Wednesday, 21 December 2011



Why be a painter now?
In this digital age what does it mean to be a painter? Is it relevant or justifiable as an activity?
Our computers remember. We can access anything and everything at the click of a button, here and now. We are gaining a collective rather than a personal memory. My memory is being transferred via metaphorical Ethernet and the keyboard to hard-drive, the internet and the blog.
I cannot drive, I walk. I have time to think, to contemplate and to see what would pass you by if travelling in a vehicle.
Why would you want to paint, an activity that takes time, slows time down, that does not ‘know’ and often comes out completely different to how you started?
You can destroy a painting with one wrong flourish of the paint brush or equally save it with another one; it hangs in the balance - isn’t that wonderful? You cannot click undo.
Painting is intuitive, something you test, try and work at; more often than not your mistakes are more interesting.
I have thought a lot recently about what it means to be a painter, I do not believe in painting’s death, I do not mourn it, but I am somewhat guilty of doing it, why?
I am excited by what it has to offer, both to myself as the creator and as a viewer.
It is very special to go to the studio and be part of a discipline that is slow in today’s culture. To be slow in the frenzy and overload of our contemporary life is a bloody good reason to be a painter.
I often plan out my work before hand, the idea is worked out and I paint the idea.
There is logic.
What would it mean to be illogical for a year, how would I cope with this?
What would it mean to let go of the rules for making art that I alone create for myself?
Each year the first year students where I teach are asked to create one hundred drawings in two days. They are told little else. They all do it. Nearly all of them struggle when asked to make their own work. I am always amazed that they fail to make the connection between the two things.
Work can generate work.
In 2012 I will be illogical in my approach to work in a logical way.
I will set up rules that allow me to create without rules.
Here they are.

10 RULES FOR 2012

1.       1.  Each work will inform the next work, however big or small that connection might be. Move on, do not stick to a series of work, but move each work on.
2.       2.  Do not be afraid or guilty of gesture, size, canvas and being a painter.
3.       3.  It is ok if there is no common thread in the works produced, in fact it is better; work it out after rather than before.
4.       4.  Think of creating a group show of work, not a solo show.
5.       5.  Be different, but do not worry about being original.
6.       6.  Use time wisely.
7.       7.  You can destroy and replace, as well as create.
8.       8.  Do not show any paintings made in 2012 in 2012.
9.       9.   Do not be afraid to not stick to rules.
10.    10. Smile.

UnMasterclass 51

In 1944 Robert Motherwell delivered a lecture at MOUNT Holyoke college in Massachusetts in which he discussed what it means to be a modern artist and how his perception of the art world created a condition that forced the artist into isolation away from religious (or as he discusses spiritual) and socialist ideals; a condition his art, in turn, came to represent. Through a discussion of shifts in the class structure he came to an interesting conundrum; “The artist’s problem is with what to identify himself. The middle-class is decaying and as a conscious entity the working class does not exist. Hence the tendency of modern painters to paint for each other.” Here Motherwelll appears to suggest that artists have lost a reason for their art, with the erosion of religion and the bourgeoisie ideals then the artists begin to lose an output for their art. And in turn they become more insular in their outputs, painting not for the churches or wealthy patrons, but for the artistic community. Motherwell’s argument is flawed, after all his first solo show was at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery, surely an exempla of the new monied ruling class (as Motherwell put it “The present ruling class was able to gain it’s freedom from aristocracy by the accumulation of private property.”) But if we take Motherwell at his word and believe that the radical work associated with the Abstract Expressionists arose because these painters felt freed of producing art with a patron in mind and instead turned to producing art for themselves and their circle of fellow artists, then what does this mean in the age of the internet. Here we have entered a truly democratic age. Every web page is the same for each person, whether they be a princess or a refuse collector, just like the coca cola observations of Warhol. And so art that is put on the web is viewable and thus meant for anyone. Art made for the web is freed of being made for any form of class or even any pre-conceived choice of who they might be. On the web the artist has no choice of who their audience is and so are free to an even greater extent to produce what they wish. And yet with this comes even more responsibility. When one does not decide the audience for your work, then the artist must be sure of the work before it is put up for everyone’s viewing pleasure. Here is a gallery for the potential millions, if not billions of people from the biggest cross section of society imaginable. The bourgeoisies  is no more. Rest in peace. To view the latest UnMasterclass please visit

Saturday, 17 December 2011

UnMasterclass 50

In Joseph Kosuth’s Art after Philosophy the great artist sets out his position for the cerebral nature of Duchamp’s readymades being the true beginnings of a fulcrum shift in art towards Modernism. Kosuth sets out his stall for art’s function being one of the idea, what we understand as conceptual art and it’s assimilation into pretty much anything that has been produced that is good in the art world over the last 40 years. He sets out his argument with a discussion that seeks to separate art from aesthetics. As a little aside Kosuth continues his argument by drawing a parallel between the critical reception of art to that of architecture; “ that architecture has a very specific function and how ’good’ its design is is primarily related to how well it performs its function. Thus, judgement on what it looks like corresponds to taste, and we can see that throughout history different examples of architecture are praised at different times depending on the aesthetics of particular epochs.” Here Kosuth appears to say that a buildings worth will be valued by how well it functions in respect of its needs over how it looks, as taste associated with aesthetics is transient. Architects of new ‘wow’ Museums and Galleries please take note! Kosuth goes on to say “Aesthetic considerations are indeed always  extraneous to an object’s function or ‘reason to be’. Unless of course, that object’s ‘reason to be’ is strictly aesthetic. “ He uses as an example a decorative object whose purpose is to make a surroundings more attractive, and for it to fulfil this it must be in relation to taste. He continues by saying that the Formalist art that was being lauded by that key critical component of taste of the fifties and sixties, Clement Greenberg. And hidden in a footnote is a damning retort to this weeks UnMasterclasses subject, Morris Louis and his peers; “The conceptual level of the work of…..Morris Louis…et al. is so dismally low, that any that is there is supplied by the critics promoting it.” And by Kosuth’s position that one should separate aesthetics from art goes on to state that the work of Louis and others associated with the formalist painting movement, should be taken as decorative in it’s function so “one could reasonably assert that its art condition is so minimal that for all functional purposes it is not art at all, but pure exercises in aesthetics.” Formalist art and the critics such as Fried and Greenberg associated with it, in Kosuth’s respected opinion cannot question the function of art as Duchamp did, and if you do not do this as an artist then you cannot move art along. As Kosuth stated in his earlier interview that is quoted in Art after Philosophy, “Being an artist now means to question the nature of art. If one is questioning the nature of painting, one cannot be questioning the nature of art. If an artist accepts painting (or sculpture) he is accepting the tradition that goes with it. That’s because the word art is general and the word painting is specific. Painting is a kind of art. If you make paintings you are already accepting (not questioning) the nature of art.” And so we come to UnMasterclass, we believe we are questioning painting, not art, but we are also not accepting of painting being a still thing, we believe it should shift and turn, whilst being something that has historical precedents that must be considered if one is to be a painter. We do not aspire to be Louis or Kosuth. But we must say we have learnt more about painting form reading Kosuth’s essay than from painting the reproduction of Louis’ painting. Maybe we should go and read it in front of the real painting, Alpha Phi in Tate Modern. After all to give Louis his due the reproduction we painted from has little in common with the original. The reproduction of Kosuth’s essay we read in Art in Theory: 1900-2000 is pretty close to that to that printed in Studio International’s October 1969 edition. Is UnMasterclass art then? Have a gander at the latest episode here

Friday, 9 December 2011

UnMasterclass 49

Just as Magritte’s Masterpiece was not a pipe, so UnMasterclass is not painting, but a video of someone painting a rather poor version of another’s masterpiece. Ceci n’est pas une peinture. To view UnMasterclasses version of Magritte’s non pipe click here

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

UnMasterclass 48

A Google search for John Robert Cozen’s Between Chamonix and Martigny makes for somewhat uncomfortable reading for the true art lover. The top five searches for this painting conjure up four sites that will produce an authentic hand painted reproduction of this masterpiece and ship to you home, as the top search says “unframed in protective tube normally within 25 business days.” The fifth search brought up a link to Wikigallery, before finally the Louvre’s (who own the painting) website came up. Here in lies a message to one and all. Just as trying to paint in the style of a great master painter is virtually impossible from the restrictions inherent in attempting to do some from a reproduction of the original; so to is it virtually impossible to research something worthwhile on the internet. So just as an aspiring painter should turn from the web and book based reproductions towards the gallery to learn first hand from master painters, so the aspiring writer should turn away from the screen towards the page of the book. Or am I just an old fuddy-duddy!? The latest UnMasterclass is here

A Blind Python With Jewelled Eyes

A Blind Python with Jewelled Eyes is a group exhibition that brings together established artists, alongside students and recent graduates  from the University of Lincoln to speculate on the notion of coexistence. Navigating the precarious terrain of tensions and harmonies, and encompassing a broad range of disciplines, the show seeks to explore the paradoxical nature of relationships. Opening at The Greestone Gallery, Lincoln on Tuesday 6th December until Thursday 22nd December and curated by Andrew Bracey and Kate Buckley. Artists featured are Aislinn Ritchie, Ross Oliver & Nathan Baxter, Tessa Farmer, Steve Dutton & Steve Swindells, Samantha Donnelly, Thomas Cuthbertson, Joana Cifre-Cerda & Laura Dodgson, Kate Buckley and Andrew Bracey. More details at

UnMasterclass 47

In the excellent book, About Painting an interview between the painters Claire Undy and Alli Sharma raises some interesting points about how the contemporary painter should position themselves in relation to both painting and art as it has progressed over the last century or so. Asked about the pure approach to how she discusses her paintings Undy answers;
“There seems to be two ways you can approach painting today, which is either to ignore postmodernism and cynicism towards painting by going ahead and making geometric patterns, or gestural expressionist paintings or whatever, or you can be ironic, referencing the idea painting itself as an idealogy.” She goes on to say her position is somewhere between the two, saying that she has faith in painting, but is also realistic about what painting can be and do. She says that she is “more interested in discussing the ideas rather than believing that they are possible……Simply being an atheist does not mean that you can’t learn a great deal from religion.” Here Undy raises an interesting point, too often painting is dismissed as having nothing to say or that it is unable to discuss the times we now live in. Yet historically painting was the art-form that did reflect the times and historians use paintings as a valuable source to explain past times and conditions. So how can an artist that considers themselves a non-painter dismiss the lexicon of painting, is this the same as an atheist being les well grounded if they completely ignore religion? Intriguingly Undy’s answer to the next question (Are you keen on art history?) seems to counter her previous position. “It’s not something I’m particularly keen on. Making abstract work at collage means that you have to be aware of it because the criticism is that making purely abstract painting is a naïve thing to do and you either don’t care or you don’t understand it…..There have been over 60 years of history in this area I could spend a lifetime studying and I wouldn’t ever feel knowledgeable enough to make a genuine contribution to the discussion. But I do feel I have something that I want to add to the discussion of painting and I think it has to be possible to make abstract work today without having to answer every question of the last 60 years in every work.” Here Undy alternates in a position between having to be aware of the history of what you are in turn contributing to (in this case painting/abstract painting) and one of being aware of the restrictions of being too knowledgeable. If one was to fully know the subject and seek to make a consciously valuable contribution to the lineage of painting then one is doomed to failure, the pressure of having to answer every question of what painting is and can be within a work, would seek it to implode, be excessive, be shit or boring. Yet what a painter must not be most of all is ignorant, it is fine to not have to answer all the questions, or not to even know or consider some within the work and practice. But to wilfully carry on in a bubble is probably worse than trying and failing. The latest UnMasterclass is now live and viewable here

Sunday, 20 November 2011

UnMasterclass 46

“Create like a god, command like a king, work like a slave.”
Constantin Brancusi

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
Salvador Dali

“What moves men of genius, or rather what inspires their work, is not new ideas, but their obsession with the idea that what has already been said is still not enough.”
Eugene Delacroix

“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.”
Edward Hopper

What can we add to these quotes? See the latest UnMasterclass here

UnMasterclass 45

 Painting has increasingly become split between an innocent and naive practice and one that is knowing; one that relies and draws upon it’s own history, as well as other factors that mediate the message. Painting has had a journey akin to that of the dissemination of the written word, from the letter presses through large scale newspaper production to today’s digitisation through the web and the kindle. The word has remained pretty much the same through history, however it’s delivery as altered in many different ways. Similarly painting has transferred from the pigment embedded in the plaster fresco, through oil paint based easel paintings to the vast acrylic paint stained canvases of Frank Stella and Helen Frankenthaler and now through the digital painting of artists such as Tim Head and Joseph Nechvatal. Ultimately these painters are creating paintings, just as writers create the written word. However the way they do this and the materials on offer are constantly changing. With this expansion of the means behind the painting message comes a more knowing breed of painters/ing. As Peter Weibel discusses in his essay, Pittura/Immedia: Painting in the nineties between mediated visuality in context; “The painting has become a subject supposed to know. A knowing painting knows its own history, just as it knows its artificial surroundings.” Weibel argues that painting’s message is changing with this move into other art medias (especially digital), away from a trajectory of painting history, towards that of the picture being the point of departure. He cites painters such as Gerhard Richter and David Reed who reference the photographic or cinematic as equal references to painting itself. Painters are today influenced by other forms of image generating media as much as the lineage of painting. This is perhaps, and in UnMasterclasses eyes certainly, becoming a fact. What we have to be mindful of as a new generation of painters emerge that use the language of digital information is that painters such as Richter and Reed are technically skilled. They are fully able to embed these other contemporary references to painting in a knowing way that continues within the lineage of painting. The contemporary painter must learn to be able to respond to their times, as any good art does, but also not lose sight of the fact that they are also defined by the history of painting and their art must stand up to both mirrors of criticality. The latest UnMasterclass is here

Friday, 18 November 2011

A double dose of Suite Studios

Suite Studio Group have two opportunities to see work by artists in the group, including me, this coming week. On Thursday 24th November (until 18th December) we are taking over Cornerhouse Projects space in Manchester. On Thursday night join us at 6pm for informal drinkies as part of Cornerhouse's Art Night, with lots of other exciting arty things, including a screening of the excellent Tony Hancock classic film, the Rebel.
The next evening is the annual Suite open studios extravaganza with an informal display of Suite artists' work, an opportunity to talk to the artists, have a drink and enjoy the first mince pies of the year.
Details about Cornerhouse show is here
Details about Art Night is here
Details about Suite is here 

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Postcard Winter

There are two opportunities to purchase postcard sized paintings by me over the next month or so. Firstly the long running Royal College Secrets show will feature a new painting, alongside artists such as Tracey Emin, Anish Kapoor, Grayson Perry, Yoko Ono, Olafur Eliasson, Yinka Shonibare and John Baldessari. Get in the queue from Friday 18th November until the 25th. All works in the show are only £45 and all the money raised goes to Royal College students. Also on a postcard sized scale I have donated a new work to Pre-paid 2011, an exhibition and auction to raise money for The artists' Benevolent Institution and Global Hope. You can view the works at The Cornerstone Gallery, Liverpool from 16th November until the 7th December and online from the 17th November. Bidding starts in a silent auction from 6.30pm on the 7th December, though email bids can be submitted beforehand. Do you bit for great causes and end up with some great art in both cases.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

UnMasterclass 44

In 1927 J.B.S Haldane published a wonderful book, Possible Worlds; one that remains fascinating for the contemporary reader. Perhaps it’s most celebrated essay is On Being the Right Size. He discusses how scientists of the time appeared to neglect to consider the most obvious differences in animals, their difference in size; “In a large textbook of zoology in front of me I find no indication that the eagle is larger than the sparrow, or the hippopotamus bigger than the hare, though grudging admissions are made in the case of the mouse and the whale.”  He goes on to make a wonderful rationalising of the children’s book Pilgrim’s Progress. He claims that if the Giants, Pope and Pagan, were to be 10 times larger in reality, then their bones would collapse and break under the weight of their body if their skeleton were to remain in proportion. “This is doubtless why they were sitting down in the picture I remember.”
This is interesting to us as literature and art are not bound by the rules of physics and so a giant can be 10 times as big as man in a novel or a picture, but not in real life. To bring this back to relevance for UnMasterclass, when it comes to painting from reproductions, as opposed to the original paintings, there is much in common with John Bunyan’s giants than with scientific accuracy. There is huge inaccuracy inherent in trying to figure out and learn how a master painter has constructed a painting from a photograph of it. One cannot garner true knowledge from the reproductions. To draw further parallels with Haldane’s argument, there is a major difference between a typical Joshua Reynolds’ portrait and Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew; their size. Just as it is obvious that hippo and hare are of different sizes, so it is obvious that Caravaggio’s masterpiece dwarfs Reynolds work. Naturally there are also major differences in style between the 2 artists as well, but on the page or the computer screen the difference in size are indistinguishable. What should be an obvious difference is not perceived without knowledge of scale. And unlike the hippo and the hare, unless one is to see the two artists work in the flesh then it is unlikely that this major difference will be distinguishable to the non-gallery viewer. Here at UnMasterclass we paint from small reproductions of paintings on a small sheet of paper. We never claim to make proper copies of paintings, and not just in relation to size, for every other part of the painting too. This week’s (weak) UnMasterclass is viewable here

UnMasterclass 43

A short question for you this week. Why is it acceptable (or even be applauded in some circles) for an artist like Bill Viola to produce a version of a historical painting, whilst for a painter to do the same produces a sneer of derision? This week you can sneer or applaud the latest UnMasterclass here

UnMasterclass 42

Paul Housley’s layered and charmingly grubby paintings usually adhere to a particularly contemporary version of the still life genre, featuring objects of popular culture as a consistent subject.  Normally the final composition sits on top of several previous paintings, as if the artist is constantly at odds with transferring what is before his eyes to the canvas. Housley, perhaps in a manner akin to the master painters of old, eschews the photograph as an option for painting from, preferring to paint directly from life. This is an interesting construct for the painter of modern life; to do an act that is so traditional, and yet in the case of Housley, to do this in a way that continues to move on the lexicon of painting. Interestingly, to our purposes, the artist has recently produced some paintings that call upon past painter’s works. These are neither parody nor homage, though they may appear on first appearances to be both. Like Joffe and Pye’s Tate exhibition discussed last week, Housley has created paintings that are equal parts his and that of other artists. Here we see self portraits of Housley that are painted in a hybrid style, equal parts his own style combined with that of other painters. Here we recognise Picasso, Rembrandt or Valesquez morphed with the modern day doppelganger of Housley. Housley masterly manages to step between times, to have one foot poking into 16th century Holland or mid 20th century Mougins, whilst standing steadfastly in the pose of a 21st century distinguished painter. UnMasterclass’s latest episode can be seen here

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

On Thursday I have 2 openings, Standpoint Gallery in London (please see previous post) and Manchester Contemporary, where I am showing with Reconfigure paintings with Castlefield Gallery, Clout and Various Titles with Mermaid & Monster and a print as part of the Trace box set with MMU.
Here is info from Castlefield Gallery's website.

The Manchester Contemporary

Thursday, October 27, 2011 to Sunday, October 30, 2011 

Andrew Bracey is an artist based in Manchester. For Manchester Contemporary 2011, Castlefield Gallery will be showing his most recent body of work ReconFigure Paintings, which features the artist’s alterations to well-known reproductions of historical paintings. Every human figure and piece of clothing have been ‘painted out’ of the original composition with geometric, triangular shapes, forcing our vision to oscillate between the artist’s ‘painterly’ additions and the usually obscured mise en scene of original photographic reproduction. Devising a set of guidelines for the creative process, the entirely unique images have been playfully transformed with suggestively haunting undertones.
Solo shows include Manchester Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Transition Gallery, London, Mid Pennine Gallery, Burnley and firstsite, Colchester. In 2010 he curated UnSpooling - artists and cinema at Cornerhouse, Manchester with fellow artist, Dave Griffiths. Throughout October he is on a residency at Standpoint Gallery in London.
Castlefield Gallery gratefully acknowledges sponsorship from Frames: Bespoke Picture Framing, Didsbury, Manchester.
Register for free tickets to The Manchester Contemporary register at

Standpoint presentation

Andrew Bracey: presentation and discussion

27 October 2011 12-6pm: presentation of work in progress
27 October 6.30-8pm Andrew Bracey in discussion with Peter Ashton Jones, artist and co-founding editor of the painting magazine Turps Banana
28 October: presentation of work in progress
Andrew Bracey is intrigued by how we understand and navigate painting. Exploring the medium through film, animation and sculpture, he often employs a historical context through incorporating found traditional imagery within his practice. Sourcing reproductions of specifically figurative paintings, Bracey draws our attention to the classic archetype of twentieth century gallery display and changes the narrative through applied paint.
Combined with this Bracey is interested in exploring the space in which we encounter and engage with painting. During the residency he intends to appropriate scenes from films which represent a gallery experience that do not follow expected behaviour, exposing how various characters interact with the space in comparison to normality of a gallery visit.
Andrew Bracey is the last artist to complete a residency at Standpoint, as part of the 2011 programme.
Bracey graduated with an MA in Fine Art from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2001 and has since exhibited widely in the UK and Europe. He is currently a Senior lecturer in Fine Art at the University of Lincoln and a member of Suite Studio Group in Manchester. Recent solo exhibitions include Animalation, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, 2009; Frames, Mid Pennine Gallery, Burnley, 2007; Freianlage in Supernature, Transition gallery, London, 2007;Freianlage, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, 2007. Recent group exhibitions includeCreekside Open selected by Dexter Dalwood, APT Gallery, London, 2011; We Are  All in This Together, Bureau, Manchester, 2011; A Horse Walks into a Bar,Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, 2010; Meanwhile in Manchester, Lombard Method & Grand Union, Birmingham, 2010; Unrealised Potential, Cornerhouse, Manchester, NGCA, Sunderland & Void, Derry, 2010; Global Studio, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool, 2010.
Andrew Bracey will also be exhibiting with Castlefield Gallery at The Machester Contemporary on 27 – 30 October.
This special two-day presentation is part of Andrew Bracey’s participation in Standpoint Futures Development Residencies designed specifically for artists based outside of London. The presentation will include a discussion at 6.30pm with Andrew Bracey on Thursday 27 October, and an opportunity to meet and talk to the artist at any time during the two days.
The residency’s chief aims are to provide high quality, individualized opportunities to develop an artists practice and career, and to integrate London and the Regional UK art world to promote dialogue and interchange. Please see residency blog to keep up to date with the progress of each residency
Further information: Matilda Strang 0207 739 4921 /

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Top ten Venice Biennale highlights-A completely biased view

  1. TRA – Edge of Becoming at Musee Fortuny was as an exhibition that built upon the magnificence of Infinitium in the same venue two years ago. It is a great achievement to be able to marry contemporary art with art and artefacts conceived and produced across centuries; a far greater one to be able to manage this, whilst not being swamped by the intrinsic interest of the building itself. Instead everything feels as if it belongs here, fantastic juxtapositions between artworks and the building abound, often in most surprising and unexpected ways. The first encounter was an inspired pairing of Michael Borremans’ Red Hand, Green Hand with an early Giacometti. The dominance of the hue in the hands of Borremans’ painting was transferred more subtly to the similar pose of the Giacometti sculpture, which were similarly echoed in the careful lighting to conjure a third shadowed hand centrally placed between painting and sculpture. Each corner produced further artistic treats for the visitor, Shirin Neshat’s captivating Passage was a particular highlight, the brooding Phillip Glass soundtrack drifted down a corridor leading you to ante-chamber of crumbling plaster and brick, where the imagery unfolded and built to the spontaneous semi-circular eruption of the fire finale.Climbing the stairs one was led to the faded opulence of once rich, but now worn tapestries of Fortuny’s palace. One side room was exceptionally curated with Fortuny’s tempera murals providing a backdrop for a suitably theatrical relationship of themed works. Hans Op De Beek’s Staging Silence playfully defied expectations as cliché theatrical/cinematic mise en scene were broken by the artists hands moving miniature scenery around to construct new staged settings. Opposite sat a large scale model by Fortuny of a theatre that had a casual companion in the form of Bonomini’s Allegory of Deception; a painting of an old woman holding before her a mask of a younger woman. Curiously this old woman had green hands, not dissimilar to Borremans’ opening painting. On a further adjoining wall Matthew Barney, in full vaselined garb, looked on from the splendour of a theatre, not unlike Fortuny’s unbuilt model. In another side room one could find a smaller version of the James Turrell in the Arsenale, without the hour long queue, and all the more satisfying for that.Before one ascended the stairs to the second floor, one entered a quiet room where the theatrics of the room mentioned earlier had been stripped back to the single angled spotlight. In Lygia Pape’s Faca de Luz one could enter a small cubicle to become enshrined in a flash of light, created by a slash on the top. And most magically of all Franciabigio’s 16th century painted panel, Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata was lit to echo the Pape piece, with a companion shaft of light only falling upon Assisi as if divine intervention had taken place.
  1. Christian Marclay’s The Clock has justifiably received critical and popular acclaim since it premiered last year, rightly ands widely proclaimed an instant masterpiece. It became a most welcome halfway house in the Arsenale leg of Brice Criger’s LLUMInations (though I was not alone in thinking that it would have been more perfectly located outside the aforementioned constant Turrell queue.) I have little to add to the discussion of Marcaly’s masterpiece, it is one of those rare things, a perfect artwork. Everything is contained within the work itself, to render accompanying text redundant and it rewards the attentive and persistent viewer with building complexity of structure and narrative, there is much behind this deceptively simple idea.My only comment to add is a comparison to the way Marclay appears to have found his imagery and that of the cinema projectionist. I would imagine that they both share an alternate way of viewing a film, one that side tracks the plot in favour of their own particular take on what they need to take from the film. I can imagine Marclay watched hundreds (thousands?) of films with one purpose only, a reference to the time within the plot; whilst a projectionists traditionally would view the silver screen perched high up in the projection box, hyper alert for the tiny cue dot in the right hand corner of the screen. Both know a film intimately for these moments, but would struggle to relate the plot of the whole film, a little like watching Marclay’s infinitely compulsive film.
  1. There were a number of national pavilions that I particularly liked that do not appear to be getting a huge amount of press attention, perhaps making my expectations before encountering them lower. Angel Vargara, representing Belguim, had an interesting take on contemporary painting. The seven deadly sins were all depicted on a huge screen spanning the pavilion’s main hall, displaying appropriated footage from news reports and the like. Over these hurriedly moving images the artist attempted to capture the image in painterly gestures, doomed to failure as the subject chopped from one to another. One was left with an orgy of painterly marks, that occasionally came into focus as the footage looped and an abstract form was married with the representational twin.

4.The Czech/Slovak pavilion had perhaps the most touching and understated display of work. Dominik Lang has been working with his late father’s bronze figurative sculptures to connect them to his own practice with strange juxtapositions to domestic furniture. Broken shards of bronze are united across empty space by their careful placement in adjoining cabinets or a figure is divided and multiplied by it’s relocation within a chamber of mirrors vertically puncturing the bronze. The relationship between son and father and the marrying off their two practices was both poignant and in complete harmony.
5. Marcus Schinwald strange paintings (and newer engagement with film) offer a quietly disturbing sense of the uncanny and curious. Curiously passive painted faces are punctured by outdated medical instruments, attached in painfully matter of fact ways. In the wings to the pavilion two large projected films showed a group of people all trapped in weird cycles of activity. A man struggled to free his foot from a crack in a wall with frantic balletic movements, whilst another tap danced through an army of coloured electrical wires, attempting to dislodge one from his foot. The pavilion was navigated through a labyrinth of walls hovering three foot over the floor, allowing glimpses of dissected audience that interacted with Schinwald’s exhibiton.
6. Thomas Hirchorn produced perhaps the most arresting pavilion with his customary tin foil and packing tape calling attention to and binding together a cross section of contrasting images and objects. On two giant mushroom-like tables were magazines covering the surface. The contrast could not be greater between the two surfaces; on one Jordan and Tom Cruise vied for attention with meaningless tales of their life in copies of Now, Heat and Closer. On the other side were reportages of war and suffering from Time magazine and the like. As one wandered the pavilions the excesses of our western capitalist consumer culture built up as aeroplane seats, coke cans and other detritus were consumed by Hirchorn’s cheap packing materials.Most dominantly of all were the human images consequences of torture, war and corrupt states that dangled bunting-like around the edges of the space. Our response to these images was most pertinently captures by the Swiss artists over the multi-screen panels of a finger insistently scanning through atrocious images of human suffering on an ipad, never able to escape them. How many times have we seen these images on news reports from the comfort of our homes far away from where they are happening and  felt suitably appalled before the next episode of X-factor or Celebrity come dine with me comes on. We are as cheap, shallow and tacky as Hirchorn’s tin foil and parcel tape.
7. Of the British national pavilions I think I was most captured by Karla Black, who was representing Scotland. Her sickly sweet installation (the pungent wafts of fragrant soap was like walking past Body shop or Lush on the high street!) was in perfect harmony with the palazzo that housed it. She had carefully selected materials, colour and the overall placement to fit perfectly with the surrounding. This was achieved to such an extent that it felt like she had painted all the walls the pastel colours associated with her work. When I asked an invigilator if  this was the case, she answered that they had thought the same and had to check images from Martin Boyce installation of two years ago to confirm she had not. I could have sworn the Boyce installation had white walls; such was the complete contrast of the feel of that to Black’s installation. For me it was the detail of her work that won over, in one room a single double loop of clear plastic sheet hovered centrally. As one explored the surface a tiny flick of green appeared in the middle of the two loops, perfectly matching the walls, this was no accident. Is the stuff of a Turner prize winner? As I read this I do start to wonder if I preferred the Mike Nelson after all so I shall stop writing before I scrub out all the above.
8. I could not help but admire Lech Majewski’s digital tapestry-like films that re-imagined Bruegel’s apocalyptic paintings. The church environment certainly helped on appreciate the work and this was not only a technological remake but also one that made you question how much we have moved on as a society when the brutal torture seen in Bruegel and Majewski’s work is still happening today, and still in the name of religion. Poignant stuff that was intensely captivating, if not to my own personal taste.
9. Sigmar Polke’s suite of paintings in the Punta Della Dogana were as arresting as when I first saw them in 2007 in the room now housing the Tinterettos within the Padiglione Centrale. These paintings are truly a masterwork, containing so much richness of subject and painterly gesture; painterly perfection in short. However there is something intensely irritating about viewing Pinault’s collection of art. Inside two fantastic monuments to Venetian architecture are housed a wealth of fantastic art (David Claerbout’s tour de force Algiers and Yang Jiechang’s cheeky update of Chinese scroll paintings also deserve special attention) and yet it is all rather distasteful. It all comes across a bit like that annoying child at school who had everything that he wanted given to him and who appreciated nothing; one gets sick if one eats too many sweets. Or is it just sour grapes on my part? Above all though it is such a treat to be able to sit and admire such masterful work as Polke’s Axial Age.
10. Ok, so there were some other highlights in ILLUMInations and I was pleased to see Haroon Mirza had claimed the Silver Lion for his contribution. The comparison between his two pieces in the exhibition was interesting to note, particularly in terms of his recent representation by the Lisson gallery. In the Padiglione Centrale was a more familiar looking piece of work with trailing wires and Heath Robinson shelves holding up speakers. A throbbing electrical thud accompanied each pulse of a stuttering projected image. In the Arsenale the powerful influence and confidence of the Lisson hinted at an exciting future for this young British artist. In space that mimicked the Monika Sosnowska para-pavilion that housed the other work, Mirza had constructed a much slicker space. Here the effect of his work was even more palpable and tense. A blinding throb of an circular lighting rig built in parallel intensity to an whining drone, before silence of sound and light triggered nervous giggles of the audience.
Elisabetta Benassi’s The Innocents Abroad similarly intrigued, with a darkened room punctuated by the faint glows of several microfiche machines. Each one insensately and mechanically searched for information, that the viewer barely had time to take in. One struggled to link apparently random information of drive-in movie theatres or gambling raids that were revealed to be the back of press photographs. In Shahryar Nashat’s Factor Green a strange green cube, of the variety used in green screen filming, hovered in front of several Tinteretto’s paintings. As the loop began again, a little was explained as we saw the artist (or another protagonist?) open, with a rasping soundtrack, a container that was revealed to contained the green box. He proceeded to manhandle this, until being satisfied with the magician-like hovering. The film had just the right amount of the fantastical, without descending into the overtly theatrical.
Back in the Giardini’s main pavilion Omer Fast’s fascinating film, Five Thousand Feet is Best  played, in the pit below Sosnowska’s previously mentioned star-shaped space. The action switched between the interrogation of a former Predator drone operator and the filmic re-telling of his stories. As more time was spent with these stories we begin to realise that there is a mis-telling and/or mis-casting taking place. So, for example, the colour of the skin of a man changes, “Hey I didn’t mention race”, halway through one episode or the interrogation room changes location after the protagonists cigarette break; whilst odd beeps interrupt and cover over parts of the dialogue, leaving us only guessing at the missing content. The viewer is intrinsically part of Fast’s film, and the film is hyper aware of itself as a construct, “Do these guys have to be here? I didn’t know you’d be filming” is repeated at the start of each story giving a brooding sense of déjà vu.
One was aware of two types of guard in the pavilion. Above our heads Cattelan’s taxidermy pigeons looked down at us, playfully critical of us as viewers and possibly also the organisers, for changing the exhibition so little since their first airing in 1997. The other guard was the more traditional gallery invigilator. Bizarrely whilst one stood permanently on guard of Ryan Gander’s 25 Euro coin, next door school children groped and gouged at Fischli and Weiss’clay works, a strange contrast of value by the audience and organisers. Most present of all was the constant chorus of “NO PHOTO” by the trio of guards in front of Tinteretto’s masterful Last Supper. Something was not right here though. What should have been the masterstroke of Criger’s exhibition was tarnished by that most obvious of things, given the exhibition’s theme. Removed from their church homes and represented low down on the white walls of the hijacked shipyard warehouses the paintings were obscured by the glare of the spotlights lighting them. Ironically given the illuminations of the title and theme, I was left less illuminated by encountering the Tinteretto’s here than within their usual context. A brave move by the curator for sure, but also one that needed a little more sensitivity of the original Venetian master of light.