Thursday, 27 July 2017

Favourite Shirts?

From the outside The Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane's The Art of the Football Shirt exhibition looks like a sportswear shop. With music booming and people chatting at the top of their voice it's a bit different to my usual, often quite pretentious, exhibition excursion. But it was a fun distraction and brought back lots of memories.

Curator Neal Heard, a football historian and fanatic, considers the humble football jersey "a unifying item" and, if you ignore the significant minority of people who go round punching each other in the face for wearing the wrong one, he's got a point. If you meet a stranger in a pub, something I do less often these days, quite often football will be one of the first subjects to come up. It certainly gets people quite passionate. Even those who boast (often very loudly) of hating football do it with an almost breathtaking passion.

The Brick Lane show takes in a mixed bag of shirts. From the classic club and country designs to the infamous, ill-advised, and just plain weird. They've also sought to have a look at where the world of football collides with the worlds of music, fashion, and politics. As you enter you're greeted with what is essentially the first XI. England '66, Celtic, Argentina, you can guess the rest. You can see the rest.

Catching my eye immediately was the section devoted to music and football. I've always been more a fan of music than football but when I grew up it was quite rare for the two to meet. Italia '90 and New Order's World In Motion, along with the likes of Colourbox and the fanzine When Saturday Comes, went a long way to changing that and now they're regular bedfellows, Oasis sporting Manchester City 'Brother' shirts in their early days, Super Furry Animals loud support for Cardiff City, Goldie Lookin' Chain sponsoring Newport City, and Skint Records logo emblazoned on the shirts of Brighton and Hove Albion. Kasabian even linked up with the England national team to launch a new kit.

Rod Stewart's passion for the Scotland team predated that, as did Elton John's chairmanship of Watford, and in the lae 70s Bob Marley wore the above Nantes shirt. Half Man Half Biscuit have done more than anyone to combine football, music, and humour. Most famously with their song All I Want For Christmas Is a Dukla Prague Away Kit. Anyone fortunate enough to attend an HMHB gig is likely to witness plenty of these sartorially pleasing items but you'll be in less luck if visiting Prague. Dukla, winner of 11 Czechoslovak league titles, dissolved in 1996, eventually becoming FK Pribram.

The WBA top of '77-'78, famously worn by The Three Degrees (as Ron Atkinson, in far from his worst outburst on race, dubbed Laurie Cunningham, Cyrille Regis, and Brendan Batson), was also worn by the actual Three Degrees (Helen Scott, Valerie Holiday, and Sheila Ferguson) when they visited The Hawthorns. I like to imagine the sweet sound of Philly soul temporarily replacing Liquidator as Bryan Robson and the boys ran out to the cheers of the Brummie Road end.

Not quite sure if the Hull City fans of '94 would've been quite so impressed with this tiger print number but I'm sure once Dean Windass had knocked a few in they got used to it. It's part of a section of the show called From the Street to the Catwalk which looks at fashion dos and don't amongst the soccer tops. PSG's 1970s kit was the work of French designer Daniel Hechter and, these days, labels like You Must Create get involved in shirt design.

Nigeria's '94 shirt (as worn by such luminaries as Finidi George, Jay-Jay Okocha, and, er, Efan Ekoku) is one of many that appropriates the culture of the country, or city, it represents. It could, from a distance (if you squint), look like part of a traditional Nigerian outfit.

The same could easily be said for Jean-Paul Gaultier's France away kit from 2011. You'd half expect the team to cycle in to the Stade de France with strings of onions round their necks and bags of baguettes in their panniers. It is gorgeous though and as a big fan of stripes I'd happily wear it. 

Couldn't say the same for Arsenal's early nineties eyesore. You start to wonder if it was more the opposition's aversion to the glare of the shirt than the defensive capabilities of Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, and Steve Bould that gave the Gunners one of the most impressively low numbers in the GA column.

Liverpool's iconic Candy shirt takes you back to the last time they were, truly, the dominant force in English football. Fans of my generation can probably cast their minds back to a time when John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, Gary Gillespie, Alan Hansen, and Steve McMahon dominated all around them. As a shirt design it's no classic but as a piece of cultural history it serves the exhibition well.

The opposite is the case for Fiorentina and Huddersfield Town's garish 1991 shirts. Steve Hardwick and Stefano Borgonovo were, whether they liked it or not, embracing the baggy scene's penchant for loud clothing. They probably ran on to The Bridewell Taxis. 

The German away kit of '94-'95 is infinitely preferable though it's unlikely it did much to rehabilitate the likes of Lothar Matthaus, Rudi Voller, and Andreas Brehme in the eyes of the English supporter.

The 1994 World Cup was the first that Germany competed in as a reunified nation (they famously lost in the quarter finals to the Hristo Stoichkov inspired Bulgarians) so it neatly led us from fashion to politics. Politics and football have always been uneasy bedfellows (Robbie Fowler's support for the dockers, Margaret Thatcher's undisguised contempt for the game and its fans, Kevin Keegan once claiming he'd like to be PM before playing headers and volleys with Tony Blair) and so this short section shows.

Hummel controversially designed a shirt for the Tibetan national team despite FIFA refusing to recognise their international status (presumably so as not to upset the powerful Chinese) but that's as nothing compared to Fiorentina's '92-'93 shirt (above) which had to be withdrawn after people noticed the pattern included a swastika. Something that supporters of Hamburg's 'punk rock anarchic' club St Pauli (shirt from '89-'90, second below) would no doubt have frowned upon very heavily.

In 1982 Stockport County's away kit was withdrawn mid season. Having a shirt so very similar to the Argentine national team was not considered good form at the height of the Falklands War.

Legendary Brazilian midfield maestro Socrates led his Sao Paulo based Corinthians team mates in a push for players rights and democracy with the above t-shirt looking affair and Medureira S.C. went as far as commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of their team's meeting with the revolutionary Che Guevara in their shirt design.

What Guevara did for revolutionary politics some would say Eric Cantona did for Manchester Utd. In 1993 when Cantona (along with Steve Bruce, Ryan Giggs, and Brian McClair) finally broke Man U's hoodoo and they won the league for the first time in 26 years their away kit was a fairly forgettable speckled blue affair but when they repeated the feat a year later the more intimidating black shirt had replaced it. It's the one Cantona was wearing when he jumped into the stands at Selhurst Park to kick Crystal Palace fan Matthew Simmons in 1995. You can tell it's Cantona's (as opposed to that of Lee Sharpe, Mark Hughes, or Andrei Kanchelskis) because of the trademark upturned collar.

Arsenal's celebration of two decades partnering with Nike may be an indicator of the corporate greed that's ripping the soul out of the beautiful game but it's a nice colour. More unusual sponsors crop up on the shirts of Boca Junior (sponsored by Fiat in 1991) and the '89-'90 Napoli shirt. Diego Maradona and Gianfranco Zola's nipples must've been bleeding by half-time in this aesthetically pleasing, if rather heavy looking, classic. It seems unlikely, also, that Maradona's stimulant of choice was a Mars bar. He found other ways to work, rest, and play.

In 1976 St Etienne lost the European cup final 1-0 in Glasgow to a solitary Franz Roth goal for Bayern Munich. Nevertheless they won the optics and I wonder if the above sartorial delight helped one of the UK's most under rated bands choose their name.

It'd take a real spotter to recognise that one straight off the bat but no football fan worth their salt would fail to spot a Barcelona shirt from any era. The red and blue stripes are up there with the orange of Holland and the yellow of Brazil amongst the most famous shirts of all times. They must sometimes feel like they're worth a one goal headstart.

Whilst Barca's links to Catalan nationalism and independence have always led to an uneasy, if not non-existent, relationship with sponsors very few other clubs have an issue with that these days. Eintracht Braunschweig, now plying their trade in the second tier of the Bundesliga, were the first German team to take up shirt sponsorship with, of all things, Jagermeister emblazoned across their chests. The stuff makes me puke not want to play football.

Belgium's mid-eighties top, despite looking like something a sports harlequin might wear, is actually quite pleasant though it didn't stop them getting spanked 5-0 by a Platini inspired France at Euro 84 in Lyon. Ten years later shirts, in Japan at least, had mutated into the Nagoya Grampus Eight monstrosity below.

It's a long way from Brazil's gold. The shirt above was their World Cup '78 effort (the team of Zico and Rivelino finished third in a tournament won by their neighbours and rivals Argentina at home in Buenos Aires). Along with the almost rugby looking Newcastle Utd '95'-'96 (wouldn't you have just loved it, looooved it if the team of Ginola, Rob Lee, Beardsley, and Philippe Albert had held on to win the title that year?), Italy's 1986 goalkeeping jersey (sadly worn by Walter Zenga, Franco Tancredi, and Giovanni Galli - but not Dino Zoff, who played his last game for Italy in '83), and Holland's '80 classic (the team of Frans Thijssen and Johnny Rep) it makes for a great finale to a fun, free, fascinating, and let's face it, frivolous little exhibition.

Thanks to Owen Guthrie-Jones for giving me the heads up on this (and for the nipple joke). It really was an education.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Alberto Giacometti:Ballad of a Thin Man.

"I have the feeling, or the hope, that I am making progress each day. That is what makes me work, compelled to understand the core of life" - Alberto Giacometti.

Much as I'd found Alberto Giacometti's work charming, curious, and highly individual in the past I did wonder if Tate Modern's ten room retrospective (the first on this scale in the UK for twenty years) of the Swiss sculptor may get a little 'samey' as it progressed. After all how many spindly bronze men do you need to see striding towards you?

Simone De Beauvoir (1946)
Turns out, thankfully, I'd completely underestimated him and although there were indeed lots of spindly bronze men on show Giacometti had managed to constantly hone, finesse, or riff on that theme in a fashion similar to Monet with his haystacks, Cezanne with his views of Mont-Sante Victoire, or Giorgio Morandi's bottles and bowls. It wasn't required for the subject matter to change dramatically if the way of seeing it was constantly being altered or refined.

Besides, Giacometti did mix it up a lot more than you might expect. Mostly in the early years of his career as an artist while he was still searching, purposefully yet patiently, for his signature style - but also towards the end of his life when his painting became of almost parallel importance to his sculpture.

Me and my friends Mark & Natalie (regular art buddies whose company I'd not had the pleasure of since a rather wonderful Paul Nash exhibition at Tate Britain back in spring) gathered for an ice cream in the cool early evening sunshine before entering the show. Visitors are first ushered through a kind of introductory room where you can get a gist of what Giacometti was all about and 'meet' some of his regular sisters, his brother Diego, Isabel Nicholas (the British painter and Giacometti's ex-partner), his wife Annette Arm, and his mother Annetta. As something of an outlier Simone De Beauvoir also featured.

The feminist, social theorist, and existentialist philosopher once said "I wish that every human life might be pure transparent freedom" and sometimes, in this exhibition, it seems that Giacometti was fortunate in that his very nearly was. There's very little on the personal and a great deal on the art at the Tate. For Giacometti, it seems, it was all about the work and he was nothing if not a grafter, seemingly working every day and often late into the night. He cared not for the fripperies of fashion and wore simple clothes, often splattered in plaster, both in the studio and on his jaunts around the bars, cafes, brothels and nightclubs of Paris.

The Couple (1927)

Reclining Woman Who Dreams (1929)
Born in 1901 in the Swiss alpine town of Borgonova, just south of the Italian border, to Giovanni (a post-impressionist painter) and Annetta, Giacometti was fortunate enough to be subjected to an artistic background and sure enough he went on to attend the Geneva School of Fine Arts before moving to Paris in his early twenties.
In Paris, undoubtedly the capital of the art world at that time, the young man came face to face with cubism and surrealism. His associates and peers included Picasso, Miro, Ernst, and Balthus. Ever questing he sought new ways to solve the problem of capturing the appearance of a living model. Inspired by African art and the work of the elder Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, also resident in the French capital at the time, he explored more conceptual approaches.
Though still, nominally, making figurative work there were definitely elements of abstraction creeping in. Sometimes the work was playful. On occasions it erred towards the disturbing. Disagreeable Object To Be Thrown Away shows Giacometti had a sense of humour about things but still looks like a rather unpleasant sex toy, The Couple suggests hours spent studying African and Oceanic art, Hour Of The Traces predates similar work by Barbara Hepworth, and other pieces seem to prepare the groundwork for the mobiles of Alexander Calder.

Disagreeable Object To Be Thrown Away (1931)

Circuit (1931)

Caught Hand (1932)

Hour Of The Traces (1932)

Man And Woman (1928-1929)
Giacometti's burgeoning talent and inventiveness caught the eye of Andre Breton (there's a copy of the Surrealist Manifesto on show) and, by 1932, Giacometti was participating in the activities of that group. That same year he hosted his first solo exhibition at the Pierre Colle gallery in Paris and Pablo Picasso was one of the very first people through the door.
There's a little room containing a sketch by Salvador Dali, a Man Ray nude, a Meret Oppenheim bronze of Giacometti's 'ear', some copies of Harper's Bazaar, and some lamps and vases. It's interesting to peruse but soon opens up into a much larger room containing just five of Giacometti's sculptures. These works, made from 1927-1935, seem to represent Giacometti coming of age as an artist. He could now stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone else in the Paris art world and if you could do that that meant you were equal to any artist in the world.
Woman With Her Throat Cut speaks volumes about the obsession, fetishisation, and repulsion the surrealists felt towards the female body. In what you would hope are more enlightened times it's not an easy thing to enjoy, the 'woman' seems to have been ripped apart from the inside, rendered as useless as a wingless ladybird or a scrapped piece of agricultural equipment, but it's hard not to be awed by the sheer primal violence of the piece.
If Giacometti only made work like this it'd be trickier to defend his reputation but, as far as the story this show tells, that seems to be an aberration in a career that, for the most part, considered the human form (both male and female) with care and love. With Walking Woman you can see Giacometti edging ever closer to becoming 'Giacometti'. Both that and Invisible Object (Hands Holding The Void) show Giacometti's appreciation of Egyptian art whilst Spoon Woman, a sculpture the curators make a case for being the artist's first 'standing woman', takes its shape from a ceremonial spoon of the West African Dan culture. Spooning, so much nicer than throat cutting, don't you think?
The most abstract work of the big five is Cube, a piece that may've looked equally at home in Avebury, and made, it is believed, as a solemn meditation upon the death of Giacometti's father. Such realism and emotion didn't cut a lot of ice with the overbearing and self-righteous Breton who considered such actions treasonable and, sure enough, Giacometti soon left the surrealists and forged his own path.

Woman With Her Throat Cut (1932)

Walking Woman (1932)

Invisible Object (Hands Holding The Void) (1934-1935)

Spoon Woman (1927)

Cube (1933-1934)
Unless you're a completely selfish bastard forging your own path is often the best course to follow and so it was to prove for Giacometti. Forms became more elongated, definition became rougher, and he experimented even more than before. Not just with adding wheels to his sculptures but to their sizes. There's a room of increasingly tiny pieces that, in the most extreme cases, you have to squint at to take in. Giacometti said "by doing something a half centimetre high, you are more likely to get a sense of the universe than if you try to do the whole sky". Like William Blake before him, he was seeing the world in a grain of sand.
But, almost contrarily, by the late 40s his works were getting bigger again. He'd returned to Paris, after spending most of the war back in Switzerland, and, perhaps, the new expansiveness in his creation reflected the freedom he must've felt after the defeat of Nazism. The first painting of the show (of the Roman a clef novelist Jean Genet) appears here and the elongated figures we know so well reach their apogee. When they were exhibited in New York's Pierre Matisse Gallery the catalogue included an essay by the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre entitled 'The Search for the Absolute' in which the author of Being and Nothingness suggested the attenuated, and often solitary, figures were Giacometti's way of portraying human anxieties and alienation. Yes, we were in the midst of our old friend, the psychological portrait.

Woman With Chariot (1945)

Small Bust Of Annette (1946)

Falling Man (1950)

Figurine Between Houses (1950)

Man Walking Across A Square (1949)

Four Figurines On A Stand (1950-1965)

The Glade (1950)
The quality of my photographs are so poor (you're not allowed to snap in the paying galleries at the Tate) you can't really get to appreciate the inchoate beauty, the sphinx-like mystery, of spellbinding works like The Glade from 1950 but that may not be a complete disaster. Hopefully it'll spur you on to visit this exhibition or to try to see more of Giacometti's work in situ.
In 1956 the artist represented France at the Venice Biennale. The Women of Venice series of sculptures he created had legs so thin and so close together they merged into one, their feet were pretty indistinguishable from plinths, and they were over a metre tall. Giacometti, unlike most sculptors who prefer to chisel away at a large block, opted to slowly apply plaster to a skeletal base until he was satisfied with the results. Their finished surfaces have something of the Frank Auerbach about them. The paintings of the era something of the Lucian Freud. Looking at them it seems almost impossible that the two London based Berlin emigres were not exposed to Giacometti's work at an early age.

Tall Thin Head (1954)

Bust Of Yanihara (1959)

Satisfaction with his work was something that Giacometti seems to have agonised over. He complained that his painting of Japanese philosopher Isaku Yanaihara 'lacked a likeness' and, in a wonderfully instructive film on show towards the end of the exhibition, we can see the artist as an elder man puffing on ciggies and creating a portrait of the film maker Ernst Scheidegger.

Perhaps it was age that drew him to create works like The Hand, The Dog, and The Nose, the latter more resembling a Slipknot stage costume. You have to ask yourself "is this a face I'm prepared to sit on?".

Giacometti had long taken an interest in death and often told how he'd witnessed the passing of a travelling companion. He'd concluded, quite correctly, that if his friend could turn from a living thing to a motionless corpse so quickly then death could come to any one of us at any time.

The Hand (1947)

The Nose (1947-1948)

The Dog (1951)
The answer to this, of course, is to live with love and favour in your heart, be kind to those who are kind to you, and find time for friends and family whenever you possibly can. It seems that Giacometti both learnt, and acted generously, upon this lesson. The penultimate room of the show is full of portraits of brother Diego and wife Annette. The models would sit for long, intense, sessions and, whilst not wishing to suggest Giacometti didn't really need quite that long - he did seem to be something of a perfectionist after all, I can't help wondering if part of the thinking behind it was so that he could spend such lengthy quality time with his loved ones. Perhaps he was elongating and stretching out friendships in the same way he was elongating and stretching out his bronze and plaster constructions?

Six People At A Table (1949)

Diego Seated (1948)

Caroline (1965)
Giacometti is quoted as having said "I don't mind whether the exhibition presents success or failures. I have no requests, merely to proceed feverishly". In the final decade of his life he became a respected, and rich, artist yet the trappings of wealth and fame didn't seem to change him a great deal.
He lived for the work and his passion for it comes through in every millimetre of applied plaster and each exquisitely rendered chisel incision. In 1965 the Tate Gallery hosted an exhibition in which Giacometti set up a studio in the basement and continued to work there during the exhibition's duration. He enjoyed his time in London so much he wrote to the director, Norman Reid, to say so, adding that he hoped "to come to London next spring". In January of that year Giacometti died of chronic bronchitis and never did make that return trip. It seems rather touching that fifty-one years on such an impressive, grand, and beautiful collection of his works should be visited by so many in the city. I'd like to think it's what he'd have wanted.
In The Third Man Orson Welles' character Harry Lime famously claims, from the Wiener Riesenrad in Vienna's Wurstelprater, that all the Swiss ever managed to create was the cuckoo clock. How very wrong he was.

Tall Woman IV (1960-1961)