Last night, we headed up to BALTIC in Gateashead for the opening of Parrworld, and I was not disappointed. I left the show feeling inspired to get my camera out, and start taking pictures, while at the same time, I started thinking about the notion of collecting, a cultural consciousness, memories and our constantly changing times.
Parrworld is held over two floors at BALTIC with one showing Parr’s new work ‘Luxury’ and the other a display of over 150 works from Parr’s personal collection. Through Luxury, Parr shows the different ways in which people display their wealth. Choosing various locations across the world, and a range of situations including art fairs and race courses, including Newcastle’s premier horse racing event The Northumbrian Plate, he has selected scenarios in which people are comfortable showing off their wealth. Designer clothes, champagne and parties are all part of this repertoire. As well as the more established wealth hot spots in Europe and America, there are photographs from the emerging world, for example showing the Millionaires’ Fair in Moscow, the Dubai Art Fair and the Motor Show in Beijing.
At such events the international jet-set can be observed as they proudly present the regalia of new money and opulence as Parr explains: “Major sports events are a perfect time to catch people aspirationally showing off their new-found wealth, whether they’ve got it or not.” Capturing them in all their vanity, Parr addresses head-on the phenomenon of the new international upper classes following his earlier projects on the working and middle classes. However in the light of the recent global economic downturn, Parr explains: “These images now have the effect of being an epitaph to an era of greed and excess. The timing of these photographs is perfect, as we slide into a new world order, we can see evidence of why the bubble burst.“
However, for me the icing on the cake was the works from Parr’s personal collection, a real opportunity to see the artifacts that influence Parr, a glimpse into his world. Parr is known for his satirical documentation of British contemporary life; capturing a range of social demographics he offers a colourful social panorama of Britain today unmasking the banal and the offbeat with his wry look at class and wealth. Many of his images appear exaggerated and yet they are inventive and often humorous using colour and motif to great effect. For more than 30 years, Parr has been documenting society and everyday culture initially in Britain and Ireland but later across the world, taking in global phenomena such as mass tourism, consumerism, social and cultural events.
The notion of collecting is fundamental to Parrworld as we are presented with not only Parr’s own photography but also a remarkable selection of photographic works from internationally recognised artists, books taken from his several-thousand strong library and a collection of personal items collected from his international and UK travels. Parr summarises”I think that my photography is a form of collecting. It’s a question of looking at things and organizing them into groups, trying to make a statement about them.”
An extraordinary collection of photographs has been brought together for the exhibition, exemplifying Parr’s respect and admiration for his peers. Presented here are works by UK photographers Jill Constantine, Paul Graham and Richard Billingham. There are several with North East associations; Chris Killip whose 1980s images of Tyneside endure, the photographer Graham Smith with his images of Teeside as well as current Newcastle based artist, Mark Neville. These are shown alongside works from highly respected international photographers such as the South African, David Goldblatt, William Eggleston, (US) Frank Breuer (Germany) Gary Winogrand, (US) Bernd and Hilla Becher (Germany).
Alongside the photography Parr shows, through his often quirky collections of postcards and personally collected objects, his real individual flair as an inveterate collector whose fascination for the peculiar and the curious are displayed. This assortment of commercial design and memorabilia documents key historical and political moments with original posters and leaflets from the 1984 UK miners strike, a collection of commemorative china from Margaret Thatcher’s term as Prime Minster, examples of prayer mats featuring the New York Twin Towers, a bizarre range of Saddam Hussein watches and his most recent collection of Barack Obama ephemera.
Read more about Martin Parr and Parrworld in the CURRENT ISSUE of Aesthetica.
Here’s what the team had to say:
Sophie Gordon, Media Relations Coordinator at Aesthetica
“The opening night of Martin Parr’s exhibition Parrworld at the BALTIC was truly brilliant. A brutally honest observation on new money, luxury and the trappings of modern life, the exhibition can be seen as two separate sections, although I think they’re inextricably linked. Parr’s own images, at times grotesque, illustrate the differing ideas of beauty – often tainted by the tasteless frivolity that the money has obviously helped to fund. The ones from England’s various sporting races will probably make you embarrassed to be British – I couldn’t help feeling, myself, that the people in those few images were the ones with the most honesty. It was almost refreshing against the botox-ridden subjects of the other images. Upstairs, the collection of Parr’s personal objects, books, postcards and photographs brings this idea of the ideals and priorities of modern individuals to the fore. The section that will get everyone talking is probably the collection of ‘memorabilia’ concerning the ‘War on Terror’, including models of eagles capturing Saddam Hussein to a backdrop of an American Flag. I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable at the types of modern propaganda that are clearly still available, on both sides, and the angry effect this is clearly meant to have.
The way a collection of objects is collated together can spark debate about the nature of our times under an overarching element of propaganda and society, and I think this is the fantastic part of Parr’s exhibition. The setting of the BALTIC in the North East already gives a sense of the heart and soul of the area, which is emphasised by some of Parr’s collection of posters on the Miners’ Strike. The propaganda campaign between the West and the East and the grotesque luxury depicted downstairs in the crisp, detailed images, is put completely into perspective by the plight of those who are more concerned with feeding their families and losing their livelihoods. This exhibition has completely made me doubt what I once thought about modern attitudes and opinions and think about what is truly valuable and luxurious.”
Bryony Byrne, Marketing Officer at Aesthetica had this to say:
“Martin Parr’s images are striking in their colour: bold and decadent, the quality of the photographs alone is enough to denote the luxury that Parr explores in his exhibition of the same name. ‘Luxury’ displays visions of wealth and aspiration to wealth from Dubai to Newcastle and the photographs are captivated and almost sickening in their excess. My personal favourites were the ones of wealthy Russians and The Millionaire’s Fair, where heavy-browed women suck fat cigars. The irony of the images in light of the recent recession fuels the distaste that you feel for these people. Parr captures the sheer greed of our material culture; in some photos it is a desire in the person’s eyes, in others an unnecessarily large jug of alcohol. It is interesting that most of the depictions of British luxury concentrate on alcohol consumption and, though all of the cultures he explores show different preferences in their decadence, Parr manages to highlight the enduring nature of true excess: his subjects are bright, tacky and bloated on luxury.
Parr’s wry look at our culture is continued in the collection of his personal items. Particularly interesting were the objects of propaganda: watches with Saddam Hussein’s face on, statuettes of American eagles clasping Osama Bin Laden in their claws and an elegant white teapot with a caricature of Maggie Thatcher on it, her nose extending out in a grotesque parody to form the spout. There is humour to be found in these objects, as there is throughout the exhibition, but it is an unsettling sort of humour. Parr forces you to contemplate uncomfortable questions, from his photo of the beauty pageant in South Africa where three white girls stand elevated above a black crowd to his super large bag of American crisps suspended in glass, but he does it with grace and without much comment or presumption. A very enjoyable exhibition, Parrworld is a fascinating world that reflects our own distorted society back to us.”
As you can see this is a show that you shouldn’t miss. In the only UK showing, Newcastle- Gateshead is only 3 hours from London, so well worth the visit. Parrworld opens on 17 OCTOBER 2009 and runs until 10 JANUARY 2010. www.balticmill.com
Elsewhere in Newcastle Gateshead, the NGF Art Fair finished last week, with resounding success. With Frieze and Zoo opening this week, the art world’s eyes (and wallets)are wide-open to what happens next after the downturn of 2008/2009. With Channel 4 even calling the opening night of Frieze -“Deep Frieze”. Yikes!
However, it’s great to be able to report the NGF 2009 was a big hit with art lovers who defied the credit crunch by investing in sculptures, glass, prints and paintings. With an overwhelming mix of art collectors, artists, critics and curators from across the UK and Europe, the Fair achieved exactly what it set out to do, making art and the collecting of art, accessible to a widespread audience.
Andy Balman, co-director of the Fair said: “We are delighted at the success of the third Art Fair, with it proving to be the best yet. The galleries exhibiting and selling works were very positive about the outcome, reporting vigorous sales of works at every price range from £100 to over £15,000.” Commercially speaking, the Fair recorded strong sales with over 40 participating galleries selling hundreds of art works. Key sales included many of the Metallic Creations collection, including the Dolphin sculpture, Gorilla, Spiderman and Storm Trooper, with total sales in excess of £25,000.
For more details on this year’s fair visit www.ngartfair.com
For more information on Zoo visit www.zooartfair.com
For more on Frieze visit www.friezeartfair.com