Again following directly on from previous posts, here’s a quick overview of the exhibitions currently running in Cardiff. You’d have to say it’s been a busy couple of weeks…
Books of the Unexpected
Curated by Becky Adams this show at Craft in the Bay focusses on the way artists are using books as a source material to create art (putting it bluntly). There are some lovely pieces here, particularly those by Betty Pepper and Becky herself:
Criticism? I think my main concern with this sort of work is its pervading sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia is not always a bad thing, but when it comes to dominate artistic production in the way it does here it seems fair to at least ask the question… To put this into some kind of context first: the comments in the exhibition’s catalogue are a litany of claims that the artists are rescuing “abandoned” or “lost” materials and the stories they supposedly evoke. The appeal is obvious: recycling and reusing found materials immediately and inescapably engenders the feeling that we are creating ties with the past, links with tradition. It’s all about “authenticity” in an age of superficiality, inbuilt redundancy, social mobility, and the collapse of social consensus.
Whilst this may well therefore be a reasonable response, it is often very difficult to discern what the artists are saying about the world we live in now because it simply isn’t present in the work. This negation is of course a comment in itself, but what we seem to be left with is a mythological British childhood circa 1950: warm, cozy, hot-chocolaty, with the World Service muttering away reassuringly in the corner as Grannie bakes cup cakes. In other words, the work in this show tends toward overt sentimentality and much of it veers dangerously close to kitsch.
[I think McLuhan would also have something to say about this type of practice: the artist rescuing an obsolescent medium, an old medium becoming content for a new medium, etc.]
Still Life: All Coherence Gone?
This exhibition opened yesterday at Bay Arts. Curated by Frances Woodley, the show explicitly “explores how contemporary painters and photographers engage with traditional still-life painting” with particular emphasis on the Dutch painters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
My friends—most of whom know far more about art than I ever will—were all enthusiastic about the show and the general response seemed very positive, but I have to say it didn’t do much for me. I found much of it uninspiring: hanging meat, dull flowers, run-of-the-mill oils, and more kitchenware than you could shake a stick at. Plenty of kitsch (sigh). Pieces often spoiled by overly-reflective picture-frame glazing.
High points: Alan Salisbury’s real flies stuck on oil-painted stylized fruit, Clare Chapman’s sfumato, and Krista van der Niet’s beautifully composed Rabarber:
An exhibition for the connoisseurs?
Wales Rajasthan Exchange
This exhibition at Butetown History and Arts Centre is curated by Richard Cox. The show is an ongoing series dating back to the mid-1990s when a cultural exchange programme between Wales and Rajasthan was originally set-up.
There aren’t a huge number of works on show, but a couple of beautiful pieces by Lalit Sharma and Meena Baya manage to successfully combine traditional techniques with a modern sensibility. Here’s a detail from one of the Sharma pieces (again somewhat spoilt by the glazing):
Cox also includes in the show a couple of his photographs of stepwells taken on his visits to Rajasthan, one of which I use here with all due respect: