Andre Wallace

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Manet and more Manet

All the critics are this week forced to confront the blockbuster RA exhibition but missing from it are key works such as Olympia and Dejeuner sur L'Herbe  because the Musee D'Orsay won't let them out of Paris. Most critics argue that whole show is marred by this.

Manet will always seem the enigma - the putative father of contemporary painting. His admiration of and his pure academic understanding of Velasquez is the source of his greatness. As an objective study of how modern art cannibalised other historical art, understanding the personal alienation conveyed in his work is a real visual challenge. Insofar as he was a superb draughtsman, he is difficult for any contemporary sensibility to fully appreciate..... except in terms of the distancing he made all his own.

Charles Darwent at the Independent complains about the hanging, saying he has reservations about the quality of many of the works as failed visual experiments - which have sneaked in. This whining on about failed images is a little unfair, Manet's technique, relied upon accident, spontaneity and gesture and he didn't and couldn't always get it right. When he did, he advanced the cause of academic figurative art well into the 20th century. He writes;"Hanging Berthe Morisot and Eva Gonzalès on the same wall makes you wonder if truthfulness can be taken too far." Every great artist has high notes and also low ones, but neither of these paintings are bad, contrived maybe, but not bad.

Laura Cumming at the Observer is more thoughtful. She makes the point that the images look extraordinarily modern, but then again over familiarity with them and downright copying has made a large contribution to contemporary visual sensibility. Thousands of artists paint portraits that are poorly disguised self-portraits, they repeat the same self image over and over in different guises. It's a measure of Manet's greatness that he was never guilty of this. He invented the psycho-drama construct where the viewer himself/herself is the key to unlocking the image within the picture plane itself..
Cumming writes:"The woman and the child are locked in their famous triangle, one looking into the station as the train departs, leaving white steam in the air, the other looking up from her book with an inquiring eye, noticing that she's been seen. A parade of railings spans the whole picture, coming between the portraits and the pure whiteness beyond – an abstract dimension, the very signal of modernity." I.e. Manet draws attention to the picture plane.

Waldemar Januszczak at the Sunday Times gets carried away with his total enthusiasm, which is understandable, much as usual. He makes the final comment that his quick and sure brushwork which quivers and skips to the rhythms of modernity is easier to appreciate in the absence of the great masterpieces that will never leave Paris. He could also have said that Manet's genius lies in the very precise but absolutely appropriate mark, which sums up an eyelid, cheek shadow or a lip.

Richard Dorment is very negative at the at the Sunday Telegraph and Waldemar goes as far as to take him to task for this on twitter. Dorment is often wrong about everything, he takes pains to see what others miss and in the process misses everything of significance. This is what's wrong with his piece, when he writes:"Surely this is what the novelist Huysmans was driving at when he identified Manet’s talent for enveloping his characters “in the atmosphere of the world in which they belong”. That’s very different from saying that he explored character or got under his sitters’ skin." This doesn't explain or indeed see the Manet that most of us see.

Brian Sewell in the London Evening Standard takes this pop at state art; "The absolute power of a Salon jury in Manet’s day may seem extraordinary and outrageous but it is matched today by the similarly arbitrary power of the Arts Council and of Serota and his Tates." This is of course absolutely true, as most struggling artists will attest. The rest of the review is very perceptive, from a critic who always excels himself when dealing with this period of art history. He finishes with a comment that those who know their Manet will be upset by an exhibition that will traduce his genius. A complaint about what is missing.

Souran Meilikian at the New York Times complains of Manet's stylistic inconsistency and argues that skill bears no relation to quality. He insists that the show is evidence of Manet's lack of aesthetic conviction, presumably because he did as he wished having like Cezanne the sin of a private income. He writes this total dribble: "Some may be 
tempted to think, about this master’s own disconcerting lack of consistency and, perhaps, of any deeply held aesthetic convictions."

The FT review by Jackie Wullschlager is as would be expected plain and balanced.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Lynn Painter Stainers prize 2013

Interesting list of selected artists for the 2013 Lynn Painter Stainers prize, the standard this year seems to be set high.  We still seem to have many good figurative artists in the UK who can make real art from small things. People will always buy this sort of art because they like it.
Worth considering are these artists:
Rachel Ross
Hayley Harrison
Jeanette Barnes
Julia Comenares
George Rowlett
Tony Noble
David Carpanini
Peter Brown
Annamarie Dzendrowskij
Mellissa Scott Miller
Charlotte Sorapure

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gerard Byrne and Fred Sandback - 20th January

Laura Cummings in the Observer praises an Irish conceptual artist from the deathly Lisson stable whom we have only recently heard of, Gerard Byrne viewing at the Whitechapel. The art works consist of video in which actors re-enact the past, supposedly highly charged and significant conversations between noteworthy's, such as a group of science fiction novelists discussing the future. Celebrity video archeology, "Homme à Femmes (Michel Debrane)" is a re-enactment of the interview that took place between the young feminist journalist Catherine Chaine and the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. The interviewee, never visible, asks questions to the actor Michel Debrane (who plays Sartre) about his relationships with women and what it feels like to be an old-fashioned sexist.
Why the original interview is no longer available on film isn't discussed -presumably it was suppressed as too controversial, but there is something profoundly unsettling going on here which says more about the ignorant present than the past. Sartre was the original poodle faker, he wrote little of value except for adolescents, he lied about his own lies, no one except left bank pseuds took him seriously; One would just as soon interview Martin Heidegger, only one wouldn't want to stick ones head in a hornet's nest!
Questionable is:
The faux naif assumption that the conversations of long dead celebrities have any significance or relevance to today.
The faux naif assumption that these actors re-enactments contain any significant truth
The faux naif assumption that a shift in historical perspective has anything of artistic value to teach us about the present.
Besides all that theory, the Sartre video isn't resplendent with intellect, all this is film and video, it just isn't visual art. It is film making and yet again it is luvvies, posing as visual artists, so why, oh why can't it be called that, instead of being shown in an art gallery and not where it actually belongs in the cinema.

Fred Sandback is a deceased artist few of us have ever heard of but according to David Zwirner we should have done! Marcus Field does the write up in the Independent on Sunday as Charles Darwent is on holiday. Seriously beg to differ with this art market ploy. Sandback we are told made his breakthrough work, an outline in string of a 20ft plank in 1968 at the age of 22 years. Can name at least 10 UK artists who were doing precisely the same thing back in 1968, e.g. Richard Long who was making string sculpture on his first year Dip AD course. The rest of the piece addresses James Lee Byars yet another deceased artist's estate show at Michael Werner. Little good can be said about this except that "the Angel" is poor Hierarchical pseudo-religious floor sculpture with no formal human values whatsoever, (Michael Sandle does it far far better and he is still alive) despite the articles written assertion that it is "the essence of human life brilliantly distilled." Some tautology, if only it were true! The issue is the Tracey Emin tantrum problem - namely how can anyone know what a deceased artist actually intended when the reconstituted object is distributed bits and pieces such as that infamous bed reconstruction?

Tracey Emin crops up again by entering the debate concerning the exclusion of the arts from Gove's Ebacc, according to yesterday's Independent.
"She has worked with troubled teenagers and said challenging them with the arts had a very positive effect, adding: “Michael Gove has to rethink the policy.” “If art isn’t considered as important as other subjects it will just fall by the wayside,” Emin said, before adding: “It can’t become a secondary subject.” "
A little confusion here!

This is all true, the case for the arts inclusion is an economic one. At a time when China is opening 2200 new art schools, our UK oxbridge political culture is taking state education back to pre-1820. This ideology will do incalculable more harm to future generations of 21st century Britons than saddling them with the  banksters debts, not everyone is born to be an academic or an artist for that matter, what counts is the choice. Truly depressing is the quality of the debate, only there isn't one, only dictat.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Paul Emsley - 2

As to be expected Paul Emsley has come in for a drubbing from the media and critics over his portrait of the Duchess of Cambridge.  His explanation of the method of making his artwork is on video. Anyone who has any in-depth knowledge and understanding of assessing and evaluating visual art in any context will know that when interpreting an image, the verbal commentary tends to reveal much more about the mind of the critic than it does about the values in the image itself. We have a whole range of inane stupidities on the web and in the media concerning this portrait which tell us much about the quality of the art criticism in the tabloids. Before linking to that, it is fruitful to compare this hitandrun forecast interpretation of the image with the actual painting. Look at both of them and note the sheer visual quality of the painting.

The Independent on Sunday 13.1.2013 did an exposition of contrasting viewpoints in an article entitled "Painting the Peoples Princess" (not available online)  and it is an sad demonstration of the decline of drawing skills in UK visual culture. A number of people were asked to do a portrait drawing of the Duchess from the photo, - why isn't mentioned....... The results are shown in the article. The shameful fact is, the art students among them are not just terribly weak, they are RCA students! How they could have done this without affecting their careers is incomprehensible.  This all serves to show the actual portrait in a very good light, as it is the work of an artist who can draw beautifully.
Have  a good look - if you can get a hold of a copy..

To return to the so called art critics, sometimes it would appear that they care little about painting, some are blind. There are those who cannot get the vampire out of their heads and those who would trash any effort whatever. The whole media fest isn't about the painted image itself so much as the media protecting it's own right to control the way in which the Duchess is perceived by the public. Some of the commentary is downright stupid and even blissfully ignorant. Waldemar Janusczcak says he was disappointed, Brian Sewell is reported as saying the portrait is sickening and even David Lee  wrote:

"THE best you can say is at least it’s not by Rolf Harris.
This is the National Portrait Gallery where you expect to see wonderful royal portraits. But it’s a straight-on head shot which wouldn’t be out of place in a high street photographer’s window. It’s neither one thing nor another and it’s the same image of Kate we see in every paper, every day. We could have expected something much more taxing and a lot more profound". 

This is all unfair criticism with subtext. On the whole none of the critics come out of it saying anything meaningful, just freely giving vent to their own  prejudice against figurative painting.

In the Observer Laura Cumming writes an interesting piece about Morandi at the Estorick collection, the great artist of small achievements. Much can be learned about drawing from close examination of Morandi's etchings and graphic work. He was an artist who made the everyday and commonplace significant and didn't need to carry out big publicity stunts. His work will be around in several hundred years time when the usual suspects will be long forgotten.

The big blockbuster exhibition for early 2013 is the Manet at the RA, which Claudia Pritchard reviews here.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The three mile mist vortex

A Justification.

This blog is now a year old, hopefully it will continue to record the cracks that are now beginning to appear in the facade of the state art zeitgeist. Contemporary art is a very poor visual art diet, and there are media signs that it is beginning to be perceived as such by other critics, not just the usual dissenters. 

State art intolerance extends to the fact that many real visual artists, those who do not conform to the limited values of this conceptual art biassed educational and market world are deliberately marginalised and hidden from view particularly when their work is figurative or representational.  They cannot get exhibitions in institutions where exposure counts, yet the usual suspects are continually over hyped and over presented despite the paucity of their kitsch work and it's content.  This situation serves no-one well particularly when it is funded by the public purse through ACE or state museums.  One example recently mentioned by the Jackdaw is the artist Evelyn Williams who sadly died in November and whose real stature as an artist is far greater than any of the currently fashionable branded artists.

Considering ACE funding, the Cultural Olympics have left a sour and bad taste in the form of a so far scandalous wastage of £500.000 for the three mile mist vortex - a so far failed sculpture by american conceptual artist Anthony McCall.  This project - the technology of which was unproven when it was taken up, has yet to be completed and now seems set to cost more than the budgeted £500.000. In these straightened times when many people are genuinely suffering from job and financial deprivation, when welfare is being cut, it is absolutely outrageous that this money, that could have been far better spent ensuring that the visual arts had a place in Mr Goves, Ebacc, is going to waste on a stunt that so far shows no sign of success.  This is exactly the kind of publicly funded crap art that gets contemporary art such a bad name and creates resentment in the real world.  Morality decrees that it is one thing for hedge fund supported artists to do this sort of thing and it is quite another to do it on the public or the taxpayers purse.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Art of the year 2012 - 2

Paul Emsley is an artist one has to admire, largely because he  goes his own very unfashionable skilful and precisely figurative way. His business is looking and observing closely, he is extremely acute, achieving great things from the most seemingly ordinary visual content. This is after all what art actually is about. He has been selected to paint the Duchess of Cambridge's official portrait. It's apparent that the hitandrun media mock up accompanying this article will be absolutely nothing like the artwork he is likely to produce but we do have to have our idiotic  instant visual solution, don't we? Why did the Times bother paying for such visual tripe?

Art of the Year 2012 - 2

Apologies for the Christmas holiday and no postings - been busy. Returning to examine our erstwhile critics a second post about the best art of 2012 seems required.

Jonathon Jones Takes a big pop at the usual suspect in his review of the very worst art of 2012. This scabrous piece says much more about Jones than it does about the usual suspect whose lack of visual judgement is lamentable. Unlike say, RA Michael Landy he cannot do the very basic.  Charles Darwent in the Independent does a similar hatchet job in his review of the year mentioning the worst show of 2012. In the same article his comment on William Turnbull is both apposite and surprisingly accurate. Have to affirm his comments on David Hockney's recent painting also, particularly the assessment that his work is extremely inconsistent in quality, - this may be because he is so familiar with theatre design and he frequently slips into set design mode without considering that the imagery, drawing and colour consequently become loose and OTT. Particularly good is his assessment of Barbara Hepworth's hospital drawings, which display some of the finest draughtsmanship in late 20th century UK art. He is one critic who actually looks with his eyes, - not just empty talk.
Richard Dorment at the Telegraph also gives us his view of the years best art.  Nothing original there as one would expect, vague musings about why other critics drubbed Hockney in the summer..... Doesn't look or observe, unlike Darwent. Why he mentions Robin Ironside though is puzzling, he is not knee high to the painter Keith Vaughan. He also approves of the Turner Prize winner Elizabeth Price.

Andrew Graham Dixon gives his summary of the year and writes this of the usual suspect; "the terror of death – played out in a bizarre, morbid endgame of ever more kitsch self-repetition." Damned with very faint praise, and the most cogent remark in the article being his assessment of Bronze as the most significant UK sculpture exhibition in years - quite so!

Guardian  Robert Clarke and Skye Sherwin give us their notions of the best of 2012 in the Guardian and very art of the Tate state this is, too. Very predictable  and none of it serious - Tino Sehgal, Philip Guston, Jermey Deller -  yawn, etc.

Laura Cummings Observer list contains Tino Sehgal and Mark Wallinger and the  fact that she was quite taken by that risible historical effort "between the clock and the bed" by Edvard Munch

AA Gill in the Sunday Times writes an concerned article about the death of life drawing in British Art School. He says it is going out of fashion - in actuality it has been dead and gone for over twenty years, which is of course a great sadness as he argues.  The article is a concept mish-mash from Gill, a former Central school trained artist demonstrating that few artists can draw accurately from life with feeling. Gill himself starts drawing from the ear, and why not measuring up and laying out on the A2 with plumb lines? Despite St Martin's, he seems to have little retained interest in his formal training although the exercise created nostalgia. Still like Landy his heart's in the right place - he gathered together a nefarious group of talents, including cartoonists, to work on the issues but the discussion doesn't get us very far. There is a discussion about Duchamp and Picasso as if they polarities which they are not. He says Duchamp is the art of ideas, Picasso the art of emotion. This is like the curates egg, full of half truths, Picasso generated more ideas in his lifetime than Duchamp was capable of inventing, as he was essentially a one size fits all reductionist with little visual talent. He quotes Klee as saying that life drawing is the art of omission, a test of visual editing but it's also a demonstration of the artists knowledge of anatomy, emotional intelligence, spatial ability, form and light. Good life drawing is a complete synthesis and a true demonstration of mortality. It is also empirically based in use of the senses and in skills, which may be precisely why it has been dumped from fake art education courses.
The worthy text is accompanied with excellent drawings by Emma Sergeant, Charlotte mann and Jon Paul McCarthy.