Monday, 26 September 2016

Abstract Expressionism - Royal Academy of Arts

Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955
Abstract Expressionism is at the Royal Academy until 2 January 2017.
It is hard, now, to imagine the impact of the exhibition New American Painting at the Tate Gallery in 1959 – it was the first significant showcase in this country of the work of the Abstract Expressionists. It must have been both exhilarating and bewildering: it received both admiration and derision. British abstract painters such as Basil Beattie and the late Albert Irvin have attested to its revelatory effect. Remarkably this is the first large scale survey of the movement since that exhibition more than 50 years ago. So this is very exciting!
(There have, of course, been recent major surveys of individuals such as Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko – but this is a wonderful opportunity to see the richly varied work of this school of artists all together and it includes some who have been little seen in the UK, for example, Joan Mitchell and Clyfford Still.)
The 1959 exhibition was organised by the Museum of Modern Art, New York and toured to several locations in Europe. Although it was met with some scepticism – one French critic asked ‘Why do they think they are painters?’ (1) it helped to cement the reputations of the Abstract Expressionists and decisively established New York as the capital of modern art in place of Paris. Whether or not one takes seriously the promotion of this art movement as American state sponsored (CIA) propaganda and an instrument in the Cold War (the individualistic, advanced, abstract art was proposed as an emblem of freedom and democracy in telling contrast to the rigid, rule bound sterility of Socialist Realism) the scale and daring of Abstract Expressionism at its best can be truly thrilling.
All the major names are in the show – Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline, David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Ad Reinhardt, Joan Mitchell, Philip Guston – and more. Highlights include Pollock’s Mural (which I was lucky enough to see in Berlin earlier this year, see below) and Blue Poles – this painting generally gets a big thumbs up from critics (Laura Cumming: ‘magnificent’; Mark Hudson: ‘stunning’) yet in a filmed interview made for the OU in 1982 Clement Greenberg (the key critical voice supporting Pollock) says “Blue Poles was a failure – as Jackson himself recognised”. I am also looking forward to seeing Joan Mitchell’s work, since I can’t recall ever having seen any before, and Clyfford Still’s paintings. I knows Still’s work principally from a solitary (I think) example in the Tate and through reproductions – obviously this is not a good basis for judgement, yet I have always been rather dismissive of what looks to me as rather banal work lacking the subtlety, elegance or invention of his peers – yet he is written about with considerable respect and is substantially represented in this show. I look forward to forming a more considered judgement!
Read reviews by Laura Cumming, Adrian Searle, Mark Hudson; read a feature article by John-Paul Stonnard.
(1) Erika Doss (2002) Twentieth Century American Art, OUP, p127
(2) Open University (1982) Greenberg on Pollock: Interviewed by T.J. Clark, OU/BBC
(Click on images to enlarge.)

Jackson Pollock, Male and Female, 1942-43
Arshile Gorky, Water of the Flowery Mill, 1944
David Smith, Star Cage, 1950
Willem de Kooning, Woman II, 1952
Jackson Pollock, Blue Poles, 1952 (detail)
Mark Rothko, Yellow Band, 1956
Willem de Kooning, ...Whose Name was Writ in Water, 1975
Joan Mitchell, Salut Tom, 1979
Installation view of works by Clyfford Still

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

William Kentridge: Thick Time - Whitechapel Gallery

William Kentridge, 7 Fragments for Georges Méliès, Day for Night and Journey to the Moon, 2003.
There are not many contemporary artists who could hold their own in a double bill with Albrecht Dürer. William Kentridge however, is one such artist. One of the best exhibitions I have seen this year was Double Vision: Albrecht Dürer & William Kentridge at the Kulturforum in Berlin in February. So, I have high expectations of William Kentridge: Thick Time -  at the Whitechapel Gallery until 15 January 2017.
William Kentridge, from Rubrics, 2012
Kentridge’s practice is rooted in drawing – especially charcoal and ink drawing and especially filmed animations of those drawings. These ‘charcoal’ films are magical – watch a short excerpt here.  I especially love his animated flipbooks in which he has drawn on the pages of, typically, old reference books, and made films of the pages turning – watch an example here.
William Kentridge, Second Hand Reading, 2013
Kentridge combines a poetic vision and sensibility with a deft and inventive use of materials and technologies to produce ambitious installations with a wonderfully rich range of reference and allusion - to the  history of science (the measurement of time, the mapping of the world) the history of art (Durer) politics (colonialism, apartheid, Trotsky) culture (the films of Méliès, theatre, opera)… Fantastic stuff.
Read a feature article on Kentridge by Nicholas Wroe, read an exhibition review by Mark Hudson, listen to a brief interview with the artist on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. Watch a selection of short videos about Kentridge’s work at Art21.
Click on images to enlarge.
William Kentridge, Second Hand Reading, 2013
William Kentridge, still from A Journey to the Moon, 2003
Installation view of William Kentridge,The Refusal of Time, 2012
William Kentridge, still from The Refusal of Time, 2012
William Kentridge, still from The Refusal of Time, 2012
William Kentridge, still from O Sentimental Machine, 2015
William Kentridge, still from The Refusal of Time, 2012

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Art and Photography at the Cheltenham Literature Festival


The Driver, the Mechanic, the Girl and the Car ('55 Chevy) - from Two Lane Blacktop, dir. Monte Hellman, 1971 (See American Icons: The Open Road, below.)
This year's Cheltenham Literature Festival (7 - 16 October) includes a handful of events about art and photography. The following are listed in the order in which they are scheduled:
Is the Selfie Really Selfish? Frances Borzello, author of Seeing Ourselves: Women's Self-Portraits, discusses self-portraits from the Renaissance to the digital age.
Sunday 9 October, 2-3pm


Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, 1942
Edward Hopper: The Darker Side of the American Dream. Rosalind Ormiston discusses Hopper's vision of C20 American life.
Monday 10 October, 11.30am-12.30pm

Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico/Out Back of Marie's II, 1930
Georgia O'Keeffe. Concurrent with the Tate's exhibition (continuing until 30 October) curator Tanya Barson discusses the importance of O'Keeffe with artist Kaye Donachie and art historian Anne Wagner - chaired by art critic Rachel Campbell-Johnston.
Monday 10 October, 7.45-8.45pm


J.M.W. Turner, Interior of Petworth House, 1837
Turner. Turner biographer Franny Moyle and artist Tim Wright discuss Turner's life and art.
Thursday 13 October, 11am-12noon


Diego Velázquez, El bufón don Diego de Acedo, c1645
The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez. Laura Cumming discusses the C17 life of Velázquez' and the C19 'discovery' of a Velázquez painting in a Victorian boarding school.
Friday 14 October, 3.30-4,30pm 


Sophie Ryder, Hare and Minotaur, 1995
Sophie Ryder: A Life in Sculpture. Ryder, whose Hare and Minotaur is a familiar sight on Cheltenham's Promenade talks to Jon Benington about her work and interest in mythical creatures.
Friday 14 October, 5.45-6.45pm 


Hans Ulrich Obrist: Lives of the Artist, Lives of the Architects. The globe-trotting curator and director of Serpentine Galleries, Hans Ulrich Obrist, discusses his life in the international artworld with Mark Lawson.
Saturday15 October, 10.30-11.30am


Ai Weiwei with Tree, 2009-10 – installation at Royal Academy, 2015
Art and Activism: Celebrating Ai Weiwei. RA director Tim Marlow and Serpentine Galleries director Hans Ulrich Obrist discuss the work and significance of Ai Weiwei.
Saturday 15 October, 1.30-2.20pm

And finally, the pick of the crop, in my view:

Robert Frank, U.S.90, en route to Del Rio, Texas, from The Americans
American Icons: The Open Road. The authors of two of my favourite books - David Campany, (The Open Road: Photography and the American Road Trip) and Jason Wood (100 Road Movies) talk with ‘Beat Generation scholar’ Oliver Harris about being on the road in America. Chaired by Sarfraz Manzoor
Sunday 16 October, 5.30-6.30pm


For more details and bookings go to the Festival website.