Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Man in a Boat, Ron Mueck

During our visit to the Volksgarten in Vienna, we came across this building in the middle of the park

The Theseus Temple was designed by the court architect, Peter von Nobile, between 1811 and 1823. It was devised as the home and setting of a single contemporary artwork: Antonio Canova's Theseus Slaying the Centaur, which stood in the Theseus Temple for almost seven decades. But in 1890 it was removed to the newly-erected Kunsthistorisches Museum, where it remains to this day.  Over a century later a new exhibition series organised by the Kunsthistorisches Museum returned the temple to its original purpose by presenting a major work of a contemporary artist at the Temple every year.

The bronze statue Young Athlete in front of the Temple is by Josef Mullner, 1921.

When we first walked by the Temple it was closed but as we were leaving the park we noticed that it was open so we went in. We were very lucky to have stumbled upon a tour by the Kunsthistorisches Museum, because 15 minutes later the doors were locked again.

Man in a Boat, Ron Muck, 2002 (mixed media)

This sculpture was created during a residency at the National Gallery in London in 2000-2002.


A naked man, slightly more than half-size, sits in the prow of a rowing boat. His arms are folded, his neck is craned and he stares out through tired eyes in the middle-distance. It is not clear where he is going, or from where he might have come. He seems adrift, both literally and metaphorically.

His expression is curious and watchful but ultimately ambiguous. It is this ambiguity that the artist labours meticulously to achieve.

A lonely character in an introspective situation very realistically rendered and yet clearly out of this world. The artist put it like this: 'my characters are in that land of make-believe, to some extent, in which they seem realistic, yet are also objects in a room'.

The sculpture of the man is hyper real with obsessive surface detail: blemishes, hairs, veins and expression are all meticulously executed with a rigorous eye for detail.

Mueck makes plaster maquettes to test ideas, does drawings of various sizes and takes decisions on the scale of the piece. He then sculpts the figure in clay with all the lifelike touches that will appear in the final sculpture. A mould is made of the clay figure and he casts it out in fibreglass resin and silicone. The skin of his figures, which tempts people to peer at it to see if it could be real, is built up from layers of silicone. The lower layers are impregnated with pigment, resulting in a finish that has the slight transparency of the real thing. Each hair is sewn by hand. The slightest trace of a seam or any other technical blemish would ruin the illusion and the piece would lose its power.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Around the Hofburg complex in Vienna

Given that we were unable to visit the Café Central due to the queue of people waiting for a table, we walked on to the Griensteidl instead, another classic Viennese café on Michaelerplatz where we had apple strudel (what else?) and drinks.

Loos House was  on our left as we left the café.

The building which was completed in 1912, is regarded as one of the most important structures built in the 'Wiener Moderne'. It marks the rejection of historicism, as well as the ornaments used by the Wiener Secession. Its appearance shocked Vienna's citizens, since their overall taste was still very much historically oriented. Because of the lack of ornaments on the façade people called it 'the house without eyebrows'.

The simple façade led to attacks against Loos. He had to give in and promised to decorate several façade windows with flower pots.

There is a sharp contrast between the marble-lined façade used at the ground floor and the plain plaster façade of the residential floors above.

Looking closer.

Across Loos house is the Hofburg complex, shaped by hundreds of years of patronage from the royal family and their endless entourage of aristocrats, politicians and wealthy merchants.

With the exception of Belvedere Palace, we did not visit any palaces in Vienna - there's too many, it got too overwhelming and we are not really interested in the conspicuous consumption and the excesses of the rich and privileged.

We did go through the gates however, as our aim was to visit the Volksgarten (the People's Garden).

It's all very grand,

as most of Vienna is.

The Volksgarten is a former royal garden and we spent a pleasant time there.

Unlike the other two gardens/parks we visited, it's very formal

but pretty.

In the middle stands the Temple of Theseus, an exact copy of the Thission in Athens. This was built to house Antonio Canova's Theseus and the Minotaur which was brought to the city by Napoleon. Since 1890, however, this work of art has stood by the main staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. More about this in the next post.

I sat on a bench for a while

and from my bench I could see the Austrian Parliament Building

so after a while I went up to this gorgeous gate to have a look through

The Parliament Building was designed in 1878 by the king of neoclassical architecture, Theophilus Hansen, who pulled out all the stops for this design, basing the style of the enormous porticoes on the Parthenon and covering the pediments in gilded allegorical statues. The sheer quantity of carved marble on display is impressive.

I forget who this is a statue of

We then retraced our steps heading for the city centre

It was a gorgeous day - 21oC and sunny, so the Viennese took advantage of this

the lilac bushes were in bloom

There was some kind of techno event going on and lots of people were sitting around listening to the music

and some people started dancing.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Supporting the junior doctors

A short walk for health, a demonstration in Leamington to support the junior doctors and to defend the NHS, on May Day. We assembled at Top Park and walked down to the Pump Room Gardens.

The turnout was impressive.

For a town of 60,000 this was very good indeed.

Two junior doctors spoke at the rally explaining why the government's proposed (and to be enforced, if Jeremy Hunt has his way) new contract will be disastrous for the NHS.  They explained that a 7-day, 24-hour NHS for emergencies already exists.  Introducing 7 day elective care can't be done by stretching junior doctors any thinner without more receptionists, admin staff, consultants, radiographers, lab technicians and a host of other staff - to do this requires more funding and the government is not prepared to do that.

The government is not truthful when it says doctors are getting a pay rise of 13.5%. The new contract would redefine anti-social hours thus reducing pay banding for late evenings and weekends. As a result, those specialities with greater burden of anti-social hours, such as A&E, would be adversely affected, leading to a pay cut between 10% and 20%. The proposed contract also discriminates against women as it would discourage them to apply for hospital specialities where the majority of hours will be antisocial. In addition, the loss of incremental pay progression, which rewards doctors annually for increased experience and protects pay, will be abolished. This will hit less than full-time trainees the hardest, the majority of whom are women.

What this contract is asking doctors, who are already stretched to the limit, is to  go beyond the bounds of what is safe for patients. This is a money-saving exercise, a means of introducing cuts into the NHS without calling them cuts, and it's just the beginning: nurses, porters, lab technicians and all the rest of the staff who keep the NHS going are going to be the next targets.

Back in 2005, Jeremy Hunt co-authored a book Direct Democracy, calling for the NHS to be dismantled. It included the line: 'our ambition should be to break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain'. The NHS is being deliberately run into the ground to pave the way for privatisation. Breaking the allegiance and loyalty of staff is one of the important strategies for attacking a public sector organisation. This is often achieved through policies that demoralise and alienate. The predictable response of junior doctors threatening to leave the NHS if the contract is imposed is therefore entirely in keeping with the ideological intent of the government. The next stage is to alienate the public from the staff: smearing doctors as apparently caring only about how much they will be paid, and that they endanger the welfare of the public is in line with this. The reality is, of course, the other way round: the primary concern of junior doctors is that the new contract endangers patient safety.

The public are overwhelmingly in favour of a publicly-funded and run NHS. Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS,  said that the NHS will survive as long as there are people prepared to fight for it. This is our task now.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The Freyung

The Freyung is a medieval market place that is surrounded by fine palaces and churches.

The square's name which roughly translates as 'freeing' is a reference to the fact that it was originally outside the jurisdiction of the city's law enforcement - it was a place where fugitives could be granted asylum.

The northern part of the square is dominated by the buildings of the Schottenstift (Scottish Monastery),  a complex of beautiful baroque structures. The monastery was founded by a group of Irish (not Scottish) monks in 1155. They remained in Vienna until 1418, when dwindling numbers forced them to leave, and the monastery was passed to the Benedictine order that remains in residence to this day.

The centrepiece of the complex is the Schottenkirche, baroque in design that dates from the mid-17th century.

The interior is lavish but not overwhelming.

The columns and arches are painted in pastel shades and capped with decorative stucco work, while the barrel-vaulted ceiling is covered by several large frescoes depicting biblical scenes.

We then walked through this archway and into

this small garden

which is surrounded by buildings, including this one, that used to be Franz Liszt's house.

The area around the market was once very popular with Vienna's aristocratic families, who built enormous palaces around the square.

The most impressive is the Palais Kinsky designed in the early 18th century by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt. For this building he had to try to squeeze all his usual grandeur into a plot of land just 30 by 100 yards. He created an imposing façade that manages to be fabulously ornate while at the same time almost completely flat as he needed to make the rooms inside as large as he could.

The imposing entrance

that leads to this courtyard.

Between the entrance and the courtyard is a small forecourt full of statues, some of which are for sale, like the two pictured (the building is now an auction house)

while others are a permanent fixture.

Ferstel Palais shows a different method of fitting an aristocratic palace into an urban setting. Here the palace sits on top of an arcade of shops

the Ferstel Passage

This beautiful vaulted passageway,

is lit by a glass-roofed atrium in the centre,

and has a fountain in the middle

it is full of cafes and lovely little shops

this one for instance, is a chocolate heaven


We could not get access to these interesting stairs

Ferstel passage leads on to another passage, much more modern looking

which is full of art galleries.

Just across Ferstel Palais is the old headquarters of the Austrian Bank of Trade and Commerce but houses the Kunstforum Wien, an exhibition space.

We then walked down Herengasse intending to have a break in Café Central, Vienna's grandest and most famous café, famous for its popularity with a range of fin-de-siècle intellectuals, people like Leon Trotsky and Sigmund Freud.

The queue outside was long however, so we moved on to the Griensteidl café in Michaelerplatz.