British

British Art Duo Gilbert and George Are Drinking Champagne in the Studio and Signing Posters for Their Next Gallery Show


The English art collaborators Gilbert and George, known for their graphic photo works and for wearing dapper suits, have been on a more than 50-year “visionary and moral journey,” as they describe their creative practice. That journey has most recently led them back to their own doorstep, London, where they’ve been steadfastly working through the lockdowns.

For their latest body of work, going on view in the exhibition “New Normal Pictures” at Lehmann Maupin in New York on September 9, the pair combines seemingly prosaic scenes of London life with jolts of day-glo color.

We spoke with the duo about where they’ve been finding inspiration lately and how they’ve managed to stay busy during this period of upheaval (hint: it involves champagne).

 

What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?

Our brains, our souls, and our sex.

Is there a picture you can send of your work in progress? 

WORK IN PROGRESS, 2020. The artists, Manuel Irsara the architect, Yu Yigang, and the team at the future Gilbert and George Centre. Photo: Tom Oldham.

What is the studio task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?

Signing thousands of posters and catalogues in preparation for our Lehmann Maupin New York exhibition of “New Normal Pictures.”

What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?

The Cosmic Void is our ideal studio. Music is against our religion.

What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?

We admire works of art that have something to say for themselves with great visual/human power. We despise willfully obscure art that looks down its nose at the lovely viewers.

What snack food could your studio not function without?

No snacks—only champagne.

Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?

As always, Darwin, Alan Turing, and Charles Dickens.

Gilbert and George, BATTLE ROAD (2020). © Gilbert & George. Courtesy the artists and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong, Seoul, and London.

When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?

We are never stuck. Rather, we are always bursting with more pictures than we will ever be able to create.

What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?

A display of art at the studio of that great, yet-to-emerge artist Oliver Hemsley.

If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?

Expectations, hope, desire, and determinations.

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ICA London Director Stefan Kalmár on How British Politics—and Right-Wing Attacks—Sparked His Departure From the Museum


Stefan Kalmár, the first-ever non-British head of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, is stepping down from the role after five years.

Kalmár, who said there should be fixed term limits for museum heads, said he was also leaving over concerns of the effects of Brexit, and increased government oversight at museums.

“What’s happening in the U.K. is worrying,” Kalmár told Midnight Publishing Group News. “The historic arm’s-length principle between the government and cultural institutions that it directly funds… [is] being undermined.”

Kalmár said the museum was subject to several “rightwing complaints” during his tenure, in which some claimed it was acting as a political entity.

“My favorite quote from one particular critic was: ‘Promoting anal sex and polyamory to fight Nazism is just another day’s work for the ICA’s press department,’” he said.

His biggest concern for the future of museums is that they can become too dependent on a director’s financial connections.

“One runs [into the] danger that the director becomes indispensable as the financial health of the organization relies on them,” he said. (The ICA gets 21 percent of its budget from the government.)

The Institute of Contemporary Arts London. Photo by Rob Battersby.

The Institute of Contemporary Arts London. Photo by Rob Battersby.

“It seems strange that while public offices are—for good reasons—often termed, leading public cultural institutions are less so,” Kalmár said, noting that he believes that turnover in leadership roles is essential to a museum’s growth.

The ICA reopened on July 6 after having been closed since March 2020 due to the pandemic. But while the challenges presented during lockdown were significant, the situation also led Kalmár to reflect on the institution’s goals, particularly in light of conversations regarding diversity and inclusion.

“If problems are structural, then change must also be structural,” Kalmár said. “Unfortunately, organizations of this size and scale adapt—rightly or wrongly—too slowly. Or at least, too slowly for me.”

Kalmár also said personal reasons led him to his departure.

Former American soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning poses ahead of her talk at the Institute Of Contemporary Arts London in 2018. Photo by Jack Taylor, Getty Images.

Former American soldier and whistleblower Chelsea Manning poses ahead of her talk at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London in 2018. Photo by Jack Taylor, Getty Images.

“My own biography as a son of a Hungarian immigrant to West Germany has been defined by borders,” Kalmár said. “As a child growing up in East Germany, I was not able to see my dad regularly for the first five years of my life, and it defined my belief that we must fight nationalism and racism wherever we come from, and wherever we live.”

During Kalmár’s tenure, the ICA held retrospectives for Kathy Acker, Julie Becker, and Seth Price, among others, and hosted speakers including whistle-blower-turned-activist Chelsea Manning and Spanish philosopher Paul Preciado.

Kalmár previously helmed New York’s Artists Space and the Kunstverein München in Munich.

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British Museum Conservators Will Painstakingly Piece Together Eight Ancient Vessels Destroyed in the 2020 Beirut Explosion


The British Museum and the European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) will help to restore eight ancient glass vessels that were damaged during the devastating explosion in Beirut last August.

The blast, which killed more than 200 people and injured 7,500 others, damaged the vessels when the glass case they were in at the Archaeological Museum at American University, which is two miles away, fell over from the force of the explosion.

Seventy-two Classical and Islamic vessels were damaged, but only 15 were identified as salvageable. Of those, eight will travel to London for restoration.

TEFAF, which runs annual art fairs in Maastricht and New York, will put forward €25,000 ($29,500) to finance the operation.

Completing "puzzle - work" of a smashed glass beaker at the Archaeological Museum, AUB . Courtesy of the AUB Of fice of Communications and Archaeological Museum.

Completing “puzzle – work” of a smashed glass beaker at the Archaeological Museum, AUB . Courtesy of the AUB Of fice of Communications and Archaeological Museum.

“The loss of 72 glass tableware vessels dating back to the Roman period, some as early as the 1st century B.C., represents a priceless cultural loss for Lebanon and the Near East,” Nadine Panayot, the director of the Archaeological Museum, said in a statement. 

After the blast, museum conservators in Beirut carefully separated the ancient shards of glass from mixed debris resulting from the explosion, which also shattered nearby windows. Earlier this month, a conservator from the Institut national du patrimoine in Paris matched the shards from the relevant vessels. British Museum conservators will now piece together the hundreds of tiny glass fragments.

“As we mark one year since the tragedy, we’re pleased to be able to provide the expertise and resources of the British Museum to restore these important ancient objects so they can be enjoyed in Lebanon for many more years to come,” Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum’s director, said in a statement. 

The museum’s head of collection care, Sandra Smith, emphasized the difficulty of the task ahead.

“Glass is a very difficult material to reconstruct, not least because the shards flex and ‘spring’ out of shape and have to be drawn back under tension to restore the original shape,” she said.

Conservators and student volunteers retrieve fragments of broken glass vessels from amongst the shattered glass from the display case and nearby windows at the Archaeological Museum, AUB. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum.

Conservators and student volunteers retrieve fragments of broken glass vessels from amongst the shattered glass from the display case and nearby windows at the Archaeological Museum, AUB. Courtesy of the AUB Office of Communications and Archaeological Museum.

The vessels are important artifacts that help scholars trace the history of glass production and the development of glass-blowing technology in Lebanon in the 1st Century B.C., which allowed for the mass production of items that were once luxury goods.

Six of the vessels are examples of early experimentation with glass-blowing, and the remaining two date to the late Byzantine or early Islamic periods, and could have been imported from glass manufacturing centers in the neighboring countries of Syria or Egypt.

Once restored, they will go on view at the British Museum for a short period before they are sent back to Beirut.

“The destruction of these works of art was a terrible consequence of a larger tragedy for the people of Beirut,” TEFAF’s chairman, Hidde van Seggelen, said in a statement. “Their return to their rightful form is a powerful symbol of healing and resilience after disaster.”  

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See How British Artist Bridget Riley’s Paintings ‘Caress and Soothe’ the Eye in Her New Show at David Zwirner London


It’s hard to think of an artist whose work is more visually pleasing than that of British artist Bridget Riley. The Op Art painter is known for her eye-catching canvases featuring geometric patterns, lines, and color arrangements that collectively pay homage to her favorite artist, the Pointillist Georges Seurat.

“The eye can travel over the surface in a way parallel to the way it moves over nature. It should feel caressed and soothed, experience frictions and ruptures, glide and drift,” she once said of her work. “One moment, there will be nothing to look at and the next second the canvas seems to refill, to be crowded with visual events.”

Bianca Jagger in “Bridget Riley: Past Into Present” at David Zwirner. Photo by courtesy David Zwirner.

Bianca Jagger at “Bridget Riley: Past Into Present” at David Zwirner. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

In one of summer’s boldest exhibitions, David Zwirner has presented “Past Into Present,” an exhibition of paintings by Riley that features works from the past two years. Together, they reference “the work of the past, both in her own practice and in the art of painting itself,” according to the gallery.

The exhibition features, among other works, an an extension of Riley’s “Measure for Measure” series, which includes the addition of a fourth color (turquoise), as well as a series of new “Measure for Measure Dark” paintings, which emphasizes deeper tones. The artworks are intended to “enrich the viewer’s enjoyment,” notes the gallery, “giving them something more to look at.”

The exhibition is on view now at David Zwirner’s Grafton Street gallery in London, and online here.

Bridget Riley, "Intervals 12" (2021). Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

Bridget Riley, Intervals 12 (2021). Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

A close up of Bridget Riley, "Intervals 12" (2021). Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

A close up of Bridget Riley, Intervals 12 (2021). Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

Installation view of Bridget Riley's "Measure for Measure Dark 2 and 3" (2019). Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

Installation view of Bridget Riley’s Measure for Measure Dark 2 and 3 (2019). Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

An installation view of Riley's exhibition "Past into Present" at David Zwirner in London. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

An installation view of Riley’s exhibition “Past into Present” at David Zwirner in London. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

An installation view of Riley's exhibition "Past into Present" at David Zwirner in London. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

An installation view of Riley’s exhibition “Past into Present” at David Zwirner in London. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

An installation view of Riley's exhibition "Past into Present" at David Zwirner in London. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

An installation view of Riley’s exhibition “Past into Present” at David Zwirner in London. Photo courtesy David Zwirner.

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The British Museum Has Set Out to Prove in a New Show That Infamous Roman Emperor Nero Wasn’t So Bad


The name Nero, like Madonna or Voltaire, needs little introduction. Even if you didn’t know that the Roman emperor’s full name was Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, or that he succeeded the throne at the tender age of 16 (only to die by 30), one of the best-known sayings about Nero is that he “fiddled while Rome burned.”

The callous personality that the phrase conjures is in keeping with the broader historical narrative of “one of Rome’s most infamous rulers, notorious for his cruelty, debauchery, and madness,” according to the press release for the British Museum’s new exhibition dedicated to Nero.

A few of the notable deeds associated with Nero include executing his mother and at least one wife (though likely two), competing publicly in chariot races, acting on stage, and having his likeness reproduced in statues around Rome—thought to be evidence of his megalomania—and, of course, starting the Great Fire of Rome and “fiddling” as it raged.

The Nero of our common imagination is an entirely artificial figure, carefully crafted 2000 years ago,” curator Thorsten Opper, who specializes in ancient Rome at the British Museum, said in a statement. He added that the exhibition, which includes more than 200 objects, “reveals a society that was prosperous and dynamic, yet full of inner tensions, which erupted in a violent civil war after Nero’s death.” 

So, how did the Nero of history morph into the caricature of evil taught in schools today?

A marble head of Nero (AD 50Ð100), on loan from the Musei Capitolini in Rome. Photo by Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images.

“Our aim is not to reveal a ‘good’ Nero behind the clichéd ‘monster’, but to show that there were very different perceptions and narratives,” project curator Francesca Bologna told Midnight Publishing Group News in an email. “We do so by looking critically at ancient sources and using archaeological evidence.”

Through historical documents and artifacts, the record shows that “Nero’s actions enjoyed broad popular support, but were rejected by parts of the elite. His memory was contested, but in the end one particular, very hostile elite view won out.”

Some of the objects on display in the exhibition are examples of anti-Nero propaganda, like the famous marble head depicting the emperor with hollow eyes and a blunt haircut. As happened with many busts of the maligned emperor, the top half of the sculpture was re-shaped after his death from the idealized likeness to what Opper once described in an interview as “a stereotype, an artificial image” that differs from those created during his rule.

Other research, such as excavations of the Palatine in Rome, offer “a radical reassessment of the historical sources,” Bologna said. “With this comes an urgent need to challenge traditional preconceptions and explore what the ancient elite narrative on Nero tells us about the inner conflicts of Roman society.”

See more objects from the show, below. “Nero: The Man Behind the Myth” is on view at the British Museum through October 24, 2021. 

The Fenwick Hoard, England, AD 60–61. © Colchester Museums.

The Fenwick Hoard, England, AD 60–61. © Colchester Museums.

Head from a copper statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Head from a copper statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54–
61. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

: Miniature bronze bust of Caligula, AD 37–41. © Colchester Museums.

Miniature bronze bust of Caligula, AD 37–41. © Colchester Museums.

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