Accademia Florence with the crowds and the selfie sticks

One of the reasons I had always wanted to go to Florence was for the art. It is the home to some of the most important Renaissance artworks and I had studied some of them in Art History at high school. Unlike a lot of high school memories (people hiding things in my frizzy hair, wearing leggings under mini-shirts and an awkward campaign for school council) I actually liked these ones, so visiting the Uffizi gallery and the Accademia were pretty much the only things on my Florence to do list.

Mum had planned the entire trip because I was so busy at work I couldn’t think past my own nose. She had the foresight to book a ‘speed tour’ that went to both the Uffizi and the Accademia in one morning, because rumour had it that the queues to get into either were hell on earth. My god the rumours were true, for the Accademia it was ticketed but they limited the numbers allowed in AND give priority to tour groups – some people with perfectly valid tickets had to wait in the hot sunshine for two hours before they could glimpse David’s nadgers.

So tour time it was. Yes that sentence sounds like Yoda is ghost writing my blog, shut up I haven’t had any coffee yet and I’m writing this on the Jubilee line CUT ME SOME SLACK. I bet Yoda doesn’t have to put up with this crap from his readers.

We were on a tour. It was not a pleasant experience. The disorganisation of the Uffizi gallery killed me, it was horrible crowding through the gallery rooms with seemingly no restriction on people numbers. It was a noisy, chaotic, ‘run and snap’ experience. As much as I hate tours I am actually very glad we were on one because it at least we got through quickly and managed to see all my art history loves. I think groups were the problem to be honest, that many tour groups in one small gallery meant noise, no people flow and people crowding to take photos in front of art they had never heard of because the tour guide said it was famous. Oh and everyone was wearing fucking hats.

Hats in the Uffizi gallery

But I saw the art I wanted to, I stood in front of Botticelli’s Venus, Piero della Francesca’s Urbino portraits and Giotto’s altar pieces. A shitty stressful experience but some amazing art.
And it was the same story at the Accademia, except with the added bonus of two tour leaders getting into a fight as one accused the other of cutting in line. Again I’m glad I did the tour (I think it is actually the only way to go) because the one thing I really wanted to see was the statue of David, and standing in the sun for two hours would not have been worth it (no matter how tight his glutes were).

Kandinsky to Pollock at the Palazzo Strozzi

It was on this sad note that I was fairly anti art galleries in Florence. This gallery ghost wants to meander and contemplate, not be pushed out of the way by a snapchatting hat on two legs.
Then we saw a poster for an exhibition that I REALLY wanted to see, From Kandinsky to Pollock at the Palazzo Strozzi. Girding our loins we went for it, crowds be damned.

To my absolute surprise it was calm. We purchased the tickets, there were no tour groups and it was ‘art gallery murmur’ quiet. People ghosted around looking at paintings that took their interest and at no point did anyone shout “take a photo of this one it’s famous”. AND I was surrounded by some kick ass modern art, I was in heaven.

Museo dell'Opera del Duomo

It was with my faith in the galleries of Florence restored that we went to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Essentially they took all the good bits from the Duomo and put them into a beautifully designed (and air conditioned!) gallery that you don’t have to queue for; of the two I would 100% choose to go for the gallery over the actual Duomo because it was so fucking interesting. Anyway again we wandered round in the calm and learned about the building of the Duomo, the art, the culture and got to visit a roof terrace to see a unique view of the dome.

I wish that all of the galleries in Florence were a good experience, that tour groups were non-existent and that art was appreciated for itself not for how many t-shirts it is on. I know I sound like a snob here, but when you study something for two years from the other side of the world you begin to think about it in hallowed tones. When the crowds are there because it’s something they have to do, not want to do it grinds my gears. Florence does have beautiful galleries, you just have to find them.

Chewing gum art in London

So many times in London I have to remind myself to look up and appreciate the magic of the city. I’m usually so busy using my elbows to battle my fellow commuters (I have perfected my technique), music loud and footpath focused that I miss out on the beauty of London. Except that is when London goes out of its way to show you the magic right at your feet.

London chewing gum art by Ben Wilson

I was fighting my way across Millennium bridge the other day trying to get to The Wren. As per usual I had my iPod in, and was pretty much ignoring the view; you know you have settled in London when you are happy to ignore all the monuments up and down the Thames. Then something caught my eye, a little bit of colour at my feet. It was busy to I just figured it was a bit of rubbish or something, and kept walking. Then I saw another and another. Someone had used the old chewing gum stuck on the bridge as a canvas for mini paintings.

I’m 90% sure these are the work of Ben Wilson, who is known to make life little better by making discarded gum into art. I just love the attitude, I mean no one else seems to care about cleaning up the gum (there is a special circle in hell for people who just spit it onto the floor) and so why not use it to make the world a prettier place?

I made a special trip back when the bridge was quieter to take photos of as many as I could find. By the end of the short walk across the bridge I was nearly cross eyed from focussing on the lined metal platform. But it was totally worth it to be let into the secret art of Millennium Bridge.

Ben Wilson Chewing Gum Art London chewing gum art

dran, Attention de ne pas tomber, 2014.

I didn’t want this Paris trip to be an endless bunfight in art galleries. I love the art and the amazing spaces in Paris, but fighting with a thousand other tourists to get a two second look at a panting is just not my scene. So on this trip I limited myself to just one gallery, one gallery out of all the magic that Paris had to offer. Of course I had to choose my favourite modern art gallery; Palais de Tokyo. Before I even looked at what was on I knew it was the type of gallery to have the most insane and cool of the modern art on offer, exactly what I wanted.

The nice thing about the Palais de Tokyo is that you follow a set path through the building. So many galleries are a set of rooms for you to choose to go into or not, which means you can avoid the art that you don’t want to see, but also means you miss giving art a second chance or experiencing something new. At the Palais de Tokyo you have to see everything on offer, much like an arty Ikea there is only one path through the madness, so you just have to gird your loins and enter the lions den.

 

The exhibition that was on offer could not have been more perfect if I had tried. It was ‘Inside’ which some artists took to mean the distinction between two spaces (inside v outside) and others used as a chance to study the ‘inside’ of humanity, and one guy lived in a bear for a while. You know, it wouldn’t be modern art if someone didn’t think it was a good idea to live inside a bear.

Since whenever I talk about my favourite pieces of art I get trolled by Art Majors who want to prove how much they know, I will preface this by saying I like these because they are awesome and stuff…not because they are buried in a thesis somewhere. First is this super cool effect by artist Marcius Galan, it was a white room that looked like it was cut off by an angled piece of glass, but actually it was just a paint effect (the photo really doesn’t do the mind trick justice).

Vue d'exposition, Inside, Palais de Tokyo (2014), Marcius Galan

I also loved this marble sculpture that looked like a sheet fort build by a four year old, and a four year old with no spacial reasoning skills at that. The fabric on classical sculptures is always fascinating to me, how artists get that sort of soft look from stone is beyond my comprehension. But cool nonetheless.

Marble blanket fort Palais de Tokyo Paris

Oh and that bear I mentioned? Yes artist Abraham Poincheval lived inside a bear sculpture for 13 days. It had everything he needed even a small kettle, so he could live completely cut off from the world…in a bear. Thank god there are artists out there to do thing sort of thing so we don’t have to.

And the last one I am going to mention, the pièce de résistance the tunnel made of scotch tape. No photos were allowed from inside (yes you could crawl around inside the thing) but here is one from underneath. It looked like some sort of extra from Dr Who, that stretched all the way across the entry hall, above the heads of people buying tickets.  It was made out of scotch tape and I feel that some sort of extreme office makeover could be called for, after all I think every day is a good day if you are working in a Scotch tape web.

Tape Paris, Numen For Use. Exposition INSIDE, Palais de Tokyo 2014

Oh and before I forget, the corridors of the Palais de Tokyo are just as exciting as the art (or it could be art, I can never really tell). All the white walls over three levels had been tagged with crude but clever black images. They used anything that was already there as inspiration like the florescent lights as the centre of an eye or a lamppost (like the one at the top). I would also suggest this for an office makeover, except I think I already know what the response would be if I walked up to my boss with a can or two of black spray paint.

If you are in Paris and want to see some cool insane stuff then head over to Palais de Tokyo. The added bonus is that it is within walking distance to both the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe so you can get your tourist fix and your nutter fix in one.

Lego scuplture

I seem to have found myself on Brick Lane three Saturdays in a row. Not deliberately of course, but things like that seem to happen when you live in London; in this wide expanse of city you keep returning to the same familiar spots without thinking. After walking past the ‘Art of the Brick’ three times I finally decided to check it out. I almost went to the exhibition when it toured through Brussels, but got a little distracted by endless waffles. As to why it took me three attempts to finally go, well… in a city with incredible art for free I really resent paying for an exhibition. But hey ho, of to the Art of the Brick we go.

Starry Night Lego

The Art of the Brick is the work of artist Nathan Sawaya, he creates unique sculptures entirely out of lego. The promotional image for the exhibition is the bust of a man, pulling open his chest to allow the lego bricks inside to tumble out – very cool. Based on this I had high hopes for the rest of the sculptures.

The exhibition starts with a video about the artist, and all the countries that the exhibition had toured to. I liked that it explained the artists process/rational, he essentially is trying to create art out of everyday objects. What I didn’t like however was that it was a bit too much of a pat on the back, almost prepping you that this was a fantastic exhibition because of all the places it had been. Like a much hyped movie it was bound to leave me underwhelmed by the art.

Lego Dinosaur Full Sized

And underwhelmed I was. The problem in a nutshell was Logo Land. Its not that the sculptures lacked creativity or imagination its that I could see a massive corporation creating the same thing in a planning meeting for a childrens theme park. Giant pencil drawing a line… tick, recreation of a classic sculpture… tick, dinosaur skeleton… tick. The ones I got the most joy out of were where the lego bricks had been used to create a pointalist version of a couple of my favorite paintings (The Scream, Starry Night). But again, this was just something that appealed to me rather than what I consider to be a great work of art.

The families at the exhibition however clearly had a different opinion. The kids were going nuts for the lego sculptures, they were sparking off something that I couldn’t appreciate. Maybe this was the cheaper version of going to Lego Land, one where the kids would not be distracted by sugar or rides. They saw art that was within their reach, here were sculptures in an exhibition that they had a chance of creating at home.

The Art of the Brick Human Condition

The closest the Art of the Brick came to art I could appreciate was in the Human Condition section where the sculpture on the promo materials was located. In these the fact that they were created out of lego added to the sculpture; showing suffering, redemption or love out of bricks somehow felt like an ironic take on our modern cookie cutter lives.

The Art of the Brick might just be the perfect compromise for families. The children will go nuts to be able to see something they play with elevated on an artistic pedestal. The adults will at least get to walk round an art gallery without wining disinterested children asking when they can get a babychino. And adults might even find a couple of sculptures that they love.