Art News and Articles

Monday, August 08, 2005

What a carve-up: Richard Cork on why David Nash's organic sculptures are much more than dead wood

On one lofty wall of the beach-facing gallery at Tate St Ives, David Nash has made a monumental charcoal drawing. It traces the epic, 26-year journey of his Wooden Boulder from its origins high up in the Vale of Ffestiniog down to the Irish Sea. Having used a chainsaw to hew the boulder from a stricken oak tree, Nash followed the progress of his wayward sculpture as it tumbled over waterfalls, rested in pools, floated down the main valley river and then moved restlessly around the Dwyryd Estuary. After becoming stranded on a sandbank and then loitering in a salt marsh, it finally disappeared in April 2003.

Nash had known the boulder would vanish one day, but he is still searching the estuary creeks in the hope that it might reappear. The lengthy peregrination of his sculpture is recorded in a film at Tate St Ives, tracing the meandering path it took through the Welsh countryside. The aftermath of the boulder's disappearance is melancholy, but Nash's drawing does not rule out the sculpture's re-emergence in the future. Watching the waves advance on Porthmeor Beach outside, visitors can imagine his boulder bobbing through the surf one day and ending up on white Cornish sand.

Although Nash has lived and worked in Blaenau Ffestiniog since the late 1960s, when he purchased the Victorian chapel where an impressive collection of his sculpture is still housed, St Ives provides a felicitous context for his work. The act of carving, no less than the concentration on fundamental geometric form, links him immediately with Barbara Hepworth. Like her, Nash has made his home in a remote part of Britain. He also shares Hepworth's early commitment to the importance of "carving direct", as well as her passion for simplifying the language of sculpture. The cube, the sphere and the pyramid dominate this exhibition, but there is nothing dry or limiting about Nash's geometric abstraction. Instead of letting it become rigid and predictable, he always allows these forms to be shaped by his profound understanding of wood.

Nash always uses unseasoned wood from fallen or uprooted trees. After he has sliced it with his chainsaws, the material begins to warp, wrinkle and crack. The changes are as inevitable as they are unpredictable. Dramatic black fissures run up the side of Coil, where he has also retained a strong sense of the original oak trunk. It curves and bulges, asserting the vitality of organic life before suddenly opening up to reveal a shadowy cavity within.

Coil began with a mistake--a "wrong cut". Nash is attentive enough to the character of wood to benefit from happy accidents of this kind, yet he would never let any Hepworth-like belief in "truth to materials" push him to be passive. Reserving the right to impose his own imaginative priorities on the material, he created the tall cluster of lime called Sheaves by cutting vertical lines into the pale wood. Viewed from the front, they possess a stern and unyielding authority, but from the side, Nash still allows the tree's original identity to assert itself more strongly.

Hepworth was the first British sculptor to cut right through her block, implying that the inner void had a vital role to play in the finished carving. Nash followed suit when he made Elm Frame, Fourteen Cuts. As well as administering 14 equidistant slices to the wood all the way along its surface, he opened it up from front to back. So the conventional notion of sculpture as a three-dimensional bulk is challenged.

The rival claims of strength and fragility also nourish his work. In an upstairs room, we find Crack and Warp Column stretching towards the ceiling. Carved out of lime, its bleached colour lends the work a sense of vulnerability. So does the incessant horizontal cutting, administered at regular intervals from base to summit. The work resembles a column of plates, stacked one on top of the other, ready to crash. For all its potential frailty, however, Crack and Warp Column suggests a proud inner resilience.

Nash finds the textures, ages, colours and structures of wood inexhaustibly fascinating. He makes us return to them over and again, appraising the intrinsic qualities of oak, beech or elm as if for the very first time. But he is also prepared to expose his material to ordeal by fire, turning wood into carbon. The final room for his Tate show is inhabited by a trio of large burnt forms: a cube, a sphere and a pyramid. Ranged in a row, these dramatically blackened works recall Plato's idea that we all know geometric forms from our experience of the spiritual world. They look utterly removed from human comprehension, and implacably bound up with death.
In this respect, Nash's charred carvings seem timely as well as primordial. They reflect our troubled 21st-century world, where the urge to burn and destroy has taken on a new vehemence. At the same time, the resilience of the cube, sphere and pyramid is oddly heartening. They have undergone the fury of the flames only to emerge defiant, intact and immutable.

"David Nash: making and placing abstract sculpture 1978-2004" is at Tate St Ives, Cornwall TR26 (01736 796 226) until 26 September

by Richard Cork

Notebook: buying video art is not at all simple. Artists sell to who they like, and dictate how the work is shown

Apparently, eight million of us in the UK would like to hang a piece of original art on our walls. Not only that: we would like to own it. According to the Contemporary Art Society, which buys artworks for municipal galleries across the land, we are all closet Saatchis, only lacking the finances and possibly the confidence to follow Britain's best-known art collector. Indeed, he is the only one most people know. Whereas American collectors are happy to have entire wings of galleries--or, indeed, entire galleries--named after them, and are wont to appear on the internet smiling broadly in front of their Damien Hirst spot paintings, British collectors are almost fanatically secretive.

That is perhaps why so many people turned out on a recent snowy night in London to debate the value, and point, of collecting. Well, there were two reasons. First, the event offered the intriguing presence of a pair of real-life collectors. Second, it was held at Sketch, the wildly chic venue in Mayfair that serves tea in oval china bowls and patisserie with edible flowers.
The event was organised by Blood, a group that arranges gallery trips and chats with art insiders for would-be art collectors. On this occasion, the professionals were Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaitre, a French, London-based couple who have been buying since 1982. This was when Jean-Conrad, having been to a public exhibition of abstract art in Barcelona, was amazed to see a painting by one of the artists in the show for sale at a private gallery. He immediately bought it, kicking off a passion for those little red dots that indicate a piece has been sold.

For the past ten years, he and Isabelle have been focusing on video art, which they insist is a perfect genre for the contemporary collector. Isabelle explains that they like to invite people round to see their latest video--"just as, in the olden days, you might have said, 'Come and see my etchings'." Presumably the other meaning of "Come and see my etchings" has yet to make the leap into French parlance.

The Lemaitres appear to have made pretty decent inroads into the field, owning pieces by the Turner Prize-winner Gillian Wearing, Mark Wallinger and Tacita Dean. They dismiss notions that a spool of videotape is less "precious" than a canvas, and explain that they buy only original pieces or work in limited editions. It's not a simple purchase, either. Artists can dictate who buys their work and, once it has been bought, how it is shown. "Some prefer to have their work screened on a projector, some to have it screened on a monitor," explains Jean-Conrad. "Why is this a problem? This work is like a child to them. You wouldn't just let your child go to anyone, would you?" He brushed aside questions about discounts and investments and the considerable status of the collector from both the private sector and public galleries, which perhaps hope to be lent an important work. These, he said, were not good reasons to be in the game of collecting.
Yet they are reasons, and perhaps why Blood members are so keen to join the group's monthly trawls around the city's galleries looking for the next big thing. As our market expert explained, if only you'd had the foresight to buy Hirst's shark, you would now be sitting on a tidy profit. Having bought it in 1991 for [pounds sterling]50,000, Charles Saatchi sold it in January for nearly [pounds sterling]7m.

By Rosie Millard

Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement: Reality and Imagination

Gardens of the Arts and Crafts Movement: Reality and Imagination. Judith B. Tankard. Harry N. Abrams. [pounds sterling]29.95. 216 pages. ISBN 0-8109-4965-2. The Arts and Crafts movement is remembered for its houses, cottages, furniture, fabrics and wall-coverings but not as frequently for its gardens. In this survey Miss Tankard sets out to remedy this by reminding us of the gardens created to surround houses increasingly based on 'the local vernacular'. She quotes the German architectural historian, Hermann Muthesius who described the movement's goal as 'garden, house, and interior--a unity'. The new gardens looked to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for inspiration. They were 'intimate in scale, with soothing colours and textures' and often had buildings such as pergolas constructed in the same material as the house. Through a copious use of illustrations, for which Abrams is famous, the author looks at the background and then examines various aspects such as the influence of the Cotswolds, the work of William Morris, William Robinson, Gertrude Jekyll and Lutyens and the movement's influence abroad. The Arts and Crafts movement gave England not only some beautiful houses but also some beautiful gardens whose genius has been captured in this stimulating and pleasing book. (P.P.F.)

In the World of Forgery, No Work is Sacred - art and collectible forgeries and how to recognize them

By Barden Prisant

Though technology and clever crooks have kept the business of forgery thriving, there are ways to spot fakes and avoid being swindled

Art forging is a worldwide and age-old problem. "It plagues the industry" said U.S. memorabilia publisher Ken Thimmel. "We have been pursuing cases for 120 years," stated Nicholas Edgar, director of marketing for the British publisher Rosenstiel's.

When it comes to forgery--from paintings and sculptures to prints and collectibles--nothing is sacred. In the art world, forgery can occur in all of these categories. According to Thimmel, president of All American Collectibles, the FBI estimates that fully 70 percent of the signed memorabilia in circulation is phony. More specifically, Dave Cunningham, the collectibles expert on, asserts that 90 percent of autographed baseballs are fakes. Dr. Sharon Flescher, executive director of the International Foundation for Art Research, estimates that 80 to 90 percent of the works they research are not by the artists who supposedly created them. She noted IFAR has received "so many inquiries [for Salvador Dali fakes] that we do not do them anymore." As for Miro, Chagall, and Picasso prints, they are also "very, very heavily faked," she added.

How to Spot Them

The sheer quantity of forged works can be a daunting prospect for publishers, collectible shops and gallery owners who face potential forgeries every day. But according to Edgar, any purchaser can start by using simple common sense. As he puts it, fakes are often bought by buyers "who do not ask the intelligent questions." For example, a logical question to ask a dealer would be: "How can you afford to offer me a popular image for one-quarter its retail price?" Similarly, one could ask: "How can you have 600 supposedly rare Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle baseballs for sale?" As Cunningham puts it, be suspicious when you see "a quantity of material where you would not expect to find it."

How to Stop Them

Once you have a piece, though, the matter of determining its authenticity is far from straightforward. Even a "certificate of authenticity" is no guarantee. Such documents from supposed experts are often themselves fake, and IFAR, perhaps the most respected authentication body in the art world, does not even offer a "certificate." Rather, it provides a detailed report weighing pros and cons which can run to 30 pages. As Thimmel stated, "authentication is not a science," and as Flescher added, "to the naked eye, I can tell you, it is not so easy."

Some preventative steps can be taken to deter forgers, however. According to Jim Rosini, head of the trademark and copyright division of the New York-based law firm Kenyon & Kenyon, today's artists can take a lesson from the map-makers of yore. They added fake cities to their painstakingly drawn maps; in that way, when a forger copied the map, he also copied the tell-tale apocryphal city. Said Rosini, "it would be akin to a (secret) swan in the hair of the `Mona Lisa.'"

All-American Collectibles sells balls, bats, and jerseys with 1) tailor-made holograms, and 2) photos of the athlete actually signing the edition. Similarly, the company's graphics are also impressed with the company logo and that of Major League Baseball. Such security measures allow them to offer a 2-to-1 money back guarantee if any signature is found to be fake.
Rosini also advised that works of art should be registered with the United States Copyright Office. In this case, an artist would be entitled to statutory damages and lawyer's fees up to $100,000 per incident.

Once there is an infringement, Rosini stressed that you "have to make a reputation for zero tolerance. Go after the first, the second, the third, win big, then make it known."
This attitude was echoed by Edgar who said "we take it very seriously--we pursue everything--even when newspapers do not credit the artist properly--we can't be seen as a rollover." Sculptor Richard MacDonald sees this as a rallying cry for the industry. "Anybody in the business of art, we all have to hang together to pursue anyone. It is nothing short of theft."
What is Forged?

It seems that items that are valuable but still available in significant quantities are particularly prime targets for forgers. As Cunningham noted, they will "add 100 fakes to an existing supply of 1,000--the less individually identifiable the object, the better." What, then, would be a better image to copy than one which is published at a rate exceeding 10,000 per month? This would explain why Rosenstiel's has been seizing illegal copies of its best-selling print, "We Three Kings" by Susan Crawford.

MacDonald knows of "a half dozen of his works that have been forged." One, "Nureyev," even showed up in a brochure by another sculptor. MacDonald conjectured that such forgers "are either neophytes or semi-professionals who want a jump on their career--they are insecure in their own abilities to create unique art." He quickly added, though, "also, they do it for the bucks."

In the collectibles realm, according to Thimmel, "people in the industry suspect who is selling the bad autographs." In fact, he said the FBI recently closed down 40 different dealers, one of whom was even an ex-police officer. Worse yet, even entire governments have proven untrustworthy. According to Cunningham, the Allies flooded Germany with forged bills in an attempt to wreak economic chaos.

Some fakes are born thousands of miles from these shores. According to Kenyon & Kenyon's Rosini, "it is easier to manufacture [them] outside the United States, then get them in. Other countries have lighter laws and far less interdiction."

Once here, "fakes enter the market through one or more knowing dealers," said Cunningham. Unscrupulous dealers have even been known to make direct partnerships with the forgers. Similarly, MacDonald knows of a gallery which is offering originals and copies of the same pieces side-by-side. Thimmel does add, however, that "many are selling fakes but don't know it."

And the Internet?

The Web is indeed a modern-day breeding ground for unscrupulous forgers. In the world of collectibles, "a lot of fake material is sold online; you have a reasonable chance of being taken," cautioned Cunningham. In fact, according to Thimmel, "eBay is contemplating stopping the sale of signed memorabilia altogether. This will cause a major shift."

In the fine art realm, Flescher observed "we are getting a lot of inquiries from people who are relatively new to acquiring art regarding Internet purchases." Needless to say, she added, "it is very difficult to determine authenticity on a computer screen." She even knows of one instance where a seller on the Web showed a scan of initials purportedly on the front of the painting, while ignoring the fact that another artist's name was written on its back.

Rosini acknowledged that the Internet has "opened up an entire can of worms." Yet, he noted, it can also be used to prevent fraud. "It is a great tool for looking up copycats." As MacDonald noted, "You can't find fault with the Internet just because it offers someone an opportunity to steal--it also makes them easier to find."

What does the future hold? One can only hope that artists and publishers will be able to stay a step ahead of the forgers. If counterfeiters invent new replication technologies, the "Forces of Good" will have to develop even better detection regimens. In the interim, though, what can you do to protect yourself? Do not be afraid to ask vendors pointed questions, and always, always keep your eyes peeled for the ex-police officer selling 50,000 smoke-damaged Dali's on the Internet.

Chris Larson at Rare - art exhibit, sculptures - Brief Article

By Sarah Valdez
The sound of a John Deere tractor in action accompanied Chris Larson's latest exhibition, "The Gastral Colony," but it wasn't recognizable as such. The recording had been sped up, slowed down and torqued, so that it sounded sort of like experimental music from John Cage or Brian Eno: a rhythmic, metallic bass throbbed like a heartbeat before slowing to a low, penetrating rumble that was both beguiling and grating.

Larson's ambient soundtrack suited his art, which seeks to invade corporeal boundaries in other ways, too. Four mysterious machines that looked like torture devices sat in the gallery. It was impossible not to speculate on how bodies might fit into them: tubes, bellows, plugs and straps simply required one to imagine limbs--and orifices. A certain guilt was implicit in the viewing, since the machines' probable purpose appeared to be one of excess and devilish pleasure, not practicality and scientific inquiry.

But in case any confusion did arise about the function of Larson's intriguing constructions, a video was included in the show for clarification. Playing upon the fine (and slightly passe) line between the sublime and the abject, between transcendence and violence, the video shows people bound into Larson's contraptions, apparently experiencing something between pleasure and pain. The machines manipulate eyes, mouths and limbs while blood, honey and milk flow out of bodies, down machines and onto the floor. The sight was by turns pretty, annoying and revolting.

Larson also presented four smallish all-white sculptures of architectural structures--a barn, a church, a school and a town hall--with walls that bulge outward. The objects have fluid-spewing roles in the video as well. As a whole, the project seems to have at least something to do with the subterranean weirdness that often occurs in the midst of small-town America's banality, a la David Lynch. A passage written by the artist and painted on a gallery wall served as the show's epigraph. Part of it read, "The man was trying to maneuver a spraying device over to the center of his body, but it was caught and was bumping the side of the bed, causing the water to spray everything except his body. She saw his lips move not to speak but as to remember an old song."

Larson's work is conspicuously derivative. It's a little too easy to make associations with Paul McCarthy's portrayal of vileness in rural settings, or Matthew Barney's practice of selling off his films' props as art. But if an artist must imitate, these are pretty good footsteps to follow in. And even if there are no especially new ideas here, one can admire Larson's ambition and scope.

Art center opens in Shanghai

By Lisa Movius
Bund 18 Creative Center, Shanghai's newest contemporary art space, opened May 1 under the artistic direction of Victoria Lu, a former founding board member of the Taipei Contemporary Art Museum. In a recent interview with A.i.A., Lu, now also an advisor for the Shanghai Biennale and a visiting professor at the Shanghai University Art Academy, emphasized the center's broad, future-oriented mandate: "We want to showcase the new esthetics in lifestyle, including fashion, furniture, design and new art movements."

The Creative Center occupies 7,500 square feet on the fourth floor of Bund 18, a $14-million luxury retail-and-entertainment development that opened last November on Shanghai's historic waterfront. It differs from the nearby Shanghai Gallery of Art, occupying a similar space in the upscale Three on the Bund building, by having a noncommercial program open to design as well as fine art. Its mission as a nonprofit facility mixing international and local art more closely resembles that of CreekArt, a space that opened in January on Suzhou Creek, as well as the venerable Shanghai institution BizArt.

The latter parallel is no coincidence, as BizArt director and cofounder Davide Quadrio holds the position of creative director at the new center. Overseen by Janette Chang, the Taiwanese owner of the Bund 18 complex, the space is curated by a committee of advisors, including Bund 18 architects Filippo Gabbiani and Kookai Studios. Financing comes from the Bund 18 Property Company, although each show will solicit external sponsorship. China recently legalized private foundations, and Bund 18 plans to establish one as soon as detailed guidelines are issued.

The Creative Center is slated to host five to 10 exhibitions per year. It debuted with "Frozen Feelings," a show of installations by French artist Maurice Benayoun. Next up is a Vivienne Westwood survey, co-organized with the Victoria & Albert Museum and the British Council. In late August, the center will mount "Paradiso d'Amore: Neo-Aesthetics of the Animamic (Animation+Comic) Age," featuring primarily Mainland artists. In October, Miltos Manetas's NEEN Group will pass through, and then December brings in Olivo Barbieri's cityscape series "Site_specific."