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Alvin Baltrop, Friend (The Piers) 1977

The Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool is probably the most exciting photo gallery in England (especially now that Foto8 has closed.) On 22 February they will open a show dedicated to Letizia Battaglia's chronicle of the brutal anni di piombo in Sicily. And right now they have a show that brings together self-taught photographer Alvin Baltrop and 'anarchitect' Gordon Matta-Clark.

I went to see Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here a couple of weeks ago. I had never heard of Alvin Baltrop before. His photography met with very little artistic appreciation until after his death when art institutions finally started paying attention to his portrayal of emerging gay subculture in New York.

At first glance, Matta-Clark and Baltrop seem to have very little in common. In fact, the two men probably never met. But they both turned their artistic interest to the Piers of New York City during the mid 1970s.

They found Manhattan's West Side piers abandoned and decaying as a consequence of the oil crisis that reconfigured the geography of the city along with the international trading system. Left to rot, the vast industrial space on the outskirts of the city was soon occupied by people living at the fringe of society: graffiti writers, artists, drug addicts, prostitutes. the homeless, etc.

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Image: @Gordon Matta-Clark, the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark

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Gordon Matta-Clark, Day's End (Pier 52), 1975

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Gordon Matta - Clark, the Estate of Gordon Matta

Pier 52 is the site of one of Matta-Clark's famous building cuts. In 1975, the artist made large cuts into the floor, ceiling and sides of a derelict metal hangar, exposing the Hudson River and sky, creating a sculpture brought to life by the rotation of the sun. Matta-Clark argued that he had created an indoor park. He called it Day's End out of a decrepit space. However, visitors were afraid to cross the large lacerations, the police shut down the opening event and the artist faced an arrest warrant for trespassing and defacing property.

Matta-Clark described the piers as being completely overrun by the gays. So much so that the piers became the site of at least two pornographic films, Arch Brown's Pier Groups (1979) and Steve Scott's Non-Stop (1983). And while Matta-Clark was seesawing his architectural installation, Alvin Baltrop was documenting men having sex, cruising or sunbathing there. Or corpses dredged up from the river.

Most of the time, Baltrop was hiding from his subject, hanging from steel girders, shooting from afar, capturing the freedom these crumbling spaces gave to their occupants. The images are voyeuristic but, perhaps paradoxically, they are never pornographic.

Baltrop photographed the piers and their residents from 1975 to 1986, right up to the moment they were razed. The result is an archive of thousands of photographs that hover between raw passion, violence, furtiveness and tenderness.

Gordon Matta-Clark believed that art could be used as a tool for urban regeneration and the exhibition offers an opportunity to reflect on that very topic but also on the gentrification of (sub)urban areas that usually comes with the dissolution of underground culture.

Both the Piers in New York and the docks in Liverpool experienced a similar process of transformation during the 1970s. Dispossessed of their industrial activity, the areas were gradually reclaimed by people living at the margins of society (from prostitutes and drug dealers to visual artists, performers and film-makers.) I've never been to what is left of the New York piers but Liverpool's docks, where Open Eye is situated, has now left place to office buildings and luxury apartments.

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Alvin Baltrop, Super Cream, 1980

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (exterior view of Day's End) 1975-86

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

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Al Baltrop, Untitled

Alvin Baltrop and Gordon Matta-Clark: The Piers From Here is up at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool until 9 Feb 2014.

Sponsored by:





Last week, I was in Liverpool for some overdue FACT action and Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789-2013 which examine how the production and reception of art has been influenced by left-wing values, from the French Revolution to the present day.

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The main preoccupation of the exhibition is thus not the militant commentaries behind artworks but the effect that political values and social movements have had on the production modes, aesthetics and communication of visual culture. As such Art Turning Left stands out from other shows dedicated to political art or activism.

The left-wing values considered in the exhibition include the empowerment of the working classes, the equality of the sexes, the search for alternative economies, etc. These values seeped into art world where they translated into the rejection of the concepts of fine art and of the individual expression in favour of an art made by or with the help of the community, the adoption of new media, a greater mingling between art and life (through crafts, design and in particular graphic design),

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Art Turning Left, installation view with Chto Delat, Study, Study and Act Again. © Tate Photography

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Zvono Group, Art and Soccer 1986. © ZVONO

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Art Turning Left, installation view with Jacques-Louis David's The Death of Marat to the left. © Tate Photography

Art Turning Left is a great show under many aspects and i've certainly felt enthusiastic about discovering new politically-engaged artworks that stood up the time. But it has its flaws. On the one hand, i enjoyed the fact that the show is distributed according to questions ("Do we need to know who makes art?" "Can art affect everybody?" "Does participation deliver equality?", etc.) rather than chronology and it certainly is refreshing to find a respectable painting by David between an installation by Goldin+Senneby and a wall of revolutionary posters. On the other hand, being constantly pinballed from one historical period to another and from one geographic locations to an entirely different one gets a bit confusing.

if the show acknowledges that artistic practice in the 20th and 21st century has been 'democratized' as its some of its means of production and distribution have become accessible to all (thanks to photography, printing, digital, etc.), i don't think i've seen any reference to some of the most stimulating features of 21st century culture: free software, free culture, 3D printing, etc. Thinking of it, there's very little reference to what computers/ the internet have done to advance new ideas and practices.

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Jacques Louis David and Studio, The Death of Marat, 1793

It did start with the best intentions though. One of the highlights of the exhibition is The Death of Marat, by Jaques-Louis David. Both David and Jean-Paul Marat were members of the Jacobian Republican group during the French Revolution. After the assassination of the revolutionary journalist, David had several copies of The Death of Marat produced on various supports in order to relay the political message to the masses. Instead of being displayed at the elitist salon like his other works, David sent them across France for everyone to see.

Art Turning Left is a show i'd recommend to everyone for the quality of the works exhibited, for the ideas (left-wing or not) which unfortunately are in serious need of our attention these days but for all its undeniable qualities, the exhibition remains more academic than its topic deserved.

Also this definitely isn't a show for someone with a 'working class' budget: entrance fee is £8.

Now about the artwork i discovered or rediscovered in the show?

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Front cover of a King Mob anti-culture publication. Courtesy Tate Archive © Tate. Photo: Rod Tidnam

King Mob! The London-based group called themselves 'gangsters of the new freedom' and adopted a confrontational approach to underline the cultural anarchy and disorder being ignored in 1960s-1970s Britain. I read in the gallery that one day, they took over the Christmas Grotto in Selfridges and gave out all the presents to the kids for free. The department stores had then to literally take the presents back from the children's arms before they left. I burst hysterically into laughter when i read that.
Who are today's King Mob?

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Goldin+Senneby, Money Will Be Like Dross. Installation view: The Magic of the State, Lisson Gallery, London

In the 1780s mineralogist August Nordenskiöld was employed by the Swedish king Gustav III to discover the legendary alchemical substance Philosopher's Stone and turn base metal into gold. The gold was intended to finance Sweden's military and economic expansion, but Nordenskiöld had a different agenda, he aimed to produce so much gold that its value would be lost and the "tyranny of money" abolished. One of the few remaining artifacts from Nordenskiöld's laboratory is a coal burning alchemy furnace. Goldin+Senneby offer to supply collectors with necessary components and instructions for the reconstruction of a replica of Nordenskiöld's furnace. The manual is produced in a numbered but unlimited edition, and as each edition is sold the price goes up, making the item more expensive the less unique it is.


Grupa Zvono, Akcija "Mondrian", 1986 (Sarajevo)

The best discovery in the show for me was Grupa Zvono. Founded in 1982, the group organized performances that aimed to present an art that was different from the then dominant forms outside of galleries and closer to 'the man on the street.' Or, in one case, in the football stadium.

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Cildo Miereles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project 1970. © Cildo Meireles. Image courtesy Tate

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Cildo Meireles, Insertions into Ideological Circuits 2: Banknote Project 1970. © Cildo Meireles. Image courtesy Tate

Cildo Meireles took Coca-Cola bottles and modified them. When empty they look ordinary, but political statements printed on the glass in white are revealed as the bottles are filled with the brown liquid. They range from 'Yankees Go Home' to instructions on how to make a Molotov cocktail. The empty bottles with the messages were then recycled back into the Coca-Cola distribution system.

The artist also stamped political commentary onto banknotes, the most frequent was 'Quem Matou Herzog?' ('Who Killed Herzog?) in reference to a journalist who had died in police custody under suspicious circumstances.

Brazil was then under an oppressive military dictatorship and the Insertions constituted a form of guerrilla tactics of political resistance that eluded strict state censorship.

Meireles said that he sought to use systems of communication and distribution that were not centrally controlled, like the media or press, and that: The Insertions would only exist to the extent that they ceased to be the work of just one person. The work only exists to the extent that other people participate in it. What also arises is the need for anonymity. By extension, the question of anonymity involves the question of ownership. When the object of art becomes a practice, it becomes something over which you can have no control or ownership.

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Ruth Ewan, A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World (Ongoing archive since 2003). Installation view Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe 2012. Photo: Stephan Baumann, bild_raum

Ruth Ewan compiled hundreds of protest songs in A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World. All of which, visitors are invited to play in the gallery.

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Atelier Populaire, Untitled (Début d'une lutte prolongée) 1968 © Archivio Sessantotto - Antonio Ricci, Italy

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Atelier Populaire, Je Participe 1968. © Archivio Sessantotto - Antonio Ricci, Italy

Atelier Populaire's posters broadcast the demands and protests of the student/intelligentsia/trade-union of a May 68 Paris charging the French Establishment.

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Guerrilla Girls, [no title] 1985-90. © courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com. Image courtesy Tate

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Guerrilla Girls, [no title] 1985-90. © courtesy www.guerrillagirls.com. Image courtesy Tate

Guerilla Girls anonymously produced propaganda posters that were (are!) boldly drawing attention to the absence of women artists in major art exhibitions.

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Emory Douglas, Supplement to The Black Panther, 10-04-1971 1971. © DACS, London 2013. Photo: IISG BG D18/246, International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam)

Emory Douglas worked as the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party from 1967 until the Party disbanded in the 1980s. His graphic art illustrated the struggles of the Party in most issues of the newspaper The Black Panther.

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Leopoldo Méndez, Paremos la agresión a la clase obrera

Taller de Grafica Popular ("People's Graphic Workshop" or TGP) was an artist print collective founded in Mexico in 1937. They used posters and flyers as platforms to promote revolutionary social causes.

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Gerd Arntz, Mengenvergleiche ; Signaturen der Bildstatistik nach Wiener Methode 1925-1949. © DACS, London 2013. NEHA BG S4/11-B International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam)

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Gerd Arntz, Probedrucke aus "Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft" 1925-1949. © DACS, London 2013. NEHA BG S3/52-A, International Institute of Social History (Amsterdam).

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Braco Dimitrijevic, Casual Passer-by I met at 1.43 PM, Venice 1976, 1976. © Braco Dimitrijevic. Image courtesy Tate

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Art Turning Left, installation view, with the Banner for The Worker's Union - Holloway branch - Solidarity of Labour, after Walter Crane dated c. 1898 and Braco Dimitrijevic, Casual Passer-by I met at 1.43 PM, Venice 1976 © Tate Photography

Art Turning Left: How Values Changed Making 1789-2013 was curated by Francesco Manacorda and Lynn Wray, is on view until 2 February 2014 at Tate Liverpool.

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Ben Roberts, from the series Amazon Unpacked, 2011. In their bright orange vests, 'pickers' deliver goods between various areas of the warehouse

There's an exhibition called All That is Solid Melts into Air right now at the Manchester Art Gallery. It's been curated by Jeremy Deller. So of course i took the train to see it.

In a show which title refers to a passage in Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto, Deller takes a personal look at the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British popular culture, and its persisting influence on our lives today.

This is not an exhibition of Deller's work (apart from his film about glam rock wrestler Adrian Street.) Neither is it a historical treatment of the industrial era. Instead, Deller brings side by side historical artefacts and contemporary works to explore several threads that expose the impact of the Industrial Revolution on British cultural life.

I was particularly interested in the connections drawn between the digital revolution and the Industrial Revolution, in particular working conditions. They were notoriously harsh in the 19th century: low wages, long hours, child labour, etc.

A document entitled Rules to be Observed in this Factory, Church Street Mills, Preston (c. 1830) informed workers that to give their notice they must do so on Saturday only, in writing and one month in advance. Whereas the "Masters have full power to discharge any person employed therein without any previous notice whatsoever." The same documents states that workers are to be at the factory from 6 in the morning to 7.30 at night, with half an hour allowed for breakfast and one hour for dinner.

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But accounts from the time deplored the fact that managers did as they liked, with clocks brought forward in the morning and back at night. Some clocks were even made to measure productivity as time. One of the artefacts in the gallery is a two-faced clock that was connected to a watermill at a silk factory and would show 'lost' time if the wheel did not turn quickly enough. The time would then have to be made up at the end of the working day. The struggle to shorten working days was hard fought by successive generations.

Nowadays however, the growing use of 'zero hours contracts' in the low wage sectors of the service and digital economy is shaping a new form of day labourer, imposing another time discipline where the worker is informed often at short notice if their labour is required. A tapestry (by Ed Hall, maker of remarkable protest banners), hanging near the clock, is adorned with the words, 'Hello, Today you have day off', a message texted to a worker on a 'zero hour' contract on the morning his shift was due to start. No work, no pay.

Also next to the clock are photos from Ben Roberts' series that documents the inside one of Amazon's nine UK 'fulfilment centres' where employees spend 10½ hours a day picking items off the shelves.

Visitors have no problem joining the dots by themselves....

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Ben Roberts, from the series Amazon Unpacked, 2011. The interior of Amazon's giant fulfilment centre is the size of nine football pitches

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Swainson Birley Cotton Mill near Preston, Lancashire, 1834.. ©Science Museum/SSPL

The last object on that wall is a Motorola WT4000, a computing device worn on the wrist by people working in a warehouse. Retail giants rely on this kind of device to monitor the speed of orders and the efficiency of its staff in fulfilling them. It can also send warnings if the worker is falling behind schedule.

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Motorola WT4000

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But as can be expected with Jeremy Deller, there's a great deal of music in this show. Here he is posing next to a jukebox visitors are welcome to activate. Pressing buttons triggers archive recordings from factory machinery, folk songs or quarrymen singing at work.

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Jeremy Deller with Jukebox, 2013 and mural backdrop by Stuart Sam Hughes. Courtesy Alan Seabright / Manchester City Galleries

All That is Solid Melts into Air also looks at heavy metal and rock bands such as Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Happy Mondays and Slade and at how they are the products of the industrial towns their members came from. Many came from working class backgrounds and their music echoed the loud and traumatic rhythm of the factories.

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Judas Priest, Unleashed in the East (album cover), 1979

The only Deller work in the show is a film about Adrian Street. Street was born into a Welsh mining family but he refused to follow in his father's footsteps and spend his life working in the coal mines. He left home as a teenager and became a flamboyant wrestler and for a brief time also a glam rock singer.

The photo showing Street posing next to his father in the Welsh coal mine he had fled from embodies a country attempting to get to grip with its new role: services and entertainment.

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Adrian Street and his father, 1973 (photo: Dennis Hutchinson) © Dennis Hutchinson 2012


Jeremy Deller, So many ways to hurt you, the life and times of Adrian Street (excerpt)

More images from the exhibition:

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Iron Workers, Tredegar, Wales, 1865, W Clayton. Manchester Art Gallery. Photographs courtesy Manchester Art Gallery

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Iron Workers, Tredegar, Wales, 1865, W Clayton. Photographs courtesy Manchester Art Gallery

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Stockport Viaduct 1986. ©John Davies

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Mersey Square, Stockport 1986. ©John Davies

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G. Greatbach, 'The Black Country' near Bilston 1869 Engraving. ©Science Museum / SSPL

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Chapman, W.J., Francis Crawshay Workers Portraits. Courtesy National Museum Wales, Cardiff

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Portraits of Scuttlers, members of youth gangs characterized by their carefully coiffed hair and colourful scarves (and as such precursors of the Teddy Boys)

All That is Solid Melts into Air: Jeremy Deller is an exhibition curated by an artist so don't expect academic interpretations and rigorous narratives. It is an eclectic and thought-provoking show that confronts with each other elements from our past and present, draws parallels, and triggers all kinds of associations.

If you're curious about the show but can't make it to Manchester, you'll find more information in the film that Deller shot together with BBC. And, obviously, in the exhibition catalogue:

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All that is Solid Melts into Air Curated by Jeremy Deller is at the Manchester Art Gallery, until 19 January 2014. The exhibition will tour to other cities known for their strong industrial heritage: Nottingham, Coventry and Newcastle.

Related stories: Ed Hall, the art of protest banners and Audio CD review - Jeremy Deller: Social Surrealism.

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Trees, Woolsington, 1967-8 by Gordon Ryder of Ryder and Yates. Listed grade II. Photo James O Davies/English Heritage

Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century was a very small but enlightening exhibition that celebrated post-war listed architecture in England. I went to see the show one day before it closed so, for once, i have a good excuse for the ridiculously late review. It took place at the Quadriga Gallery, on the second floor of Wellington Arch right in the middle of Hyde Park Corner. I don't think i had ever been to Hyde Park Corner before.


Brutal & Beautiful: What is Brutalism?, one of the films by Alun Bull, James O Davies and Leon Seth about twentieth century listed buildings, written and presented by architectural historian, Elain Harwood

Brutal and Beautiful, thus. The images below speak for themselves and I won't need to comment much on the adjective 'beautiful', even if, for many people, their aesthetic qualities are somewhat debatable. But brutal, in this context, requires a few lines of explanation. It comes from the term New Brutalism coined by architects Alison and Peter Smithson in 1953 to define a style that used the béton brut (raw concrete) as much as it used light and innovative materials. The term probably contributed to the unpopularity of the style but in fact, what the Smithsons had in mind was not concrete aggressively poured all over the country but 'honesty of expression and of natural materials.' This is therefore not a show about brutalism even though the style has a strong presence in the gallery.

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Engineering Building, Leicester, 1961-1963 by Stirling and Gowan. Listed grade IIº. Photo James O Davies/English Heritage

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Centre Point, designed 1959-1962 by George Marsh of Richard Selfert and Partners, built in 1962-1966. Listed grade II. Photo James O Davies/English Heritage

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RAF Upper Heyford, 1950-1. Photo © James Davies, English Heritage

The exhibition presents brutal and beautiful cathedrals, libraries private houses, landscapes, war memorials, schools and industrial buildings. They were built between 1945 and the 1980s, in times of austerity and boldness. Each of them has been listed which means that they may not be demolished, extended, or altered without special permission from the local planning authority. Buildings and landscapes can be considered for designation once they are 30 years old. Younger structures can be protected when they are under severe threat or are considered outstanding, that's how the Lloyd's building became the youngest listed edifice. And ultimately, the exhibition invites us to rethink what makes a historic building:

Now the Royal Festival Hall and Coventry Cathedral are popularly admired but at the time post-war listings were fiercely debated and the future Tate Modern was rejected. Brutal & Beautiful looks at our love/hate relationship with England's recent architectural past and asks 'what is worth saving?'

It's fascinating to see how buildings that have been much maligned are now seen as iconic. Think of the Trellick Tower --and the smaller but equally arresting Balfron Tower-- by Ernö Goldfinger, an architect as famous for his arresting council blocks as he is for his unpleasant character so much so that, as you probably know already, Ian Fleming named one of James Bond's villains after him.

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Trellick Tower, Cheltenham Estate, Kensington, 1968-1972 by Ernö Golfinger. Listed grade IIº

The Barbi! The upswept balconies, i read in the gallery, reduce wind resistance.

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Cromwell Tower, Barbican, City of London, 1964-1973 by Chamberlin, Powell and Bon. Listed grade II. Photo James O Davies/English Heritage

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Photo James O Davies/English Heritage

That said, all's not rosy and cheerful in the world of Brutalism. The Heygate Estate, in Elephant & Castle, provided the gloomy setting for violent scenes in the Luther tv series until its demolition started and John Madin's Birmingham Central Library will be teared down in 2014. But, hey, at least the the Preston Bus Station is doing ok.

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The Preston Bus Station, 1968-1969 by Keith Ingham and Charles Wilson of Building Design Partnership with E. H. Stazicker. Photo Dr Greg via wikipedia

And i'm going to leave you here with some brutal and not so brutal archi porn:

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Photo © James Davies, English Heritage

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British Gas Engineering Research Station, Killingworth, 1966-7. Designed by architect Peter Yates of Ryder & Yates. Listed Grade IIº. Photo © James Davies, English Heritage

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British Gas Engineering Research Station, Killingworth, 1966-7. Designed by architect Peter Yates of Ryder & Yates. Listed Grade IIº

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Lloyd's Building, City of London, 1981-1986 by Richard Rogers and Partners. Listed Grade I. Photo © James Davies, English Heritage

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Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, 1962-7 by Frederick Gibbero and Partners. Listed grade IIº

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Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool, 1962-7 by Frederick Gibbero and Partners. Listed grade IIº

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The Royal Festival Hall, London, 1949-51 by the London County Council. Listed grade I. Photo: James O Davies/English Heritage

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Library (Phillips Building) to the School of Oriental and African Studies, 1964-1974 by Denys Lasdun and Partners. Listed grade IIº. Photo James O Davies/English Heritage

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Templewood School, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire County Council, 1949-1950. Job Architect A.W. Cleeve Barr. Listed Grade IIº. Photo via The Decorated School

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Rogers House, Wimbledon, City of London, 1981-86 by Richard Rogers and Partners. Listed grade I

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Royal College of Physicians, Regent's Park, London, 1960-4 by Denys Lasdun and Partners. Photo: James O Davies/English Heritage


Brutal & Beautiful: The Royal College of Physicians, Regent's Park, London, designed by Sir Denys Lasdun. One of the films about twentieth century listed buildings, written and presented by architectural historian, Elain Harwood and screened at the exhibition Brutal and Beautiful

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Stockwell Bus Depot, 1951-3 by Adie, Button and Partners. Listed grade IIº. Photo: James O Davies/English Heritage

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Stockwell Bus Depot, 1951-3 by Adie, Button and Partners. Listed grade IIº. Photo Courtauld Institute of Art

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Bracken House, City of London, 1955-9 by Albert Richardson for the Financial Times. Listed grade IIº

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Elliott School, Putney, 1953-6, by London County Council. Photo: James O Davies/English Heritage

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Apollo Pavilion at Peterlee in County Durham, 1963-1970 by Victor Pasmore. Listed grade II*. Photo James / cacophonyx

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B2 Prefab, 55 The Crapen, Cashes Green, Stroud, 1948

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Turn End, Buckinghamshire, built in 1967 by Peter Aldington. Photo James O Davies/English Heritage


Brutal & Beautiful: Peter Aldington and Turn End. Shot by photographers and filmmakers Alun Bull and James O Davies and screened at the exhibition Brutal and Beautiful

The photographs in the exhibition were by James O. Davies. They will appear in a forthcoming book, Space, Hope and Brutalism: English Architecture 1945-1975 which will be published next year by Yale University Press. I'll definitely get my hands on that one.

Related: Utopia London.

Brutal and Beautiful: Saving the Twentieth Century is thus closed. The next exhibition to open at the Quadriga Gallery, however, seems to be equally interesting: Almost Lost: London's Buildings Loved and Loathed. It will run from 4 December to 2 February 2014.

Top Secret: Images from the Stasi Archives, by Simon Menner.

Available on Amazon UK and soon on Amazon USA.

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Publisher Hatje Cantz writes: First publication of pictures from the archives of the Stasi, the East German secret police

Almost 300,000 people worked for the East German secret police, per capita far more than were employed by agencies such as the CIA or the KGB. Not quite fifty years after the Berlin Wall was built, Simon Menner (*1978 in Emmendingen) discovered spectacular photographs in the Stasi archives that document the agency's surveillance work. Formerly secret, highly official photographs show officers and employees putting on professional uniforms, gluing on fake beards, or signaling to each other with their hands. Today, the sight of them is almost ridiculous, although the laughter sticks in the viewer's throat. This publication can be regarded as a visual processing of German history and an examination of current surveillance issues, yet it is extremely amusing at the same time. The fact that the doors of the opposite side--the British or German intelligence services, for example--remained closed to the artist lends the theme an explosive force as well as a tinge of absurdity.

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Close combat. From a manual for different close combat techniques

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Surveillance of Mailboxes

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Surveillance of the United States Embassy

Simon Menner has one of the most peculiar portfolios i've ever encountered. Snipers hidden among the trees, soldiers posing with corpses, Boobytraps and "Unconventional Warfare Devices and Techniques" from the 1960s, weapons used to murder people, views of WWI from both sides of the conflict, etc. Even the photos of Happy People have been selected for some very dark reason.

For one of his latest photo series, Menner spent 2 years searching through the Stasi archives, the majority of which were opened to the public shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Department of State Security) of the former German Democratic Republic was one of the largest surveillance apparatuses in history and its record of citizens' intimate life was thorough and sinister. The story and practices of the Stasi have been fairly well documented. Until this book however, we still lacked a clear visual account of the methods, tactics and props used by the spying agents.

The publication presents a selection of images documenting many of the Stasi operations: the spying accoutrement of Stasi personnel, the techniques employed to shadow or arrest a suspect, the signs used to convey secret messages, the packages sent via mail and confiscated by the secret police, etc.

The most baffling photos were taken during seminars in which Stasi employees learnt the art of disguise.

The props are amateurish, the poses are awkward and the result is grotesque beyond words. Yet, the intentions were serious: repression, control, surveillance.

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From a seminar on disguises

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The same agent using a different disguise

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From a handbook of Different Disguises

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Documentation of a seminar teaching how to apply artificial facial hair

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Disguising as Western tourist

The award for most disturbing photos go to Polaroids of unmade beds, (Western-made) coffee machines and rows of shoes. The photos were taken by Stasi agents when they secretly searched peoples' houses on the hunt for evidence they might be betraying the communist state. Photos of the rooms and furniture were taken upon arrival and used by the agents to be able afterwards to put everything back as if nothing had been touched.

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Secret House Searches

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Secret House Searches

The photos below were taken at the birthday party of a high-ranking Stasi official. The party guests were asked to come dressed as members of demographic groups under Stasi surveillance such as athletes, dancers, academics, peace activists, and religious figures.

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Costume party. Guests were dressed up as members of demographic groups -such as clergymen- that the Stasi deemed suspicious

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Costume Party

Spies of the western Allied Forces photographed Stasi spies and Stasi spies photographed their Western counterparts. "Sometimes they met, both sides were absolutely aware that the other side was there, but nevertheless both sides took photos, showing that both East and West lived in pretty much the same state of mind," the artist explained. So far, however, Menner hasn't been granted access to the correspondent photos from the British or Federal German secret services.

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Spies taking pictures of spies

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Accolade of the Phone Surveillance Unit

I love the necklace, very Tatty Devine!

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Accolade of the Phone Surveillance Unit

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Stasi spy photographs himself

More images on the photographer's website, in Der Spiegel and Morgen Contemporary.

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Location unknown, possible Morcambe, 1967 - 68 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum

The Science Museum in London has recently inaugurated a new Media Space. I was expecting it to be filled with photos of super computers and distant planets. Instead, i found Only in England, a retrospective of Tony Ray-Jones' photos curated by Martin Parr. Which is completely fine by me as i'd rather spend an afternoon looking at eccentric English ladies than at moons around Jupiter (no disrespect to satellites.)

In the late 1960s, Tony Ray-Jones traveled across his country in a VW camper to document the leisure and pleasures of the English. He was a man who lived by his own rules. One of them was to never take a boring photo. There are dozens of images in the exhibition and none of them is remotely insipid. It's easy to see why the photographer had such an impact on Parr's work: he had a taste for the quietly humorous, the compassionate detail, the ironic narrative.

Ray-Jones died of leukaemia in 1972. He was only 30 but in his short career, he invented a new way of looking at society.

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Beauty contestants, Southport, Merseyside, 1967 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum

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Only in England exhibition © Kate Elliott for Media Space

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Blackpool, 1968 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum

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Eastbourne Carnival, 1967 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum

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Bournemouth, 1969 © Tony Ray-Jones, Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London

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Location unknown, possibly Worthing, 1967-68 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum

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Strongman Contest, Mablethorpe, 1967 (James Hyman Gallery)

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Windsor Horse Show, 1966-67

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Windsor Horse Show, 1967

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Glyndebourne, 1967

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Ramsgate, 1967 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum

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Brighton Beach, 1966 by Tony Ray Jones

A black and white photo series by Martin Parr, The Non-Conformists, is also part of Only in England. The work follows the religious life of the Methodist and Baptist communities in and around Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. Shot in the mid-1970s, just after Parr graduated from art school, the photos have a gentleness i wasn't expecting from Parr.

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Mankinholes Methodist Chapel, Todmorden 1975 by Martin Parr © Martin Parr/ Magnum

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Tom Greenwood cleaning 1976 by Martin Parr © Martin Parr/ Magnum

Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr is a the Science Museum until 16 March 2014.
You might also want to check out Another Country. Vintage Photographs of British Life by Tony Ray-Jones which is up at the James Hyman Gallery in London until 7 November.

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