Perfect weather helped to draw big crowds to Art in the Park at Willistead Park on the weekend.
BERLIN, GERMANY —
Mikail Akar doesn’t flinch as the cameras click around him. Born in 2012, the German artistic prodigy has spent half his life in the limelight.
With his striped jumper, goofy grin and dreams of becoming a professional footballer, Akar seems just like any other seven-year-old boy.
Yet the Cologne-born youngster is actually an expressionist whizz kid who has taken the international art scene by storm.
Dubbed the “pre-school Picasso” by German media, Akar’s paintings now sell for thousands of euros (dollars) to buyers from across the world.
‘ENOUGH ACTION FIGURES’
“At just seven years old, he is established in the art world. There is interest from Germany, France and the U.S.,” his father and manager, Kerem Akar, told AFP.
Akar senior discovered Mikail’s precocious talent by chance several years ago, when he gifted his son a canvas and some handprint paints for his fourth birthday.
“We had already bought him enough cars and action figures, so we had the idea of getting him a canvas,” Kerem Akar said.
“The first picture looked fantastic, and I thought at first that my wife had painted it.”
“I thought maybe it was just coincidence, but by the second and third pictures it was clear he had talent.”
Akar’s talent is visible in his latest collection, a collaboration with Germany and Bayern Munich football star Manuel Neuer.
One work in the collection was recently sold for 11,000 euros ($12,000), with proceeds going to Neuer’s children’s charity.
An explosion of colour reminiscent of Jackson Pollock, the piece is typical of Akar’s abstract expressionist style.
The seven-year-old tells AFP that his idols include Pollock, Michael Jackson and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
He has also developed his own techniques, which include applying paint by punching the canvas with his father’s boxing gloves.
At a presentation of Akar’s new work at a private gallery in Berlin last month, one visitor said she was “speechless” upon discovering that the artist was a child who was just starting primary school.
“The balance and harmony of the composition — I wouldn’t expect that from a child,” Arina Daehnick, a photographer from Berlin, told AFP.
Diana Achtzig, director of the Achtzig Gallery for Contemporary Art in Berlin, said she was impressed by Akar’s “imagination and variation”.
“As long as he has someone supporting him and not exploiting him, then he has a great future ahead of him,” she said.
Akar himself says his dreams for when he has grown up lie elsewhere.
“When I’m older I want to be a football player,” he said, launching into an excited account of a recent 8-0 victory with his school team.
“Painting is quite tiring for me. Sometimes it can take a long time… especially with boxing gloves,” he said.
His father insists that he and his wife are careful not to push their son too hard and to protect him from the trappings of fame.
“If it gets too much for him, we will intervene. We turn down a lot of requests,” said the elder Akar.
“He only paints when he wants to. Sometimes that is once a week, sometimes once a month.”
Yet Akar senior also admits that his life has changed dramatically since discovering his son’s talent, and that he and his wife now “live for art”.
A former salesman and recruitment agent, the 38-year-old has since switched to managing Mikail full time.
He has founded his own agency, and helped to establish his son as a successful brand.
At the event in Berlin, young Mikail rummages through a box of freshly ordered baseball caps adorned with his official logo.
He now has more than 40,000 followers on Instagram, and will exhibit his work abroad for the first time in the spring.
“Our next exhibition is in Cologne,” said the boy’s father. “After that, we are going to Paris!”
Perfect weather helped to draw big crowds to Art in the Park at Willistead Park on the weekend.
“We like to say summer begins with Art on the Park,” said the organization’s chairman Allan Kidd.
The event, run by the Rotary Club of Windsor (1918), is now in its 44th year and it continues to grow, he said.
“A hot day like this is perfect,” he said. “This is potentially another record crowd. We set a record last year,” with 27,000 paying attendees. “We’re on track to do that again.”
The annual show is attended by people from other provinces in Canada and Kidd noted one person who was familiar with Art in the Park when he lived in South Africa.
With 275 exhibitors and 15 musical performers, the event is a major fundraiser for the Rotary Club to support community projects around the world, Kidd said.
Last year, Art in the Park raised $80,000 to help with the maintenance and restoration of Willistead Manor, which itself provides the ideal setting for the event, he said. The Rotary Club also uses funds raised to support other causes.
“We’re a charitable group. We buy wheelchairs and we drill water wells and we build schools,” said Kidd , who noted people don’t realize the event supports charitable causes.
“There’s a disconnect in the public eye,” Kidd said. “I like to say this is our gift to the community. We have this festival, everybody comes (and) for a couple of bucks they have a ball. All of these people are philanthropists without knowing it.”
Solange Silivria of Windsor and friend Todd Mansell relaxed at a picnic table late Saturday. Silivria comes to the event every year.
“It’s something that I used to do every year with my mum and she has since passed,” she said. “I continue to do the tradition and come every single year and walk around. It’s something that she loved to do.”
Silivria’s mother, Charlene Evon, used to run Bart Evon Designer Furniture, in LaSalle.
“I always try to meet up with friends or bring friends and come and enjoy the lovely artwork and the amazing talent, and walk around and just enjoy the day,” she said.
Exhibitor Jasmine Samsair, a Windsor mixed-media abstract artist, put her work on display at the park for just the second year.
“I’ve always loved coming to Art in the Park,” she said. “I didn’t know there was such a market for abstract art. I thought why not give it a shot. I actually ended up doing really well last year and it was just so great meeting so many people.”
Art in the Park is a good opportunity to get artists’ work in front of the public, she said.
“Even if I don’t make any sale… the biggest thing that I find is exposure. I find that doing Art in the Park, the main thing was people discovering you, noticing your work and getting your name out there.”
It was a lovely weekend for a stroll in the park and more than 20,000 people had the same idea for this year’s Art in the Park at Willistead Park in Windsor, Ont.
The two-day festival features 275 different art vendors, food and ice cream trucks and music from a number of performing artists.
“It’s a wonderful thing because we see that our artists and our performers are being supported and that means a lot to us,” said Aggie Sarafianos, who hasn’t missed a single year of Art in the Park since it started back in 1979.
“The history, the atmosphere, the feeling that you get when you’re here is just second to none,” she said. “The camaraderie of the neighborhood is here, it’s very blatant.”
Vendors seemed quite pleased with the turnout, reporting strong sales this weekend.
“We’re told that it’s the best organized festival that we go to, so we love to hear that,” said Allan Kidd, the chair of Art in the Park, indicating they will try to squeeze in 300 vendors next year.
The event is put on by the Rotary Club of Windsor, with proceeds going to restoring Willistead Manor, digging water wells in Africa, and buying wheelchairs for kids in Windsor.
“Everybody that comes in here has a good time but they are all philanthropists because I can’t do it without them,” said Kidd. “Every dollar is put to good use cause we’re all volunteers. We’re grateful for the public and I think they love what we do too.”
To reveal what happens inside Tomás Saraceno’s new show for the Serpentine Gallery is hardly a spoiler. Nothing could lessen the impact. In galleries of pitch darkness, spotlights pick out an unfolding sequence of ethereal silver visions, all of them apparently floating in midair.
One spreads like the Milky Way – points of light gathering in cosmic drifts. Another hovers like spectral morning mist. A third has a gleaming upright disc at its centre, woven of what seems to be the most exiguous gauze of metal threads, held in place by barely visible guy lines.
They appear to be drawings in thin air; and yet they are also sculptures – silk structures so tremulous and fine they shiver in the circumambient air. To learn how they are made (and who made them) is still to know nothing at all of the mysterious workings of the artists themselves – none other than several rare species of spider.
Saraceno is the great spider man of contemporary art. Born in Argentina in 1973, he trained first as an architect, and one senses his profound appreciation of the way spiders create buildings as works of art. So much so that he has not boxed in their structures. There is no glass. Whisper ever so slightly and these webs move with your breath. The wonder they engender is exactly what stops you from reaching out to touch.
These spiders, who create such beauty, have very poor sight. They do not hear as we do either. Visitors can sit in a repurposed confessional box staring closely at a spectacular web that hangs where the priest would usually sit; through the wooden seat run occasional tremors. This is roughly what the spider senses of the world as it works. Saraceno’s marvellous installation is a form of synaesthesia as homage: you witness the web while experiencing intermittent vibrations and blinking through a filigree grille.
A riveting film, in another gallery, shows the spider diviners of western Cameroon at work with clay pots and cards made of distinctively incised leaves. These cards are effectively the answers to vital questions asked by local people (or perhaps even by you too, now that Saraceno has built the diviners a website through which you can correspond). The spiders move the cards to give their wisdom. It feels as strange and mythical as the Oracle at Delphi.
By now, having surrendered your mobile phone on entry to some charming artists who return it with a divination card on exit, you will have realised that webs are a metaphor for the way Saraceno works. The spiders have answers that no phone can give; no phone can capture the magical webs. And phones involve batteries that require lithium, subject of another of Saraceno’s art campaigns, and of a beautifully shot film screening in the central rotunda.
This concerns the Indigenous communities of Jujuy in Argentina who are fighting for the preservation of vital land and water threatened by the relentless mining for lithium to supply our wretched batteries. The narrative of words, images, protests and interviews is deeply absorbing. And, not incidentally, you will also see a flotilla of black balloons (sculptures, too, in their way) that are powered to fly across the sparkling white salt flats of Jujuy using solar energy. These are another of Saraceno’s attempts to find a way, as he puts it, “to levitate without any violence to the earth”. His flight in 2020 broke 32 records and was then the longest fossil-free flight in history.
One side of the Serpentine Gallery is entirely open to the green landscape outside. Animals of all sorts are welcome (there is a ladder for squirrels, a house for birds, welcoming sculptures of dogs, deer and hedgehogs). Children have their own secret gallery. The roof is laid with solar panels to supply energy. Pedal the bicycles outside and you power up the voices of Jujuy on headphones.
Saraceno’s work is as delicate and involving as the webs he displays. Artist, scientist, activist, philosopher, inventor, composer, he is a Renaissance mind for the 21st century. And what is so striking about this captivating exhibition, in all its generosity, is that Saraceno believes that everyone else is as curious and optimistic as he is: that art can have active agency.
It is 10 years since Tate Britain last reorganised its collection, a decade so turbulent even art institutions could not remain heedless. The new rehang embraces many more women and artists of colour, introduces much more historical context about patronage, society, race, class and politics, and stints (mercifully) on Bacon, Hockney, Freud et al, who scarcely need further enlargement. There are sufficient new names, overdue revivals and close-focus galleries – an electrifying William Blake, a fascinating room of one’s own devoted to Woolf-era women – as to educate the mind and eye and renew the experience.
The faults are many and obvious. Above all, this rehang treats artworks as documents. An 18th-century tea party allows for sermonising on tea (imperialism), sugar (slavery) and servants (oppressed), but the picture itself is atrocious. George Stubbs and Samuel Palmer are told off for ignoring rural conditions in their spellbinding harvests and twilights. Annie Swynnerton gets a whole room for her cloyingly awful art because she was a suffragist who painted Millicent Fawcett.
And for a rehang more interested in history than art, it’s oddly erratic. Thin on the English civil war, say; Waterloo, the welfare state, LGBTQ+ rights. As for the spelling: Magna Carter?
But the Duveen Galleries are terrific: Vong Phaophanit’s 1993 neon rice field in its mysterious glowing dunes; Rachel Whiteread’s mind-splitting cast of a double staircase, labyrinthine and vertiginous; Susan Hiller’s reprise of the walls of sudden and heroic deaths from London’s Postman’s Park.
The rooms are jewel-coloured and densely hung. All the old favourites remain – Turner, Gainsborough, Constable, the pre-Raphaelites – alongside sharp recent purchases: the haunting interiors of Iraqi painter Mohammed Sami; Zineb Sedira’s superbly wry films (early hit of the last Venice Biennale); Lydia Ourahmane’s haunting oil barrel installation – the first artwork legally to leave Algeria since it gained independence in 1962, with its redolent scent and its ghostly inner music, which finally reached here in 2014.
It will all change again – and quite possibly should, in much less than a decade this time. Some of the texts will have dated by then, some of the biases faded. But in the meantime, this rehang opens its arms to the present. The art can hold its own against the preaching any day, after all. Just look more and read less.
Star ratings (out of five)
Tomás Saraceno: Web(s) of Life ★★★★★
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