Tag Archives: Frank Auerbach

Haunch of Excellence: ten British post-war greats…plus Sprüth and Bischoff/Weiss

7 Dec

It seems impossible to walk down a street in Mayfair without bumping into a familiar art face. As a consequence, due to all the chatting, a five minute walk often takes fifteen minutes.

I did finally make my way up Dover Street and get to Sprüth Magers who are showing a series of new works by Louise Lawler.  Lawler’s photographs seek to explore the presentation of artworks and the context in which they are viewed – whether in private homes or in galleries.  Her work forces us to look at art out of its normal context, making us consider how we view, and idealise, these artworks, and questioning how our opinions are modified by the manner of display.

Louise Lawler at Sprüth. Own photograph.

The current exhibition sees Lawler photographing two works by Richter – his Mustang-Staffel and Schädel – during their installation in Dresden. Through her manipulation of the original dimensions, she questions how the art world distorts artworks.  These two new sets of work lack her usual charisma but the concept is fascinating and it is a concise, playful show.

I also popped into Bischoff Weiss’ Chain Chain Chain. I found this to be a strange show and one where it is important to understand the conceptual rationale before visiting.  Curator, Glenn Adamson, who is also co-curator of Postmodernism at the V&A, has wanted to explore this project for a long time.  Looking at art as a commodity, and the commercial status of both artists and artworks, he examines commodity fetishisation and how artists can slow down the commodity chain that flows so readily around us.

Zoe Sheehan Saldana, Adult Life-Jacket, 2008-09. Own photograph.

As well as physically referencing chain as a material (which crops up frequently in the show), the title also evokes the commodity chain itself by mimicking and underpinning it; Gyan Panchal and Nicole Cherubini’s work evokes shipping containers or packing materials through highly aestheticised objects.

The best way to understand the complex chain of Adamson’s thoughts is to hear (or rather, to read) it from the horse’s mouth and this is best done by picking up the small pamphlet that accompanies the show.

Onwards, as I headed up Bond Street in the freezing cold to Haunch of Venison for the Mystery of Appearance – the show I had been looking forward to all day. Who could not be excited by the list of post-war British artists involved?  The list of ten artists includes some of Britain’s most important painters – Michael Andrews, Frank Auerbach, Francis Bacon, Patrick Caulfield, William Coldstream, Lucian Freud, Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Leon Kossoff and Euan Uglow.  The new front entrance to Haunch was only unveiled two days ago.  What used to be a shoe shop (how apt for me) has been transformed to become such a beautiful extension of Haunch that I can’t even pretend the loss of the shoe shop is tragic.  In fact, I can’t even now remember what shoe shop once stood here.

The new Haunch entrance on New Bond Street. Own photograph.

The title of the exhibition comes from Francis Bacon who said ‘To me, the mystery of painting today is how appearance can be made. I know it can be illustrated, I know it can be photographed. But how can this thing be made so that you catch the mystery of appearance within the mystery of making? …one knows that by some accidental brush-marks suddenly appearance comes in with a vividness that no accepted way of doing it would have brought about.’  Bacon himself here acknowledges the mystery of these artists’ genii – their ambition and the effect of their work is often mind-blowing.

Francis Bacon, Pope I – Study after Pope Innocent X by Velázquez, 1951. Image via www.haunchofvenison.com.   

The exhibition retains the artists’ individualities while introducing an enlivening conversation between them.  Yes, such conversations have taken place many times before (often in our auction houses) but, with art this great, this dialogue will never become staid.   The influence these artists still exert is sensational.   The exhibition also examines the personal relationships between the artists themselves some of which began in the late forties.

Upstairs at Haunch with David Hockney, The Room Tarzana, 1967. Own photograph.

Several of the works have come from major public galleries while some of the pieces from private collections have not been on display in years.  With the recent sad deaths of Freud and Hamilton this show is timely and poignant.  The exhibition does not pretend to be an overview – more of a personal selection by the curator.

Richard Hamilton, Respective, 1951. Own photograph.

Opening with a selection of nudes, in the second gallery the exhibition moves onto landscapes and portraits.  These are followed by a focus on the special significance of the Old Masters to the artists, concluding with a focus on their interpretation of space and lens-based imagery.  What this exhibition does is highlight quality and excellence, re-evaluating this group of incredible artists – their motives, their stories and, most importantly here, their conversations.  Hours after the PV, I’m still struggling to pick a favourite – the sheer power of the Bacon, the textured dynamism of the Auerbach, the delicacy of the Freud portraits or the sensitivity of the Hamilton drawings…  All the works are sublime.

Leon Kossoff, Seated Woman No. 2, 1959. Own photograph.

The catalogue with essays by Catherine Lampert and Tom Hunt is equally stunning and the perfect companion to the show.  Although some of the relationships or conversations remain elusive, the paintings are all brought together by a sense of timeliness and a commitment to their medium through which the study of the human condition is touching and powerful.

Mystery of Appearance at Haunch of Venison. Own photograph.

Mystery of Appearance is a beautiful exhibition and one that I will certainly return to during the daytime when I can further appreciate the works flooded by natural light from the Haunch skylights.  But, in the meantime, wow!

Louise Lawler: No Drones is at Sprüth Magers until 23rd December 2011, www.spruethmagers.comChain Chain Chain is at Bischoff/Weiss until 28th January 2012, www.bischoffweiss.comMystery of Appearance: Conversations between ten British post-war painters is at Haunch of Venison until 18th February 2012, www.haunchofvenison.com.

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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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