|4 Painterly Reasons to Hot Foot It To London Pronto: Classic, Moderns, Cutting Edge
There were fascinating surprises in the large exhibition of master Lucas Cranich the Elder at the Royal Academy. The very first item in the show, his earliest woodcut, already brimmed with innovation: within a rushing stream in which hunt dogs surged after swimming stags, he envisioned the pursuing pack and roiling water as the same hurtling swell. The painting hanging beside it, “The Mystic Marriage of St. Catherine Accompanied by the Holy Virgin,” includes a bold, abstract wedge of deep black to rivet attention to the exquisitely observed main figures. Portrait sketches in watercolor or oil-wash on paper permit a rare glimpse into the artist’s spontaneous thought, uncannily modern and fresh. Nudes begin to appear on their own beyond the requisite Adam and Eve: Lucretia, as marital fidelity, is deeply moving and modest despite being bare; Venus, with licentious eye and torso invitingly turned frontal, lifts the bit of translucent material before her privates; Hercules and Antaeus wrestle like two crabs, the latter reeling backwards toward us, held crouching helplessly in air, as his magical power ebbs because he cannot touch ground. These, together with the gorgeously personal portraits and biblical tableaux, provide a wonderful show. (Royal Academy of Arts, 8 March through 8 June 2008. Excellent catalogue: “Cranach” edited by Bodo Brinkmann.)
From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925 from Moscow and St Petersburg This long-queue, companion blockbuster at the Royal Academy, draws heavily from the two fabled Russian collectors Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morosov who early recognized and amassed huge exquisite troves of Picasso, Matisse, et al. Many of their pictures, now housed mainly at the Hermitage and Pushkin Museums, remain little known in the West. My mother, who saw them in St. Petersburg about 1930, always delighted to remind me that they hung at the Hermitage at that time under the banner “Decadent Capitalist Art.”
Matisse’s iconic “Red Room” (originally painted blue!) and “Dance,” long familiar through reproduction, glow in life with a vigor that surpasses all expectation. Hanging nearby, his little studio interior, “La Danse with Nasturtiums,” glimpses that painting in the background, and echoes its swirling movement with dainty nasturtiums dancing about their vase in the fore, identically flesh toned. Cezanne’s early salon scene “Woman at the Piano” portrays the instrument reaching out as actively to the player as does she leaning into its keys. Manet captures a humble moment at the bar: capped postman or petty official smoking bolt upright, his woman beside him slumped with drink. He has completely abstracted her figure to a haze of hair, white blouse and dark skirt, sculpted by a few deft planes of tone. Braque, normally so formal and dour in browns and grays, deconstructs a castle nestled in its glade into pale radiant greens. Picasso, ever experimental, brings to life a little blue rimmed bowl.
Alas, the same excitement doesn’t obtain for the large Russian painters’ component of the show. Intended to depict the ferment generated by the Parisian pioneers (Shchukin regularly opened his house as gallery to local artists), there is instead derivative excess and kitch until the Russians finally burst into abstract invention with Taitlin, Malevitch, Kandinsky, and Rodchenko. Exceptions: Isaac Levitan’s soft landscape with a minimalist wooden gateway “Summer Evening,” Altman’s portrait of the doyenne of Russian poetry Anna Akhmatova, Léon Bakst’s presentation of the charismatic “Diaghilev with his Nanny.” One of the great highlights of the show is Taitlin’s magnificent proposed tower to Communism for Petersburg. Intended to rise higher by a third than its rival Eiffel Tower, it would have thrust skewly into the sky, embraced three rotating glass assembly chambers within its girders and cables, broadcast Communist radio encouragement from its pinnacle, and projected Party slogans in light onto the clouds. Wow! (Royal Academy of Art, 26 January to 18 April. Fully illustrated catalogue of the good and bad.)
Duchamps, Man Ray and Picabia at Tate Modern presents a much more focused exemplar of ground breaking artists interacting, prodding, tickling one another into invention and fun. Simultaneously erudite and homey, the show presents and explicates Duchamp’s stunning arc from early realism, to the deconstruction of a lady in the park successively undressing in his mind’s eye, to Nude Descending a Staircases, to his great glass panels, to the ready-mades and beyond. There’s a preprinted black and white landscape illustration, for instance, wherein he added two minute verticals of red and green suggestive of drug vials, entitled it “Pharmacy”, and morphed it to art. No artist other than Picasso has had such profound visual effect on the 20th century up to this day—pop, minimal, conceptual, the visuals of advertising—ever pressing boundaries and thought.
The work of his two dear friends Man Ray and Picabia, intermingle with and bounce off his throughout the numerous exhibition galleries: Man Ray’s early photographic portraits and explorations, a lovely loose watercolor by Picabia, the exultation of airbrush as drawing tool, endless snapshots of the three cronies goofing around, in studio, with their lovers, in drag; videos; whirling optical devices; Man Ray’s stunning Rayograms. We even see them leaving art altogether to the abstraction of chess. This is a heady, completely unique, synergistic show. Unfortunately the catalogue’s visuals disappoint: off color, skimpy, purely selected, they provide no satisfying memory prod to the rich vitality of the show. (Tate Modern, 21 February to 26 May 2008.)
Lastly, have a look at the Antony Gormley show “Firmament” at White Cube Gallery, Mason’s Yard, off Duke St, St James’s (6 March to 12 April.) Some twenty life casts of the artist nude, each differing slightly, pause standing on the floor, the walls, the ceiling. Darkly patinated in bronze, they cluster irregularly within their large, rather dimly lit, white chamber, poised to move in every direction. Their suspended presence, around/beside/ above, evokes a haunting sense of the thick of humanity in this world.
In the following gallery, the artist’s own form plays against its large exhibition chamber in a completely different manner. Gormley generated a huge crouching figure of himself composed of three-dimensional metal lines by attaching sensors to points all over his skin of the sort animators use to bulk out movement. The resultant computer-visualized grid is so large, that on entering the gallery a visitor doesn’t even recognize it as human. It seems, rather, an enormous abstract cloud of form, sometimes dense, sometimes spare, pushing, rising, ducking within the space as one walks around, under and through it. Only gradually a foot becomes apparent, the hump of back and shoulders, a huge giant bending and folding to fit within the space. Suddenly the immediacy is enormous.
The final Gormley installation, life sized once more in the artist’s own form, stands alone in a small vestibule. Rounded, waxy-green river stones stacked densely comprise its body volume. Against the random movement of the first room’s figural crowd, and the giant’s airy enormity compressed to fit his chamber, this version feels grounded and intimate. Taken together, the three installations sing like finely tuned musical variations on a theme.
White Cube’s website yields different gallery views each time one clicks back to “Exhibitions,” allowing a look from various vantage points.
© 2024 HermioneSG of DemosNews
April 9, 2008 at 0:33pm
Genre: Arts (Reviews)
Tags: Cranach, From, Russia, Duchamps, Gromley
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