The 95th Venice Biennale

A useful barometer for trends in contemporary art within an international sphere, this year the Venice Biennale took a particularly poignant turn in relation to the tragic Grenfell tower fire in London this year, which took the life of artist Khadija Saye. Her photo series Dwelling: in the space we breathe was exhibited at the 2017 Venice Biennale, something she was rightly incredibly proud of before her death. Back in March, Nisha Desai wrote for Culturised on how the art world took more notice of women through the 2017 Venice Biennale, and has made steps to ensure that space is available for gender inclusive works, both contemporary and historical.

This year’s Biennale celebrates the artist and their practice and the world surrounding it. As 2017 began by hurling us into political turmoil, the role of art and the artist is more important than ever. Viva Arte Viva champions this, embracing art as an innate method of individual human expression. In a time of anxieties and control art facilitates a form of freedom, providing a place for meditation and an opportunity to communicate feelings that words cannot. (culturised article March 2017)

The Grenfell Tower fire is entrenched in some really horrific, deep seated class issues embedded in our society, and Saye’s work, which looks at identity and culture on a deeply personal level, strikes a tone which feels rather cruelly linked. We are lucky to have these works of hers displayed in the Biennale, and we hope that galleries and curators in 2018 expand their repertoire into a more intersectional arena.

Photograph from Dwelling: in this space we breathe, photo series by Khadija Saye

 

The Hepworth Wakefield

This year has been a fantastic one for regional arts, which is shown to great effect with The Hepworth, Wakefield. Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017, it showcased some fantastic exhibitions alongside its permanent collection. In particular, their Disobedient Bodies exhibition with JW Anderson was a really innovative example of intelligent, open ended curatorship. The exhibition featured fashion and more traditional art together to draw new meanings from both, and had a really fun interactive installation of a forest of jumpers, making the whole experience reasonably inclusive.

Disobedient Bodies is a prime example of an exhibition which demonstrates that a holistic exploration of visual art can be extremely rewarding. JW Anderson has made a deliberate point of curating more than just a discussion on fashion and art, also drawing new meanings and interpretations from all of the items in this exhibition in relationship with each other. As a result, you will see sculpture and design rubbing shoulders with bondage, pleated dresses with paper lanterns, and see-through outerwear with neon-lit art. Unusual links are made between the different materials and forms in this exhibition, the pieces rebelling against structured and single tracked interpretations. (culturised article June 2017)

 

Fashion and Crafts

This year seemed to be a great one for increasing the spectrum of what is considered art in the art world. In particular, disciplines considered ‘crafts’ or ‘material culture’ got some lovely showcases in 2017. From the fashion in Disobedient Bodies mentioned above, to the Balenciaga retrospective at the V & A, not to speak of the wonderful work in cataloguing quilts online by Quilt Study, it feels like textile has had a lovely space in the larger art historical dialogue this year. Here at Culturised we looked at the role of taxidermy in art, Jeff Koon’s collaboration with fashion house Louis Vuitton, and interviewed Lydia Higginsons about their rejection of the high street to make their entire wardrobe within a year.

So why do we ascribe to visual art more cultural capital than fashion? We might say this is due to fashion’s reproducibility. Fashion ultimately is clothing to be worn, and its design choices and colour palettes trickle down into all clothing we own one way or another; this is something which anyone who has watched The Devil Wears Prada (2006) will understand. (culturised article May 2017)

Just like Frida Kahlo, another of her ideal dinner guests, Higginson has produced art that stems from her love of design and creative flair, whilst at the same time prompted by her fight back against various environmental, mental, and physical hardships. Higginson’s Made My Wardrobe collection demonstrates her dedication to her art, her expertise in each stage of the conception and construction of her garments, and also the deeper meaning and self-love behind each stitch and bolt of fabric. The wardrobe she has created is thus as deeply personal as it is beautiful; you can’t get that on the high street. (culturised interview April 2017

Soviet Art

And finally, some notable mentions include the exhibitions marking centenaries of key moments in Soviet history. From Russian Revolution Art 1917-1932 at the RA, Propaganda Revolution Architecture at the Design Museum, to to our look at the past exhibition of El Lissitzkys installations at Pressa, there was a lot for us soviet art fans to sink our teeth into as large scale commemorations took over The British Library, Tate Modern, The Royal Academy, and The Design Museum.

The architectural projects undertaken by Lissitzky, Iofan, Leonidov, and others were fundamentally different than those being designed and built in Western Europe during this period. Soviet architects felt an emphatic need to monumentalise and memorialise the new Soviet world. Revolution meant radical renewal across all aspects of life; in the field of architecture this entailed an entirely novel, revolutionised envisioning of the built environment. (culturised article May 2017)

While the Bolsheviks managed to transform Russia’s future almost overnight they were still a minority within a country whose total population exceeded 140 million. The importance of visual ideological propaganda is at the core of the first room of Revolution: Russian Art 1917 – 1932, entitled “Salute the Leader”. The transition from Orthodoxy is demonstrated visually as icons of Lenin (and later Stalin) replace those of Christ. Another crucial aspect was the creation of consistency, forming a recognisable image of its leaders in order to consolidate the foundation myths from which the Soviet state could be constructed. (culturised article April 2017)