Monday, 21 January 2013

A Weekend in Sydney: Francis Bacon and Double Take

Over the holidays I also spent a bit of time in Sydney and had the chance to see the Art Gallery of NSW's current exhibition, Francis Bacon: Five Decades. This retrospective is the first major exhibition of Bacon's work in Australia, and it is well worth traveling to Sydney to see. I had never had the opportunity to see Bacon's work in person, and found myself standing at length in front of several of the works. If you won't be in Sydney before the exhibition closes on 24 February, you can at least see a slideshow of several paintings online

On the recommendation of a friend I also visited White Rabbit Gallery in Sydney, a collection of contemporary Chinese art from the 21st century. The current exhibition is the mesmerizing third anniversary show Double Take, showcasing a beguiling selection of works from the collection. 

If you can get to Sydney before 3 February, go see this show! Through superb craftsmanship and unexpected materials the artists in Double Take achieve tricky trompe l'oeil effects in sculpture and installation. Mongolian artist Gao Rong embroiders perfect replicas of the mundane details of everyday city life in her sculptures Station, a meticulously embroidered bus timetable, and Level 1/2, Unit 8, Building 5, Hua Jiadi, North Village, a perfect embroidered replica of the entryway of the apartment building she lived in as a student.

Over a period of years, sculptor Shi Jindian has dismantled a motorbike and Jeep, overlaying each individual part in lace-like lines traced in fine coloured steel wire. The original parts are later removed or destroyed and the traced outlines of form re-assembled into the most delicate and weightless shadow of the original.

Liao Chien-Chung has also recreated a motorcycle - his is a replica Harley Davidson, long an object of desire and fascination. Realising he couldn't afford to own his childhood dream, the artist decided to build his own Harley - with bicycle pedals. The exhibition includes the pedal-powered motorcycle and a video of the artist riding around the countryside.

Gao Feng's surreal suitcase helicopters fly whimsically over the gallery' stairwell, while the work of Ye Sen and Ah Leon call for a triple take, so deceptive are they in their simplicity. Ye Sen's sculpture is of a log cut in half and connected with several lengths of heavy steel chain - or so it seems, until on closer inspection you realise the entire sculpture, chain and all, is carved from a single log, the chain links carved with the assistance of master wood carvers. Ah Leon (Chen Ching-Liang)'s Memories of Elementary School is a simple aged and splintered wooden school desk and chair - except that they are not made of wood at all, but trompe l'oeil ceramic.

Li Hongbo offers more of his intriguing paper sculptures, using the same honeycomb-folded paper technique of his Ocean of Flowers, which I wrote about earlier during the 2012 Sydney Bienniale. Double Take features two life-size sculptures of men, cut from solid stacks of more than 30,000 sheets of paper, strategically glued into a honeycomb pattern. One is displayed upright as a sculpture of a man, only his head toppling over to reveal the secrets he holds, while his twin is laid out on the floor, its features stretched across an entire room, unraveling.


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