Tag Archives: Tate Britain

2013 Highlights

29 Dec

As I’ve said before, I haven’t been able to write nearly as regularly as I would have liked.  2013 has flown by with excitement, hustle and bustle and some truly fabulous exhibitions.  Again, there has been more grey paint on gallery walls than I care to remember but the point of this post is to celebrate some of the remarkable things I have seen.  I have missed a lot too, particularly in the last couple of months, but it is testament to the incredible art programme across the UK that it is impossible to see everything.

Here we go with my highlights of 2013…

Towering at TateSchwitters in Britain  

Cast your mind back to February when Tate Britain brought us an exhibition showing off Schwitters’ incredible multi-disciplinary practice that expressed his determination to make art using whatever was to hand.  Tate successfully showed how Schwitters’ figurative works moved into abstraction and vice versa.  Schwitters never gave up and his drive and enthusiasm, as well as his interaction with British art and culture, was excellently applauded by Tate.

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Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920 and 1939. Own photograph.

Number One at the National GalleryFacing the Modern  

There is no doubt that, in parts, Facing the Modern was a confusing show and it has been suggested that curatorially it was in the wrong order.  But, notwithstanding these comments, it is one of the best shows I have seen this year.  Using portraiture, the exhibition tells the story of Vienna’s middle classes – works are commemorative, critical, cautious, radical and chart the changing fortunes and times of the incredibly diverse city.  This is a subtle exhibition that requires thought and tenderness whilst viewing.  It may not include the most famous and familiar works by Klimt or Schiele but that is what makes it so special and the fact some of these works have been loaned is a triumph.  The National Gallery are continuing to go from strength to strength with their exhibition programme and Michael Landy’s Saints Alive is also worthy of mention.

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Walking around Facing the Modern. Image via www.theupcoming.co.uk

Captivating Courtauld The Young Dürer: Drawing the Figure 

The Courtauld are rightly renowned for the quality and strength of their exhibitions and The Young Dürer was another golden gem from this small gallery.  The exhibition concentrates on the artist’s journeyman years from 1490-96 when he travelled widely and was exposed to a range of new influences.  Here, The Courtauld follow Dürer’s path to greatness as he learnt the intimacy and delicacy for which he came to be famous.

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Detail of Albrecht Dürer, A Wise Virgin, 1493. Image via www.courtauld.ac.uk

Blazing Barbican The Bride and the Bachelors

The title of alone was going to be enough to pull in the punters but The Bride and the Bachelors was the first ever exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s impact on John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.  This was a challenging exhibition that blurred the boundaries between stage and gallery in a style that I think would have delighted Duchamp.  Due to the exhibition’s design, the conversations between these creative genii were still very much ongoing.  Duchamp governed the creativity of the period as well as our enjoyment of the show.

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Duchamp stars at the Barbican. Own photograph

Leaving LondonFrom Death to Death and Other Small Tales, Modern One (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art), Edinburgh

As any regular reader will know, I spend at least one month of the year in Edinburgh and this summer I was able to see the sublime From Death to Death and Other Small Tales.  The exhibition sought to create a conversation between works from the gallery’s own collection and pieces from the collection of Dimitris Daskalopoulos that focus on the human body.  Some works referenced the body explicitly while others made subtle gestures to bodies that may or may not be present.  It was so extensive it took over the entire building with around 130 works of top quality – an exhibition that really worked without compromise.

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Ernesto Neto, It Happens When the Body’s Anatomy of Time, 2000. Own photograph.

Also with podium finishes were:

Glittering Gold – Leon Kossoff’s London Landscapes, Annely Juda

London Landscapes focused on Kossoff’s life in London looking at the congestion, the dirt and the real life of London.  Kossoff made us fall in love all over again with the vigour and vibrance of the city.

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Leon Kossoff, Dalston Lane No. 1, 1974.  Image via www.onestoparts.com

Shimmering SilverDeath: A self-portrait, The Wellcome Collection

Death: A self-portrait is an exhibition that showcased the collection of Richard Harris with approximately 300 objects from his strange and unique collection devoted to death.  It was incredibly diverse – there were paintings, drawings, artefacts, sculptures, photographs, anatomical illustrations and much more. This was a giant cabinet of curiosities!

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June Leaf, No stomach for death: Gentleman on Green Table, 1999-2000.  Image via www.standard.co.uk

Bright Bronze – Caitlin Art Prize 2013, Londonewcastle Project Space

The Catlin Art Prize is a highlight of the calendar and the brilliant eye of the curator means that we can normally expect great things from the nine chosen graduates who have had to produce new work for the exhibition.  This year was no exception and the Londonewcastle Project Space was transformed with the latest ‘ones to watch’.

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Terry Ryu Kim, Screening Solution I,II and III. Image courtesy of Peter Hope and via www.artcatlin.com

Last but by no means least – Runner Up  – Jodie Carey: Untitled (Slabs), Edel Assanti

Every exhibition at Edel Assanti is so very different but powerful in its own way.  Although very simple in conception, the striking display of Jodie Carey’s works stayed with me.  Seven plaster slabs were arranged within the gallery, connecting and conversing with one another despite their differing formats.  The works had a real inescapable presence in the gallery – fragile yet monumental, they rose with impressive dominance.

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Jodie Carey, Untitled (Slabs), 2012. Image via www.edelassanti.com.

There have been so many more shows, some that I have written about and some that I haven’t.  There are a lot of fabulous exhibitions planned for next year, including some that I am working on, and I shall totter from one to another in skyscraper heels or by taxi if it’s too chilly.

As many of you enjoy the shoe signatures here my favourite three shoes pictures of 2013 plus a new one with which to wish you all A Merry Christmas and a Happy Shoe Year.  Thank you, as ever, for reading Artista.

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Last of the Summer Time

9 Oct

Finally, I’ve found some time to write a blog post and I’m ashamed to see how long it has been since the last one.  I’ve been gathering catalogues, notes and bits of paper from the inordinate amount I have seen over the past month but now there are far too many to tell you about them all.

At this time of year we’re all looking ahead to Frieze week – in fact, LAPADA in Berkeley Square already heralded the beginning of art month.  But, to look over some of my highlights I have to journey back to Edinburgh and an exhibition at Talbot Rice Gallery showing works by Korean artist, Nam June Paik.  I have to confess, that I wasn’t at all familiar with his work even though he is dubbed the founder of video art.  Born in 1932, Paik had a remarkable insight into the ways that technology would change everyday life and our approach to art.  Unusually for Talbot Rice this is a posthumous retrospective; Paik died in 2006 but the gallery saw this as the perfect opportunity to celebrate this artist’s work – art and technology was the theme of the Edinburgh International Festival this year so this could not have been a more fitting choice.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.journal-online.co.uk

It is a confusing exhibition as there is so much going on around the galleries that at times it becomes hard to digest – the main floor exhibits a survey of Paik’s video works, sculpture (including two of his handmade robots) and documentary pieces, while the upper gallery shows objects from his important debut solo exhibition in Germany that took place 50 years ago.  Whatever direction you turn to Paik’s works include old-fashioned television sets whether in their entirety, showing montages of found documentary footage, or included in strange sculptures.  The works are often noisy and at times almost aggressive in their crude aesthetics.  Paik was intent on getting his message across and there can be no denying that he succeeded in conveying his overflowing ideas that combine television with contemporary art.

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Nam June Paik at Tabot Rice Gallery.  Image via www.re-photo.co.uk

In contrast, was Franz West at Inverleith House.  In all my years in Edinburgh I don’t think I’d ever visited the Botanic Gardens and I had most certainly been missing out.  Aside from the incredible glasshouses, which I’d definitely recommend particularly because of the sculptures dotted around them, the Gardens and House are free of charge.  Walking around this space is like entering another world, particularly in August when Edinburgh is taken over by the Fringe.

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Sculptures in the glasshouses at the Botanic Gardens.  Own photograph.

It is rare that we enter a gallery and are encouraged to touch the works on display.  Here we’re not just asked to gently touch but to play full on with West’s pieces that are solely in collaboration with other artists.  This exhibition contains more than 50 examples of these mad collaborations.  The list of artists in the press release shows quite how influential West is for all these artists to want to work with him – examples are Sarah Lucas, Michelangelo Pistoletto or Douglas Gordon.  Although there are some serious works the exhibition feels exciting and fun – if you don’t participate with the pieces you won’t get very much out of them.  West allows us to escape the conventions of gallery-going where many feel constrained, forced to whisper and look from afar.  The gallery staff make sure we’re doing it right as well – “Have you laid down here yet?” one young girl asked me as I walked through a room, “You can’t see the piece properly unless you do.”  Well, that told me and before I knew it I found myself prostrate on a work of art.  Thank you Franz West.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

Inverleith aren’t attempting to exhibit the sculptures that many of us would normally associate with West – their exhibition is solely about the creativity of collaboration.  Sometimes West integrated works by other artists with his own, sometimes he invited artists to ‘complete’ one of his works and sometimes the collaboration began with him asking an artist to provide him with something.  West was, however, always the conductor of these exchanges, the master of collaboration and of artistic harmony.

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Franz West at Inverleith House.  Image via www.rbge.org.uk.    

The Edinburgh Art Festival spans the whole city and there are always wonderful installations dotted around in the most unusual o places.  One such example is Peter Liversidge’s work where he was invited anyone in the city with a flag pole to fly a white flag which bears the text: HELLO.  Hello is a word so commonly used in everyday life – to express a greeting, answer a telephone, attract attention and so on.  Liversidge aims to remind us that a flag is also a way to say hello and, here, they wave at us from across the city’s public buildings, blowing their greetings across Edinburgh with each gust of wind.

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A collective greeting in Edinburgh.  Own photograph.

When I was at school aged only 7 or 8, one of the first artists we studied was LS Lowry and he has always had a special pull for me.  Now Lowry’s time has come with a huge exhibition at Tate Britain.  For me, Lowry’s works don’t work well in bulk so this exhibition was always going to be difficult in that regard.  But that was never any doubt that no matter what Tate did I would be instantly won over.  Even ignoring my own personal love for Lowry, this is a very important show and one that is curated by two senior curators who give it an immediate element of gravitas.  But, both are art historians who live in America; they aren’t specialists in Lowry or British art and perhaps this is why they have decided to mix things up a bit, not always successfully.

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Lowry at Tate Britain. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.  

The exhibition offers direct comparisons between Lowry’s work and that of 19th century French artists tackling the same subject which is the big let-down of the exhibition.  Why have Tate not let Lowry stand in his own right?  Nor is the exhibition hung chronologically so it is very hard to see the developments across more than 60 years of work.

Lowry’s depictions of England and his acute powers of observation are still something special.  His depictions of modern life hold a simplicity and rusticity to them that capture the true feeling of the town – some of the scenes haven’t even changed that much since Lowry painted them in his work.  Although the poverty and hardship of the times is there, he often idealises his scenes to make them more palatable for his audience.  He is often criticised for the almost one-dimensionality of his tiny stick figures but look closely at the work that has gone into them.  This is Lowry’s unique record of changing times – his very own texture and timbre of the world in which he lived and the specifics he chose to see.  Love or hate Lowry this is a must-see show.

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Walking through the exhibition.  Image via www.demotix.com

Idris Khan was one of the artists included in our East Wing VIII exhibition at The Courtauld but his latest show at Victoria Miro marks an important departure from the photographic based work he then showed.  Beyond the Black comprises a suite of black paintings, a monumental site-specific wall drawing and a series of works on paper, considering the metaphysics of creation.  Using a mixture of black pigment, rabbit-skin glue and slate dust the paintings’ darkness shines from the walls.  Whereas previously Khan has used the writings of famous philosophers in his pieces, here he incorporates his own writings in response to his readings of Nietzsche, building up strands of text applying densely one on top of the other until the words disappear into the saturated surface, slipping away from us beyond our understanding.  The further we try to look into the works, the less we can comprehend.

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Idris Khan at Victoria Miro.  Image via www.londonist.com

The wall drawing upstairs consists of more than 120,000 lines of text forming a giant radial form.  It’s possible to get lost within this work for hours and I do mean get lost as we are incapable of following the complicated overlays of words at play here.  Throughout the exhibition we are offered glimpses of words that may, or may not, give us a window into Khan’s thinking.

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Complicated overlays. Image via www.fadwebsite.com

Edel Assanti’s latest show (and one on which I have worked) is of Alex Hoda’s incredible new sculptures where the cutting-edge technological processes of 3D-modelling are applied to traditional sculptural materials to create sublime forms.  Alex’s work is an investigation into how discarded objects can provide a valid starting point for wider discussion and critique of contemporary society’s ‘throwaway’ culture.  He sees chewing gum as the perfect embodiment of this area of consumer culture. The chewing gum undergoes a metamorphosis when translated into Carrara marble, imbuing the final piece with an importance that is more often exclusively reserved for classical iconography. The bronze works undergo a comparable transformation, only the source objects are delicate hand-sculpted maquettes formed from entwined dry banana skins.  Despite the medium of bronze, the ‘banana skins’ have an incredible delicacy and tactility that defies their medium and recalls the source objects in a beautiful way.

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Alex Hoda’s new works at Edel Assanti. Image via www.edelassanti.com

David Zwirner is currently showing Philip-Lorca DiCorcia’s East of Eden, a large-scale body of photographs ranging from strangers, family members and pole dancers.  He takes everyday happenings and pushes them beyond the realms of banality and normality asking the viewer to question the truth of the image.  The works, partly inspired by John Steinbeck’s book of the same name and the Book of Genesis convey a sense of disillusionment, with lone figures contemplating their surroundings and remaining beyond our reach.  While some are compositionally stimulating and powerful others don’t quite hit the mark for me.

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Installed at David Zwirner.  Image via www.davidzwirner.com

Finally, I was lucky enough to visit Stanley Spencer’s Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere just before it closed to the public for a long programme for conservation and renovation.  Words cannot do justice to the feeling of walking through the modest chapel doors and being overwhelmed by the inspirational scenes that Spencer created, a series of large-scale epic murals that honour the ‘forgotten dead’ of the First World War, inspired by Spencer’s own experiences both as a hospital orderly in Bristol and a solider on the Salonika front.

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Approaching the Chapel.  Image via http://en.wikipedia.org

Peppered with personal and unexpected details, they combine the realism of everyday life with dreamlike visions drawn from his imagination.  His recollections, painted entirely from memory, focus on the domestic, rather than combative, and evoke everyday experiences – washing lockers, inspecting kit, sorting laundry, scrubbing floors and taking tea – in which he found spiritual resonance and sustenance.  The poignancy of the works is powerfully emotive.  The main 16 panels from this English ‘Sistine Chapel’ are journeying to Somerset House for an exhibition next month.

Sandham Memorial Chapel Full View

Inside the Chapel.  Image via  www.siue.edu.

This is by no means a survey of all I have seen but a taster of some shows that are currently on.  The winter programme across London and the UK looks particularly exciting and I’ve recently bought a host of new heels in which to enjoy them.

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Transmitted Live: Nam June Paik Resounds is at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until 19th October 2013, www.ed.ac.uk/about/museums-galleries/talbot-rice.  Mostly West: Franz West and Artistic Collaborations was at Inverleith House, Edinburgh.  Lowry and the Painting of Modern Life is at Tate Britain until 20th October 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  Idris Khan: Beyond the Black is at Victoria Miro until 9th November 2013, www.victoria-miro.comAlex Hoda: D-Construction is at Edel Assanti until 26th October 2013, www.edelassanti.comPhilip-Lorca diCorcia: East of Eden is at David Zwirner until 16th November 2013.  Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War will be at Somerset House from 7th November 2013 – 26th January 2014, www.somersethouse.org.uk.

Schwitters the Chamaeleon

5 Feb

I thought I knew Schwitters.  That is until I walked around Tate Britain’s latest exhibition.

It is said of so many people that they are forerunners of their time but Schwitters really was and his incredible multi-disciplinary practice brought together not only collage, assemblage, painting, sculpture and installation but also performance – sound poem Ursonate is screaming from room 4.

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Kurt Schwitters, Dancer, 1943. Own photograph.

This exhibition asks us to re-consider many of Schwitters’ later works.  After fleeing Hanover, he emigrated to Norway and, two years later, he boarded the last ship to leave before the Nazi occupation.  In Edinburgh, he was detained as an ‘enemy alien’ and interned until 1941 at the Hutchinson Camp on the Isle of Man with a significant number of artists and intellectuals with whom he became friends.  His creativity increased during captivity and he produced over 200 works during his 16 month internment.  On his release, he moved to London where he remained until the end of the war when he moved to the Lake District.  His was not an easy life; he suffered from misfortune, hardship and, in his latter years, extreme ill health.

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Kurt Schwitters, Picture of Spatial Growths/Picture with Two Small Dogs, 1920 and 1939. Own photograph.

His determination to make art meant he used whatever was to hand.  His works are shaped and influenced by location and the materials he was able to find, and it’s fascinating to trace the changes in his environment through his work.  His unique concept of Merz includes three-dimensional, everyday objects, discarded packaging and ephemera forming collages that used the detritus of everyday.  The compositions are considered and controlled but filled with emotional poignancy about Schwitters’ constant flight expressed through tickets, postage stamps, identity papers – the remnants of travel and upheaval.  His works from his period in London include such objects as sweet wrappers, bus tickets, metal toys and even a scrubbing brush.

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Kurt Schwitters, Untitled (Quality Street), 1943. Own photograph.

The first room, looking at his earlier years in Germany is stunning, and contains the crème de la crème of the exhibition.

His portraits are fascinating and are a part of his oeuvre of which I was not at all aware.  Not all were commissions, although those that were enabled him to earn a small living for his art.  They are also wonderful works in their own right, allowing us an insight into the people who surrounded him – his German and Austrian friends and his fellow internees.

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Portraits in the exhibition. Own photograph.

The room focusing on the Merzbarn lends itself to sober thoughtfulness – Schwitters had been forced to abandon this installation in Germany and it was later destroyed by bombing; he had only just begun to rebuild the piece in Cumbria – the biomorphic abstract plaster relief extended from the interior wall with embedded objects such as twigs and stones – when 6 months into the project he died, aged 60, never able to realise his aspirations.  Although born in Germany and having previously gained Norwegian citizenship, he was only offered British citizenship on the day before his death.

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Fragments from the Merzbarn with slides by Richard Hamilton. Own photograph.

Tate has also commissioned young artists, Adam Chodzko and Laure Prouvost, to think about what Schwitters means in current times and the final two rooms of the exhibition are devoted to their new pieces.

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Responding to Schwitters. Own photograph.

My only criticism of this show (and regular readers of Artista will probably know what’s coming) is that Tate have whipped out their store of grey paint.  I have to say it’s not quite as bad as usual but for works on paper that have no doubt faded quite dramatically with time, a dull grey would not have been my chosen colour on which to represent such an exciting artist.

This is Tate’s second Schwitters’ retrospective – the last one was in 1985.  He had an amazing but tragic life that’s further outlined in the fabulous exhibition catalogue through which I’m slowly working my way.  By bringing together all these works, Tate has succeeded in showing how Schwitters’ figurative works move into abstraction and vice versa.

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Tate grey. Own photograph.

This is a big exhibition covering an incredibly varied output.  Schwitters never gave up and his drive and enthusiasm is excellently applauded by Tate.  Here, we see his interaction with British art and culture and the profound effects his locations had on him throughout his life.  Like a chamaeleon, Schwitters always adapted to his surroundings!

The following day, I popped in to the opening of Hauser & Wirth’s three new exhibitions.  Philippe Vandenberg takes over the space in Piccadilly, presenting strongly textured and powerful works that are explorations of his own psyche.  His visceral and tormented works help him to overcome his demons as he mutilates the canvas as much as he does the figures he depicts.  The feeling is immense but the works didn’t scream out to me in the way I had hoped – the inner turmoil remained stuck within the canvas.

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Philippe Vandenberg, Now Patience Is Flowering Into Death 2, 1980-1990-1999.  Image via www.londoncalling.com

Savile Row hosts two very different shows.  In one gallery is an exhibition of works by Eva Hesse from 1965 when, with her then husband, she unhappily spent a year working in a former textile mill in her native Germany; when she was two, she and her sister were sent by Kindertransport to Holland because of the Nazi threat.  This period of time in the factory marked a significant transformation in Hesse’s practice where she re-assessed her approach to colour and materials and began to move towards sculpture.  Like Schwitters, she was inspired by her surroundings.  It’s a must-see show for any Hesse fan.  I may well have to go back as the opening was too crowded for words and I was heading off on a shoe shopping mission that was sadly unsuccessful but I’ll be going back to that too.

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Eva Hesse in 1965. Image via www.aestheticamagazine.com.

Next door, in a small survey exhibition, there are five enormous Bruce Nauman pieces that easily fill the gallery – you have to be dazzled by Nauman.  The exhibition concentrates on his iconic neon sculptures and installations.  The ‘flashy works’ aren’t what won me over.  Instead, it was his Untitled (Helman Gallery Parallelogram) where you have to hunt out the work, pushing your way through a narrow entrance until you’re absorbed by his green fluorescents.

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Bruce Nauman, Untitled (Helman Gallery Parallelogram), 1971.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

The lights inspired me and reminded me that I must get over to the Hayward Light Show as soon as I have the time – though who knows when that may be.

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Schwitters in Britain is at Tate Britain until 12th May 2013, www.tate.org.uk.  Philippe Vandenberg: Selected Works is at Hauser & Wirth Piccadilly until 13th April 2013, www.hauserwirth.comEve Hesse 1965 and Bruce Nauman / mindfuck are at Hauser & Wirth Savile Row until 9th March 2013, www.hauserwirth.com.

Sunday morning at Tate Britain with the Turner Prize and the Pre-Raphs

11 Nov

Early this morning I popped in the car and, managing to skirt around the very impressive Remembrance Sunday crowds and consequent road closures, I headed to Tate Britain.  Comfy clothes and comfy shoes (sorry but even I’m not that committed to my heels) were the order of the day for a weekend gallery outing.

Remembrance Day services.  Image via www.itv.com

I’m not a huge Turner Prize fan but it’s still nice to have it back in London (last year it was in Gateshead marking the start of its biennial staging away from Tate Britain).  The Turner Prize takes over the downstairs space at Tate Britain but is hung differently to usual with the entrance being where we used to find the exit.  This seems to work much better though I can’t quite fathom why.

Unusually, all of the shortlisted exhibitions that led to these nominations have taken place in Britain so many of you may well have seen the works before.

To start, we are greeted by Paul Noble’s drawings.  I blogged his exhibition at Gagosian earlier this year, where we saw his sprawling drawings detailing the minutiae of Nobson Newtown.  I’m a fan!  But, the exhibition at Gagosian was far better and maybe this is a larger problem with the Turner Prize – it fundamentally reproduces shows from the last year but diminishes them so they aren’t normally as good.  For me, the marble sculptures are slightly too crude and provide an unwelcome distraction from the densely fabulous pencil drawings.

Nobson Newtown at Tate Britain.  Image via www.standard.co.uk

Luke Fowler’s film is a full-length documentary but I did not have 93 minutes to spare this morning.  Whether or not I will return to watch in full remains to be seen.  The film is about RD Laing and the anti-psychiatry movement but, unlike a normal film, it does not have a narrative.  Instead, it is a collage of short scenes and snapshots that come together to tell its strange story.  Is this art that is film or a film masquerading as art?

Still from Luke Fowler’s All Divided Selves.  Image via www.guardian.co.uk

I wasn’t able to watch Elizabeth’s Price video work as there was a technical fault this morning but, from what I understand, The Woolworths Choir of 1979 is an overpowering piece in three acts, bringing together old photographs, archive footage, rhythms, words and sound.  The piece is an act of commemoration, exploring the horror of the fire in the Manchester branch of Woolworths.

Elizabeth Price, The Woolworths Choir of 1979.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Finally, we reach Spartacus Chetwynd’s work but I wasn’t around at the correct time to see one of the actual performances.   Chetwynd’s work seems intended to shock; Tate describes her team as an energetic “16th-century wandering troupe”.  What makes her work stand out, despite its silliness, is that Chetwynd’s commitment to her absurdity is entirely sincere – a contradiction in terms perhaps but one with often spectacular results.  I never made it to her 2011 Sadie Coles show but have heard it was far more dramatic, exciting and fun.  These feelings are nowhere to be found at Tate.

Spartacus Chetwynd with co-performers as part of Odd Man Out 2011.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk.

Tate has gone for non-traditional media this year.  I’d like Noble to win but I imagine one of the video artists will take the prize.

Although I walked around the whole exhibition, I left feeling I had seen very little of the Turner Prize and didn’t really know what to make of this year’s submissions.  The winner of the prize will be announced live by Jude Law(!) at the award ceremony on Monday 3rd December 2012.  I worry that Tate may be going too far to popularise the Turner.  Before long the artists will have to do live tricks on air to cement their win.

Elizabeth Price – not working. Own photograph.

 The main reason for today’s visit though was to see Tate’s Pre-Raphaelite exhibition.  By 10.30am it was already packed out although the guard told me that what I thought was busy was in fact quiet.  As snobby as this will sound, I do find it hard to enjoy exhibitions that are flooded with people.  I began to regret not wearing sharp stilettos that would have helped me to encourage people to move out the way (don’t worry, I’m only joking).  Luckily, I was very familiar with most of the works here so didn’t feel I was missing out when I couldn’t get near to them.  Walking through the seven rooms, was like reliving my Courtauld first year survey course with Holman Hunt’s The Hireling Shepherd, Ford Maddox Brown’s An English Autumn Afternoon, Hampstead – Scenery in 1853, Millais’ Christ in the House of his Parents and many more besides.

William Holman Hunt, The Hireling Shepherd, 1851-2.  Image via www.artchive.com.

Visitors to the show are heading straight to the work hanging opposite the entrance – Millais’ Isabella that created rather a buzz in the press before the opening.  One of the curators spotted that the foremost figure has a large erection.  He leans forward, with his leg stretched out in front of him and, although his groin is covered, a shadow is cast on the table.  It’s unmissable, yet we have missed it since 1848 when the work was conceived.

John Everett Millais, Isabella, 1848-9.  Image via www.theartsdesk.com

The Pre-Raphaelites’ recognition of women as sensual and sexual people is obvious and one of their defining features.  Desire pours forth and we know that many of these artists were enjoying themselves and their models.

We can feel the curators’ passion as we walk around the show.  With 180 works, they’ve certainly tried to cram in all their favourites (although a few notable works are missing).  Now, the Pre-Raphaelites may not be to everyone’s fancy and I have heard some describe their work in horribly derogatory terms.  But, whatever you may think, all opinions are subjective and however ‘bad’ some of the works are it’s important to remember that everyone has different tastes.  As such, the popularity of this period reigns supreme and there are some fabulous works included here.

Ford Madox Brown, An English Autumn Afternoon, Hampstead – Scenery in 1853,1852-3.  Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

Many of the works do merge into one – partly because the Pre-Raphs often painted with a prescribed artistic formula and relied on this through and through.  The works don’t often take too long to look at, they initially captivate with their bright and bubbly colours but their joy can fade away quickly when we start to note their cramped scenes, sickly colours and lack of perspectival understanding.  Some of the works are moving and many, like Ophelia, are so familiar that they are part of our everyday life.

 

John Everett Millais, Ophelia, 1851-2.  Image via www.tate.org.uk.  

I don’t think the exhibition has managed to prove anything new academically and, in fact, I disagree with the arguments that encourage us to view the movement through the eyes of Modernism but it’s a beautiful exhibition, presenting a well-known story and some well-known paintings alongside a mix of Victorian works.  Although it is a neatly summarised show, this is also its main problem.  Chronology has been abandoned here and themes imposed on the work often lead to confusion rather than distinction, such as Salvation, Beauty, Mythologies and History.  This does make it difficult to follow the progression of individuals as they get lost in the melée.

The exhibition doesn’t end on a bang and the last two rooms lose something for me – perhaps because this is actually no longer Pre-Raphaelitism but Arts and Crafts.  They clearly intend to show the influence of the Pre-Raphaelites on the later movement of Arts and Crafts but Tate fail to separate the two.

William Morris, Peacock and Bird Carpet, 1885-90.  Image via www.tate.org.uk

I certainly don’t loathe this period.  In fact, I rather enjoyed the exhibition and, although there are a lot of works shoved in this space, I do think it’s a very well-curated show with great wall colours and good lighting (something I don’t often say about Tate).

William Holman Hunt, The Scapegoat, 1854-6.  Image via www.wikipedia.org

The curators have taken care to stress the female artists from the circle with Julia Margaret Cameron and Elizabeth Siddal making bold appearances.  This is a very British show and we’ve had a very British year so Tate could not have timed this better.

One thing that still upsets me is the lack of an artist-designed Christmas tree at Tate.  Although the rotunda is no longer visible due to the major building work currently in progress I fail to believe that there is no room anywhere in the gallery to have kept this tradition alive.  The rest of London once again embraces Christmas while Tate stays in the dark.

Turner Prize 2012 is at Tate Britain until 6th January 2013 and Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde is at Tate Britain until 13th January 2013, www.tate.org.uk.

Frantic at the Fringe 2012 – Part III

31 Aug

My time in Edinburgh was flying by but I was lucky enough to get tickets for Speed of Light where runners in light suits weave subtle illuminated patterns across the ‘mountain’ at night offering a new visual interpretation of Arthur’s Seat.  Contrary to what many people think, Arthur’s Seat is not a dormant volcano but a small section of a bigger post-volcanic landscape.  It is a dominant feature in Edinburgh and a special part of the city.  I’ve climbed it before but never at night!

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

I’d been reading on Twitter about people preparing to do this night walk all month and to say I was excited would be an understatement.  Speed of Light seeks to fuse public art and sporting endeavour.  On arrival, you’re shown into large tents at the bottom of the walking path.  Surrounded by people in waterproofs with rucksacks and serious walking boots, we began to realise that handbags and fleeces may not cut it with this crowd.  However, we felt better when our clothing was approved and we were told that people had actually been dense enough to arrive in flipflops!  Groups set off at staggered times throughout the evening and, after a safety briefing and introduction, we were handed our walking sticks.  The audience becomes part of the work and these illuminated sticks become striking elements set against the dark brooding landscape of Arthur’s Seat.

Our walking sticks when we reached the summit. Own photograph.

Sadly, despite our eagerness, Speed of Light was underwhelming.  The publicity shots have all been taken with slow exposures and the spectacle isn’t quite what was promised (my shoddy photos give a more realistic idea).  The idea is brilliant and sometimes you get a feel for how it should be but with the fabulous backdrop of Edinburgh at night, the work so often gets lost.  There is no doubt that it was memorable and that we enjoyed ourselves but it could have been so much more.

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat seen against the cityscape. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

However, nothing else at the Festival compares to it.  Even the chattering drunk people in our group fell silent as we neared the summit and they felt the power of the pilgrimage-like walk we had undertaken.  Our singing light sabres didn’t half make a racket near the top as apparently they respond to altitude.  We were nearly blown away (literally not metaphorically) while we had to stop on the viewing platform and ended up hugging like penguins to stay upright.  At this point, while moaning and giggling, we were told off for talking and not appreciating the whining of our sticks.

Trying to photograph the piece with a normal camera. Own photograph.

At the summit, you leave a section of your staff in a vibrating urn-like thing, that wasn’t working properly on the night of our ascent, and then you slip and slide your way back down.  At times our group began to split up and, at one point, I seemed to be leading several other people without an official guide in sight.  Not the best idea considering that I can often be quite accident-prone and that I couldn’t really see where I was going.

I do have criticisms and I was rather disappointed by the end but this is an incredible project and I’m so pleased that we had the opportunity to be involved.  Reading about it afterwards has made the piece seem far more fulfilling – the work has been three years in the making and has involved not only the development of new technologies but the training of over 4,000 runners (it’s a shame that more of them weren’t involved at any one time).  There is some great merchandise on sale at the base including a beautiful book on Arthur’s Seat itself and when you finish the walk you are handed a programme about the project that explains the concept in illuminating detail (sorry!).

NVA’s Speed of Light at Arthur’s Seat. Image via www.telegraph.co.uk

We were both fitter than we realised and were remarkably unscathed when we finished and headed off for crepes and drinks to celebrate and boast (no-one thought we’d actually do it).

Somehow I made the time to visit the National Gallery of Modern Art as well.  Modern 1 is showing Picasso and Modern British Art which I have recently seen at Tate Britain.  Modern 2, however, is showing Edvard Munch: Graphic Works from the Gunderson Collection with around 50 lithographs and woodcuts owned by a private Norwegian collector.  The exhibition concentrates on how Munch revisited and re-explored his subjects.  Having recently visited the Munch exhibition at Tate in London, this exhibition highlighted to me how much stronger Munch’s graphic works are than his painted works.  Included is a 1895 lithograph on paper of The Scream, one of only two known prints of this work that Munch hand-coloured.

Edvard Munch, The Scream, 1895. Image via www.i-onmagazine.co.uk

The exhibition also includes a display of archival materials relating to Munch’s first solo show in Edinburgh, in the winter of 1931-2, organised by the Society of Scottish Artists.  Due to the repetitive nature of Munch’s work this exhibition doesn’t take too long to get around but it’s well mounted and does what it says on the tin.  As ever, there is some fantastic sculpture dotted around the grounds of the Modern Galleries including a Gormley and a Roger Hiorns.

Gormley at the Gallery of Modern Art. Own photograph.

In contrast, the current exhibition at the National Gallery requires a bit more thought before you even walk through the door.  This is not an exhibition of Van Gogh and Kandinsky works as most visitors seem to expect (we overheard several people asking the guards where the rest of the Van Goghs were).  The full title is Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe, 1880-1910.  Please take careful note so you don’t get a surprise as there are only two Van Goghs and two Kandinskys in the entire show.   Instead, the exhibition, ordered by artistic trends, showcases landscapes from this period that express the anxieties and aspirations of the symbolists through their interpretation of the natural world.  The exhibition is fundamentally a survey of landscape painting, looking at an area of symbolism that has received little attention until now.  Although there are some famous names dotted throughout, the exhibition also includes artists that even the most ardent art historian wouldn’t pretend to know.

Hung with slightly overpowering wall colours, the exhibition feels like a mixed bag.  Plus, I was still somewhat disappointed by the slightly misleading title.  There are some great individual works hidden here but it’s a collection of landscape paintings and I felt a bit let down.  I thought they’d have gone more for the wow factor during the festival.

Piet Mondrian, (Woods) near Oele, 1908.  Image via http://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk

As well as all this, I managed to see 57 theatre shows during my two and a bit weeks up at the Fringe and would have happily crammed in some more if I could have used a magic wand to add some extra hours into the day.  I won’t go on about that here but will gladly wax lyrical about what I saw if you bump into me when I’m out and about.  I certainly didn’t manage all the art exhibitions in the city (I was upset not to get to Summerhall, except at night for the bar which was lovely) but I have crossed out lots of spaces on my art map and next year I’ll try to beat my own gallery count and see how many I can manage.  Bring on Edinburgh 2013!

Speed of Light takes places on selected nights at Arthur’s Seat until 1st September 2012, http://speedoflight2012.org.ukEdvard Munch: Graphic Works from The Gundersen Collection is at the National Gallery of Modern Art until 23rd September 2012 and Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Symbolist Landscape in Europe 1880-1910 is at the National Gallery of Scotland until 14th October 2012, www.nationalgalleries.org.

My Love Affair Continues – Zoffany at the Royal Academy

7 Mar

Aged 16, on work experience at Tate Britain, I was lucky enough to hang an 18th century gallery called Portraits and Perspectives.  I’d always had a strong fancy for the period but this marked the start of another of my enduring love affairs with the 18th century.  It was during this placement that I first properly encountered Johan Zoffany through a pair of portraits that we hung flanking the door at the far end of the room.  One of the works included the most gorgeous water-dog, covered in ringlets staring animatedly at the three boys in the picture.

So, I was ecstatic when I heard that the RA were mounting an exhibition of Zoffany’s works and was excited to see if these portraits were included.  Once again, the RA’s Sackler Wing programme shines and this exhibition does not disappoint.

Johan Zoffany, The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772-7. Image via www.arthistory.about.com

The first room has been split into lots of smaller galleries.  This does mean that there is quite a tight entrance in gallery one, that I imagine will become jammed, but it provides a good introduction to the artist.  Because of this split the first and last rooms are back-to-back and I imagine people will hurry past the last three works.

Room one of the exhibition. Own photograph.

Born in Frankfurt, Zoffany boldly decided to move in 1760 to England, a country experiencing rapid social change and growth.  (The exhibition is arranged thematically and room three begins to explore his work in England.)  Soon after his arrival, Zoffany met David Garrick, his first major patron, who achieved great success as an actor in the 1760s.  Zoffany was able to encapsulate Garrick’s success on stage, producing numerous works that perfectly portray the atmosphere of the moment.  In most of his theatre portraits, he artificially compresses the performance space to intensify the sense of intimacy with the actors.

One such striking work is William Powell as Posthumus in ‘Cymbeline’; Powell was one of the rising stars of Georgian theatre and, here he is seen at the opening of Act Five, Scene Two where he enters with a bloody handkerchief.  Zoffany’s portraits maintain a striking air of dignity while his subjects seem natural and at ease.  He uses the same style regardless of the class of the sitter and his detail and vivacity is always vibrant as he expresses his unique humour through social commentary.

Johan Zoffany, William Powell as Posthumus in ‘Cymbeline’, c. 1767. Own photograph.

The exhibition progresses to look at Zoffany’s interest in art academies that began when he painted artists attending a life class at the St Martin’s Lane Academy.  In 1770, he started an ambitious behind-the-scenes portrait of the Royal Academicians.  The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy shows 36 individuals, 34 of whom were RAs; Thomas Gainsborough, George Dance and his brother are absent, possibly due to their discontent with the ideals of the Academy at the time.  It was not yet deemed appropriate for women to be included so female Academicians, Kauffman and Muser, are shown by their portraits.  The work is fundamentally a large conversation piece showing the Academicians setting the model for the life class.  This is not an actual record of practices at the Academy as research reveals that the life model was never set by the Academicians or the Keeper, as shown here.  Instead, it is a record of those who held membership of the Academy, highlighting the aesthetic programme that they supported.  Zoffany himself is seen on the left, closest to the front, with a palette and brushes in hand.  From this position he can survey the whole scene and all who stand before him – perhaps it is even one of the most important positions here.

Johan Zoffany, The Portraits of the Academicians of the Royal Academy, 1771-2. Own photograph.

In 1764, Zoffany was introduced to George III and Queen Charlotte who liked his meticulous painting style.  His earliest Royal portraits are striking conversation pieces showing the domestic aspect of the court.  The portraits show the Royals relaxed; the works are memorable and real.  Zoffany’s career flourished and he was in much demand.

Royal Portraits at the RA. Own photograph.

The same year, Zoffany purchased Stile House near Chiswick, situated near to the Estate of John Stuart, Third Earl of Bute.  Accounts of how they met vary greatly but John Stuart was a significant painter and collector and had commissioned Zoffany the previous year.  These are the works that I mentioned at the start – a gorgeous pair of portraits of the children of the Third Earl of Bute.  It is in this sort of work, his informal domestic or landscape scenes, that we really see how great Zoffany is.  The paintings are the same size and each is dominated by a tree against a low horizon with the figures in a broadly triangular grouping.   The tree, which was common in Zoffany’s landscapes, helps to root the sitters in the space as well as providing symbolic overtones of the family tree.  The works share a touch of playfulness; the painting of the boys emphasises important masculine qualities and pursuits appropriate to their future as leaders or heroes.   The work concentrates on themes of elite masculine privileges.  The image of the girls, however, is more feminine in style showing ideas of responsibility.  The girls are engaged in activities that suggest their nurturing and motherly qualities.  The wall label here is far too low, or maybe these boots are far too high, but it is very rare that I have to bend down to read something.

Johan Zoffany, Three Sons of John, Third Earl of Bute and Three Daughters of John, Third Earl of Bute, 1763-4. Own photograph.

Until this point the wall colours had varied so frequently that parts of the gallery resembled a darkened rainbow but from here on in the lighting improves and the gallery aesthetic seems more coherent.  Don’t get me wrong, this is a stunning exhibition of works by a stunning painter and the exhibition is uplifting.  Zoffany travelled extensively throughout his life and the penultimate room looks at his passage to India and the six years he spent there from Spring 1783; he had an astounding interest in global commerce and was always on the move.

A Passage to India. Own photograph.

This exhibition is long overdue as Tate Britain cancelled their planned Zoffany show in 2010, worried that there wouldn’t be enough public interest.  Zoffany may not have the fame of Reynolds, Gainsborough or Hogarth but he is a fascinating artist whose life deserves the attention it is now receiving.  He may well always be an outsider but maybe it is this that should interest us the most.   The journalist with me yesterday morning was not a Zoffany fan but I was not deterred by his initial despondency and I’m pleased to say that, partly thanks to my infectious enthusiasm, by the end of the exhibition he was a convert.

Zoffany’s works are about human behaviour, covering all aspects of 18th century society.  Not enough people know about Zoffany but through these 60 or so paintings and a selection of drawings and prints it becomes easy to argue his importance to the artistic culture and heritage of the 18th century.  The catalogue is a beautifully designed book providing an in-depth look at his career.

I came out feeling calmer and ready to tackle the day, immersed into Zoffany’s 18th century society.

Johan Zoffany RA: Society Observed is at the Royal Academy from Saturday 10th March until 10th June 2012, www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Two days left to catch the Burra Bug

17 Feb

By now, you’ve probably all seen the documentary and read about the Edward Burra exhibition which opened at Pallant House in October.  Various things have conspired against me and yesterday I realised how close I had come to missing this show.  So, off I went on a very Mini Adventure.  If I can’t take the car via the Strand and Waterloo Bridge then I tend to navigate via The Stoop (Harlequins’ home ground) and this was the way I zoomed yesterday.

This is the first major show for over 25 years of Burra’s works and he is finally getting a smidgeon of the recognition he deserves.  As well as his work being included in Tate Britain’s watercolour show, Zoot Suits fetched a record £1.8 million at Sotheby’s sale of the Evill/Frost Collection.  But, the art world elite have always been aware of his work.  It’s to everyone else that he has remained a mystery.

Edward Burra, Zoot Suits, 1948.  Image via www.voltcafe.com

The Edward Burra exhibition provides an opportunity to study Burra’s extraordinary creativity.  Burra was remarkable; suffering from severe arthritis and rheumatism, he was barely able to move his claw-like hands at the end of his life and grasped a paintbrush with his swollen fist.  Serious anaemia also left him debilitated and subject to collapse with no energy but, notwithstanding his constant ill health, he never wanted to be defined by this as it was something that he abhorred.  Burra was fortunate to be born to a wealthy family and to have humour and an indomitable spirit, qualities that allowed him to rise above his many illnesses.  For Burra, art was his drug and his escape; the only time that he didn’t feel any pain was when he was painting.

Edward Burra, The Snack Bar, 1930. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Burra lived in Rye, Sussex but he travelled far and wide drawing inspiration from diverse sources, creating complex artworks often redolent of the time in which he lived.  His sharp eye combined with a love and knowledge of art history that is often evident in his works.  He was fascinated by modern urban life – the cheap glamour of tarts and prostitutes who congregated in the Mediterranean seaports and the boulevards of Montparnasse and by the black culture he saw in Harlem where he was intoxicated by the violent colour, noise and heat.

Edward Burra, Harlem, 1934. Image via www.tate.org.uk

Apart from his collages, almost all of Burra’s incredible works are executed in watercolour and he was one of the most skilled exponents of the medium.  Initially, it’s hard to believe that they are not painted in tempera as the handling of the medium is so tight and the works lack the fluidity and tonal quality one would normally associate with watercolour.  It’s probable that he worked so heavily with this medium as it allowed him to paint at a table rather than being forced to stand at an easel.

Edward Burra, The Straw Man, 1963. Image via www.guardian.co.uk.  

Burra is an eccentric artist who resists categorisation.  The characters in his paintings jump out at you from their frames.  His compositions are often playful, provocative and powerful – nowhere else will you find such dynamism and life.   The Danse Macabre works look at Burra’s experimentation with collage; his strange composite beings are almost Surrealist and further heighten the confusion as to what movement Burra should be ‘shoved’ into.

Edward Burra, Dancing Skeletons, 1934. Image via www.tate.org.uk

The Pallant House exhibition is ordered by theme – High Art/Low Culture, Danse Macabre, A Sense of Unease, The Sussex Landscape, Late Landscapes and Painting The Stage – which works quite well because it is hung in relatively small rooms off the main gallery space.   It’s a difficult exhibition space to work and although a thematic display is successful sometimes the rooms feel too isolated and self-contained.

Most of the works here are on loan from private collections and are rarely seen.  The exhibition includes some very unusual Burra works, particularly the Sussex landscapes with which I wasn’t really familiar; these are rare as the majority of Burra’s work did not deal with Britain.  The room of Late Landscapes includes Burra’s painting materials and colour tests from the ’70s. Amidst these is an envelope that had become a testing page and a shopping list; in his distinctive writing Burra has scrawled ‘anchovies, paste, sardines, coffee, BRD, 4 batterys, savlon’.   This is a really lovely human detail.  In fact, as I write there is an envelope next to me that I have commandeered as a to-do list.

Edward Burra, Landscape near Rye, 1934-5. Image via www.pallant.org.uk

Burra was able to create an incredible atmosphere of suspense with heightened drama.  Although his subject altered radically over the years, there is always a sense that something isn’t quite right as he imbues even happy scenes with a sinister quality.  His works are humorous but disquieting, both comic but tragic; we are always left with questions and never quite know what Burra wanted us to think.  But that is the point.  After all, he famously said that he never ‘never tell[s] anybody anything’ so he wanted us to work it out for ourselves – or maybe not.

I was pleased to see how busy the exhibition was.  It is Burra’s seedy depictions of social scenes that grab us, opening windows into the underbelly of a world we have not visited.  John Rothenstein suggested that they may ‘constitute the most grand and the most vivid interpretation of the least reputable seams of society by any painter of our time’.  Although I’d have liked to see a few more of his idiosyncratic bustling urban scenes, the exhibition is great to allow an overview of the Burra that few people know.

Edward Burra, Three Sailors at a Bar, 1930. Image via www.hh-h.com

I’m not sure you’d leave Chichester loving Burra if you don’t already but if you have the Burra bug, like me, then it’s definitely worth rushing down to this.  I hope that before too long there will be another opportunity to talk more about Burra but, right now with only two days left, I urge you to jump on the train or head over via The Stoop and see his work for yourself.

Edward Burra is at Pallant House Gallery until 19th February 2012.  Also, in room four is a small David Dawson exhibition which includes his wonderfully intimate photos of Freud – some of which are at the NPG – and his own lesser known paintings.  David Dawson: Working with Lucian Freud is on until 20th May 2012, www.pallant.org.uk.

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