The Art of the State: 2020 Exhibitions Part One

I guess it’s unlikely (Tier 4) that I will see any more exhibitions before and so a year that began with Jarman and Freud didn’t continue with Van Eyck, Chagall and Astrup … but did manage to include Munch.

I got my money’s worth out of my Art Fund card, just about, and Tate membership and the RAA card makes life a little easier, but you need to be fast to catch the members’ previews.

I have a top ten which is — go figger — a) subjective and b) only mentions artists once.

The Tate was perhaps a little underwhelming — Blake works better on the page than the wall, Beardsley didn’t quite do it for me, Warhol is Warhol and Turner is showing us mostly what we ought to be able to see for free. Dora Maar just got edged out.

I also seem to be rubbish at writing exhibitions up.

2020 Exhaustive and Yet Probably Incomplete List Here / 2020 theatre here

The Top Ten

10 Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul (Royal Academy of Arts)

Say what you will about Emin, but her works make second rate Munch look fantastic. I must come back to this — the paintings weren’t all bad, but I got more Cy Twombly than Munch. You never know, I might get to see this again in Oslo.

9 Quentin Blake: We Live in Worrying Times (Hastings Contemporary)

The rebranded and presumably refunded Jerwood had a Burra et al exhibition I missed and I returned to see if I liked Victor Pasmore any more than last time (spoiler: no). At the heart of this exhibition is Blake’s Guernica — and, no, that isn’t meant to be a joke. I was in tears.

8 British Surrealism (Dulwich Picture Gallery)

Dulwich rather oddly twins twentieth-century exhibitions (mostly) with old masters and this brought together some familiar names and some people I’d never heard of. Endlessly fascinating, but shame about the other viewers. (Who say the same about me.)

7 Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age (National Gallery)

A talented pupil of Rembrandt, who goes in his own direction. I went back several times (it was hidden in the ground floor galleries) and later spent time with his work at the Wallace Collection, the Ashmolean and the Queen’s Gallery, Buck House.

6 Rembrandt’s Light (Dulwich Picture Gallery)

Dulwich sometimes ventures back pre-1900 and this was a stunning display of the ten years of Rembrandt climbing to his height. You could argue that Christ and St Mary Magdalen at the Tomb didn’t need buggering about with by adding a fake dawn lighting effect, or hold out and see it in much brighter light at the Queen’s Gallery. This just about edges out the Ashmolean Young Rembrandt and individual paintings at the Wallace Collection and National (London and Irish).

5 Leon Spilliaert (Royal Academy of Arts)

A stunning, overlooked, Belgian artist, whose work I must have seen in Brussels, and who would be worth a trip to Ostend for (where there are works by his crush James Ensor). I suspect overlooked because he did watercolours rather than oils.

4 Derek Jarman: Protest (IMMA)

I went to Dublin to see this — and nearly kicked myself as it was going to Manchester in April. Should have left it for the spring…. ha ha ha haha (etc.). They seemed unbothered that the catalogue had yet to be published, but having seen it I’m glad I didn’t have to carry it home. I spent a couple of hours going around it and returned a couple of days later. If I’m honest, he’s not a great artist, but he embraces multiple styles and is very moving at times. There was a small exhibition at The Garden Museum, with mainly late work and his gardening tools.

3 Bridget Riley (Hayward Gallery)

I think Riley was one of the first artists I saw, when I started going to see exhibitions more than twice a year and I was still wondering if actually I like design rather than art (see also: Ben Nicholson, Piet Mondrian.) This was a major retrospective, although I suspect I’ve seen most of them before. Like Rothko, she is an artist to surrender to. I can take or leave the spot paintings and, indeed, her colour work, but the stripes are the thing. However, I did like the cartoons — some of which were shown at one of the Mayfair Galleries.

2 Davie and Hockney: Early Works (Towner Gallery)

There was a retrospective of Hockney’s portraits at the National Portrait Gallery and some contemporary works at a Mayfair Gallery — although the Lightbox single room in Woking gave a better sense of his range. Indeed, I think you could easily do three or four major coherent surveys and only repeat some of the sixties works. But this Eastbourne exhibition edges ahead because, in a rare move, I was accompanied by a friend, and I’d assumed Hockney would wipe the floor with Alan Davie in the same way that Munch did with Emin. In fact, it was probably a score draw, and I almost got the sense that Jarman had tried not to be Hockney and ended up more like Davie.

1 Artemisia (National Gallery)

The exhibition that nearly wasn’t, thanks to COVID. One of the key early woman artists and it is easy to be drawn in by the horrors of her rape and the subsequent trial — but there is a solid career and a canny businesswoman at work. We were perhaps a little short changed by few portraits included — her bread and butter — and the altarpieces are a little off, but almost every picture is a masterpiece. I hope it reopens, but I fear not.

Eavesdropping

Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age (National Gallery, London)

Tucked away on the ground floor of the National Gallery has been an exhibition devoted to Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693), an almost industrial producer of portraits – some 900, apparently – but earlier in his career better known genre pictures. In fact, such is the divide, that some critics have suggested there were two artists on the same name.

Continue reading →

If You Go Back to the Woods Today

My Back to the Woods (National Gallery, 11 May-30 October 2016)

George Shaw is that rare beast, a painter who has been nominated for the Turner Prize. I was enough lucky to see the exhibition at the BALTIC, Gateshead, and to my mind it was the best work.

It couldn’t possibly win.

I don’t mean that in a modern art is crap way. I like contemporary art. I just haven’t found myself agreeing with the winners that often. Continue reading →

Don’t Mention Mike Yarwood

Inventing Impressionism (National Gallery, London, 4 March-31 May 2015)

There are two groups of painters that to my mind seem awfully old-fashioned and chocolate box, and having seen their work I feel the need for a blast of Howard Hodgkin or Leonora Carrington. And yet, despite being immensely popular crowd pleasers now, in their time they were as revolutionary as YBAs. I mean the Preraphaelites and the Impressionists.

This seems an innocent enough landscape, a suburban church on a spring day. It’s Sydenham, in 1871. The church is still there, although Camille Pissarro makes the tower taller.

And here’s Monet’s Westminster in 1871. That tower looks wrong.

These and about eighty other paintings were brought together in an exhibition at the National Gallery, based around the dealer,  Paul Durand-Ruel, who was a champion of the Impressionists. He had inherited the painting business from his father, and saw potential for an emerging group of artists in Paris in the 1860s. He bought cheap when the market was low, then sold at a huge profit. He seems also to have manipulated the market at times to bid up prices. In 1870 he left Paris, to get away from the Franco-Prussian War, and in a London gallery began a series of shows of French artists. He also met artists such as Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro, who were also living in London. If the French weren’t interested, maybe the British would be. He paid artists a monthly wage and focused on individual artists for catalogues and exhibitions. Whilst his business was subject to the rises and falls of the French economy, he clearly was a hugely successful dealer. And he looked from Europe to America, where a new market awaited, sending one of his sons out there to manage affairs.

And yet critics had conniptions at some of the paintings. Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s “Study: Torso, Sunlight Effect” (1875-6)

 

Albert Wolff in Le Figaro wrote “Try to explain to Monsieur Renoir that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with those purplish green stains that denote a state of complete putrefaction in a corpse.” Imagine if they saw a Paula Rego or a Lucian Freud. They’d have heart attacks.

I guess it’s a failure on my part to think myself back into the 1870 mindset — it doesn’t feel revolutionary. It feels nice.

 

 

 

 

,