8 October 2011

Emin and Riley at RWA Bristol

Better late than never, I visited the Royal West of England Academy (RWA) in Bristol just in time to see some of their autumn exhibitions before they close on 11 October. A registered charity, the RWA is one of the five Royal Academies of Art in the UK. Its galleries and permanent collection may be in a fine Victorian building in superior Clifton, but RWA is a key part of the busy arts scene in Bristol, famous for the street artist Banksy. The RWA balcony is currently hosting Damien Hirst’s Charity (2003), a painted bronze almost certainly cast at Pangolin.

A previous post described Bridget Riley's exhibition earlier in the year at the National Gallery. In Bristol a selection of her screenprints going back to the 1960s is on display together with works by Michael Kidner (1917-2009) over the same period. Kidner also began with Optical Art but moved towards a constructive abstractionism reflecting his interest in science and mathematics. He would probably have been fascinated by Luke Jerram’s Aeolus, an ‘acoustic and optical pavilion’, its ‘Making’ being the subject of a small exhibition at RWA. The real thing, quite a substantial structure, is currently elsewhere in SW England - at the Eden Project in Cornwall - but Jerram, who is Bristol-based, is apparently looking to find it a permanent home.

Quite at odds with all this cool rationality is the combined collection by Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, Do Not Abandon Me. Bourgeois (1911-2010) is probably best-known for her 30 foot spider sculpture, Maman, exhibited in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 1999. She is also regarded as the founder of the biographical and symbolic ‘confessional art’ and has been called Tracey Emin’s spiritual grandmother. Working to the very end of her long life, she gave Emin a final set of gouaches of male and female torsos. 16 of these have been adorned by Emin with small scratchy drawings and handwriting, unsurprisingly with “themes of an adult nature” to quote the RWA. Emin became an Royal Academician (RA) at the UK’s premier Royal Academy of Art (also RA) in 1997.  Emin recently donated a neon artwork sign, More Passion, to the Government Art Collection which has now been installed in No 10 Downing Street.  A year ago she declared her support for the current government, particularly the Conservatives.  David Cameron's wife, Samantha, studied art in Bristol at what is now the University of the West of England, UWE.


After posting the above on 8 October I tweeted:
New post: Time almost up to see Tracey Emin and Bridget Riley @rwabristol
which @rwabristol RT'd.

There was one reply from @KaiDeyDey, the “personal account” of Karen Drake who describes herself as Finance Manager at Spike Island.  This, its website explains, is a “centre for the production and exhibition of art and design based in an 80,000 square foot former Brooke Bond tea packing factory” in Bristol:
“@WestIndep: http://bit.ly/oMgzHG” it reads like it was written by someone who read the brochure but didn't go through the door.
Fair enough, but I did go through the door, or in the case of the Emin and Bourgeois show, through the thick black curtains (presumably intended to shield such graphic works from delicate Bristolian eyes.)

I admit that when I describe art I concentrate on matters factual, and possibly useful to any readers, and keep my reactions to the minimum, though I think they are discernible. Not least, this is because I have only a tenuous understanding of the critical language which the visual arts world seems to have adopted. If that makes me unwelcome at Spike Island, so be it, although I would have thought it might be prudent for an organisation which appears to be highly dependent on public funding to accept that  taxpayers come in all shapes and sizes.

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