Des Chats comme Félix

Félix Vallotton: Painter of Disquiet (Royal Academy of Arts, 30 June—29 September 2019)

I had a grumpy wander around the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at Tate Modern, but it wasn’t doing much for me, or the crowd were getting in the way. Bonnard was part of a group of French artists, Les Nabis or The Prophets, who had mostly been to the Académie Julian in the late 1880s, and who were fans of Paul Cézanne and Paul Gaugin. Other members included Maurice Denis, Paul Ranson, Ker-Xavier Roussel and Édouard Vuillard.

Continue reading →

Household Tales

Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance

I think I first saw a Paulo Rego work at the Anthea Turner Gallery, a drawing of a back street abortion in the Youth exhibition which was the first of their shows to make a splash. It was simultaneously fascinating and painful, heartbreaking. There was an exhibition in Hastings of some recent work, inspired by a Spanish book, Hélia Correia’s The Boy Who Loved the Sea and some self portraits, made after a fall. There was a fairy tale quality to them; indeed I later saw an exhibition of fairy tale inspired pictures by chance at the Marlborough Gallery. She also showed up at a late room in the predominantly make Painting From Life exhibition at Tate Britain. Continue reading →

Per Aspera

Ad Astra (James Gray, 2019)

This is a bit spoilery in some of its gestures.

You know that you are going to be in for a bumpy ride when the near future setting epigraph to a film crossfades from a line about humanity’s future lying in the stars to the title Ad Astra, in case we can’t translate the Latin. Then the film goes into voiceover, wannabe Blade Runner, but the point of a voiceover is surely to mess with the visuals not to mesh with them. There is no point in him telling us that he is looking for a door and then showing us a door — later he tells us that he feels that he in the dark, holding onto a rope, as he is in the dark, holding on to … well, you get the idea.

Trust the audience.
Continue reading →

The Dull American

Joseph Kanon, The Good German (2001)

I’m not sure why I bought this, although this edition ties into a Steven Soderbergh which I recorded off the telly and still didn’t watch. It has been kicking around for five or six years, and went to America and Ireland and back, with no more than eighty pages read.

So it’s the dying days of the Second World War and the journalist Jake Geismer returns to Berlin in search of a final story and an old girlfriend, Lena, whose husband is a rocket scientist and engineer who both the Americans and Russians want on their side. When a young American is found shot dead in the river in the Russian zone, Geismer begins to investigate who is behind this. And then a female press photographer is shot dead, with Geismer suspecting he is the intended target.

The Guardian compares it to Graham Greene’s The Third Man, a novella about a tenth of the length dealing with some of the murkier business of the war, and a classic film full of memorable moments. This book is, alas, unmemorable, whose titular German I had to double check the identity of. Whilst Geismer is in every scene, it is written in the third person and the shocking revelations seem rather flat. We know the ambiguity of Werner von Braun, and have since before Tom Lehrer satirised it. Here, however, I just wanted them to get on with it. I think this will go back to a charity shop.

World Munching

Edvard Munch. There are Worlds Within Us

Bergen has one of the world’s largest Edvard Munch collections in the world, largely collected by Rasmus Meyer from the artist himself, and donated to the city. A whole room in KODE 3 is normally devoted to his version of The Frieze of Life, Munch’s overarching but flexible depiction of the cycle of life and death. Two more rooms bring together earlier and later work, with a spill out room that sometimes contains prints. But for now, those rooms are filled with photographs — more to come — as the collection moves to an exhibition in KODE 2 alongside selections from the National Museum of Art and Design, the Munch Museum and the Gundersen Collection.

Continue reading →

Snared

Laura Cumming, The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Veláquez (2017)

11DCFAA8-9739-41CB-8C40-CB74C289B9F0I was browsing the freebie table at Worldcon when I found this and picked it up. I confess that I haven’t much knowledge of Diego Veláquez, a seventeenth century Spanish painter, beyond Las Meninas as inspiration for Picasso and Pope Innocent X as inspiration for Bacon. It seemed to be a book about a single painting — and then I noticed the author was Laura Cumming, art critic for The Observer and author of On Chapel Sands, a biography of her mother’s hidden past.
Continue reading →