ArtMuseLondon recommends…… ‘Phantom Thread’

Phantom Thread, the latest film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood, The Master) is an intense, beautifully-crafted meditation on creativity and obsession. Said to be Daniel Day-Lewis’s final film before he retires (he has stated this is the case and he’s not given to changing his mind), the film explores the relationship between a man and the women in his life through the lens of a couture house in London in the 1950s. This eye-wateringly sumptuous setting also provides the backdrop for an examination of the nature of creativity and the persona and habits of a creative individual.

DDL plays Reynolds Woodcock, an English couturier to society ladies, princesses and dames. He is fastidious to the point of ridiculousness (and this makes for some wonderful comic set pieces, usually over breakfast). Effete, almost autistically-obsessive and buttoned-up, he rules his workshop and fashion studio with a hawk-like eye for detail and a violent distaste for anything considered “chic”.

The women in his life are the ladies in his workshop who sew and create the dresses he designs, Cyril, his sister and business partner (played by Lesley Manville with a masterfully cool acerbity and authority) and Alma (Vicky Krieps), a pretty young waitress whom he meets at a country hotel and who becomes his muse. Over time, Alma determines to unbutton Reynolds via a sequence of weird and dysfunctional Hitchockian schemes which bring a piquant ambiguity to the narrative right up to the close of the film.

It’s a delicious feast for the eyes, not least the surreally-beautiful gowns which are paraded through the film, and the scenes of 1950s London. DDL inhabits the role fully – just as he did in There Will Be Blood – with a brooding intensity, impossibly controlling and exquisitely bizarre in his appearance, manner and attitudes. The overall feeling throughout the film is one of claustrophobia and neurosis. For example, Reynolds’ intolerance of noise at breakfast when he is trying to sketch new designs, hints at the unsociability and almost pretentious meticulousness of the creative person (traits which I have observed in musicians, writers and artists).

phantom-thread-daniel-day-lewis

The lavish visual impact and unsettling narrative of the film is further enhanced by the score by Jonny Greenwood, who has worked with Paul Thomas Anderson before, which perfectly captures both the period of the piece (lush, silky strings, touches of popular jazz and dance music) and the obsessive atmosphere – unsettling dissonances, minimalist loops, slithering harmonies, itchy anxious strings, Baroque statements and Messiaen-esque timbres, spiky harp sounds and pearly droplets of piano notes. I was fortunate enough to see a preview of the film with a live score, performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra, which brought film and score to life with an immediacy made the viewing even more concentrated, as if in a state of heightened reality.

Phantom Thread is strange, beautiful, unpredictable, bizarre, poised and Gothic, very much deserving of its standing ovation at the Royal Festival Hall last night, and its Oscar nominations.

Highly recommended

 

FW


Phantom Thread opens in the UK on 2 February 2018

Lousy king, outstanding connoisseur of art: Charles I at the Royal Academy

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Anthony van Dyck, Cupid and Psyche, 1639-40 Oil on canvas, 200.2 x 192.6 cm RCIN 405571 Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’, which last year smashed the record for the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction, was not considered one of the jewels of Charles I’s art collection. During the Interregnum, when ‘the late king’s goods’ were disposed of by the republican government, it was sold to a mason – the appropriately named John Stone – for £30, hardly a princely sum, even at seventeenth century prices. That will be one reason (I’m sure there are many others) why it’s not included in the Royal Academy’s new show, ‘Charles I: King and Collector’.

Sir Oliver Millar, the former Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, thought that the perfect Charles I exhibition could only be mounted in the imagination, because it would mean borrowing some of the most famous pictures in the world. Well, the RA has had a decent stab at that, negotiating impressive loans from the Paris Louvre, the Museo del Prado in Madrid and elsewhere, by artists of the calibre of Breughel, Titian, Van Dyck, Rubens and Velasquez. By far the biggest lender, though, is the Queen: over two-thirds of exhibits on show at Burlington House are from the current Royal Collection; the walls at Windsor Castle must be looking very bare at the moment. After the Restoration, Charles II managed to buy back a significant chunk of his father’s estate, including such iconic images as Van Dyck’s ‘Charles I in Three Positions’ and other, lesser-known works, rarely seen today.

Charles may have been a hopeless king but his eye for fine art was beyond reproach. One of his biggest coups was the purchase of Mantegna’s great cycle ‘The Triumphs of Caesar’ from the bankrupt Dukes of Gonzaga in 1629-32; all nine canvases (and they are huge) have been brought up from Hampton Court for the exhibition. In an adjoining room there’s a selection of tapestries from the Mortlake tapestry workshops based on the famous Raphael Cartoons, which Charles bought for £300 in 1623, when he was still Prince of Wales. Their acquisition demonstrates Charles’s astonishing precocity as a collector, all the more remarkable in being achieved almost from a standing start, earlier British monarchs not exactly being noted for their interest in the visual arts. ‘But wait’, I hear you say, ‘what about Holbein at the Court of Henry VIII?’ In fact, most of the Holbeins in the Royal Collection were acquired by Charles between 1625 and 1640.

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Andrea Mantegna, Triumph of Caesar: The Vase Bearers, c. 1484-92 Tempera on canvas, 269.5 x 280 cm RCIN 403961 Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The spotlight in the exhibition falls most dazzlingly of all on the biggest stars in the seventeenth century art firmament, Rubens and Van Dyck. Between them, the two Flemish masters were responsible for transforming the unprepossessing king – he stood less than five foot in his stockinged feet – in country gent, family man, Rex Imperator, even St. George saving England from the dragon. The impact of these paintings on later British art would be enormous (on his deathbed Thomas Gainsborough is said to have murmured, ‘We are all going to heaven, and Vandyck is of the company’).’

Among somewhat lesser talents, Orazio Gentileschi, father of the proto-feminist painter Artemisia Gentileschi, has long been a particular favourite of mine. His seductive interpretations of some of the raunchier stories from the Old Testament (‘Lot and his Daughters’, ‘Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife’) adorned the Greenwich residence of Queen Henrietta Maria, who emerges here as no mean patron in her own right. In a nice touch, the labels on these and other works identify their original location in the collection, where known, according to the original inventories (‘Whitehall Palace, Little Room between the Breakfast Chamber and the Privy Gallery’).

Towards the end of the show, a room has been arranged in the manner of the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ in the Royal Palace at Whitehall. Here the king would withdraw to admire smaller works ‘in the secresie of a retired and more solitary place’; these included drawings, statuettes, miniatures and ‘limnings’ – smaller copies of the highlights of the collection ‘in large’. Just when you think you’ve exhausted the potential of this room, you notice Rembrandt’s ‘Portrait of his Mother’ lurking in the shadows…

The RA is launching its 250th anniversary in grand style. And if all this isn’t enough, you might stroll through Green Park to The Queen’s Gallery to see Charles II: Art & Power (to 13 May). Truth be told, the Merrie Monarch wasn’t in the same class as his father when it came to collecting art. Still, it’s a worthy sequel – Charles II: It’s Buyback Time, you might say.

NM

Charles I: King and Collector, 27 January-15 April 2018

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Anthony van Dyck, Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson, 1633 Oil on canvas, 219.1 x 134.8 cm National Gallery of Art, Washington. Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952.5.39 Photo © Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

A feast of art in London in 2018

ArtMuseLondon is a tender one year old. We launched this site in 2017 as a place where we could write what we wanted to about the art and music we’re enjoying in London. Freed from an overseeing editor or a publication’s “house style”, we aim to write informed, intelligent and above all honest reviews.

Last year started well, with a major retrospective of British artist and national treasure David Hockney. A vast improvement on the sprawling show at the RA in 2012, this well-conceived exhibition offered a clear and concise overview of Hockney’s life and work, and it was good to see some of his best-known pictures alongside more intimate and small-scale drawings and prints.

Other highlights of 2017 included Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 at the RA, America After the Fall (also at the RA), Howard Hodgkin Portraits (NPG), Giacometti (Tate Modern), Grayson Perry (Serpentine Gallery), the newly refurbished home of J M W Turner in Twickenham, Rachel Whiteread (Tate Modern), Soutine (Courtauld Gallery), Cezanne Portraits (NPG) and Modigliani (continues at Tate Modern). We saw two brand new operas (A Winter’s Tale and Marnie at ENO) and a Prom in a disused carpark in Peckham. There were a few “misses” last year – a muddled and rather egocentric concert by young Hong Kongese musicians at Wilton’s Music Hall and the misnamed Impressionists in London at Tate Britain, an exhibition which contained only a handful of true impressionist paintings and a lot of tedious late-nineteenth century French art.

There are riches in store for art lovers in 2018, beginning this month at the RA with a major exhibition focusing on Charles I as a subject for artists and also a significant collector. We’re also looking forward to All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and painting from life at Tate Britian, Ocean Liners at the V&A, Tacita Dean (NPG, NG and RA), Frida Kahlo’s Wardrobe (V&A), and Klimt/Schiele Drawings at the RA in the autumn. We will not be covering everything – first, because there are only two of us, and secondly, because we believe a degree of discernment and quality should rule over quantity of exhibitions covered. In addition to exhibition reviews, we will also cover some opera and concerts in London, as well as CD reviews. We hope you will continue to enjoy reading ArtMuseLondon.


Nick and Fran

‘Classic Gershwin’ at The Bull’s Head

 

‘Classic Gershwin’, created by 7 Star Arts, explores the world of ever-popular composer George Gershwin by weaving his vibrant music with the fascinating story of his life – from his birth in the colourful, teeming New York of 1898 to his tragically early death from a brain tumour in 1937.

Viv McLean, piano

Susan Porrett, writer & narrator

Thursday 21 December 2017, the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head

The Bull’s head is an attractive pub on the riverside at Barnes, south-west London, and is home to the iconic Jazz Room. Known at “the suburban Ronnie Scott’s”, the Jazz Room – once simply a room at the back of the pub and now in its own separate building – is almost as old as Ronnie’s, boasts a fine roster of jazz performers and is still regarded by many in the jazz world and beyond as a significant music venue. On first sight, it’s not the most appealing place, but when the lights are low, candles flickering, a glass of something in your hand, and with the right performers, the ambiance is pretty special.

The music of George Gershwin remains perennially popular with performers and audiences alike, and his life and work are vividly illustrated in ‘Classic Gershwin’, It is a mistake to think of Gershwin purely as a composer of “jazz” (a term he in fact disliked, preferring the term “swing” to describe his jazz-infused music). His musical tastes and influences were wide, from Bach to Stravinsky and Schoenberg, and he was particularly influenced by the French composers of the early twentieth-century, notably Maurice Ravel, who in turn was intrigued and impressed by Gershwin’s work. Gershwin’s great skill was his ability to manipulate different forms of music into his own unique musical voice.

This was the third performance of Classic Gershwin at The Jazz Room. It’s 7 Star Arts’ most popular show and the enthusiasm and enjoyment of the audience was palpable from the start. For those who may not wish to sit through an entire evening of solo piano music, the combination of music and words is ideal, and the text of ‘Classic Gershwin’ offers just enough information to continually pique the listener’s attention. George Gershwin is brought to life with the delightful interweaving of words and music. Each nugget is illustrated with sensitively-chosen music selections, including Someone to Watch Over Me, I Got Rhythm and the rarely-performed Three Preludes, to Swanee, the song which marked Gershwin’s elevation into the realms of established composer and song-writer after Al Jolson heard Gershwin play it at a party.

The first half of Classic Gershwin closes with Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin’s hommage to bustling metropolis of Jazz-Age New York, the city of his home, played with exuberance and panache by Viv McLean. The second half focuses on Gershwin’s later life, his growing success and fame, and his work in Hollywood. The description of his failing health (the result of a then-undiagnosed brain tumour) was told with great poignancy, and the concert closed on a tender note with The Man I Love, Percy Grainger’s beautiful transcription exquisitely played by Viv McLean

The great appeal of this words and music concert, aside from the wonderful music, played by Viv with a wonderfully natural musical sensitivity, all underpinned by his pristine technique, is its ability to offer just enough information in the text to keep the listener wanting more. Viv demonstrated that pieces driven by rhythmic vitality and syncopation can still have the most exquisite tonal palette and a magical dynamic range, and the music provided the most delicious interludes, complementing the text at every turn (the musical selections are made between Viv and Susan). The overall effect is a glorious and intriguing celebration of Gershwin’s life and work.

Classic Gershwin is at The Cinema Museum on 13 January 2018. Do go and see this wonderful show!

Further information here

LUBAINA HIMID WINS TURNER PRIZE 2017

#TURNERPRIZE

The Turner Prize 2017 has been awarded to Lubaina Himid, it was announced this evening at a ceremony in Hull Minster, in partnership with Tate and Hull UK City of Culture 2017. The £25,000 prize was presented by DJ, producer and artist Goldie during a live broadcast on the BBC. A further £5,000 is awarded to each of the other shortlisted artists. This year the Turner Prize is being held at the Ferens Art Gallery in Hull as a highlight of its City of Culture year.

The jury applauded the four nominated artists for their socially engaged and visually imaginative work. They awarded the prize to Lubaina Himid for a trio of outstanding shows in Oxford, Bristol and Nottingham. They praised the artist for her uncompromising tackling of issues including colonial history and how racism persists today. They admire her expansive and exuberant approach to painting which combines satire and a sense of theatre. The jury also acknowledged her role as an influential curator and educator who continues to speak urgently to the moment.

One of the best known prizes for the visual arts in the world, the Turner Prize aims to promote public debate around new developments in contemporary British art. Established in 1984 by the Patrons of New Art, it is awarded to a British artist for an outstanding exhibition or other presentation of their work in the twelve months preceding 24 April 2017. The shortlisted artists for 2017 were: Hurvin Anderson, Andrea Büttner, Lubaina Himid and Rosalind Nashashibi.

The members of the Turner Prize 2017 jury are Dan Fox, writer and co-editor of Frieze; Martin Herbert, art critic; Mason Leaver-Yap, Walker Art Center’s Bentson Scholar of Moving Image and Associate Curator at KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin; and Emily Pethick, Director of Showroom. The jury is chaired by Alex Farquharson, Director of Tate Britain.

Turner Prize 2017 is co-curated by critic, educator and curator and Chair of New Contemporaries, Sasha Craddock, and curatorial fellow at Newcastle University and writer, George Vasey, with support from Linsey Young, curator, Contemporary British Art, Tate.

The exhibition of the four shortlisted artists at Ferens Art Gallery in Hull has already been seen by more than 90,000 visitors, making it one of the most popular Turner Prize shows outside London. The exhibition continues until 7 January 2018. Entry is free.


Lubaina Himid was born in 1954 in Zanzibar, Tanzania. She studied Theatre Design at Wimbledon College of Art and an M.A in Cultural History at the Royal College of Art. She is Professor of Contemporary Art at the University of Central Lancashire. Recent solo exhibitions include Navigation Charts, Spike Island, Bristol, UK and Invisible Strategies, Modern Art Oxford, Oxford, UK (both 2017). Recent group exhibitions include The Place is Here, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, UK (2017); The 1980s Today’s Beginnings?, Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, Netherlands (2016); Keywords, Tate Liverpool, UK (2014); and Burning Down the House, Gwangju Biennale, South Korea (2014). From 1986-1990 Himid was director of the Elbow Room and has curated exhibitions including Carte de Visite, Hollybush Gardens, London, UK (2015); The Thin Black Line, ICA, London, UK (1986); and Critical, Donald Rodney, Rochdale Art Gallery, Rochdale, UK (1989).

 

source: Tate Gallery press office

Modigliani at Tate Modern

If all the stories about Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) are true, you wonder how he found time to produce any art. Certainly, booze, drugs and women played a big part in Modigliani’s life after his arrival in Paris in 1906, his increasingly erratic behaviour fuelled no doubt by his frustration at the almost complete lack of public recognition of his work (unless you count the time when a show of his was closed as an offence against decency). Modigliani’s lifestyle took its toll on his health, which was never that good, and he was only 35 when he died of tubercular meningitis. Two days later his heavily-pregnant lover Jeanne Hébuterne jumped out of a window, killing herself and her unborn child.

This new show at Tate Modern does an excellent job of illuminating the avant-garde milieu from which most of Modigliani’s sitters were drawn: people like Jean Cocteau, Max Jacob, Anna Akhmatova, various dealers, and hangers-on like the actor Gaston Modot (who later starred in Buñuel’s film L’Age d’Or). Of Modigliani’s friends among artists there are portraits here of Brancusi, Miro, Picasso and a marvellously ebullient-looking Diego Rivera, although curiously there are no examples of the many likenesses that Modigliani made of Chiam Soutine. Towards the end of the exhibition you can immerse yourself still further in Bohemia with a VR recreation of Modigliani’s final studio at 8 rue de la Grande-Chaumière.

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Amedeo Modigliani, Boy in Short Pants, c.1918, Dallas Museum of Art, gift of the Leland Fikes Foundation, Inc. 1977

With over 100 objects, the show dwarfs the last major Modigliani survey in the UK at the Royal Academy, back in 2006. A room crammed with early works demonstrates Modigliani’s debt to Cezanne and his gradual move away from naturalism. His initial preoccupation with sculpture is highlighted by a fabulous display of nine of his primitive-looking Heads. There’s a whole room of his nudes here too, 12 in all, arranged literally wall-to-wall in one of the biggest displays of them ever mounted. There’s even a rare example of Modigliani’s landscapes; he’s only known to have done four. The bulk of the show, though, is devoted to his portraits, with their characteristic long necks, sinuous curves and heavily stylized features. Modigliani may not be for all tastes (I know people who can’t stand him) but if, like me, you’re a fan, you certainly won’t be disappointed by what you get here.

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Amedeo Modigliani, Jeanne Hébuterne. 1919, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

My only reservation about the show is that nowhere does it really delve into Modigliani’s creative process, despite the fact that he was seemingly an artist who struggled to find a personal style, and even after he had done so continued to oscillate between Fauvism, Cubism and Pointillism. The excellent catalogue supplies some of the answers but more studio material (drawings in particular) would have been helped; the Modigliani phenomenon as a whole is well handled but the show is rather light on art history.

NM

Modigliani at Tate Modern 23 Nov-2 Apr 2018

‘Marnie’ at English National Opera

The plot of ‘Marnie’ has all the prime ingredients for dramatic classic opera: childhood secrets, multiple identities, unspoken feelings, disturbing relationships, kleptomania, lust, sex, treachery, betrayal and subterfuge. In creating his brand new opera for ENO and the Met in New York, American composer Nico Muhly turned not to the “insane sadism” of Alfred Hitchcock’s film (and his disturbing obsession with Tippi Hidren who starred as his eponymous heroine), but to the novel by Winston Graham, author of the ‘Poldark’ series, on which Nicholas Wright based the libretto. Comparisons will inevitably be made with the film and the novel, but I deliberately avoided seeing the film ahead of the premiere and have not read the book. Muhly brings the action back to England (as in the book) and the first act opens in a drab 1950s office in Birmingham before moving to Barnet and Beaconsfield.

One of the key themes explored in the opera is the control and objectification of women via the lustful male gaze. This of course is up-to-the-minute topical and lends an additional frisson to the drama. Throughout Marnie is being watched, tracked and objectified – from her first meeting with Mark Rutland to the queasily flirtatious encounter with his brother Terry (brilliantly sung by counter-tenor James Laing, whose voice is by turns wheedling and shrill). To emphasise this further, she is stalked by a group of sinister men in grey suits and homburg hats, who step in and out of the shadowy corners of Marnie’s conscious and the set, providing a constant masculine antagonism (both physical and metaphorical), and whose writhing dancing also serves to inform the narrative.

It is the psychology of Marnie herself on which the plot hinges and music is the means by which her secrets are unlocked. Instruments at their highest and lowest registers (specifically a solo oboe) become the mouthpieces for her when she is under the most extreme pressure. In the same way, each instrument is paired with a character in order to express his or her unspoken feelings. In a narrative where people are continually lying, the orchestra, by contrast, never lies: Mark Rutland’s lust is expressed by the trombone, while Terry’s loucheness is portrayed by a sleazy sinewy trumpet motif. Thus sound is used to convey powerful emotions in a way the text or action don’t always inform us: trembling slicing strings, frenetic percussion, shrill yet haunting woodwind, together with urgent agitato rhythms or long layers of sound and spooling melodies. The splendid ENO chorus is also used to great effect, acting at times like a Greek chorus to comment on the action, taunting Marnie or revealing her inner thoughts. Her psyche is further expressed through four Marnie-clones, whose vividly-coloured costumes vibrate against the drab set. These “Shadow Marnies”, as Muhly calls them, are particular effective in the psychiatric analysis scene in Act II where they interchange with one another and Marnie herself, suggesting her confused mindset as she confronts her complex emotional landscape and troubled past.

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Sasha Cooke as Marnie (photo: Tristram Kenton)

Sasha Cooke as Marnie is marvellous, her mezzo voice resonant and expressive (and brilliantly sustained throughout as she barely leaves the stage during the entire opera), and her interactions with Mark Rutland, sensitively played by David Okulitch, who succeeds in appearing both sexually predatory and vulnerable (and as a consequence one of the more sympathetic characters in a cast of generally unlikeable people) are edgy and compelling in their portrayal of this couple’s difficult relationship. Lesley Garrett makes a wonderful cameo appearance as Mrs Rutland, the manipulative matriarch.

The costumes, designed by Arianne Phillips, are fabulous – deeply evocative of the era (late 1950s) and a hommage to the Hitchcock film too. Martyn Brabbins, in his first appearance as the new director of music of ENO, conducts with subtle sensitivity, while the spare set and staging allows characters and music to come to the fore with tautly-paced drama (at times almost unbearably tense, particularly in the first act) and moments of deeply disquieting dramatic irony. The only longueur for me was the fox hunting scene (used in the narrative as a metaphor for Marnie’s constant flight from her past and her persecutors). Not easy to stage, it was cleverly organised with a projection of galloping hooves, but it was not entirely convincing and was rather too drawn out.

Overall, a compelling and enigmatic psycho-thriller.


‘Marnie’ continues in repertory at English National Opera

 

FW