Dalí/Duchamp

On its last day we managed to catch the Dalí/Duchamp exhibition at the Royal Academy. It wasn’t an entirely satisfying visit—it was pretty busy, there were a lot of exhibits crammed into a relatively small space, and photography was forbidden—but worth it nonetheless.

Firstly because it was an interesting idea to present the work of these two artists together: firm friends in real life but with remarkably different approaches to the artistic endeavour and diametrically opposite strategies for maintaining their public personas.

Secondly, because any opportunity to see The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even should not be spurned (even if this is the Richard Hamilton recreation):

For me, the work of Marcel Duchamp is crucial to understanding the development of art in the twentieth century and beyond. However, I’m not ready to write that piece just yet. Suffice it to say that his work continues to delight, baffle, and infuriate in just about equal measure.

Salvador Dalí is perhaps easier to take the measure of. Looking at the shockingly bad photo above that I took in the RA on Wednesday (under clandestine conditions, I hasten to add), could I direct your attention away from The Bride… to the Dalí painting we can just see toward the upper right-hand corner. This is a small part of his 1958 Madonna, which looking at it now we can see clearly prefigures many of the later developments in Op-Art and Pop Art. Note the “sheet of paper” painted in the top-left corner with a pull-cord hanging from it: even at this distance it looks believably three-dimensional. The painting as a whole is a stunning tour-de-force of optical effects. What ever else we say about him and his weird landscapes, deformed figures, and crazed deviant sexuality, Dalí is a technically brilliant painter!

Also in the show, his Still Life Moving Fast is almost like a sampler (in the old sense of the word), a demonstration of complete technical expertise. Beautifully painted folds in cloth that match any Renaissance master, glass and liquid suspended in mid-air the equal of Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, the stunningly lifelike hovering bird and baby cauliflower.

Typically, the question with Dalí is whether the deployment of all this technical skill adds up to anything meaningful…

Easter in Paris

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Bauhaus at the Barbican

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From Russia

This week I managed to get up to see the From Russia exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in London. In particular, I was keen to see the collections of French art assembled by Shchukin and Morozov, reappearing for the first time in the West since they were bought in the early years of the 20th century.

To be honest, I found the exhibition bit of a disappointment generally. A lot of the Russian stuff I found very poor and/or highly derivative. However, it was worth the price of admission alone for the relatively small number of paintings by Cezanne, Derain, Matisse, and Picasso. There were also some fine works by Kandinsky and Malevich on display. My highlights:


Paul Cezanne, Bridge Over the Marne at Creteil (1894?)


Pablo Picasso, Farm Woman (bust) (1908)


Henri Matisse, Nude (Black & Gold) (1908)

I had never seen this Matisse before, and it completely blew me away: the boldness of execution, the use of colour. It’s so rough, so far removed from ‘reality’, and yet manages to be a totally convincing representation of the woman. Sculptural!


Henri Matisse, Harmony In Red (1908)

One of my favourite Matisse’s. I would have paid the £11 just to come and see this, and it didn’t disappoint. The image above gives no real indication of the impact it has in real life: it’s huge—over 2 metres wide—and the depth and richness of that red really is something. Interestingly, this painting was originally called Harmony In Blue, but just before it was due to be delivered to Shchukin Matisse repainted it. Although you can’t see it on the image above (which has been cropped slightly), Matisse left a thin strip of the original blue around the edge. This creates the illusion that this huge expanse of red is somehow floating on the canvas: a brilliant touch.


Wassily Kandinsky, Winter (1909)


Kazimir Malevich, Red Square (1915)


Kazimir Malevich, Black Circle (c.1923)

Finally, there was a large model of Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International. The model wasn’t all that fantastic, but there was a film looping in the same room that showed what St. Petersburg would have looked like had it been built. In other words, they taken archive footage and inserted a CGI model of the building into the landscape, and ‘aged’ the model so that it blended in with the grainy black & white film stock. Incredibly convincing.

Although this isn’t that film, here’s a similar short from YouTube that at least gives an impression of what I’m talking about:

So, despite my reservations about much of the work on show, I’m really glad I made the effort to go. It really was one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to directly experience some great works of art. Sweet…