Archive for Art/Sculpture

Ron Mueck: The MAC, Belfast 29th July to 20th November 2022

The Metropolitan Arts Centre (The MAC) is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a major exhibition of eight astonishingly life-like sculptures from the acclaimed Australian sculptor, Ron Mueck. This is quite a coup for the MAC as this is the first exhibition of any of Mueck’s works in the island of Ireland.

Mueck produces these works of art using a variety of materials: silicone, polyethylene, styrene, synthetic hair, fibreglass, steel, wood, and fabric. The result is mind-blowing; you keep expecting the figures to come to life.

How does Mueck do it? Visitors can find out some of his secrets by watching a short film, running on a loop in the Sunken Gallery, Still Life: Ron Mueck at Work. They can see how some of his best pieces are put together. There are some comically macabre scenes involving outsized sculpted body parts in unexpected places. A photographic display in the back room off the Upper Gallery shows large photographs of some of the MAC exhibits in preparation.

The main space in the Upper Gallery is dominated by In Bed, (2005), which features a giant woman sitting up in a huge bed. This certainly gets the visitor’s attention. To her right is a small work on a pedestal of a woman carrying two heavy bags of shopping, simply called Woman with Shopping, (2013). She has a little baby tucked into the neck of her coat. This woman has not had an easy life. She’s burdened by looking after her child and the weight of the two shopping bags. Her face is drawn and careworn. Mueck captures this woman’s travails perfectly.

The remaining piece in the Upper Gallery is another heavily burdened woman, Woman with Sticks (2009). This two-thirds-scale woman is naked, carrying a huge bundle of sticks that is either too awkward or too heavy to carry. She’s not a classical beauty. She has curves and folds in her skin. Every hair and fold is visible. She’s bent backward. You can see the pain in her eyes. The sticks are probably scratching her. Why? Is she being punished? Is she a slave? We don’t know.

The Tall Gallery features Youth, (2009-11). This small piece depicts a barefoot young man lifting his bloodstained tee-shirt to examine a bloody stabbing injury. Despite its small scale, every detail is clear; a look of disbelief, surprise, and concern on the young man’s face, the bloodstained tee-shirt, the deep injury, and the beltless low-slung jeans exposing his underwear. Was he in the wrong place at the wrong time or another victim of gang violence? We can only speculate.

Mother and Child (2003) has to be for this reviewer the most startling feature of the Ron Mueck exhibition. A newborn child rests on the belly of its exhausted mother. This moment of bonding is captured in amazing detail; the mum’s sheen of sweat on her forehead and body, her lank hair tied back in a rough ponytail, the unwashed child resting on her belly, while the uncut umbilical cord extends back into her vagina. The mum’s eyebrows and pubic hairs – and even her toenails – are faithfully reproduced at approximated half-scale.

After this image of new life coming into the world, the visitor encounters Dead Dad (1996-7) in the adjoining room; a shocking naked half-scale figure lying prone on the floor. This is based on Mueck’s own late father. He lies dead on a slab, pale and bloodless. Again, Mueck captures every hair in fine detail, whether on the face, the arms, and legs, or the pubic area. After seeing the mother and baby next door, this is a somewhat sobering reminder of the fate that will inevitably come our way, ‘in the midst of life, we are in death’ as the Book of Common Prayer would have it.

Finally, Dark Place (2018) is a huge disembodied man’s head. He stares out at visitors with a baleful glare. It’s quite unsettling to stand in front of it for more than a few seconds.

Admission to the Ron Mueck exhibition is free. Mueck’s talent for reproducing every aspect of human life and death in both smaller-than-life and larger-than-life scales is incomparable. If you’re in Belfast before 20th November do check it out. Just note that the MAC is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Review and photographs by David Kerr


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Counter Culture : Words Of Wisdom : Andrei Tarkovsky

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Stealing History : Art Theft, Looting, and Other Crimes Against our Cultural Heritage

stealinghistoryStealing History : Art Theft, Looting, and Other Crimes Against our Cultural Heritage Colleen Margaret Clarke and Eli Jacob Szydlo

Stealing History concisely addresses an area of criminal justice studies which has historically been inadequately represented, thus filling a void in the literature. Well-sourced, this book is an excellent primary or supplemental text, which as a discourse views art theft as a crime perceived by authorities as less important than other more violent crimes. Art and cultural crime ranks third largest in criminal enterprise worldwide, and, the author of this book attempts to break down why crimes of this nature matter. Furthermore, she delineates which steps law enforcement should consider to prevent it in the future.

Cultural crimes include appropriating objects found in museums and private displays, but also objects which represent cultural identity and national history. Historically, heads of state have looted freely while empire building. Various leaders from Great Britain were guilty of this, as well as, Napoleon, Hitler, and more recently ISIL/ISIS, by systematically destroying cultural sites, churches, collections, both public and private, and looting archaeological digs to eradicate any evidence of a culture they want to absorb and oppress, as well as a means to raise money to support their cause. They use it to destroy the hopes of those who grew up with these cultural artifacts as a part of their history and identity. Soul destroying and very calculated, so that they might assimilate the community into their more extremist world view, it is done to prevent the culture from re-emerging.

UNESCO considers the intentional destruction of cultural heritage, not just a crime, but a war crime. Clarke’s main point is that in order for law enforcement and governments to prevent these types of crime, they must first understand what it is they are fighting. She feels many do not respect the severity of this type of crime and classifying it as an art crime means justice is not accorded to the history, culture, intellect, and scholarly works which are being annihilated.

While the US views these as property crimes, Clarke feels they should rather be viewed as cultural crimes or war crimes, which is how the United Nations perceives them. Stealing History addresses the question of priority. The US is the largest market for illegal and illicit artwork globally; and Clarke appeals for more preventative steps by law enforcement, in addition to instituting better security to meet international standards as a step towards reducing these crimes.

She makes the point that destruction of important buildings and monuments are used to shock us, therefore why doesn’t destruction of art and cultural artifacts elicit the same response? A society’s culture is depicted by its art, and history has chronicled primordial cultures through the discoveries of remnants of more ancient societies. Why then, is more reverence given to archaeology than to art? Clarke relates that it is difficult to separate culture from art, a defining factor in a society’s self-identification.

Clarke discusses how damaging it is to a culture to destroy the provenance of historical artifacts by removing them from where they were found, furthermore, not only are pieces damaged by careless thieves, but they are taken out of context; therefore we lose the history connected to the culture of origination. Looting is fairly common in third world countries, and according to Interpol, hundreds of sites have been looted; between 60 and 90 percent of tombs and other archaeological sites. This, Clarke relates is due to lack of government control, as well as opportunistic looting in war zones and poorer economies where government control might be inhibited.

During WWI and WWII works of art in Europe were stolen by invading forces, including Gustav Klimt’s Woman in Gold which was renamed from the original Adele Bloch-Blauer to hide its origin. Since the onset of the war, targeted families were removed from their homes and anything of value was taken and documented by the German military, done to such a scale that it was impossible to document the extent of it. Van Eyck’s Ghent Alter piece of 1482 was taken twice by Germany; once during WWI, when the Treaty of Versailles forced its return and again in WWII. These painted panels have been targeted at least thirteen times, from theft to destruction to censoring. Prior to WWI the victor of a war could plunder without much recourse, however during this period the international art community began to discuss cultural preservation and its protections during times of war, with a focus on monuments.

Sometimes stolen art is bartered back to its owner as a ransom, fetching a better price than selling on the black market, and evading the chance that the work might be recognized and reported. Ransoming is far safer and more profitable for these thieves. While few cases exist of a thief stealing a piece of art merely to enhance their own personal collection exist, Frenchman Stephane Breitwieser stole 239 pieces of art worth $ 1.4b. Unfortunately, he stored the stash at his mother’s and upon his arrest; she shredded the works with scissors, before grinding them in the garbage disposal. Many thieves damage art in the process of stealing it, while, others duplicate the work and then sell the original. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London actually has a display of such forged works of art, over a 100 such pieces.

It wasn’t until 1970 that the United Nations took an official stance on these types of crimes forming UNESCO and as of 2011; these guidelines for awareness and prevention of cultural crimes have been ratified by up to 190 nations. The fault in this convention is that it is not retroactive and crimes committed before the signing of the convention are exempt.

Clarke covers the following topics: media’s portrayal of art crime; history of art and related crimes; cultural differences between the US and Europe and their effect on art crimes; looting and archeological sites, economic impacts, police demands, scrutiny and the future; security and policing globally; and growth of and prevention of art crime. A concise and interesting read with thoughtful suggestions aimed at prevention of future art and cultural crimes in an evolving world. Clarke writes an interesting chapter on police scrutiny discussing how things have changed since 9/11 with local law enforcement having to respond as the first line of defense against terrorism, and indicating why art crime is so far down the priority list as it is lumped in with property crimes and why logistically, it just cannot be given the attention it deserves. One solution, she writes is to educate local forces on the idea that art crime is generally not local, but global, connected to antiquity theft, fraud and terrorism within international criminal organizations, thereby changing the perceptions of these types of crimes.

Author Colleen Clarke, PhD. has been director of the Law Enforcement Program at MSU, and formerly a police officer at Thunder Bay PD. She has contributed to Encyclopedia of Street Crime in America (Sage, 2013) and The Encyclopedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice (Wiley, 2013). She has written for the National Social Science Journal, International Journal of Police Strategies & Management and Law Enforcement Executive FORUM. Co-author Eli J. Szydlo received his background in law enforcement from his undergraduate studies at MSU, and previously studied at the Kansas City Art Institute, encountering the field of art crimes.

Reviewed by Rosdaughr

Published by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Pages: 176 • 978-1-4422-6079-5 • Hardback • April 2017 • $36.00 • (£24.95)

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Book Review: Gilbert & George, Obsessions & Compulsions

Gilbert and George book cover

Click on image to buy this book

By Robin DuttThis work is a major new monograph on the pair who met at the St. Martin’s School of Art in 1967 while studying Sculpture. The two artists became inseparable, living and working together in their home in London’s East End. 

 My favourite Gilbert and George work, Cocky Patriot from 1980 wasn’t included in this book. It’s large black and white photograph of a young man flanked by two Union Flags.The young man with an erection visible through his trousers is presented as a homoerotic subject. The period was the heyday of the National Front, which was (with notable exceptions!) homophobic. To me it sums up both their mischievous, wind-up element combined with a social comment. There is always ambivalence. How are we to react to this image which seems intended to both attract and repel?

 Another of my favourite images is present in the book, Militant from 1986. It’s similar in a way to Cocky Patriot but depicting ‘Left’ rather than ‘Right’. It’s interesting to compare our reactions to the two.

 Gilbert & George have never shied away from dealing with issues:

 “Gilbert & George through their career have moved from issues of race, hate, love, sex, nudity, neo-coprophilia, youthquake tremors and so many obsessions besides.” (p.12)

 Underlying much of their work is a desire to understand why we are so unhappy in our modern, developed world. Their answer could be summed up in one word: conformity: “the supposed need to conform so as not to confound anyone else, to merge, to meet, to be indistinguishable and so ‘safer’. Gilbert and George believe passionately that changing accepted norms and outmoded values and views may free people to think in a way which liberates entirely.”(p.19)

 They have clearly thought about freedom a great deal:

 “In the minds of Gilbert & George, freedom is not just the obvious ability to do just as one desires. Interestingly and logically, it is also the ability not to have to do anything. They stress the element of choice; one does not have to believe, to work, to declare one’s sexuality.” (p.38)

 The book gives a great insight into the working practises of the artists. As someone who has dabbled in graphic design I was fascinated by their use of grids:

 “All colours, all shapes, all patterns are held ‘in place’ by a constant grid which of course divides the image into regular sections but which also acts as support and segment frames and also throws the brightly coloured images which often become symbols, almost in relief. Technically it is impossible to produce their vast imagery without division but this technical reality does not seem to overshadow the creativity of the outcome. They have used the grid in their earliest drawing works too. The grid has come to be their trademark. It is their trademark. It is their formula.”(p.14)  

The grids give the appearance of stained glass images so it’s no surprise that they’ve worked in this medium. Much of their art would grace large buildings (but perhaps, given the subject matter, not Cathedrals!) beautifully.

 Gilbert and George by Robin Dutt is worth buying just for the question and answer section and the beautiful (if sometimes shocking and controversial) images alone but the opinions of the author also add great insight.

 Reviewed by Pat Harrington

  • Hardcover 144 pages (December 30, 2003)
  • Publisher: Philip Wilson Publishers
  • ISBN: 0856675709

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