Cristina NualART

Tag: London

Heroes and Villains in Public Sculpture

One thing that has surprised about Vietnam (not that I’ve seen the whole country, I only just got here) is the lack of public sculpture. That’s probably a good thing, because the last thing a struggling country needs, in my opinion, is to put lots of public funds into squares and parks when the majority of the people’s basic needs aren’t met. Nonetheless, I was expecting to see monumental memorials and grand homages to political leaders, like the massive, rather elegant megaliths in Poland or Turkey. Maybe I have just not found them yet, and public sculpture is one of those things that often goes unnoticed anyway. Another bronze man on a bronze horse can pass you by more discretely than a boat in a giant glass bottle

And speaking of the Fourth Plinth, near Trafalgar Square in London lies one of my favourite public sculptures: ‘A Conversation with Oscar Wilde’  by Maggi Hambling. The title couldn’t be more inviting!

The piece is brilliant. Nice situation (though the sculpture has moved from next to St. Martin’s church to the pedestrian street behind it), the roughly drawn portrait that is Hambling’s trademark, the tactile black marble, and the dual role as mock tombstone and public bench, this is clever. Sitting next to a witty conversationalist, crafted by the powerful Maggi, you couldn’t be in better company. To me, this is heroic sculpture, and not those casts of hieratic politicians. Art doesn’t get more interactive than this – and it doesn’t even move or have a switch anywhere! Smart…

Out of order

In Kingston-upon-Thames, just outside London, on the corner of Old London Road and Eden Street, lies one of the most quintessentially British works of public art. ‘Out of Order’ is a sculpture by artist David Mach, made in 1989 from 12 ‘tumbling’ telephone boxes. The artist used the Kiosk 6 version of the classic red telephone box, a 1935 design much improved from the original K1, originally produced from concrete in 1920. The K6, designed by architect Sir Giles Scott, was the first phonebox that was used as standard across the UK.

Mach’s sculpture feels like it belongs to the country’s iconography as much as the telephone boxes, precisely because the ubiquity of the phoneboxes is transferred to the sculpture. It is by far one of my favourite artworks, and one of few public sculptures that really makes you smile and go all nostalgic at the same time. Fantastic!

Joana Vasconcelos: hand crocheting and kinetic sculptures.

95_JoanaVasconcelos_photocnualartI saw Joana Vasconcelos‘ exhibition in Haunch of Venison a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t planning to write about it because a) I’m busy with major work, and b) this show deserved to attract lots of media attention. But having just come across a really badly written review of it in Fadart, I am compelled to say something. The easy way to say it is: GO! This is a phenomenal exhibition full of energy, joie de vivre and fun. Not only does it tickle your laugh-glands, it also provokes a good number on ideas surrounding the interaction of art and home decoration, the history of feminist art (Judy Chicago comes to mind), irony (a good post-modern theme to waffle about), cross-disciplinary practices (art vs. craft?), and the replaceability of contemporary art (see the dog-machine).

Best of all, it’s totally kitsch. Tribally kitsch. And it’s impeccably hand-made. Any artwork that oozes skill is usually awe inspiring. Here, the sculptures tattooed in fine crochet will be admired by even those who actually know what a crochet needle looks like.


The skin of art spaces

Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto has exposed the art viscera inside the Hayward gallery, London. I won’t digress much talking about the playful exhibition, other than to say that it’s fun, but not the best I’ve seen there. What I will comment on, too insignificant for the media to notice, is that they’ve used an alternative way to present exhibition information (different to little white cards stuck to the wall). In the A5 guide given with each ticket, you can find clean infographics with arrows pointing to relevant piece of text to learn about each sculpture. Fellow wanderers of art spaces, you, like me, have often struggled to find the right information accompanying each work. The simple solution (where signs cannot be places on the artworks themselves), is to use visuals. Well done Hayward!


High culture art marketing in low culture spaces

Those of you in London some weeks ago may have noticed these adverts in the Southbank space were graffiti and skateboarding interrupt the train of high culture spaces like the National Theatre, Tate Modern, Hayward gallery, et al. Yes, it is contemporary auction house Phillips de Pury (in alliance with Saatchi gallery, of course) putting up posters on pseudo-derelict youth hang out places.

I’m sure it gives kudos more effectively than advertising the village fair’s home-made flapjacks in Tatler… However, seeing as Saatchi was also behind the advertising campaign, I didn’t think hi-art branding would continue to invade our plebeian realms. But I was stunned this week to see a red bus go past me, well in the outskirts of London, with a large side-panel paid for by Gagosian gallery, to get crowds (is that what they want?) flocking to their current Picasso exhibition. I was so confounded by the sight, that I couldn’t even pull out my camera and take a photo of it. If you missed the bus, you’ll just have to take my word for it. If you do see it, snap a photo and let me know!

I didn’t think ads on red buses were anything other than for breakfast cereals, second rate Hollywood films and yet another mobile phone. In our hyper-saturated world of force-fed culture consumerism, I will, however, praise this ad:


Sculpture + 2D

RachelThorby_photocnualartI came across this bust by Rachel Thorlby in Madder139 gallery, and I was pleasantly intrigued by the Cervantian look of the man, but mostly attracted to the 2D image collaged over the 3D surface.

I used the same technique on this little maquette of a woman that I prepared a few years ago for a workshop on feminist art with underprivileged teenage girls. Cheap, easy and effective, I thought – considering the educational outcome of my task. Seeing Thorlby’s work, I now pause to consider the concept of a flat image on a lumpy object, and I am artistically amused 🙂



Drawing Theatre

My art practice is rusty, for a few more months. It’s on hold while I put energies into my art research.

Ideas keep cooking, of course, and the odd spot of sketching happens naturally, but yesterday I took the day off to try something new. I’d booked myself onto a Drawing Theatre day to indulge in an unusual life drawing session, where the models are performers.

The setting, in the Grand Hall of the Battersea Arts Centre, was as grand as its name. A ornamental space, huge, was filled with less traditional props, like a makeshift staircase and naked people.

By the end of the day, pink and yellow balloons, inflated by the models, were all above us and around our feet, and the metaphors extracted from the intriguing performance added to the inspiration of the music organ, decorated ceiling, arched windows and human beings. To respond to the theatrical scene, participants used pencil, watercolour, collage, charcoal, felt-tips, even an iPad! Creativity flowed abundantly and a few of my drawings are good enough to share.

Here is a snippet from my take on the event:


Open Arts Cafe

64_OpenArtsCafe_photocnualartYesterday I had a lovely evening at the Open Arts Cafe. From the link a friend sent me on fb, I expected it to be geared towards fine arts performance, but instead of being all obscure and weird (mock stereotype alert!), it was entertainment of a very enjoyable ‘normal’ kind. Lovely singing voices, amusing poetry, short plays, hilarious comedy and a deeply striking contemporary dance piece by Drew Gordon (so powerful it was scary!) all rolled into one event, supported by (yes!!) an art exhibition featuring Elli Chortara‘s illustrations and Aleksandra Laika‘s glowing portraits inspired by internet communication, a topic closely related to my current art research. The selection of music and poetry was on funny little love stories. And so, I checked out the websites, and I really like the way that Erinkmusic’s one is going, albeit not finished yet.

The Creative Compass

Strolling up to the Serpentine Gallery on a fine London morning I happened upon a wonderful little exhibition in the Royal Geographical Society, which is giving its space to women artists for the first time (about time).

‘The Creative Compass’ features the work of Agnès Poitevin-Navarre and Susan Stockwell, both of whom have created sculptural pieces using maps and banknotes from around the world in response to the geographical brief.

Susan creates money dresses, in the the European style of the 1900s,  and 2D images of maps by stitching together international currency. The ‘fabric’ is beautiful: colourful and very tactile,and constitutes the main attraction of the pieces. Sculpturaly, the costumes look a bit too rigid and mannequin-like, almost awkward, in contrast with the warm and fun appeal of the money-material. Likewise, the map pictures resonate of Jasper Johns pop-art paintings and take on a historical coldness. One rather English stereotype, I infer, is that having lots of money comes hand-in-hand with a detached demeanour, and maybe that rigidity is what’s coming through. It all poses lots of questions about the global economy, colonisation, and the use of government money to create goods for the already wealthy…

Agnès does not exploit the inherent beauty of maps and banknotes, she is more interested in locating things in space. Using coordinates, her work explores the ties between memories and specific places in peoples lives.

A significant piece is the tabular monument she creates to celebrate colleague women artists. Unlike her other polished pieces in this show, ‘Fellow Artists/Fellow Muses’ looks like quality old-world furniture, offering up the homage in a format that is very believable as a memorial, with its lists, names and impeccable finish. Inspect it more closely for a good laugh: paintbrushes are the everlasting symbol of an artist, the bristles are artist’s hair, the coordinates indicate exhibitions and the names, of course, are those of friends. A toast to suffrage for all the women artists who have never before been invited to the RGS.

Breaking the surface

As a teenager I went to see a Minimalist art exhibition in Barcelona that ( I realised years later) was really influential. First, there were shaped canvases. A massive revelation for me that subconsciously spurred a few good paintings. I had to laugh, again years later, when I noticed that shaped canvases in the form of altarpieces had been at the core of Western art since the dark ages (I love that expression, though I think it’s a misnomer). The other discovery about the Minimalist show was the power of plain flat colour – and a love for Barnett Newman.

What really happened, of course, is that the picture surface took centre stage, and you never quite look at it the same again. In reading art, first you learn to separate the formal qualities (the handling of paint, the textures and shapes) from the content (what the image is about), and then you get to see that the surface and the space around it also have a love-hate relationship.
In London right now two painters have beautiful work that marries divorce. Luke Rudolf, in Kate MacGarry Gallery, chops up metallic triangles (very 80s) over luminous, blurred portraits – a bit Glenn Brown but looser. The paint, close up, is delicious! Candy acrylic that cheers you up. The spiky triangles do make the already alien-like portraits more sinister, but it’s so bright it doesn’t darken the joyous impressions. Go see them in the flesh, though, computer screens doesn’t give you the gleaming light and surface texture and the paintings just don’t look quite so appealing. And apparently the colour spectrum is ‘psychotropic,’ so it could be worth the journey – you’ll enjoy the trip back home after!

In Rivington Place, Chinese artist Jia Aili is using spiky triangles – literally. Broken mirror shards are scattered on the floor. Whereas Luke, according to the press release, ‘exploits the earnest daubs of the expressionist [sic] as well as the graphic immediacy of design,’ in referencing Modernism, Aili is inspired by Caravaggio’s The Incredulity of Saint Thomas whilst reflecting, according to Julio Etchart, on industrial progress, social corrosion and the individual’s struggle in the machine age (which surely was the main remit of 17th C Italy?).

Blurb aside, the works are both really interesting from the picture plane point of view. The fascinating part of the installation in Iniva is the extension of the picture plane with physical objects and paint.



The land of Rosie Lee


I just found this information in an Arts Council report. No surprises, really. It’s all a vicious circle: the more arts you get, the more you want!



·  See the arts, culture and nightlife as among the top five reasons for living in London.

·  Attend more arts events than people in other regions – 82% attended at least one arts event in the last 12 months.

·  Have the most eclectic taste in the arts – they are more likely than people from any other region to attend several types of event.

·  Are more likely to participate in the arts – 90% took part in at least one artistic activity in the last 12 months.

·  Appreciate the arts – 79% think that the arts play a valuable role in the life of the country.

·  Appreciate cultural diversity in the arts – 80% think that arts from different cultures contribute a lot to the cultural life of the country.

Disclaimer: contrary to popular international pseudopinion, London isn’t England, and certainly not the UK.

Singh Twins

China may be doubling the value of its art market every year, but the superpower is not sending as much Chinese art to this neck of the woods as the other future superpower, India. It may be post-colonial guilt, or better connections, but Indian art in some form seems to make a grand exhibition every few months in London.

The Garden and the Cosmos in the British Museum last year was one of my absolute favourite exhibitions of the last couple of years (along with, I think, Antony Gormley and Annette Messager, both at the Hayward). Then the Serpentine threw in an awe inspiring, spectacular show of contemporary art from the subcontinent, Indian Highway, stunningly powerful, it thrilled me to the bone, ah…

The V&A’s recent show on the Maharaja’s treasures was not quite as fun as Waldemar Januszczak’s damning review of it in The Sunday Times, but the riches still had you holding your breath at the craft, the beauty and the retro appeal.

Now it’s the National Gallery’s turn, and it is flamboyantly promoting its Indian Portrait special exhibition:

The show, roughly chronological – and thus more informative, is worth a visit, though it lacks the inspirational scenes of awkward perspective and magic encounters that Indian landscapes offer. The paintings here can be almost photographic, and the cross-fertilisation with Western art is most amusing.

However, the jewel in the crown has been kept well hidden, and not advertised anywhere that I have seen. Down in the basement galleries there is a superb and scousestastic exhibition by The Singh Twins.

The identical sisters collaborate arm-in-arm, literally, to create exhilarating satires of politicians, fast food joints and family life, with the vibrancy of fresh jalebis and the immaculate technique of Persian miniatures. How I never came across their work all those times I went to Birkenhead to see family (and Tate liverpool…), baffles me. They should be everywhere!

Some months ago I visited the Shazia Sikander (apologies to anyone who is offended by my comparison of a Pakistani-American with British-Indians – it’s the Persian tradition poking through) show in Pilar Corrias gallery, hoping to find what the Singh Twins are doing: a multicultural cocktail of modern afflictions with traditional know-how. Not quite, this time.While Sikander’s recent work tends to the conceptual, and plays with the formal qualities of calligraphy, the Singh Twins are banging their drums riotously, and having a ball of a party. I utterly recommend it. Oh, and the animation is a must! No pictures, sorry, but here is a link to a video.


Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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