On a day of police action in London's transport system, a walk from chiropractor A in Moorgate to friends J and D in Clerkenwell, took us via the Barbican. In the heart of this playground of monolithic Platonic forms in concrete (and with the multi-levels, the hanging plants and the waterfalls it has rarely felt more Logan's Run-esque) the gallery is showing Colour After Klein until 11 Sept 2005.
Yves Klein's Blue Monochrome (IKB 223) (1961) hovers slightly proud of the wall, and is so intense of colour that it seems to hum. There are patches near the corner - not quite at the edges themselves - that seem the lightest, glowing blue, though it's not clear whether this effect is optical or merely an artefact of the painting's condition. Klein's technique - pure pigment in a medium made of an ether and petroleum mixture - was developed with a chemist, and patented in May 1960. (Other colour owners?: Cadbury's purple achieved a trademark registration, and from memory Orange/Easyjet, Heinz Baked Beans and perhaps Silk Cut too. See BBC: Can you 'own' a colour? and Who owns hues?)
[It] is all about the way we physically see colour, playing with the notion of rose-tinted vision. Stepping into a small side room off the gallery, we are faced with a square of various coloured neon tubes - red tubes face us, with orange and green angled away. The result is to turn the room a pale green, but returning to the main gallery everything takes on a rosy hue, the work having literally (if only for a few moments) changed the way we see the world.
More humming: Bruce Nauman's White Anger, Red Danger, Yellow Peril, Black Death (1985) flicks on and off, Black death only working when the neon is off: "when lit, the blue of the tube is clear, and the message makes no sense. Only without colour, with the tube dulled to black, can death be understood" (Haddrell again). But whilst all four hum as they are periodically swtiched on, it is Red Danger that draws the attention, its transformer buzzing like a wasp. Keep away.
You look through a glass door at Louise Bourgeois's The Red Room (Child) (1994) onto a scene that could be the workshop of William Gull. The door has PRIVATE painted, but in reverse: what kind of sanctum are you in that this red horror is merely the anteroom?...
... perhaps you're standing in Mona Hatoum's work, The Light at The End (1989). Turn around to face it and you're in a dark, narrowing corridor leading to an iron frame with glowing orange verticals. As you edge closer, it gets hotter: the glow is a mere by-product of the heat generated. The experience is disorienting (it's unclear how far away it is) but intense. Fantastic.
A gallery attendant apologised that it would have to be turned off for 10 minutes (every hour) so that it doesn't overheat "and burn the place down". He also noted that after a couple of months of 9-hour shifts on the show, the only work that still interested him was the James Turrell light-room, Rise (2002), which, in its blue incarnation, gave the impression of a disorientation (again) in position and scale. Like having been shrunk down and placed inside a blank, blue-lit mobile screen.
These moments of colour may be unsophisticated (Hackworth in the Standard), but they have an interesting side effect: you rediscover what was previously invisibly commonplace: the public furniture in this sober gallery of white and grey contrete, the red fire-hose and of the extinguisher, and the glowing green running men who show the way to the emergency exits, usually so invisible, leap forward like gems.
A good show for those artists who have spent too much time (eg us) shipwrecked in a conceptual lagoon of white and grey and black line, bleached of colour.
James Haddrell in Indie London
But even those that are actually colourful only undermine it. In the main, they are abstract or visually very simple; products of modern art's compulsion to reduce visual complexity to its basic elements. Compared to the sophistication and nuance of Bellini or Andre Derain, the modern puritans seem arid and smug. Colour has not so much been freed, as orphaned.
Morgan Falconer in The Times: Come on, you reds... (this is well worth reading):
art has also had to face another long tradition of resistance to colour - chromophobia, as the artist and writer David Batchelor has described it - going back to Aristotle, who held that even the most beautiful colours were inferior to a clear outline. Insofar as medieval thought was dominated by Aristotle, that attitude was influential. Since then science has mounted a sustained attack on the magic of colour with a tool-kit of terms and ideas - yardsticks such as hue, brightness and saturation, measures of wavelengths and frequencies - designed to grasp hold of the ineffable. No wonder some thinkers are stumped by colour: when Wittgenstein tried to theorise on the subject, he said he felt like "an ox in front of a newly painted stall door".
This gulf between language and colour, between concept and experience, has thrown up intriguing problems for art history. In the Middle Ages its nomenclature was mixed up with theological ideas - certain colours and materials were understood to convey certain ideas. Light was considered a metaphor for divine grace, claritas (clarity) being a quality of beauty, hence the value attached to shining surfaces. The gold ground in Simone Martini’s Annunciation (1333), for example, is a metaphor for the incorporeal light of God
twenty artists and sixty works produced only a few moments of real chromatic excitement. And I left with an appreciation of those few moments, but no new appreciation of the power of colour. Going from exhibit to exhibit expecting curatorial clarification was more often than not a disappointment: Colour after Klein failed to deliver. But it is an honourable failure from a brave attempt to mount a fascinating show
if any single piece embodies the curatorial value of the exhibition, it is Dammi I Colori, by Anri Sala. This is a film about an artist-Mayor’s endeavour to transform a troubled Romanian city by a more than bold use of colour. If this piece fails to make us think about the effect that colour has upon us, we may as well be colour blind