Inspirational Ice Age@British Museum beautiful and informative

Just wanted to tell the world that you must all go and see the Ice Age Exhibition at the British Museum – it makes you want to go home and whittle a mammoth tusk immediately.  These sculptures on view are so old ie 40,000 years old and made with such precision given that there were no metal tools – it is truly mindboggling.  It is awe-inspiring to think we made pictures long before we wrote down language.  Particularly in the animal pieces, they have captured the movement of the animal.  I cannot recommend this exhibition highly enough – incidentally it is well worth, on this occasion, using the audio equipment.

Summer Exhibition@royalacademy – I’m not bitter!

I went along to the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy on Wednesday – always a weighty affair somehow.  I think it is to do with such a quantity of pics, so close together, which means it requires a great deal of effort to really scrutinise and not be simply overwhelmed.

Broadly though I thought it was the best for a few years with some really interesting work.  What would I pick out?  Colin Davidson’s portraits (room IV), Mary Canty (room V),Ralph Brown’s bronze ‘Bride’ (room VIII) and Stephen Chambers set of etchings (room IX).  Loads more, of course, but lists are dull to write, and even more dull to read.

As usual, I question how ‘open’ this ‘open exhibition’ is and how many places they give to emerging artists.  I put work in for selection one year, when I was fresh from Art School and in the mood to be famous quite quickly – ha ha!  I carried a large piece of work up from Oxford on the coach – the coach driver wouldn’t let me and my picture in the bus and I had to wait for another coach whose driver was more amenable.  Then lugged said picture across London, already beginning to hate myself, my picture, my ambition and, of course, the Royal Academy – as it was clearly mostly their fault.  Handed it in and waited for the acceptance letter; then went and collected my painting with ‘loser’ written indelibly across my forehead and reversed the journey.  I am not bitter…time is a great healer.

Most open competitions now make their first selection of work electronically which is logistically much easier for both the artist and the selectors, although I accept that some work will lose by being reduced to a screen image.  The Royal Academy says they hang upwards of 1200 pictures, and around 100 are from new artists – less than 10% which seems low.  But the Summer Show is a great institution and there are plenty of other ‘open exhibitions’ to chose from if you are trying to make your way in the great world of art! Give it a few more years, and they will be begging me to submit work…dream on…

The best answer so far to the question ‘What is Art?’

I remember having this question thrown at me on my first day at art school, and I find it almost as difficult to pin down now.   Because artists are always pushing at the boundaries, the need to define and contain becomes more urgent; after all, if everything is ‘art’ then it can equally well be said that nothing is.  I think immediately of Carl Andre’s pile of bricks in the Tate as a brilliant take on this question…

…so when I came across the following quote I had to write it down:

“…this formed the paradox at the heart of it.. art: an apparently pointless affair, undertaken by people with a special aptitude, which sidestepped attempts to paraphrase its value yet somehow seemed to communicate something true or even crucial about The Human Condition.  The Human Condition being, basically, that we’re alive and have access to beauty, can even erratically create it, but will someday be dead and will not.”

For me, that comes pretty close to nailing it.  The quote is actually about sport, baseball in particular, which of course, raises a whole lot more questions…anyway, I would welcome any observations.

Beautiful day today, the sun is shining at last and I am off to Chester.  Lovely!

Mondrian and Nicholson @CourtauldGall

Some personal thoughts on the pairing of Mondrian and Nicholson at the Courtauld Gallery: to start with, I had not realised that the two artists knew each other well and had for a time neighbouring studios in Hampstead.
Both artists were clearly influenced by cubism – how could they not be? – but they have arrived in completely different places. Mondrian’s work has the fire of evangelical zeal and a belief that art can still change the world (when did we lose that?). He has reduced and reduced to arrive at the purest of geometrical one dimensional shapes and lines. I get none of that zeal from Nicholson whose work is softer, and by no means flat. His feels more individual, it would sit more comfortably in a room where the light changes, and the shadows of the reliefs would alter accordingly. Mondrian, by comparison, is concerned with notions of the universal, with de Stijl and furniture such as Gerrit Rietveld’s most uncomfortable looking chair.
The work of Nicholson’s that I love most is his later drawings of the 1970’s with line drawings over oil washes of scribbly colour and it feels like a very natural progression. Mondrian died in 1944; would he have progressed on to something different from his grids I wonder?
It was a really thoughtful pairing so thankyou to the Courtauld. Definitely worth a visit.
PS If you do go – don’t forget to slip in to the Renaissance room on your right as you go towards the ticket desk. Such exquisite paintings and carvings!

@nationaltrust shops: what a wasted opportunity!

I both love and hate the National Trust. It is the most amazingly democratic ideal that these important houses and lands should belong to the people, but it actually feels quite unwieldy as an institution. Having spent the last three years organising visits for a group of enthusiasts, i have had a lot to do with National Trust and privately owned properties, and on the whole, the privately owned houses and gardens are more flexible, and more welcoming. (There are one or two notable exceptions and i would include NT Coughton Court among those.)
The National Trust seems now to have a branded ‘look’ in most properties which completely destroys any individual character to a house. You are also moved round a property in a way that doesnt allow any idea of how the house would have worked.

Finally, and closest to my heart as a retailer, the shops are all pretty much the same, no matter where you are, other than local honey perhaps. Every property has unique selling points – surely prints, pictures, embroidery packs etc could be made up, unique to artefacts in that house? In lots of cases, local people would probably invent them and offer them sale or return just for the opportunity. Make use of local talent – open it out as a competition perhaps. It feels as if all NT shop buying is done centrally in bulk – is this true? What a wasted opportunity!