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Today I managed to squeeze in a visit to this year’s Swansea Open Exhibition at the Glynn Vivian gallery, just before it closed. Absolutely delighted to have a film included.
Let’s just keep this short: I was not at all impressed with Rachel Whiteread’s work. I found the show to be like wandering through a large and utterly soulless superstore, some surreal marriage of B&Q and Ikea, truly hideous in its lack of emotion.
My comment on the day: one trick pony.
So, leaving my companions cooing and purring behind me I hastily departed for pastures anew. Like the lonely cloud, I wandered romantically and oh so wistfully through the Tate for the next hour or so:
Unknown Artist: The Cholmondley Ladies c.1600-1610
Time for tea…
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…
To kick the New Year off, here’s a New You promo video dating from (gulp!) 1987. I’ve had this sitting around for ages, most obviously in need of a serviceable audio track: as you’ll be able to see time has taken its toll.
Marie Malone: vocals.
Paul Hazel: guitar, keyboards, percussion.
David Westmore: bass.
Ian Cleverley: drums, vibraphone.
[There was also a whole bunch of people playing acoustic guitar in the choruses. Can’t remember who exactly…]
Video filmed and edited by David Stonestreet.
The New You logo and backdrops designed by the Bleach Boys.
Video transferred from VHS tape. The original audio track has been replaced with a recording from the 45rpm single: one pass of noise reduction has been applied.
Song written by Willson/Hazel/Malone.
Produced by Paul Hazel.
Engineered by Martin ‘Crazy’ Pavey.
This weekend, as part of the Cardiff Open Studios project (part of Cardiff Contemporary), we took the opportunity to visit a few local artists in situ: we went to Butetown Artist’s Studios in the Bay and Fireworks in Grangetown. The latter is mainly a populated by ceramicists and there was some truly beautiful work on view. A great chance to nose around in someone else’s mess:
[Directly following on from the previous post.] The next morning we went back to the Tate Modern to see the Malevich exhibition. His work was presented in a more-or-less linear chronology. The early paintings are obviously derivative, but somehow he manages to pull a wide range of disparate influences together and quite quickly develops the “Suprematist” style he is famous for. Later, under threat from the Stalinist regime, he goes back to a more figurative way of painting where his individuality almost disappears: one portrait painted in an almost 19th century way, another looking like Braque, the next like a Byzantine icon, and then there are the faceless peasant paintings…
We get a look at his educational materials. The Suprematist Teapot is there (hurrah!). But, overall, I came away somewhat disappointed. Despite so much source material being available, I got very little sense of the actual processes driving the work, and there were whole sections of the exhibition that it was impossible to view in any meaningful way because it had been placed so high on the wall.
Worthwhile, nonetheless. Maybe we just had a hangover from the blistering and vivid Matisse exhibition from the night before: it couldn’t have been more of a contrast.
We then went across to the Saatchi gallery for the Pangea show, a collection of works from Africa and South America. A very mixed bag. This was the best piece—completely taking over Gallery 1—and my favourite (as a big ant fan): Casa Tomada by Rafael Gómezbarros.
The ants are made from casts of human skulls, reflecting the overtly political nature of much of the work in the show (as one might expect given the geography).
Of course, no visit to the Saatchi is complete without a visit to Richard Wilson’s wonderful 20:50. Beautifully still and serene, and it just smells so good:
Finally, there was the bonus of an exhibition by Spanish artist Xavier Mascaró:
The weekend before last—how time flies—we went up to London to catch the Matisse Cut-Outs exhibition at the Tate Modern. This being the last weekend of the show the Tate scheduled an all-nighter. We duly turned up at about 9:30pm and the place was absolutely heaving (although it did quieten down at about 10:30 and was actually quite civilized by about 11:30 when we left).
Anyway. Thank goodness we went. Despite being a huge admirer of Matisse’s paintings—noted in several earlier posts on this blog—I had been somewhat sceptical and had never really been enthused by his later work. But, as usual, seeing the actual works rather than reproductions made the world of difference. Firstly, the sheer scale of some of the works completely transformed their effect and their affective power:
Secondly, the intensity and inter-relationship of the colours was simply astonishing. The cut-out method gives every colour block a clean and definitive edge, emphasizing contrast. The vermilion in The Dragon (below) was was almost unbelievably rich and deep. And placed next to that blue? Not obvious, but very effective:
The Lagoon series. Note how certain shapes are the negative of others i.e. they were all worked on together:
Which brings us nicely onto number three: repetition and rhythm. There is a lot of both in this series of works and in this respect it remains very modern. However, unlike most contemporary imagery of this sort—which relies on the computer’s ability to copy-and-paste ad infinitum—there is no exact repetition in Matisse: each motif in a given series is slightly different from every other because they are all hand-made. This organic element gives his work a humanity and interest simply not possible with mechanical reproduction: in fact, humanity is exactly what the repetition of identical elements destroys. There is an important lesson to be learnt here for those churning out modern computer-based music:
Finally, when you see these works in reproduction they lose their depth and texture. When you see the originals it is incredible how rough they are: you can see where the cut-out elements have been sliced, ripped, and torn; you can see the pinholes where they were temororily tacked up before fixing; you can see the scribbles and outlines of the pencil marks on the paper; and you can see where the colour blocks have been modified by layering. This is a detail from Blue Nude IV:
Similarly, there are often different versions of these works in various media. Note the simplicity and flatness of the lithograph of Woman with Amphora and Pomegranates with the complexity, texture, and apparent depth in the relatively huge original:
Summing up then, I think it is both exposure to the simplified lithograths and the flattening effect of reproductions in general that, in the past, have put me off these works. However, seen in the flesh, the signs of intelligent and skilled human activity are all too clear. They are a magnificent achievement.