Gallery blog


Bruegel to Freud: Work in Focus

21 July 2014 by Rachel

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Rachel Sloan, Assistant Curator of Works on Paper

View of the print by Jacques Callot, The Fan, 1619

Jacques Callot, The Fan, 1619

We’re used to thinking of prints as objects to be framed and admired on gallery walls, or kept in a portfolio and perused at leisure. However, that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Prints have been put to many different, and sometimes surprising, uses over the centuries: they’ve been used as maps, playing cards, and, in the case of this superb etching by Jacques Callot, as fans.

Callot (1592-1635) hailed from Nancy, in eastern France, although he spent the first part of his career in Italy. One of the most accomplished and innovative printmakers of his age, he soon found employment in the Medici court in Florence, where Grand Duke Cosimo II commissioned him to record – and enhance – the extravagant festivals and pageants for which both court and city were renowned.

One of these festivals was a mock battle staged annually on an artificial island in the River Arno by the rival guilds of weavers and dyers. In 1619, Cosimo asked Callot to design a fan to commemorate the event – the etched design would be printed, then cut out and stuck down on board before being distributed to 500 lucky spectators. (A thousand impressions were printed, so a large number of impressions – including this one – were never actually cut out and transformed into fans.)

As is often the case with Callot’s prints, the pleasure is in the details. Hundreds of tiny figures, their elegant costumes meticulously recorded, are massed along the riverbank, and the bridges, the battle itself and the distant city are depicted with exquisite care.

Detail view of Jacques Callot, The Fan, 1619 (banks of the river and bridge)

Jacques Callot, The Fan, 1619 (Detail)

Callot had initially trained as a goldsmith, something which no doubt honed his ability to render figures on a miniature scale – and it’s worth remembering that the two most time-honoured intaglio printmaking techniques, engraving and etching, both evolved from the goldsmith’s craft.

Callot embraced the freedom and ease of the etching technique (drawing a design with a needle on a wax-coated plate is much less laborious than painstakingly incising it) but he didn’t want to give up the elegance and control of the engraved line, which typically swells in the middle and tapers gracefully at each end.

He found the solution in a tool called an échoppe, whose oval head allowed him to achieve the same effect. You can see how skilfully he used the échoppe to achieve the swooping curves that form the borders of the fan.

One of the distinguishing features of many of Callot’s prints is their playfulness, and The Fan is no exception. On the curling scrolls that form the lower border are perched several small figures.

One of them, just right of centre, is glancing back over his shoulder and brandishing a fan. One of Callot’s?
Perhaps.

Detail View of Jacques Callot, The Fan, 1619 (man holding a fan)

Jacques Callot, The Fan, 1619 (Detail)

 

Bruegel to Freud: Prints from The Courtauld Gallery runs 19 June-21 September.

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Work in Focus from Impress: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

15 July 2014 by admin

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By Charlotte North, MA Curating Student

 

In Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art, now showing at The Courtauld Gallery until 20th July, we have defined ‘print making’ as any physical act of pressure that leaves behind an indent or impression. For us, prints can be conceptualised in this way whether or not their production has involved a printing plate, ink or paper.

Two Richard Long works displayed in Impress illustrate the pressure and physicality involved in this expanded definition of printmaking: A Line Made by Walking (1967) and River Avon Mud Hand Spiral (1984).

Installation view of A Line Made by Walking in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

Installation view of A Line Made by Walking in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

 

A Line Made by Walking was created through the method that its title suggests. In a field in Wiltshire, Long walked repeatedly along a patch of grass until his action produced a visible impression in the landscape. Long then photographed his performative—and otherwise transient—gesture, making it permanent as an art object.

Long’s use of his own body in the natural environment to create a work that was both ephemeral and enduring was considered to be radical at the time. In fact, A Line Made by Walking is still considered to mark a seminal moment in art history, particularly because of the important role it played in the development of British Land Art.

To create River Avon Mud Hand Spiral, Long collected mud from the River Avon near his hometown in Bristol. He then dipped his hand in the natural material and impressed it repeatedly to a sheet of paper in the form of an immense spiral.

Installation view of River Avon Mud Hand Spiral in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Installation view of River Avon Mud Hand Spiral in Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art. Photograph by Jack Cornish.

 

When viewed in the gallery, River Avon Mud Hand Spiral expresses a powerful sense of dynamism and energy; the force in Long’s movements can be seen in the splatter effect that surrounds his handprints. The repeated action also suggests a ritualistic routine and a sense of determination or even urgency.

Despite being visually divergent, these works by Long reveal several key similarities: they were both produced through a physical engagement with the landscape; they make use of simple, geometric forms; and they are both impressions that have been brought about by the weight and movement of the artist’s body.

It is this latter aspect of the works that made them integral to our thinking when planning this exhibition. Long’s works are not considered to be prints in the conventional, media-defining sense of the term, but they are the results of very direct and physical acts of impression. They can therefore be understood as compelling examples of expanded print making in contemporary art.

 

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.
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Courtauld Pairings

9 July 2014 by Hannah

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What do Christ ascending to heaven and a Parisian trapeze artist have in common? 

Ivory diptych

Ivory diptych with scenes from the Childhood and Passion of Christ (see the full image)

Manet's 'A Bar at the Folies-Bergere'

Edouard Manet’s ‘A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (see the full image)

 

Suspension!

Can you think of any other ‘suspended’ works in our collection?

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Work in Focus from Impress: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

2 July 2014 by admin

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By Jazia Hammoudi, MA Curating Student

Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq is one of two superb blind embossed prints that the London-based artists Langlands & Bell generously lent for Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art, on display in The Courtauld Gallery until 20 July.

The print is one of ten ground plans of famous mosques from around the world represented in the Enclosure and Identity portfolio. Langlands & Bell have long been interested in the socio-political implications of architecture. Dealing with religious buildings, along with political infrastructure, cultural institutions, and historic sites is part of their rich artistic practice.

View of Great Mosque of Samarra in Iraq. Courtesy of Langlands & Bell

Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq. Courtesy of Langlands & Bell

Blind embossing, a kind of stamping without ink, creates visually subtle prints that emphasize texture and dimension.

In Great Mosque, Samarra, Iraq, this process accentuates the mosque’s precise geometry, making for an elegant, sculptural image.

As an example of print making expanded, it speaks to the ways that centers’ of worship organize our lives and communities, sometimes invisibly.

The prints in Enclosure & Identity use architecture to investigate how religious institutions, along with secular and political organizations, play a major role in structuring identity within societies and in global contexts.

A view of the Great Mosque of Samarra‘s minaret, Malwiyah. Image courtesy of Architecture & Design Website

A view of the Great Mosque of Samarra‘s minaret, Malwiyah. Image courtesy of Architecture & Design Website

On another note, displaying the architectural plan of this particular mosque feels particularly relevant in light of recent history. This historically significant building has been heavily damaged in recent years due to intermittent warfare.

It was commissioned by the Abbasid Caliph (head of state) Al-Mutawakkil in the 9th century, and is one of the largest mosques in the world, measuring 240 meters long by 160 meters wide. It is particularly famous for its spiral minaret, the Malwiyah — ‘snail shell’ in Arabic – which stands 52 meters high.

Part of the top of the Malwiyah, was bombed in 2006 during the Iraq War. As a result, UNESCO declared the city of Samarra, including the Great Mosque, a World Heritage Site in 2007. Hopefully it will remain intact and inspire artists for centuries to come.

 

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.
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Final Stages and Opening: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

27 June 2014 by admin

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Kirsten Tambling and Bethany Wright , MA Curating The Museum Students

And we’re open! Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art opened its doors on Thursday for a special private view.

View of the galleries during the opening of the MA Curating Show, Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Opening of Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

It was exciting to see the exhibition space turn back into a public gallery at the Courtauld, because over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending most of our time there – hanging the works, lighting the works and putting up the interpretation panels.

One of our artworks, Nicky Hirst’s Wall 1, had to be specifically installed by the artist, using electrical cabling and a drill. So for three of those days we had the privilege of seeing Nicky at work bringing her piece to life, and drilling holes in the walls.

View of the Artist Nicky Hirst installing her artwork called Wall 1

Artist Nicky Hirst installing ‘Wall 1′

When we actually got in the space after months of planning and talking, we found that some of the works we’d chosen had a different sort of ‘presence’ from the one we imagined – perhaps they were slightly bigger, or more imposing, or seemed to have a different sort of emphasis.

So even though we’d planned our layout reasonably clearly in advance, we still spent a lot of time reordering things and trying new things out – which became part of the fun.

One of the works that became an anchor for us throughout these discussions was Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Its massive size and its power from a distance made it an ideal ‘vista picture’ – a work you see through the door of the previous room – and we knew we wanted it to be the first thing visitors saw.

View of the Final exhibition 'vista', Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

Final exhibition ‘vista’, Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

We had been imagining the sightline from the entrance to our show for months, and seeing the interplay between the two Richard Long works, Mona Hatoum’s + and -, and Anna Barriball’s Sunrise/Sunset V was a poignant moment for us all.

When we had the works up and arranged, the next task was to light them. There are a lot of works of paper in our show, and these usually have to have a light level below 50 ‘lux’ – the standard measure of light for conservation – and so we had to make sure we kept measuring the light levels and reconfiguring them as necessary to keep them low.

View of a member of staff standing on a ladder to light the gallery space for the exhibition

Lighting the exhibition space.

A particularly challenging work to light was Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought, a circuit board covered in silver filigree.

We wanted the silver to shimmer gently as it hung on the wall, but we found with head-on lighting this was impossible. After experimenting with lots of different options, eventually we discovered that the best way to achieve the effect we were after was to light the viewer, rather than the work, so that they reflect the light back onto the work, and make it glow.

View of artwork 'Small Thought' by Cornelia Parker, in the hands of a student installing the show

Installing Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought

Impress responds to the Courtauld’s current Bruegel to Freud: Prints from the Courtauld Gallery.

This explores The Courtauld’s collection of prints, one of the biggest parts of their collection but also the least known. When we came to discuss our own exhibition, and how it would respond to The Courtauld’s show, we decided that we wanted to consider the act of ‘print making’ more generally.

Since all the best known printing techniques – etching, engraving, woodcut, and so on – involve the exertion of physical pressure onto a surface, we decided that we would take this idea of pressure as our cornerstone.

One of the works that was part of our discussions from the beginning was Richard Long’s photograph A Line Made By Walking. Here, the pressure of the artist’s body on the grass creates a ‘line’, like a footpath, in a field. It’s a ‘print’, but it doesn’t use ink, plate or paper.

The final exhibition includes ‘blind embossed’ prints, pencil rubbings, engravings created by the pressure of the sun and, of course, Richard Long’s handprints in River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Another work, Richard Wentworth’s Nature, Mort reduces ‘print making’ to its essentials: it’s a metal bolster lying on a pillow.

The private view was an opportunity to show the final exhibition to everyone who has contributed to it, and helped us, over the last few months. It was a very proud moment for us all – and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible.

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.

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