The Art of Hull: Six Exhibitions to see Right Now

Hull is the place to go right now if you’re looking to see a wide variety of art, from the world-renowned Turner Prize to a lesser-known exhibition featuring the works of alumni and former staff of the School of Art and Design. Together these six exhibitions not only showcase the city’s ability to be an art destination but demonstrate what makes Hull unique and the creative talent that can come from the city. Each of these exhibitions (in no particular order) offer a unique experience and all have their own interesting story that makes them well worth a visit.

  1. Turner Prize – Until 7 Jan , Ferens Art Gallery
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A Fashionable Marriage, Lubaina Himid

Starting with the most well-known, the Turner Prize, is at the Ferens and features works from the four shortlisters; Hurvin Anderson, Andrea Büttner, Rosalind Nashashibi and Lubaina Himid. Running since 1984 the Turner Prize, awarded by Tate, has become the most publicised art award in the UK and each year can attract controversy and much discussion.

This year the work of the four artists explores how art can respond to social and political upheaval. British painter, Hurvin Anderson’s work was praised by the jury for addressing identity and belonging, keys issues at the moment. Andrea Büttner’s work explores ‘religion, morality and ethics’ through a range of different mediums. Lubaina Himid was praised for addressing ‘personal and political identity’ and Rosalind Nashashibi’s work impressed due to the examination of ‘sites of human occupation and the coded relationships that occur within those spaces’.

More information on the artists can be found here. The winner will be announced on the 5th of December.

2. TORN – Until 31 Dec, Humber Street Gallery

TORN explores the effect of war and conflict on women through the use of torn poppy petals, which remind us that women are being torn from life as they know it every day. Then in the aftermath of war they must pick up the pieces and start again. This exhibition is a collaboration between Hull-born documentary photographer Lee Karen Stow, members of the Hull Women’s Refugee Group, sound artist Hayley Youell and textile artist Liz Knight. It is a digital photographic, sound and mixed media installation.

3. Portrait of a City – Until 31 Dec, Humber Street Gallery

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Split over two floors of Humber Street Gallery this exhibition explores Hull’s culture, creativity and asks the question, what defines the city? Focusing on two main themes, food and youth culture, the photography by Martin Parr and Olivia Arthur demonstrates what makes Hull unique and reveals the people’s relationship to this City of Culture. Martin Parr’s colourful photography captures Hull’s food scene, which plays an important role in the city’s culture, from famous classics like Bob Carver’s fish and chips, patty butties and chip spice to the new up-and-coming cuisine of the city. Olivia Arthur’s black and white portraits reveal the burgeoning individuality, creativity and aspirations of the youth of the city and beg the question; what effect will this cultural year have on their futures?

4. An Eyeful of Wry: Government Art Collection – Until 26 Nov, Brynmor Jones Library, The University of Hull

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At Night This Water Turns Black, Laure Prouvost

This unique exhibition brings together a collection of humourous and witty artworks that have been on the walls of British government buildings such as Downing Street and embassies all over the world. The exhibition features a variety of mediums and artists, from 18th century caricatures to the piece above by Prouvost, and demonstrates how comedy has been a part of the government art collection since its beginnings.  Also includes work by Grayson Perry, Peter Liversidge and Cornelia Parker. While at the university campus you can also see the CAIRNS Sculpture trail which is on until 31 Dec.

5. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future – Until 15 Dec, Brodrick Gallery, Hull School of Art and Design

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This exhibition may seem slightly off the beaten path but it is only a short walk from Ferens and is definitely one worth seeing if you want a taste of the creative talent Hull has produced and inspired. Featuring work by former staff and students, the exhibition has a diverse range of works in many mediums. Since leaving the school many have gone on to be artists, teachers and lecturers and have made significant contributions to cultural life. By showing the impressive work of past students and staff this exhibition demonstrates the creativity that has been nurtured in Hull and offers a glimpse into the great possibilities for students of the future.

6. The Tool Appreciation Society – Until 10 Feb, Hull Central Library

Another gem off the beaten path is this exhibition at the library. The title might not give much away, but this exhibition of work by artist Linda Brothwell is actually a very interesting exploration of the importance and value of tools in our connections to community, family, home and heritage. The exhibition explores tools used by people of Hull, but also shows the worldwide significance of tools with the inclusion of those used by people in South Korea. The exhibition displays new tools made by Brothwell to help people with their craft. In a tribute to makers she performs her ‘Acts of Care’ so that tools can evolve and continue to serve their important purpose in society. The exhibition causes you to think about making, crafting, building and the role of tools in your own life. The exhibition is more thought provoking than you would expect and there are cards to write on about your own relationship to tools, in whatever form that may be, to be a part of the discussion.

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Until 30 October: Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate Modern | Exhibition Review

Catch it while you can:

Georgia O’Keeffe. Tate Modern, 6 July – 30 October 2016.

Marking 100 years since Georgia O’Keeffe’s first show at the ‘291’ gallery in New York, this exhibition is a rare display of her paintings in the UK and demonstrates the breadth of her career from the 1910s to the 1960s. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) became an American icon and a key figure in the modernist movement in the United States. Throughout the last century several of O’Keeffe’s paintings have been associated with erotic imagery and this is what many people know her for, yet this was not her intention and it frustrated her greatly. This retrospective exhibition at the Tate aims to ‘dispel the cliches that persist about O’Keeffe’s painting,’ instead concentrating on and emphasising the pioneering nature of her work.

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From the Lake No.1, 1924. Oil paint on canvas.

The exhibition is extensive, bringing together over 100 works, some of her most important and iconic. With no works by O’Keeffe in UK public collections this is definitely an exhibition to catch in its final couple of weeks. Laid out over 13 rooms, in chronological order and divided into sections, the exhibition delves into her long career. O’Keeffe’s story is told with the addition of photographs by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz. They parallel her works and provide a deeper look into her life, her circle and her influences. Each room has a distinctive theme; from her beginnings in ‘The Early Years and ‘291” and ‘New York Cityscapes’ to her later years in ‘Late Abstractions and Skyscapes’. As a result the exhibition is easy to follow and can be appreciated by all audiences as I witnessed in the ‘Flowers and Still Life’ room. A little girl sat beneath the iconic ‘Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1, 1932’ (the most expensive painting by a female artist ever sold at auction). She was colouring her own version of the painting, pencil crayons scattered on her lap, completely enthralled with matching the greens and blues perfectly. A little girl clearly inspired by the work and legacy of O’Keeffe.

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Jimson Weed/White Flower No.1, 1932. Oil paint on canvas.

During her earlier years, as a female artist, critical response was focused on her gender and the feminine qualities and erotic imagery that could be found in her paintings. Again and again the exhibition makes clear that her paintings were never intended to be interpreted in that way. The exhibition delves into the different avenues she took in her works and reveals how they drastically changed throughout her lifetime; from her early pieces which drew inspiration from music and synaesthesia (the stimulation of one sense by another), to her flower paintings to her desert landscapes. Each room is like an exhibition in itself, a fresh beginning, a new outlook, keeping your attention, yet there is continuity in the chronological order of the works. The exhibition makes startlingly clear that O’Keeffe should be remembered for much more than her famous flower paintings and the associations of her work with erotic imagery.  The range of pieces displayed demonstrates her love for the American landscape, particularly in New Mexico and also shows her impressive adaptability and the variety of inspirations which made her one of the most prolific American painters of her time.

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Grey Lines with Black, Blue and Yellow, c.1923. Oil paint on canvas.
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From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937. Oil paint on canvas

It is the final room, which displays some of O’Keeffe’s later and lesser known works, the ‘Skyscapes’, which I found most impactful. These pieces are inspired by views from aeroplane windows, of clouds and rivers below. By showing that she painted up until the days of flying on planes in the 1960s, this room makes very evident the extraordinary length of O’Keeffe’s career since her first show in 1916 in New York City. This room also shows that O’Keeffe continued to develop her depiction of the American landscape and her relationship and experience of it.

The exhibition demonstrates O’Keeffe’s important role in American modernism and marks a great start to the new larger Tate after its recent extension. This is a rare chance to see O’Keeffe’s work in the UK, so make the most of the opportunity if you can. Ending 30 October 2016.

Until 31 May 2015: Cornelia Parker at the Whitworth | Exhibition Review

A review I wrote for an art course while at university.

Cornelia Parker

The Whitworth Art Gallery, 14th February to 31st May 2015

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 The Whitworth reopened in February after renovations and this inaugural exhibition gives the revived gallery a fresh and compelling new beginning, showcasing its potential. The exhibition combines many highlights of Cornelia Parker’s career over the last few decades with several works from 2015, providing a strong and compelling visual journey. Parker’s work is itself innovative; her preeminent interest involves transforming everyday materials and objects into works of art, often unrecognisable from their previous identity. The exhibition showcases a variety of forms and pieces are grouped together to create a manageable and coherent narrative spanning five rooms, two of which showcase single pieces; her renowned ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ from 1991 and ‘War Room,’ from 2015.

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The first room of the exhibition begins the narrative, using smaller pieces to exhibit Parker’s versatility and key ideas she demonstrates in her work. At this point the viewer gets the sense that Parker takes materials associated with danger or controversy and transforms them into pieces of art with powerful connotations. For instance, this room features a sawn up shotgun, cocaine and a ‘Pornographic Drawing,’ not in its visual content, but in its material, made from ink created by dissolving a pornographic videotape. This causes the viewer to think about these objects, how they have changed from their original identity and why they are considered pieces of art. The display of this room appears scattered with different sized frames and kinds of work, yet there is uniformity in a sense, with the grouping of particular works and just enough distance between to differentiate between groups. For instance, four pieces hung in a row vertically titled ‘Poison and Antidote Drawing’, created using rattlesnake venom and anti-venom compliment each other, all reminiscent of anatomical parts. Placed next to this group are ‘Bullet Drawings’, which Parker has crafted by turning bullets into wire. These examples reveal the unusual and diverse assortment of materials Parker uses in her work.

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This idea is developed further by ‘Room for Margins’, a collection of canvas linings from the paintings of JMW Turner. What would most often be considered inconsequential, Parker transforms into art. Showcased in white frames the markings from light and dust on the canvas create an interesting unseen story of pieces of art history. Three pieces of Parker’s work also infiltrate the watercolour section in the same room. The positioning of Parker within the collection of paintings by artists such as William Blake and JMW Turner, dating back to the 18th century creates a meeting of old with new. The display also continues the narrative, as her three pieces are paper used to blot Turner’s works in a flood. Parker’s pieces are watercolours of another type, stained, with a very unusual connection to art history. This is an exciting discovery as her work amongst the closely packed together watercolours, prompts the viewer to look closely at the other works.

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Between the several different rooms the exhibition has a range of atmospheres and backdrops that compliment the variety of works. The first room is dimly lit with grey walls however the white framing and spotlighting highlights the art, a reversal of the white cube technique. From the first room you must walk through a gallery of other artists’ work to enter the main exhibition room for Parker, which in contrast is very bright from natural sunlight and use of white walls. The gallery in-between interrupts these sections and the experience of Parker’s work, making the exhibition somewhat disjointed. However, the effects are not too detrimental as in the main exhibition space the full impact of her work is achieved. Information about the artist is given upon entering the space, which may have been useful in the previous room, however, it also suggests the previous room is intended as a taster, and the audience is encouraged to gather the artwork’s meanings independently. The previous room also focused on smaller pieces, whereas this room features the much larger installations, an enjoyable progression, to experience quite literally the larger significance and intentions of Parker’s work. Pieces suspended just off the floor are especially intriguing and innovative as the gaze is drawn to all levels giving a complete view of the exhibition. Different materials are grouped together, many unrecognisable from their previous identity. The main exhibition hall contains a variety of pieces including self portraits made from Parker’s own blood and a sculpture titled ‘The Distance (A Kiss With String Attached)’. The exhibition’s disjointed nature seems intentional, to make the viewer consider the pieces and their content individually as well as a collective. Parker’s work is mesmerizing on its own but the captions accompanying the artworks provide another dimension; they highlight the unusual materials used, giving understanding to the viewer of the artist’s intentions and themes, making the pieces even more compelling. The exhibition pamphlet written by Parker also compliments by providing very detailed explanations of how some of the key pieces were made.

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The two dimly lit rooms with just one piece allow quiet reflection of the bigger themes, an effective sequencing and play of light and darkness amid the bright main exhibition hall. In their simplicity these rooms are highlights of the narrative structure of the exhibition. To the left is ‘War Room,’ which is covered in perforations of poppies from a factory that manufactures them for memorial. The walls and ceiling become the exhibition; the audience becomes entombed in the poppies, or the absence of the poppies. Despite the absence it is interesting that we still know the meaning and the piece highlights the loss of life to war. The installation room to the right is ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’, which has just one bulb, central to the explosion of the piece. The white walls are key, as the shadows projected by the objects become part of the piece; the walls become filled with art too. The exhibition’s intermingling of old with new, small pieces with large, produces a captivating narrative of Parker’s career and complements the innovative and intriguing nature of her work, the transformation of material identity.