Posts Tagged ‘Art’

The Crouch End Players and the Comédie-Italienne

May 24, 2017

Corbyn Island with Cast 2

Artwork © Nick Kobyluch

Since translating Marivaux’s comedy L’Ile des Esclaves for the Crouch End Festival I’ve been immersing myself in the culture of the early eighteenth century in France, partly with an eye on working on something more ambitious sometime in the future but also with my mind on costumes for Corbyn Island, the updated version that’s in production with the Crouch End Players. One way I felt that I could tie the modern adaptation to the work that inspired it would be by having two of my modern characters in fancy dress that had a whiff of Baroque France about them.

Naturally my thoughts turned to the Wallace Collection in Marylebone, whose building is a little bit of France in the West End. The 18th Century French rooms I’d tended to skip through on previous visits – all that flouncy, sleazy Boucher is a bit quease-inducing even if you have the reward of the more civilised Watteau alongside.  I prefer the more sober pleasures to be had in the company of Poussin and De Hooch.

So it was a surprise to find that not only did the Wallace have plenty of canvases depicting eighteenth century French fashion it actually had a picture of our antecedents as interpreters of Marivaux, the Comédie-Italiennes.

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The Italian Comedians by a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret


The painting depicts the actors in theatre dress with the stock characters Pierrot and Arlequin most obvious – each in his distinctive costume with Arlequin also masked. Arlequin appears in L’Ile des Esclaves as the slave to an Athenian aristocrat and displays all of the attributes that his audience would expect whichever production he appeared in. He’s a cheeky, rustic joker who has simple tastes – food, drink and the ladies, not necessarily in that order.

In Marivaux’s production he would have been played by Thomassin, the most famous Arlequin of his age and probably the man depicted by Lancret in the painting above. Our own Arlequin (who now goes under the name of TC, a little nod to the Assistant Coach of my football club, Ipswich Town) is played, I have to say magnificently, by Ric Lindley. He doesn’t have to perform the acrobatics that would have been expected of a seventeenth century Arlequin, nor did we direct him to adopt a ‘high-pitched voice like a parrot’ as described as being characteristic of the part by contemporary accounts.* But I think he definitely captures the earthy qualities of Arlequin, as well as his sentimentality and good-naturedness.

Lancret is one of those artists who seems to be permanently overshadowed (like de Hooch by Vermeer) by a more illustrious peer for seemingly no good reason. Watteau of course is the big name here but they had very similar backgrounds starting as apprentices under the theatre scenarist and artist Claude Gillot. For some reason Lancret seems to be treated as the apprentice to Watteau whereas in fact he was much more of a rival. So researching Lancret’s painting was a lot more difficult to do than if it had been Watteau’s. There are (justifiably) books by the yard on Watteau in the library but very little, even in French, on his fellow painter.

Lancret’s ability is shown by many canvases in the Wallace but is nowhere more apparent in London than in the marvellous Gallery A at the National. Tucked away either side of a large canvas from the studio of Boucher (isn’t that telling of Lancret’s neglect, he could probably chat to Guardi about it who has a little picture up the row) are four canvases depicting the four ages of man. Philosophical pieces describing childhood, youth, maturity and old age, they are little gems that deserve a wall of their own.

They also led me to reflect how one would depict the life cycle in the modern age. Childhood and youth separate? It hardly seems that a tot is out of nappies before it is turned into a consumer and given a screen to suck on. But then how to separate youth and maturity when middle-aged men go shopping in the supermarket in leisure wear and spend their cultural capital yarning the ins and outs of superhero franchises. So, it would seem, we go straight from youth to senility. But I digress.

True, Watteau was the pioneer of the fête galante but it was a genre that Lancret developed and proved to be a master of very quickly, as shown by the portrait of the Comédies-Italiennes. The vividness of their characters brought them into the modern age for me as I was standing in the Wallace and gave me the feeling that even if I’ve twisted and mangled Marivaux out of shape as an author, as a company we’re still communicating with these people through four centuries of theatre history and revivifying the roles that they created. It’s a tremendous credit to Ric, Sophie, Richard, Mia, Victoria, Mike, Nadia and Vic that they’ve taken this project on and given it life beyond the page. If only we had Lancret around to immortalise them.

#Theatre #London

 

*François Moreau, Le goût Italien dans la France tocaille: théatre, musique, peinture (Paris, PUPS: 2011), p. 40

More good things at the National

May 21, 2017

In the last post I intended to talk about some more highlights beyond Gallery A but having gone off on one about Arthur Ransome’s oeuvre I thought it best to split my ramblings into two more digestible helpings. There are two temporary offerings at the National that any self-respecting art lover finding themselves with an afternoon in London should get to.

Firstly, Chris Ofili’s wonderful Weaving Magic. A collaboration with the Dovecot Tapestry Studio the work is the brightest jewel in London right now. Ofili’s preparatory drawings in the ante room give you the context of the tapestry’s design, including the information that the cocktail waiter is based on Mario Balotelli.

The tapestry itself is in a grand, subtly lit room where it glows with pure sensual pleasure. If the Trinidad Tourist Board had any sense they’d snap it up immediately for their publicity because it’s the best argument for visiting the Caribbean that I’ve seen since the retirement of Brian Lara.

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But Ofili’s isn’t the only gem. Tucked away by the front door of the NG is a grand baroque canvas by an artist I’d never come across before, a glimpse of which can be seen in the image above. Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene is another work of sensual delight on a par with Ofili’s, even if it comes in the guise of a work of religious devotion. The Magdelene is repentant but in the depiction of her transition from sin to contrition she seems to have her carnality multiplied by Cagnacci’s brush. Not even the devil, in the allegorical figure of Vice, has the best tunes in this piece. For once they belong to the godly; Vice barely merits a glance.

Individual sections of the painting are worth studying closely. The Magdalene’s blue robe a gorgeous slather of colour on the floor, a sunlit balcony straight from a perfect holiday on the Med and Cagnacci’s own signature (Guido Cagnacci, Inventor) deserve patient attention before your gaze is inevitably pulled back to the central, intense relationship between Mary and Martha. Catch it while you can, it closes today!

#art #London #NationalGallery

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

 

A short ramble round Leicester

March 30, 2017

Coming to a brief spell of teaching at De Montfort I thought it might be of use to the casual cultured  visitor to point out some of the less well-known elements of the town that are worthy of consideration.

I’ve largely eschewed chewing in Leicester (at least on a sit down and make yourself at home basis) and so there’s only one ‘restaurant’ review from my time there. This post will have a bit of food though, plus buildings, books, art, pubs and landscape since it’s those things that to my mind are the more obvious signs of an absence or presence of civilisation in a community.

Let’s start with …

Churches

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St Martin’s (Leicester Cathedral)

Leicester is blessed with good church, although the Cathedral doesn’t really make it into the top three. Sadly most good churches are closed to casual visits so I’ve only seen the best ones from the outside. The Cathedral (which is generally open) I didn’t go into because an officious verger told me curtly that at the time I turned up there was a service on and ‘there’s no visiting.’ She didn’t seem to want to venture what time the service would end so I thought, well I can manage without it given that there’s gurt-stonking church to be had elsewhere. Such as …

St Nicholas

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No, it wasn’t misty. I’d dropped my phone in beer thus turning the camera into an analogue of my own ale-soaken mind if I happened to get into the right company after a day’s teaching.

Through the mists emerges St Nicholas, a real piece of Midlands bricolage being bits of Anglo-Saxon built on through the mediaeval period and topped off with a twentieth century tower. All juxtaposed with fragments of Roman Leicester. And on the ‘wrong side’ of the ring road. If it was in London it would be a major landmark. Here it languishes feeling rather unloved. As does …

All Saints, Highcross Street

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Get road-side if you want to see the Norman zig-zaggy door.

Also hard on the ring road but not if you approach it from the John Lewis end as shown in this photograph. The tower has elements of Anglo-Saxon and the rest to my untrained eye is a bizarre conglomeration of mediaeval and Victorian. It is crazy in its haphazardness but this somehow just lends it charm. It also has good tombstones.

As does …

St Mary-de-Castro

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Part of the castle complex and thus difficult to get a 360 degree look from close up, Pevsner goes nuts about the interior. Alas it’s shut quite a lot, or at least on Tuesdays when I’m in town. Below the castle hill there is a lovely garden with such a beautifully textured assemblage of hedgery with all kinds of bird life teeming in it. Shame they had to stick a crappy Holiday Inn above it. This is a good place to eat a sandwich. I know, I’ve been there.

Books

Like all good second hand bookshops Maynard & Bradley has an idiosyncratic style of service (read that how you will). It also has green Penguins by the yard and a good section on local history, which is what I was there for. I’ve been twice and both times bought more than necessary. A good thing.

Art

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New Walk Museum. Entrance is currently from the rear.

The New Walk museum has a tidy and eclectic collection of stuffed creatures. Sadly, my own taste being for the bizarreries to be found collections of this nature …

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A tragic visage from Güzelyürt Municipal Museum

… but of more interest is its tidy and eclectic collection of art. One room (while they’re renovating) is a broad survey of about 500 years of Western European art with the emphasis on the solid Victorian Frithish stuff. But there are a few gems of which the best is a de la Tour of a choirboy. De la Tour was not prolific (around 40 canvases apparently) so it was a very pleasant surprise to find his Choirboy hidden away in a corner of the stage area of the main gallery. Even poorly exhibited one can see that his handling of light is extraordinary. And the choirboy don’t look like no choirboy if you know what I mean. V sinister. Also there’s a good Orpen of an Old Bag on a Couch. Look at the Sisley too in that room and a good, solid 19thC depiction of the Thames.

Pass by Hogarth secure in the knowledge that he did far better things and go to the other room which houses twentieth century British stuff. Apparently this is just a small sample of their collection which means that it’s ideal. About twenty pieces, all high class. Some by artists you’ll know (eg Stanley Spencer) but also others who you won’t like Robert Beven (sp?) and his View of St John’s Wood. The gallery is worth a lunchtime of anyone’s time.

They also have occasional concerts – I was absolutely GUTTED to have missed Mahan Esfahani doing Goldberg.

Pubs

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The Globe. Zach pulls a mean pint.

As I pointed out in my review the Parcel Yard is better than your average station pub, on the ale side at least. But superior options are to be found (‘Don’t go to the Spoons!’ wailed my students when I asked for a recommendation). The Globe has a good range of booze and what’s more has a DMU graduate called Zach on the pumps. He’s a nice feller and so is his boozer if you’re looking for a pubby pub. Also a good find was the Brewdog pub – good music, excellent chips and tasty beer. They also do carry outs for when you’re the only person leaving Leicester when Seville are in town and you need to drown your sorrows at missing the match while you’re on your way back to London.

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Brewdog: Knowledgable bar staff, cracking ale and good, quick food.

Buildings

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De Montfort itself has a fine collection. Though the place seems to be in a permanent state of construction there’s peace to be found down by the river. Just by the university is Newarke House Museum. The museum is a typical local museum that tells the history of the city succinctly and very well with good bits of oral history about the industries that made the city what it is. They also had a good exhibition on the First World War when I was there and it seems that they turn round exhibitions quite frequently, which encourages repeat visits.

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Unmissable if you go to Leicester is the Guildhall. It’s one of a smattering of picturesque half-timbered survivals but the real glory lies within.

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That is a proper fireplace. The room it’s in ain’t bad either with 17th Century wall paintings, injunctions to clean living (the hall acted as a seat of justice back in the day) and a couple of yeomanly portraits of local dignitaries from the past.

Food

But what if you’re hungry? You could do any one of a number of chain sandwich places but I prefer to find somewhere a bit more independent.

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Samosa central

For food on the hoof Currant Affairs does the best samosas I’ve ever had outside of a restaurant. It’s all vegan/veggie friendly and their boast that’s it’s freshly made in the day is not an idle one. You can taste the freshness.

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For coffee and a sit down you can’t beat St. Martin’s coffee bar. They have excellent coffee and if you’re hungry you can get hot food made to order. A favourite of mine was an Indonesian pork stir fry with bacony slabs of pork on tangy spicy noodles and plenty of vegetables. And good value too.

Leicester is a good place and I’m looking forward to going back for a bit of cricket/football/rugby soonest.

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

Review #8 Mub’Art, Ghent

February 2, 2017

The last of our eating places of a very high quality weekend was the surprise package. To borrow from Rumsfeld (who seems strangely less crazy than once he did, that’s the power of 2016) Mort Subite was a known known, Belga Queen was a known unknown and Den Turk was an unknown known. Mub’Art, however, was an unknown unknown since we hadn’t even known it was there before we went to the fine art museum in Ghent.

Well, the museum set us up for a fine lunch. I’m a pretty seasoned gallery goer but out of all the cities I’ve been to over the last few years Ghent has one of the finest. It has just the right amount of world class things (Bosch, Breughel, Rubens being the obvious ones) mixed with famous locals (Ensor, Spillaert) and then a whole raft of new to me things like the Belgian impressionists (on whom Seurat seems to have been a tremendous influence, among others). 


Added to this you have an expertly curated room on the Dutch golden age which mixes championship quality painters (Hals and Maes apart) with period objects to contextualise the art that they produced.

And then the star of the piece, but catch it while you can, restoration of two panels from the van Eycks’ Ghent Altarpiece happening right before your very eyes. We had visited the original in situ in St. Bavo’s but had to rub up along people with audio guides and little genuine interest in the work beyond ticking off a list of things to do in Ghent. So finding an empty corridor from which to watch the craftspeople at work on sprucing up the knights was an unexpected treat.

So I was already well disposed to the museum when we took a punt on the restaurant. Museum restos are always a risk – too formal and they don’t work for the cross section of galley visitors. Too canteeny and you feel that you might as well have taken your own grub and eaten on a bench.

Mub’Art gets it just right. The food is seriously good cooking but with a popular price, while the service is friendly yet consistent with giving you the feeling that you’re definitely out for a meal. Attention to detail on the design of the room was also noticeable, in fact that was something that was true in most of the places we visited.

We took the set menu. Soup to start was a warm, thick chicory broth – quite filling! But not as filling as the chicken vol-au-vent which was a chicken on chicken attack of meatballs and stew with a dainty piece of pastry perched on top. Salad and chips alongside were beyond my compass but I manfully consumed the main event with relish. 

A Rothschild Sauvignon at €27 was a bargain and the whole lot came in at under forty quid each, which isn’t cheap if you’re on a budget but is good value if you want a treat. It was the perfect end to an excellent trip.


9/10

#Food #Gent #Ghent

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Korean Art in London

January 23, 2017

There’s a welcome return for Park Seo-Bo at the White Cube Gallery, this time with a move away from the pale tones of his previous exhibition to the seething blacks of his ‘zigzag’ paintings.

Their seething, shimmering intensity doesn’t really come across in my photographs. canvases that have been primed with reds have thick, dark paint applied and scored across with diagonal gestures that give a metallic tang  reminiscent of industrial flooring.

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The large landscape at one end of the room is interesting but my favourite was a small canvas to one side. Fiery red patches are glimpsed between thick smodges of black impasto that has been torn and twisted, gouged and thumbed into shape. There’s a violence in the application that is far from the serenity of the work I’d seen by Park before.

Such expressionistic intensity is in marked contrast to a smaller display up the road at the British Museum. While visiting the South African exhibition (a disappointment that wore its politics too overtly on its sleeve for my taste) my attention was drawn to a small case by the rear entrance to the museum.

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It houses art from North Korea – two canvases, one celadon vase and a medal.Of the four pieces the vase was the most interesting to me. It depicts a modern city using ancient techniques in  curious mash up of modernism and traditionalism. The paintings on the other hand are good old fashioned socialist realism; unintentionally kitsch propaganda that is quease-inducing given the misery meted out to its own population by the DPK and the threat posed to its neighbours.

The art in each of these exhibitions seems to embody the difference between open and closed societies – the one engaged with the world and emotionally charged while the other is false and unconvincing. It’s one of the strengths of the British Museum that it acts as a cultural link with less open societies than our own, and its policy of encouraging loans from places difficult to visit really underpins its mission as a museum of world culture.

#Art #London

Review #109 National Gallery Café, Trafalgar Square

December 21, 2016

An air of melancholy hangs over the National Café. The room is too big, with a ceiling a mile from the floor and windows thus too high to see out of. Rarely full, this Thursday evening we had the pick of the room and chose a corner table (standard agent choice – back to the wall and a view to both exits). The décor, even ten years or so after opening, is hi spec with lovely red leather furnishings, woody warm walls and antiqued mirrors. It’s the melancholic air that draws me back. That and the macaroni cheese, which is perfect post-guiding fare.

The melancholy was added to by the state of Trafalgar Square. Why Shrigley, why? All those stick balancing Yoda scroungers, now transformed by the Magic of Christmas into rapacious aerial Santas, make a mockery of the imperial pomposity of the Square’s original plan far more effectively than Shrigley’s tragic waste of bronze could ever do. The big thumb is a piece of egocentric art so facile it makes a Banksy graffito of a transvestite copper look like a piece of allegory on a par with Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time.

 

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Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time. Not to be confused with Shrigley, Thumbs Up!


But I digress.

We chose from the Italian set menu, drawn up in honour of the Caravaggio exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing. Bean soup to start was a winner as I was exceedingly hungry. Plenty of satisfyingly thick soup and some good bread to go with it. Bruschetta next to me looked a bit meagre but was made up for by a generous helping of pasta with shin bone beef as a main course. My roast cod was delicious enough with  enough cherry tomatoes alongside to see off a whole platoon of prostate problems but the side order of chips was a curiously bloodless affair and appeared to have been assembled at very short notice.

A small tragedy around the wine.The list had the same Oregonian red that I’d enjoyed at the Opera but at twenty quid less. I put in an immediate order. And rhapsodised on its qualities. But what’s this? None left! A stab to the alcoholic vitals that was only slightly mitigated by its Pinot Noir replacement being a tenner cheaper.

Though the room was sparsely occupied a certain charm was added by the friendliness of the staff, who chatted to us about the film that we’d been to see (Son of Joseph at the ICA – highly recommended). Unfortunately this was to a backdrop of music sorely lacking in taste in a venue such as this. A cover version of Eddie Reader’s Perfect? U2’s A Beautiful Day?! And they were the least rancorous of the selections.

After coffee (good coffee) and dealing with some comic business around the bill we slipped across to the Opera Room of the Chandos to rediscover a jolly festive tone and leave the melancholia behind.

7/10

#Food #London #Art

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

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


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