Andre Wallace

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ingram Collection

Life can be full of strange coincidence can it not ?

Today visiting an exhibition of 1960's art from the Ingram Collection at Hestercombe House was totally bemused to encounter a huge David Bomberg that is very, very familiar and is one of the greatest WW2 paintings. During 1942 Bomberg worked for four months as a war artist at Fauld RAF ammunition dump in Staffordshire where he produced a series of beautiful war paintings called the bomb store.  This was one of them and having written about the artists career and was very excited to see it in the flesh. Fortunately he was only there for a short time as the dump, no21 MU exploded in 1944 making a crater half a mile wide and 200 meters deep. It was one of the largest conventional weapons explosions in history which killed approximately 89 people. This is fully documented by Richard Cork in his excellent biography of Bomberg. I have known this crater since childhood having explored the area. Paradoxically seeing the painting bought back many happy memories and some bad ones.

The exhibition was interesting in a number of ways, One persons taste can be difficult or irksome but this was a various and deeply serious collection with some real gems. Aleah Chaplin is an american painter who won the National portrait gallery BP portrait prize recently and she was represented by a superb large nude   There was also a superb Peter Howson based on his war artist work in Bosnia.
The real jewels were the crucifixion by Tristram Hillier and a superb Carel Weight.  The whole exhibition was a positive joy although there were a few low notes.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

That Sit-in at St Martins

Deborah Hermanns, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, says: “We are witnessing the creation of a two-tier education system, sucking money out of parts of the system which working class students rely on, and putting it into where money can be made. These moves set an awful precedent for what could happen to university courses across the UK.”

In these straightened times art colleges are facing a grim future, as they are the most threatened area of current educational provision. The Guardian reports :

"Set to lose more than £50m in public funding by 2015, UAL, which comprises six colleges including Central Saint Martins (which is moving to the new campus), Chelsea College of Art and Design and the London College of Fashion (LCF), is having to think creatively about how it might secure its financial future.

Among other things, it is looking to set up courses in China and the Middle East while amalgamating three of its loss-making further education foundation courses and expanding its range of more lucrative postgraduate degrees."

Paradoxically the future might be more secure if they actually starting teaching art again but that is way too expensive. Conceptual art is a cheap substitute for funding practical art making. So it's all about business opportunities and it's not even about UK students, not funny is it how when something that the state established and funded as essential to the design and industrial base of the country becomes a business opportunity it immediately goes to the dogs. The locals well, they can go and whistle in the wind? UAL are to cut 580 foundation students places. What about the colleges bounded and statuary remit to provide an art education for UK students or can they all go to Turps Banana where they get no qualification but pay a university sized fee for the privilege.

Just read William Morris's - News from Nowhere and weep!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Francis Bacon show at the Sainsbury Centre

Jonathon Jones again, this time wonder of wonders, writing an all out attack on one Francis Bacon's work from the Sainsbury Centre. He says this: "Yet Bacon and the Masters is a massacre, a cruel exposure, a debacle. Bacon’s paintings are mocked, his talents dwarfed. The jaw-dropping masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Titian and Rodin that so nearly make this show five-star unmissable also, to my dismay, to my shock, make Bacon seem a small, timebound, fading figure."

This is exceptional from a state art critic, but tend to agree with the assessment as have often thought that Bacon's work was the best argument for censoring visual art that you could come up with. Soulless, hopeless, empty and unrewarding without any trace of decent humanity he only did negativity. In time like these when things are very bad for many people, art that offers no hope is of minority interest. Also always thought that the promotion of Francis Bacon was the critic David Sylvester's supreme nihilistic achievement. Now apparently he looks very dated and meaningless. As Jones puts it"
The masters are so relaxed, so honest. They show the facts, while Bacon desperately tries to be shocking, to “unlock the gates of feeling” as he put it, as if he has no feelings to begin with." Quite so, comparisons of totally unlike artwork is not always a good thing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Y Z Kami

Every so often along comes a painter who shows the potential to change things for the better. This Iranian artist's work from the Gagossian is traditional high art of genuine quality, which leaves the reconstruction of the image to the viewer's imagination. 
Laura Cumming writes perceptively in the Observer; "How can one depict the inner being, the private thoughts, the spiritual beliefs? Kami is prodigiously aware of the limitations of portraiture. Yet it is obvious from these paintings, with their intense aspect of interiority, of trying to make visible the invisible, that he is thinking about this dimension of our lives as few other contemporary painters. So although his portraits are by nature impermeable, resistant to emotional communion, they are also candidly open in their monumental scale."

Ben Luke in the Standard has no patience with these portraits, he writes; "Yet a group together loses impact through repetition — I felt like I was looking at a production line rather than an illuminating painterly investigation."  Perhaps he has to learn how to look first?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Greek sculpture of 400BC and 'I love Lucy'.

Coincidentally, the British museum has a major exhibition of Greek sculpture and some real sculptural woefulness comes up in the press. It suggests that not only is the past another country but that in some respects we are loosing the basic premises of what constitutes a civilised society. We can no longer produce artefacts that represent the human body to rival those of Ancient Greece, maybe we never could and we blithely assume that this does not matter. It does matter, it matters hugely that we have disposed of some of the basic tenets of representation in western civilisation, courtesy of state art and conceptual untruths.

So Jonathan Jones pens an article in today's 08.04.2015 Guardian entitled Scary Lucy. As we have commented on pathetic excuses for public art previously, this article draws attention to the common problem concerned with the state of art education. Apparently American sculptor Dave Poulin has accepted responsibility for a failure to depict Lucille Ball, or rather failing completely to depict the character she played Lucy. So bad is this piece of public sculpture that the public have forced the artist to apologise for such a rubbish artefact exhibited in a public place.  It's unbelievable that it actually got cast in bronze which must have cost a fair sum. For once Jones is right to criticise, and he writes this copy; "perhaps in Celeron, Budapest or London a young artist right now is so angered by our embarrassing statues that he or she is learning to make them properly. This would give the night of the bronze zombies a happy ending."

Sure, but this begs the question who in God's name is going to teach them how to do it or does Jones expect them to be capable of teaching themselves? If he does, that is a measure of how much he knows about making sculpture. Accurate representational figure modelling is a very hard won skill, far more difficult than accurate life drawing because it is drawing in three dimensions with clay or stone with a calliper and a plumb line. It is not something that anyone - and I do mean anyone,  - can teach themselves. But cultural amnesia and the all-prevailing hatred of the past of the present hedonistic culture lies to itself. People simply do not know what they are dealing with here, there are long complex procedures that have to be learned and hard won in order to even begin to make this kind of sculpture. There are very few artists who can still do it well (even forensic sculptors fall flat often) which is why the arrogant assume that anyone can and fall flat on their faces when they produce the kind of dreadful rubbish that scary Lucy is. There are no sculptors in universities or academies now who can teach you how to do it. Michelangelo was a giant among sculptors, he started working in a stone masons yard at the age of five, and this is what you have to do if you want to make statues of the human body that work as well as those of 4th century BC Greece. Progress - what sort of progress is that, to be behind 400BC Greece in basic depiction?

Monday, April 06, 2015

Duchamp's Urinal

Did Duchamp steal the urinal idea from German baroness Elsa von Freytag Loringhoven?  If so then what Julian Spalding writes here is of great significance;

"Duchamp had long hated art. Both his elder brothers had become successful artists; he had not. Envy seeps out of many of his unguarded utterances: “Why should artists’ egos be allowed to overflow and poison the atmosphere?” he said in 1963. “Can’t you just smell the stench in the air?”
When the mood took him, Duchamp could be honest about his dishonesty. In an interview in 1962, he told William Seitz: “I insist every word I am telling you now is stupid and wrong.” Why, then, has the art world persisted in believing an account grounded in the myths he promulgated?"

The answer is  too much money is invested in the ocean of conceptual art that has resulted from his insults to art and aesthetics.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Tate Britain - the changes.

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon. She has been mentioned here on this blog and the Art newspaper reports: "
A few of Tate Britain’s recent exhibitions have aroused the ire of some critics, including the current show “Sculpture Victorious” (until 25 May) of mid- to late-19th century British sculpture. The criticism has verged on a vendetta, downplaying the merits of the presentation of the permanent collection and well-received temporary exhibitions, such as ones of Turner’s late works, Lowry’s cityscapes, and a survey of British folk art. The gallery’s annual attendance has hovered around the 1.4 million mark, compared with around 5 million who visit Tate Modern."

They have conveniently ignored her sacking the Turner, Constable and other experts in a poorly thought out restructuring to save a few quid. Jonathon Jones cannot resist getting out the cudgel with this: "It is arrogant to so ostentatiously push your personal taste as the official Tate Britain view, when in my opinion, that taste is so poor. Her bad taste has also, I think, been evident in ever-worsening Turner prize shortlists. Turns out you need taste to run a museum. Anyway, Curtis is going. But that will not solve this museum’s problems."

Taste is of course a thing that is absent from most of the guff from Jone's pen, the Barbara Hepworth exhibition was good but Jones doesn't do fine art values, just the same old state salon art criticism, toe the line - dull conformity.

One might assume that after the 2008 crash artists remained singularly unmoved but not so according to the Telegraph who have brought up this exhibition in Dresden where artists are complaining about capitalism. Ivan Hewitt (who he?) says this:
"This is art made by an élite for an élite, speaking only to that tiny sliver of society which is fluent in the ways of contemporary art. The show is excellent fodder for earnest conversations at arty left-wing dinner-tables, but most of the people who've actually suffered in the crash will surely be baffled by it."  Which begs the point - how can you get away with slagging off your patrons and sell to them unless they are as baffled as the Spanish Royal family were by Goya's portraits of them?