Picasso’s ‘Year of Wonders’ at Tate Modern

Picasso’s output was so vast and diverse that exhibitions invariably deal with just one aspect of his work. His portraits, for example, were covered by the National Portrait Gallery in 2016, while ‘Minotaurs and Matadors’ at the Gagosian Gallery last year was about his fascination with bullfighting. Now Tate Modern – in what, astonishingly, is its first solo Picasso show – has gone one better by concentrating on a single year of his artistic production. The result is the best art exhibition that I’ve seen in London since the same gallery’s ‘Henri Matisse: the Cutouts’ four years ago.

There are good reasons for choosing 1932 as Picasso’s ‘year of wonders’. Just turned fifty and approaching the summit of his career, success had brought fame and riches, including a château in Normandy and a chauffeur-driven Hispano-Suiza. In June of that year there was a retrospective of Picasso’s work in Paris – rare for living artists in those days – and in September another major show in Zurich. The Zurich exhibition was notable for an excoriating review by C. G. Jung, who concluded that ‘the pictures immediately reveal their alienation from feeling’, suggesting that Picasso might be psychotic.

Picasso’s private life, meanwhile, was as complicated as ever. By now his marriage to the Russian ballerina Olga Khokhova was more or less on the rocks, and unbeknownst to Olga he had started an affair with a girl nearly thirty years his junior, Marie-Thérèse Walter.

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Pablo Picasso Nude Woman in a Red Armchair [Femme Nue dans un fauteuil rouge] 1932 Oil Pain on Canvas 1299 x 972 mm Tate. Purchased 1953. (c) Succession Picasso/DACS London, 2018
 As always with Picasso, art mirrored life, and the recurring theme of the show, organised over ten rooms, is the artist’s infatuation with his young mistress. Picasso’s libido was matched only by his phenomenal work rate; after putting in a full day, followed by a leisurely dinner, he would often go back to the studio for another four or five hours. In the first six months of the year he painted some of the most erotically-charged paintings in the history of art: ‘Sleep’, ‘The Dream’ and the iconic ‘Girl before a Mirror’ from the Met in New York.

Picasso’s inspiration was clear enough, although what Olga thought of it all is anyone’s guess. Olga was a svelte brunette, Marie-Thérèse a buxom blonde; so on the evidence of the paintings alone, how could Olga not have suspected that something was going on? Yet she only found out in 1935, when Marie-Thérèse became pregnant.

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Pablo Picasso The Crucifixion [La crucifixion] 1932 Ink on paper 345 x 505 mm Musée National Picasso (c) Succession Picasso/DACS London, 2018

Picasso being Picasso, however, there was a flip side to this coin, and as the exhibition goes on it gets darker and darker. In September and October he suddenly changed tack and produced a series of tortuous drawings inspired by the crucifixion scene in Matthias Grünewald’s mighty Isenheim Altarpiece at Colmar. And what is one to make of the canvases and etchings that Picasso produced at the very end of the year, showing women either succumbing to sexual violence or drowning while out bathing? It’s been suggested that the drowning motif may have been triggered when Marie-Thérèse contracted a serious viral infection while swimming in the polluted river Marne. In any case, as the exhibition points out, some of the paintings in the last room, such as ‘The Rescue’ from early 1933, foreshadow the angst-ridden themes of ‘Guernica’ four years later.

Or maybe Jung was on to something.

NM

Picasso 1932 – Love, Fame, Tragedy: until 9 September 2018

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Pablo Picasso Girl before a Mirror [Jeune fille devant un miroir] 1932 Oil paint on canvas 1623 x 1302 mm The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of Mrs. Solomon Guggenheim 1937 (c) Succession Picasso/DACS London, 2018

All too human curating at Tate Britain

‘All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life’ at Tate Britain takes its cue from an article written by Walter Sickert for ‘The New Age’ magazine in 1910, in which Sickert called for art to mirror ‘the sensation of a page torn from the book of life’. Unfortunately, ‘All Too Human’ is marred by questionable curating decisions, some of which I found completely baffling.

For one thing, although it claims to span ‘a century of art making’, the exhibition doesn’t really deal with the first half of the twentieth century at all, unless you count the rather perfunctory selection, including two paintings by Stanley Spencer, in the first room. The real starting point is actually Bacon’s brooding ‘Figure in a Landscape’ (1945). A better subtitle might have been ‘Paintings by the School of London’, because, in addition to Bacon and Freud, the big names here are all post-war London artists: David Bomberg, Leon Kossoff, Frank Auerbach, Michael Andrews and Ron Kitaj.

Euan Uglow 1932-2000 Georgia 1973 Oil paint on canvas 838 x 1118 mm British Council Collection © The Estate of Euan Uglow

Another caveat that I should enter, because it’s not entirely clear from the title, is that this is a show about painting ‘life’, not painting from life as such. Freud, of course, painted directly from the model but Bacon, for example, worked almost exclusively from photographs. True, there’s a room of paintings by William Coldstream, Euan Uglow and the Slade school, the blurb citing with obvious relish Bomberg’s dismissal of traditional measuring methods as ‘the hand and eye disease’. Otherwise, the emphasis here is firmly on the ‘conceptual’ rather than the ‘perceptual’ .

The selection of artists in the show is frequently bizarre. Where is David Hockney? The only possible explanation I can think of for his absence (he isn’t even mentioned) is Hockney’s lack of a London connection – not a recent one, at any rate. Or perhaps Tate Britain thinks we’ve had enough of him after all the hype surrounding last year’s retrospective. Equally odd is the decision to devote an entire room to the work of the Indian artist F. N. Souza, who worked in London for a while after the war (he painted a bit like Jean Debuffet) before moving to New York in 1967. Without wishing to sound chauvinistic, why include Souza and not, for the sake of argument, Richard Hamilton, John Minton or Carel Weight? Sticking my neck out still further, why does the final segment of the show, covering the last thirty years, include only women artists: Paula Rego, Jenny Saville, Celia Paul, Cecily Brown and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye? No room here, it would seem, for Julian Opie or Peter Doig or Gary Hume.

Francis Bacon, 1909-1992 Study for Portrait of Lucian Freud 1964 Oil paint on canvas 1980 x 1476 mm The Lewis Collection © The Estate of Francis Bacon. All rights reserved. DACS, London Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd.

Otherwise, Bacon and Freud predictably take centre stage, cropping up not only in each other’s paintings but also in other people’s – Michael Andrews’s ‘Colony Room I’ (1962), for example, although there’s no mention of this on the wall label. The big draw is supposedly Bacon’s seldom-exhibited portrait of Freud from 1964 but I find it rather a comical thing, almost a caricature, reminding you that sometimes Bacon could produce thunderously bad art. There are much better Francis Bacons here.

Freud gets a huge room to himself. The overall effect is undoubtedly impressive, although I still prefer the paintings he did before he discovered hog hair brushes, including the two portraits of Kitty Garman, his first wife (‘Girl with a Kitten’ and ‘Girl with a White Dog’), both of which feature earlier in the show. Kenneth Clark would have agreed, once telling Freud as much to his face (that took guts): Freud never spoke to him again,

Paula Rego, born 1935 The Family 1988 Acrylic paint on canvas backed paper 2134 x 2134 mm Marlborough International Fine Art

The true creative genius here, though, in my opinion, is Bomberg, and this isn’t the first time he’s stood out for me in a survey show of twentieth century British art. Even before he left the Slade in 1913 Bomberg was producing stunningly original paintings with only the merest nod to contemporary Cubism and Futurism. Between the wars he went off to paint landscapes in Spain; of the two shown here, ‘Toledo from the Alcazar’ (1929), in particular, is a knockout. Both in his own work and in his later teaching at the Borough Polytechnic Bomberg was a strong advocate of ‘painterly’ values, and his importance in this regard to Auerbach, Kossoff and indeed Freud emerges very clearly in ‘All Too Human’. (I can’t illustrate his work because the organisers obviously don’t think it’s important enough to be included among their authorised images).

Pallant House Gallery in Chichester recently held a retrospective of Bomberg’s work but the Tate hasn’t had a major show on him since 1988. If anyone epitomises the search for truth through painting – the hallmark, you might say, of the School of London – for me it’s Bomberg. He deserves to be up there with Sickert, Spencer, Bacon and Freud.

NM

All Too Human: Bacon, Freud and a century of painting life: Tate Britain till 27 August 2018

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

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.

Key 64

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 for having been achieved from a virtual standing start: earlier British monarchs weren’t exactly 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.

The spotlight in the exhibition falls most dazzlingly of all on two of the biggest stars in the seventeenth century art firmament, Rubens and Van Dyck. Between them, the Flemish duo were responsible for transforming the unprepossessing king – he stood less than five foot in his stockinged feet – into, variously, archetypal country gent, proud 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’).’

Lesser talents on show include Orazio Gentileschi, father of the proto-feminist painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who has long been a personal 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’).

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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

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 the Artist’s 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 makes its West End debut at Crazy Coqs Live at Zedel on Thursday 29th March. Book tickets

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