Tag Archives: Barbara Hepworth

Parallel Painting Paths – Mondrian and Nicholson converse at The Courtauld

22 Feb

As you know, the exhibition space at The Courtauld is at the very top of the building.  Now, during a quiet afternoon it may be permissible to have a quick pant in-between floors or to embark on the climb wearing flat shoes but these weren’t options at an evening opening and so I bravely tottered all the way up, without stopping and without moaning (well, not that I recall).  This is an unusual exhibition in many regards: It is a more contemporary show than we would expect of The Courtauld, it successfully changes the gallery aesthetic and it pairs two artists who many wouldn’t otherwise have realised are connected.

The exhibition explores the creative relationship between Piet Mondrian and Ben Nicholson, allowing us to continue London’s exploration of Modern British, charting the parallel paths explored by the two artists during the 1930s when their works were often presented side-by-side.  The exhibition presents the two artists in parallel – in conversation – with the works leading us through their story.  When Nicholson first visited Mondrian’s studio in 1934 he had to rest in a café afterwards to try to take in what he had just seen – the elegant serenity of the works, the ambience of the studio and the energy of Mondrian himself.  This visit marked the beginning of a fascinating friendship that lasted until Mondrian’s death.

Ben Nicholson, 1936 (white relief). Image  via www.courtauld.ac.uk

At Nicholson’s invitation, Mondrian moved from Paris to London where the two worked in neighbouring studios in Hampstead.  They were separated by the outbreak of war when Mondrian moved to New York and Nicholson to Cornwall but there are over 60 letters from Mondrian to Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth (Nicholson’s then wife) covering the ten years of their friendship.

As they often do, The Courtauld has cleverly conceived a show around one of their own works – this time a Nicholson canvas, 1937 (painting).  It is part of a group of related works with powerful colour combinations of white, black, yellow and red, moderated by a cool blue.  Nicholson stretched his canvas over board, ensuring a flat and solid surface on which to work.  As ever, the painting is precise and disciplined; the colour planes are carefully ruled and there is no chance that colours will bleed into each other.  The painter’s mark is suppressed. The composition is actually very unlike Mondrian but these two artists are united by their use of forms.

Ben Nicholson, 1937 (painting). Image  via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Nicholson explores lines, shapes and spatial effects in a subtle way whereas Mondrian’s works radiate energy.  It is so easy to go around this exhibition comparing them but this should not be the point.  Yes, their lives are placed in comparison but Nicholson was never trying to imitate Mondrian and their works must be viewed as a relationship of influence.  Their art offers an alternative modern vision using a restrained vocabulary of colour and line.  Although, at times, the compositions may be strikingly similar and their vocabulary is harmoniously shared, they are very different.  They do work well as conversational pairs but there can be no denying their extreme differences. Mondrian’s works have a calming effect yet their vibrancy is uncontainable.

Before this show, I don’t think many people were aware of the depth of the mutually reinforcing friendship of Mondrian and Nicholson.  Like the exhibition, the catalogue is small and focused, a perfect reflection of a joyously academic and calming show.  It mentions the ‘opposites attract’ theory stating that Nicholson was a networker while Mondrian was a loner, Nicholson demanding and provocative while Mondrian was courteous and quiet and that Nicholson was intolerant while Mondrian was patient.  Further research into their lives has shown that this is probably a myth but a rather nice one as there is an interesting parallel in their works – they are similar but different.

Piet Mondrian, Composition C (no. III), with Red, Yellow and Blue, 1935. Image courtesy of Mondrian/Holtzman Trust and via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Mondrian painted using very specific rules where geometric figures were only ever to be the result of linear intersections and never to be separate forms.  Colour was reduced to the three most saturated primaries creating a stark contrast of black lines with bright colours.  His works have a forceful impact.

No spotlights are used to illuminate the paintings; instead, the white walls are floodlit bathing the works in light rather than starkly presenting them.  The show is beautifully and thoughtfully curated.   The exhibition space isn’t large and, therefore, the curators needed to be disciplined in their selection, presenting juxtaposing works that reveal the similarities and differences between these two artists.  Comments that the show is too small are unfair as this is what The Courtauld has to work with and they have done so brilliantly and in an astute fashion.

Mondrian and Nicholson present two strains of modernism that art history has often separated.  Now, thanks to this smartly masterminded exhibition, the two are no longer disjointed and are shown to be very much related.  Although Mondrian was Nicholson’s senior by 22 years, this only aided their reciprocal inspiration and willingness to develop.  The exhibition concludes with Nicholson’s 1936 (two forms) and Mondrian’s Composition No. III White-Yellow from 1935-42.  Nicholson’s painting, of which he produced nine variations over a period of great upheaval, is a transitional work that concludes his abstract paintings of the 1930s.  A small but intense rectangle sits proudly among three shades of grey; the work illustrates Nicholson’s highly refined use of colour relationships and the precise combinations he engineered.  The vertical format of the Mondrian is relatively unusual giving emphasis to the shape due to the obvious length of the lines.  No horizontals cross the full width of the composition.  Although the artists were apart when these works were conceived and painted, the paintings speak of the profound affinity that had developed between the two men as they worked in parallel.

Ben Nicholson, 1940-43 (two forms). Image via www.courtauld.ac.uk

The PV was so busy that I must return to this show another time, to view the works in a calmer atmosphere than amidst the bustling crowds of last Wednesday.  Not that there’s ever anything wrong with a bit of chatter and a glass of wine!  Dinner at Cigalon beckoned and I made my way a tad more cautiously back down the stairs.

Mondrian||Nicholson: In Parallel is at The Courtauld Gallery until 20th May 2012, www.courtauld.ac.uk.

Due to restrictions by the Mondrian estate, I have only been able to reproduce one image here without charge.

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Out of London and out of Heels – A Dreary Day Out in Colchester

17 Nov

I’d been getting restless so it was time for a day trip to visit another of the new contemporary galleries popping up all over the country.  This time it was Colchester, only a hop skip and a jump away by Mini.  My sat-nav, Sean with his gorgeous Irish accent, has a real thing for the M25 and by deciding to ignore him and following my own geographical instincts the journey took a tad longer than it normally would have done.  Sorry Sean.  My route, however, enabled us to enjoy the scenery and the pretty country lanes of Essex and we arrived excited to see what Colchester has to offer.

Colchester. Own photograph.

Colchester is a hill town with typically English characteristics – a castle, a river, a market place and a strict Roman grid plan surrounded by a town wall.  It’s very walkable – in fact, we easily managed to see everything within the day and still get out in time to miss rush hour!

Colchester Castle. Own photograph.

Our first stop was the town’s Norman castle, built during the reign of William the Conqueror.  The interior doesn’t do justice to the excellent condition of the building and its impressive build.  It is designed solely with children in mind; OK, fair enough, they are the museum’s bread and butter but, here it speaks down to them with patronising and dark displays and is done in a way that practically excludes adults.  Wasted opportunity #1.

Inside the Castle. Own photograph.

A neatly manicured park sweeps down from the Castle to the River Colne and rather non-descript Roman wall.  The boating lake had dried up and was rather smelly and we hurried on.  Although the park itself is pretty, this certainly counts as wasted opportunity #2.

The River Colne. Own photograph.

The town’s Natural History Museum, that we happened on by chance, is housed within a pretty church. Unlike the castle, entry is free so it’s worth a quick peek if you’re in the area.  The churchyard is overgrown and has been left to deteriorate, a common theme in Colchester – wasted opportunity #3.  It feels a bit like a town that time has left behind and is in desperate need of some TLC.   There are some English Heritage properties in town too but everything is so badly signed that you need a degree in orientation and a great deal of common sense to get around.  Oh yes, #4.

The churchyard of the Natural History Museum. Own photograph.

After lunch, it was time to visit firstsite, our main reason for this trip.  Dubbed the Golden Banana, firstsite (annoyingly, with no capitals or spaces) opened in September this year.  Designed by Rafael Viñoly it was originally scheduled to open in 2008 with a projected budget of £18 million.  It finally came in £10 million over budget and a few years late – not a good start.  Designed as an art gallery for purposes of display, it is the strangest shape building.  The curved walls do not lend themselves to conventional picture hanging and, rather than confront this ‘problem’ with ingenious ceiling hangings or sculptural installations, the curators decided to leave vast expanses of the walls bare (and boring).  This space could be interesting to play with but the gallery just doesn’t make sense.

On approach, the building does look impressive with its distinctive gold colour.  But, although great at first sight (excuse the pun), the building peters off into a bungalow-like extension that is tedious compared with the statement-making front elevation.

Firstsite.  Own photograph.

Their current exhibition is inspired by Colchester’s history as Britain’s first city.  While all the other new galleries across the UK have gone for something big to mark their openings, this exhibition gets lost in the space.  It supposedly considers how history is represented and re-enacted and how art and archaeology invite us to think about everyday, functional objects as sources of information or symbols of our cultures, past and present.  In this vein, the gallery will permanently exhibit the Berryfield Mosaic, in almost exactly the same spot where it was discovered.  This is a nice touch as it was originally part of the dining room floor in a Roman townhouse that once stood here.  But, the amount of existing museums in Colchester concentrating on local history and civic pride meant that firstsite needed to take a braver leap.  Despite its striking design, the gallery has managed to be bland – peculiarly, one work is already missing for conservation reasons.

An empty wall at firstsite. Own photograph.

They have all the big names in there but there’s no wow factor and no feeling of excitement.  There’s a nice Bill Woodrow narrative sculpture and a good Ai Weiwei column-like sculpture that combines the traditional Chinese materials of porcelain and bamboo.  The Barbara Hepworth on loan from Tate is pressed against a wall in a specially air-conditioned room.  Visitors can’t walk around it and it seems cramped.  Yet, the leaflet proudly proclaims that at 3,200 square metres firstsite will rank among the largest contemporary art venues in the UK.  What a waste of space!

Bill Woodrow, Car Door, Boot and Wing with Roman Helmet, 1982. Own photograph.

Mostly, the gallery seems to be filled with loos – I reckon we passed about eight different toilet blocks as we went round.  Maybe they’d have been better getting a few more works in and fewer toilets.  Firstsite is a wasted opportunity (#5) and not a gallery that I’ll be rushing back to.

Inside firstsite. Own photograph.

Onwards…  We headed to the Minories, the gallery that used to house what is now firstsite.  Built in the last phase of the Palladian style, it is another stunning building although most of it is now shut off.  Again, it’s so disappointing (wasted opportunity #6).  Colchester has so much potential but most of it has been allowed to fade away.

The Minories. Own photograph.

The nearby Holytrees Museum was the most engaging stop of the day.  Built in 1719 on the site of an Elizabethan house, Holytrees is a beautiful 18th century building whose collections focus on themes of domestic life and childhood in Colchester over the last 300 years.

The Holytrees Museum. Own photograph.

We had an amble around the town with the aim of seeing Jumbo, the town’s Romanesque water tower, built by Charles Clegg in 1882-3, and standing where the Roman Forum would have been.   Construction required well over a million bricks and Jumbo can hold up to 230,000 gallons of water.  Although it was decommissioned in the 1980s, it is a beautiful structure that dominates the town and was worth the stroll to go and see it close up.  It is partly consumed by the modern developments that surround it and I think this area could have been more sensitively regenerated (that’d be #7).

Jumbo. Own photograph.

Architecturally, the old town is quite pretty but it lacked excitement.  Although there’s a lot to see, there are very many more places where I’d prefer to spend the day.  Luckily, we passed the time gossiping and we had a giggle but that was nothing to do with the ‘delights’ of Colchester – a town that hasn’t quite worked itself, or the tourist market, out yet.

Camulodunum is at firstsite, Colchester, until 22nd January 2011, www.firstsite.uk.net.

Wandering around Wakefield: The Hepworth Wakefield and the YSP

8 Sep

The train journey from London to Wakefield is surprisingly quick although it’s not particularly exciting.  But I was in good company with my friend from up North who loves trains and is also extremely knowledgeable (damn him) – a particularly useful companion who was able to tell me about everywhere we passed through.  Grantham, for example, is home to the UK’s only living pub sign which consists of a beehive of South African bees.  I was disappointed we didn’t have time to stop for a drink there (but it was only 10am) – maybe next time.

The Beehive.  Image via www.flickr.com/photos/historyanorak

The Hepworth Wakefield is visible from the train but to get its full impact I think you need a sunny day.  The grey industrial concrete matched the sky and I wasn’t feeling that excited.  The architects have called the exterior colour Hepworth Brown and this has caused much debate.  In the light, I think it’s more of a greyish lilac but on Tuesday it looked dreary, until we arrived outside and felt the confidence and power of the building.

The Hepworth Wakefield. Own photograph.

Like Turner Contemporary, it’s designed by David Chipperfield Architects and there are similarities, not least the use of concrete.  The Hepworth is very exposed and isolated; it rises from the River Calder, like an old mill or Venetian palazzo.  There is no proper front or back.  Instead, with water on two of its sides, the building is intended to be seen from all directions.  With this in mind, Chipperfield wanted to produce a three-dimensional site that could be accessed from different levels and sides and so conceived this structure, consisting of ten geometric forms.

The Hepworth Wakefield. Own photograph.

The building itself is intended as a giant sculpture that can be circumnavigated.  Although it’s not meant to re-create a large Hepworth, it does aspire to Hepworth-like qualities.

The galleries are located on the upper floors and are sized according to the scale of the works, with smaller rooms for earlier works and larger ones for the temporary contemporary pieces.  It is rare to find a building designed around the artwork it houses but this is and that makes it very special indeed.  The inside brings the space to life.  None of the rooms is rectangular – the building
tilts and twists and turns in an ambitious way.  The pitched ceilings provide changing atmospheres and light streams in whilst water flows outside.

The Hepworth Wakefield.  Image via www.hepworthwakefield.org

You’re either going to love this confident concrete composite or hate it but it’s certainly not shy – it’s very much in your face.  Whereas Turner Contemporary is relatively modest in both scale and design, the Hepworth is intended to stand authoritatively and make a statement.   The building is a serious, enigmatic space that rejects the sterile, white-box gallery space to which we have become accustomed.  It is gorgeous, it’s different and far removed from the dreary building I was anticipating from my initial impression on the train.

The gallery celebrates Barbara Hepworth a native of and aims to put the spotlight on Yorkshire and modern British sculpture.

The first gallery is dedicated to Hepworth’s own sculptures, exploring the quality of her work.  There’s no mucking around here.  The gallery is inspired by Hepworth and they get straight to the point.  Sadly, the sculptures have to be displayed in Perspex cases but they are brilliant nonetheless.

Gallery 3 at The Hepworth Wakefield. Image via www.hepworthwakefield.org

Whereas our natural instinct in a room is to turn left, strangely, gallery two is on the right.  After this confusion, you continue into Wakefield’s own art collection – mostly a very eclectic mix of Modern British Art with works by Ben Nicholson, Jacob Epstein, Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, Patrick Heron and others.  There’s a very unusual Hepworth drawing, Tibia Graft (1949), from when she was invited to observe an operation at the Princess Elizabeth Hospital in Exeter, and a stunning John Piper, Entrance to Fonthill (1940).

The galleries then continue to concentrate on Hepworth considering her in the context of the period, her relationship to European contemporaries and the spirit of artistic exchange, offering an exploration of her studio environment that provides a unique insight into her working methods.  The cabinets in one of the rooms have drawers that, annoyingly, cause an obstruction and knock into your legs; in spite of this they are definitely worth opening.  Gallery five displays the incredible Hepworth Plasters which, to my mind, are cluttered and deserve more space.

Gallery 4 at The Hepworth Wakefield. Image via www.hepworthwakefield.org

I had no idea the collection here was so extensive and, next, there is a focus on Yorkshire art with some wonderful images (including a Turner sketch) of the Chantry Chapel that stands outside the gallery.  A cleverly hidden seat by a large picture window even invites visitors to sketch the Chapel themselves.

Hot Touch, by Eva Rothschild, features 16 new works created especially for The Hepworth combining a wide range of media that includes fabric, leather and wood.  The works often make use of the forms and strategies of modernist art – squares, triangles, holes and repetition alongside a myriad of visual associations and symbols.

Eva Rothschild exhibition. Own photograph.

Rothschild’s new works seek to engage with Hepworth.  Although at first glance they seem to be polar opposites, the shapes used by Rothschild pay homage to many of Hepworth’s works, meditating on material and form.  Making use of the walls and ceilings, you can tell how brilliantly these pieces have been constructed for the space.  Stairways (2011) hangs powerfully from the ceiling with hands for fixtures.  Glimmers of colour contrast Rothschild’s use of black outlines and striking forms, showing off the works to their best advantage.

Eva Rothschild exhibition with Stairways in the back corner.  Image via www.artreview.com

It’s a great exhibition but, unfortunately, the building is still new and, therefore, garnering most of the attention and critical acclaim.  For me, Hot Touch was the icing on the cake, showing off how great this space really is – a calm and contemplative cavern for viewing art.

Back outside, I headed for a closer look at The Chantry Chapel, on the medieval bridge over the Calder.  It is the only survivor of four original chantries in Wakefield and the oldest surviving bridge chapel in England.

The Chantry Chapel.  Own photograph.

Wakefield itself, although a little rough around the edges, and not necessarily somewhere I’d want to explore alone, is a real gem.  My walking tour of Wakefield took in The Grand Clothing Hall (a brilliant building from 1906 in the Italian Renaissance-style), Barclays Bank (not just because I needed more cash but to take a look at the impressive sundials that have made it famous), 57 Westgate with carved heads over its windows and entranceways, Theatre Royal, the Magistrates Court, the Town Hall, the old Court House, the Masonic Hall and so on.  It’s endless and I can’t possibly begin to detail everything.  Wakefield has produced a cute little pamphlet detailing what there is to see with a helpful map but I had the perfect tour guide so, for once, I always found myself in the right place.

Theatre Royal. Own photograph.

It’s important to look up in Wakefield.  At street level, there’s the usual array of take-away restaurants, bars and pubs (admittedly, some very good ones), strip clubs and the like but crane your neck and there’s really some fabulous architecture to be found.  There is also modern sculpture dotted around the city – a wood and metal work by Andy Green representing the modern digital age on the Wakefield Media Centre, Seams by Oliver Barratt taking inspiration from seams of coal refers to Wakefield’s mining history.  So, to anyone who is a bit snooty about heading to Wakefield I say think again.  I missed sampling its nightlife as we had a 9pm train and, although I’m assured I was missing out, I think I was pleased to head back before the town began to party.

Andy Green at the Wakefield Media Centre. Own photograph.

15 minutes by car from the centre of town is the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and you can’t do Wakefield without also visiting there.  Spread across 500 acres of eighteenth-century landscapes ground and three indoor galleries, is an array of exhibitions, sculptures and installations.  I hadn’t expected to have time to do this so, while everyone else was sensibly attired in raincoats and wellies**, I was in high heeled boots – the perfect clothing to amble across the Yorkshire moors in the howling wind.  After about ten minutes the rain came pouring down and, sheltering under a tiny umbrella, we realised this wasn’t the day for it.  Sadly, we didn’t even manage to cover a quarter of the park and it’s somewhere I must return to…in walking boots.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Own photograph.

The parts we did get to see were stunning, with sculpture emerging proudly from the rugged landscape, hidden in nooks and crannies and perfectly complementing the undulating grounds.  We made it to two of the indoor exhibitions: Emily Speed’s Makeshift was a bit too basic for my liking, exploring the temporary and the transient by referencing both architecture and body.  The exhibition includes a floating, boat-like structure on which Speed sailed on the lake at the YSP.  Maybe if we’d seen this we’d have felt differently about the exhibition but it didn’t quite grab me in the way the other pieces did.

Emily Speed, Makeshift. Own photograph.

Both indoors and outside, Jaume Plensa’s exhibition, however, is brilliant.  His silent, contemplative sculptures focus on contradictions of the human condition and emotions.  The works are varied – a cut curtain of chiming steel letters fills the main corridor, sculptures that seem lit from within and white alabaster heads that are elongated and almost anamorphic.  A dimly lit room filled with gongs, that reverberate deeply when hit, was mesmerising.

Jaume Plensa. Own photograph.

As we trudged back up the hill longing for a drink and trying to avoid the sheep shit, my companion helpfully, with just a tad of sarcasm, pointed out that I was lucky to be in heels as my shoes had a smaller surface area!

I was home not long after midnight.  Don’t rule Wakefield out – it’s amazing what you can do in a day.

**It’s a good job I check my posts through as my computer had auto-corrected this to say willies!

All of the photos from my day out can be seen at www.facebook.com/chloenelkinconsulting.

Eva Rothschild: Hot Touch is at The Hepworth Wakefield until 9th October 2011, www.hepworthwakefield.orgEmily Speed: Makeshift is at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 18th September 2011 and Jaume Plensa is at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 22nd January 2012, www.ysp.co.uk.

Motorways, Mexicans and Cathedrals – Pallant House Gallery

13 Jul

Pallant House’s new exhibition of works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera called for a trip down to Chichester, so early yesterday morning I set off on another Mini adventure.  Sean the satnav (I just love his Irish accent) seemed to think I was on a tour of English motorways and I went on more than I care to count to get to Sussex and back.

For many, Kahlo and Diego are inseparable but this is the first UK exhibition that brings their works together.

Kahlo is such a feminist icon and her self-portraits became familiar to many during the Tate retrospective in 2005 (so enduring that it seems like only yesterday).  Presenting a challenging view of the female role, her works address issues of pain, betrayal, loneliness, love and heartbreak, throughout the emotional turmoil of her life.  Rivera’s most famous works are his large-scale political murals – less familiar as, by their very nature, they remain in situ in Mexico.  During their lives, Rivera was recognised as the greater artist, his commissions adorning public buildings, but, in death, Kahlo has far outshone her husband and it is she who has become a cult figure whilst many have never heard of him.

Diego Rivera, Landscape with Cactus, 1931. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

This is a rare opportunity to see Rivera’s works: striking beautiful pieces with strong use of line.

Their relationship has attracted much attention – Kahlo was half Rivera’s age when they met, a delicate cripple attracted to this philandering beast.  The two could not have been more different and Kahlo’s parents even described their union as a “marriage between an elephant and a dove”.  This exhibition lacks biographical information (in fact, the wall labels consistently present inaccurate information), assuming we already know the horrific tale of how Kahlo was involved in a trolley-car collision which caused her spinal column and right leg to smash, her ribs, collarbone and pelvis to break and her foot to dislocate and then be crushed.

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Bed, 1937. Image via www.guardian.co.uk

There are two arguments as to whether or not this exhibition works at all.  Judy Chicago, renowned artist and author of a terrific new Kahlo book, argues that it is appalling to exhibit both Kahlo and Rivera together, saying this parallel showing continues to place Kahlo in the shadow of her husband.  Chicago wants us to see Kahlo as central rather than peripheral.  While viewing her in relation to Rivera we are somehow diminishing her excellence.

On the flip side is the curator’s argument that it is nearly impossible to view one without the other because they were so united.  Rivera was important to Kahlo, featuring in many of her paintings.  She once said “Diego was everything … my child, my lover, my universe.”  Well, considering this, then, of course, the two should be shown together.

Frida Kahlo, Diego in My Thoughts, 1943. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

Both Diego and Kahlo were inspired by each other.  For Kahlo painting was a form of catharsis, a motivation to rise above her pain.  Rivera encouraged her to continue working in spite of the misery it sometimes caused her; he was essential in the success of her endeavours.  In turn, Rivera was motivated by Kahlo’s courage.  They both thought the other to be the greater artist.  They were both spurred on by each other’s love and devotion.

Now, I don’t like sitting on the fence but I genuinely think each of these arguments raises good points and both are correct.  There are huge contrasts in their artistic styles yet there are many overlaps between their works.  It is an inescapable relationship and, one that, in many ways, does necessitate them being shown side by side.

For me, this is where the exhibition fails.  The works are not shown side by side.  The exhibition opens with a small, single room of Rivera’s works (on blue/grey walls for a boy) and is followed by two Kahlo rooms (pink/red for a girl).  For me, the point of the exhibition is for comparison.  These works were painted side by side so let them be seen together.  In particular, the exhibition includes both artists’ portraits of Natasha Gelman – an obvious and simple pairing that doesn’t happen.

Frida Kahlo, Portrait of Natasha Gelman, 1943. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.

The exhibition is supplemented by an interesting selection of photography including Nicholas Murray’s emblematic images of Kahlo with her monobrow and moustache – iconic and beautiful in her own unique way.  Also exhibited are the rarely-seen photographs by Kahlo’s father showing the area around Mexico City and Tepotzlan.

Nicholas Murray. Image via http://yercle.wordpress.com.  

The exhibition offers a glimpse at Kahlo and Rivera’s fascinating relationship but doesn’t quite delve deep enough.  One more room may have sufficed but the size of the current show is slightly disappointing – only 40 works in all.  For a small show, it’s strong with well-chosen works.  Would I recommend a two hour drive from London and an entrance fee?  If you’re a Frida fan then yes.  If not, you may not see enough to whet your appetite.

The Pallant House Collection includes such greats as Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Richard Hamilton, Jann Haworth, Antony Gormley, Frank Auerbach, David Bomberg, Walter Sickert and Barbara Hepworth.  There’s even a nice (if slightly random) room of 18th century portraits upstairs.  Contemporary has successfully been mixed with this traditional 1712 Queen Anne townhouse.  Pallant seems to have a strong history of commissioning artists with Spencer Finch’s light installation, The Evening Star, currently hanging in the main stairwell.

Spencer Finch, The Evening Star. Image via www.pallant.org.uk

Elsewhere in Pallant House there are some wonderful temporary shows including Mervyn Peake’s exhibition of drawings and illustrations and Anna Fox’s newly-commissioned series photographing the Bognor Regis Butlins to celebrate their 75th anniversary.  These oversaturated large-scale photos provide an insight into today’s Butlins.  The holiday camps first opened in 1936 becoming a much-loved part of British culture and a popular holiday destination for working-class families – only three now survive.

Anna Fox, Ocean Hotel Restaurant, Butlin’s, Summer 2010. Image via www.pallant.org.uk

This trip afforded me an opportunity to once again indulge my love of Cathedrals.  Work commenced on Chichester Cathedral in 1076 – it isn’t one of Britain’s finest but does boast a beautiful Chagall stained glass window.  Reaping the benefits of natural light, Chagall worked with intense colours that inspire and stimulate.  The Cathedral is significant – the detached bell-tower is the only one of its kind remaining in England and the spire has been much admired.  Unfortunately, as with so many of our great churches, the Reformation brought much destruction and some of the Cathedral’s former glory was diminished.

Marc Chagall stained glass window at Chichester Cathedral. Own photograph.

Moving out of Chichester we headed to Pagham Harbour for the night and stayed at the wonderful Crab & Lobster.  I can’t sing the praises of this pub-hotel enough.  I had planned a walk across the marshes but luckily the barman pre-warned me that the nature reserve of marsh and swampy mudflats is mostly smelly quicksand.  I stuck to the footpath!

Marshes and mud. Own photograph.

Before heading home this morning, there was time to fit in another Cathedral.  With Winchester being so close, I couldn’t resist.

Winchester Cathedral. Own photograph.

A stunning Perpendicular Gothic building, Winchester Cathedral is an overwhelming space, thanks, in part, to William Walker, a heroic diver, who worked for years underwater to strengthen the submerged foundations.  The building has a fascinating history: the West Window was destroyed by parliamentary troops during the English Civil War and rebuilt using the shattered glass found around the Cathedral.  As well as being architecturally wonderful, Winchester has two big draws – Jane Austen’s grave and, surprise surprise, a Gormley sculpture in the crypt.  Sound II is a mysterious lead and fibreglass life-sized man who contemplates the water that he holds in his cupped hands.  But, the crypt only floods in winter so sadly the water element of this piece is missing for six months of the year.  It does, however, work beautifully in this space.  Gormley and Cathedrals – tried, tested and triumphant!

Antony Gormley, Sound II. Own photograph.

And all in 24 hours.  I made it back for a trip to the RA in the afternoon but more of that in my next post…

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from the Gelman Collection is at the Pallant House Gallery until 2nd October 2011, www.pallant.org.uk.

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