The first day of this month I always remember as it’s my husbands birthday. This year we organised exhibitions to visit and, in between, a delicious lunch at the Elyston Restaurant in Chelsea. (which I can recommend).
First exhibition to see was the ‘Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s, King Street. Unbeknown to us it was the opening of the exhibition & champagne was flowing along with delightful & very appetising canapés – a shame this coincided with our birthday lunch. What a wonderful collection of art. I loved to see Cy Twombly so close to his work – so much is going on: letters and sentences in which I can read so much of my own thoughts . I have never particularly liked frank Auerbach’s work, but to my surprise I found myself really enjoying his painting called ‘Pillar Box’. It had qualities of one of my favourite painters – Richard Diebenkorn, with a lushness of paint in delicate colours creating an atmospheric scene. There were so many great paintings but too many to write about.
After our lunch we walked to the Saatchi Gallery off Kings Road. to see ‘Iconoclasts – Art out of the Mainstream’. Were we about to see nonconformist art, something challenging? I didn’t think so. I did find two artists interesting, but definitely not challenging or iconoclastic. First was Daniel Crewe-Chubb, obviously influenced by De Kooning & Asger Jorn, both favourites of mine. The other artist was Danny Fox – for the sheer scale of his paintings and their unfinished look. Having been disappointed by this exhibition our visit was saved by ‘Calder on Paper’ in the lower gallery. A lovely display of gouaches that Calder preferred to work in as the paint dried so fast & had a wonderful opacity. These had the fun of Paul Klee & Joan Miro.
Now for something different. Another outstanding memory of this month will be a five-car crash outside our house. A stolen car hit another car at the junction of our street and skidded toward the first car of three parked outside our house. After hitting this car it ended up on its side against a tree. Had the tree not been there it would have ended up in our neighbour’s and our house. Thank goodness for the tree! The first car it skidded into hit the parked second car which then went into our parked car. All three cars had considerable damage & ours ended up costing the insurance of the stolen car £4000. To everyone’s disbelief who saw this, the driver of the stolen car scrambled out and ran faster than Usain Bolt up the street and away from the devastating scene. Police and ambulances arrived from nowhere. Fortunately no-one was hurt – the woman in the car that he hit, although in a state of shock, was miraculously not injured. After all this shock and inconvenience of sorting out statements and insurance we planned to get away from the house and street and the following day see some exhibitions again.
White Cube, Masons Yard was our first stop. ‘From the Vapour of Gasoline’ was the name of the show. In the late 1950s early 1960s, buying the American magazine Art International, I was extremely influenced by American Pop Art. Its content was all about the American Dream – imagery influenced by advertising and packaging, a land of hope and plenty. But the notes to this exhibition stated that by the late 1960s this group of artists had become completely disillusioned owing to political assassinations, civil unrest, escalation of the cold war and oil embargoes – hence the title of this show. My 1960s memories were also of colour and humour but this show was the opposite, and very depressing. Richard Prince stood out for me, his jokes about sex, mortality and aggression which, when taken out of the magazine format and onto a painted monochrome canvas, became more direct at getting this message across. An extra thought comes to mind when writing this & that is how much the TV series ’Mad Men’ relates to this show.
From the Vapour of Gasoline
Next was the Cards Gallery, in Grafton Street. A gallery new to us promoting 1960s & 1970s Italian art. Six floors of exhibition space in this recently renovated 17th century London town house. Amongst many interesting Italian artists I particularly liked Michelangelo Pistoletto’s mirror pieces, where I was able to participate in the mirror, changing the composition. I wonder was this was the artist’s idea – I must read up about him.
Next was Galerie Thaddeus Ropak, Dover street. Tony wanted to see Richard Longo, not knowing this artist I was very impressed with his extremely large graphite and charcoal drawings on paper. I have written before of my dislike of this gallery, finding it very unsympathetic to showing art – the interior being so decorative it detracts from whatever is on show. Intrigued by the building I did some research and found out it was originally built for a Bishop Keene of Ely and in the 20th century the Albermarle Club transferred there which became a meeting place for the women’s suffrage movement. It then became a famous meeting place for artists & intellectuals, including Oscar Wilde & the Marquis of Queensberry, until the American Red Cross moved in during the 2nd World War!
Galerie Thaddeus Ropak
Alex Katz at Timothy Taylor Gallery, Carlos Place was next. There is something so different & skilful about Katz’s work – the scale and ability to simplify colour & imagery in such an individual way. It is so calming almost dreamlike. In this particular show there was a fascinating area devoted to drawings/studies of individual figures & groups, done in 1940 when, as an an art student at Cooper Union, he travelled on the subway.
Alex Katz sketchbook
Finally we went to the Pace Gallery, Burlington Gardens showing Jean Dubuffet’s ‘Theatres De Memoire.’ WHAT a wonderful show! So Joyous. At the age of 74 Dubuffet composed these collages of overlapping papers, vast pictures made up of smaller paintings cut out & glued. These were the first paintings to interest Jean- Michael Basquiat.
Absolutely shattered after this exhibition we had a break from days out looking at art until a friend arrived saying she wanted to see the Soutine exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery. We organised to leave late morning, first to go to the Gagosian & the Brice Marsden show again. We had been disappointed when we first saw it, but having back home read up on what it was about, this time it made so much more sense. Near the Gagosian was the Almine Rich Gallery showing an artist I remember from my art school days – Ernst Wilhelm Nay. I wanted to see his show & wasn’t disappointed. What wonderful clean colour & bold simple shapes, so good. Again another show that made you feel quiet & reflective.
Ernst Wilhelm Nay
Finally we walked to the Courtauld Gallery & Chaim Soutine’s ‘Cooks Waiters and Bellboys’. What a treat this show was. Such fascinating paintings – their many layers of texture and colour. So atmospheric. To look at these paintings was to know the personalities very accurately observed. Being at the Courtauld we finished with a look at their permanent collection – Renoir, Manet, Cezanne, Seurat, Van Dongen to name just a few and a fitting end to October.