Archive for November, 2012

Blackpaint 369 – Gaiety in Russia and the Master

November 29, 2012

Saatchi Gallery, Gaiety is the most outstanding feature of the Soviet Union: New Art from Russia

Given the contents of the exhibition, the title may be taken as ironic; there’s some desperate gallows humour, but certainly no gaiety.  The reference to the Soviet Union is puzzling; this art is all post-Soviet, though the title comes from a speech made by Stalin in the 30s.

The stuff on show is pretty varied, so the usual sprint through with short description;

Sergei Vasiliev – huge b and w photos of heavily tattoo’ed convicts, for the most part looking surprisingly unthuggish and even tender – they have their arms around each other’s shoulders in some pictures.

Yelena Popova – “drained” looking images of shapes on unbleached linen; curves, leaf/sickle shapes, with similar curved blade shapes of plywood set around the framed pictures, shapes rather Ofili -like, I thought.

Vikinti Nilin – “Neighbours” – photos of men and women perched on window sills and balconies of shabby, decaying flats, overhanging concrete or shrubbery 4 or 5 stories below.  Like potential suicides of course, but mostly with calm, thoughtful expressions, looking straight at the camera.  On the floor of the gallery, a flat black PVC ” jumped” jumper.

Nika Neelova – A huge, blackened timber platform festooned with rope coils, that could only suggest a scaffold (or maybe a drilling platform – but no; “Scaffold”‘ is in the title).  Also “Principle of Surrender”, another charred wood scaffold, this one hung with bell-clappers – surrendered tongues or voices, presumably…

Janis Avotins – Dark canvases, with small, indistinct, ghost-like figures – one of them in a setting of forms that are maddeningly indistinct; where is she? an office, or an Underground station, or a street…can’t quite make it out.

Anna Parkina – Rodchenko – like collages, several electric guitars in them as well as cut-out strings of words.  A box-shaped sculpture, roughly carpentered out of ply or balsa wood, entitled “Thick Steam above the Wing of a Sparrow”.  There is a lot of interlacing of wooden tendrils, presumably representing coiling steam, and presumably done with a fretsaw (I’m no DIY-er).

The three most memorable artists – although not necessarily the best – were

Gosha Ostretsov – “Sex in the City”; a backdrop of cartoon characters in a skyscraper setting, with some sort of implied narrative involving concealed test tubes – containing a virus? – spattered and dribbled with paint; in the foreground, black, stylised heads, apparently made from a resin or vulcanised rubber and, again, spattered and streaked with brilliant paints of many colours.

“Criminal Government” – a line of wooden cells, occupied by figures in bloodstained suits and shirts, one hanged, others with arms sawn off and dangling from the wooden walls.  The heads of these figures stylised like those in “Sex”.

Vasily Koshliakov – Huge, grey, black and white paintings of city scenes, with paint sliding down them like rain on a windscreen; the effect is akin to the “crumbling” sensation in the German cityscapes done by Gerhard Richter.  Also, a painting of the Paris Opera done on a composite surface of layered brown cardboard, like torn-up cardboard boxes, stuck together, which is probably what it is.  Grandiose baroque building on cheap rubbish support – inevitably recalls Kiefer.

Boris Mikhailov – 100’s of photos of Kharkov “derelicts”, showing scabby bottoms, untreated hernias, diseased penises, broken teeth, wasted bodies and lots more.. it’s not clear whether Mikhailov suggested these poses to them, or whether they chose to display themselves in these ways.  I discussed it with another visitor and we decided the photos were disgusting and exploitative – but the exhibition guide says the pictures comprise “one of the most frank documents of the human condition in times of desperation”.

More Russian artists, and the other Saatchi exhibition (Soviet era art from Moscow, 60s – 80s) next time.

The Master

Saw this Paul Thomas Anderson film last week – it’s about a cult leader ( based partly on L. Ron Hubbard) and a strange, obsessive, alcoholic drifter who latches on to him.  the cult leader is Philip Seymour Hoffman, the drifter Joaquin Phoenix – so you can see by the names that it’s an” important” film.  it reminded me of There Will be Blood, and sure enough, same director.  He clearly likes obsessive megalomaniacs – as a subject, of course. It  looked fantastic, especially the boat and desert scenes; it felt very long, however, especially when Dodd (Hoffman) sang “Slow Boat to China” to Quell (Phoenix) .Unaccompanied.  I have two questions – were all those women really naked when Dodd sang “I’ll go no more a-roving” and what did Quell do with the motorbike?

Blackpaint

29.11.12

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Blackpaint 368 – Dancing with Death, Small Talk at Parties

November 22, 2012

Death at the Wellcome Centre

Yes, “Death” is the title of the exhibition.  It’s the collection of one man, Richard Harris, and it’s astonishing that he can live with all this stuff; I managed about half an hour before depression drove me outside into the rain.

Not that the exhibits themselves are depressing – many are amusing, some beautiful and all are interesting.  It’s what isn’t there that’s a downer, since you can’t get it out of your mind (I can’t anyway).

So, what is there?  As may be expected, skulls are omnipresent, Dances of (and with) Death, Deaths and Maidens, Death (i.e. skeletons) playing the fiddle.  Dancing skeletons seem to have penetrated all cultures – excellent Japanese and sub-continental examples here; simple but somehow beautiful death dolls from C19th USA.  A fantastic sort of diorama from Argentina, including miniature novels, corpses, monks, towns and villages, made in 2011 but looking archaic, if it wasn’t for the modern dustjackets on the little books…  It was only when I looked back from across the room that I saw the whole thing was in the shape of a skull.

There are 50 small etchings or prints made by Otto Dix, showing the horrors of the trenches and inevitably, some Goya etchings with his own atrocities.  A set of playing card-sized depictions of military life by Callot, I think; rapes, murders, executions all depicted.

The centrepiece is a horrible wax sculpture by John Isaacs, entitled “Are You Still Angry with Me?”; a corpse is sitting on a crate, partially flayed, great sections of flesh removed from the long bones, as if butchered for an anatomy lesson, perhaps, or, in line with the title, a victim of shellfire or bombing.

All the worms, bones and dancing skeletons, however, depict a sort of life-in-death; what’s missing is that suggested by the work of Rothko, or Ryman, or Malevich; oblivion, nothingness.  I know that’s not what Malevich intended in his black canvases, or Ryman with his white ones; that’s what they suggest to me, though – sometimes.  Best done in poetry, Larkin’s “Aubade”; “Not to be here, Not to be anywhere, And soon; Nothing so terrible, nothing so true.”

Barbaric Genius, Sky Arts

Film on last week by Paul Duane about John Healy, the author of “The Grass Arena”, about his life as a drinker, rough sleeper, criminal, writer, chess master, yoga adept; a brilliant book, episodic, filmic – it’s been filmed, starring Mark Rylance – and a Penguin Modern Classic, despite Faber, his original publishers, having junked it, following a confrontation with Healy a decade ago.  I was introduced to him at a party some time ago, the only author of a Penguin Modern Classic I’m likely ever to meet; we talked about how much he liked cheese.

A Bigger Splash

The Tate Modern has  a show about action painting that I visited briefly last week; it’s very big and packed with info.  Unfortunately, the whole point of action painting is the action, so without it, you have only the remnants and the photographs, and sometimes the commentaries.  Nevertheless, it looked really interesting, if not visually stunning and I’m looking forward to going again.  Felt unwell halfway round, not the result of the Austrian Actionist photos, and had to cut it short.  What I do remember was the photos of the Yves Klein event in Paris at which a number of stunning naked models rolled in blue paint and left impressions of their bodies on great sheets of paper – all before a seated audience of bourgeoisie in evening dress.  Klein himself in dinner jacket and black tie, being the master of ceremonies.

More on this next time.

 

My Kitchen at Home

Blackpaint

22/11/12

Blackpaint 367 – Goya, the Devil and Fear Eats the Soul

November 15, 2012

Songs of Sandy Denny BBC4

What songs they were.  But really only PP Arnold got there on I’m a Dreamer – Maddy Prior hammed it up too much with her Elizabethan dancing and Lavinia Blackwood was too high and Gartside was terrible.  I was surprised by Thea Gilmore’s music using Sandy’s words; result was great, although more Joni Mitchell than Sandy Denny.

Sven Hassel

From the sublime to…  Read his obit in the Guardian the other day and it brought back a strong charge of my adolescence at Battersea Grammar School, where I championed Hassel and Willi Heinrich against my mates’ preference for James Bond.  I was wrong, of course; Flemings are now Penguin Modern Classics.  Still, “Wheels of Terror” had a real hold on me – The Little Legionnaire, who shouted “Allah Akbar!” as he attacked the Ivans with his knife, Tiny, the giant from Bremen, and above all, Joseph Porta, who went in with his flamethrower, wearing a top hat and monocle.  The tank battle at Cherkassy with the boys from the Penal Regiment.. happy innocent days of childhood.

How the Devil got his Horns (Sky Arts)

Alistair Sooke vehicle in which he seeks to show the development of Satan in art and theology from an envoy of God (as he is, for example, in Job) to the Antichrist, governor of hell and chewer of lost souls.  Sooke visited Padua to examine the Giotto Last Judgement – those endearing squat, square little people and the brilliant, singing colours – and then Orvieto, where the Signorelli version, much lighter, pinker, resembled the Michelangelo Sistine masterpiece in the fleshiness and muscularity of the writhing bodies – although Signorelli’s are much more cartoon – like, in the modern sense.

Giotto

Signorelli

Heroes Square, Budapest 

Cartoons having come up, I was reminded of the horsebacked figures, Arpad and the others, riding around the base of the column in the square, like characters from Lord of the Rings in their winged helmets, waving their swords and bows.

Spain, Renaissance to Goya, Print Room, British Museum

Bullfights, war disasters, witches,  penitents. those “Proverbs” that aren’t proverbs at all.  The slight squatness, stiffness of gesture, solidness of Goya’s figures remind me a little of Giotto somehow.  Lots of boring and elaborate etchings in the rest of exhibition, which suddenly comes alive with Murillo, Ribera and Tiepolo.  St. Anthony of Padua and the Irascible Youth turns up twice as a theme; after insulting his mother the youth cuts off his own leg in a fit of remorse.  Luckily, St. Anthony is passing and rejoins the leg by miraculous means.  Another theme – skinning of St. Bartholomew.  Two versions of that as well.  More skinnings alive in the siege of Lachish reliefs from Assyria on the ground floor.

John Bellany

Beautiful paintings on the Culture Show last night – resemblances to Jock MacFadyean and Peter Howson, I thought, in the distorted figures and faces; and blazing colour.  Apparently, they’ve got more colourful since his liver transplant 20-odd years ago.  He reckons he’s done more paintings than Turner.

Ali – Fear Eats the Soul

Finally caught up with this great Fassbinder film and was impressed and moved.  Lots of those doorway shots that Bela Tarr likes.  The story, fiftyish German cleaning woman begins affair with Moroccan “guest-worker”, suffers racism and family rejection, never slips over into sentimentality.  I loved it.

Chain Bridge

Blackpaint

15.11.12

Blackpaint 366 – Darkness on the Danube, Bovary on the Steppe

November 8, 2012

Hungarian National Gallery, Budapest

Magnificent, gloomy galleries, on a dark afternoon above the Danube.  Best 19th century painters on show were Mihaly Muncacsy – dark, atmospheric, romantic compositions in a realist style, for example the condemned man’s last night (or similar title) below: 

and Laszlo Paal; some beautiful woodland scenes, reminiscent of Russian woodscapes of same period:

Other painters of note were Ferenczi, Durkovits and my favourite, the quirky Farkas.

Walk by the Water, Istvan Farkas

I love the woman’s blue face.  The rest of the 19th and 20th century stuff on display was mediocre, derivative and disappointing.  Some vast, panoramic battle scenes, princes in winged helmets, Turks and Magyars tumbling, bloody, into rivers from bridges…

The mediaeval galleries, however, were full of beautiful paintings, reminding me of Germans, Lochner maybe; martyrs with attributes (Stephen with his stones), Christ crucified, crown of thorns, whipping, saints beheaded – noticeable was the extraordinarily long, thin, tapering fingers of the virgins, saints and martyrs.  Is this a characteristic of Hungarian art of the period, or maybe it is the work of one particular artist or school?

MALBA (Museum of Latin American Art, Buenos Aires)

Lurching across Europe and the Atlantic to Argentina now.  My son brought me back the guide to the Malba collection and I was immediately struck by pages 90 – 93, that display three paintings by different Argentinian artists from the year 1963.  they are:

Romulo Maccio, “That Crazy Brother of Theo”, Ernesto Deira, “the Awards” and Jorge de la Vega, “Try Again”.

Deira

Jorge de la Vega

What strikes me about them, apart from the fact that they are great, is the resemblance to the paintings of the CoBrA group, particularly Jorn and Appel.  Google the images of all three Argentine painters and be delighted, as I was.

Save and Protect, Sokurov

This is Sokurov’s version of Madame Bovary, just out on Artificial Eye in a box set of three Sokurov films.   It’s painterly, fly- and featherblown, and full of naked sex, in the grass on the steppe, on a plush bench in a railway carriage and at least once, in a bed.  Cecile Zervudacki looks like an older Katrin Cartlidge (Mike Leigh and von Trier actress, died in 2002) and her youngest lover, a little like Di Caprio.  At one point, she emerges from a church in 19th century dress and youngest lover follows her out in a 1960s style raincoat; a big black saloon drives by;  thereafter, we revert to 19th century again.  It’s a stork moment; maybe I get too obsessed with these surreal flashes – but why?  to emphasise the timelessness of the story?  Bunuel’s “Milky Way” comes to mind.

Anyway, it’s great visually and horrific, like the book; the print is really scratchy though.

Couldn’t believe the fawning nature of the accompanying “documentary” on Rostropovich and his opera singer wife, Galina.  I’ve never seen anything so sycophantic; “the Maestro” this and that… halfway through, there is a list of the medals he has been awarded.  I wonder if the Rostropoviches would have enjoyed “Save and Protect”.

I thought “Andriassy” (see last blog) was too congested, so I’ve retouched it as below.

Blackpaint

Andriassy

8.11.12

Blackpaint 365 – Heroic Mannerism in the Ironic Park

November 2, 2012

Harryhausen

I’ve been referring to the great film modeller as Harry Harryhausen; I now find, sadly from his obit., that it was RAY Harryhausen.  Sorry Ray – apposite really, as I’ve been in Budapest for a few days, and visited..

Memento Park

This is where they put a number of the Communist – era socialist realist and- what to call them? heroic mannerist?- statues to pose and beckon to each other across the grass and gravel paths.  Amongst these monstrosities is a memorial to the Hungarian International Brigade that fought with the Republicans in Spain; the unfortunate volunteers resemble, to me, the inhabitants of that island of Goonies that were in the old Popeye cartoon (apologies to my younger reader).  Some of these statues remind me of Ray Harryhausen’s work.

I was quite impressed that, so relatively soon after the end of communist rule, Hungarians can treat these relics with the irony shown here.

Budapest Fine Art Museum, Heroes Square

A Cezanne exhibition, Cezanne and the Past, in the museum at the moment; many of his drawings of Old Masters, and some paintings which were surprisingly bad.  BUT – there was Madame Cezanne with her striped, picket-fence skirt (best picture), Madame C. in Blue, with her face almost a Modigliani (second best) – and “Basket of Apples” and “Kitchen Table”; fabulous fruit and tablecloths, tilting to the spectator.  In both, the table fore-edges are out of line, as if there were two small tables in each picture, the divide hidden by the snowy tablecloths.  My partner insists that this is part of the intentional (and revolutionary) distortion – I can’t see it, I think he just couldn’t be bothered to re-jig it.

In the permanent exhibition, which we had to shoot through at speed, I noted the following:

Sassetta, St. Thomas Aquinas in Prayer – beautiful, Duccio-like green “framing” – my favourite picture.

Maso di Banco; obviously “influenced” by Giotto – or maybe the other way round? No – one of Giotto’s best pupils.

Lorenzo Monaco – a cut-out crucifixion; never seen anything like it;

Bosch – “The Bacchus Singers”; one with a finger down his throat, puking on the floor behind the oblivious others;

Bosch again – a very damaged copy of a section of “Garden of Earthly Delights”;

Lucas Cranach – Salome with John B’s head, smirking at the spectator, really pleased with herself; JB looking less so;

Pieter Brueghel – John the Baptist (in happier days) sermon; the one with the woman in the Japanese hat.

Hans Holbein the Elder – “the Dormition of the Virgin”, in a style so much more archaic than the realist portraits of his genius son (although H the Younger’s biblical scenes were not so different);

A couple of brilliant Bonnards – look at them from across the room to see them as abstracts, they work brilliantly.

And lots more, will finish next blog.

Adrian Heath

Thought he was a minor painter, sort of link between London and St.Ives; but I’ve just got the new Lund Humphries book by Jane Rye – he was staggeringly good.  There are obvious similarities in places to Poliakoff, Terry Frost (a friend and also ex -POW) and Roger Hilton; but I think they are richer and more interesting than any of them.  Rye is right when she talks about the sense of calmness, balance, and chaos breaking through.  they are just beautiful and I can’t over-praise them.

Andriassy

Blackpaint

2/11/12