Henri has just returned from a few days in London and Paris. A quick visit with family and friends and a lot of art on tap. Against my better judgment I went to the Frieze Fair. I thought, “Hell, I’m here. Maybe it will be a bit different in a foreign land.” But I can assure you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that is most assuredly, not the case. The correct Brit phrase would be – what a load of bollocks! I really don’t know what’s going on with the art world. We keep hearing how certain things are selling for enormous amounts of money, how the collectors are still out there etc etc. But what is decidedly missing is any imagination or aplomb in the art work that is being made and shown at these huge art market potlatches. In fact that seems to be the case for the entire art world itself. Here we are at the end of October still waiting for an exciting season of art to begin. I haven’t encountered this much apathy about art or art making in years – at least not since the so-called PC days of the early 90s. Wowser!
Gauguin was on tap at the Tate Modern. That show, once again, showed that certain types of artists must grow into their work – just like Cezanne, Van Gogh or Pollock. I’m not a big lover of Gauguin’s work. It’s a bit too spooky for my taste, but I do like some of his drawing and some of the color when it’s not muddied. The show itself was exhaustive, but the layout of the exhibition was ridiculous. Gauguin’s best works – or rather – the works that I enjoy the most – were in the last 2 rooms of the exhibit. These rooms also happen to be among the smallest rooms of the exhibition. Other folks must have thought this was his best period as well because the viewing walls were at least 5 thick with people. Try to get a handle on what you’re supposed to be looking at through a crowd of cheap wool coats and the tinny sound of audio guide headphones in a room overheating with human presence. I mean seriously, couldn’t they have used the much larger room, just before these rooms, to show the work? Aren’t those paintings far more important and worth seeing in comfort than the wooden carving that used to hang over Paul’s hut (which was generously installed in the larger room?) I really don’t deal well with that kind of crowding, never have, never will. I stayed as long as I could (which wasn’t very long at all) and quickly escaped out the last door. So much for peaceful aesthetic contemplation. I absolutely abhor these blockbusters.
The National had some of my favorite Venetians and nary a wool coat in sight. To sit in that long gracious space with Veroneses on each end is wonderful. I especially love the composition of this Allegory of Unfaithfulness. Veronese is playing with the spaces of the figures and our own relation to them. We are looking up from below, in a ditch, probably. The guy in the pink coat is getting a note from the Lady in Question, and we know it’s about a later assignation because the Love Cherubs seem to be hanging about with him. The cuckold on the right hasn’t got a clue as he looks lovingly at the woman who is paying him absolutely no mind. I still haven’t quite figured out why the LIQ is naked (I mean, her gown seems to have miraculously fallen about her buttocks,) but I’m absolutely sure it had something to do with the fact that they’re all Venetian. (Ah Venezia!) What is formally interesting is the linking of the arms, the circular composition that creates tension between the 3 figures, and the weird play of the 3 tree branches above which creates a kind of natural geometry, an abstraction in the picture. You move from the top right entanglement to the bottom left where the composition empties out, but not before the painting gives you the blessing of the Cherubs. Here’s a little love on your way out….
In Paris I saw very little art, I have to say. I was more interested in gathering a feeling. I have been re-reading a great deal on the Romantic painters, mainly because of our recent Studio series. The way the artists wrote of their lives made me think a great deal about not just the making of art but the living of it as well. Paris seemed the perfect place to begin to think about these things a bit differently and relate an older time, an older feeling to our contemporary stagnation. Don’t get me wrong, I went to the Louvre, the D’Orsay and a couple of others, but I have to say, I kept a low profile in the art world. Instead I walked, I sat, I ate, I looked at the buildings, I told stories with friends. I thought about Delacroix a lot, went to see his paintings, and Manet’s and Courbet’s as well. In the coming weeks I will be writing about some work of my friends and colleagues that I carry with me. We’ll also be discussing this Romantic spirit, not in the cliched sense that we’ve all come to understand through sappy movies or farcical love stories, no. We’re going to be going back to the harder issues that faced those artists, philosophers and poets at a time when visual and intellectual change had stagnated and Mannerism had taken hold of a culture – a time not very unlike our own.