What a good month for art exhibitions, making me realise how fortunate I am to live in London and to be able to visit shows so easily.
The first show we visited this month was the National Gallery and Edgar Degas’s drawings and pastels on loan from the Glasgow Burrell collection. Sir William Burrell collected Degas’s work throughout his life. This show was beautifully presented in quiet dark rooms, with very few people giving me lots of time to think about the work: the different cross hatching effects, the lushness of the rich pastel. It was almost possible to feel the satin and net of the ballet costumes. None of his dancers posed and it was interesting to see jockeys and tired women in workhouses. While at the National Gallery we couldn’t resist visiting the permanent collection. We chose the rooms showing Berthe Morisot’s ‘Girl on a Divan’, ‘Madame Matisse au Kimono’ by Andre Derain, ‘The Forest at Fontainbleu’ by Henri Matisse. An artist I wasn’t familiar with was Vilhelm Hammershoi – such a moody ‘Interior’, so mysterious & memorable.
Edgar Degas Andre Derain
Henri Matisse Vilhelm Hammershoi
We decided to see various exhibitions that looked interesting. The first was Hans Hartung at the Simon Lee Gallery – such beautiful colour and texture. He had had a dramatic sad life, having to flee Germany as he was classed a ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis, his work at that time being Cubist – a movement incompatible with German Ideals. While in the Foreign Legion he lost a leg fighting in North Africa. At the gallery there is a very moving video of him in later life in a wheelchair painting with an air brush, an assistant changing the paint for him. This technique, along with non-traditional tools, olive branches, garden hoses, etc. were how he achieved the fascinating effects.
Next we went to the Spruth Magers Gallery to see ‘Kauffman, Judd and Morris’. I didn’t know Craig Kauffman’s work but really loved his use of colour – very seductive & a little like a perspex/plastic Rothko. Because the sun was shining into the gallery the shadows on Kauffman’s and Donald Judd’s works were so pretty and magical.
Craig Kauffman & Donald Judd
We went on to the Alan Cristea Gallery to see Sol LeWitt, but were passing the Tornabuoni Gallery showing Piero Dorazio which looked extremely colourful. We decided to have a look – he had spent time in New York associating with the abstract expressionists Motherwell, De Kooning and Newman, all great favourites of mine. Sadly Derazio’s work didn’t attract me in the same way. I found his colour very raw and in some works quite crude.
At Alan Cristea, being much more used to LeWitt’s room installations, I was a little disappointed in this exhibition of his prints. For me they lacked drama and didn’t have the same impact. Also at the gallery were black and white prints by Richard Sierra which I really liked – lots of processes using paint sticks, pigment, linseed oil and melted wax.
Finally to the Thomas Dane Gallery to see Phillip King’s ‘Colour on Fire’. This was so impressive – a large perforated geometric sculpture in vibrant contrasting and competing colours against different coloured gallery walls. This installation was happy and uplifting, something to enjoy unlike our country and the world at the moment.
Another day when in the West End, we couldn’t resist when passing the Atlas Gallery to check out the show of iconic black and white photos by Mark Riboud, Henri Cartier-Bresson to name two. A really well selected show.
Mark Riboud Henri Cartier-Bresson
We also saw that day Edwina Leapman at the Annely Juda Gallery. I have a problem with minimal art, which is strange as that is the sort of environment I ideally would love to live in. But anyway, I do like the delicacy and I understand the process, but this particular show lacked impact for me, a little too understated. Also at the gallery was Roger Ackling who uses a magnifying glass with the sun to sear freehand lines across found pieces of wood. An interesting idea but the imagery I found very simplistic. I so wanted to see more – I guess I felt the idea had taken over from what was being done, but perhaps the process was more important.
We were invited to Yvonne Crossley’s private view at the Chelsea Arts Club. Walking through the front door was like going back into how I imagine a 40’s drinking club, quite an old fashioned feel to the place. I think Yvonne had the best exhibition space. I liked her large wire figures, made up of lots of overlaid netting.
To finish February, what a treat. Christie’s and Sotheby’s wonderful sales of impressionist and surreal art. These places are my favourite as, all on your own, you can get as close to the art as when the artist did it. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the painting you are in front of – a Picasso or Matisse selling for many millions of pounds. Another point about viewing days at these sales rooms, you aren’t aware of someone having chosen what you are looking at, there is no curating of the work. Often when reading reviews of popular art exhibitions it’s irritating that the curator seems be as important as the work on show. There are now curating courses at art schools. I don’t get it – I just want to see the art. If someone has a strong view about a collection – write about it in the catalogue or exhibition notes.
We first visited the Rockefeller Collection at Christie’s. What money and taste this couple had. A collection beyond belief, every room in their house with mouthwatering pieces. To name a few (so many favourites of mine): Picasso, Matisse, Lebasque, Monet, Vlaminck, Schiele, Van Dongen, Rouault, Jawlensky, Degas, Dufy and so many more. I have no words to describe what I saw. Speaking with a saleswoman, she asked if I was enjoying the viewing. I said I definitely was, especially as so many of the works I’d never seen as they had been in private collections, to which she replied once they were sold I’d never see them again.
Henri Matisse Egon Schiele
Claude Monet Marie Laurencin
We finally went to Sotheby’s where their impressionist sale, although enjoyable, didn’t seem as strong as Christie’s. It would be difficult to match the Rockefeller Collection.
Pablo Picasso Marc Chagall
Jean Dufy & Raoul Dufy Joan Miro
I want to finish by saying how disappointed I am that, looking forward to going to the newly opened Hayward Gallery to see what seemed an interesting Andreas Gursky show, I was shocked to discover that a single ticket cost £14.50 & I was advised to book for a further £2.50, and no concessions.
So a great month for art, but not for weather. We are experiencing the coldest February since 2009, the country covered in snow and Storm Emma on it’s way, with the media giving constant updates. I can’t wait for the clocks going forward next month.
Our back garden.
Tony’s Valentine card to me.