• Achim-borchardt-humebookshelf

    Bookshelf: Achim Borchardt-Hume

Art

Bookshelf: Chief Curator of the Whitechapel Gallery, London, Achim Borchardt-Hume

Posted by Bryony Quinn,

In this, London’s very “olympic” year, the cultural games played out by the top galleries is quietly being lead by their curators. It’s a critical responsibility and so it makes sense that those behind the galleries programmes of big name retrospectives with their blockbusting four-hour-queues, are some very skilled and very qualified lot, not least, the Whitechapel Gallery’s chief curator, Achim Borchardt-Hume.

Previously curator for modern and contemporary art at Tate Modern – a role that included eight Unilever Commission’s for the Turbine Hall and a series of major exhibitions including Rothko: The Late Series in 2008 – Achim’s chief position at the Whitechapel has seen him present, most recently, Zarina Bhimji and currently prepare the first exhibition of works by Gerhard Richter in Lebanon.

This week we welcome him to our Bookshelf slot with five volumes off his shelves that go someway in offering an insight into his literary stopping off places.

The Man without Qualities Robert Musil

In a world where everybody is continually encouraged to turn themselves into their own brand, the need for heroes such as Ulrich, the much-famed “man without qualities”, is becoming ever more urgent. Seeking to organise a joint celebration for the anniversaries of the Austrian and the German Emperors’ coronations, a group of fin-de-siecle bourgeois discovers that there is no longer any grand idea behind which to unite the wider populace. Their thwarted efforts bear the fantastic title of “parallel action”, a term that could just as easily have been dreamed up by today’s spin doctors. At the heart of their shenanigans is Ulrich, a man who has decided that rather than leaving an imprint on the world, he wants to remain malleable and allow himself to be formed by it. His lack of firm boundaries is mirrored by the structure of the novel itself which increasingly becomes a collection of text fragments and loose observations, so much so that its latest digital edition encourages a non-linear reading of the book’s final, unfinished part. Musil worked on his magnum opus for more than 20 years only to die in relative poverty in Swiss exile; perhaps his novel is all the richer for this.
www.amazon.co.uk/the-man-without-qualities
www.wikipedia.org/the-man-without-qualities

In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust

The six volumes of Proust’s exploration of memory inhabit my bookshelf as a semi-permanent and vaguely accusatory memento to my intellectual pretensions and their limitations. Some years ago, when finishing my doctorate, I dreamed of reading Proust “as a treat” once I had finished the slog of writing my thesis. As it so happened, other treats were more immediately available and promised a more instantaneous satisfaction. Proust’s novel is one of the great literary achievements of all times, performing psychology through the written word long before psychology had been institutionally established as a quasi-scientific discipline. I only got as far as the famous madeleine episode in the first book, the one everybody likes to quote to imply an intimacy with the sprawling story that ignores the other five volumes. I have an image in my mind that the only way properly to read Proust is by living like him: spend the day in bed reading, rarely go out and leave the rest of the world at the front door. One day, I am sure, I will get there; in the meantime, I have to contend with whatever the relentless stream of emails sends my way.
www.amazon.co.uk/in-search-of-lost-time
www.wikipedia.org/in-search-of-lost-time

Crime and Punishment Fyodor Dostoyevski

This one I have read, though this is not why I list it here. For showing off one’s literary credentials this would be too obvious a choice. No, this one is about book design. Dostoyevski wrote this, his second major novel, at break-neck speed, primarily to pay off gambling debts. Moral destitution is at the heart of the book, in which Raskolnikov commits the ‘perfect crime’. While he manages to outwit the police, the same cannot be said for his conscience which becomes a far more merciless and hounding prosecutor. I read this as a conventional paperback. However, the book I am thinking off here is the wonderful Penguin 70th anniversary edition designed by FUEL. Printed on brown paper, the stitched binding exposed with no glossy cover to protect the naked pages, the book is a physical incarnation of the story it contains. The red lines of the Constructivist design on the title page pull around the edges, subtly bleeding into every page. Every book is an object – not least an object of consumption and desire. When you see this book, you will want it on your shelf.
www.amazon.co.uk/crime-and-punishment
www.wikipedia.org/crime-and-punishment

Miracles of Life J.G. Ballard

Ballard had one of the most extraordinary imaginations of any writer in recent times. A maverick story teller, he takes readers to the outermost reaches of their inner worlds, places so fierce and dark that, for most, a good deal of energy is spent pretending they don’t exist. What could easily be overlooked is the deep sense of humanity from which this springs. In Crash, Ballard gives the most apocalyptic rendering of sex meeting death for that extra bit of spice. It is hard to imagine the writer at work on a book that defied all bourgeois morality while bringing up his children as a single parent in the middle of suburbia. His autobiography flows over with intelligent emotion, the love for his children, the hurt over the sudden death of his wife, the lasting effects of his childhood, memorably (if not entirely accurately) restaged in Spielberg’s Empire of the Rising Sun. When disheartened by humankind and its petty narcissistic obsessions this is a gentle reminder that people can rise above these (though maybe only those who admit that they think about having sex in the weirdest places).
www.wikipedia.org/miracles-of-life
www.amazon.co.uk/miracles-of-life

I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life Everywhere, with Everyone, One to One, Always, Forever, Now Damien Hirst

So do I, seriously. Therein lies the riddle of Hirst’s work: he exposes our contemporary desires for limitless expansion in every part of life even if rationally we know that this leads nowhere other than to (self) destruction. With Hirst’s first serious museum retrospective about to open at Tate Modern it is timely to look at this earlier survey of his work in book format. Designed by Jonathan Barnbrook, this pop-up/pull-out extravaganza brilliantly encapsulates Hirst’s project. All the key works are here, from the shark suspended in formaldehyde to its lamb cousin which was temporarily turned into a “black sheep” by an assailant pouring ink into its tank; from butterfly paintings to other surreal objects. The reaction to the book is like that to much of Hirst’s work: “That’s just silly!”, “how obvious!”, followed by “can I have another go at pulling that?” Children love it – after all, it uses all the apparatus of “interactive” children’s books – and so does the child within us. Therein lies the allure of Hirst’s work: it appeals to base instinct and bypasses critical discourse (where it does not and tries to pose as intellectual, is where it is at its weakest). I may not be able to spend the rest of my life everywhere, with everyone, one to one, always, forever, now. In fact, I may no longer even want to, but rather than shed crocodile tears about that, I’ll just indulge in the undiluted pleasure of playing with my book-sized Hirst.
www.amazon.co.uk/i-want-to-spend-the-rest-of-my-life-everywhere…
www.wikipedia.org/damien-hirst

Currently showing at the Whitechapel Gallery is Gillian Wearing until June 17.

Portrait9

Posted by Bryony Quinn

Bryony was It’s Nice That’s first ever intern and worked her way up to assistant online editor before moving on to pursue other interests in the summer of 2012.

Most Recent: Art View Archive

  1. List

    The bright, woozy haze of Wojciech Fangor’s psychedelic paintings is mesmerising. It’s even more so having learnt that the Polish artist, who worked during the 1960s, created these Op art masterpieces entirely in isolation, working in Eastern Europe having not seen the similar works being created in America and Europe by the likes of Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely. As such, while the images feel familiar; there’s also something exotic about them, pulsing with light created using intensely coloured oil paint applied in thin layers. A new show named Colour-Light-Space opens next month at London’s 3 Grafton Street gallery, and will display a number of works by Wojciech from the 1960s and 1970s that demonstrate his mastery of all three words in the title. It’s fascinating to think of the artist working on these beautiful optical illusions and explorations of the power of painting well before similar works were created elsewhere in the world, and it’s great to have his work celebrated in the way it deserves.

  2. List

    Mark Lazenby is the go-to guy for collage that just works. We last featured the artist two years ago and since then his portfolio of pieced together artworks has exploded with even more impressive works and a real exploration of materials and collage techniques.

  3. List

    There’s not a pie in the cultural world that James Franco isn’t ready and willing to stick a finger into, and to prove it the actor, director, poet and musician has just announced a new exhibition of his artworks, entitled Fat Squirrel, which is to be held at London’s Siegfried Contemporary gallery. The show is an undeniably eclectic collection, including a number of self portraits of the artist in the guise of various famous historical figures, a deer orgy entitled Triple Team, and some bright painterly collages, not to mention the eponymous overweight rodents which are undoubtedly our favourites.

  4. List

    I’m known for my sweet tooth and ability to consume an obscene amount of cakes, sweets and biscuits in one sitting, so it’ll come as no surprise that I was instantly drawn to Will Cotton’s sugary scenes of candy-laced lands.

  5. List

    Time and again Amy Woodside gets in touch to let us know about new projects she’s cooked up and time and again we’re powerless to resist them. The New York-based artist is focussed to a fault on her fine art practice where iconic letterforms emerge from meticulously registered screen printing and frantic flourishes of spray paint. Where first she caught our eye with multicoloured wordplay, the constant reduction and refinement of her process has resulted in a new series’ of totemic words like ‘Hero’, ‘Cash’, ‘Hoax’ and ‘Like’, pre-loaded with cultural context and double meaning, writ large on the canvas. What’s the meaning behind them? The interpretation is up to you, but Amy always seems to be critiquing pop culture with its own visual vernacular and playing fast and loose with our ambiguous use of language.

  6. List

    The Dutch/Brazilian artist Rafaël Rozendaal is best known for his digital artworks that often take the form of webpages but as he told us at our 2013 creative symposium Here he is increasingly interested in exploring his fascination with light and colour in real-world scenarios. Most recently this has taken the form of his hyper-colourful abstract lenticular paintings, which are made up of layers of different frames and so appear to move when viewed from different angles.

  7. List

    There’s a wonderful, undulating beauty to Alain Delorme’s series that initially tricks the viewer into thinking they’re seeing flocks of starlings choreographing themselves against iridescent skies. On closer inspection though, rather than capturing mass avian movements the Parisian photographer has replaced them with a myriad of plastic bags.

  8. List

    Way back in 2011 when we first posted the work of Frank Magnotta It’s Nice That was a very different beast – we’d only give you one image to check out and the rest was up to you. So when I stumbled across Frank’s work again this week it seemed essential that we show you a whole lot more. To be honest there have been few updates to his site in the past three years but the work is breathtaking, pulling together pop culture references, architectural precision and some serious Americana and combining it into stark surrealist landscapes. At times grotesque but always engaging, Frank’s graphite artworks are still some of the finest around.

  9. List

    Jean Jullien is many things. Artist. Illustrator. French. Recent emigre to New York. It’s Nice That favourite. So hot right now. He’s also the final artist to have a show at Kemistry Gallery’s current east London home before it closes its doors early next year (although as has been reported it has some excitingly ambitious plans).

  10. List

    American artist James Rieck paints models, but not in the way you might expect. In his huge colourful canvases he takes figures from adverts and recreates them four or five feet wide, capturing their clothes, their postures but not their faces.

  11. List

    These painted scenes from Paige Jiyoung Moon are so wonderfully intricate, a new detail pops out each time you see them. Capturing domestic scenes like people drinking coffee, friends watching a film or a family eating lunch together, it’s the mundanity of what Paige paints that makes her miniature worlds so inviting as the viewer tries to pick out some sort of irregularity.

  12. List

    It’s been a whole two years since we last posted about the marvellous work of Lynnie Zulu and we’re happy to have the illustrator’s vibrant world colouring our dull Monday once again. Her latest body of work is on show now at No Walls Gallery in Brighton and is a fantastically lively exploration of the female in all her glorious forms.

  13. List-tatiana-bruni_-the-drunkard_-costume-design-for-%e2%80%98the-bolt%e2%80%99_-1931_-courtesy-grad-and-st-petersburg-museum-of-theatre-and-music

    We’re no ballet aficionados, but we wouldn’t usually associate drunkards, typists and factory workers with the grace and poise of the discipline. However, as these beautiful gouache painting by Tatiana Bruni show, there’s much more to ballet than tutus and swan lake, with her angular figures, bold colours and sometimes grotesquely postured characters. The paintings show costume designs for Dmitri Shostakovich’s 1931 ballet The Bolt, and are going on show at London’s Gallery for Russian Arts and Design alongside a series of period photographs. The ballet itself was bold and striking in its use of real hammers, machine-inspired choreography, aerobics and acrobatics, and the costume images are equally as dynamic, inspired by “the aesthetics of agit-theatre and artist-designed propaganda posters”, according to the gallery. The sense of movement is palpable, whether in the graceful billowing dresses or the staggering legs of our brightly-coloured drunkard, working against the geometric rigidity of the style to beautiful effect.