Blackpaint 306


I thought Laura Cumming said something interesting in last week’s Observer; referring to the “images” (presumably both the drawings and the paintings), she says, “The line (is) controlled, incised, repeated: nothing spontaneous, everything studied”.  It’s not clear to me whether there is an implied criticism in this statement but that, for me, in essence, is why I prefer Michelangelo’s line, in paintings at least; drawing is another matter.

Again, writing about Cecilia’s stoat, Cumming refers to “the sheer strangeness of this wild thing, so impossibly still” – she’s right; the animal is aroused, looking in the same direction as the girl, as if it has just spotted a movement, yet the body lacks that tension of the predator alerted.

She shares other critics’ reservations about the Salvator Mundi, too; the stoned eyes, the fingers holding an invisible joint…  All this is unremarkable really, except insofar as there has been a concert of inflated praise for this exhibition on the TV, that makes you want to find fault.  Everything is “incredible”, the pictures show us the “souls” of the sitters, and on and on.  I suppose I’ll go to see it, but I’ll be looking to find fault.  I expect Leo will be quaking, up there in painters’ heaven.

Venice Biennale

Since this is now over, I’ll just mention three more artists that made a (good) impression:

the first is Christian Boltanski, who was the French contribution.  A huge roomful of old-fashioned printing apparatus, producing poster-sized baby pictures, which are simultaneously thrown up on screens to make composite faces, half -child, half-adult.  Digital scoreboard with ever-increasing numbers in green (births?) and red (deaths?).  If this interpretation is correct, quite a “complete” artistic statement. 

Next, the Egyptian pavilion; filmed sequences of the demos in Tahrir Square, during which Ahmed Basiouny dressed in an Alien-shaped polythene head bubble and ran on the spot for 30 days.  Ominously, the film showed him pouring fluid on and around himself on “Last Day” – since the wall info said that he had died during the demos and rioting, with no further information, we thought he might have self-immolated on film.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

Finally, the Russian pavilion had a moving record of  Andrei Monastyrski and “Collective Actions” the guerilla art group in the 70s and 80s who did pop-up exhibitions in the open air, lasting until the FSB, (or KGB were they still then?) turned up to attack them and destroy the artworks.  Also Gulag hut/bunk mock ups, snow, fur hats, vivid coloured paintings against the blinding white of the snow….

Bela Tarr

At the risk of being boring – surely not – I must mention the above again, in terms of texture.  I’m watching “Satantango” again – Susan Sonntag said it should be watched once a year, but she obviously wasn’t a real fan – and almost every shot contains texture; soaked woollen garments, scabby cladding on mouldering brickwork, rotting wooden doors and casements, seamed, creased faces, running with rain, great clods of juicy mud with mirrors of rainwater (it often rains in Tarr’s Hungary).  But the sound is also all texture, the crunch and scrape of boots on lino, a drained bottle of fruit brandy clunking to the floor.  Just fantastic -you can chew it.

Blackpaint  (Chris Lessware)


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