24 February 2016 § Leave a comment
I am usually rather sceptical about anything featuring numbered selections. Nowadays hardly anything seems to reach the pages of a magazine or a TV screen without being reduced to a seemingly arbitrary list. At best it can be of modest help where information has been distilled from something extensive or complex but at worst is simply a pointless exercise made with minimal critical judgement. The title of 100 Works Of Art That Will Define Our Age therefore aroused suspicion. How much selection was there? Was there really a nice round number? Could, or should, ’100’ just have been left off?
Numerical gripes aside this is an exceptional book. It is a formidable task to attempt to scroll forwards in time and make a judgement on how a future population will have judged art of the present day or indeed judge the art of your own era. It would also be easy to get bogged down in an almost endless series of semantic or philosophical questions but Grovier however delicately navigates this minefield with humour and skill.
He notes that Vincent Van Gogh’s contemporary view of his own ’Starry Night’ was that it was a dreadful ‘failure’ and by slipping in frequent insights such as this Grovier lets us glimpse at how the defining views of the art of the past and present are ever fluid.
We see how the artists of today continually draw from the past and how meanings flow in two directions. Great art never finishes but instead forever participates having the power to alter the art of the past as well as to influence the future.
Grover actually creates a definition of ‘Our Age’ by selecting art from about 1990 to 2010 leaving a certain amount of critical weight to have already been applied. The notorious Saatchi Sensation exhibition from 1997 already seems an age ago and a handful of works like Damien Hirst’s ‘Shark’ and Marc Quinn’s Self are naturally included. Many others like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project for the Tate Turbine Hall, Jeff Koons’ Puppy, Marina Abramovic The Artist is Present and Tracey Emin’s ‘Bed’ seem natural choices, neatly included in sections with titles like ‘Is All Art Nostalgic’ and ‘Can Art and Life ever be in Sync?’.
At the same time one does wonder whether the likes of Jeff Wall, Cristina Iglesias, Walid Raad, Sean Scully and Sheela Gowda really define our age. I dont think so, and it is a stretch to think that as many as a hundred works can possibly define an age. If we look back another thirty years to Pop art how far do we see beyond a handful of names like say, Warhol and Lichtenstein? Who knows even if the period 1990 to 2010 will ever make its mark on history or fade in to a forgotten mist?
However, as one progressed through the book, the pleasure in looking back at some of the great works of our era and reading Grovier’s beautifully written and insightful analyses will dissolve all doubts. It reads easily and gently expands our appreciation of works that we perhaps doubted or misunderstood. It may, or may not, in the end include the works that define our age but perhaps it is best viewed simply as an exemplary record of memorable recent art.
For more information visit www.thamesandhudson.com
10 November 2012 § Leave a comment
Two years ago I bid for a David Brian Smith work at a charity auction, going to nearly double estimate before dropping out. It turned out I had been up against no less a collector than Charles Saatchi.
He was infact adding to the several Smith works that he already has in his collection – with the added bonus of helping to create a higher market and increasing the value of his own works! Oh to be in such a position….
Carl Freedman has now given Smith a solo show at his newly opened east London space and I would be astonished if it is not already a sell-out. Unfortunately I have yet to make it over there and with just a week to run I would be remiss in not recommending a visit based on previous sight of Smith works.
The exhibition was also recently recommended as ‘Exhibition of the Week’ by no less than Paul Hobson, director of the influential Contemporary Art Society (an organisation any serious collector should join right away!). Since I cannot review first hand I cannot do better than quote from his excellent review:
“[the show] showcases his technical ability and evolving style as a painter and offers further insight into his somewhat hallucinatory vision and underlying autobiographical and art historical references. The exhibition brings together recent work, medium scale paintings where a figure or figures are situated in psychedelic and symbolic landscapes, alluding to spiritual or heightened emotional interiors. Based on a black and white photograph from the 1930s … the image has poignant autobiographical association for the artist which he often revisits. Other paintings are based on a 1912 photograph of his great-grandfather, a colonial explorer, which build upon the familial, patriarchal theme of the work. Painting on herringbone linen Smith allows the underlining herringbone pattern to disrupt and fragment the reading of the image, often asserting the pattern by painting it over final composition, creating a collaged effect and generating a dizzying, altered condition of perception, skilfully handled.
David Brian Smith runs until 17 November 2012 at Carl Freedman Gallery
Images courtesy of Carl Friedman Gallery
16 April 2011 § Leave a comment
David Brian Smith originally had to insert his middle name in exhibition catalogues to avoid confusion with multiple others of the same name. Nowadays it is less necessary as his talents have become more widely recognised. Picked up by the wily Carl Freedman gallery in east London Charles Saatchi has been quietly buying a few works – most recently The Birthday Party in a February charity auction. Smith recently featured in his Newspeak: British Art Now II exhibition, which incidentally closes on the 30 April 2011 – if you have not yet been it is well worth a visit – see previous post.
Drawing from his father’s background – a farmer in his native Shropshire – Smith has developed a unique style.He draws on autobiographical incidents and memories which root his colourful and intricate landscapes in the real world. With their ‘intense palettes, dramatic skies, folkloric subjects, and passages of pure dream-like invention, they radiate an almost spiritual quality’.
The Carl Freedman gallery has recently had a second – sell-out – solo show and another is planned for the end of the year whilst his latest piece, featured in Fruchtbaresland which opened last week (closes 14 May 2011), sold before the show opened. His work has a healthy waiting-list and anyone interested would be advised to get their name down – or get in touch with me asap!
14 April 2011 § 1 Comment
Fruchtbaresland (barren land) is, like every Carl Freedman exhibition, makes a detour to the barren lands of East London well worth while. A group exhibition that opens today, it includes Armando Andrade Tudela, Michael Fullerton, Thilo Heinzmann, David Brian Smith and Catherine Story.
At the end of the gallery a fabulous new work by Smith (another future ‘One to Watch’!) grabs the attention. He draws on autobiographical incidents and memories which root his colourful and intricate landscapes in the real world. With their ‘intense palettes, dramatic skies, folkloric subjects, and passages of pure dream-like invention, they radiate an almost spiritual quality’. Saatchi showed his work at British Art Now and has also quietly been buying more of his work.
Fullerton’s painting Something That Originates Or Results From Something Else; Outcome; Issue (2011) enters sexual and political territory and is one of his best. This striking portrait is of Mary Palevsky – is the progeny one of the creators of the atomic bomb – which ushered in the the nuclear age and a new political era. Having been included in British Art Now 7 – In the Days of the Comet, amongst other important exhibitions, Fullertons reputation is rocketing – no pun intended!
Thilo Heinzmann’s delicate landscape of splattered pigment is also excellent and gives the exhibition its title. I am not really sure that this title really ties the works on show together and it is clearly an opportunity for Carl to show a number of his stable – but who really cares when everything in this small gallery is well worth seeing?
5 August 2010 § Leave a comment
However, what particularly interested me was how the major critics from the UK nationals have made of this exhibition. More, I was intrigued in the different ways they have viewed it. What are the stand-out works here? What then is the future of British art? Which artist is worth investing in?
Saatchi has never been one for understatement; The Triumph of Painting, The Shape of Things To Come, Sensation! All imply a definitive judgment and invite contradiction. The title Newspeak was no exception and was roundly attacked. This Orwellian word represents a reductive language whilst Saatchi proudly speaks of ‘expanding and multiplying’ visual languages. The fact that only two of 29 artists shown are under thirty prompted others to call it ‘Oldspeak’ whilst Brian Sewell (Standard) brilliantly and humorously compares Orwell’s (and Saatchi’s) Newspeak with the ‘jargon and jabberwocky of present-day artspeak’ in the gallery handbook.
Once addressing the exhibition the writers, almost in unison, branded it unco-ordinated – ‘a mess… the contents of someone’s attic’ (Independent), ‘underwhelming to overambitious’ (Guardian), ‘scattergun and unfocused’ (FT). The quality was perceived as indifferent; ‘some good, some mediocre, some ghastly’ (FT), ‘one or two instances of inspired brilliance’ (Guardian), ‘20% is really very good’ (Independent’), ‘Not quite but nearly’ (Times), ‘… in such feeble company three works are perhaps outstanding’ (Standard).
Strangely, despite this criticism, to a man (and woman) the critics were loath to criticise Saatchi. On the contrary, he was generally congratulated as one who stands head and shoulders above other public British gallery curators as one willing to take a chance. He treads (and buys) where others fear and is rightly lauded for it.
With broad agreement then that the exhibition only produced a smallish proportion of worthwhile work one would assume that this accord would extend – broadly – to which pieces these were. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Of the seven reviews (Independent, Guardian, Telegraph, Standard, Sunday Times, Times and FT) only one artist only each ‘scored’ with 5 and 4, three got 3, four got 2 (despite one being labelled a ‘genius’). In all no less than nineteen of the 29 artists received positive comments. Varied works were variously described as ‘litter, ‘fit for the bonfire’, ‘disgusting’, ‘a joke’ or ‘the work of an infant’ whilst at the same time being praised by other critics – hilarious! I will name names and provide a ‘league table’ in the next posts!
So, how about the future of British art. Well, all the critics all agreed that it was bit of a ‘hotchpotch’ with some ‘instances of inspired brilliance’ or ‘genius’ even. There was surely then a general consensus about what this uneven view represented about what is happening in this area? Nope. Not even close. The Guardian and FT do not even bother to decide. Charles Darwent (Independent) quite enjoyed the exhibition and, presumably (he does not quite say), feels that the outlook is promising. Richard Dorment (Telegraph) worried that Saatchi’s teaming with Philips de Pury weakened any message. Rachel Campbell-Johnson (Times) thought that there was plenty of room for optimism whilst Waldemar Januszckak (Times) felt Britain still has talent.
I will leave the last thought for Brian Sewell (Standard). If thought somewhat stuffy and old-fashioned in some quarters, he is still without doubt one of the most perceptive and insightful critics around. Wise enough to see though the ‘weasel words’ of artspeak he has the courage to criticise where others sit on the sidelines. Ignore what he has to say at your peril;
‘The rest of Newspeak [other than three works] is at best cliche, kitsch and the ironic subversion that is the joke so often played by the post-modernist. It demonstrates how swiftly the energy of the YBA’s evaporated, leaving no useful legacy for their successors, nothing on which they could build. One might reasonably conclude British art is dead.’
Go Brian! I look forward to part 2 in October and see if more of a consensus emerges.
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- Newspeak: British Art Now, The Saatchi Gallery, London (independent.co.uk)
- Charles Saatchi donates gallery to the nation (telegraph.co.uk)
- Saatchi Gallery: Nice gift Charles, but what now? (guardian.co.uk)