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Contemporary Art at Bilbao's art galleries

John Daly-Peoples
Sun, 02 Oct 2016

Andy Warhol, Shadows and Sam Taylor-Wood, Sigh
Guggenheim Bilbao
Hyperrealist Sculpture
Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts

The Guggenheim is not the only impressive contemporary space in Bilbao, because the city has its own museum of Fine Arts which mounts major shows. Finishing shortly at the Bilbao Guggenheim is Andy Warhol’s huge installation work, Shadows” while Hyperrealist Sculpture is on at the Bilbao Museum.

Andy Warhol was known for admitting his “fondness for dull things,” which by the early 1960s corresponded to his use of photographic reproductions of found imagery culled from newspapers, magazines, and image archives. In 1978, at age 50, Warhol embarked upon the production of a monumental body of work titled Shadows with the assistance of his entourage at the Factory in New York

He produced 102 silkscreened canvas panels each with a slight variation. The series was conceived as one painting in multiple parts, the final number of canvases determined by the dimensions of an exhibition space. In the first exhibition 83 canvases were installed edge to edge, a foot from the floor, in the random order that Warhol’s assistants chose to hang them.

The 102 canvases, all of them on view at the Bilbao, show Warhol’s signature palette of bright hues with cheerful excess. The backgrounds of these canvases were painted with a sponge mop, the streaks and trails left by the mop adding “gesture” to the picture plane. Seven or eight different screens were used to create Shadows, as evidenced in the slight shifts in scales of dark areas as well as the arbitrary presence of spots of light. The “shadows” alternate between positive and negative imprints as they march along the wall of the gallery.

The works can be read as rooms, landscapes or the shadows cast by in interiors or outside by buildings on pavements.

There is a sense of the cinematic and time and the colour changes and range have a hypnotic effect.

Despite the apparent embrace of repetition, Warhol’s “machine method” is nothing but handmade. Far from replicas, each Shadow corresponds to a form that reveals, with precision and self-awareness, its space, directing the viewer’s gaze to light, the central subject of the series. In focusing on the shadow, colours and light devise light Warhol returns to the quintessential problem of art: perception which is also highlighted in an accompanying film ‘In Focus” which is a large projected circle of ever changing colours.

Another major work  on show at the gallery is Sam Taylor-Wood’s Sigh where she has filmed members of the BBC Orchestra apparently playing to the music of Anne Dudley. They hold no instruments only going through the motions of playing as though on stage. However, they are not placed in an orchestral setting as each group – violins, woodwinds and even the conductor are filmed as individual groups, eight in all. They are projected on eight separate screens. There is a surreal disconnect between the visuals and the music reinforcing the idea, often present in concert performances – is the music driving the players or are the orchestra creating the music?

To compose the original eight-minute score, composer Anne Dudley drew inspiration from the photographs of Sam Taylor-Wood’s series Ghosts (2008) – based on Emily Bronte’s classic Victorian novel Wuthering Heights – in which the artist captured the environment of Haworth Moor where the Bronte sisters were raised in

It’s a score that evokes those bleak moors devoid of human presence, a piece played on eerily invisible instruments with natural yet dramatised gestures.

On display at Bilbao’s Museum of Fine Arts is  Hyperrealist Sculpture 1973- 2016. Hyperrealist sculptures have often seemed to be oddities in contemporary art., included in group exhibitions to surprise and amuse as much as to make us question. The Bilbao selection of 34 works by 26 artists is an attempt to offer an in-depth survey of the way in which the human figure has been brought into contemporary art with a movement spanning more than 50 years of hyperrealism's existence.

In the 1960s and 1970s a number of sculptors began to be interested in a form of realism based on a vivid and lifelike representation of the human figure. Employing traditional techniques such as modelling, casting and painting, they reproduced the body using a range of different focuses but with the shared aim of formulating a clearly contemporary interpretation of figurative realism. As the Australian Ron Mueck has said: "Although I spend a lot of time on the surface, it's the life inside I want to capture."

This exhibition presents five different ways of approaching the depiction of the body through the five sections into which it is organised: "Human replicas," "Monochrome sculptures", "Body parts," "Playing with size" and "Deformed realities."

The exhibition reveals the numerous and varied ways in which this artistic theme has been depicted, its relationship with different trends in art history, and its technical evolution from the early years of the movement to the present digital era.

The selection includes all the leading hyperrealist sculptors, starting with the American pioneers George Segal, Duane Hanson and John DeAndrea. It continues with the rise of the movement internationally, represented by Juan Muñoz (Spain), Ron Mueck, and Patricia Piccinini (Australia) and Evan Penny (Canada), among others.

The works of Duane Hanson and John DeAndrea are presented as being the first  sculptures that seemed to be real, living and breathing human figures, for which they made use of extremely laborious procedures and innovative materials. The startling realism of their works transmits an illusion of authenticity to the viewer and the sense of being in front of a human replica that functions as a type of mirror of oneself

The work of Paul McCarthy achieves the effect of a replica that locates the viewer in an uncomfortable position, mid-way between fascination and voyeuristic complacency.

George Segal's monochrome sculptures with their absence of colour reduce the effect of reality and instead emphasises the anonymity of the figure and its aesthetic qualities.

In the 1990s some artists, instead of aiming to create the illusion of the  whole figure, focused their attention on specific parts of the body, which they used as a support for disturbing messages, on occasions with touches of humour. In the works of Robert Gober or Maurizio Cattelan disconnected arms and legs emerge from the wall and suggest ideas connected with childhood or modern history. A forerunner of this trend was the British artist John Davies, whose life-size heads seem to refer to archaeological fragments of classical sculptures.

The Australian Ron Mueck revolutionised figurative sculpture in the 1990s by dramatically increasing or reducing the size of the figures and thus focusing attention on existential themes such as birth, death or the fragility of life and showing human beings from a new perspective.

Over the past few decades, scientific and technological developments have brought about a radical change in our perception and comprehension of reality. As a result, artists such as Evan Penny and  Australian Patricia Piccinini, who exhibited work at the Venice Biennale observe bodies from distorted perspectives, while Tony Matelli cancels the laws of nature altogether.

John Daly-Peoples
Sun, 02 Oct 2016
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Contemporary Art at Bilbao's art galleries
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