Ai Weiwei at the Royal academy

This week I visited the Ai Weiwei exhibition at the Royal Academy.  I am a bit late really, most of my friends were there weeks ago and if you haven’t been yet, well get a move on!

Ai Weiwei needs little introduction and there is so much written about him by people who know a great deal more than me so I shall not even go there.   However, I think the exhibition is worthy of a blog.  As an aspiring artist I am always intrigued by the work of people who have become household names.  What makes them so famous that we must flock to see their exhibitions?  Is it what they stand for or the beauty of their art?

Ai Wei Wei, art review

Weiwei’s work is his expression of his campaign for free speech and human rights.  But I wonder how many of the people gazing with wonder at the Bicycle Chandelier spend any time at all considering the thinking behind it.  The art speaks of conditions in Weiwei’s homeland but its mesmerising beauty risks masking something of that for me.  I find myself so overwhelmed by the beauty of the repetitive patterns in the bicycles and also in his marble that I fear that it is too easy to forget the story behind it.

I still remember seeing his Sunflower Seeds at Tate Modern back in 2010 and the stir which they caused.  When I visited the Tate it was still possible to interact with the seeds and people of all ages were to be seen lying in the installation, creating ‘sunflower seed angel pictures’ sieving them through their hands and simply sitting within the drifts of ceramic pieces.  But precisely how many of them were giving a single thought to the message behind them I wonder.  Correct me if I am wrong but is it not true that if one turns a comment into a thing of beauty or fascination, does one risk almost everyone missing the point?  And if I am correct, should art which speaks of ugly situations, such as the consequences of an earthquake or suppression of free speech be so beautiful?

Get Outside and Get Looking!

ab2ed00f563201a378a3056b5b55cc61[1]This week I decided that it was high time I got outside and had a look to see what is going on.  It seems ages since I took in any exhibitions and I have been so shut up in my own little world that it was about time to open my eyes!

I went to see the exhibition of Gordon Baldwin’s work at Eskine Hall and Co just off Piccadilly, London.  This is a lovely, light gallery which specialises in contemporary and 20th century ceramics to which I have enjoyed a number of visits over the last few years.

I didn’t realise, until after I got home and looked Gordon Baldwin up in David Whiting’s book on Modern British Potters, that Baldwin has an interest in the coast and the sea.  His work reflects his exploration of space and the elements.  Maybe that is why it appealed so strongly to me.  The exhibition contains some fabulous, sculptural pieces.

Today's pebble is brought to you via my pocket from Towan Beach, St Antony in Roseland, Cornwall.
Today’s pebble is brought to you via my pocket from Towan Beach, St Antony in Roseland, Cornwall.

I think my absolute favourites have to be Baldwin’s Paintings in the Form of Bowls.  I love the rounded shapes and the idea of a three dimensional canvas on which his mark making is understated and minimalist with a limited pallet on a dry, white background.   Whiting describes his work: ‘at their quietest and most concentrated these objects are often most akin to the shapes and textures of stones, washed and worn by the sea’.  It certainly resonated strongly with someone who always has a pebble from the beach in my pocket, for no other reason than to be able to feel and touch the coast at all times where ever I happen to be land locked.

I know now that Baldwin is renowned for not becoming embroiled in ceramic debate but, whilst I was in the gallery looking at his work I could not help feeling that my experience might have been enhanced by knowing more about the man and his work.  I was certainly not going to gain any deeper understanding from the exhibition catalogue which is extremely economical on word count!  I suppose the counter to this would be that it serves me right for not looking him up before I went.  But I am not in the habit of looking the artist up before I go.  I never have been.  On the one hand this could be put down to idleness however, the question which I am constantly up against is this; would knowing more have enhanced my experience or was it better to go and view the work with little knowledge of the man or his work and then to investigate him more deeply afterwards?  Now that I have a mildly better understanding I suspect that this was the right order to do things in, this time at least.  It made me look more carefully than I might have done if I had already discovered that Whiting considers Baldwin’s pieces ‘difficult to know’.  That might have scared me away!