Elena Cue

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 Jake y Dinos Chapman. Foto:A de Argos


The Chapman brothers’ “Come and See” exhibition invites viewers to reflect on the meaning of art and its countless ramifications.

The Chapmans are part of the Young British Artists group, and a large part of their work is inspired by the Old Master Francisco de Goya. The artists’ desire to recreate Goya’s “flat” paintings in three dimensions is evident among the work on display.







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These photos show Goya’s etching on the right, and the related Chapman sculpture on the left. Although these works were not included in this exhibition at London’s Serpentine Gallery, it does go to show the relevance and modernity of Goya’s work, which dates back to around 1810.


A number of years ago the two brothers obtained one of Goya’s series of anti-war etchings titled “The Disasters of War”, and replaced the victims with clowns and puppets: an example of the irreverent black humour so often present in their work.



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 What surprised me the most in this visit, however, was seeing a group of people with Down syndrome accompanied by their carers. I don’t doubt that such an exhibition could be meaningful to them, although I struggle to see how. At one point one of them insisted that their carer take a photo of this piece for them.

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dino3Sex, religion, morality and culture are the main themes dealt with in their work, and their tone is grotesque, aggressive, provocative. In particular, references to morality can be seen in a series of life-size figures dressed in white tunics and hoods, looking down at what lies before them - a nod to Goya’s etchings depicting the Spanish Inquisition (this dress is also typically seen among penitent brotherhoods during Spain’s Holy Week). With these etchings Goya was speaking out against the Inquisition and superstition in general. The Chapman brothers are also creating an analogy with the robes worn by the Ku Klux Klan, the American far-right white supremacy group. This serious ideological tone is somewhat eased by the smiley faces present on the tunics, and by their grotesque sandals and colourful socks.


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What pushed me to visit an exhibition displaying humanity’s darkest moments? Mostly out of a sense of curiosity, influenced by a powerful art market whose job it is to create tastes and spark our interest. I wanted to know why this kind of art had become so successful, why it had achieved critical acclaim. And secondly, the art on display here forces me to reimagine my own ideas of political correctness and beauty - it’s taboo-shattering, and provocation is a key component of the art of our day. Having said that, once inside the exhibition I found the crudeness a little excessive. I ended my visit feeling that it was all too showy, too self-aware - the same artist-viewer dialogue of social and cultural critique could have been established in a much less aggressive manner.

It’s difficult to explain. What one finds here is ugly, aggressive, violent and unpleasant. The art mercilessly forces you to face the basest and crudest sides of human beings, leaving out civilization, culture or any of the other more constructive capacities of humanity which differentiate us from the rest of the animal kingdom. A real-world depiction, in all its rawness, of Twain’s quote: “Of all the creatures that were made, man is the most detestable. Of the entire brood he is the only one--the solitary one--that possesses malice.”

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Of all the exhibits on display, I most enjoyed the oil paintings. The majority of them belong to the White Cube gallery.




One of the rooms was dedicated to works made of cardboard.



Foto: Alejandra de Argos



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Duchamp famously said that art is in the eye of the beholder, not in the artwork itself. Art is and has always been a means of communication between the artist and the viewer. Francisco de Goya, the Chapman brothers: one message, two centuries...






Jake and Dinos Chapman. "Come and See". From November 29, 2013 to February 9, 2014.





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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


The Terracotta Army (or "Terracotta Warriors and Horses") is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World and was ordered to be built by the first Emperor of unified China, Qin Shihuang, who began the construction of the mausoleum at the tender age of 13.

Qin Shihuang (259 BC - 210 BC) was responsible for bringing an end to the feuds, achieving the unification of China, building the Great Wall as a defence against the Huns and unifying Chinese thought and culture of the time into a coherent system.



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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


Upon arriving at Xian I was greeted by a great fog, probably similar to London’s Great Smog of 1952. Outdoor visibility was extremely low due to China’s reliance on high-pollution energy sources such as carbon.

Just after landing, I drove for about an hour to visit this large museum, which is made up of three large pavilions, or pits, containing the remains of the army, and a hall containing two bronze carriages, together with information on the museum’s history.

I began my visit at the pit named N1, the largest of the three measuring 230m in length. It was certainly an impressive sight upon entering the space: a vast number of lifesize soldiers perfectly lined up, each with its own personality (their facial expressions are all different). This pit holds the infantry and war chariots.

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 Foto: Alejandra de Argos  Foto: Alejandra de Argos


The N2 pit houses over 1,300 warrior figures, horses and chariots. N3 is the smallest and it is believed to represent the army’s General Staff.


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What I found interesting was that even before the construction of the Emperor’s mausoleum, there was already a tradition in place among the feudal lords of burying lifesize terracotta figures near their tombs or mausoleums. Unlike these figures, however, those of the Emperor Qin Shihuang were made to a much higher standard, thanks to better quality clay mix and the use of high-temperature ovens. Coloured pigments would then be added at a later stage. What is most fascinating, however, is that the bronze weapons were covered in a chrome coating to preserve the metal from corrosion, a technique not seen in Europe until as recently as 1930.

As our guide explained, the Emperor Qin Shihuang sent 700,000 workers into forced labour for the construction of the mausoleum. On the day of his burial, upon order of the new Emperor, over 10,000 people were also buried, as well as all non-childbearing concubines and a large number of construction workers.



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In 1974, purely by accident, a group of farmers happened upon some broken remains of the figures while digging a well, and a team of archaeologists was brought in immediately to begin the excavation work. It is thought that there are still around 8,000 figures buried in the earth.

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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


Specialists are currently at work to recover the soldiers, so that new restoration work can be carried out. There are still thousands left to be unearthed, including the Emperor’s main tomb.

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Foto: Alejandra de Argos



The museum contains these two bronze carriages decorated in gold and silver, which together made up the Emperor’s funeral procession. The first carriage’s driver would be travelling on foot, and its role in the procession was to clear the way ahead, whereas the second carriage was used to carry the Emperor’s soul. The two carriages are beautifully displayed here, two precious jewels buried under ground for over 2,000 years (the restoration work alone took eight years). The horses were painted in white in order to protect the bronze from rust.



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Foto: Alejandra de Argos


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Foto: Alejandra de Argos



For those who cannot travel to see the Xian warriors, Madrid’s Fernán Gómez-Centro Cultural de la Villa is hosting the exhibition 'Terracotta Army' until March 2, 2014. A part of the N1 pit has been reproduced here and can be visited; the centre is also showing an informative documentary about the terracotta army, which may well be the same that is shown to visitors in Xian.


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Foto: Alejandra de Argos




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This wonderful exhibition of Adel Abdessemed, artist of Argelian origin, can be seen at the Museum of Modern Art in Doha, Qatar, until January 5, 2014. The exhibition opens our eyes to the violence that is present in the world. Adel’s work focuses on art as as a tool to condemn violence, and through his work he describes himself as an artist of action. This is Mathaf’s most significant project to date.


At the entrance to the museum we see La Vase Abominable, a vessel of uncommon proportions resting on a base made of bombs. A vessel and weapons: two of the first artifacts created by Man are united as symbols of our contradictory human condition, creation and destruction.

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In the entrance we can also see a video projection called Ayaï, where the action of a bare foot stamping violently on a rose in a cobblestone is repeated endlessly. A curious visual effect is created by the complete destruction of something that evokes beauty.




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Under the video we have the Soldaten. Abdessemed sees them everywhere, from Northern Ireland at the start of the 90s to modern-day Afghanistan. For security reasons. For our own safety. Soldiers represent the continuous wars of our time.


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Lastly in this room is Practice Zero Tolerance (2006), a terracotta car that seems to be carbonized, in stark contrast against the white walls. An image that reminds me of the many scenes of terrorist attacks in the media.

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The next room certainly doesn’t leave one indifferent. East of Eden is the first memory of a field of flowers transformed into knives.
“What a strange metamorphosis is imposing itself into our memory. What a vast and repeated crime has been committed against us, against our bodies, against the soil that we tread on, transforming old dreams of goodwill and happiness into waste, leading to soil destroyed by evil, violence and its signs, for a moment together again in a figure similar to the archetypal garden”.

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On the far side of the room, a video (Mémoire) is being projected of a baboon placing letters on a wall, spelling out "Hutu" and "Tutsi" - the two ethnicities which in 1994 caused the Rwandan genocide. Memory, memory everywhere...

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Suddenly I walked into a room and the impact was shocking. I found myself surrounded by a human installation tile covering the huge walls. I assume that the artist had to be performed exclusively for the exhibition. Room of a man as a builder. Shams is the name of this huge and very powerful installation. Man as a builder of monuments to perpetuate the memory. The archetype of the artist as a great builder. I found this installation as a kind of tribute to the millions of men who have helped build our memory and which are invisible.memoria y que son invisibles.


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Little Pot is a series of everyday jugs made of different materials (clay, rubber, lacquer, jade...). "Gift of love", the promise of time yet to come, perhaps.


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Room of the eternal, or Beyond time. Julie. D'un horizon á un autre. This refers to the concepts of eternity and the infinite, two terms which have much to do with the figure of the artist, since his work is related to space and time. The artwork represents his wife made out of salt stone on a rock from Qatar.
“In art, eternity and the infinite are related to the notion of beauty, since in life, beauty is similar to happiness”.

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And finally, a golden panel with its four daughters as a dreamt memory of a time that is to come, L'Âge d'Or.


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“L’Âge d’Or is a heavenly state where the fatigue of a life of effort and its subsequent unhappiness are banished. The Golden Age appears before civilization and its malaise. It belongs to the realms of myth and mythology…” Pier Luigi Tazzi



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Even in the event of not being able to visit the exhibition, I recommend buying its catalogue. The majority of the information in this post comes from there. As well as explaining Adel Abdessemed’s work and thoughts in a very profound and precise fashion, it is also quite simply a delight for the soul. Art and philosophy are once again united with the purpose of attempting to comprehend our own existence.



 Foto: Alejandra de Argos


"One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche" was the title of the spectacular event organized by one of China’s best-known artists today, Cai Guo-Quiang. It consisted of a conceptual fireworks display on the waters of the river Seine and was part of the “Nuit Blanche” annual event in Paris. Sex and explosives in the city of love were brought together in a night of pure magic.


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The night began on a steamboat, where the artist explained the experience we were about to witness - a momentary, fleeting art installation in three phases. The setting was the banks of the Seine, between the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre, and the idea was to create a romantic experience for the viewers, an homage to Eros in the capital of love. Thousands of people could be seen congregating along the riverbank.

"Nuit Blanche" (Sleepless Night), now in its 12th year, is the name of the contemporary art event taking place every year on the first weekend in October in Paris.




After the explanation of what we were about to see, we started the journey along the Seine. I was part of a group of about 20 people, all following Lulu who was carrying a red lantern and was taking us up some steps to a point from where we could enjoy the show. The performance was delayed by about half an hour, until the arrival of the event’s patron, the mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë. Thus began the first act, whose duration of 12 minutes was chosen to match the average amount time it takes the French to make love. Music was provided by Tan Dun, a Chinese conceptual composer and director, and by his creation The Pink, a paper ritual in sound and dance. The fusion of music and the spectacular fireworks was superb, dutifully expressing the process of lovemaking and its metaphorical climax/explosion.


      Foto: Alejandra de Argos



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A French Love Encounter in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Thierry Nava, courtesy Cai Studio.




The second act was all about the lovers: two steamboats carried 50 red tents with a total of 100 people from all over the world in an act of multicultural unity. Each tent contained a couple in the throes of lovemaking - they could decide whether or not to share their moment with the public by switching on a light, thus making their shadows visible from the outside. As it turns out, all lights were on.



Lovers’ Time in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.



Lovers’ Time in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.




  Foto: Alejandra de Argos

The steamboats were surrounded by a number of smaller boats, on which two men, dressed in suits of white lights, would launch fireworks for 15 seconds each time one of the couples in the tents reached a climax, creating an emotional connection between the couples and the audience.



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And finally, the third act consisted of a spectacular stand-alone fireworks display to end the night. By the end of the show the emotional state of the audience was palpable - an intense collective experience in the most appropriate of settings, the banks of the river Seine, witness to the history of France and right in the middle of two of the greatest owners of art history, the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre.


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Lovers’ Time in Cai Guo-Qiang’s One Night Stand: Explosion Event for Nuit Blanche, realized on October 5 on the Seine River, Paris, France, 2013. Photo by Lin Yi, courtesy Cai Studio.



Simultaneous to “Nuit Blanche” in Paris was “Blanche Nuit” in Toronto, where Ai Weiwei, one of China’s most important conceptual artists of our time, created a massive installation that is well worth seeing.


For more information on Cai Guo–Quiang, I recommend the following blog:





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This museum on the banks of the Hudson river in Beacon, New York is a must-see for those visiting NYC. The collection consists of various rooms dedicated to the most important artists of the second half of the 20th century. It is certainly the place to go if you want to spend a whole day looking at, reflecting on and interacting with art.


Dia Beacon is part of the Dia Art Foundation, founded in 1974 with an ambitious goal: to create one of the most significant exhibitions of the most influential artists of the 60s and 70s. The Foundation has carried out many Important projects thanks to the patronage and passion of Philippa de Menil and Heiner Friedrich, and it is to them that we owe the collection of a vast number of pieces by each of the artists, allowing for an in-depth view of their work.

Each space is filled with the very best work by each represented artist.

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In the room dedicated to John Chamberlain, we enter a world of sculptures made out of pressed and contorted cars, the sculptures becoming solid, three-dimensional affirmations of expressionist abstract art. The artist, in his economically precarious youth, would pick up objects and materials found strewn about on the street and use them in his artwork. From an early age, he understood that everyday objects could be given new meaning and that using them as art pieces could unlock unexpected connections and emotions.

Chamberlain gradually improved his technique - in his later work he would finish his steel sculptures with varnished coatings to achieve bolder, more strident effects.


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The room dedicated to Louise Bourgeois' work is nothing short of exceptional, and is an unexpected delight for anyone with a strong interest in Freudian psychoanalysis. The artist draws inspiration for her work from an obsession with her own past and with her childhood traumas that she is unable to overcome nor acknowledge, and which time and again return to her present. She banishes this obsessive past with a cathartic asceticism through artistic creation.

Her childhood and the relationship with her parents both left lifelong marks in her life, and these traumas inform all her work. The Destruction of the Father (1974), for example, is a representation of the artist murdering her own father, and is a likely metaphor of the Oedipus complex (Freud).

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The monumental work Spider, a somewhat dream-like piece, represents the artist’s mother dutifully repairing tapestries, much like a hard-working spider patiently repairs its web after it is broken by an exterior hand. A clear allegory of her mother’s life and of the humiliation she suffered at the hand of her husband and his extra-marital affair with the family nanny - an experience which deeply scarred artist.

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The phallus is a central theme in her work, penis envy being another Freudian concept developed in his theories on childhood and sexual activity. This psychological concept is intensified in Bourgeois’ case, due to her father wanting a son rather than a daughter, and the following disappointment he experienced as well as the humiliations he subjected Louise to as a result.

There is a constant reminiscence of the past in her work.








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The room dedicated to her is appropriately arranged and lit. I was lucky enough to be able to visit the artist in her house in New York just a few years before her death. Entering her home, it was as if time had stopped at the beginning of the 20th century: a dark atmosphere, with furniture and household objects reminiscent of her world of cells, made up of a collection of her own everyday objects.



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A visit to the massive sculptures by Richard Serra (Torqued Ellipses) is, just as the artist intended, a purely physical rather than visual experience, as they are in close relationship with space, time, movement and the place they are in. Serra wants us to think of sculpture not as a stand-alone object, but as a vast, open field.




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Visitors walking by these huge gravity-defying pieces in Corten steel, observing them from different perspectives, are undoubtedly struck by intense feeling of awe. Some pieces are placed in more open spaces which better render their vast size, creating a sense of instability; other pieces are much narrower, giving a sense of anxiety: all of them offer a radically different perception of space and movement.







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Sol LeWitt belongs to the group of artists, represented in the museum, who started out in minimalist art but went on to become conceptual. His wall drawings are good examples of his creative language at work, based on simple geometrical shapes. In these works, the idea is more important than the form, thus his wall-based pieces are simply first drafts with instructions attached, so that others may take over and complete them.







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Dan Flavin is another minimalist artist, insofar as his work is a reduction of elements down to the essence. In his work on display here, his minimalism can be seen in his use of light to change our perception of space, and in his use of series. He is represented here in a large space dedicated to his works titled “Monument", an homage to the work of constructivist artist Vladimir Tatlin. Another of his pieces on display, “Untitled”, a series of windows on a wall with red and blue neon lights, is identical to the one he created for Donald Judd’s house New York.




Not to be missed is the impressive series of Donald Judd works that are being shown at the Dia.



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The thread sculptures by Fred Sandback, which invite our imagination to fill in the rest of the shape.



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Map of Broken Glass (Atlantis) by Robert Smithson.

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Objective language as art, by Lawrence Weiner.



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The monumental North, East, South, West by Michael Heizer.

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Mapping the Studio I by Bruce Nauman

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Six Gray Mirrors by Gerhard Richter.

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Walter De Maria.

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The horror! The horror!, screamed Kurtz just before dying, as he fell to the depths of moral decay in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

The colonialism present in the Congo Free State (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), privately founded and administered by King Leopold II of Belgium between 1885 and 1908, was not dissimilar to the totalitarianism of Hitler. Around 10 million africans are thought to have been exterminated during this period.

The Congolese population was subjected to complete exploitation under a regime of slavery, while Leopold II benefited from the mining of natural resources such as rubber, ivory and resin in what was certainly one of history’s most horrific tragedies.







Hitler was responsible for the death of 22 million people, including 6 million jews. Men, women and children were forcibly removed from their families and deported to concentration camps, where those unfit to work were gassed and the rest enslaved, causing permanent physical and psychological damage. All survivors of the Holocaust would be scarred for life by “The horror!”.






This “horror!” forms the backbone of the film, whose main character, Hannah Arendt, accurately rendered by Barbara Sukova, is masterfully brought to the screen by German director Margarethe Von Trotta. The film is based on Arendt’s 1963 book "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil", which I read many years ago. Adapting the work of such a notable and well-regarded thinker to the big screen in a credible manner is no mean feat. The film includes original footage of Eichmann’s trial which, together with the film’s work on set design, gives the film intensity and authenticity, and believably transports the viewer to the time and place of the film’s events.



la foto 1 (6)Hannah Arendt was a German philosopher of Jewish origin and one of the 20th century’s most influential thinkers. She was forced to flee Germany during the persecution of Jews, but she was caught and taken to a concentration camp in France until she escaped to find refuge in the US.

A few years after the end of the Second World War, in 1961, The New Yorker decided to cover the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, the lieutenant colonel in charge of organizing the logistics of transportation of millions of Jews to the concentration of camps. He was arrested in Argentina by the Mossad (Israel’s national intelligence agency) and brought to Israel for trial. Arendt picked up on the story and offered to report on the trial, which the magazine readily accepted. Her book "Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil" is thus the collection of articles written by Arendt for The New Yorker.



The film follows the events in Hannah Arendt’s life during this time. She was a strong, independently-minded woman who was taught critical thinking and analysis by none other than Martin Heidegger, with whom she was romantically linked until he began to support the Nazis.

What is most interesting here is that her reporting of the trial caused her great animosity with the entire Jewish community, a large part of the general public, and even her own friends, as a result of her absolute freedom of thought, firmly unswayed by public opinion. It was widely thought that, as a Jew herself, her judgment of the trial would be unfairly biased and that she wouldn’t have any reservation whatsoever on the process of the trial, a position which in fact turned out to be untrue. Arendt denounced the partiality of the trial, she spoke publicly of the importance of the role played by some Jewish leaders who provided lists of their followers and facilitated mass deportations, and most crucially, she coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe a type of thoughtless evil that is simply the result of absolute obedience to the orders of a higher power.

Leopold II, Adolf Eichmann; one a leader, the other merely a servant. What moral judgment do each of these men deserve? The verdict would be guilty in both cases, but how do we distinguish between them?

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“If, in a historical and political context as well as in every-day life, something can only be considered real when it shows all its faces to the world, then by consequence we will always need a plurality of people, and a plurality of points of view, so that reality may be possible and permanent. In other words, the world only comes into being when there are multiple perspectives (...). If, by contrast, the world were to be inhabited by just one group of people, where everything is seen and understood from the same perspective and where all beings are in complete consensus, then the world, in a historical and political sense, would effectively end, and its survivors, living on Earth but without a world, would have nothing at all in common with us.” Hannah Arendt






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 Yesterday saw the opening of a new exhibition at Madrid’s Ivorypress gallery of designer and architect Ron Arad’s work. Elena Foster is the gallery’s founder and current director, fulfilling her role admirably. The gallery’s New York garage-style space is appropriate for the scale and scope of Arad’s surprising world.



The first item you see as you enter is a ping-pong table in stainless steel and bronze: the structure and design of its lines is a work of beauty in its own right. Already from this first item, the artist’s incredible technical skill is apparent.


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The exhibition invites us to appreciate the breadth of the artist’s work, which spills out into architecture, furniture design, lighting and sculpture. His collection of designer chairs is fascinating, from his very first chair, the Rover Chair, result of two ready-mades, a Rover 200 seat on top of a Kee-Klamp frame; spectacular chairs such as the Narrow Pappardelle and all its poetry; the Blo-Void, which unapologetically abandons all functionality to become a statue; or the singular Gomli, named, according to the artist, after his friend and fellow artist Antony Gormley designed with comfort in mind while eschewing all preconceived ideas of beauty.


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Arad is a versatile, highly creative artist, and skilled in the use of his materials which, through movement, are ascribed a life of their own. He likes to experiment with steel, aluminium, polyethylene or corian, playing around with them liberally to achieve often unexpected and delightful results. His shelf units are just as surprising. The stainless steel map of China is exceptional, and carries great visual impact upon first viewing. No Bad Colours, a workstation containing innovative technology that allows it to change colour, is incredibly creative and breaks new ground in design. But the real star of the show was Restless: movement, harmony and design all coming together in one great art piece.





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Blame the tools, a replica of a Fiat 500, architecture projects, eyewear design… all form part of the artist’s fascinating world.











In terms of his architectural work, I would pick out the brilliant Design Museum Holon near Tel Aviv, the artist’s hometown. This is an impressive spiral-shaped construction in Corten steel which surrounds the museum, almost like a huge metal sculpture. A great example of how architecture, sculpture and design can come together harmoniously in a common public space.


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The exhibition embraces and embodies Arad’s motto: “My only principle: don’t base anything you do on what already exists”. This and much more can be enjoyed at Ivorypress, thanks in no small part to Elena Foster’s continued efforts to introduce us to the great artists and thinkers in design, architecture or painting.



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