Everyone loves a good Apocalypse and everyone seems to love John Martin’s work. I certainly did.
John Martin was hugely popular in the 19th Century and toured the world with his spectacular paintings of the end of the world and scenes from the bible of God smiting the shit out of everything. Obviously most of the paintings come from the Old Testament when God was going through his ‘angry phase’ and regularly destroyed cities and drowned the whole planet. Fortunately he chilled out a bit after that and started banging on about being meek and merciful as if all the mass destruction had never even happened.
Martin’s work focuses on these more exciting bits of the bible along with other scenes such as debauched feasts and epic battles. Man, the bible went downhill in the second half (apart from the epic destructive end scenes, but it was too little too late to save the book in my opinion).
At the time, plebeian Victorians flocked in their thousands to see the huge and exciting pieces of work. They were the blockbuster cinema equivalent of the time (it was boring back then, hence all the warfare and Empire building). Of course the intelligensia of the day slagged off Martin’s work as being distasteful and dubbed him the ‘people’s painter’. Intellectuals hate stuff that gets too popular and John Martin was the Michael Bay of his time. The main difference is that Martin is now seen as being ahead of his time, whereas I suspect Bay won’t be.
John Martin: Apocalypse
is well worth seeing. I loved it. There’s an added bonus near the end where a load of arty actors have done a voice over for a sort of mock up of the sensationalism that surrounded his tours. This consists of a triptych of pictures (three paintings in case you’re an oik) with lights and cool effects. The left picture is of heaven and has cherubs lolling around fatly and pointlessly. The centre has Jesus being judgemental and condemning half the population to eternal torture. The painting on the right is of hell and collapse and general coolness. This is accompanied by the actors recreating the sort of cinematic voice-over sensationalism that was used to publicise his work. ‘SEE THE DAMNED CONDEMNED TO THE FIERY PITS OF HELL’ sort of thing. It was brilliant.
As I said, I loved it and so did everyone I was with. It’s on at Tate Britain until mid-January, so you have plenty of time.
Bizarrely, here’s a trailer:
I saw this the other night and was blown away. I knew it had puppet horses in it but little else.
War Horse is about a horse called Joey and a farm lad from Devon called Albert. Albert’s drunken dad buys Joey when he is wasted and feeling competitive at an auction. He makes Albert look after the horse and a touching bond soon forms between them. When Joey is then sold by his drunken dad to the army and sent to Belgium as a cavalry horse, Albert gets a little pissed off. He runs away from home and decides to enlist to fight in World War One. In order to find his horse.
The story is ok and provides a backdrop to the main events and effects of the play. As I mentioned, all I knew about War Horse was that it had puppet horses. Life size puppet horses with people riding around on them galloping over fields or charging at the Hun. They are pretty astounding and the puppeteers do a genius job of bringing them to life. They even have realistically moving ears. There are three people for each horse. Two inside (think pantomime horse) and one moving the head. It’s brilliantly done and you really start to feel affection for the horses, which is doubly well done as I don’t like horses all that much in real life.
There are a couple of other animals too, most notably a humorous goose.
At the back of the theatre is a screen that has animated pencil sketches of backgrounds and animated horses and barbed wire. It is quite simple but it is effective in setting the scene. There are also loud explosions and tweeting birds that help with this too.
The actors were all pretty good but it is the West End of London and tickets were £50, so you kind of expect that. I went with a non-native English speaker and she found it hard to follow some of the accents. It doesn’t really matter all that much though, it’s pretty obvious what is going on.
The story is simple but to be fair it is from a kid’s book, so is hardly going to be like ‘Inception’. It can be a little slow at times but I thought it added to the emotional connection between audience and story, so I’ll let it off.
I loved War Horse. It was so well done. Apparently Spielberg is going to turn it into a movie but as the most impressive parts of the play were the set and puppets and stuff, I’m not sure how good it will be. He seems fairly competent, maybe it will be like ‘Saving Private Ryan – the equine version.’
If you like spectacular theatre and want to see some amazing puppets, you should definitely give this a go. Here’s a bit about it from channel 4 news to wet your appetite:
Last night I went to a bar/club/theatre/art/performance/thing called Shunt with my wife and some creative friends. It’s a very difficult place to categorize except to say that it’s fucking brilliant. Shunt are a ‘performance collective’ which sounds a bit arty or indeed wanky but it is truly a superb idea and I’m mildly annoyed that no-one has told me about this place before.
I have walked past the entrance a thousand times and never knew what it was. This website now gets over 100 people a day looking at it and I’m not even that sure I want to let you all know where it is but as you can look it up yourself, I suppose I might as well. At least then you can buy me a beer if I’m there. When you come out of London Bridge tube and start walking toward the escalators that lead up to the overland trains, you will see this door. Plus a small queue. There are no signs.
You WILL be asked for ID, which was actually pretty cool as that hasn’t happened to me since I was 17. It costs £10. Once you walk through the unassuming entrance you suddenly find yourself in a colossal underground vault. It is huge and sphincter-tighteningly impressive. From this point, a lot of it is hard to review because here lies the genius of Shunt. Every night different stuff happens in various rooms. First let me describe the space a bit. On entering, you will be faced with a long vaulting corridor with huge, high-ceilinged rooms branching off at either side. Sometimes it looks like this:
Sometimes like this:
Last night it was dark and lit entirely by candles.
In the rooms there can be anything. Bars selling beers and other bars selling cocktails are dotted around, as are cosy corners with small tables or couches or recliner chairs or anything. There is artwork in odd places and random performances from actors or artists or musicians or people who are a bit mental. When we entered we came across a room where a creative looking lady was doing a book/poetry reading to creative looking people. In another room there were comfy chairs and a cinema screen playing old black and white sci fi movies. And they weren’t all Metropolis.
One room held a theatre and there were loads of others with shows going on and interactive arty things.
Every night something different and interesting and random happens here. If you just want to have a quiet drink and soak up the huge cavernous atmosphere there’s plenty of hidey-holes for that too. At one point a guy appeared near us and started performing brilliant songs under a spotlight on his keyboard. He appeared like magic.
Here are some random pictures ruthlessly stolen from the internet of things that have gone on here in the past:
Ok that’s enough. You get the idea. Shunt is a truly unique experience. A good and exciting one. It’s one of those places I always envisioned myself in. On drugs. With Jagger and Bowie.
It got shut down in November so that it could be turned into a load of shops. I hope the tedious peon that came up with that idea died in an hilarious accident worthy of a Darwin Award. Thankfully, it has now opened again but no one seems to know how long for. Hopefully at least another year. So check it out.
Here is a video that shows yet more stuff that has happened in the past. Some of it looks a bit mental but remember you only have to get as involved as you want to. There is a lot of room.
This was a great exhibition. It is essentially about artists who mixed fame and the desire for fame and money with their art. These artists sought out as much publicity as they could and said ‘Balls! I love publicity and money’ to all the purists and critics who claimed they were selling out.
The first room is like a tester or a sample. It contains Jeff Koons’ sculpture of an inflatable rabbit alongside video footage of an actual colossal balloon that he put in the Macy’s thanksgiving parade in New York. There is a video showing an Andy Warhol advert for TDK tapes and there is a human sized sculpture by Takashi Murakami of a manga chick with huge norks spraying out milk.
This is all just for starters.
The next room was dark with some florescent gem paintings by Warhol. This was followed by a room full of Warhol’s celebrity portraits which he did purely for the fame, kudos, and money. He even offered discounts if the celeb in question bought two. There is a bit of multimedia action after this as we are informed that Warhol linked the whole fame and art thing, and that all the Pop Artists that followed were going along with this idea. There more ads and movies and a scene from The Love Boat where the Cunninghams from Happy Days meet Andy Warhol on the Love boat. I kid you not. Talk about fucking surreal. I came away from these rooms with an increased appreciation for what Warhol was trying to achieve. Both as a publicity seeking artist and with ‘the Factory’ where he encouraged struggling New York artists to create work under his guidance. The Warhol rooms show just how influential he really was and the rest of the exhibition reflects this.
Soon after this is a small room where an artist called Richard Prince had a photo of a naked Brooke Shields at the age of ten. It was taken down day one as people complained that it wasn’t exactly art, more of a picture of a naked girl who later got famous. I think the complainers have a point. It was unnecessary. Even though he tried to justify it by giving it the pretentious title of ‘Spiritual America’ and presumably tried to make a point about child celebrity and exploitation (I couldn’t be bothered to read it), it was clearly a case of ‘Ooooh aren’t I shocking and controversial!’ I can’t be bothered with this sort of crap. In its place is a picture of an older Brooke Shields in a bikini. Which was nice but no more art than when I had a similar poster of a chick in a bikini draped across a Ferrari on my wall when I was 14. Perhaps I missed the irony.
Next up was a room where I really started to appreciate all the effort the curators had gone to with this exhibition. The entire room was dedicated to Keith Haring and his unique art. There was 80′s Hip Hop blaring, T’shirts and other merchandise, his art all over the wall, and a fully functioning shop with accompanying bored attendant. I wish I like his art more but the way the room was done really made me appreciate what ‘feeling’ it was that Haring was trying to achieve.
After the 80s excitement of this room we were faced with a choice. Turn right down a corridor lined with 70s porn done by some chick that was apparently famous in the adult industry in the 70s and 80s. Or go through a huge door marked ‘Over 18s only. Extremely explicit imagery.’ Quite a quandary. After walking through the door we were indeed faced with an explicit image. Imagine a woman being fucked by guy with her on top and bent forward slightly. Now imagine her buttocks pulled apart and the guys legs spread and you looking the insertion with your head about a foot away. The result is that you are limited to seeing half a penis in a vagina and a woman’s arsehole. Take a photo and blow it up to a huge size. I’m no prude but a lady’s puckered rectum a foot across is not that attractive. This was the first picture in Jeff Koon’s Made in Heaven room. Apparently he started to take photo’s of an Italian porn star called Cicciolina (whom I sadly had heard of), then photos of him having it away with her. Eventually he married her. Isn’t that romantic? Anyway, the whole room is full of pictures of him cumming on her and her ramming didlos up her orifices. In the middle is a statue of him boning her. I found the whole thing a bit pathetic to be honest. It just seemed like an exhibitionist that has found a way to make tons of cash without labeling it porn. It is the talk of the town but is curiously missing from a lot of reviews. Here’s about the only tasteful picture I feel like including:
Then back out and down the 70s porn corridor, which by this point actually seemed fairly artistic. Even though it was mostly just pictures from Razzle.
Then you enter the realm of the Brit artists who follow the whole ‘I’m a celebrity artist ethos’. Obviously the prime contenders were Damien Hirst and Tracy Emin. I find Tracey Emin annoying and not in the way she is trying so hard to be. Hirst’s stuff was ok to quite cool. The ok stuff:
The quite cool stuff:
I know it’s a pickled calf with gold shoes but I actually quite liked it.
The next room was by Rob Pruitt and Jack Early. There are a load of really cool Blaxploitation posters featuring people like Martin Luther King and NWA and so on. All with Jackson 5 music playing.
After that there was yet another controversial piece of art as it showed a collection of pictures of Hollywood actors in roles where they played Nazis. There were a lot of people standing around saying things like “in which film was Clint Eastwood a Nazi?” (or Harrison Ford or Richard Buton or Tom Cruise or Ralph Fiennes, etc) The controversy was pretty dumb in my opinion as none of the films were making the Nazis out to be good guys. Maybe I missed the point. As a collage though, I thought it was pretty impressive and mildly thought provoking.
The next couple of rooms were a bit unnecessary and shite in my opinion. One was a video of an artist called Andrea Fraser having really boring sex with an anonymous art collector on a video shot in a hotel room. The other was a stuffed horse with a sign that read INRI – apparently the sign that Pontius Pilate had hanging around his neck when he was killed. Which is just pretentious arty shit. One critic described this as ‘Flogging a dead horse’ which I found mildly amusing.
The final room was by Takashi Murakami and was brilliant. One wall was entirely dedicated to a colossal manga chick wandering down the technology and manga heaven of Tokyo’s Akihabara district. It was entitled: Giant Magical Princess! She’s Walking Down the Streets of Akihabara! (2009). In this room you learn all about how Murakami opened the Kaikai Kiki company where he effectively did a Japanese version of Warhol’s Factory. He churned out small manga toys which could be collected with gum in Japanese shops and did photography and videos of Japanese cosplay. Kaikai Kiki did something similar to Warhol in that it took in loads of aspiring artists and under Murakami’s supervision churned out art as business. There is even a music video featuring Kirsten Dunst as a hot manga vixen walking down the streets of Akihabara (like the mural) accompanied to a revamped version of The Vapours’ “Turning Japanese”. Loud and on a huge plasma tv. I loved this room. It was a great ‘cap’ to the earlier Warhol stuff and encapsulated what the whole exhibition was about.
This was a superb exhibition and I’m really glad I went. I came away with a greater admiration for Warhol and Murakami and a lot of the artists in between. Sure there were a lot of things I didn’t like or thought that the artists were just going for shock value, but as an exhibition charting ‘Pop Life’ and the mix of consumerism and money for art, it was fascinating. There was a lot more than I have mentioned but I though some of the highs and lows would suffice. A lot of thought had been put into this and overall the experience was a highly enjoyable one. Sadly it has finished now but if it goes on tour it is well worth checking out.
Next time I’ll try and review art before the exhibition shuts. Apologies.
I saw this the other day at the Wallace Collection. Which was a bit odd as I’m sure you’ll be aware if you have ever been to the Wallace Collection. The building is a couple of hundred years old and is full of old stuff. Old paintings, statues, suits of armor, antique guns and so on. Even the couches, fittings and banisters are ancient and frequently blocked off by red velvet rope. So it was a bit odd to turn a corner and leave a room filled with 17th Dutch masterpieces and see two long rooms filled with Hirst’s ‘Blue paintings’.
These paintings were done by Hirst himself! No assistants or anything. They are actual paintings too. I’ve never rated Damien Hirst much, so I thought I’d go and see what he’s like as a solitary painter.
To be honest, they were ok. That’s all. Sorry if you were expecting more depth but there you go. The blue skull at the top of this post was one of the better paintings. There were also three others that had a ghostly figure facing a kind of translucent blue forest that I particularly liked. The rest were just alright. There were strong hints of Francis Bacon but they were nowhere near his league.
So there you go. Fairly average would be my overall review. Some good bits but overall I left fairly underwhelmed. It was free and in a cool building I’d never visited before, so it was worth it.
This exhibition has finished now but the Wallace Collection is a brilliant place. I’d highly recommend it. There will be two big rooms with different stuff in it now as well.