Contemporary – Somewhat Abstract

I din’t go to the last Art Show at Nottingham Contemporary – it was a bit too ‘bodily fluid’ orientated for my taste. I was sent a book of some of the art – and it challenges me even on a coffee book level.

Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1962

Bridget Riley, Movement in Squares, 1962

But on Friday it was the opening night of the latest show – Somewhat Abstract. This is a much more ‘mainstream’ collection of pieces owned by the Arts Council – in fact this is the largest exhibition of their pieces outside London. There are 68 artists on show and eight are Turner Prize winners.

I was interested to learn about the Arts Council – It is a relatively young organisation – you can read the history here. It operates on a very tight budget – but has clearly purchased well. They now have the work of 2,162 artists and holds 7,747 artworks. Of these, approximately 1,500 are paintings and over 5,000 are works on paper, including photographs. The Collection includes 845 sculptures and 113 audiovisual works.

I liked this exhibition – some of the paintings are much more my sort of thing.

The opening party was well represented with the great and good of the city there. You do begin to realise the importance of this place on the map of Nottingham. Visitors numbers, we are told, are ahead of expectations and that we get the sort of quality art on show now demonstrates just how important Nottingham Contemporary is – on a local scale but also giving us national visibility.

It’s a show worth going to see!

lessons from the Creative Quarter

I was at a very interesting workshop yesterday – organised by the Nottingham Creative Quarter Company. There were around 25 of us all huddled into the meeting room at The Contemporary. Other than the 8am start it was really interesting to listen to some of the views about the Nottingham Creative Quarter.


The Creative Quarter isn’t very old – only just over a year. Although it does have a distinct boundary on a map it is very clear that the real boundary of people working in the sector is much fuzzier and spreads over a wider area. But the boundary does help in some senses – it helps to signpost people. And it shouts out about something we should be proud of.
Nuts and bolts how we deliver

Pat Brown, who I went to Lyon with last year facilitated the event. Pat started by recalling a story about Mayor Bloomberg in 2007 at a time when the financial markets were crumbling in New York. Bloomberg spotted that the creatives in the City were actually a key driver. They have been pretty much ignored and left to be shifted around as areas grew and became more expensive.He invested in technology and creativity. It proved to be a huge business and probably saved the City.

But there were some other really interesting statements yesterday that we need to factor in to our thinking moving forward.

I think there is some flesh needed on the following – but food for thought:

Creatives want to work differently. They don’t actually want shiny new buildings – they prefer heritage building with opening windows!

People are at the front and centre of the creative industries. People – not buildings or initiatives.

You need a 21st Century infrastructure. It needs to be fast, connected and easy.

They don’t want it to be difficult. It has to be easy to set up. Red tape is an unnecessary barrier.

Diverse businesses like other diverse businesses.

There has to be a vibrant day time economy and a similar night time one too.

But the one I loved most was that every so often we need to “Hit the Refresh Button”. This is so true and echoes the things I highlighted about New York here. To make places interesting they have to change. They have to evolve and re-invest themselves.

I have some more material which I am working through – but this is really good stuff for the overall plan!

Nottingham – great stuff #4

My number four – and not really in order – is Nottingham Contemporary. This particular blog timing is perfect as last Friday was the start of the latest show. Regrettably I couldn’t make the show.


I have been a huge supporter of the gallery since it opened and my firm were the first Business Benefactor – we still continue that support today.

The Gallery has been a ‘shot in the arm’ for Nottingham in my view. It opened at a time when we were struggling with good news stories. It was a great news story.

I make no secret of the fact that I’m no expert on contemporary art; I struggle with some of the more abstract and left-field work. But I can see that art has a huge place to play in the City. It has also exceeded all expectations in visitor numbers – 700,000 – 50% more than they thought at the outset. And it is estimated that the gallery has added £23m to the local economy since opening.

In just four years the gallery has become a key part of the City offer. But it is more than that. I think it has enabled the Creative Quarter to grow and flourish too. Having a nationally important Institution in the heart of town brings a wealth of talent (a theme is emerging!) to us. Talent breed talent.

I will go and see the current show when I get a moment. It is Tala Madani and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd – it runs through to March 23rd. Even if you don’t like art you can get great food in the basement cafeteria.

Easily a Top 10 Nottingham attraction!

The 15th Nottingham Contemporary Exhibition

I was a guest at a dinner last night at the Nottingham Contemporary – before the food there was a chance to see the new exhibition which starts at the weekend. You can see that the food was a work of art in itself!


This one has been five years in gestation and is curated by Alex Farquharson in conjunction with Tate St Ives.

Aquatopia has a decidedly seaside feel. It is the story of how the ocean and its species have exercised the imagination across cultures and time.

There are over 150 pieces – including an amazing J W Turner painting from 1845 – Sunrise and Sea monsters.

I loved this exhibition – sometimes I struggle with the Contemporary and abstract stuff on show. But i think Alex has curated a really good show here. There is a really strong theme and some stunning pieces of art. The story of the ocean is brought to life, with the fantasy pieces sharing pedestals with real creatures.

The Oceans are vastly unexplored – it is reckoned we have only ‘discovered’ 10% of the worlds oceans – so there is a rich seam of material for those who make myths or have a wild imagination!

You should go and see this exhibition – Nottingham Contemporary continues to be a huge positive news story for Nottingham and this show is one of the best yet. The show runs until 22 September…

Nottingham Contemporary – the lunch

I played host at a lunch at Nottingham Contemporary this week. The Gallery was re-launching its Business Benefactors programme – now calling it The Business Circle.

Alex Farquharson launching the new Business Circle

Alex Farquharson launching the new Business Circle

There is a good reason for the re-launch. For every £1 raised on sponsorship / support the Gallery are given a matched £1 by Arts Council England.

I was asked to talk about why my firm, Innes England, became the first benefactor over three years ago.

We support the gallery for lots of reasons. And it’s around what Nottingham has to offer a story to the rest of the UK (and world?). Our creative industries and art are really important.

Chris Leslie MP for Nottingham East in his newsletter this week reporting on the Commons debate last week on the arts and creative industries, said:

It was a useful opportunity to note the importance to the UK of the arts and creative industries, with art and culture enriching the lives of individuals, reinforcing a sense of local community, and being vital to the economy, generating more than £36 billion a year and employing 1.5 million people.

That’s the National picture – but what about Nottingham Contemporary?

• In 3 ½ years its made an economic contribution of £30m
• It attracts tourism – 18% of visitors are from outside the conurbation
• It raises the profile of the City – in a positive way – the Haiti exhibition brought £3m of positive press
• It inspires young people – who we hope are the next creative leaders
• It’s an important part of the Creative Quarter

I concluded my brief talk by suggesting that the real reason we are supporters is that Nottingham Contemporary has been a huge success story for Nottingham – and it’s great being part of that success…

Nottingham Contemporary – new show!

I went to the Director’s Cut on Friday night. The latest show at the Nottingham Contemporary has arrived in Nottingham.


As is usual it’s a two part show. If I am honest I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this opening. The pre-shhow information didn’t fire me up and I was worried that some of the work was going to be too ‘conceptual’ for me! But I was pleasantly surprised.

John Newling’s work is the more difficult to explain. It revolves, in the main, around Miracle Trees and walking stick cabbages. Then there is a part about money – or rather the detritus from money. Newling took 50,000 2p coins and ‘cleaned’ the muck from them. The muck was weighed and the value of the muck was 7p. This was then put in some jars (see the picture). The art-philistine in me just asks, “why“.

But the surprise of the show was Piero Gillardi – much of which is expanded foam modelled into ‘natural’ objects and painted. This was really good and I could appreciate this much more. I though there was humour in the pieces. I liked the ‘nature carpets’ constructed in the early 1960′s. The live performance was more challenging – but I could run with it. Piero runs an ecological art gallery overlooking the former Fiat factory in Turin.

What was really impressive was the number of people at the first night of the show. The Contemporary was as busy as I have seen it. This is good for Nottingham!

I am still working on appreciating the art!

Nottingham Contemporary – the summer show 2012

It amazes me how quickly new shows come around at the Nottingham Contemporary. Last Friday night I joined the Director’s tour of the latest show. This is the Summer one!

And this one I like very much. I do sometimes find contemporary art challenging – it can be too abstract for my CSE Grade 4 in Art. I’m not a huge Constable fan I’m more appreciative of Haring!

As has become a pattern there are two main shows.

The Alfred Kubin work is mostly drawings from 1900 or thereabouts. It is dark and nightmarish in parts. It’s not exactly uplifting! He had a tough upbringing which was inspiration for the work. Interestingly he married and then lost his artistic ability – his work was prolific (over 1,000 pieces) in a few years – and then nothing. He lived a happy, normal life after marriage!

But the Francis Uprichard I liked much more. The majority of the work is a series of approximately 1/3 life size models, They too have a nightmarish quality – especially the tiny little hands. They are dressed in weird and wonderful robes. Their faces are stark and strangely feature-less. All of them are mounted on ‘furniture’ placing them at our eye height. They are quite haunting – as you can see from my photograph.

This is one of my favourite exhibitions so far. I would encourage you to go and see it.

We remain lucky to have the Contemporary and it is becoming an important part of Nottingham life. I was interviewed during the evening to ask for my view on why my firm are benefactors. I think that there are a number of reasons – firstly that art is a key part of Nottingham’s offer. It also gives us a great opportunity to network -and the networking is a different group of people. Finally the facilities and environment are great for meeting people.

The Nottingham Story – part three – The story

After my rant of yesterday I though we had better get back on track! I have suggested before that we tap into our history of being somewhat rebellious. I think the rebellion thing could provide a much needed theme.

After all it was here where King Charles I raised his standard here to start the English Civil War in 1642. So we’ve been causing trouble for over 350 years!

But part of that story is that we are also seen a fair people, the connection to Robin Hood is all-important here. He robbed from the rich to give to the poor. The beginning of the Social Service?

These can be fun things for us to latch on to. The do give us something of history. But it’s not quite enough?

I didn’t do History at School (actually I didn’t do much, but that’s another story!). I’m more of a ‘now’ person. And I think our story today is much more interesting.

Our connection with Science goes back to Jesse Boot – and we are a Science City. Stewart Adams invented Ibuprofen & Sir Peter Mansfield invented the MRI Scanner here in Nottingham. Our two Universities are brilliant and recognised the world over. But the City seems to have a disconnect with them. We need to embrace them and all that they do. They provide a weather of research and talent – which we need to keep inn the City. Lets make this place a Univercity.

In recent years we have also made great strides in the creative industries. We have the brilliant Nottingham Contemporary. We have a fantastic hot-bed of talent at Antenna and some creatives being trained next door at Confetti. Lets tap into that seam of people. Musicians, film makers and artists. Lets give them space to thrive and grow. Lets make this an Creaticity.

In a funny way the creatives and investors are rebels too – they are the new who dare to make a difference. Remember the Apple Poem?

Tomorrow – the business sector….

Nottingham Contemporary – the newest show

Last Friday night I was at the launch party for the newest of the Nottingham Contemporary shows – Mika Rottenberg and James Gillray.

Gillray first – he was a satirist in the mid 19th century who drew and hand coloured caricatures of the rich and famous. A sort of pre-cursor to the paparazzi! The pictures show the sort of issues faced in the day – expensive wars, MP’s inappropriate use of funds and celebrity gossip! It could well have been 2012? Funny how some things don’t change!

But then Rottenberg, who was at the launch party. Born in 1976, she has lived in New York and the work is video based, shown in specially built enclosures – intended in some ways to make you feel claustrophobic. Much of the subject matter seems to be women workers – doing repetitive tasks. Some have an adult theme!

I enjoyed the Gillray prints – the detail is amazing and there is humour in some of them.They provide an interesting social commentary of a different but similar time. The Rottenberg I found a little more challenging – but didn’t really have time to study and watch the videos in great detail. I need to go back to have a better look.

What was evident was the interest in the show. The preview was as busy as I have seen it – and there were some new faces in the crowd – which was good to see.

We do sometimes underestimate the importance of the Nottingham Contemporary – it was one of my key ingredients when I was talking about what the good about Nottingham, I think it remains so.

I might not always like the art, but I do think it raises our profile and makes people think. If it does one of those two things then some good has come…

And last week I went to the Brooklyn MOMA PS1 Exhibition where one of the installations was two (live) cats in a room – now that is challenging my interpretation of art – video / prints are much more mainstream!

Keith Haring – at the Brooklyn Museum

One of my all-time favourite artists is Keith Haring – his life was cut short at 32 by AIDS. His was a very brief career – and that has been celebrated with an exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum.

I went a few days ago. It’s a 30 minute subway ride from Manhattan (take note Nottingham Tram people – is $2.25 – £1.39). It’s a monster of a building – over half a million square feet. They have a wide range of exhibits ranging from Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art, and represent a wide range of cultures. Some of the stuff is really old – 3,000BC! Not altogether my cup of tea, but fascinating.

This is the first time a major exhibition has been shown of Haring’s work. There were 155 ‘pieces’ on show.

It’s a fantastic collection. It chronicles his arrival in New York with a mixture of photographs, paintings, sketchbooks, journals, exhibition flyers, posters and chalked subway drawings. There are some interesting videos of him working at the New York School of Art – it’s incredible to see the speed at which he painted in his highly stylised way.

My favourite piece was a 6ft high 49 foot long single painting which contains may of his signatory icons – the baby being seen several times. I think his work is brilliant, it’s a little ‘daring’ in part – this isn’t an exhibition for young kids! I love the simplicity of the art – it is almost cartoon like. The later more perfected style I prefer to the slightly messier earlier work.

I think we should get it at the Nottingham Contemporary next!

Oh, and I bought the T-shirt – partly because at that point Mr Branson and the blind man hadn’t returned my bag!