Sunday, 18 September 2016

exhibition review

Facing the World, a lighthearted review, Sept 2016
Mary and I were on our holidays so last Friday went to this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Queen St. It looked interesting and had received good reviews. We thought we would expose ourselves to some culture. Which we failed to do during the festival. 

So this is an exhibition of self portraits. Selfies. The majority were traditional brown jobs as above of one of 2 options: here am I looking pretty good. And 2/ Here am I looking a bit broken/mental/squiffy. Sometimes both. Well, you know what artists are like.

has a look of regret about the state of the world these days

But there were also (in order to keep it relevant and hip) selfies from the selfie generation. Next to Rembrandt looking knackered aged 51 (and exquisitely painted) at the front door were Ai Weiwei's rough selfies of himself having been beaten up by some Chinese officials. I have to admit to being really unimpressed with Ai Weiwei's work. I can see his motivation - but think his activism far outweighs his aesthetic. I hadn't realised until googling him that he had a hand in the Birds Nest Stadium design from which he now distances himself. 

I love bicycles. I love art. So why do I hate Forever Bicycles and most of Ai Weiwei's work. Well it's pretty rubbish. He spends a lot of time critique-ing the Chinese Govt and doesn't have much left over for making stuff very well, or rather with any art. His selfies are no better than anyone else's, which is rich given he is China's best known living artist. If he was doing his job properly, he wouldn't be. Living. Doesn't make him a good artist though. 

I am a scientist so I have taken off my faces and put them in that cupboard.

There were 3 contributing galleries, one German, one French and one Scottish. So there tends to be quite a lot of work from those three corners of the world, but no selfies by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Whistler, Khalo, Freud, Durer, da Vinci, Scheile, Picasso, Holbein, Dali, and only a poor Matisse and a worse Courbet.

Nice to see a Matisse (above.) I am nearly a fan. It is called either the Painting Lesson or the Painting Session. My thoughts - and they are personal and certainly erroneous - are that if this is a session then there is half a chance this is Matisse positioning himself behind himself like a fly on the wall and painting his own back. If it is a lesson and he is teaching someone to paint then that is more likely his pupil on the left and this isn't a self portrait. Looking for clues you can see the painting being painted (of the model) is too close to the edge of the canvas to be this painting. But then again Matisse is not unduly bothered with accuracy. Ever. I say this because he has changed a flower, after the fact, to suit the composition. Look at the flowers. He painted them all at once (except the upper furthest left) (not incl the reflection of the flowers) with the same paint then some time after wanted to pull the composition together by crossing the mirror frame with another flower which he painted later - but didn't wash out his brush properly, the lazy bastard, which had some blue paint on it and now he's fudged the last flower head and it is bluey pink. (An easy mistake, we've all been there.) Hell that doesn't matter, I mean look at the left hand side painted in wood colour and it's supposed to be a person painting a canvas. And yet the whole thing kinda works. And yet is crappy at the same time. People who like that sort of thing call it genius. I like it a bit but think it's a bit lazy and at times messy, other times fluid and light.

And what about that black brush lying on the table cloth. Can you imagine Mme. Matisse coming in and going "take that brush off the tablecloth, you are shit at washing out brushes and you'll get oil paint on the white cloth." "Don't worry" reassures Henri-Emile-Benoit, "it is an imaginary paintbrush put there purely to bridge the gaping hole between the lemons and the gauche figure. There was this huge gulf and my pupil said, when I asked with what to fill it, said 'my paintbrush'. So I have learned my lesson."

Now large paintings like the above normally make me yawn, but I enjoyed this one as it looks a bit like Duddingston Loch, with the Pentlands in the background (it's not and I don't give a hoot about where it really is, and who painted it,) and everyone is having a good time AND there is a goat in the foreground. The self portraiture is the artist up on the hump top right, no really. He must be jumping down and running back very quickly to get such a good view of himself. Nice sky. 

In between the proper paintings were some done by nutjobs using their own porridge.

Stop looking between the fruits for a wee dude peeping out - his reflection is in the silver-wear upper right. Despite the richness of subject matter, the artist died in poverty. Another hilarious paradox. 

Here is Tom Waits time travelling back to the good old days when they ate ricotta cheese without crackers. Oh-oh; skull shape cheese with fly on side, foretelling of that hangover, or death that is just around the corner. (Unsmiley face.) And the fun is fast leaving the party.

I have next to no time for that skanky ho turned establishment grande dame, Tracey Emin but reluctantly admit this ^ is one of her better doodles. "Me, aged 10". Unlike the singularly dismal Paolozzi below which stinks. But he was a child when he did it. Someone should bin it when nobody is looking. Just because his name is on it, does not make it worth anything, except money.

Excuse my photography there is a better pic here. Seems to me the artist is raising his eyebrows as if to ask if this way the future leads? while rather enjoying and handsomely presenting all of the paraphernalia of it. Having your Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte and eating it? 

Paul Klee, Ghost of a Genius
May or may not be self portrait. An old favourite and a small treasure nicely rendered. Like many in this exhibition, nice, but not the best by the artist. And overall neither Mary nor I came away feeling particularly uplifted or informed. There were a few interactive selfie options but they didn't shed any light on the forced juxtaposition of trashy modern day image that is only meant to be seen briefly on social media, and the more ancient notion of a well fashioned likeness that sought out the true nature of humanity, travelling directly to and from the soul of the artist. It is £9 to get in. If given the choice I'd have paid £3 maybe £4.50. Unfortunately they don't offer this.

There are quite a few works from the last 50 years by Warhol and other photographers, a video by Marina Abramovic that sticks in your mind like a turd on a bike tyre, and even an Annie Lennox album cover not taken by her and not any kind of special. It is that sort of thing that gave me the feeling they didn't have an awful lot to present that was groundbreaking. But plenty of filler. What can I say, I hoped it would be better. Oh and the dude in a dress with the lipstick on, the posterboy at the top of the page, yes a pretty fine painting and kind of intriguing, but no extrapolation of what it was trying to convey. Plenty of promise, but no follow through; an apt advertisement for the show.

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