Archive for the ‘Exhibitions’ Category

Affordable Art Fair

October 19, 2017

I haven’t got round to my full Estorick post yet, in fact I’d like to go back before I tackle it, so in the meantime my art focus falls on the Affordable Art Fair in Battersea Park. This is my third art bunfight of the year after the RA’s Summer Exhibition and the Venice Biennale (not that I was in any danger of buying anything at that!) and I was there at the invitation of my talented friend, Nick.

Nick Kobyluch – not just a talented artist, also a fine centre back.

I’ll spare his blushes and briefly state that he does fine landscapes that are topographical without being pedantic. See the depiction of Elephant and Castle tube over his shoulder to discover how he finds the ray of sunshine in even the gloomiest London locale.

And the Fair? I’d recommend a visit if you’re in the area. Like all of these kinds of things you can get a bit art blind by the 100th stand but there is plenty of good stuff for the discerning eye. I was most taken with the photographs of delapidated buildings by Dan Oude Elferink. The temptation to take one home was strong but I reckon it best to approach purchases without free wine in the tank and we decided to visit the Ranen Art Gallery at a future date.

Punters queue to bag up their art. We kept a cool head.

Try and get there early if you can as the aisles get tight as the evening progresses, and no one likes tight aisles. As it was two knobhe … err, art fans spilled my drink while looking at the walls rather than where they were going.

A relatively clear aisle, it looks safe for beverages. But watch out, those red trouser guys come out of nowhere.

And is it affordable? Well it’s a relative term isn’t it. Some stands have prints (and originals) for sale at under a monkey but most featured works are four figures and above as far as I could see. So if budget is an issue for you follow the racecourse golden rule and keep your maximum stake in one pocket and your taxi fare home in the other. 

Bram Bogart at Vigo Gallery

September 20, 2017

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It feels a long time since I wrote about something other than food on here. Not because I’ve been culturally droughted of late, I’ve just been writing other things. I’m also preparing a fairly chunky piece recommending membership of the London Library in the semi-flippant style of my Southwark Jury Service post.

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An old-fashioned desk in the London Library. I think someone stole my laptop?! Just kidding.

So this is a quick post to recommend the Bram Bogart show at Dering Street’s Vigo Gallery. This isn’t the first time that I’ve written about Vigo; due to a family connection it’s a gallery whose fortunes I follow more closely than most. However, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t flag up things that they do that I think a wider public might enjoy. As I’ve said before the private galleries of London are an intellectual resource that is underused by those not in the art world but who have an interest in culture.

And the Belgian artist Bram Bogart is a case in point. Bogart developed as an artist after World War Two and was part of the move of Arte Povera (which reminds me I should get to the Estorick sometime) towards simplicity of colour and radical interventions on the plane of the canvas. While some, like Fontana, went in for slashing the canvas in order to break the surface Bogart treats the canvas as a basis for sculptural creations, pushing the paint out towards the viewer in a more extreme version of, say, Van Gogh’s heavy impasto.

The works collected in the two rooms at Vigo come from a later stage in Bogart’s career when he had moved away from the minimalist colours of AP and embraced vibrant colours, mixing paint with glue to achieve billowing effects on the canvas. If you visit the show, and I hope you will, you’ll be met with a riot of colour that would elevate even the lowest spirits crushed by a combination of a rotten global outlook, the cruel chill of September in London and the very hell that is trying to walk on Oxford or Regent Street.

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Bram Bogart, ‘Zonzucht’

You can see the sculptural aspect to his work in the above photo but as ever I advise you to see these works in the flesh if you can. Taking photographs of paintings really is the most redundant thing in the world. If you want a record of something write about it, or pull a more professional image down from the net for your personal use. Unless you want to illustrate a hurriedly written blogpost of course! But do go to the Vigo if you can, they have an excellent booklet to accompany the show which talks far more articulately about Bogart’s work than I can!

#Art #London

The National Gallery basement and Arthur Ransome

May 15, 2017

The National, besides its usual haul of treasure, now has two must-see freebies to lure in the art hound (of which more in another post). And this in addition to the fact that the whole of the basement is now fully opened up to the public for the first time, or at least in this correspondent’s memory.

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The Fall, 458489 BSIDES. Better than the A-sides for some aficionados.

The basement, as well as housing the displaced works owing to the Michelangelo/Sebastiano exhibition taking place in some of the permanent galleries, now has a smattering of the NG’s artistic B-sides in ‘Room A’. Which makes it sound like it’s not worth the trouble to go down there. But that’s wrong. These are for the most part high quality B-sides, reminiscent of The Fall’s classic compilation, 458489, in that some of this stuff is better than what’s upstairs/on the flip side. Especially in the way that the work is curated – a broad sweep of art from the Renaissance to the late 19th Century in one room, allowing the eye to juxtapose subject, style and composition to delightful effect.

The central space is dominated by four grand canvases of battles from the French Revolutionary wars (Jemappes, Valmy, Montmirail and Hanau) by Vernet that are splendid in their drama and attention to detail, even if the carnage wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. Those of a more peaceful bent might want to stroll around to Gentile Bellini’s Madonna and child, which for me is as handy a bit of god-stuff as any you’d fine in the Sainsbury Wing.

In between you’ll find a broad range of things to enjoy – the Impressionist Jongkind’s view of the Boulevard Port-Royal, Puvis de Chevanne’s Summer and a heap of Golden Age Dutch stuff were my own particular favourites until I came across a wall of Dutch seascapes from the nineteenth century. These were less familiar to me than the Van de Veldes (of which there are a couple here) from the seventeenth century, which is probably why they attracted my attention.

They are both by Paul Jean Clays, an artist of whom I knew nothing, and on seeing the first I noted in my book, ‘Ships Lying Off Dordrecht reminds me of Flushing in Ransome. Round boats coming up to meet us. Dutch flags, blue sky flash though grey cloud, can hear the seagulls and smell the rain approaching in the air.’

What I meant by ‘Flushing in Ransome’ is one of the greatest children’s books ever written (sadly overshadowed by its more famous predecessor) We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome. In this story the Walker children (made famous by Swallows and Amazons) in a series of slightly improbable conjunctions of circumstance are swept out to the North Sea on a small yacht, the Goblin, where they are forced to cross to Holland, driven by the weather and their own determination not to fuck things up (ok, that isn’t exactly how it’s phrased in the book). If you don’t want to know how things work out for then skip the next paragraph or two!

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Ransome is also an underestimated illustrator.

After a perilous crossing in hideous weather and with a cute cat picked up along the way they are guided into Flushing by a peaceable Dutch pilot, who is flabbergasted to find that they’d made the trip all by themselves and not as they pretended to him under the guidance of a master who is too tired to emerge to talk to the pilot in person. But the real joy comes when they realise that their father by coincidence is on his way back to Blighty via Holland on leave from the Navy and he leaps ashore from his ferry to complete a happy family reunion.

I once heard someone on Radio 4 say that there was no politics in Ransome’s children’s fiction. Let’s  leave aside the fact that the whole adventure is predicated on the disruptive shock of modernity in the form of a symbol of modernity (a motor bus) knocking over a representative of tradition (Jim Brading, the Goblin’s skipper, who is no fan of motors on the road or in boats and romanticises the pre-modern technology of sail).

Putting aside the symbolism involved in the story in the struggle of tradition v modernity the contemporary political context for this novel, while never stated, is ever present. The book was published in 1937, a time when anxiety about British dominance of the sea was not just focussed on the North Sea, where the story takes place, but also in the Pacific, where Walker père has been stationed and the Japanese threat is just as obvious as the Nazi one closer to home (to readers in the 30s at least, nowadays it seems that the British prefer to forget that WW2 was a war of imperialism as much as national survival). Ransome’s story then can be read as an exhortation to the young to be stoic in the face of adversity, and a reassurance of the reserves of British resources far flung around the globe to come to the rescue of those struggling in the motherland.

Looking around for academic analysis of the Swallows & Amazons series I’ve yet to find much. It would seem an admirable project for a PhD to me, especially as as far as I can see most writing about Ransome has concentrated on his role as a sometime spy during the Russian Revolution and beyond.

Anyway, with all this going through my head it was with great delight that I saw that the pendant piece to Ships Lying Off Dordrecht was entitled Ships Lying Off Flushing.

What joy. What simple joy.

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#NationalGallery #Ransome

Sidney Nolan at the Australian High Commission

April 30, 2017

Discreetly advertised, so discreetly both on the street and in the media that it would be easy to miss it, is the best exhibition in London. I went to the Michelangelo/Sebastiano yesterday but it wasn’t the artistic highlight of my week. That honour goes to Unseen, an exhibition of a couple of dozen works by the Australian artist Sidney Nolan.

It’s the centenary of Nolan’s birth and to celebrate there is a slew of exhibitions at Pallant House, at Ikon in Birmingham, in St. David’s and elsewhere in his adopted home of Wales. There’ll also be a show at the BM in October but that will be of his drawings. If you’re a Londoner this show is the major opportunity to see Nolan’s exquisite use of colour this celebratory year. And it’s free.

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As I said, the exhibition doesn’t scream its presence in this less busy area of the Strand, though they do have a couple of boards giving you directions. The entrance is at the rear of the Australian High Commission (any Potterphiles will have to be content with a glimpse of Gringotts through some screens once inside) and by contrast to getting into the gallery at the Canadians things are very laid back.

First up take a look at the room – this is a fine building to get inside of and its grandeur is undimmed for being cluttered up by the paraphernalia of an exhibition. I particularly like the setting of the heraldic crest of Australia, familiar to cricket fans from the baggy green but here sculpted in stone. Out back (arf) you have an elaborate staircase that also is worth a peek.

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But then get stuck into the art. The staff on the desk are very friendly and will give you a substantial booklet containing a generous amount of information about Nolan’s career and the works on show. And what variety of works there are. Apparently these were Nolan’s own favourites that he kept with a couple of donations from private collections – notably a very early portrait of Arthur Rimbaud.

What I like about the show is how it highlights the range of subjects that Nolan took on. Ned Kelly is what he is famous for, and there is a head of Ned here if that is your thing, but there are also wonderful seascapes, landscapes, portraits, abstracts and religious works. In fact Australia itself, while represented, is a discreet presence.  Nolan’s art on this showing is characterised by a Turner-like wanderlust. A landscape of Spitzbergen has a jewelly blue lake that contrasts well with the muddy brown depiction of his homeland’s terrain.

Thames (1962) will be a treat for Londoners, or anyone who loves London. Because of its subject and its impressionistic style matter it brings to mind Dufy, Monet and Whistler (is that St Paul’s in the background?) but it is completely original. It is a masterpiece of vivid colour (which surely springs out of the artist’s own mind) against a very London slate grey river-sky.

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Thames to the right, Spitzbergen ahead.

Around the corner Cockerel and Crucifix has the best chicken I’ve ever seen. A glorious arrogant beast, fierce and bright. Irreverently I thought Christ’s crucifix reminiscent of an upright vacuum cleaner but then the depiction of His agony against the pyrotechnic colour of the bird stopped irreverence, its sobriety all the more striking amid the splendour of its surroundings.

So yes, go to this show, there is much more to see. Especially a Peter Grimes, his ship a shimmer against a desolate backdrop where a flick of foam is all that separates grey sea from grey sky. And the great Matissian dancing abstracts from late in his career which will be staying once the exhibition has moved on, bearing the legend ‘Sir Sidney Nolan OM AC RA’.

#Art #London #Nolan100

 

Two exhibitions at the British Museum

March 26, 2017

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All the publicity for the British Museum recently has been for The American Dream, a show about prints from the past sixty or so years in the States. If you pair it  with America Between the Wars at the RA you can get a pretty good overview of the art of twentieth  century America. At the cost of quite a lot of shoe leather – neither show is negligible.

The BM’s is the more extensive however, more extensive and more comprehensive than I’d imagined it would be. Up front are the star names – Warhol, Rauschenberg (haven’t we seen enough of him lately?), Johns and Jim Dine.

The last I admit was new to me, which made him the most interesting of the nominated big three, who get their own rooms pretty much. Dine’s Red Design for Satin Heart was truly a thing of beauty. I won’t reproduce it here because as a digital image it looks a bit Clintons Cards. You have to see it in situ. Dine is more interesting than Oldenburg (who has a few prints up front) in his monumentalisation of the ordinary, for example with his print of paint brushes. He makes his re-contextualised implements living subjects whereas Oldenburg it seems is more concerned with artifice.

Then up comes Ruscha. Was I rattled by the Ruscha? (There’s one for all the Pavement fans out there.) Well, not really, it seemed that his processes – for example his use of gunpowder in print-making – were more interesting than the things he produced. Once you’ve seen three or four rooms half-full of slick stuff satirising ad-land you start to wonder whether the satire was ever there in the first place, except as a counter-cultural rhetorical device.

It was at this point (about halfway through) that I came to the opinion that the exhibition was far too big to take in in one go. But I ploughed on because in London, with so much going on, one’s best intentions of going back to a place rarely see fruition. And this is where I got a bit annoyed.

Minimalists were up next but then what’s this? The last three rooms are dedicated to Aids, women artists and black artists. And I question the whole basis of that. Because your average punter is likely to be art blind by the time they get to these rooms and therefore possibly miss some compelling work.

If the curators were going to switch to such an explicitly thematic approach I wished they’d front-loaded these rooms so that they were the first things that the public sees. Were they scared that if the punters couldn’t see a friendly Warhol from the door (well, not that friendly, it’s an electric chair) that they wouldn’t dare venture inside? Do the public have to be sold the familiar constantly?

I’m not arguing that Raschenberg/Warhol/Johns et al aren’t interesting or important, just that their work is so familiar that you only need to close your eyes to conjure it up. On the other hand I hadn’t seen ANY work by the artists in the last two rooms devoted to women and ethnic minorities (oh, except for another Warhol, who is represented by a depiction of a race riot, which seemed banal in the extreme next to much more complex work by less famous artists on the same subject of racial tension and radicalism in late twentieth century America). The unfamiliar isn’t necessarily obscure because it’s less interesting. As the Guerilla Girls point out.

So I would recommend going to the exhibition and starting at the last room. Your mind will be freshest to soak up the wonderful work of unfamiliar artists. If you’re as ignorant of American art as I am. Do not miss Kiki Smith’s Born 2002, which has the best wolf ever. Or Dotty Attie’s Mother’s Kisses which the label po-facedly informs us ‘hints at incest.’ Hints at like the Sistine Chapel hints at Christianity.

And the other show? Well, you’d hardly know it was there given the lack of press attention or indeed publicity for it in the museum itself. Just a discreet sign pretty much by the door of the prints gallery if I’m not mistaken.

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It is a wonderful thing. You might at first glance think it’s just for the connoisseur when you see Victorian depictions of the English countryside by the yard as you enter the room. But anyone could find something to their taste in here as the art gets far more radical as you progress around the room. Which is not to say that there aren’t things of genuine beauty – of course Turner, Constable and Cotman blow everything else away.

But I was taken by the unexpected depictions of London in watercolour. Especially this week. A Nevinson of Air Street and Piccadilly Circus tube under construction has a bus fleetingly viewed through a half-built Regent St Quadrant. Joseph Parnell’s Balloons Over London showed barrage balloons over the Thames at Battersea during WW1. But not barrage balloons as I imagine them – big fat silver sausages. These balloons are dainty Montgolfier affairs. Montgolfier turned sinister.

And best of all Henry Moore, London Skyline. St Paul’s is central to an extraordinary composition of a sheltering family, seemingly sheltering in the womb of London while wraiths stalk a fractured landscape. But St. Paul’s, like The Dude, abides. London is the place for me in good times and bad. Oh, and the watercolours are free.

#BritishMuseum #AmericanDream #London #Art

James Ensor at the RA

November 30, 2016

A neglected show in London at the moment, being somewhat overshadowed by the Abstract Expressionists in the same venue, is Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. I deliberately spell out the name in full since this show is much more than a retrospective of the career of Ensor. In fact the title itself doesn’t do full justice to the range of art on offer since it misses out another artist whose work is on display, Léon Spillaert.

And it was Spillaert who really grabbed me on the first walk around. His self-portrait is obviously Munch-ish but also has its own weird loneliness that looks forward to Edward Hopper. While his portrait of Andrew Carnegie is one of the most chilling I’ve ever seen. An eyeless and soulless Carnegie stares from the canvas in a picture of utter malevolence that no amount of philanthropy could subvert.

But Ensor is the star. Ensor who starts out like an Anglo-Belgian Sickert, all still brown interiors, and then explodes into colourful surreal genius. This is symbolised for me by his own self portrait.

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A pretty straightforward depiction save for the at-the-extreme-end-of-dandyism hat. Calm eyes offer a challenge. Do you take this seriously? Well, do you? I think you should. The question I kept asking myself was, who was he making these images for? What market was there for skeletons eyeing chinoiserie? Or for a pair of skulls fighting over the carcass of a herring?

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One of them sporting a bearskin. It has the horrific absurdity of a Goya witch.

And Tuymans is no passive curator. He has inserted works of his own which echo and talk to those of his compatriot, such as his ‘Gilles de Bindes’ which refers back to a beautifully plued real life carnival hat displayed in the opening room and whose ancestor Ensor included in his own picture of carnival.

But the work which I enjoyed the most was the opening film. Rarely do I have the patience for video art but this film, a fake of Welles-ian genius, depicts a party on the beach at Oostende. Despite the inclement weather it made me want to visit Belgium as soon as possible.

But for a month or so more you can see Belgium in all its quirky unexpectedness in just a few rooms at the Royal Academy. Much more interesting and surprising than the overblown yanks below, who seem the most humourless bunch of po-faced canvas wasters set against the deftly humorous savagery of Ensor and his confrères.

#Art #London #Ensor

James Capper at Vigo

September 14, 2016

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It’s not often that I get to go Exhibition openings so it was with genuine excitement that I strolled down to Dering Street in the company of a few fellow flâneurs to see James Capper’s Porta Carve at Vigo. Vigo is tucked away in the armpit of Oxford and Regent Street, hard by a Crossrail building site but don’t let this put you off visiting – Capper’s work is well worth the trip.

The opening night was a spectacle. We arrived to find plaster-spattered canvases arranged around the walls, menacing power tools snaking across the floor and a smattering of fellow sophisticates clutching cold Coronas on a hot September evening. And we thought we’d missed the main event.

But no, we were assured that James would be back to do his thing at 7 and 8 o’clock so in the meantime we mingled, looked at the works and learnt a bit about Capper’s process.

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The finished work is pleasingly (to my taste anyway) minimalist. The crunchy impasto of the plaster making a rhythm on the bare canvas.The tonality, if not the structure, put me in mind of Park Seo-Bo whose work was exhibited at the White Cube earlier in the year. Of course there is an enormous contrast in mood. Whereas Park’s work is contemplative Capper makes a restless crust of forms across the canvas that you want to drag your hand across and feel as much as see.

And then there’s the machines. The plaster is applied to a glue-prepared canvas from blocks which are attacked by the artist with a kind of menacing home-made chainsaw. Which action is a spectacle worth seeing (and hearing) if you get the chance. Its controlled chaos put me in mind of Jackson Pollock’s method, albeit with a radically different outcome.

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After which you’re left with not just the work on the canvas but also the sculptural forms of the blocks, their carved up innards spilled over the walls and the floor. As you can see this process attracted not only the cognoscenti but also a few curious onlookers from the pub across the road.

So in anticipation of the RA’s colossal Abstract Expressionism down the road I’d recommend getting along to Vigo to see work which seems to have direct inspiration from some of those artists in its energy and its stripped down rawness.

Øve Arup at the V&A

August 6, 2016

With an hour to spare before meeting for a pre-Proms dinner I thought I’d have a look at what was on at the V&A. I wasn’t tempted by the knickers show but Øve Arup was definitely my bag and delivered an hour-sized piece of intellectual entertainment.

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The show only opened in June, as part of the V&A’s engineering season, but I don’t recall any publicity about it on my usual cultural channels. Which seems a shame as it’s a gem. Arup, despite being Danish, was a man whose history was inextricably bound up with London. Indeed the firm that he founded, which is now the leading engineering practice of its kind in the world, continues to be so after his death.

You can find out about the modern practice and its cutting edge development of the fields of crowd flow studies and acoustic engineering in a hi-tech, interactive section that works via a wifi linked app on your phone and touchscreens. Or at least you could if they all worked! The irony of the first touchscreen I tried to use not working wasn’t lost on the gallery assistant.*

But that was just a glitch – the show gives a good overview of Arup’s career from his arrival in London in the 1920s, through working in London during the Blitz to making his international reputation with high profile projects such as the Sydney Opera House and the Centre Pompidou. What is more it brings across the personality of the man with humorous sketches from his personal notebook and memorabilia from office parties and awards dos.**

I hope you’ve already decided to go and visit so I won’t describe the exhibits in detail but will pick out two titbits of particular interest to Londoners. Arup, together with Lubetkin, was the man behind the pioneering modernist masterpiece of the London Zoo penguin pool and it was a real treat to see the plans outlining the geometric and technical conception of one of the greatest sculptures in London.***

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Secondly, there is a fascinating section devoted to Arup’s work on air-raid shelter during World War 2. I’ve been guiding and teaching on the Blitz for a few years now and it was quite exciting to see the correspondence between Arup and various committees about the necessity for deep level shelters, as well as various publications that he produced for the public sphere. Perfect for someone with an interest of life during wartime in London.

It was also a delight to find a display on one of my favourite pieces of architecture – the King’s Walk Bridge in Durham. This elegant sliver of brutalism spanning the deep gorge of the River Wear has been a favourite since childhood and remains my top piece of concrete. The video of the two halves being swung into place and Arup himself the first stroller across is mesmerising and brought a sharp tinge of nostalgia for the most beautiful city in England.

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*Perhaps this was a sly reference to one high profile Arup project that is curiously neglected – the Millennium Bridge between St Paul’s and Tate Modern.

**This contrasts significantly to a similar show at the RA a year or two ago about Richard Rogers which was a long on on pompous hagiography and short on charm.

***I say sculpture because it was notoriously unpenguinny.

 

 

Chichester and Arundel

July 7, 2016

Having spent a few days away from London I would normally have returned to my desk with a slew of reviews to do from the place that I’ve been. But on this occasion that isn’t the case as I was away for a conference of the Society for the Study of French History. So this piece is more of a reflection on that conference, a sidestep into my own little obsession of going to galleries and then a thought upon a moment of touching serendipity in a church.

It was my first time at the SSFH conf, presenting a paper that I’d previously given in Middlesborough but this time to a group far more likely to be more interested in the French than sporting aspect of my research. As usual it taught me the value of presenting to an audience whose specialism lies beyond one’s own. My co-pannelists (Will Pooley and Russell Stephens,  both of whose papers were very good (and you can’t say that about everything you go to at a conference)) were talking about witchcraft and nineteenth century political cartoons so could hardly have been farther from my own field of early twentieth century sports culture. Yet in a sparsely attended session (it was the last of the conference after all) the discussion ranged freely enough to spark a few ideas that wouldn’t have occurred to me with that outside input. And I now know a shitload about witch trials and phallic imagery in the reign of Napoleon III. Result!

The other good thing about conferences (apart from the socialising, or maybe as part of it) is that it can clear the mind of applying for jobs and getting rejected, writing but ever feeling that you’re not writing enough and teaching but worrying that you haven’t given your students all that you could or should. Because by talking to other early career researchers, and I mean talking to them not reading their angsty tweets and blogs, you feel more normal about your own angst and setbacks. 

But of course much as I love conferences I do also like to get out of them and wander around. By contrast to Middlesbrough Chichester seems to be suffering from no economic dislocation, even in the early days of B****t. And this shows in the gallery attendance at Pallant House. It was solidly busy on a warm Sunday afternoon with families, young couples retirees and wannabe flaneurs like me. 

Deservedly so. The twentieth century art collection is outstanding, with my own favourite being a Patrick Caulfield room kitschly mysterious and entirely covetable. The temporary exhibition of work by Christopher Wood deserved more of my attention than I had the energy to give. So well worth 10 quid for entry.

But talking to a local who was back for the conference she said that she wouldn’t be going because she didn’t think she had enough time free to justify spending that kind of money. Which again reinforced my opinion that such galleries should mitigate the entry charge by extending the ticket for a year, as they do in Queen’s Gallery and the London Transport Museum. This would maintain revenue while also encouraging multiple visits by Chichester residents, thus resolving that conundrum about how to find a balance between earning the tourist bucks without fleecing the locals. But if you’re in the area go there – it’s worth ten quid.

And also go to the Cathedral, which is free. Preparing for my paper I sat in the nave while the organist went through a quite challenging repertoire of what sounded like Messaien to my untrained ear. And then on the way out I saw this:-

It inspired the final poem of Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings (go here for a reading of the poem by Larkin himself) one of the few collections poetry that I know well. And very apposite in the week of my own wedding anniversary. A good omen.

Missoni in Bermondsey

May 22, 2016

Being confined to SE1 in many of my waking hours there have at least been two consolations this week. Borough Market of course is the destination of choice for lunch, even if it means having to walk past The London Bridge Experience and its shit-tackularly spectral shoite there and back.

The other consolation this week has been a visit to a new museum (to me I mean, I think it’s been there for a decade at least), the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey Street. A friend of mine, who is very much not a fashionista, makes it his destination of choice when visiting London and had been pressing me to go for ages. So I did.

I didn’t really know what to expect as I’m not much of a fashion person myself either. I vaguely thought it might be a space devoted to the history of fashion in London. Well, it’s not that but that’s not a criticism. You can get that (or a great part of it) in the V&A. No, the FaTMu is a lunchtime-sized exhibition space dedicated to a rolling programme of one-off shows.*

So it was pot luck that I got Missoni, a label that I’d vaguely heard of but really knew nothing about. Well it turns out they’ve done a whole lot of shit, and most of it tremendously good shit. Italians, Rosito and Ottavio Missoni were inspired by the Futurist art movement and their Italian successors to use ‘Made in Italy’ fabrics to produce some quite stunningly beautiful clothes. As you can see from the header image one of their distinctive design features is to use brightly coloured bands that have a musicality and rhythm that is unique to their look in spite of much imitation.

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The central hall of the exhibition space has a slightly sinister array of mannequins wearing clothes from a range of years of Missoni’s collections.

IMG_4294What’s missing in the photograph though is the musique concrète that is piped through the gallery. Unlike the Russians at the NPG this music enhances the work displayed since it is assembled from the factory sounds where the fabrics are produced. The machine noises pulse and throb industrially but also suggest something organic; blood pumping through arteries or the sound of your own lungs when resting. It emphasises the way in which the fabrics Missoni use combine artifice with nature. You’re not meant to touch the hairy walls but I couldn’t help myself just once.

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Like me you might not be a fashion nut but fear not, there is more to the exhibition than fashion. As mentioned the original Missonis were inspired by Italian artists and before you get to the clothes you have a very high quality selection of Italian fine art of the twentieth century. There are big names that were familiar to me from visits to the Estorick, such as Severini, Balla and Lucio Fontana. But also unfamiliar names – Gottardo Ortelli, Tancredi and many more.**

This I would argue makes it a show not to miss for the art lover. Although not displayed in the best of circumstances (basically in gloomy corridors) the paintings have so much energy and colour that they light up the building by themselves.

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And it’s hit after hit after hit. Sure, you could probably see many pieces in this style and of this quality down the road in Tate Modern but there you’d have to elbow your way through rucksacks, shooting sticks and class 3c. Here, all is tranquillity save for the blast of fierce beauty on the walls. The exhibition runs to September so I think I’ll pop back when I’m feeling glum and need cheering up.

*It also has an excellent café which you can visit without entry to the museum. Quiche, salad and wine for a tenner isn’t a bad deal.

** I wanted to put the Estorick into this review as its stuff is so complementary but I haven’t had the time to go there. But if you have the time do that thing, it is a great museum.


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