Tuesday, October 16, 2007

FRIEZE ART FAIR http://www.friezeartfair.com


Well we all went, didn't we? It was a crush, it was not the best place to see good art, but it was fun. Unfortunately I did not get to ogle any celebrities.
London hasn't changed, has it? The fairs and pleasure gardens of 18th century London must have been a bit like the Frieze. People watching, buying big, putting on the ritz.
Overpriced entrance tickets (a rip-off if you booked in advance on the internet) and the food/drink facilities were slow, slow, slow and also overpriced. Nowhere to sit down.
Next time I go, I will have to make time to see the sculpture outside, but on the whole I do not think I missed much by not looking carefully at everything. There was a lot of tatty stuff. Some lovely photographs. A nice Sam Francis for mega-bucks.
Of course it is not an exhibition, it is not a curated show.
Possibly I was expecting too much, having seen three great exhibitions beforehand, the Paula Rego, the Georg Baselitz and the Louise Bourgeois.
Art Fairs are a mishmash of things that the galleries are hoping to sell just to collectors who want to find a home for their wealth, which might - they fondly expect - increase in value. And I include the Tate in this heading.
The gallery owners are not interested in art for arts sake. I get the impression that anything can be sold, as long as enough people subscribe to its value. You start looking at alarm bells and fire extinguishers, or baby buggies, and half-expecting that they are part of the display.
Obviously I am not the person who is a valued attendee at Art Fairs, I am not going to buy anything. I presume that if you really are one of the big spenders, you get the full treatment, VIP lounges, courtesy cars and a big massage for the ego.
It must be exhausting for the stall-holders at this, one of London's biggest street-markets.



I was not familiar with Louise Bourgeois before I attended a talk at Kensington and Chelsea College with the photography lecturer, Manon, who showed us slides of her sculptures, including "Filette". Manon's enthusiasm encouraged me to take an interest in this artist. So I was glad to go along and find out more.
We are lucky in London to have so much fine works to see, this autumn.
This is another blockbuster, the life-work of a woman now nearly 95.
In particular, I was moved by the large 'rooms' that are on display in the middle of this exhibition, where objects from Louis's past have been incorporated, her clothes which have been sewn and reformed. And red objects. Old doors are the walls, or wire cages.
I am not sure how to read the significance of these exhibits, I know very little about the art movements in New York during the years when they were made. They are, I guess, under the heading of 'installation' or 'scupture', and I have been looking at painting most of my life. Paint is familiar to me, not metal or found objects.
Obviously other artists have influenced her. She was in the heart of things, married to an art critic.
There is little here to suggest any link with France or French artists. Although there are many photos of her as a girl and young woman at the exit. She left France in about 1938.
Some early drawings of the housewife, half house, half women, brought back memories for me of the writings of women and the theme of being paid to do housework. I suppose this was in the 1960s, when I got very interested in the 'womans movement'.
There are beautiful objects here too, as well as sharp, agressive shapes and dirty bits of metal. By the window is the glossy bronze, the Arc of Hysteria, suspended from the ceiling. An exquisite thing.
Also exquisite is the view from the window across to St Pauls. On that day, it was all greys, the lines of the city buildings receeding in layers, the light from the river, and just to seal it in perfection, a drift of smoke falling towards the sea, blowing across the greyness of the sombre ancient heart of London.

Paula Rego - some more

I made notes about the exhibition for my own interest, and also bought the book in the Museum shop.
She makes quantities of etchings, lithographs and uses aquatint with great competence. In particular I liked the Pendel Witches series. Lots of the prints are in book form, and published as limited editions as 'artists books'.
Some of her drawings are on display, showing them squared up for transposition onto paper or board.
The Abortion series shows women in a dark, almost abstract background, maybe a two colour background, like a Spanish portrait. Black, green. The women are different ages, lookout out at you. She does not need to add anything to the figures, to enhance the message. In one I noticed a black bucket, which she uses in other paintings.
Interesting that she comes from Portugal, where I presume the law preventing abortion might be still in force. I do not know. In any case she comes from the generation, like me, that can remember when abortion was illegal in England - before the Pill!
Her earlier pastels seem less violent than the lastest ones. In particular we both liked The Fitting, from 1990, showing a young woman in a blue crinoline, in a dream-like setting, with two figures fitting her, and odd other figures, tiny by comparison, at the side.
These works make you think, they stay in your mind, they prevent you sleeping at night - or they did me.


The big retrospective of Paula Rego is one you should try and see. It is at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, in Madrid from 26 Sept to 30 December 2007.
The link for museum is www.museoreinasofia.es
We went along twice because first time, we were en route to Toledo, and the museum is near the Atocha RENFE station. Then coming back after Toledo, we had time to spend much more time.
Once again, the work that Paula Rego has produced in impressive because, first it is creative and challenging, and secondly she works on a large size, with a difficult medium, pastel. Sheer physical effort is needed in quantity to do these pictures.
From reproductions, you do not realise that these are pastel. Reproductions do not do them justice, because the medium has a texture and sensual quality, a lustre and sheen, that makes you want to touch it. Of course they are all under glass.
The subjects are very often distorted, heads larger than life, grotesque grimaces on faces, animals in odd juxtapositions to humans.
She has recurring objects, such as an orange high heel shoe, she uses the same models and the same faces crop up over and over again, aging the while. Jane Eyre for instance, is a woman not in the first flush of youth!
There is a huge triptych "Marriage a la Mode", interesting to me because I like Hogarth, and have done my own version of some of the Rake's Progress, as etchings.
These are in pastel and are again disturbing, without the title you would not recognise the relevance to Hogarth.
The most frightening things are drawings in ink and watercolour called Misericordia, of old peoples homes, showing them, among other things, being hit, or wiped after the toilet. Really I found these drawings hard to look at. Also Rego has done drawings of faces with different emotions, showing Repugnance, Disgust, Scorn and Embarrasment.

Millais - is it worth going?

I have seen several exhibitions and three art fairs since Millais. I remember the exhibition as being huge, I remember the critics being fierce on him. This exhibition demonstrates what can be achieved if the object is to show a life -work of a remarkably gifted, prolific artist who produced his work in England/Scotland, and most of them stayed in these countries. Some works must have been borrowed from abroad. There are so many, it is indigestible. They are in general, in good condition, except for some which are badly cracked.
For a comparison, it would be necessary to take an artist who started work at 16 or 17, carried on all his life to his 70s and who was so popular that his output included landscapes, portraits and narative works. I can think of nobody who could be used as a comparison, who is painting today. In this way, Millais is quite extraordinary.
Having said that, I can remember most clearly the works which he painted under the influence of - probably - Velazquez. Two portaits in particular. one of a young woman in a black dress embroidered with flowers, and one of a girl, also in a black dress, I think.
If you are very busy, don't go. But if you want to marvel an sheer hardwork, go along for a couple of hours!
www.tate.org.uk/britain/ exhibitions/millais/default.shtm

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Because I am now a member of the Tate - at great expense- I can attend private views. Actually you do not get much for your money, no drinks, no particular benefits. Maybe just a few less people walking round, but it is still crowded.
The Millais is another huge autumn blockbuster exhibition, and extremely exhausting to walk round - there is just so much stuff.
I will write more, it is just too tiring to even think about doing it now!


This exhibition is over the river from the Royal Academy, where I went in the morning. It is near Southwark tube.
Such a big change from the Baselitz show. A real jump down.
These drawings seemed more like rough illustrations or ideas for advertisements. Of course it is a mixed show, not all the work is 2-D or on paper. Nevertheless, there seems to be little linked to the great drawing achievements of the past, no passing nod to the drawings of Van Gogh, or Rembrandt or seven Ardizzoni.
Of course I am biased because this is the second year my entry for the Jerwood has been rejected!
However, if drawing is to be considered seriously, I feel that the judges will have to get away from their preoccupation with the art-school student, graphic design doodle that most of these drawings bring to mind.


BASELITZ - a lot has been written about him recently. Did you see any of the reviews? I liked the article in the Financial Times on Saturday (22 September 2007)
I went to see the exhibition at the Royal Academy the previous Wednesday. First is a huge circular gallery, which prepares you for the size of his painting - they are usually huge. In the centre is a well-known wooden scupture with a raised right arm, much like a fascist salute. The canvasses have rough textures where the material is not covered, and I noted that the overall colours are reds, ochres, umbers and blacks. The Shepherd, painted in 1965, seems to have tits!
Later paintings to look out include Homage to Vrubel, because of the luscious pink and yellow paint, the figure squashed to the right of the canvas - a big brown space.
Ten paintings of feet, such large pink shapes, almost ultra realistic, suggested to me that Jenny Saville has had a good look at these works. These are the right way up. In fact I felt that although many of the paintings are upside down, this was not disturbing or even very incongruous. What was more disturbing was the way the heads on the male figures are painted very small, and seemingly feminine.
The woodcuts are something that I was very interested to see, being generally interested in printmaking.
These are described as continuing the German tradition, but actually they are chiefly of interest for their straightforwardness, colour and composition - filling the small rectangles completely in a satisfactory completeness.
The four pink heads called Oberon are a disturbing nightmare, the light coming from underneath the heads, illuminating the looming figures of terror as if lit by a nightlight.
Some pain tings are not in fact canvasses, but wood In Gallery 6 are works with a date of 1989. There are 20 paintings with inverted child-like heads ( I mean the heads look as if painted by a child). They have a strange self-importance, the heads are so 'all the same' yet different. I wonder if he worked on them all at the same time? He could only have done this if he had a huge studio. The project of these works is described as taking place on the 45th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. The wood is slashed and gouged out all over the surfaces, as if they have been attacked with a machete.
Baselitz lived near Dresden as a child. This must have been terrifying, when the fire storm raged. Many thousands of children in German and England must have been similarly terrified by the bombs and fires raging round their homes. I consider that maybe the label of a traumatised victim of the war, which seems to have been attached to Bazelitz, might just be a convenient one that journalists have hit upon.
By the time you get to Galley 7, the works have become enormous, strange and repellent, in particular I noticed the inverted figures in Supper at Dresden, (a link to an alterpiece maybe?) There are the de Brucke artists and Munch without heads, in colours of red, blue, black and pink.
The whole exhibition must give Baselitz a great feeling of achievement, Here is a major collection of consistent work, and by no means all his output is here. He has continued to produce strong, assertive work throughout these years, and without doubt has seen and considered the influence of the art being done in America, and to a lesser extent in Britain, but here there are no hints of Pop Art, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism and all the other isms we have been battered with.
I admire these paintings and found the exhibition itself disturbing and thought-provoking. I shall certainly come back to have a second look.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Georg Baselitz and Portraits

When I was at the RA today, 18 Sept, I noticed it was the Press day for the Baselitz exhibition. I had a good look through the doors but the attendent would not let me sneak in. What I saw was pretty arresting, very large stuff that hits you in the eye. Outside there are piles of books about the artist, the exhibition and also a big collection of postcards, birthday cards and T shirts with little bits of Baselitz. Wonder what it is like to be a serious artist and see your work cut up into little snippets to appear on greetings cards?

I want to go to one or two of the evening lectures but they are expensive. Cannnot do the ones on Mondays but there are three on Fridays.
On 2 November there is a lecture by Proff Richard Shiff from Austin, who 'presents Beselitz'v view of mdoern German history as a kind of dark comedy'. Also one on 26 October about 1920s cinematic German Expressionist movement and Baselitz.
When I was in Berlin last autumn I tried to see some German Expressionist works but there was little to see in the major galleries. It is strong meaty stuff and I wonder if it is dispersed all round the world like confetti or if there is a stash of it somewhere.

The main man himself is talking on 12 October. All of these talks cost £10 each and they actually throw in a drink of wine or such - since the wine in the Friend's room costs abougt £3.75 I suppost the talk is a bit of a bargain, on scond thoughts (or you could just bring a hip flask).

There are portraits of Royal Academicians too, in some beautifully restored room at the front of the building. I was interested to see one of Laura Knight when she was a mere slip of a girl, painted by the man who she later married. One other self-portrait by a women, but the rest are rather boring men. Not really worth going to see.

Impressionist by the Sea - RA Sept 2007

This small exhibition was worth the effort to go and see. Interesting that the earlier paintings by the French artists plus Whistler, showed the seaside developmement such as hotels, along the Normandy coast. Then they seemed to change their focus, and painted more romantic pictures of rocks, clouds, the light on the water. I prefer to see the modern world in all its grimness, colour and absurdity.
There is a pretty Renoir of some children on the beach in Guernsey, with small dancing figures of other children in the waves behind the girls, lightly sketched in. I hope all the RAs who paint seaside figures have a good look.


Trying to catch up with the London art scene, I decided to make a trip to the Impressionists by the Sea exhibition at the RA, and the Mary Feddon new works.
Mary Feddon was born during the first World War. Her latest stuff is in the Friends Room. There you can see her small paintings, each one with its accompanying red dot, all round the room which was full of visitors chatting, drinking and eating the excessively expensive drink and food, and not taking any notice of the works on the wall.
These are all still lives, various objects reoccurring, such as the same striped feather which I saw about four times. I wonder what the reason is for producing such similar works, within a short space of time. (it is called New Paintings). The images seemed repetitive and unchallenging, almost without excitement or delight.
The prices, however, must be exciting and delightful for those on the receiving end. There are 20 works, only one NFS, cheapest £2500 and most expensive £9000.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


We are leaving very early tomorrow morning, catching the tram, and eventually flying out at 9.30 to Luxor. Our cases are stuffed with medical emergencies: immodium, rehydration powers, elastoplast, tubigrip bandages, indigestion pills, laxative, savlon cream, you name it, we are taking it! Not forgetting, of course, the sunblock, the insect repellent and the wad of cash. With all that to take, not much room for clothes and shoes. We hope for great events.