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Wednesday, 23 October 2019

How to own a Unicorn

This lovely beast, here being comforted in the arms of a gentlewoman, is part of a c1500 Franco-Flemish  tapestry 'A la Licorne' on sale at Christie's  on Friday 25 October. They and the tapestry form part of the Oliver Hoare Collection.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

James Rosenquist until Saturday 09 November


First, Ely House: James Rosenquist, "Visualising the Sixties": Can one begin to call the 1960s an age of innocence? Compared to now, that is? Well, the work of James Rosenquist will allow you, non-nostalgically, to revisit it. 

In the US, the sixties was a decade that Rosenquist made his own, becoming as influential as any artist of his time. His works are full of innovation in terms of materials, techniques and subject matter. Mylar, the acetate of the time, was painted and precision cut to make what he called Immersive paintings; collages incorporated everything from torch lights to fishing hooks. No wonder other artists of the time revered him.

Rosenquist was also an entry player in the field of kinetics. The picture shows his painting Tube (1961).

Paint applied to canvas seems to spin before your eyes. But step back a moment and look sideways on (see image below).

Here the painting resembles a speed dial. I venture to say that here the artist is demonstrating the consummate skill of the commercial 'billboard' artist he once was. In the scaling up of poster art, the image must have enough impact to arrest the attention of the speeding walker or driver.

There is something fragile and somehow innocent about so much of the work we see here, whether painting or preparatory sketch. The artist is able to get his effects using a subtle but convincing graphic language that is never brash, but nevertheless wholly convincing. 

What a nice man he must have been you think as you pass the giant photograph of him at work that adorns the Gallery's entrance hall.


Coloured minimalism, Rosemarie Castoro (red pink green grey blue tan, 1964), maximalism, Elizabeth Peyton, (Kiss, 2019), and between these poles, the sculptural Oliver Beer (Recomposition (Troy), 2019)  a violin sectioned and set in resin.

A co-production of a series of Oskar Schlemmer's original Bauhaus Dance performances as part of Frieze LIVE's focus on the Bauhaus, and coinciding with Bauhaus 100, its 100th Anniversary. Performances take place on 2nd, 3rd & 5th October at 4pm in the performance area close to the Ropac booth (Stand B7).


Friday, 20 September 2019

London Design Festval ends Sunday 22 September

Camille Walala was always meant to be a designer you think (her father is an architect) as you gaze at her geometrical and grid paper works - currently in South Molton Street and (hurrah) due to stay there after the Festival ends on Sunday.

Monday, 16 September 2019

London Design Festival at The Conran Shop Marylebone High Street

The London Design Festival 2019 began on Saturday. I have collected my Red Book, the Guide to the whole of the Festival.* I biked up to Marylebone High Street and found it at The Conran Shop, the official design district hub for Marylebone. You'll also find three floors of design excellence. Keep going until you're right at the northern end of this lovely street, it's No. 55.

Monday, 22 July 2019

London's not so secret rivers

Until Sunday 27 October

The good people of the Museum of London Docklands, housed next to a dock in what was an old sugar warehouse, must be more aware than most of the trading riches brought to London via the River Thames. Their major (and marvellous) new exhibition, Secret Rivers, must have made them newly aware also of the wonders of having drinking water at the turn of a tap and waste disposal at the push of a lever. Without London's tributary rivers and without the Thames, there would be no London at all.

Friday, 12 July 2019

The ethereal world of the distinguished lacquer artist KOYANAGI Tanekuni

Koyanagi Tanekuni, Maki-e Saki cup “Glorious vine”
Until 21 September

   Brunei Gallery
   Thornhaugh Street
   London WC1

   Tue-Sat 10.30–5.00

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Part III: Van Gogh in Britain - until Sunday 11 August

Some six weeks into Van Gogh in Britain at Tate Britain I'd like to discuss an aspect of the artist's work that seems to me to be underappreciated. 

Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890), Olive
, 1889, National Galleries
of Scotland

As the picture on the left shows, Vincent van Gogh never painted anything  from a roadside ditch to a group of trees  that did not show its foundational roots deep in the earth. Like the Dutch nation before and after he had an acute appreciation of the dynamics of landscape, whether covered by sea or not, and the built and planted environment. We now know this to be the result of millennia of endeavour to understand and work with both. Indeed, one saying attempts to sum it all up: 'God built the world but the Dutch built Holland'.
Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890)
Fortification of Paris with Houses,
1887, Whitworth Art 
(University of Manchester)
Over and over again Van Gogh's paintings tell this story. The work shown on the left (not in the exhibition since it's from Van Gogh's days in Paris) depicts his (unfinished) treatment of the urban environment. Fortification of Paris with Houses, a work from 1887, can be seen in Manchester where it is part of the Whitworth Art Collection.

As the Tate Britain exhibition makes plain, Van Gogh, who spoke English, admired many British writers and artists. Two painters that caught his eye were John Constable and John Everett Millais, both painters for whom landscape 'lived' and expressed much that man struggled to express in words. 

Tate Britain shows two of these works in a room devoted to the landscapes of Van Gogh himself. John Constable's The Valley Farm, dates from 1835. It shows the cutting in the river Stour that leads to the mill stream at Flatford, a watermill, with Willy Lott's cottage (much reworked) in the background. 

The Millais work is Chill October (1870), a view of part of the river Tay that forms a still backwater with trees and is pure unpeopled landscape. Both works can only have drawn Van Gogh's sympathetic gaze. A reminder of home perhaps. And, to remind for a moment of Van Gogh's many admirers contemporaneously and since, hats off to Jacob Epstein, whose Epping Forest, painted c. 1933, is both rigorous and uplifting. 

Of course, no one reviewer can hope to cover the immense contemporary context that has been assembled around these paintings and writings. But let me conclude here with the celebrated painting by Van Gogh's 17th-century compatriot Meindert Hobbema, The Avenue at Middelharnis (1689) (not shown here). It's an important inclusion. And much as I understand Tate's chronic lack of room in fitting so much work into a confined space, as well as to give pride of place to Van Gogh's lyrical woodland scenes on the opposite wall, the gallery has hung the Hobbema painting just a little low to show off its compositional brilliance. Take a careful step back and look at that big sky and low vanishing point, both of which allow you to make that great perceptual leap over field and farm and market garden to the horizon.

Hobbema's painting was acquired by the National Gallery in 1871. It would have been newly hung in the Gallery during Vincent's visit. Contemporary accounts record that he made many trips to see it. No painting in the world I think so expresses the practical nature of the Dutch, building dikes to raise the land above sea level, draining fields via a network of canals and planting and building on the result. Here, Van Gogh, lonely in London, would have felt completely at home. 

Afterword: No great exhibition like this one can reveal all its historical and artistic contexts over a single visit. I firmly advocate Tate membership. After one visit you can return as often as you wish free of charge. Pay online and you will be added to the database so that you need only show your credit card at the desk if your membership card is still in the post.

The EY Exhibition
Van Gogh and Britain

Tate Britain
Millbank, London SW1
Monday to Sunday 10.00–18.00
Check for late openings