Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Li Lanqing, British Museum

Posted 19 Jan 2013 — by Jonathan
Category Art, Reviews, Share

I called in at the box of delights which is the British Museum on my way to meet some friends in London last week. I like picking a theme when I go, as it’s otherwise impossible to choose where to go, and you end up stumbling from room to room in a kind of nostalgic daze, feeling progressively smaller and smaller as the treasures increase in scale. This time I decided to head to the Americas before anything else, and meandered through the Aztecs, the Arctic and the North American collections.

Before long I found myself predictably off-piste and gazing at a small temporary exhibition in the Far East rooms, 5 or 6 small cabinets containing a collection of of contemporary Chinese seals by Li Lanqing.


Li is an engigmatic figure in modern Chinese politics; he served as Vice Premier of the State Council of China from 1993 to 2003 and played a crucial role in both the opening up of the State economically and the development of national education. Since his retirement from politics he’s turned his energy to the promotion of his two passions – classical music and seal-carving. The latter, one of the four traditional chinese art-forms (along with calligraphy, painting and poetry) is a truly ancient art, and Li’s interest illustrates the dichotomy present in his personal politics; he is a deeply modern man who is simultaneously respectful of tradition. Consequently his seals, which look at first to be deeply conventional, display a great deal of depth – often international in outlook, often witty and wise, always imbued with his passion for life, and very much of the twentieth and twenty first centuries.

His passions shine through; there are stunningly beautifully wrought expressions and aphorisms (the tiny, contained ‘Eat like an ant’ and the wide, spare ‘My heart calm as the water’), and tributes to great figures like Dickens, Goethe and Cervantes. His ‘Opera Disc’ seal, with its use of the English language subverts the geographic specificity of his usual work.

One seal, Baiting Roast Duck Restaurant (Bad Officials are Examined by an Illiterate Person), provides a great example of Li’s playfulness. Featuring some strokes carved to print in red and some in white, the seal mimics a malfunctioning neon sign with half it’s lights out. Moreover, each colour’s message reads differently; the white a traditional advertisement for a famous Beijing restaurant, the white a critique of hapless officials.

It’s a lovely small exhibition, and a little, light-filled window into a big, powerful, slow-changing, subtle China.

Leigh Merrill’s San Francisco

Posted 10 Dec 2011 — by Jonathan
Category Art

I love these: invented images of suburban San Francisco, by Leigh Merrill. I once spent a wonderful afternoon walking around the gorgeous, moneyed streets by Beuna Vista Park, past some of SF’s most beautiful residences, and another taking a local bus through the small towns surrounding San Jose – but this is a kind of American suburb I’ve yet to see; wide, rich, all white boards and topiary.

Here, rendered by Merrill, it’s magical because it’s made up, digitall assembled – look hard at these photos are there are impossible angles and reflections, conjuring up an artful critique of the way that the area’s odd mixture of urban and suburban is oddly banal for all that is elegant and well-maintained. Featureless yet fantastical.

More here.

Booth Museum of Natural History

Posted 05 Aug 2010 — by Jonathan
Category Art, General, Observations, Share

I’ve lived in Brighton, on and off, for well over a decade, and I don’t think there are many Brighton landmarks I’ve not visited – I may not spend much time treading the pier, but I’m fond of traipsing round the Pavilion or the city’s two major Museums, and know them well. I’m horrified, however, to admit that it took me this long to get to the Booth Museum of Natural History, on Dyke Road. Me and Lynds went to celebrate her birthday last month, and we both absolutely loved it – stuffed birds, moths pinned to cardboard, and lots of skeletons.

The museum was founded in 1874 by Edward Thomas Booth, who built his collection in the grounds of his own home – Bleak House. Consisting largely of stuffed birds, the collection was opened to the public in 1890 on Booth’s death, though “on the express instruction that they [the council] would not alter the interior of the cases, and that they would take the same care of them as he had hitherto done”.

His insistence on the interior of the cases being untouched was important. In the Victorian era both ornithology and taxidermy were by no means uncommon pursuits. But Booth’s idea of displaying the birds in dioramas which mimicked their natural landscapes was genuinely innovative and, at the time, seen as somewhat eccentric. The cases are lovingly presented, if macabre. At times one can almost see a hint of movement in the carefully wrought poses. Like all good animal exhibits, there is a tangible threat of life in the displays.

As we were leaving, we made our way back to the front of the museum, where the security guard and the guy on the information desk sat chatting and comparing videos on each others’ mobile phones. As we approached, from behind, they were laughing joyfully at something – long, high pitched, hyena laughs. I inched around the side and glanced over at the phone; they were watching a video of a cat tottering around the edge of a toilet seat before plummeting, inevitably, into the water. Sometimes movement can’t be beaten.

Not much life in these chaps. But imagine.