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Monday, 20 April 2015
By John Leighton, Visitor Services Manager

Every exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary generates a large list of reading material used by our curators and informing our public programme. A comprehensive reading list would take up more room than we have for on this blog, a glance at our study gives an impression of the breath and diversity of our teams preparation.

A prominent name for Glenn Ligon is the American author and activist James Baldwin and I would encourage anyone interested in a unique voice in American literature to try any of the many novels our shop will be stocking during Encounters and Collisions.

Baldwin defied a difficult upbringing to become an important voice and inspiration at a time when race, sexuality and class were inflammatory in America and at the same time an important presence in postwar European literature.

When I first became involved in the book industry it seemed that reading (or at least be seen with) Faulkner, Pynchon, Salinger or Roth was the way to indicate a certain hip gravitas. Towards the end of my time in that world those names had changed to Foster Wallace, Franzen, Eggers and Lethem. Baldwin never seemed to belong to this quest for the Great American Novel, like his great Influence Richard Wright he is a constant presence on the shelves without necessarily being a name to drop.

Exhibitions like this give us an opportunity to celebrate a craftsman of his language. That he was black, gay and from a poor background at a time when all three were an impediment to basic rights let alone success should be reason enough to elicit interest in his back catalogue and while he may not have written the Great American Novel, he was certainly a great American novelist.

Not linked directly to Glenn Ligon, but I believe, worth mentioning in the conversation as James Baldwin is Paul Beatty.

I’ve championed Beatty for many years now, not particularly successfully, in that time he has gone out of print in the UK, but you’ll always be able to buy him at Nottingham Contemporary. A few years ago it was difficult to find portrayals of the Black American experience that didn’t mirror the cartoon like visions of Tarantino, Peebles or Iceberg Slim. Paul Beatty writes about the same world without resorting to the seemingly inevitable cliché and trope that tends to blight some of his contemporaries. I’d particularly recommend White Boy Shuffle or Tuff; both are honest, funny and really well written. The latter I bought on the strength of its cover (you should never buy a book by its cover, but I’d always have a second look) which, as is the way of most publishing houses, has been replaced  by something more up to date, funky and quite frankly’s a great book though.

You’ll find a selection of books by or on the likes of James Baldwin, David Roediger, Dr Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, Jean Genet, and Bell Hooks amongst others that are directly linked to the current exhibition in our Shop and a wider selection of research material in our study. 

Also don't miss the fully illustrated catalogue from the exhibition. Buy online or from our Shop at the special exhibition price of £24.99 More >>

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Monday, 02 June 2014

Somewhat Abstract is drawn from the Arts Council Collection, the largest national loan collection of post War British art. As well as the work of some of the great exponents of abstract art such as Anthony Caro, Barbara Hepworth and Bridget Riley it contains the work of Eight Tuner prize winners. Here are some of the things that have been written about them, and some of the things they have said about themselves.

1986 Turner Prize winner - Gilbert and George
Gilbert & George began working together in 1967 when they met at St Martins School of Art. They adopted the identity of "living sculptures" in both their art and their daily lives, becoming not only creators, but also the art itself. The artists believe that everything is potential subject matter for their work, and they have always addressed social issues, taboos and artistic conventions. (

Our subject matter is the world. It is pain. Pain. Just to hear the world turning is pain, isn’t it? Totally, every day, every second. Our inspiration is all those people alive today on the planet, the desert, the jungle, the cities. We are interested in the human person, the complexity of life.(Gilbert & George,

See Beauty A Post-Card Sculpture, 1980 in Somewhat Abstract

Gilbert and George, Beauty A Post-Card Sculpture, 1980. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London © The Artists 2006, courtesy Jay Jopling/ White Cube London.

1987 Turner Prize winner - Richard Deacon
In 1980 Richard Deacon began making a series of sheet metal and laminated wood sculptures in simple organic shapes, their surfaces congruent with their structure. Deacon considered himself a fabricator rather than a constructor and used unformed basic material to make sculptures that explored, by the use of metaphor, ideas that defined human experience through language and the senses. (

What I think gives the sculpture its drive or its potency is a tension between what you can see and what you can’t see, what you imagine, or you picture, or you construct, refer to or associate with—all of those things. The sculpture retains its physicality while allowing a richness of readings, but it never ceases to be a particular kind of physical object, a particular identifiable physical object made of a particular material.” (Richard Deacon quoted in Sculpture magazine).

See A Kind Of Blue, 2001 in Somewhat Abstract.

Somewhat Abstract, Nottingham Contemporary, 2014, installation view. Photo Andy Keate.

1993 Turner Prize winner - Rachel Whiteread
Rachel Whiteread is best known for resin and plaster sculptures made from the negative spaces within and around furniture and buildings. She famously cast all the rooms within an entire terraced house in the East End in 1993. The sensual, ghostly results remind us that the spaces around furniture are designed for the human body. (Nottingham Contemporary, exhibition label)

“All my room pieces...really have to do with observing. There is a sense of puzzlement in just looking at them and thinking: We live in that kind of place. How do we function physically within a place like that? This is definitely what I do when I look at my works. I think about how they affect me physically.” (Rachel Whiteread quoted in Remembrance of Things Present: The Art of Rachel Whiteread by J.Gross).

See Untitled (6 Spaces), 1994 in Somewhat Abstract

Somewhat Abstract, Nottingham Contemporary, 2014, installation view. Photo Andy Keate.

2000 Turner Prize winner - Wolfgang Tillmans
Tillmans was the first photographic artist to win the Turner Prize. With its direct relationship to reality, we don’t usually associate photography with abstraction. But Tillmans updates a history of artists’ photographic experiments with abstraction that is as old as abstract art itself. (Nottingham Contemporary, exhibition label)

“I photographed a builder working on the opposite house... and progressively enlarged it across several photocopies so it becomes just a distribution of surface pattern. It’s a kind of noise, but it comes across as super-specific. I still don’t know what this random-or-not information means, but it’s always been of great interest to me. The lucky thing was that I discovered these photocopies as ‘originals’. They had the aura of finished work, yet I didn’t have to paint or draw it." (

See Wolfgang Tillmans, Dan, 2008. Gedser, 2004. Lighter, red II, 2008. Silver 57, 2006 and paper drop (London), 2008 exhibited in Somewhat Abstract.

Wolfgang Tillmans, paper drop (London), 2008. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. © the artist, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

2004 Turner Prize winner - Jeremy Deller
Jeremy Deller is an internationally renowned British artist whose multi-faceted practice incorporates forms of social investigation and archival research in order to realise artworks as diverse as films, fairs, parades, concerts, archives, and object-based exhibitions. (

As part of his curated exhibition All that is Solid Melts into Air at Nottingham Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Deller discussed his work in conversation with art historian and curator Dawn Ades at Nottingham Contemporary. Watch on our media channel »

See Karl Marx 18.12.2000. 2000 in Somewhat Abstract. (This work is a souvenir from a performance by Jeremy Deller at fig-1, a temporary exhibition space that hosted 50 one-day exhibitions over 50 days.)

Somewhat Abstract, Nottingham Contemporary, 2014, installation view. Photo Andy Keate.

2006 Turner Prize winner - Tomma Abts
Tomma Abts’s paintings are the result of a rigorous working method that pitches the rational against the intuitive. She works consistently to a format of 48 x 38 centimetres in acrylic and oil paint. She uses no source material and begins with no preconceived idea of the final result. Instead, her paintings take shape through a gradual process of layering and accrual. As the internal logic of each composition unfolds forms are defined, buried and rediscovered until the painting becomes ‘congruent with itself’. (

“When I start a painting, I begin with nothing. I don’t make any sketches and I don’t have any research material in my studio so I just work directly onto the canvas. Maybe I’d start by putting a particular colour onto the canvas and then I very slowly start making shapes [...].” (Tomma Abts,

See Heit, 2011 in Somewhat Abstract.

Tomma Abts, Heit, 2011. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London. Photo: Marcus Leith. Courtesy of greengrassi, London.

2007 Turner Prize winner - Mark Wallinger
From the mid 1980s Mark Wallinger’s work has addressed the traditions and values of British society, its class system and organised religion. The range of approaches he has adopted reflects his wish to have a broad appeal and highlights his roots in a tradition of British left-wing thought. In the late 1990s Wallinger shifted his focus to a questioning of institutionalised spirituality and religion. (

“I wanted to say something about how images are used to coerce or incentivise or whip up the best and the worst in people. But it couldn't be propaganda. I wasn't at Speakers' Corner or standing for election. It did have to be art." (Mark Wallinger quoted in the Guardian).

See Heaven, 1988 in Somewhat Abstract.

Somewhat Abstract, Nottingham Contemporary, 2014, installation view. Photo Andy Keate.

2011 Turner Prize winner - Martin Boyce
Martin Boyce’s work explores the visual language of modernist architecture and design. Classic pieces of furniture by Arne Jacobsen, Charles and Ray Eames, and Jean Prouvé among others, have often been the focus of Boyce’s sculptural installations. (

“I became interested in what happens to the original objects as they shift through history. I sense that there is a desire when transplanting an aesthetic from one time period to another that one can somehow recreate the spirit, the social or cultural politics or the ethos of that period. What happens however is that through its journey the aesthetic collects its own ethos and this is often one based on pecuniary notions of taste and exclusivity.” (Martin Boyce,

See Dark Unit and Mask, 2003 in Somewhat Abstract.

Martin Boyce, Dark Unit and Mask, 2003. Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London.

Somewhat Abstract  until 29 June 2014.

Download the exhibition notes

International art. For everyone. For free.

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