Friday, 19 December 2008

Birthday art

We made the now-traditional pilgrimage to London for my birthday yesterday to take in some of the current art exhibitions and to catch up with friends. This year we were able to take in five ...

  • Landscape Photographer of the Year 2008 at the National Theatre

    This was probably the best exhibition that we caught. Basically a mixture of amateur and professional photographers and a range of subjects, from traditional "natural" landscapes to those dominated by human activity. The descriptions next to each image were very interesting at times: some photographers staked out a location for weeks or months until the ideal opportunity arose, while others caught a lucky break. Another thing we spotted was that quite a few of the more professional shots made use of long exposures with water to create that milky effect. I reckon that I'd need a neutral density filter for that sort of thing. Anyway, overall it was an enjoyable show.

  • Andy Warhol: Other Voices, Other Rooms at The Hayward

    Moderately interesting this one. I've been to a couple of Warhol shows over the years, but this one paid more attention to his work in the 60s with film than I've seen before. Although, that said, I can't say that I'm a huge fan of this side to his work. I think it's very much of-its-time: nothing much to write home about now, but really quite unusual and interesting when it was originally done. Other than these, they had a modest selection of other works (paintings, photographs, interviews), and there was certainly an attempt to show off the breadth of his work. Useful for someone like me, but I've seen more comprehensive treatments before, and I suspect that many people might, seeing the films, just leave the show with the view that Warhol was a fraud confirmed.

  • Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize at the National Portrait Gallery

    Another photographic competition, again with a mixture of professional and amateur photographers. Not quite as diverse a range of styles as we saw last time, but still worth a look. As I'm not a portrait-taker myself, I've not really got a good eye for this, so I'm not a good judge to say the least. Still, the range of subjects always makes this prize worth a look, even if many of the portraits appeared quite pedestrian to my badly-schooled eye.

  • Francis Bacon at Tate Britain

    I've seen individual Bacon works on and off for years in galleries, but this is the first time I've gone to an exhibition devoted solely to him. He's probably most famous for his series of "screaming pope" works, and they're certainly pretty striking. Generally, his works seem to convey a rather nightmarish vision of the world, in which his subjects are frequently "caged" within framing structures used in the paintings. The use of dark backgrounds, contorted or ambiguous facial expressions and occluded subjects all add up to convey a rather malevolent tinge to his pieces. They're sometimes physical, conveying activity with blurred or distorted bodies; particularly in one interesting piece which depicts a dog apparently wrestling with something. A few of the images, particularly those in "Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion", verge on depicting truly nightmarish monsters (or biomorphs). In some respects these sorts of images reminded me of Gerald Scarfe, who may well have been inspired by Bacon. Anyway, overall, while I wouldn't go so far to say that I actually liked Bacon's paintings, I certainly admired them. Interestingly, while many artists change either their style or subjects over their careers, I didn't feel that Bacon did. I could imagine shuffling the order of his paintings and not really noticing. That's not a criticism, but it's relatively unusual in my experience of art. Most artists show gradual trends in their works that stand out in retrospectives like this one, in the case of Picasso, he seemed to undergo several reinventions.

  • Turner Prize 2008 also at Tate Britain

    As usual for the Turner, a bit hit and miss. In part, I go to see the Turner as an instinctive reaction against the dismissive recoil from modern art that's popular with conservative cultural commentators. The prize is pretty much an annual blood sport for them, but the arguments are always the same, and I don't buy them. More or less, their standard critical questions boil down to: (1) is it pretty?; and (2) could my 5 year old do it?; to which the "correct" answers are, respectively, "yes" and "no". And while I do have similarly reactionary responses to some artists (Rothko anyone?), I always like to be challenged with something new or unusual. I don't always respond positively, but I do like the challenge. The winner this year was, to me anyway, easily the best of the bunch, at least in terms of the material on show. He had a mixture of rather interestingly projected films and photographs, of which the latter was a nice rip-off of the "photograph exploration" scene from Blade Runner. I don't think that the winner was quite as impressive as some of those from other years, but the work was at least a bit interesting. The others consisted of: (1) rubbish geometrical sculpture and weak photo-montages; (2) a literal pile of rubbish - well, found objects arranged inexplicably; and (3) a series of three incomprehensible films, of which only one (of some Heath Robinson device) was even vaguely interesting.

    In passing, post-art, we caught up with Ann, Andrew and Sarah, and wound up dining in a somewhat bizarre Polish-Mexican restaurant. Not fusion food, although that could have been interesting, but an apparent confluence of two separate restaurants or something.
  • 1 comment:

    g_google said...

    Oops, Happy belated birthday :(

    I had it in my head to send you a card but it slipped my mind, what with a mad last week at work, two sick rugrats and my iPhone woes.

    Incidentally, I indirectly know someone who had their photo exhibited in the landscape competition....

    http://www.scottishhills.com/html/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=3607

    Hopefully see you soon and will be in touch. I've no mobile at the moment so don't text me (well, not strictly true, I've 2 - one is deactivated and the other is an expensive paperweight with an Apple logo on the back!)

    g.