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Contemporary Living

December 13, 2009

Lauded and derided in equal measure, the £14 million Nottingham Contemporary opened last month to a frenzy of blog-hating and BBC bum-licking. Much of the scorn was poured on the unusual architecture of the place – a giant green shoe box moulded into the site of the former ‘Junkie Gardens’. Always fashionably late, Dope on a Rope dropped in a month later to see how the Midlands’ most expensive modern art gallery was getting on.

Kicking things off with a bang, the Contemporary opened its doors with exhibitions devoted to David Hockney and Frances Stark. Although a generation apart and born on opposite sides of the Atlantic, the two artists share a stylistic affinity that is a deserved theme for the opening. Californian Stark’s works are faithful to her name – bleak, rigid, blunt – and employ white space, collage and meticulously handwritten quotes in repetition. These floating phrases from heroes of hers such as Mark E Smith are an echo of Hockney’s early pieces. While not exactly Dope on a Rope’s cup of lapsang souchong, some of her works such as ‘There will also be things I don’t like’ possess a clean, poppy style that is aesthetically pleasing.

The three-dimensional embodiment of her collage ‘Backside of the Performance’ sees a triptych of kimonos/Bakelite telephones plonked in the centre of Gallery 1. Whether this is a ploy to keep primary school visitors from falling into a hypoglycemic coma after ten minutes without Haribo is unclear. More likely it is to show something off through the street-level window and entice people in. It certainly softens the blow from the cold of the cavernous main galleries which the Stark exhibition barely warrants.

More low-key is Bradford-born David Hockney. The exhibition A Marriage of Styles 1960-1968 takes in the artist’s formative years, from his time studying at the Royal College of Art to his move to California and obsession with the glamour that entailed. Early oil works like Queer and We Two Boys Together Clinging explore Hockney’s declaration of his sexuality. The dark, messy strokes are at odds with the ubiquitous A Bigger Splash and the rest of his pool and water inspired pieces – the cleaner, more loving lines suggesting comfort from his newfound Californian life.

Naysayers will point to this opening exhibition as not being conducive to the growth of Nottingham’s artistic scene. But to those naysayers, Dope on a Rope says “shhh!” Exhibitions of this calibre are not often so accessible – the gallery is free admission – and in any case, director Alex Farquharson has promised the showcasing of local talent in upcoming months.

The Hockney exhibit was a clear, bold statement to the art world. As was the brave, exciting shipping-container design of the building. “Nottingham is here,” it says.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ron permalink
    September 28, 2010 3:30 pm

    Visited Nottingham Contemporary. Utter rubbish. Greeted with the first exhibition of photos which described itself as a kind of ”anti-journalism”. These were essentially pictures taken by Bruno Serralongue of several fringe political meetings. Bruno whines that theyaren’t covered by the mainstream mass media and he’s giving these poor suppressed victims of capitalism a voice.

    But the first pictures are of the leader of an extremist party who delivers speeches with a ski mask covering his face – he’s a nutter. That’s why the press don’t give him the time of day. A five-year-old with a kodak could have produced something more artistic.

    The second load of self-important nonesense were the kind of ‘thought-provoking’ facts that are spouted so regularly that they lose all impact stuck on pages in a big mess. They attracted lots of admiring stares from people walking through the gallery. The same people it’s worth adding who all grasped free posters without even looking at what was printed on them. Ironically, and totally lost on them, was that they were showing the kind of mindless materialsim that has caused some of the destruction that this exhibition was about.

    But one of the most moving exhibitions yet what seemed to be the least popular with the masses was a serious of lurid photographs of the oil fields in Niger by George Osodi. These pictures which give meaning to the phrase ‘ a picture speaks a thousand words’ put to shame the other exhibitions which rely on bloated waffle.

    Nottigham City Council and it’s Stalinesque PR henchman have serious questions to answer for this project.

    • January 5, 2011 4:52 pm

      Too right. In fact, why stop at NCC? Why not extend those ‘serious questions’ to fellow beneficiaries the Arts Council England, The National Lottery, The Greater Nottingham Partnership, EMDA and those bloody Europhiles at the EU whose support all means we have constantly changing, international art for free right on our doorstep? The cheek of them.

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