Trafalgar Square in London has a new statue — a giant blue cockerel. It’s the latest work of art to adorn the Fourth Plinth, a nineteenth-century base flanking Nelson’s Column. The other three plinths all have statues but the Fourth Plinth never got one, and so in recent years it’s become home to a series of temporary sculptures.
The giant blue cock, as the British media can’t resist calling it, has caused a bit of a stir. The cockerel and the color blue are both symbols of France, and this is a square dedicated to one of the British Empire’s greatest victories over Napoleon. German artist Katharina Fritsch, who created the sculpture, said she wasn’t aware of the symbolism. As London Mayor Boris Johnson says (he’s the blond guy with the awful haircut in this video) it could mean a lot of things, such as the British victory in the Tour de France. At the very least, the royal blue hue ties into London’s recent baby boy mania.
But all this pales in comparison to the sight of a giant shark crashing into a roof.
The Oxford suburb of Headington is a bit dull, so local resident Bill Heine at 2 New High Street decided to commission sculptor John Buckley to create a 25-foot shark to adorn his roof. It was put up on August 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. As Heine explained, “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation … It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”
The clipboard Nazis in the local council were not amused. They tried to have it removed as a pubic hazard. When their engineer said it was perfectly safe, they tried various other excuses. Much legal wrangling ensued.
Decades later, the naysayers are all gone and the shark is still there. It’s a much-loved local landmark, a modern folly. I see it every time I come in on the bus from London and enjoy pointing it out to newcomers. There’s even a Headington Shark Appreciation Society on Facebook with more than a thousand members. So if you’re coming to Oxford, pop on over and see the Headington Shark.
Madrid is one of the best destinations in the world for art, and this summer its many museums and galleries are putting on an impressive array of temporary exhibitions.
The blockbuster of the season is at the Reina Sofia, which is having a major exhibition on Salvador Dalí. “All of the poetic suggestions and all of the plastic possibilities” brings together almost 200 works here by the famous odd man of surrealism.
Organized in roughly chronological order, the earliest paintings in the exhibition date to the mid-’20s and show a surprisingly traditional technique. Once he’d mastered the basics, however, Dalí soon plunged into his own unmistakable style. The exhibition is accompanied by detailed texts on Dalí’s life and career. For example, we learn the reason why we keep seeing the same set of cliffs in Dalí’s work. In his youth Dalí and his family would vacation at the seaside town of Cadaqués, where he became obsessed with the cliffs of Cape Creus. He once said, “I am convinced I am Cape Creus itself. I am inseparable from this sky, from this sea, from these rocks.”
%Slideshow-2876%Many of his best-known works are here, as well as early sketches and little gems, like a painting of Hitler masturbating. Who but Dalí could pull that off? (Pun intended.) Numerous video screens shows Dalí’s many film experiments, including the famous “Un Chien Andalou” with Luis Buñuel and several other lesser-known films. The show runs until September 2.
The Reina Sofia has two other exhibitions. “1961: Founding the Expanded Arts” looks at a vital year in the history of modern art that saw the expansion of artistic collaborations and music experimentation and the launch of Concept Art. It runs until October 28. At the museum’s annex at Retiro park is “Cildo Meireles,” which looks at the acclaimed Brazilian conceptual artist’s work and runs until September 29.
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza has a major exhibition on Camille Pissarro. This cofounder of Impressionism was the only one to take part in all eight Impressionist exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. The museum brings together more than 70 of his works, mostly the lush landscapes for which he was known. The show runs until September 15.
El Prado also has three temporary exhibitions. The headliner is “Captive Beauty: Fra Angelo to Fortuny.” This exhibition brings together almost 300 works characterized by their small size and technical excellence. The point is to demonstrate the ability of some of Europe’s greatest artists to create beauty in a confined space and to highlight works that are often missed hanging next to giant, better-known works. They are arranged chronologically from the 14th to 19th centuries. The show runs until November 10.
Another of El Prado’s exhibitions examines the relationship between two 18th-century artists,Anton Raphael Mengs and José Nicolás de Azara. The two painters traded ideas and collaborated on projects throughout their careers. “Mengs and Azara: Portrait of a Friendship” runs until October 13. “Japanese Prints,” which runs until October 6, showcases items from the museum’s collection from the 17th to 19th centuries.
This year Spain and Japan are celebrating 400 years of friendly relations. In 1613, a group of Japanese emissaries set out to visit Spain. They crossed the Pacific, passed through the Spanish colony of Mexico, and then crossed the Atlantic. After touring Spain they continued on to visit the Pope in Rome before heading back home. The whole trip took seven years. We talk a lot about adventure travel here on Gadling, but nothing in the modern day can measure up to what these early travelers did.
To honor the anniversary, the Museum of Decorative Arts is hosting “Namban,” a fascinating look at the artistic influence these two distant cultures had on one another. One interesting object is a large screen in the Japanese style, yet bearing a Spanish colonial painting of Mexico City. There is as yet no closing date for this exhibition.
If you hurry you can still catch a free exhibition of the work of Swiss surrealist Alberto Giacometti at the Fundación Mapfre. The exhibition includes numerous examples of his famous statues of elongated human figures as well as his lesser-known paintings. This exhibition runs until August 4.
We’re suffering sweltering temperatures here in Madrid right now, so beat the heat and go see some art!
Yoko Ono turned 80 earlier this year and to celebrate, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark, has opened a retrospective covering more than half a century of her work.
“Yoko Ono Half-A-Wind” looks back at Yoko Ono’s influence on avant garde art and how her personal expression has changed over the decades, using various media such as installation pieces, poetry, music and film.
Much of her work is interactive. One of her most famous installation pieces, “En Trance,” is included in the exhibition. This architectural construction can be entered six different ways depending on the viewer, allowing for various experiences. There’s also a new installation, “Moving Mountains,” in which visitors are encouraged to create mobile sculptures from cloth bags.
This isn’t the only new work Yoko Ono has created for this exhibition. A series of billboards have been set up around Copenhagen with words such as “DREAM,” “TOUCH,” “IMAGINE” and “BREATHE” to encourage commuters to take time out of their busy urban schedules. She’s also distributed free postcards bearing her art in Copenhagen’s cinemas, restaurants and cafes.
For a country with only 1.3 million people, Estonia has a hell of an art scene. There are several good museums and galleries and a lively round of readings and exhibition openings.
One of the biggest names in the Estonian art scene is Raoul Kurvitz. He’s been big for a few decades now, producing a steady output of installation pieces, experimental films and paintings. Right now KUMU, the Art Museum of Estonia, has dedicated an entire floor to his work.
While I’m a hard sell with contemporary art (see my ambivalent response to Damien Hirst) I found Kurvitz’s work consistently challenging and innovative. He ranges from accessible videos like this cover of Jesse Colin Young’s “Darkness Darkness“ to weird art happenings that leave the viewers scratching their heads and feeling slightly disturbed.
This is an artist that takes risks for his art. In the 1989 experimental film “When Lord Zarathustra was Young and Polite,” he gets flogged by two female assistants and then washed into a Finnish river by an opening sluice gate. In another video he’s surrounded by fire. And I have to wonder what that blue paint tasted like when it came out of the fish’s belly.
KUMU is an ultramodern building chock full of Estonian art of all periods. What’s interesting is how they followed all the great Western traditions such as Impressionism, Cubism and the rest but put their own twist on it. And then there are the mavericks like Edvard Wiiralt who veered off into their own high strangeness.
The literature scene is doing well too. I was lucky enough to meet Piret Raud and Kätlin Kaldmaa, two Estonian authors who gave me the lowdown on writing in a language that only a little more than 900,000 of their countrymen speak. The rest of Estonia’s population are native Russian speakers and tend to look eastward for their reading material.
%Gallery-179740%Given such a small readership, you’d think publishing would be all but dead in Estonia, but nothing could be further from the truth. The fall of Communism led to an explosion of publishing houses. Where once there had only been a couple of official state-run publishers, now there’s more than a hundred indies. Many are micropresses with only one or two titles, while others are major houses with long lists.
That breath of freedom must have been a relief after decades of Soviet occupation. During those times many Western books and magazines were banned and sailors made a good side income smuggling them in. One of their best sellers, I’m told, was Playboy magazine. Pornography was banned in the Soviet Union. They saw it as Western decadence, I suppose. So admiring the Playmate of the Month became an act of political defiance. The world is a weird place.
Besides reading illegal imports, some Estonian writers bucked the system by participating in the Samizdat movement, writing subversive books and distributing them through a postal network to like-minded individuals. Since the Soviets didn’t exactly dole out printing presses with the ration cards, most of these books weren’t bound. They’d be typed out with a couple of carbon copies or simply handwritten. Kaldmaa told me some books were even photographed page by page and you’d get a stack of photos in the mail.
I would have loved to meet one of these writers. I write what I feel and all I have to risk is some anonymous coward giving me shit in the comments section. Say what you felt in the Soviet Union and you could end up in a KGB torture chamber. Writers back then had balls.
On my last night in the capital Tallinn I was invited to a poetry reading at Kinokohvik Sinilind, a rambling cafe/bar/arthouse cinema in Old Town. Several poets and a band took turns on the weirdly lit stage doing their stuff while a large crowd listened and chatted. The poetry was all in Estonian, of course, so I listened to the cadence of the words rather than their meaning. An odd experience but a rewarding one.
There were a lot of prominent writers there. Kaldmaa introduced me to a poet who specialized in translating poems from Japanese, Chinese and Korean into Estonian. He spoke French and English too. Scary. I met a whirlwind of others too, at the table or at the bar. Everyone seemed to have their latest book tucked under their arm, all cleverly designed by local talent.
I’m jealous of poets; they always get nicer covers.