Wednesday, 30 December 2009

‘Turner and The Masters’ at the Tate Britain

My dad inquired with me the content of the ‘Turner and The Masters’ exhibition before I came to view it; rightly pointing out that Rembrandt (the featured artist he knew most of) was practising in a whole different century to Turner. Turner, 1775-1851, is a relative contemporary compared to some the artists he has been aligned along the picture rail with. The curators were surely voicing a quite particular opinion, for it is unusual for a retrospect revolving around Turner, to spread over as long a period.

Are these ‘other’ works simply background or context? Partly, they speak of the battle Turner had with his art to reach bars set by the ruling governance of art - felt to be the Royal Academy. Or, are they works that serve to elevate Turner’s as masterpieces? - Such bias would not be unexpected in favour of the Englishman for this exhibition has been found at the Tate Britain. Or is a further comment being made? On view simultaneously as though synchronised, is the Turner Prize; suggesting that the quest of the modern British artist, is to become the new Turner.

Do I think that Turner could be one of the greatest amongst the masters? Have I today seen a painting that to me rivals Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride? What is it that determines a great artist? Is it one: a few stunning paintings that alone can bring recognition – such as that above mentioned portrait of a couple and Rembrandt’s self-portraits, and Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with a Pearl Earring. Or, is it a body of work that collectively proves the strength of a great creator? For which I would say Van Gogh can be categorised. Eugenie Scrase ‘s final piece for the Saatchi gallery Trunkated Trunk was good, (isn’t it uncanny though that her surname is a homophone for Eugene disgrace?); but Matt Clark was consistently good and industrious, and so for this I was glad he was awarded some recognition…

I saw a wider ranging Turner, in style, confidence and in subject. Subjects of genre scenes and religious tales, were narrated by the as not being pursued for long, after the discovery that these subjects were not his forte. It was only the latter pieces that made him worthy of being possibly one of the most loved artists. There were five paintings that struck me as the work of an artistic genius, distinct as Turner and in a separate echelon to his contemporaries, and rivals from the written-of past. These were nearly all found in the final room and include the populous Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842, which displays his artistic Romantic drama; and competence at capturing times, settings and lights that warm more than our eyes but our bellies.

In format and by title, you would presume that the curator’s aim was to crown Turner as the ultimate artist. Yet, in the mainly battlefields formed with the abutting of paintings, (like would have been seen at the Royal Academy in his own day – and this is what is being simulated), I often decided I much preferred or admired the work that was not Turner’s. Most obvious, was this in his genres painting, when he was pitted against his contemporaries David Wilkie and David Teniers. In the landscapes of Venice, the Venetian Canaletto was, generally agreed, the best. Turner’s lacked excitement, real accuracy, which could abolish disapproval from lack of excitement, and thus anything of real interest. However, the later painting, Venice from the Porch of the Madonna Della Salute, 1835 is a masterpiece from Turner. The stunning way the gondolier hovers over the water, as though its oarsman is levitating both ends in a crisp layer of air. It is on par, with Canletto’s precise technique, though most would probably favour Turner’s more textural style that would is commonly viewed freer and less pedantic.

My favourite works from the exhibition were Rembrandt’s, as I remain exhilarated from my experience of his works in Amsterdam in November. That said, I cannot doubt the innovative brushwork, and believe his most matured style is in many paintings unrivalled.

‘Turner and The Masters’ is at the Tate Britain until 31 January 2010

Monday, 28 December 2009

‘How It Is’ – The Black Box by Miroslaw Balka

We cannot produce a new visual style, or definition. Only, artists can encroach upon a previously-seen painting/sculpture/instillation/other, with a new perception. A new reason for creating it. A new culmination of ideas.


The idea alone of any artwork of 2009 – if we see an artwork as comprising of just one – is unlikely to be original. However, each person ever to have existed, is unparalleled. And so the originality lies in the artist. It is thus the unique selection of motivations and inspiration that will be just this. It is this reason that when I see the ‘Turners and the Masters’ exhibition and write a critique, my output is unique, based upon my unique vision and decision of where to look and for how long; my unique selection of reading, viewing and absorbing of others’ opinions that shapes mine; and unique episodes of life that provide associations that can relate to my experience.


Concept, and the expression of it through language, is what make this black box different enough from a standard worldy experience, to a work of art. The artist relates the darkness to his knowledge of Plato’s ‘Allegory of a Cave,’ and this was spoken of as a blatant reference that the audience will instinctively recognise. I rightly, as not to altar or shape my perception due to it, read the accompanying text afterwards. Yet I did not consider such comparison to Plato, even though I am familiar with this philosophical allegoric tale. When within the carrier, all I was concerned with was where to go; and that time lapse that I am not fond of while I waited impatiently for my eyes to adjust to the darkness; and I, through Art College, have a trained artist mind. – I look at work aiming to understand, or consider beyond my initial understanding, to what the artist may have conceived or wanted me to conceive.


The annotation has instigated the loss of the intention, which was of ‘universal art.’ This purposefully large construction (13 metres tall and 30 metres long) is in a purposefully open-plan Turbine Hall, so that it can be a piece of public art. It is exactly about the sensation I outlined in the insecurities of darkness, and not outside references. It is non-referential – like the work of Anish Kapoor, unlike the work of Turner – so that it is intentionally accessible, to the everyday public. And in this case words again, and an artist’s flamboyancy ruins its paucity in character - The box’s complete humility. Nothing needs be said.


How It Is in amongst the fade of experiential, instillation art – so to judge your opinion you can only go and see how it makes you feel; and what it conjures up in your mind.


From the ‘The Unilever Series’ ‘How it is’ is in the Turbine Hall of the Tate until 5 April 2010

Saturday, 12 December 2009

No Love Lost, Damien Hirst at the Wallace Collection

I almost regret to say so, but it remains to me that in most rooms my favourite part of the Wallace Collection is the interior design - the silk wallpaper of emerald, and dusky shades between pink and plum. This truth is sustained in the two rooms in which Damien’s Hirst exhibition No Love Lost (The Blue Paintings) is hung. The beautiful sheen of the teal striped walls does not completely quiet the famous Saatchi-prodigy’s work. The wallpaper does well to compliment the works.


The collection feels like Damien trying to get it right. It doesn’t feel purposefully exploratory or experimental, just that when the first, second, and third failed, he continued, forming an oeuvre of paintings, of which none are quite resolved or wholly pleasing. In most, one aspect of the formal properties appear to fail whether it be compositional or tonally. There was one (the painting which not labelled), which expressed the anger I imagine him to have in his inability to make it correct. Finger-like marks scratch the skull’s forehead and gauge out the eyes. Yet, not only anger, but slothfulness – he was too lazy to wipe the excess on the brush so it turned into a childish foray of paint; too lazy to get more dark blue paint on the side of the skull, which is shadowed and so the result is a that impoverished stroke that I despise so much.


Enough of what I thought, what about my fellow audience, and those that have to cope with it daily? I noted that not many paused for long. If they did, I sensed it was not out of curiosity, but wanting to appear intellectual and cultural in the way E.H.Gombrich warns in his opening chapter, as many are drawn to the admiration of art because of its cultural and/or educational status alone. Not therefore were they standing still before one, out of enjoyment, awe or wonder.


For the masterpieces in the Wallace Collection that share the air, I feel Mrs Robinson’s (by Sir Joshua Reynolds) disdain as she purposefully turns her head beyond the 90 degrees required to be in profile, so that she cannot glimpse the Damien Hirst through the archway!


There is, something about Damien’s presence as an artist. It is not just that I more frequently see the works of the old and dead masters, because on this occasion I felt a threat that while stood in front of his work judging it, that he may appear in that room behind me. That he could, and would, unannounced turn up and authoritatively check over his work…for evidence of vandals, or to argue with the traditionalist who favours Rubens. This is the modern, Saatchi-birthed and nurtured, more ballsy artist. More ballsy in ambition; the finished pieces concept and appearance; and the maker’s character. Everyone wants to see his exhibition because of him, not so much his work! He is a force to be reckoned with, and for this reasons his work and the artist he represents, is successful.


No Love Lost (Blue Paintings) is at the Wallace Collection until January 24