La Terra Inquieta (The Restless Earth) at La Triennale di Milano is an exhibition about refugees and migrants.

Francis Alÿs

Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River by Francis Alÿs (2008)

“Do you like the show?” I asked a fellow visitor in Italian as we were nearing the end. “I do,” he replied, “what I like most, is its sense of equilibrio.

Adrian Paci 

Centro di Permanenza Temporanea by Adrian Paci (2007)

I knew exactly what he meant. Equilibrio is the word that came to my mind too. In English it can be translated as equilibrium, balance, poise, composure or stasis. With regards to this show it refers to all of the above.

Liu Xiaodong

Things aren’t as bad as they could be by Liu Xiaodong (2017)

The name of the show is borrowed from the collection of poems by the Martinican writer and philosopher Édouard Glissant. It’s a fitting name, which may sound strange given the sense of equilibrio I just mentioned, but somehow both aspects are present.

Thomas Hirschhorn

Beyond Ruins by Thomas Hirschhorn (2016)

Curated by Massimiliano Gioni and promoted by La Fondazione Nicola Trussardi and La Triennale di Milano, La Terra Inquieta (The Restless Earth) brings together 65 artists (although it doesn’t seem that many) from 40 countries.

Andra Ursuta

Commerce Exterieur Mondial Sentimental by Andra Ursuta (2012)

Gioni’s excellent curatorial direction, the integrity of the works, the storytellers whether they are the artists themselves, many of whom have been refugees or migrants, or the people and experiences they portray together with the absence of the mass media all contribute to make this a five star exhibition.

Abounaddara Films

The Witness by Abounaddara Films

The show highlights many aspects rarely seen via the mass media. The Witness recorded by Abounaddara Films, an anonymous film making company from Damascus, is a series of interviews with different people. In one interview a woman speaks about how she goes to afternoon prayers wearing trousers which is forbidden under the “Islamic State”. Her friends can’t believe it – ‘a girl all by herself facing the “Islamic State”. Talk about a state!’ she says, ‘it’s more like a gang that takes advantage of people’s fear and feels more and more powerful.’ You can see the entire interview here.

Yasmine Kabir

My Migrant Soul by Yasmine Kabir (2001)

The harsh reality of poverty, the devastation of war, cruelty and upheaval – it’s all here but none of it impacted me in the same way as it does via the mass media. I didn’t feel overwhelmed, the need to judge or take a stance but I left with a more empathetic understanding of the migrant and refugee experience than I have honestly ever felt before.

Isaac Julien

Western Union: small boats by Isaac Julien (2007)

Filmed in Palermo, Sicily, Western Union: small boats by Isaac Julien, is, as he explains,  ‘a meditation on Visconti’s The Leopard but set in modern days. We know the story about Visconti, it’s about the decline of the aristocratic classes and, in this moment in time in Sicily, it’s really about, the new émigrés, new people from Africa, coming into Europe.’

Isaac Julien

Western Union: small boats by Isaac Julien (2007)

It’s incredibly beautiful and thought provoking.

Isaac Julien

Western Union: small boats by Isaac Julien (2007)

What came to my mind was the unnerving juxtaposition of beauty and evil. For example, we see people at the beach swimming in a crystal blue sea only a stone’s through away from dead bodies covered in foil lying on the shore.

Bouchra Khalili

The Mapping Journey Project by Bouchra Khalili (2008 – 2011)

Not surprisingly, means of travel – especially small boats – figure throughout the show. I found Bouchra Khalili’s The Mapping Journey Project particularly informative. She represents eight different illegal journeys made by immigrants coming from north Africa or Africa to France. Each one recounts their journey while tracing it over a map. You can sit, watch and listen to each journey. In Mapping Journey #1 a man describes travelling in a small boat, ‘You can’t even imagine the huge waves and the fear’ he says.

Adel Abdessemed

Hope by Adel Abdessemed (2011 – 2012)

Hope by Adel Abdessemed is a wooden boat filled with cast resin sculptures of stuffed black garbage bags. He found the boat on the Florida Keys. As described on the wall panel it’s, “a likely castoff of migrants arriving from Cuba,” while the black sacks, “offer a blunt metaphor for how the boat’s presumed passengers are regarded by much of society.”  ‘Hope,’ says the artist, is the only negative thing in the world.

Mona Hatoum (1998)

Map by Mona Hatoum (1998)

The precarious nature of life is another strong theme throughout the show. In Mona Hatoum’s Map transparent glass marbles are laid out on the floor as a world map . They’re not stuck to the floor, they’re just placed on the floor, “revealing the planet’s territorial divisions as both dangerous and fragile,” as described on the information panel. While I was there one guy accidently trod on the bottom of South America which rolled away haphazardly. Perhaps the lack of protection is not altogether accidental hammering home the point, I think, that anything can happen to anyone at any given moment in time so in this respect we’re all in the proverbial same boat but I think this is exactly what gives the show that sense of equilibrio which I mentioned earlier.

The show runs until the 20th August 2017 and really worth a visit in you’re in Milan.

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Working with Art Detective Charley Hill

Last April I sent Charley Hill my CV and cover letter suggesting he hire me as his summer unpaid intern. Within an hour I had my reply – a resounding yes. He happened to have several documents he urgently needed translated from English into Italian and as I speak Italian I was the perfect person for the job. ‘I should call you Nathaniel’, he wrote back referring to the angel. My timing couldn’t have been better.

It’s amazing how much you can learn in a short space of time. When I wrote to Charley I knew as much about art crime as most people: bugger all. Sure I’d seen The Thomas Crown Affair and was aware that Edward Munch’s The Scream had been stolen at some point and OK, I have a quiet fascination for fakes and forgeries mainly due to the pile I’ve unwittingly amassed over years of trawling through eBay and local auction houses in search of the needle in the haystack Philip Mould style, but that’s about as much as I knew.

Still, that’s not to say I’m a total newbie to the art world. I’m not. I’ve been weaving in and out of it for years, working for various art institutions and cavorting around London’s incredibly colourful art scene. In fact having returned from teaching English in Kazakhstan, I half toyed with the idea of donning the Art Representative cap which is what led me to the Sotheby’s Institute of Art open day. At the reception afterwards, I asked David Bellingham who runs the Art Business courses, if they cover fakes and forgeries. They do he said, and that the famous art detective Charles Hill lectures on them. That’s the first I’d heard of Charley Hill.

There’s a ton of material about Charley on the internet but what I enjoyed reading the most was Edward Dolnick’s book The Rescue Artist. He uses the theft and recovery of Munch’s The Scream stolen from Norway’s National Gallery in 1994 as the central story (hugely entertaining, presently in development to be made into a movie) and intersperses it with lots of other juicy art crimes. Charley turns up in most of them either playing the role of himself – the intrepid self-styled art sleuth – or if he was part of a sting operation posing as a middleman or a dodgy art-dealer. Each case is a heady cocktail of mystery, greed, power and incredibly beautiful and important works of art by the likes of Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci, Vermeer and many more. ‘Is it all true?’ I asked Charley one afternoon as we sped into Oxford following a tip-off that the Ashmolean Museum was going to be targeted for its collection of clocks and watches. ‘Most of it,’ he replied.

The chapter entitled “The Rescue Artist” is Charley’s bio. He’s half English, half American. His Mum, Zita Widdrington, was the daughter of a Reverend and a member of the high-kicking dance troupe The Bluebell Girls (the Kay Kendall character in the Gene Kelly movie Les Girls is based on her). His Dad, Landon Hill, was an Air Force officer and then worked for the National Security Agency. He was one of the first American soldiers at Dachau concentration camp. What he witnessed there haunted him to his death. After the war he became an alcoholic and died in a car accident when Charley was 18. Charley spent most of his childhood living in various cities on the east coast of America and in Europe attending no less than twelve schools. A precarious life style, but one that allowed Zita to bring him and his two sisters to all the great art institutions wherever they went. Perhaps it gave him a sense of stability, looking at the never changing landscapes and faces that inhabit the great masterpieces he came to know so well. One of his favourites is The Skater by Gilbert Stuart (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). He sees in it a man gracefully gliding through life. l later found out he’d love to own a painting by Edward Hopper who he regards as a twentieth century Vermeer. Before his career took him back to the realms of art he was a paratrooper in the Vietnam War, studied History at Trinity College Dublin (I studied Italian there), Theology at Kings College London and worked as a cop for 20 years – the last three as the supervising Detective Chief Inspector of the Art and Antiquities Squad at New Scotland Yard. Above all, Dolnick paints a picture of a man of parts: erudite but would be a square peg in a round hole in academia, courteous but swears like a sailor, humble yet admits to being thoroughly vain and arrogant, a quintessential boy scout when it comes to helping others yet a self confessed lone wolf although extremely partial to a good malt whiskey shared with intellectual banter. I liked the sound of him.

What I didn’t know before meeting Charley was that these days he’s hot on the trail of the Holy Grail of stolen art: Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence also known as The Adoration. Caravaggio painted it in the Oratory of the Church of San Lorenzo in Palermo in the late summer of 1609 while he was on the run in Sicily. It stayed there for over 350 years before some dimwit (they usually are) sauntered in on the 16th October 1969, cut it out of its frame and sauntered off with it. It’s a huge painting, roughly six feet by nine feet but the priest who was having a siesta next door heard nothing. To this day its theft remains a mystery: who dunnit, why, where it is now – if it still exits at all. It’s far from Caravaggio’s most well known works but continues to inspire a welter of speculation. One rumor has it that ex Prime Minister of Italy Giulio Andreotti, ordered its theft. Seemingly he burst into tears when it was brought before him not because he was so awed by its beauty but because it had been so badly damaged by the thief who probably folded it up into eighths and stuck it on the back of his Vespa. True? Who knows, but in this world anything is possible. Then there’s the case of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum paintings, all thirteen of them stolen on St. Patrick’s Day 1990 with a collective value of $300 million and a reward of $5 million but that’s another story.

Our first meeting was at Tide Tables Café under Richmond Bridge on a very wet and windy Sunday morning. We arranged to meet at 11.30 am. He was be coming straight from church, I was coming from my bed in Swiss Cottage. I was early. He was late. When he arrived he was adamant about buying the coffees even though I’d already had one, so I settled on a croissant just to humour him. He did most of the talking, diving straight into the Caravaggio case and the Gardner Museum theft. For all the research I’d done, I could hardly keep up and as much as I wanted to, I was too embarrassed to take notes. I’m sure we were there for over an hour but I would have stayed longer, I found him fascinating.

There’s no routine and to my infinite joy no admin work. To catch up on everything, we usually meet once a week at the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square or if it’s a nice day at the Courtauld Gallery, one of my favourite museums in London. Charley will treat me to lunch and randomly proffer the latest updates on various cases. I listen attentively, trying to piece together all his snippets of information into some sort of logical order . I repeatedly have to ask him who this person is or how that one’s involved, but he’s extremely patient. I think I’m beginning to get the picture but as he says, don’t bother trying, it changes every day.

As I’m learning, recovering stolen works of art involves speaking with a lot of different characters from a lot of different backgrounds: from the powers on high (Scotland Yard, Interpol, governments), to the powers down low (gangsters, crooked art dealers, international criminals) to those shady folk who straddle both worlds (penitents, informers, dealers who knowingly sell stolen art and antiquities, fakes and forgeries – there’s more than you’d think) and everyone else in between. I can be hob-knobbing with sharp dressed Bond Street dealers with plumy accents one minute then shaking hands and having a drink with one of Britain’s most wanted criminals the next. With Charley, it’s all in a day’s work. Ultimately his only concern is recovering the stolen works of art.

When I’m not ‘pounding the streets’ I may well be doing a spot of translating, more specifically letters to Bishop Pennisi in Sicily. Charley’s been working on recovering precious treasures stolen from the Cathedral in Piazza Armerina in the province of Enna for years. Little by little, members of the local Mafia are coming forward to help him. He’s been back there twice in the last three months alone and spent the last trip acting on a tip-off, wading through muddy riverbanks under a scorching Sicilian sun hoping for a glint of the precious jewels, ditched there by the thieves who knows when. Looting and pillaging of religious and ancient works of art is a huge business in Italy and internationally. Sadly it’s all too often condoned by art institutions and private collectors worldwide. I ask Charley more about this in our interview below.

Since working with Charley my view of the art world has changed dramatically. In one way it’s a bit like having a look under the carpet, delving below the aesthetics and finding all manner of questionable entities. On another level, it’s opened up a whole new dimension I had no idea existed.

What follows is an interview with Charley about cases we’ve been working on together over the past three months and aspects of art crime I wanted more clarity on such as the difference between a reward and a ransom.

In search of the real Caravaggio and other great works of art: Interview with Charley Hill

Tuesday 24th July 2012 at the National Gallery, London

TC: Charley, we’re riding the wave of Caravaggio mania at the moment so I’d like to start by asking you about your search for Caravaggio’s Nativity with St Francis and St. Lawrence. Can you tell me what happened, who stole it and what’s the likelihood of its recovering?

CH: In the Fall of 1969, thieves broke through into the Oratory of St. Lawrence in Palermo and stole Caravaggio’s great Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence. It was assumed to be a Mafia inspired theft. It may have been. They certainly became involved in some ways later on. Obnoxious half-wits stole the painting because they are Philistine half-wits. It cannot be recovered in the condition in which it was stolen, but the canvas cadaver can be recovered in my opinion.

TC: Let’s be optimistic and assume you find it, what type of restoration will it need? Then should it be put back in the Oratory of San Lorenzo? If not, where do you think it should be hung?

CH: The restoration of that Caravaggio will take some ingenious form. The Church of the Eremiti in Padua has an interestingly, partially restored series of frescoes by Mantegna on its walls. The destruction was done by a series of bombing raids on German troops in Padua during WWII by Allied air forces. The restoration was a work of genius by an Italian mathematician and his helpers. In the National Gallery in London is a picture by Cima de Conegliano called The Incredulity of St. Thomas (Doubting Thomas). It was dropped into the Grand Canal in Venice over a hundred years ago and completely repainted recently. It’s a masterpiece of restoration. Once the Caravaggio is recovered and restored as much as it can be, it should go where the Archbishop of Palermo thinks it should go. I’m sure he’ll take good advice. I think it should go where it can be seen, admired and protected from thieves, earthquakes, storm and fire.

TC: I know you’ve got your heart set on finding other stolen art treasures from Sicily, I’m referring to the ancient Byzantine icon of the Madonna from the Cathedral of Piazza Armerina. Can you tell me about this icon and the frame which I believe was a later adornment to the icon and if I’m not mistaken it was only the frame that was stolen? Why would somebody steal this?

CH: Roger de Hauteville was the Norman knight in the 11th century who led the people of Sicily to oust their Saracen rulers. The Pope at the time, Nicholas II, gave Roger an icon that may have been a pre-iconoclastic one, that is, a work of Byzantine art from the 8th century. Whatever its age, later centuries saw it adorned (in fact, it went missing in a big box for some centuries) and in the early 17th century it was festooned with jewels, Hispanic gold, gilt bronze and so on and on. The frame itself was made with silver and other precious metals. People stole from the icon because they could and thought it would satisfy their greed. It hasn’t satisfied anyone’s greed so far as I can tell, although there may be a few people who feel smug about having some of the valuable things on it.

TC: Do established art institutions and museums purchase stolen works of art and antiquities? What do you say to these institutions?

CH: Institutions do purchase stolen things, largely inadvertently, or blindly, or willfully blindly. What I say to individuals and institutions is that you have a conscience or collective consciences. Use them. Do what’s right. In English law, once something is stolen, it is stolen, and no one has better title to the stolen property than its owner.

TC: I’ve read that art crime is the third highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide behind the drugs and arms trade. Can you give me some realistic facts and figures?

CH: More crap is talked about art crime figures than any other subject, other than health remedies and religious or political certainties. I have no realistic figures, and no one else does either, not collectors of statistics, bureaucrats, soothsayers nor bullshitting police officers and the like.

TC: Besides the 1970 UNESCO convention, what measures have governments put in place to deal with art crime? Do you have any suggestions you could offer them?

CH: Other than international agreements, the best thing governments can do is tighten their laws of theft and enforce them internationally. I would include thefts by deception which would include art frauds, forgeries, fakes, willfully dodgy attributions, and intentionally bogus provenance.

TC: How much of art crime is carried out by organized criminal bodies and how much by individuals working for themselves?

CH: I don’t know what the answer is to that but my guess is, most individual thieves have some organized crime connection. They may not be part of some dreadful drugs gang, although it does happen, but by and large art theft is done by people involved in serious organized crime. They steal things because it gives them a buzz and they know they can get away with it.

TC: Do you ever find yourself in dangerous situations? How do you communicate with these people?

CH: I like dangerous situations. I used to be a paratrooper over forty years ago. It gets into your blood. We’re supposed to be surrounded. I treat everyone I meet in the same way and speak to them in the same way: directly and reasonably courteously, although I do make exceptions to the courtesy. Somehow, I manage to convey to people that I’m reasonably straight and reasonable, and not a particular threat to them. I’m a loner who enjoys closer contact on occasion, then the space to do my thing.

TC: Why is it so important to find these works of art? How will their recovery affect the general public?

CH: Art is part, in substance and theory, of the values we have as human beings. There are 7 or 8 billion of us, and we need art, especially great art and architecture, literature and ideas and traditions to help us be and become more fully human. I think that is our common, even though warring or conflicting, humanity. In my opinion, art is God given. Admittedly, a lot of art is bullshit and many artists and art world types are assholes, but still, art is a God given grace.

TC: What’s the likelihood of London’s museums and galleries being targeted during the Olympics?

CH: London during the Olympics and after them should protect its great works of art and architecture better than it does. The minds who destroy great shrines from Jehanabad through Najaf to Timbuktu are out there. If they get a chance, they’ll wreak their destruction here.

TC: What’s the difference between a reward and a ransom? Why is a reward acceptable whereas a ransom isn’t?

CH: A reward is something that should be offered and paid for the recovery of works of art because it makes the people who live and work in the grey area of art crime much more amenable to doing something than not when it comes to recovering stolen works of art. It’s also legal to offer a reasonable reward, so long as you don’t offer the reward to the thief, that’s an English law. As a matter of proportion ransoms tend to be much greater than rewards and as a consequence they may in fact get paid to the thieves which would be a terrible mistake because 1) it’s illegal and 2) counter-productive as it just encourages them to steal more. However a reward would tend not to do that and as a matter of proportion a reward would be a great deal less than most people would ask for than a ransom. Generally speaking you offer a reward, you don’t offer a ransom, you demand a ransom, you don’t demand a reward. I think rewards are to be encouraged and certainly in no way discouraged. The largest reward I know on offer for stolen works of art is the $5 million for the Gardner Museum paintings stolen in 1990 but generally speaking, up to about £100,000, 10% of the value of the item that has been stolen is probably a reasonable reward. However after £100,000, the amount drops, so that if it were worth £150,000, you wouldn’t offer £15,000, you’d still offer £10,000. That’s how it works.

TC: So how do you entice thieves to give back the stolen works of art if legally you’re not allowed to offer them the reward?

CH: A thief will steal something and then straight away pass it on to somebody else down the line. So the people you’ll be dealing with anyway are people down the line. A case in point is Titian’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt. I said to a man who knew where it was, “you get the reward, it’s a public advertised reward, you know what it is – see what you can do.” He certainly wasn’t a thief or the handlers, and he wasn’t the man sitting on it, he was the man who knew the man who was sitting on it, so in that case it was perfectly reasonable for him to get the reward and that’s exactly what happened.

TC: If I knowingly buy a stolen work of art, have I committed a crime?

CH: It depends – if you bought it to return it, no. However if you bought it for yourself knowing it was stolen, you would be committing a dishonest handling offense.

TC: Would I be entitled to a reward if I wanted to return it to its rightful owner?

CH: You could be, yes, if you came straight up and said, “I’ve bought this, it’s stolen, if there’s a reward going, here it is, I’ll accept the reward,” that would be legal.

TC: That’s interesting. Has that ever happened?

CH: I’m sure it’s happened, I’ve never been involved in something like that but it would be a matter of tension that’s for sure. There was the case of Leonardo’s Madonna with the Yarnwinder in Scotland but in the end the painting was recovered through an undercover police operation.

TC: Charley, thanks so much for taking the time to talk.

CH: It was my pleasure.

M16 Assault Rifles for Sale to Promote One Day of Peace

Lion in the Sand by Peter Doig

Lion in the Sand by Peter Doig, Oil on M-16, 2014

“Sold out'” said the sign at the ticket office when I eventually made it to Frieze this year. Frieze Art Fair is the most important UK international art fair of the year. It takes place every October in Regent’s Park where the art world glitterati gather over copious glasses of champagne and talk each other into buying outrageously expensive works of art.

In conjunction with the fair there are a million and one other events staged throughout London. Galleries host private views, collectors host parties, people championing causes host silent art auctions and Christie’s and Sotheby’s contemporary art sales keep the art market buoyant with dazzling prices and juicy gossip.

It Don't Mean A Thing If It 'Aint Got That Pin by Harland Miller

It Don’t Mean A Thing If It ‘Aint Got That Pin by Harland Miller, Engraved decommissioned Colt M16 Assault Rifle

I was looking forward to it. What could be more entertaining than an afternoon of glamour, bubbly, crazy contemporary art and crazy contemporary people? If I hadn’t been so lazy about buying a ticket beforehand I wouldn’t have missed it but then again, I wouldn’t have gone to the most thought provoking exhibition of the entire week.

It was 4.30 pm. With no chance of getting into Frieze I hopped on the Bakerloo line to Charing Cross and legged it across Trafalgar Square where, tucked away in the relatively calm surroundings of the ICA was the exhibition “M16“. I had about about an hour before it closed.

Curated by Jake Chapman “M16” was organised to raise awareness of Peace One Day, a non-profit organisation founded by actor turned film maker Jeremy Gilley who basically created the first internationally recognised day of cease fire and non violence. His is an incredibly inspiring story.

Bad Gold by Yinka Shonibare

Bad Gold by Yinka Shonibare, Gold paint and batik fabric on decommissioned Colt M16 Assault Rifle, 2014

During a period of soul searching in the summer of 1998 Gilley realised that an official day of world peace didn’t exist (there was one actually – every 3rd Tuesday of September – but nobody knew about it and those who did know ignored it) so he decided to create one himself and make a film about his endeavour. A tad idealistic you may think, but three years later, on the 7th September 2001, at the United Nations General Assembly Kofi Annan announced the 21st September as the fixed date for Peace Day: the official day of cease fire and non violence. By the 21st September 2012 over 470 million people in 198 different countries were aware of Peace Day. The aim is to reach 3 billion by 2016.

Gilley’s film The Day After Peace documents his story from the initial idea to Peace Day being honoured by life saving initiatives taking place on the 21st September annually across the globe. For example, on the 21st September 2007 a cease fire in southern and eastern Afghanistan allowed 10,000 vaccinators to enter these usually inaccessible areas without being harmed or taken hostage and vaccinate 1.4 million children against polio. More recently the Howard G. Buffett Foundation has teamed up with Gilley to establish a peace campaign including humanitarian aid in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Great Lakes region of Africa. From a madcap idea to millions of lives being saved and millions more seeing the benefits of literally just one day of peace per year. The entire documentary can be viewed on youtube or by clicking here. It’s the most uplifting documentary I’ve ever seen.

Embroidered Gun by Kim Jones

Embroidered Gun by Louis Vuitton designer Kim Jones, decommissioned Colt M16 assault rifle, fabric, metallic ribbon and metallic string, 2014

For “M16” fifteen famous artists were asked to transform decommissioned (which means they’ve been used) M16 assault rifles into works of art. Artists include Peter Doig (his painting The Heart of the Sun sold for £4,562,500 at Christies’ art sale two days earlier), Mark Quinn (“Thaw of the Kokolik River” sold for £122,500 in the same sale) and Sam Taylor-Johnson who, rather than recrafting a rifle, framed an article from the Ham and High newspaper about how her house in Primrose Hill was raided by armed police having been alerted by passers-by who had seen, through her studio window, the rifle on the table. There’s also a rifle signed by Kate Moss.

In the background: The Eye of History by Marc Quinn, Mixed Media and paper collage on pigment print, 2014. In the foreground: Saint Just - DE - DR. -MEESE - PARSIFAL - HOT - HUMPTY - ZARDOZ - EGG - DUMPTY - BEN - IF - LOLITA - GUN DE LARGE IN ERZLAND (GUN DE NONNINEI) by Jonathan Meese, Acrylic, acrylic modelling past and mixed media on decommissioned Colt M16 Assault Rifle. 2014

In the background: The Eye of History by Marc Quinn, Mixed Media and paper collage on pigment print, 2014. In the foreground: Saint Just – DE – DR. -MEESE – PARSIFAL – HOT – HUMPTY – ZARDOZ – EGG – DUMPTY – BEN – IF – LOLITA – GUN DE LARGE IN ERZLAND (GUN DE NONNINEI) by Jonathan Meese, Acrylic, acrylic modelling paste and mixed media on decommissioned Colt M16 Assault Rifle. 2014

“M16” is the sister project to “AKA Peace” an exhibition also curated by Chapman for the same cause in 2012 but using AK-47s. As he explains in this video ‘the AK-47 is emblematic of a more illegitimate side of violence, the fundamentalist or terroristic side because it’s associated with more, I suppose, revolutionary or radicalised armies like non-nation state armies,’ while the M16 symbolises violence ‘funded by states and countries which are somehow seen as legitimate. The M16 is the predominant American weapon which, we wanted to make some kind of gesture towards the idea of thinking that M16s represent perhaps the idea of exporting democracy from the West via the super power of America and its associate allies with Britain, so that we were trying to somehow equalise the implication that it’s not only the illegitimacy of the AK-47, it’s the legitimacy of the M16 which also causes violence.’

BBW by Douglas Gordon

BBW by Douglas Gordon, Decommissioned Colt M16 Assault Rifle and taxidermy wolf

The ‘AKA Peace’ rifles made nearly £500,000 at auction in 2012. I believe the M16s will be auctioned at Bonhams on the 28th January 2015. I hope the auction goes well although pulling off the same(ish) good thing twice rarely reaps the same rewards which is a pity in this instance.

M16 by Jake and Dinos Chapman

M16 by Jake and Dinos Chapman, Fibreglass, bayonet and decommissioned Colt M16 Assault Rifle on plinth

All the Fun of the Fair at The Affordable Art Fair, Battersea

Living the Dream by Rosa Nussbaum

Living the Dream by Rosa Nussbaum, Steal, perspex, MDF, paint, fluorescent lighting £4,980 part of the Recent Graduate’s Exhibition.

“If it’s going to make you happy for the next 20 years”, I overheard someone say as I wandered around the Affordable Art Fair Battersea yesterday. I can imagine what the other person was thinking, “will I, won’t I, will I, won’t I?” After all, art isn’t a necessity like paying your electricity bill and you can actually find some fairly OK canvases/posters that come in pretty cheap. Then again, buying a work of art that a) makes you feel something, b) reflects and reaffirms to you something about yourself and c) makes you feel proud to show it off to others, is a completely different experience compared with simply filling a wall space and once you make your first heart felt purchase, you’ll never go back to conveyer belt art again – it’s just as simple as that, no matter how small or big your budget is.

I know, “budget” is the operative word and collecting art is often viewed as an expensive luxury but it honestly doesn’t have to be. As I always say, ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way,’ and the Affordable Art Fair: Contemporary Art from £100 – £5,000 is definitely one way.

Comprised of over 100 gallery stands, it’s geared towards art lovers who don’t have an oligarch’s budget but who do have a strong appreciation for contemporary art and who genuinely enjoy the overall experience of purchasing it and living with it.

Of course making your first purchase can be daunting (it gets easier…) but my advice to the woman I overheard would be: if you have the budget and get the feeling – go for it.

Here’s a few of my top picks:  “Living the Dream” by Rosa Nussbaum, from the Recent Graduate’s Exhibition (see above). A call back to comic strip life with the reminder that we’re all living in our own dreams.

Be Careful what you wish for by Ann Kelson

Be Careful what you wish for by Ann Kelson; Bone, wood, wire; £125 part of the Recent Graduates’ Exhibition.

How long has it been since I’ve thought about making something with wishbones? In fact I did once – I painted a few with red nail varnish but didn’t take it any further than that so I was amused to see these by Ann Kelson, also part of the Recent Graduates’ Exhibition. Entitled “Be Careful What You Wish For” a broken wish bone is shown in the process of mending with the message underneath: Mend: To make usable again (something torn or worn); to repair (something broken or damaged); to heal or cure (a broken bone, a sad feeling). You can read her inspiration behind them here. In a way I wish I hadn’t read the background story, it’s much more serious than I would like it to be, but that’s life – be careful what you wish for. There’s single ones framed like the one above and also three in a frame and five in a frame. They’re all sure to go.

Chief Red Jacket by Gavin Mitchell at Northcote Gallery

Chief Red Jacket by Gavin Mitchell at Northcote Gallery; Print on museum etched paper, 98 x 80 cm £750 framed

Sorry about the awful photo, it’s the best I could do but I just love this “Chief Red Jacket’ by Gavin Mitchell at Northcote Gallery, stand H11. Andy Warhol did a series of native American indians too and I love them as well. I find it comforting to be in the presence of Chief, a person who acknowledges and reveres the greater mysteries of life. It balances out the realisation that anything can happen to anyone at anytime which is quite a daunting realisation.

Cinnamon Lumberjacks by Christopher Boffoli

Cinnamon Lumberjacks by Christopher Boffoli, edition of 30 + 2 AP, Perspex, dibond, mounted prints, 61 x 92 cm, £1,800

The sizes of men and food are swapped so that a skier skies down a 99 ice-cream and men become the size of cinnamon sticks in Christopher Boffoli‘s series. Both times I passed the Bicha Gallery, stand I11, I noticed people stopping and commenting on these works especially the “Cinnamon Lumberjacks”.

Mist by Christiaan Lieverse

Mist by Christiaan Lieverse, 140 x 120 cm, mixed media on canvas £2450

There’s some damn fine portrait artists at the moment, one of my favourites is Lita Cabellut – absolutely amazing. “Mist” by Christiaan Lieverse stood out for me at Villa del Arte Galleries, stand I14.

In a Flap by Charlotte Farmer

In a Flap by Charlotte Farmer, limited edition screen print, £460 framed.

If you’ve got a kid’s room you want to brighten up this is the artist to go for without a doubt. Other prints include ‘The Call of the Wild” and “Bananas”. Visit the Smithson gallery at stand J6.

Blue Corridor by Daan Oude Elferink

Blue Corridor by Daan Oude Elferink, Photography edition of 8, 80 x 120 cm, £4,000

As the Art Detective says, ‘A great work of art will always tell you it’s a great work of art,’ and there’s no doubt about it, “Blue Corridor” by Daan Oude Elferink is a great work of photography. There were already 7 red stickers stuck to the wall beside it, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire edition of 8 has already been sold. You can check him out at Ronen Art Gallery, stand D1.

Toffs Love Dogs by Magda Archer

Toffs Love Dogs by Magda Archer, Archival Inkjet with 1 Colour screenprint Overlay with Diamond Dust and Glitter Embesllishment, Edition of 60, Framed £500

Two of my favourite stands (both were at the Moniker Art Fair as well) were Jealous at stand J4 where you can find “Toffs Love Dogs” by Magda Archer and TAG Fine Arts at stand H10 where you will find David Spillers “In Your Smile (Mutley)” and “We’re After The Same Rainbow’s End (Sylvester).” I’ve put “Mutley”on my bucket list.

In Your Smile (Mutley) by David Spiller

In Your Smile (Mutley) by David Spiller, Silkscreen print on Somerset satin 100% 400 gsm paper, edition of 75, Image size 76 x 76 cm, paper size 88 x 88 cm, framed £1,150

Frieze Week, Day 4: Moniker and The Other Art Fair – Brilliant

 

Charming Baker: Lie Down I Think I Love You, published to coincide with the artist's exhibition at LA's Milk Studio in March 2013

Charming Baker: Lie Down I Think I Love You, published to coincide with the artist’s exhibition at LA’s Milk Studio in March 2013

It was a first for me. I’d arranged to meet AM at The Old Truman Brewery at 5.00 PM. I’d a ticket for the private view of the Moniker Art Fair and he had tiks for the private view of The Other Art Fair. Two completely different art fairs in the same place at the same time. I was confused.

Chained to the Mirror by Miss Bugs

Chained to the Mirror by Miss Bugs, made from surgical blades. Signed limited edition of 3 unique colourways, £14,000 at ink_d & Lawrence Alkin Gallery,

Inside we were told that the staircase on the left led to the Other Art Fair while the staircase on the right led to the Moniker Fair but that both ticket could be used for either fair.

In Your Smile (Mutley) by David Spiller

In Your Smile (Mutley) by David Spiller, Silkscreen print on Somerset satin 100% 400 gsm paper, edition of 75, Image size 76 x 76 cm, paper size 88 x 88 cm, framed £1,150

Once upstairs though, the atmosphere was so good I completely lost interest in the logistics and anyway all became clear, or at least clearer, as we wandered around. As AM noticed, the Moniker Art Fair is comprised of galleries while The Other Art Fair is a show case of individual artists.

Hang-up Gallery presents Junkyard Games featuring Mark Powell.

Hang-up Gallery presents Junkyard Games featuring Mark Powell.

First things first: the bar and a glass of vino and a moment to decompress after the trials and tribulations of another day in London. I”m always awed at how this city and everyone in it keep going, keep doing, keep sane – well at least to a workable level. Where do we all come from? Where are we all going? Everyone moving through their own realities – that’s more than 8.5 million realities.

Almost Shore by Rina Bakis

Almost Shore by Rina Bakis, oil on canvas, 80 x 60, £1100

Later while I was sprouting on about how brilliant the fairs were over cocktails at the Waldorf Hilton with friends, one of them noticed the book I’d picked up at the Jealous gallery stand – “Charming Baker: Lie Down I Think I Love”. He thought it was cool and took a photo of it. As far as he was concerned it meant “Lie down I want to fuck you” while I was imagining, ” lie down, I’ve got something really serious to tell you” – yep we all live in our own worlds.

Both fairs were loaded with really creative, original and inspirational works of art, hard to photo sometimes and then choose which photos to put up. I love the image above, but I was so weighed down with books etc I’d picked up at various stands, plus I had my coat and camera I didn’t find out who it’s by or what it’s called and actually I like the idea of it being a mystery or maybe I’ll find out next year when I go again.

Frieze week day 3: A look at Andy Warhol and the London contemporary art sales at Christies, Sothebys and Phillips

Triple Elvis (Ferus Type)

Triple Elvis (Ferus Type) by Andy Warhol, silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 1963

I’m not good under pressure so with my back against the wall to get this piece published before the sales begin this evening, rather than firing up the lapper first thing this morning, I walked over to Browns the fish mongers in St Johns Wood to buy some of their smoke salmon scraps. Then I went up to my mum’s in Swiss Cottage for a quick cuppa before getting the 31 back to Chalk Farm only to realise I’d left the flat without my keys so I had to go back to my mum’s to pick up the spare set and then get the bus back here again. But I’m OK – just don’t ask me to do you a favour – at least not for the next couple of hours.

Andy Warhol Eternal Art Commodity

Self Portrait by Andy Warhol

Self Portrait by Andy Warhol

Is there an ever ending supply of Andy Warhol works? I think there must be because he figures strongly in nearly every sale and what’s more it looks like he’ll never saturate the market as his works usually go extremely well even though they often cost millions. In this week’s sales Christies is selling a total of 3, Sothebys 11 and Phillips 6.

Four Marlons by Andy Warhol

Four Marlons by Andy Warhol, silkscreen ink on unprimed linen. Painted in 1966

 

My favourites however are part of an exhibition of  six Warhols on view now at Christies but will be sold in New York on the 12th November. To my delight, a very plumy sounding Englishman was giving a talk to a group of ladies as I happened to roll into this exhibition. As’All Tomorrow’s Parties‘ played in the background, he suggested that the selfie above was taken in a photo booth, the type you use for your passport photo – you can see the top of the next photo at the bottom of the  image and wondered whether the sneering Andy was starring at himself, us or the art market? Humm. There’s no estimate given for “Triple Elvis (Fergus Type)”  ‘double troubled tripled, if you see what I mean,’ but he estimated $60,000,000 should do the trick. Nor is there an estimate for “Four Marlons” but after doing a bit of research myself it appears Carol Vogel of the New York Times (never heard of her but probably keep an ear out for her now) estimates they’ll pull in a combined figure of $140,000,000 as is reported on blouinartinfo. After giving it some thought, if I was to chose one, I’d defo go for the “Four Marlons”. Looking at him brought me back to my youth, to feeling cool again and the sexiness of feeling cool. Yep, that’s the one for me.

Grab your hat and gun

Is it just me or is there a more than usual amount of guns in the autumn sales?

VOIDED PERSON WITH GUNS AT HEAD (FLANKED BY CONFRONTATIONS) by John Baldessari

VOIDED PERSON WITH GUNS AT HEAD (FLANKED BY CONFRONTATIONS) by John Baldessari, acrylic on colour coupler prints in artist’s frame

This Baldessari has an estimate of £300,000 — £400,000 and is in Sotheby’s evening sale.

Self Portrait by Cecilia Edefalk

Self Portrait by Cecilia Edefalk

Self Portrait by Cecilia Edefalk is estimated at £15,000 – £20,000 at Sotheby’s day sale.

Infantry by John-Michel Basquiat

Infantry by John-Michel Basquiat, acrylic and oil sticks on canvas

“Infantry” by John-Michel Basquiat is at Christies evening sale today with an estimate of £1,800,000 – £3,000,000. Click here to find out more about this painting.

If only they all knew that LOVE is all you need. Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE can be purchased at Christies day auction estimate £280,000 – £350,000 but of course the LOVE I’m talking about is PRICELESS.

Love by Robert Indiana

Love by Robert Indiana polychrome aluminium

 

 

Frieze Week Day 1: “We Could Not Agree” in a Public Car Park and “Abandoned Goods” documentary

Pandemonia

The Art Detective’s Muse with Pandemonia

It’s Frieze week which  means there’s so much art being bought, sold, shown and talked about in London this week it’s hard to keep up with everything that’s going on. In fact I should have organised my diary way before Sunday evening because by this morning I was so overwhelmed I had to take time out from the scene already. So instead of going into town to view 1) The Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF) Benefit Auction ‘Arts for Human Rights’ being held at Phillips de Pury, 2) the M16  exhibition in support for Peace One Day at the ICA and 3) the contemporary art sales at Christies, Sotheby’s and Bonhams, I went for a walk on Primrose Hill instead, bought a cornfed chicken in the new butchers on Regent’s Park Road and made myself a nice cuppa tea.

Will do it all tomorrow but getting back to yesterday, I was mega inspired and touched by both events I went to. The first was “We Could Not Agree” a contemporary art exhibition held on the -3 level of Cavenish Square Car Park (behind the John Lewis store on Oxford Street) followed by the screening of “Abandoned Goods“, the documentary about asylum art which won a Golden Leopard for Best International Short Film at this year’s Locarno Film Festival.

Biblical Chocolate by Tasha Marks

Biblical Chocolate by Tasha Marks

Highlights from the first event include “Biblical Chocolate” by Tasha Marks who makes edible curiosities such as edible antique prints and renaissance sherbet. This is taking food as an art form to a whole new level. I’m inspired and want more. There’s a great video of her talking about her work here.

‘Lion Hearted’ by Thomas J Ridley

‘Lion Hearted’ by Thomas J Ridley

I was so mesmerised by this one, I forgot to ask who the artist was or even the name of the work. To me it’s the male version of Pamela Andersen – bar the bloody hands. No he’s not real. Thanks Thomas Ridley for the updated info.

The Object of its Own Grace by Mark Woods

The Object of its Own Grace by Mark Woods

There’s something very David Lynch about “The Object of its Own” Grace by Mark Woods. Underneath the floral print and fluffy pink and white frills lies a mass of sexual innuendo. Check out the objects up close and you’ll see what I mean.

And then the fabulous Pandemonia arrived. Described as “London based post pop conceptual artist”, what’s not to like? I loved her or him underneath the vinyl or latex although I once befriended a blonde air hostess at exactly the same time of year so I may just be perpetuating a habit.

Then on the other side of the river and in a completely different mind set I nestled into my comfy chair at the British Film Institute to watch “Abandoned Goods” a documentary by Pia Borg and Edward Lawrenson on art created by long term patients at Netherne Psychiatric Hospital. I wrote a post about it a couple of weeks ago called The Art of Being All Screwed Up. It was touching, saddening and also inspiring. It was followed by the documentary 72-82 about ACME but I was so tired I skipped it. It was raining as I walked over bridge to Embankment tube, I thought of taking a photo but couldn’t be arsed to get my camera out again. At that point the only thing I really, really, really wanted was my bed.

 

Bernard Buffet, Sir Peter Blake, Salvador Dalí and More at Roseberys Modern and Contemporary Prints Sale

Les Champs Elysees by Bernard Buffet, Screenprint, 1957

Les Champs Elysees by Bernard Buffet, Screenprint, 1957

After my exciting non-encounter with the Art Detective on Hatton Garden I took the train to West Norwood to view Rosebery’s Modern and Contemporary Prints sale which took place on Saturday 4th October. The first work that caught my eye was this Bernard Buffet screen print. Initially I wasn’t a great fan of Buffet. Besides posters of morose clowns dotted throughout my childhood, I’d see quite a lot of his works at Opera Gallery here in London or in the post-war contemporary art sales but the more I get  to know about the man himself the more I feel a certain curiosity and intrigue towards his art – sometimes the slow burners are the best.

It’s hard to tell from a photo but measuring 109 x 160 cms this screen print takes up a lot of wall space. I liked it but what put me off was that it appears to be from an unlimited edition and I find that quite strange for such a large work of art but maybe that’s just me. A quick look at Artprice showed the same image listed as an oil on canvas came up for sale in Antwerp in April 2006 again, but this time listed as a print, in October 2006 with an estimate of £1,206 – £1,608. Both went unsold. Since 2006 the same image has come up at auction in Tokyo as a tapestry and a print and in print form at Versailles.  This particular print sold at Roseberys for the hammer price of £450.

"Vichy- The Butterfly Man in Venice: Homage to Damien Hirst", 2011; giclee on canvas

“Vichy- The Butterfly Man in Venice: Homage to Damien Hirst”, 2011; giclee on canvas

Out of eight Sir Peter Blake prints only three sold: Vichy – The Butterfly Man in Venice: Homage to Damien Hirst (2011), sold for the hammer price of £3,500 (well under the low estimate of £5,000), Homage to Joseph Cornell (1996) (never heard of him, must look him up) sold for £260 and Sol 3765 (1964/69) sold for the hammer price of £620.

La Giraffe en Feu (Burning Giraffe) heliogravure by Salvador Dali from Tauromachie Surréaliste (1966/67)

La Giraffe en Feu (Burning Giraffe) heliogravure by Salvador Dali from Tauromachie Surréaliste (1966/67)

Bar one, all the Salvador Dali prints went like hot cakes, most of them around or below their lower estimates except for La Giraffe en Feu (Burning Giraffe) from the series Tauromachie Surréaliste (1966/67)  which was estimated at £600 -800 but fetched a hammer price of £1,900. Tauromachie Surréaliste or Surrealistic Bullfight in English was Dali’s response to Picasso’s “Tauromachie” series from 1957 – another subject for another day.

'Alison' by Cressida Campbell Woodcut in colours 1986

‘Alison’ by Cressida Campbell Woodcut in colours 1986

An unexpected result was for ‘Alison’ by Cressida Campbell (just cause it’s interesting: her sister is Nell Campbell aka ‘Little Nell’ of the Rocky Horror Picture Show – think ‘Do the Swim’).  It went for way over its estimate of £300-500, fetching the hammer price of £3,200.

Paint Bomber by SPQR, Screenprint in colours on silver card, 2008

Paint Bomber by SPQR, Screenprint in colours on silver card, 2008

There were lots more to be had by the usual subjects: Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Roy Lichtenstein and Tracey Emin to name but a few. ‘Paint Bomber, a screen print by graffiti artist SPQR sold for £200 – I’m going to The Other Art Fair on Thurs evening – can’t wait but I’m confused – can someone explain to me difference between the Moniker Art Fair and The Other Art Fair?

On the whole, works estimated at over £1,000 didn’t do so well as the lower priced works. The lots that went unsold on the day of the auction including some fantastic Peter Blake and Joan Miros are still for sale on Rosebery’s online auction which closes on the 17th and which I think is well worth a gander.