Sunday, 27 September 2020

Victoria Beckham's Dreamy Seventies Vibe for Spring

Highlights of Victoria Beckham's new Seventies-inspired collection: a silk poplin blouse, and patchwork, flared jeans worn with a chunky, brushed gold necklace. 

From Spice Girl to soigné designer, Victoria Beckham has pursued a fashion career that has been equally lauded and lambasted. Her new Spring/Summer 2021 collection, presented in London, has a dreamy, eclectic look inspired by the 1970s, that hints at the good times beyond the pandemic, Ariana Della Rovere reports

Beckham's striking, cut-out dress 
in fluid Jersey.

VICTORIA Beckham had planned to have several small catwalk shows during the day for this season's London Fashion Week. Instead, she decided to present her new collection to small groups of socially distanced guests, as the numbers of Covid-19 cases escalates in the United Kingdom. 

In groups of three, they donned VB facemasks and saw the collection against a backdrop of artworks at the Victoria Miro Gallery, a former furniture factory located between Hoxton and Islington in North London. The designer thought this type of presentation was more suitable to the pandemic and its restrictions. 

For the new season's collection, Beckham ~ who hasn't been wearing the leggings or trackie pants many of us have worn during lockdown ~ had to brainstorm with her team about what to wear when working or lounging around at home.

“Limitations can be liberating," she says. "Working remotely, for this collection we reacted spontaneously. We were instinctive. We asked ourselves what has changed? Who do we want to be? What will we desire?This collection is about freedom - to explore, to dress up, to be yourself."

Instead of putting on anything with an elasticized waist, Beckham maintained her signature, minimalist look at home in vintage denim. And denim features prominently, for the first time, in the new collection. Beckham's jeans have a soft look with wide, flared legs and low waists which she mixed with flowing, silk shirts. Continuing the Seventies theme were long, fluid maxi dresses with lace inserts and bare midriffs.

Instead of wearing anything with an elasticized waist during lockdown, Beckham maintained her signature minimalist look in vintage denim

White wool tuxedo jacket,
Victorian silk blouse,
and split-hem jeans
"Eclectic is a word I keep returning to this season," Beckham explains. "It really encapsulates the [VB] woman, her attitude, her nonchalance. There are different silhouettes, different facets of dressing - coats, fluid dresses, denim and elongated trousers. 

"Hemlines are longer, fits are easier, there’s a fluidity and ease. Really, it’s about a true wardrobe. This collection is rooted in reality - in life, and living. But it’s a dream inspired by reality.” 

Because of the economic constraints of the pandemic of the past months, the label has been downsizing staff and  production costs. 

The 21 pieces in this new collection are less than half the number of last season's, back in February, when there were full-blown runway shows.

The new pieces include long, diaphanous dresses that are always a feature of Beckham's collections, this time in silk and jersey. The designer manages to make her designs wearable but with interesting details. 

"This collection is rooted in reality ~ in life, and living. But it’s a dream inspired by reality.”

Finely-tailored jackets and silk blouses add a note of formality to the jeans and voluminous blouses. Dark denim is contrasted with lighter patchwork and finished in red binding with a slit at the back. The jeans are worn with a long, white tuxedo jacket, voluminous shirt and high, banana-shaped heels (see above). This season's shoes are created from malleable Nappa leather and finished with swags of chains. They add a new note to the Beckham motifs as the designer prefers using flats for shows.  

Summery black lace and lavender
Jersey, evening dress,
Silk slip dresses with key-hole details draw attention to the waist. While the mauve, peach and leopard print gowns had contrasting lace panels, halter-necks or bows at the neck and drew attention to the back, with tie fastenings and crisscross straps. 

Colours were muted in the collection but with bright spots of vivid hues such as brilliant lavender for the summer dresses, emerald green for sharply-tailored trench coats and and orange-taupe for silk, striped blouses. 

Big circular pendants on chunky chain necklaces added to the free and easy Seventies vibe that ran through the entire presentation. 

In the past, at Victoria Beckham’s runway shows, her family has always sat in the front row during London Fashion Week. 

But this time, with Covid-19 altering her plans for a catwalk show, her family were the only guests at the first presentation. Her husband, David Beckham, and three of their four children sat in their own frow. 

Reflecting the aesthetic of the new collection, the family wore black-and-white with a bright dash of colour worn by the designer's daughter Harper, wearing a long, purple dress. Family and work merged for Beckham, as it has for everyone working during the pandemic. 

Highlights from Victoria Beckham's Spring/Summer 2021 collection

Floorlength, leopard-print camisole dress, worn with white Nappa kitten heels with chain detail.

Double-breasted, black wool tuxedo jacket with a white waistcoat and a textured, long skirt in dark navy worn with an ample, brushed gold chain and circular pendant. The red Nappa leather mules are finished with a double swag of chains

Liquid, draped dress with a ruched neck in a soft rose hue, that cascades down to banana-heeled shoes bordered by a chunky, silver chain. 

Patch-pocket, trench coat in cotton worn with a tobacco-hued men's style shirt in Jersey Mesh and split hem, straight-leg trousers in lime green.  

Sharply-tailored, belted trench coat in lime green worn with a cotton, silk stripe shirt and straight-leg tobacco-coloured trousers and thin, burgundy leather belt.  

Attractively-draped, long-sleeve cut-out gown in Jersey that draws attention to the current erogenous zone of fashion now ~ the waist.  

Caramel-hued, single breasted fitted blazer in wool gabardine worn with a matching, frilled sleeveless top and split-hem trousers in the same creamy-gold tones. 

A fluid and beautifully-draped, high-necked, smocked dress in lightweight, stretch Jersey in a soft beige. 

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Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Landmark Exhibition: Turner's Modern World

Joseph Mallord William Turner, Venice the Bridge of Sighsexhibited 1840.
Oil on canvas, 68.6cm x 91.4cm. Tate, Turner Bequest
Tate Britain's new landmark exhibition of artist Joseph Mallord William Turner's drawings, watercolours and oil paintings will open next month. The show brings together 160 major works, capturing events of the painter's era, from the impact of technology to the modernisation of society, Antonio Visconti reports 

Joseph Mallord William Turner, The Burning 
of the Houses of Parliament, c. 1834-5.
Oil on canvas. 30.2cm x 44.4 cm 
Tate, Turner Bequest 
The exhibition at Tate Britain, called Turner’s Modern World, shows how the United Kingdom's greatest landscape painter found new ways to paint the important events of his time. There are rarely seen drawings and paintings, on loan and from the holdings of the Tate’s Turner Bequest. The artist's works evince his interest in social reform, especially his changing attitudes towards politics, labour and slavery.

Turner's paintings depict humanitarian causes including Greek independence from Ottoman Turkey, the 1832 Reform Act and the abolition movement. The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835) shows his engagement with political events of the day. This was an event which Turner witnessed first-hand in 1834 and painted in a series of watercolour sketches. His A Disaster at Sea (1835) and Wreck of a Transport Ship (c.1801) are ambitious depictions of maritime catastrophes. The artist lived through turbulent times as Britain was at war for most of his life, spanning from 1775 until 1851, and revolutions and battles for independence were happening concurrently around the world.

Turner also witnessed the explosion of capitalism along with new scientific and technological advances such as the change from sail to steam and from manpower to mechanisation. One part of the exhibition focuses on Turner’s way of painting steam and how he developed a visual language for the modern world. His work was avant-garde and startled his contemporaries and his vision today is seen as an unusually perspicacious insight into the rapid change that engulfed the early 19th century.

Turner developed a new visual language for the modern world and his work startled his contemporaries

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 
Rain, Steam and Speed, 
- The Great Western Railway
Exhibited 1844. 
91cm x 121.8cm
© The National Gallery, London
Turner was always interested in the industrial world and in the 1840s he was the only one among his fellow artists that had steam boats and railways as subjects of major pictures. In this exhibition you can see Snow Storm (1842) as well as The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ (1839) and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844) on loan the National Gallery.

During Turner's lifetime, political reform plus the scientific and cultural advances transformed society and shaped a new future for the Western world. Living and working at the peak of the industrial revolution, Turner imbued his work with the changes happening around him whereas many other contemporary artists did not. The exhibition starts in the 1790s when Turner first observed life as a young painter and goes on to explore his fascination for industry as a new part of Britain’s agrarian landscape.

The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars brought Britain twenty years of conflict with France and living though this time added another dynamic to Turner’s work. The artist grappled with the drama and damage of war in paintings like The Battle of Trafalgar (1806-8) and Field of Waterloo (1818). However, he still liked to paint the Arcadian images of country life and work in Britain throughout his career.

This exhibition displays his recollections of wartime at home and his reflections on the reputations of Nelson, Napoleon and Wellington as well as on ordinary soldiers and civilians. While Turner’s love of mountains and the beauty of nature grew from his regular travel in Britain and overseas. His earliest tours were in England during the 1790s.

It was only in 1819, when he was forty-four, and at the height of his powers as a painter, that he made his first trip to Italy, filling twenty-three sketchbooks with drawings. The city of Venice became a recurring theme of his late work, in oils and watercolours, many of which were made during his stay in 1840.

Turner was the only one among his fellow artists that had steam boats and railways as subjects of major pictures

Joseph Mallord William Turner, 
War. The Exile and the Rock Limpet
Exhibited 1842.
Oil on canvas, 
79.4cm x 79.4cm. 
Tate, Turner Bequest
His late style, with its sweeping brushwork, powerful impressionistic effects and modern subject matter, was a revelation to the art world. Even some of his most devoted patrons, such as influential English art critic John Ruskin were bemused. But Ruskin disapproved of his sketches of nudes and was thought to have burned them in a fit of Victorian censorship. However, in 2005 these drawings were discovered to be mostly in the Tate collection, by Turner scholar Ian Warrell.

Today, the Turner Prize, is a top contemporary art award that was set up in 1984 to celebrate new developments in art. The award cited ‘Turner’ in its name because he was controversial in his own day and he had wanted to establish a prize for young artists. The painter is still considered an inspirational artistic figure as he broke with convention to paint the times in which he lived. Many artists ignored the industrial revolution but Turner faced up to these new challenges. And the artist transformed the way he painted to better capture this new world.

Turner first observed the effects of modern life early in his work and the exhibition's different sections follow his fascination for new industry and technology that led to his famous paintings of steam boats and railway engines of the1840s. The Tate exhibition also looks in detail at his engagement with the Napoleonic War and political events of his lifetime, including the 1832 Reform Act and the campaign against slavery. It also brings together for the first time major works by Turner from around the world, including The Fighting Temeraire (1839) and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844).

Dynamic brushwork, powerful impressionistic 
effects and modern subject matter, made Turner's late work a revelation to the art world

Joseph Mallord William Turner
The Fighting Temeraire,1838. 
Oil on canvas. 90.7cm x 121.6cm
© The National Gallery, London

The aim of the exhibition is also to explore what it meant to be a modern artist in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In Turner's later years he used oils vigorously to capture plays of light and glimmering colour. This mature style can be seen in Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway (see above) where the objects in the painting are barely recognisable.

The intensity of hue and interest in evanescent light not only placed Turner's work in the vanguard of English painting but exerted an influence on art in France; the Impressionists, particularly Claude Monet, carefully studied his techniques and Turner is also regarded as a precursor of abstract painting.

The artist's talent and genius were recognised early in his life and the financial independence that brought allowed him to experiment freely with colour, composition and atmosphere. Ruskin described him as the artist who could most "stirringly and truthfully measure the moods of Nature".

But Turner's work did draw criticism from contemporaries, in particular from Sir George Beaumont, a landscape painter and fellow member of the Royal Academy, who described his paintings as 'blots'. Turner's imagination was sparked by shipwrecks, fires and natural phenomena such as sunlight, storm, rain, and fog. He was fascinated by the violent power of the sea, as seen in Dawn after the Wreck (1840) and The Slave Ship (1840).

Already a prodigious talent as a child, Turner  studied at the Royal Academy of Arts when he was fourteen years old, and exhibited his first work there at fifteen

Joseph Mallord William Turner
Shields On the River Tyne, 1823
Watercolour on paper, 

15cm x 21.6cm
Tate, Turner Bequest
Turner was accomplished as a Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolourist. His expressive work shown through his large-scale landscapes and marine paintings demonstrated his skill and unconventional vision and his prolixity.

He worked hard all of his life and was very prolific, leaving 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolours, and 30,000 works on paper.  By the time he was championed by John Ruskin, he was already very highly regarded by his colleagues at the Royal Academy. 

Born in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden, London, to a modest family, he was known as William. His father, also William Turner, was a barber and wig maker and his mother, Mary Marshall, came from a family of butchers. He lived in London for most of his life, keeping his Cockney accent. Although he didn't show off his wealth and success, he was the friend and confidant of aristocrats and kings and stayed as a guest at some of Britain's great houses. 

Turner was already a prodigious talent as a child and studied at the Royal Academy of Arts from 1789, enrolling when he was fourteen years old, and exhibiting his first work there at fifteen. He went on to work as an architectural draftsman and then earned a steady income from commissions and sales of his own work. 

He opened his own gallery in 1804 and despite being very inarticulate, became professor of perspective at the Royal Academy in 1807, where he lectured until 1828. He first travelled to Europe in 1802, returning with the bulging sketchbooks that he would later draw on to create his large-scale oil paintings in his London studio. This wide-ranging exhibition gives a new perspective on Turner's work and shows why his paintings and drawings are as enthralling and emotive today as they were in the early 19th century. 

Turner’s Modern World is organised by Tate Britain in collaboration with Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibition runs from the 28th of October 2020 until the 7th of March 2021 at Tate Britain, London.

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Sunday, 23 August 2020

Exhibition: Gauguin and the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection

Berthe Morisot, Young Girl on the Grass (Mademoiselle Isabelle Lambert), 1885
Oil on canvas, 74 x 60 cm © Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. Photo: Anders Sune Berg

The Royal Academy of Arts’ 
Gauguin and the Impressionists: Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection is the first major show to open in London after the four-month lockdown due to Covid-19.  Many of the works have never been exhibited in the United Kingdom, including masterpieces from Manet and Monet to Corot and Courbet, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento

Paul Gauguin, Portrait of a Young Girl, Vaïte 
(Jeanne) Goupil, 1896
Oil on canvas, 75 x 65 cm
© Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg
The singular Ordrupgaard Collection was created at the beginning of the twentieth century by Wilhelm and Henny Hansen. The Danish couple amassed an exceptional group of Impressionist paintings that are still displayed at their country estate, located eight kilometres from the centre of Copenhagen. They began to open their house to the public in 1919, showing the striking artworks they had collected, many avant-garde at the time.

The exhibition of the Hansen's collection in London, Gauguin and the Impressionists at the Royal Academy of Arts, was originally scheduled to open in March but was delayed until August by the Covid-19 restrictions. Anna Ferrari, the curator of the show, says: "Nearly half of the works in this exhibition have never been exhibited in the UK before so it is really exciting to be able to show them.

"Wilhelm Hansen was one of the most successful businessmen in Denmark in the early 20th century. He and his wife Henny first started collecting Danish art but Wilhelm discovered French impressionism when he travelled to Paris for work and in 1916 he started buying and building a collection of French impressionist art. He had a great eye for quality and he picked some extraordinary works." Many of the painters in the collection are the 19th-century masters who reshaped Western art. It includes French painting from Eugène Delacroix to Paul Cézanne and is considered one of the most comprehensive collections outside of France.

Paul Gauguin's Portrait of a Young Girl, Vaïte (Jeanne) Goupil (see above) was painted in Tahiti, showing the French child, who lived with her family on a plantation near Papeete. Vaïte was her Tahitian name, and her lawyer father commissioned the portrait from Gauguin. The works in the new exhibition span his career from Brittany to the South of France where he painted with Van Gogh and then to his life in Polynesia.

"In the exhibition, Gauguin has an important place because there are eight works by him and that reflects Gauguin's importance as an artist in the early 20th century when the Hansens were collecting," explains Ferrari. While the painter was influenced by Impressionism in his early years, his work became more Symbolist with the strong colours and a dreamlike atmosphere of this work.
The portrait of Jeanne Goupil is one of Anna Ferrari's favourites of the exhibition: "I think it's a really arresting and mesmerizing portrait, particularly because of  the contrast between the bright, vivid background and the brown dress and pale face of the little girl."

Many of the painters included in the collection are the 19th century masters who reshaped Western art

Alfred Sisley, Unloading Barges at Billancourt, 1877
Oil on canvas, 50 x 65 cm
© Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Wilhelm Hansen’s interest in art began during his time at school. Here he met his friend and classmate Peter Hansen, who later became a painter and introduced him to his artistic circle. He first started collecting by buying these young, local artists' paintings and then other more well-known Danish contemporary artists.  

Wilhelm Hansen was an industrious man and had a remarkable business career. He funded the Danish companies Dansk Folkeforsikringsanstalt and Mundus and was the managing director of Hafnia, from1905 until 1936.

Alongside his business career, Hansen enjoyed collecting artworks not only for himself but also to bring French art to a wider audience in Scandinavia. Hansen learnt more about French Impressionist painting during business trips to Paris. From 1916 to 1918, he was collecting works by Manet, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Sisley and Gauguin. He wanted to build a collection with up to twelve works by each of the most important French artists, from Corot to Cézanne, providing an overview of early modernist art.

Waterloo Bridge, Overcast, 1903, by Claude Monet, 
on display in ‘Gauguin and the Impressionists: 
Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection’,  
at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. 
Photo: © David Parry
Wilhelm Hansen kept collecting up until the late 1920s, advised by French writer and art critic, Théodore Duret, who was a friend of Manet, and an early champion of Impressionism. Hansen also collected works by the predecessors of Impressionism. Advised by Duret, Hansen bought paintings by important earlier nineteenth-century painters including Jean-Auguste Dominique Ingres, Delacroix, Corot and Courbet. 

During the First World War, Denmark remained neutral and was quite prosperous and this gave Hansen the opportunity to buy important works from the most prestigious Parisian galleries including the Galerie Durand-Ruel and the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune. However, Hansen had a brief hiatus when he was forced to sell part of his collection to pay his debts when the Danish Landmandsbank collapsed in 1922. But he kept his Gauguins and managed to make his fortune back within a year ~ and then kept collecting. This exhibition even reproduces one of Hansen’s original hangs based on archival photographs.

In 1951, Hansen's widow, Henny, bequeathed their home and collection to the Danish state, which turned it into a museum in 1953. A fluid and sinuous extension to the building was designed by architect Zaha Hadid in 2005 and the museum has gained a strong architectural profile. Today, the museum houses one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings in northern Europe. Currently the Ordrupgaard is closed for the construction of another new wing designed by Norwegian architects Snøhettaand, this has provided the opportunity for the Royal Academy of Arts to hold the exhibition of the collection in London.

The museum houses one of the finest collections of Impressionist paintings in northern Europe.

Camille Pissarro, Plum Trees in Blossom, 
Éragny, 1894
Oil on canvas, 60 x 73 cm
© Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg 
The exhibition also includes paintings by Edgar Degas, Edouard Manet, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir and Alfred Sisley.

The three works by Pissarro represent the landscape around his home in Eragny, This delightful picture, Plum tress in Blossom, Eragny (see at right) captures the dappled spring light, vibrant colours and immediacy of  painting in outside. You can almost feel the sun and smell the scent of the blossoms and the fresh green grass.

In 1884, Pissarro and his family moved to Éragny, north-west of Paris. This painting shows the garden of his house with his wife walking up the path evincing his interest in depicting everyday life at home, in his village or in the fields. Camille Pissarro was the oldest of the group of Impressionist painters and he exhibited at all eight Impressionist Exhibitions and came to play the role of an artistic father figure to other painters, including Gauguin.

The exhibition also features precursors of Impressionism such as Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Jules Dupré and Charles-François Daubigny, and some Post-Impressionist works such as the special group of eight paintings by Paul Gauguin. The exhibition opens with landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes mostly painted in and around Paris, the Normandy coast and London, showing how the Impressionists broke away from the classical Italianate landscapes. There are paintings of the forest of Fontainebleau where, in the 1860s, a new generation of painters such as Monet, Sisley and Renoir, went to paint en plein air.

The exhibition opens with landscapes, seascapes and cityscapes mostly painted in and around Paris, the Normandy coast and London,

Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Overcast, 1903
Oil on canvas, 65.5 x 100.5 cm
© Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg
Brilliant blue skies with scudding clouds and bobbing boats on the water are highlights of Sisley’s scenes of the banks of the Seine. There are also cityscapes of London and Paris by Monet and Pissarro who were inspired by the light and atmosphere of these modern cities.

Claude Monet's Waterloo Bridge, Overcast of 1903 (see at right) shows both the beauty of the foggy light and crowds of people crossing plus smokestacks lining the horizon of the city, above the choppy, brown waters of the Thames. Hansen bought the painting on a trip to Paris in 1916, when the painting must have still have seemed experimental and was painted just over a decade earlier.

Monet painted this picture from his hotel room at the Savoy in London and it is one of a series he began at the start of the 20th century, studying the same view under different weather conditions and at various times of the day. While this painting shows the Waterloo Bridge, the Thames and the factories on the opposite bank, it also captures the atmospheric conditions: the rippling of the water, chimney smoke in the background and the fog that envelops the scene. The painting was not a spontaneous work done on the spot but was the result of a long process, where Monet began the painting in London but later finished it at length in his studio in Giverny.

Young Girl on the Grass, the Red Bodice 
(Mademoiselle Isabelle Lambert), 
1885, by Berthe Morisot, on display in 
‘Gauguin and the Impressionists: 
Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection’, 
at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. 
Photo: © David Parry
The exhibition also has a section about women that were part of the Impressionist movement and there are also portraits of women painted by Degas and Renoir, In the late 1910s, the Hansens acquired paintings by Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzalès, whose work was less widely recognised, despite their importance. The works show intimate and domestic scenes which reflect the constraints they faced as women artists at the time.

"Excitingly we have works by Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzales, it's really interesting that Wilhelm Hansen collected works by women Impressionists because at the time they weren't as well known as their male counterparts," says Anna Ferrari. Key portraits include Morisot’s Young Girl on the Grass, the Red Bodice (Mademoiselle Isabelle Lambert), 1885 (see main picture above).

The picture shows a young girl who posed for Morisot several times. The painter wanted to capture the youthful energy of Mademoiselle Lambert with an impressionistic approach, working in the open air and and experimenting with different brushwork. Morisot often painted at her house and in her garden, inspired by her home like many other Impressionists. She worked in oil, watercolor and pastel, drawing quickly but making countless sketches and studies of her subjects, which were drawn from life.

Berthe Morisot showed two landscape paintings at the Salon de Paris in 1864, when she was twenty-three years old. She continued to show at the Salon, to favorable reviews, until 1873, the year before the first Impressionist exhibition. She exhibited with the Impressionists from 1874 onwards, only missing the exhibition in 1878 when her daughter was born. The art dealer Durand-Ruel bought twenty-two of her paintings. She always exhibited under her maiden name instead of using a pseudonym or her married name (she was married to Édouard Manet's brother Eugène). By 1880, when she exhibited her work, many reviews judged Morisot's work to be among the best of the Impressionist painters.

"It's really interesting that Wilhelm Hansen collected works by women Impressionists because at the time they weren't as well known as their male counterparts"

Paul Cézanne, Women Bathing, c. 1895
Oil on canvas, 47 x 77 cm
© Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen. 
Photo: Anders Sune Berg
The exhibition ends with Gauguin and Post-Impressionism. There are works by artists who, at the turn of the century, reacted against Impressionism: Gauguin, Cézanne and Henri Matisse. Gauguin is one of the best represented artists in the collection with the display of paintings that evoke the arc of his career.

Completing the show is Cézanne’s Women Bathing, c. 1895, a dynamic composition of nude figures set in vivid blue and green Arcadian bower of trees and grass. "Cezanne's bathers is one of my favourite works of the exhibition because I love the colours and you can really see Cezanne working out the poses of the figures and thinking about structure and form in this frieze-like painting," comments Anna Ferrari.

The work shows Cézanne’s experimental method of painting with small, parallel strokes and using sketches and other pictures for the inspiration for the figures rather than drawing them directly from life. The painting doesn't show a particular situation or moment, as an Impressionist work would, but instead uses themes often explored in Cézanne's work and points towards the abstract movement in modern art.

Gauguin and the Impressionistsis: Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection,  is at the Royal Academy, London, until 18 October.

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Tuesday, 4 August 2020

Architecture: New United States & Olympic Paralympic Museum

The first ever US Olympic and Paralympic museum is completed in Colorado Springs, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. 
This year, the Tokyo games were scuppered by Covid-19, but a spectacular new museum in Colorado has just opened to celebrate the Olympics. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum was designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It was originally planned to open with the games in Japan. The building is America's first Olympic museum and has a dynamic design that reflects athletic endeavor, writes Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photographs by Jason O'Rear 

The façade is made up of 9,000 anodised aluminum,
diamond-shaped panels, each unique in shape,
creating a sense of motion and dynamism.
THE glistening, sculptural form of the new United States Olympic & Paralympic Museum (USOPM) sits below the craggy Rocky Mountains like a silvery, rectilinear rose.

Folded, anondised aluminium panels overlap like petals, wrapping around the building in a spiral and reflecting the limpid light that bathes this corner of Colorado.

Designed by architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R), the museum has just been completed after a long gestation, in the town of Colorado Springs, nestled under Pikes Peak. American athletes John Naber and Peggy Fleming were present at a ceremonial launch along with Museum CEO Christopher Liedel, Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, and DS+R partner Benjamin Gilmartin, who oversaw the project.

This is the latest museum project designed by the high profile, New York-based architectural firm. Gilmartin lead the team along with partners Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio and Charles Renfro. The architects have become known in the USA not only for the High Line in New York but for their museum designs that include the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, the extension and renovation of New York's Museum of Modern Art, Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art and the Art History building at Stanford University, among others.

The glistening, sculptural form of the new museum nestles below the craggy Rocky Mountains like a silvery, rectilinear rose

The striking museum sits beneath the spectacular
backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. It will be at 
the heart of an urban redevelopment, connecting 
back to the city via a new bridge.
Colorado Springs was chosen as the setting for the museum as it is already the home of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee and Training Center.

The museum is designed to celebrate American athletes and they were central to the planning of the building and its exhibitions. Accessibility formed a key element of the project, which is the only museum in the US dedicated to the legacy of the country's Olympic and Paralympic sportspeople.

"Every aspect of our design strategy has been motivated by the goal of expressing the extraordinary athleticism and progressive values of Team USA," said Benjamin Gilmartin. "A taut aluminum façade flexes and twists over the building’s dynamic pinwheel form, drawing inspiration from the energy and grace of Olympians and Paralympians.

"Inside, descending galleries are organized along a continuous spiral, enabling visitors of all abilities to have a shared, common experience along a universal pathway. After leading the museum’s design for the past six years, I’m so moved by the collective, herculean effort that allowed us to now share these stories of perseverance with the public."

"A taut aluminum façade twists over the building’s dynamic pinwheel form, drawing inspiration from the energy and grace of Olympians and Paralympians"

Folded, metallic panels overlap like petals, wrapping 
around the building in a spiral and reflecting the
limpid light that bathes this corner of Colorado.
The aim of the architects was to make the museum one of the most accessible in the world, so visitors with and without disabilities can move through the building with equal ease. Paralympic athletes and people with disabilities were consulted to make sure that from entering to leaving the building, everyone can visit and enjoy the museum together, regardless of ability.

Walking inside the museum atrium, you take an elevator to reach the third floor and then descend following the exhibits via a gently-sloping ramp that guides visitors down a circulation path through the galleries. The spiraling ramp is like New York's Guggenheim museum's curvilinear walkway that goes from top to bottom. The ramps here are particularly broad and can accommodate two visitors including a wheelchair. Glass balustrades in the atrium allow for low-height visibility, cane guards have been integrated into benches and there are smooth floors for easier wheel chair movement, plus flexible seating at the café.

The interior design of the museum tells the story of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in eleven permanent galleries with one that will change with new exhibitions. Visitors learn the history of the games and then explore the ways athletes train and prepare. The museum has the latest technology and visitors can try interactive sports and even experience being part of olympic awards ceremonies. There are more than 260 artifacts, from sprinter Michael Johnson’s golden shoes and Olympic torches to gymnast Shannon Miller’s scrunchie and the scoreboard from the Lake Placid Olympic Fieldhouse.

The spiraling ramp is like New York's Guggenheim museum's curvilinear path, leading from the top to the bottom.

"Every aspect of our design strategy has been
motivated by the goal of expressing the extraordinary
athleticism of Team USA," said Benjamin Gilmartin. 
The American athletes that were consulted on the exhibition spaces and the best ways of creating accessibility, described their experiences: from how they got into their sport to becoming part of the Olympic or Paralympic teams. 

The new museum is designed to give a real sense of what it is like to be an athlete: training, walking into a stadium and how it feels to stand on a podium accepting a medal. For example, visitors can virtually race athletes on an indoor track, and even talk to virtual versions of them. Another gallery offers a 360-degree immersive experience where visitors enter a stadium during the Olympic opening ceremony with a crowd cheering them on.

When you arrive at the museum, every visitor receives an RFID tag that allows you to design your own journey, rather like the digital pen that was designed with DS+R at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. RFID, short for radio frequency identification, uses radio waves to transmit data from the tag to a reader, which then transmits the information to a computer program. The visitor is able to focus on the sports, athletes and Olympic games they are interested in and store photos and videos that they can see later on the USOPM's website or by scanning the tag with their phone.

Visitors can virtually race athletes, talk to them and experience entering a stadium during the Opening Ceremonies with a crowd cheering them on

The soaring, central atrium that forms the entrance
to the museum with balconies that overlook the 
space and orient the visitor.
The atrium at the entrance soars three storeys high, with balconies overlooking the space below. This central gallery is brightened with clererstory lighting, designed to orient visitors along the path that moves through the exhibitions. The height of each glazed balcony overlooking the space is based on record-breaking Olympic jumps.

On the first level of the building, there is a theatre that has removable seats to accommodate wheelchairs, so that a Paralympic team can sit together. The second floor has an event space with a panoramic view across downtown Colorado Springs to the Rocky Mountains. Also on level two are the café and an education centre, across the plaza from the main museum building. The cafe’s landscaped roof has native plants that will change each season. On the third level is a multi-function boardroom with an outdoor terrace and a vast window looking across the dramatic natural landscape.

Diller Scofidio +Renfro also designed the new pedestrian bridge that crosses the railway yards in front of the museum, to a park opposite and connects a bike network downtown to the Midland Trail. Six prefabricated sections make up the bridge that will be built on site later this year, completing the museum project.

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Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Fashion and Film: Clueless at 25 ~ Like, a Totally Important Teen Film

“She’s my friend because we both know what it’s like to have people be jealous of us.” ~ Cher. Stacey Dash as Dionne Davenport and Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz in the 1995 hit film Clueless. Cover picture: Stephane Rolland Haute Couture AW20 by Elli Ioannou for DAM
While many teen films fade away never to be heard of again, Clueless, a loose adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, has remained in the cultural consciousness since its 1995 release. Maybe it’s the catchy soundtrack, or familiar story about social comeuppance, or the endurance of the teen film as a genre. Most likely it’s a combination of many factors. By Phoebe Macrossan, Queensland University of Technology and Jessica Ford, University of Newcastle

Ugh, as if!” ~ Cher Horowitz.
Alicia Silverstone's Cher became
an unlikely fashion icon 

AUSTEN'S Emma Woodhouse is transformed into Cher Horowitz (played by the then relatively unknown Alicia Silverstone), a Beverly Hills teenager, who ~ like her matchmaker predecessor ~ considers herself the centre of her social circle. As in Emma, our clueless protagonist meddles in her friends’ lives, attempting to transform Tai (a modern day facsimile of orphaned and penniless Harriet Smith, played by Brittany Murphy) into a worldly and fashionable “catch” for the suitor of Cher’s choosing - the dashingly handsome Elton (in a rework of the original Mr Elton, played by Jeremy Sisto).

Austen’s books have an enduring appeal for filmmakers – with varying levels of fidelity to their source material. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001) borrows from Pride and Prejudice (as does 2004’s Bride and Prejudice and 2016’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies); Whit Stilman’s Metropolitan (1990) adapts Mansfield Park; Ang Lee described Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) as “Sense and Sensibility with martial arts.” Austen’s life and books also inspired Becoming Jane (2007) and Austenland (2013).

Clueless has engendered a cult following since its release, leading to a number of spin-offs including books, comics, a television series (1996-1999) and even a 2018 jukebox musical written by the film’s writer-director Amy Heckerling. Clueless was a labour of love for Heckerling. She worked on the script for years, as producers came and left and studios signed on and then abandoned the project.

By the 1990s, Heckerling was an established director who had critical and commercial success with Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) and Look Who’s Talking (1989). One of only a few female directors working for major studios at the time, she had established herself as as strong voice in the teen film realm. As journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner has written: “She was a woman who was somehow able to join a fraternity and thrive in it.”

Clueless has engendered a cult following since its release, leading to a number of spin-offs including books, comics, a television series and even a jukebox musical

“Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as 
searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.” ~ Cher
Brittany Murphy, Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash
as fashionable students 

Eventually produced by Paramount, Clueless became the surprise sleeper hit of 1995. Re-shaping the times Clueless is a film out-of-time in many ways. Fashion, language, music and story are all taken from other eras and remixed to create a unique aesthetic.

In a nod to its literary roots, Clueless plays with language in interesting and memorable ways. The endlessly quotable movie had its teenage characters communicate with exaggerated affect. At times, Cher seems to have her own language that requires translation. A “full on Monet” refers to someone who “from far away, it’s okay, but from up close, it’s a mess”. A “Baldwin” is a cute guy, in reference to the famous and famously handsome Baldwin brothers. Not only do the characters talk with an ironic knowingness, the characters comment knowingly on how they use language. Not long after we are introduced to Tai, she says to Cher, “You guys talk like grown ups”. Cher replies, “Oh this is a really good school.” One of the self-improvement tasks that Cher assigns Tai is to learn a new word every day. Her first word is “sporadically.”

The costumes are also aspirational. Clueless did not reflect the fashion of its time but re-shaped it. While we may think of Cher’s yellow plaid ensemble, organza shirt, white Calvin Klein mini and red Alaïa (“like a totally important designer”) dress as iconic 1990s fashion, in the early 90s high-school students were wearing grungey flannel and loose-fitting jeans, which did not fit Heckerling’s ideal aesthetic. ‘You don’t understand ! This is an Alaia!’

Paramount Pictures Costume designer Mona May brought together vintage styles, designer dresses and thrift shop finds to create Cher’s iconic style, which fused 1920s over-the-knee socks with 60s mod mini skirts and chic 90s figure-hugging designer dresses. Cher’s iconic fashion still informs runways and street style, with today’s teens recreating these iconic looks. Willow Smith paid homage to Cher in Cosmopolitan, Iggy Azalea casts herself as Cher in the music video for Fancy and Ariana Grande channelled her inner Cher for her 2019 world tour.

Clueless did not reflect the fashion of its time but re-shaped it, Cher’s iconic style fuses 1920s over-the-knee socks with 60s mod mini skirts and chic 90s figure-hugging designer dresses

“He does dress better than I do. What would
 I bring to the relationship?”
Cher and her crush Christian in his sports car
on what she thinks is a date
With its mansions, designer dresses and fancy cars, Cher’s world is a fantasy for most viewers. Heckerling said: “I wanted that feel of a fantasy that you would like to live in.” Similarly, Austen’s Emma has been criticised for ignoring the political and economic realities of 1815, including widespread poverty and war.

At the same time, economic survival is at the centre of Austen’s Emma: Harriet must marry or risk becoming a spinster like Miss Bates; Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax keep their engagement secret to avoid familial financial fallout; and Mr Elton improves his station by marrying the garish Miss Augusta Hawkins, just as Elton winds up with the irritating Amber (played by Elisa Donovan) in Clueless.

Clueless’s soundtrack forms a key part of its success and popularity, but it also adds to the film’s sardonic humour, irony and character development. An eclectic mix of 1990s American pop punk, hip hop and rock, along with covers of hits from the 1970s and 1980s, the music establishes the milieu and expresses characters’ internal emotions. The film’s opening titles feature Californian punk rock band The Muffs’ cover of Kids in America over a montage of Cher and her friends driving through Beverly Hills in her jeep, shopping on Rodeo Drive, lounging by the pool, and talking and eating at the mall; all images of her extreme wealth, privilege and carefree teen life. 

This is ironically undercut by Cher’s narration: “I actually have a way normal life for a teenage girl”. David Bowie’s 1980 hit Fashion plays while she picks out an outfit on her computer and selects it from her motorised revolving wardrobe. The songs add to the ironic nature of the film’s commentary on Cher’s obliviousness to her own wealth and privilege. Cher’s carefree feminised lifestyle is also mirrored in the lyrics of 1990s pop hits sung by women (I’m Just a Girl, Shoop, Supermodel), just as these pop hits are a reflection of her. Meanwhile her dopey love interest and ex-step-brother Josh (Paul Rudd) listens to ~ in Cher’s words  ~ “the maudlin music of the university station” when he comes home from college.

Clueless’s soundtrack forms a key part of its success and popularity, but it also adds to the film’s sardonic humour, irony and character development

"OK, so he is kind of a Baldwin.” Cher and Josh 
break through initial animosity and high 
school hierarchies to come together
Teen films often use the romantic comedy genre trope of two leads who start out either hating each other or from different worlds: different schools, friendship groups, sports teams, or social and class stratas. It’s jock vs. nerd, popular vs. unpopular, rich vs. poor. In teen films, opposites always attract.

The pleasure in watching their eventual romantic union comes from their compromise for each other, or their ability to break the strict social hierarchies of high-school and come together. Of course, this trope far predates the teen film: it’s as much Shakespeare as it is Jane Austen.

In Clueless, musical taste forms a key part of distinguishing not just Cher from Josh, but the whole cast of girls from the boys. When the gang go to a party, they listen to Coolio’s Rollin’ with My Homies; Elton sings along to The Cranberries’ Away while driving Cher home; Tai and Cher watch Travis (Breckin Meyer) perform at a skating competition to The Beastie Boys’ Mullet Head. Two songs bring the whole gang together: Where’d You Go? and Someday I Suppose, performed by ska punk band the Mighty Mighty Bosstones during a college party.

Cher and Josh’s relationship begins to soften at this point, as everyone gets into the dancing ~ girls and boys together, at last. The soundtrack also adds an ironic note to Cher’s eventual pivot towards Josh. To the sounds of 1990s pop singer Jewel singing a cover of All By Myself, Cher walks around Rodeo Drive feeling sorry for herself. When she realises she is in love with Josh, a fountain comically erupts behind her.

The pleasure in watching the eventual romantic union of Cher and Josh comes from their ability to break the strict social hierarchies of high-school and come together

She could be a farmer in those clothes.” ~ Amber
The film is full of brio, fun and fashion and 
is endlessly quotable

The teen film has been around since the classical Hollywood era, largely defined by its youthful intended audience and subjects, rather than any consistent style or aesthetic.

While Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney films of the 1930s may be considered forebears of the teen film, the “teenager” is a relatively modern phenomenon, emerging post-World War II. The post-war economic boom, the introduction of compulsory high school education in the US and the availability and affordability of cars lead to the increased visibility, mobility and financial independence of “teens” in the 1950s and 60s.

The decline of the Hollywood studio system in the 1950s produced a spate of films where young people were central, catering for this newly identified “teenage” market. The concept of ‘teenagers’ was still relatively new when Rebel Without a Cause was released. These movies often incorporate elements of other genres. The “first” teen film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), incorporates romance and drama tropes, telling the story of Jim Stark (James Dean) a rebellious teen who moves to a new town, starts at a new school, upsets the local gang and falls in love with Judy (Natalie Wood). By the 1980s, teens had become a recognisable audience and were ripe for exploitation and capitalisation, particularly in the newly created multiplex cinemas.

In the 1980s, middle-class US teens had disposable money and ample leisure time, which made them an ideal market segment. The teen film ~ specifically the female-focused teen film ~ really came into prominence with the John Hughes’ films starring Molly Ringwald: Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986). While these films had questionable sexual and gender politics reflective of their era (which Ringwald has addressed) they focused on teenage girls’ feelings with sincerity and humour in equal measure. Pretty in Pink wasn’t the first time Molly Ringwald was pretty in pink.

For writer-director Amy Heckerling, the film was a labour of love and she worked on the script for years, as producers came and went and studios signed on and then abandoned the project

“Cher’s saving herself for Luke Perry.” ~ Dionne
Jane Austen's Emma Woodhouse is transformed into 
Cher Horowitz, played by the then
relatively unknown Alicia Silverstone
Clueless sits within this lineage but also starts a more ironic, knowing trend that lovingly pokes fun at both its characters and the genre conventions itself ~ much like Austen did. This irony and knowingness are perhaps what makes Clueless so enduring.

There is a depth to the writing that allows the viewer to laugh both with and at the characters. This can be attributed to Heckerling’s respect for them and their problems. As Paul Rudd said: “One of the things that I think is very clear in her work […] is just how much she loves young people and doesn’t talk down to them.”

Films like Legally Blonde (2001), Mean Girls (2004) and Easy A (2010) use irony and knowingness in their tone and humour and have become stand-out cult successes like Clueless. These films stand in contrast to more sentimental and romantic teen girl films, such as The Spectacular Now (2013) and The Edge of Seventeen (2016), or the epic and earnest science fiction adaptations of young adult novels, such as Twilight (2008-2012) and The Hunger Games (2012-2015).

Yet, the ironic teen rom-com hasn’t been lost. The teen-focused dramedy television series Sex Education (2019-2020) and indie film Booksmart (2019) have touched on the same sardonic humour. But unlike Sex Education or Booksmart, Clueless was made by an established bankable director and supported by the marketing apparatus of a major US studio - Paramount. In contrast, Booksmart was a much smaller film made by first-time director Olivia Wilde, produced by niche indie studio Annapurna Pictures and debuted at South by Southwest before its wider theatrical release.

Twenty-five years on, even as Heckerling was a “a pioneer as a female director”, her place as a woman working in the major studios is still an anomaly. While Clueless’s winning combination of writing, cast, music and humour is yet to be matched, there is room for a Clueless of the 2020s. But could Clueless ever be replaced in our hearts? As if!

Phoebe Macrossan, Associate Lecturer/Sessional Academic, Queensland University of Technology and Jessica Ford, Lecturer in Film, Media and Cultural Studies, University of Newcastle. This article is republished with permission from The Conversation.

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