Wednesday, 13 October 2010

A Trip to the Yale Center for British Art

Visiting my friend at Yale, I decided, like any respectable history of art student, to pay a trip to the Yale Center for British Art. Well acquainted with the British collections at the Tate and National Gallery in London, I was intrigued to see what the Americans had to offer. My first impression was the building itself, concrete clad with metal fittings, more akin to an ex-industrial loft turned contemporary art gallery in New York's Chelsea, than small town Connecticut art collection.But far from being an odd juxtaposition of old and new, the spacious gallery with its monumental concrete spiral staircase, livened up the collection bringing the artworks straight into the 21st century, whether it be an abstract Ben Nicholson or a majestic Richard Wilson.

Even though I had heard that the Yale Center was the biggest repository of British art outside the UK, I was still staggered by the quantity and quality of the art displayed. Every wall is covered with phenomenal masterpieces spanning the Middle Ages right up until the present day with newly acquired works by Damian Hirst and Rachel Whiteread. Their collection of portraits is particularly impressive, including the likes of Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Lawrence. And unlike the major museums of London, overcrowded with tourists and a brief 10 second slot to see a painting, the Yale Center gives visitors the opportunity to soak up the coquettishly posed Mrs Abington by Reynolds and contemplate the stiffness and frustration of Vanessa Bell by Grant. If landscapes are more your thing, the gallery does not disappoint on that front either. The top floor is packed with paintings, notably by J. M. W. Turner (Staffa,Fingal's Cave was a particular favourite) and a stunning series of cloud studies by John Constable.

My advice is to start at the top of the building and work your way down, ending up in the gallery shop which is every anglophile's dream - London inspired Christmas decorations, union jack place mats and even Emma Bridgewater crockery. If you ever find yourself in New Haven or you're a British Yale student missing home, be sure to stop by this museum. It really is something of a marvel.

254 College Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06511. (203) 432-2800

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Benjamin Cohen and HRL Contemporary: a winning collaboration

There are times in my life as an unemployed graduate with a lot of ambition and a little work experience, that I find myself embroiled in a horrid conflict between awe and envy when I look at my more successful peers. Most of my friends are working hard, often for free, finding their place in the world and it's a pleasure to discuss the possibilities for our future and trials of job-hunting. There are other occasions however, when you meet people seemingly so established or at least on such an exciting path that you start to wonder why it isn't you in their place. I have a good degree, some relevant work experience, a profound interest in the arts yet here I am, treading water until someone gives me a break.

Tonight was one of those occasions. For the l
ast couple of months, my friend Tarini has been doing an internship with HRL Contemporary - a curatorial partnership which specialises in promoting young, up and coming artists. Tonight was the opening night of Benjamin Cohen's first solo exhibition held at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, only the second show put on by HLR. Just another trendy Shoreditch night then. But no. It was not held in another small, damp underground room on some seedy east end alleyway, it was a gigantic, whitewashed, beautifully lit urban space, which got me all excited before I'd even seen the paintings. What made it so impressive though, were the people who brought it together (my very clever friend Tarini the intern included). Henry Little and Josephine Breese only graduated in 2006, they are just a few years older than me and Benjamin is just 23.

The artwork of course, was why I was really there. I'm not new to Benjamin Cohen's work, in fact I'm rather a big fan. As a tentative painter myself, I often scour the internet for inspiration from other artists. A couple of years ago, as I trawled through endless images on the Saatchi website, I came across Benjamin's work. His paintings are hard to miss - they are bold, unnerving and technically brilliant. This exhibition is a documentation of the last three years of his career in which he has experimented with the human form, deconstructing it, reconstructing it and portraying it in very unhuman ways. If his work has any flaw it is that his influences are glaringly obvious but when these are Bacon, Saville and Freud, who really cares? To strip him of his own inventiveness though is unfair. His fleshy bodies, exposed and vulnerable dissolve into the vivid turquoise and blue backgrounds, not softly melting away but abruptly disappearing in pixelated chunks.

So when I was eventually dragged away from the show a couple of hours later, I started to reflect on all that I had seen. When I say reflect, I mean agonise. If only I could paint like Benjamin, if only I was the one putting on this incredible exhibition... But I guess that is what comes with the post-uni angst. I am only 23, I'm hardly over the hill, there is still plenty of time to do similar things. I have been inspired by these people and I've seen some incredible artwork to top it off. Go and see this exhibition, it might just get you thinking too.