22 February 2011


Some fantastic images taken by Philip Sayer of Robert Marsden's previous show 'Stark Reality', featuring large-scale architectural installation pieces, which took place in our main gallery in June to July 2009. 

Work in progress for 'Stark Reality' in the artist's studio
photo © Philip Sayer 2009

Work in progress for 'Stark Reality' in the artist's studio
photo © Philip Sayer 2009
'Stark Reality' at Marsden Woo Gallery June 2009
photo © Philip Sayer

'Stark Reality' at Marsden Woo Gallery June 2009
photo © Philip Sayer
'Stark Reality' at Marsden Woo Gallery June 2009
photo © Philip Sayer

12 February 2011


Essay written by Rachael Crabtree giving an insight into the historical context of Philip Sayer's 'Manhattan in Moscow' photographic series, currently on display in our main gallery until 19 March.

‘Manhattan in Moscow’: The history of Stalin’s tall buildings
by Rachael Crabtree

The collection of Philip Sayer’s photographs currently being exhibited at Marsden Woo Gallery, London, depicts seven ‘skyscrapers’ in Moscow, which were the product of Stalin’s ‘Tall Buildings’ programme of the 1940s and 50s. The photographs were originally commissioned for Domus, the Italian architecture and design magazine, for an article written by Catherine Cooke, one of the world’s leading experts on Soviet avant-garde architecture and socialist urban planning.[i] In the article, also entitled ‘Manhattan in Moscow’, Cooke asks, ‘What made Stalin build Russia’s answer to Gotham City?’. Sayer’s accompanying photographs give some visual clues that could answer this question.

His expert mastery of the black and white photographic form captures the brooding architectural dominance of these colossal structures, which include the 27 storey Foreign Ministry, 24 storey Transport Ministry, the 240m tall Lomonsov Sate University, and more hotels, residential and administrative buildings which encircle the city of Moscow. Each of these striking images has been crafted using traditional photographic processes, demonstrating not only the discerning eye of the photographer, but also his careful hand. An awe inspiring, and often intimidating architectural presence is conveyed in these photographs, a feeling which was present when the buildings they depict were first built half a century before the photographs were taken. Cooke reports that ‘Muscovites who were then children tell how people just went to stare’.[ii]

Up until the late 1940s the fabric of the city of Moscow had consisted of mainly low rise, nineteenth century buildings. The city was in need of modernisation even before the First World War; it was largely problems of sanitation and congestion that forced Russian liberals to ‘recognize the gulf between Russian environmental standards and those normal in the west’.[iii] Due to the well known upheaval in Russia after the 1917 Revolution, and the many economic and social complications that arose with it, it was not until 1935 that Stalin drew up the ‘Plan for the Reconstruction of Moscow’, in which the city’s radical-concentric structure was consolidated, after he reportedly remarked, ‘What we need round here is another ‘ring’ of churches’.[iv]

As Cooke points out in her article, ‘This particular ambition might seem somewhat unlikely from the man who had inspired the mass demolition of churches during the 1930s, but revoking Russian national traditions was central to Stalin’s patriotic appeal.’[v] The 1935 plan was ‘a mixture of the urgently practical and deeply symbolic’, although its realisation was put on hold after the Soviet Union entered the Second World War in 1941.[vi] 

As in Europe after 1945, Soviet Russia’s victorious national pride and optimism were combined with a psychological exhaustion that needed to be both sublimated, and expressed materially. A tradition of the Russian state was to erect landmark buildings that marked its victories, and so the 1935 plan took on an even deeper cultural significance in the late 1940s, as it came to represent victory of both the Communist state in itself, and its success in war. The widening of narrow streets and dramatic raising of building heights were to be the built symbols of the USSR’s victories, and an expression of its new found power on the world stage.

Although intended to symbolise the modernisation of Russia, Stalin’s superstructures did not align with the modernist aesthetic of other earlier post-revolution artistic and architectural forms. Social Realism, developed under the leadership of Stalin in the 1930s, legitimated a certain historicism within new architectural designs. Russian architectural tradition was predominantly classical, and these new large-scale buildings drew on the authority of the past to display the power and dominance of the Soviet state. 

Compositionally the structures that materialised as part of the ‘Tall Buildings’ plan were largely derived from churches and defensive towers. Architects deployed the iconography of the stepped form to symbolise an assembly of smaller units creating a soaring, collective whole, and although this Communist rhetoric is carried through all of the buildings, their resemblance to pre-war New York ‘capitalist sky-scrapers’ has been described as ‘nothing more than plagiarism…post-rationalised to a gullible public’.[vii]

It is with the knowledge of later events in Russian history that these striking architectural representations of Social Realism, although fuelled by optimism for the future, can be seen as huge exercises in Stalinist propaganda. Philip Sayer captures the complex history of these immense, magnificent, highly symbolic constructions - as awe inspiring feats of engineering, as anti-monuments to a failed optimism, and as sinister markers of a dominant regime. 

[i] Catherine Cooke, ‘Manhattan in Moscow’, Domus no.840, September 2001, p88-102
[ii] Ibid., p101
[iii] Ibid., p95
[iv] Ibid
[v] Ibid.
[vi] Ibid., p97
[vii] Ibid. p100

Spreads from Domus no. 840 showing how the photographs originally appeared in Cooke's article:

IMG_0141 - Version 2

IMG_0149 - Version 2

IMG_0148 - Version 2

IMG_0145 - Version 2

11 February 2011


On Wednesday night we had a triple opening for our new exhibitions; Robert Marsden 'Contradictions' and Philip Sayer 'Manhattan in Moscow' in the main gallery upstairs and in the Project Space: Tom Foulsham. These fantastic shows are already generating a great deal of interest and are not to be missed.

Continuing to 19 March 2011.

Installation shot; Robert Marsden (on tables), Philip Sayer (on walls)
image © Alida Sayer

Philip Sayer, 'Moscow I' (2001) image © Philip Sayer

Robert Marsden, detail from the 'Contradictions' series (2010)
image © Philip Sayer

Tom Foulsham, 'Liberator Dryer' detail (2011) image © Tom Foulsham

Tom Foulsham, 'Liberator Dryer' detail (2011) image © Tom Foulsham

Tom Foulsham, 'Totem 3' detail (2011) image © Tom Foulsham

Tom Foulsham, Pen Pokes Pig © Tom Foulsham

4 February 2011


Some beautiful shots by Philip Sayer of Chun Liao's work in her studio, taken in 2009 in preparation for a solo show at Barrett Marsden Gallery.  The photographs were used to illustrate a multi page feature in Ceramic Review magazine and includes (top image) 'Installation' which may be viewed by appointment here at Marsden Woo Gallery. In May 2011 Liao will be having a solo show with Galerie Pierre Marie Giraud in Brussels, Belgium.

Photo © Philip Sayer

Photo © Philip Sayer

Photo © Philip Sayer

3 February 2011


This week is the last chance to see Caroline Broadhead's beautiful 'Chair' piece before it leaves the gallery. 

'Chair' was originally commissioned for The House of Words, an exhibition at Dr Johnson's House in 2009 curated by Tessa Peters and Janice West, before it came to us here at Marsden Woo. The piece features in our current mixed display, which ends on Saturday 5 February 2011. These spectacular photographs were taken by Philip Sayer in 2010.

Photo © Philip Saye
Photo © Philip Sayer

Photo © Philip Sayer

2 February 2011


These images show one of Tom Foulsham's small balances, work in progress.
He says: "It's the opposite of what I've made so far - the animals are the balancing points and the metal bits are the counterweights to create the balance:

Grey whale on its tail
Baby elephant's back resting on the whales lips
Giraffe's hoof resting in the elephants right nostril
Pig and giraffe nuzzling nose to nose

It's all about the points where the animals are touching ..."
Photo © Tom Foulsham
Photo © Tom Foulsham

'Snout to Trunk' Photo © Tom Foulsham

1 February 2011


This is the final week of our mixed display of new work by all gallery artists. The show will end on Saturday 5th February.

Main gallery installation view. Photo © Philip Sayer

Downstairs installation view. Bench, bowl and wall piece by Martin Smith.
Photo © Philip Saye