Paul Klee: Making Visible continues at Tate Modern (pictured), London until Mar 9, 2014.

Art: Paul Klee: Making Visible
Tate Modern, London

Making Visible is hardly the definitive retrospective of Paul Klee, the Swiss artist, born in 1879. The exhibition includes drawings, etchings and paintings Klee produced from 1912 until his death in 1940, but not his early work, leaving the impression that Klee arrived, fully formed as an artist, at the age of 32.

Klee showed an early aptitude for the violin, but took up art in his teens as an act of rebellion. Thereafter he pursued his interest with an obsessive zeal. As Making Visible reveals, he made his breakthrough as an abstract artist, particularly with the explorations of colour he produced after a revelatory trip to Tunisia in 1914.

As a young artist, Klee had excelled at drawing, but struggled with colour, and his later study of colour theory, coupled with his impressions of Tunisia, led him to adopt a wildly imaginative palette. His exposure to Surrealism and Cubism also inspired him, as did his association with Bauhaus: Klee taught at the Bauhaus academy for ten years, from 1921.

Some of the most impressive pieces in this show include Rock Harbour, Diagram of a Fight and Fishes in the Deep. One of the most striking images is ‘Ghost of a Genius’, from 1922. Regarded as a self-portrait, the figure it represents is cartoonish in character. The head, inclined to one side, is larger than the body. The eyes convey the resignation of a man reluctant to have his portrait painted. Some have suggested the figure’s appearance owes much to the puppets Klee made for his young son.

Klee was a prolific artist. He often produced several hundred, and sometimes as many as 1,200, paintings a year.

His works tended to be modest in scale: Making Visible includes 128 examples. These are grouped under 17 headings, which seems fastidious, and quite unnecessary. That said, Making Visible is an exhibition that demands more than one visit to fully appreciate it.

* Paul Klee: Making Visible continues at Tate Modern, London until Mar 9, 2014.

Star Rating: 4/5

Art: Adrian Villar Rojas
Serpentine Sackler Gallery,London

Adrian Villar Rojas is one of those artists who produces work on such a monumental scale it is difficult to ignore. In 2009, he made a piece called My Family Dead, a 28-metre blue whale — fashioned from clay — he beached in a forest outside Ushuaia, Argentina. Tree-stumps burst out of the body, giving the impression it had lain there, perfectly preserved, for some time.

Villar Rojas’ exhibition, Today We Reboot The Planet, at the newly opened Serpentine Sackler Gallery, is not quite as startling, but it certainly makes a deep impression.

The first thing one encounters is a life-sized clay elephant, whose head appears to support a concrete beam. As with the whale, we are led to speculate on how such a creature might have come to be here. The elephant, bearing the weight of the building, elicits our sympathy and awe. Beyond this are the brick-lined Gunpowder Rooms that Villar Rojas re-imagines as a newly unearthed archaeological site, albeit one filled with unfired clay pieces inspired by people and events from the recent past. Not least among these is the late grunge musician Kurt Cobain, who appears as a dry, grey mannequin, tucked on a shelf among hundreds of other artifacts, each slowly crumbling to dust.

The hundreds of other pieces in the chamber — representations of human, bird and animal figures — are similarly made of unfired clay. This is what strikes one most forcibly about Villar Rojas’s works, that they are made so impeccably of materials that condemn them to perish. In Cobain’s case, this could hardly be more appropriate: the musician’s brilliant talent was undermined by his self-destructive streak, which led him to suicide, aged just 27, in 1994.

Villar Roja created the works for Today We Reboot The Planet in a workshop in London, but they are largely inspired by his experiments in the workshop in his hometown of Rosario, central Argentina. What impresses most is his insistence a respect for history and tradition should not restrict him from commenting on contemporary events.

* Until Nov 10.

Star Rating: 4/5


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