Exhibitions concat

A list, sometimes annotated, of various exhibitions I have seen and wish to remember:

  • Unseen:  Works from the collection of the Sidney Nolan Trust, Australian High Commission, London, May 2017.
  • Video ergo sum, video art of Peter Campus, Jeu de Paume, Paris, April 2017. Contained one sublime video.
  • Australia’s Impressionists, National Gallery, London, March 2017. The 1886 painting Allegro con Brio: Bourke Street by Tom Roberts was included: it is remarkable for the absence of any tree, shrub or plant. I preume it is a true depiction of Melbourne at the time.
  • Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932, Royal Academy, London, March 2017.
  • Major exhibition of abstract expressionist art at the Royal Academy, London, December 2016. The room of Jackson Pollock paintings was impressive and masterful, and included the sublime “Blue Poles”.  Likewise the room of Rothko, although these paintings are not easy to contemplate when the gallery is busy. Little of interest among the rest, with the exception of a handful of proto-minimalist works: Jack Tworkov’s “Idling II”, which imitates grey rain dribbles on a window, and Barnett Newman’s “Midnight Blue”, which contains a light blue vertical stripe on a dark blue field.  Two others caught my attention: Mark Tabey’s “Parnassus”, which brought to mind the art of Ian Fairweather in gestures that look like scripts, and Sam Francis’ “Summer #2”, with its blue and white patches.
  • Exhibition of abstract expressionist art from the Peggy Guggenheim collection, ING Gallery, Brussels, Belgium, December 2016.
  • Theo van Doesburg:  Palais des Beaux-Arts (Bozar), Brussels, Belgium, March 2016. Seeing so much De Stijl work in one place made me realise how Calvinist this art is: all squares and rectangles; initially only right angles, although some 45 degree angles later (at least the Russian constructivists allowed 120 and 30 degrees); only primary colours; and all the furniture comprising only flat planes and hard surfaces. Who could have sat for long in any of Gerrit Rietveld’s chairs, for instance? This was art for moral improvement or character-building discipline, not for pleasure. How far this aesthetic was from the sensuousness of Brazilian tropicala minimalism or the opart of (say) Bridget Riley.
  • Radical Geometry:  Modern Art of South America from the Collection of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros: Royal Academy, London, July-September 2014.  The exhibition was arranged by geography:  Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuala.  With a couple of exceptions, only the works by Brazilian artists detained me.  Odd that visual art that most people would see as being very similar and of the same style evokes completely disparate reactions in me.   The geometric abstraction of Brazilians is very good and worth going back to, while the rest is just awful.
  • Australia: A review of Australian art at the Royal Academy in London, September 2013. What a pleasure to see so many old friends here, starting with Sydney Long’s 1897 imagist “The Spirit of The Plains” (now in the Queensland Art Gallery), whose vertical trees, musician and landing brolgas trace an enchanting curve.
    Long-Sydney-TheSpiritofthePlains-1897
  • Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Qld.  The exceptional highlight was a 1641 painting by Antonio de Pereda y Salgado (1611-1678), entitled, “Cristo, Varon de Dolores“, of Christ holding the tree trunk that would be the cross.  The bright red of His cloak is reflected in the drops of red blood on His shoulders, blood from His crown of thorns; and the realistic bark of the tree trunk is reflected in the wood of the crown.
  • Casa Brazil:  Somerset House, London, UK.  Billed as recent Brazilian art and design, at least a third of this exhibition was devoted to a glossy sales pitch for the Rio Olympics 2016.  What recent art and design was included owed a strong influence to Arte Povera and traditional crafts.  Was this representative, I wonder?   Disappointing.
  • The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art:  The Met, NY.  More information here.
  • Sol LeWitt:  A Wall-Drawing Retrospective:  Mass MOCA (only until 2033, so do hurry along).  A wonderful collection of realisations of LeWitt’s various instructions for drawing on walls, many involving the comprehensive exploration of combinatorial possibilities, in manner similar to that of Alighiero e Boetti.   Some superb uses of colour and line, and some reminders in shape and colour of Bridget Riley’s almond paintings.
  • The Old and the New:  Pintupi masterworks from the Collection 1980s – 2000s:  Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.   Among some very moving art, an interesting feature is the optical turn in Pintupi art – the recent use of more abstract and op-art styles, with artists deploying intense repetition, oscillation, and visual effects.  Because Australian aboriginal art usually has mythological, argumentative or narrative denotation (as discussed here and here), these optical effects may be mere artefacts of our western viewership, rather than features intended by the artists.  It would be interesting to know to what extent the effects have been intended. Surely, this is something the curators of the exhibition should tell us, although doing so runs contrary to the prevailing philosophy of art curation to focus all attention on the finished object, while ignoring most else of relevance, such as the anthropological or theological context of its creation.
  • Masterpieces of English Watercolours and Drawings from the National Gallery of Scotland:  Lowell Libson Gallery, London 2011.    Catalog here.    Spectator review here.  This exhibition included a fine Bonington and a superb Cotman:  A Pool on the River Greta near Rokeby (pictured in the Spectator review and below); as with all Cotman’s landscapes, the proportions of the scene’s components are masterly and well-tempered, a fine sense of proportion and partition he shared only with Bonington and Richard Wilson.

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