Monday, 18 September 2017

A walk in the park can become a bad dream.

As two of my favourite things are going to the park and looking round art galleries it's no surprise that I'm fond of sculpture gardens. But I've not actually visited that many. I remember a pleasant one on a visit to Washington DC in 1999 and last year's trip to America involved a lovely, sunny couple of hours browsing round the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle with my friends Gareth and Rebecca.

While the weather in September in London couldn't compare with that gorgeous late flowering summer it was nice enough and, mostly, dry. The Frieze Sculpture Park had been set up in the south east corner of London's large, and quite grand, Regent's Park. For those of you who don't know London it's the one with the zoo in it. I was very familiar with the park having worked nearby for eighteen years and regularly taken picnics in it and jogged through it.

After my visit last Friday, and then again on Saturday with Adam, I posted four photographs to my Paul Klee inspired Facebook photo album 'Taking a line for a walk. Journeys into the art of London' and my friend, and most loyal blog editor, Alex said that FINAL DAYS by KAWS (capital letters - the artist's own) looked big, nasty, and nightmarish. I thought it looked quite fun.

I'm not sure if KAWS (real name Brian Donnelly) is a fan of Deadmau5 or not but his wooden giant certainly reminded me of that artists stagewear and logo. More than that it seemed like just the oversized, slightly silly, thing that'd put the smile on the faces of people out for a stroll in the park. I think sometimes that's enough.


Eduardo Paolozzi - Vulcan (1999)

Eduardo Paolozzi is probably the biggest name of the handful of well known artists showing in Regent's Park. I'd enjoyed a retrospective of his at the Whitechapel back in the spring and this, made six years before the artist's death in 2005, was a welcome addition. As was the pint of Paolozzi lager I discovered in The Holly Bush in Hampstead later Saturday afternoon. My integrity as a researcher meant, of course, I had to sample a pint. It tasted like lager. Strong lager.

Another big, and borderline menacing, piece is Peter Regli's marble snowman. Much like KAWS's work I've no idea what the thinking was behind it but I liked it. I wanted to touch it and thinking that was acceptable I did just that. Turns out it's not acceptable but there's nobody there to stop you so I've no idea how those rules are policed other than on trust alone.

Peter Regli - Reality Hacking No 348 (2017)

Bernar Venet - 17 Acute Unequal Angles (2016)

John Wallbank - Untitled (Seven Cube) (2016)

Those works will delight children big and small but it's hard to see youngsters being particularly enthused by Bernar Venet's mathematical looking steel construction or John Wallbank's resin, fibreglass, pigment, plywood, and rope Sewn Cube. In fact in the case of the latter it was pretty hard for this adult to get excited about it.

Majorcan Miquel Barceló seemed to have grasped that novelty isn't such a bad thing in collections like this. His patinated bronze elephant balancing on its trunk may look, as Alex pointed out, susceptible to high winds but it was rather charming all the same.

Hank Willis Thomas's Endless Column of footballs may not have been endless but neither was Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi's 1938 Endless Column of Targu Jiu on which it's been modelled. Brancusi's work stands in remembrance of the infinite sacrifice of the Romanian soldiers who fought, and died, in World War I. Willis Thomas has replaced Brancusi's rhomboidal modules with footballs and it's hard to see where he's really going with that. Is he trying to say our highly paid and pampered professional footballers are somehow the modern day equivalent of those who once died in service. I hope not.

Miquel Barceló - Gran el fandret (2008)

Hank Willis Thomas - Endless Columns (22 Totems) (2017)

Anthony Caro - Erl King (2009)

Unlike Barceló's elephant I'm sure I saw the resin footballs of Willis Thomas swaying in the wind. My thoughts on the work, too, swayed. I was much more sure about Anthony Caro's Erl King and Magdalena Abakonwicz's Standing Figure with Wheel. Caro's rusted steel is fairly typical of the British artist's large pieces but its unpainted appearance gave it the agricultural quality of American abstract expressionist David Smith.

 Poland's Abakanowicz bronze and iron beauty seemed to hark back to an even earlier era. The wheel wouldn't be out a place in a museum of pre-Industrial Revolution farming equipment and the headless, haunted figure takes on even greater significance in the wake of Abakanowicz's death, aged 86, in Warsaw this April.

Magdalena Abakanowicz - Standing Figure with Wheel (1990)

Joanna Plensa - Tribue to dom Thierry Ruinart (2016)

Michael Craig-Martin - Wheelbarrow (red) (2013)

Gary Hume - Bud (2016)

There was nothing in the park I thought was horrible. Or hated. But some were undeniably, and obviously, better than others. I didn't linger too long in front of Michael Craig-Martin's wheelbarrow, Gary Hume's bud, or Joanna Plensa's tribute to 17c Benedictine monk and wine making enthusiast Thierry Ruinart and I was fairly nonplussed by John Chamberlain's bright pink aluminium knot.

Put simply there were better, more interesting, things there to keep me occupied. Not least Alicja Kwade's Big Be-Hide. Another Pole, 49 years younger than Abakanowicz, her contribution was simple yet effective. A large boulder, a mirror, and a stainless steel sculpture made to look exactly like the stone but silver. As you moved from one side of the mirror to the other the reflection of either the stone or the sculpture appeared to encroach perfectly on its counterpart. It's just an optical illusion but it's a pretty neat one and it was a joy to witness people sussing it out for the first time. Very much the sort of thing that belongs in a park.

John Chamberlain - FIDDLERSFORTUNE (2010)

Alicja Kwade - Big Be-Hide (2017)

Emily Young - Planet (2012)

Mimmo Paladino - Untitled (1989)

As I suppose are the more earnest sculptures of Emily Young and Mimmo Paladino. Even Reza Aramesh's diabolic goat, Rasheed Araeen's approximation of a climbing frame, and Takuro Kuwata's mushroom like growths didn't look too out of place.

Reza Aramesh - Metamorphosis - a study in liberation (2017)

Rasheed Araeen - Summertime - The Regents Park (2017)

Takuro Kuwata - Untitled and Untitled (2016)

Tony Cragg - Stroke (2014)

Tony Cragg's another of the marquee names on show but his Stroke was completely overshadowed by Ugo Rondinone's pale, ghostly, metallic tree. Surrounded by actual trees it's hard to work out if summer moon is in awe of his green brethren or if he somehow exerts a ghastly control over them.

Turning away from Rondinone's tree the stern faces of Thomas J Price's Numen look out at both the entrance of the park and Urs Fischer's skeleton/fountain/chair combo. Fischer, like Rondinone is Swiss born and lives in New York City. Judging by the available evidence there's something about that particular life trajectory that pushes an artist towards making slightly disturbing, if ultimately quite humorous, work.

So, even if the works of Fischer, Rondinone, and KAWS could be, to some, a bit of a nightmare the actual experience was more the kind of thing that dreams are made of. Next time I think I'll take a picnic.

Ugo Rondinone - summer moon (2011)

Thomas J.Price - Numen (Shifting Votive One, Two and Three) (2016)

Urs Fischer - Invisible Mother (2015)

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