= The Crawford Arts Review: 2019

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Until Sunday 26 January 2020

Fifty or so of Paul Gauguin's portraits, displayed in the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing in a backdrop that is grandly, and blackly, architectural. Congratulations to everyone concerned here.

My eye was caught by a relatively early work of the artist. Having moved to Brittany after the Paris stock market crash which ruined him, Gauguin is shown jauntily wearing a bright Breton top. The same crash had turned him, not without some work of course, from a Sunday to a full-time painter.

Portraits of his friends include an 1889-90 study in charcoal of fellow artist Meijer de Haan and a further sculptural portrait of De Haan fashioned from oak wood.

Portraits of Tahitian women abound, dazzlingly. The Exhibition's poster work is the 1883 painting 'The Ancestors of Tehamana' or 'Tehamana Has Many Parents' (Merahi metua no Tehamana); in painting her the way he did Gauguin made her an icon. French Polynesia's national flower (tiaré flowers, Tahitian gardenias) are wound in her hair, she wears a modestly high-necked smock dress; the fan she carries serves as an explicit reference to the tropics. Behind her the artist has made a frieze of hieroglyph-like symbols. It matters not that they can't be read. They're there to represent mystery and exoticism, the unknown and unknowable early lineage of the peoples of the South Seas.

In full creative flow, and knowing syphilis would probably kill him, Gauguin wrote on one of the paintings of Tahitian beauties he sent back to Paris: "What! Are you jealous?" one can only surmise his thoughts at that point.

The National Gallery
Trafalgar Square

Monday, 4 November 2019

until Saturday 30 November (but watch out for any extensions)

Ride the Wild
at Levy Gorvy, Old Bond Street

Works by a 3-artist group: Albert Oehlen (6 works), Franz West (8 works) and Christopher Wool (3 works).

Albert Oehlen is Hamburg trained, assured and with the lightest of academic touches. If anything he espouses the great tradition of Gerhard Richter, of covering up his genius by adding some painterly scrawls over the top as if to say – oh, I don't want to boast, it's only a painting. I love his work.

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 Festival 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

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Van Gogh and Britain

Part II: Van Gogh, an engineer-poet in paint

Tate Britain is currently giving its members a big treat. Every weekend (with the exception of one day, see below) it is opening its Galleries and Members' Room early so that people can enjoy the Van Gogh in Britain exhibition from 8 am to 10 am, a time when the galleries are cool and uncrowded. 

Monday, 15 April 2019

Until Sunday 07 July

Religious experiences, seculo-spiritual experiences, are relatively rare I think. But there I was having one. I was standing in front of a painting in the National Gallery. A Spanish woman was standing next to me, both of us silently suffused by a deep sense of connectedness.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Perhaps one of the most solitary and passionate of men, the work of Vincent van Gogh returns to London

Part I: Van Gogh the natural colourist

If the good curators of Tate Britain had chosen one artist to show what these islands owe to European art and sensibility, they could scarcely have done better than to choose Vincent van Gogh.

Monday, 11 March 2019

A walk through Tate Modern on a weekday afternoon

Arts reviewing can be a bit of a rush. In, out with the pen, and into print. But I like the stuff enough to spend lots of downtime in art galleries too. I've recently been to Tate Modern.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Until Saturday 09 March

Ian Kiaer at Alison Jacques Berners Street

Ian Kiaer, Endnote, ping (part of murmer/black),
2018, courtesy of the artist and gallery 
This is a big show in that it reveals more than is seen on the gallery walls. So big in fact that I imagine a whole art museum given over to art such as this. The shapes on the left, for example (only the left panel is shown here), which appear to be fish, inhabit their own metaphysical world. And it is larger than any ocean.
     Kiaer's work is European in its sensibility: and you are taken aback by it. Each piece perks up your visual sense. You leave the gallery seeing the mundane a little differently. 

I am going to refer you here to the words of The Ruskin School of Art, where Kiaer teaches. The work shown above, consists of acrylic, pencil on paper, and Plexiglas. Another, Endnote, ping (limb), 2019 (not shown), consists of a fan, a very fine gauge plastic tube, and electrical wire. Yet it shows the impossible: the insubstantiality of air. Don't stop to wonder how, just see it.

Alison Jacques Gallery
1618 Berners Street
London W1

Opening times
Tuesday to Saturday 11am–6pm or by appointment.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Understanding Rembrandt 350 years after his death

As fellow art journos take the Eurostar to Amsterdam to stare, no doubt in wonder, at All the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum, I feel the pang of not being there, my press pass as yet unused. All the Rembrandts runs until 10 June.

In the meantime, knowing these paintings, if not the drawings and prints, since student days, I have been reading some of the reviews published since the opening. There is, for instance, a particularly jolly and perceptive piece on "The Night Watch" (and incidentally on the Dutch for whom it was painted), by Jonathan Jones in the Guardian.

And there's the question "might Rembrandt have been a narcissist" posited by one distinguished critic.  

Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait in a cap,
with eyes wide open, 1630

"Who, me?" (Wie, ik?), I can almost hear him respond

Rembrandt created over 80 self-portraits if you count in the drawings and prints. He had a declared purpose. They were studies for many of his later portrait paintings – of individuals, couples and groups. Many of the self-portraits are hardly flattering. The fact is that it's extremely difficult to draw or paint someone with mouth agape, eyes widened or hair standing on end. 
Rembrandt van Rijn, Self-portrait
in a black cap, 1637
In all of the self-portraits you'll see Rembrandt's masterly grasp of how to handle chiaroscuro, light and shade. Here's a second self-portrait, this time from the Wallace Collection here in London. It is "Self-portrait in a black cap" dating from 1637. The artist here accomplishes that most difficult of tasks – the foreshortening of the head as it tilts back. Only someone with the most superb skills of draughtmanship can do this convincingly. And, of course, as a subtext, in presenting himself in these various poses and guises, the artist is saying: look what I can do with paint.

Then there are comments that the self-portraits may have more than a passing relationship to today's selfies. Well, more a relationship to the brilliance of Dutch marketing skills in bringing the 17th century bang up to date. Amsterdam is also paying its respects to the brilliant Emilie Gordenker, joint director of the Mauritshuis in The Hague, who organized an exhibition of Dutch Self-Portraits in 2015/16 which she called Selfies of the Golden Age.

A final thought here. It might be fun as well as instructive to match the poses of some of these self-portraits to the finished portraits in Rembrandt's other works. 

There are further Rembrandt exhibitions throughout the fair cities of the Netherlands: Rembrandt's family and social network in the house he bought in Amsterdam (now the Rembrandt House Museum), in Leeuwarden where his wife Saskia was born, and in Leiden, his own birthplace, until the end of the year (see link for further details).

Eurostar Direct

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

A shot from Staining Lane EC1, with, in the background, the Barbican's Shakespeare Tower.
For me, the Shakespeare Tower is kind of a one-off type of building for this area of London. Completed in 1976, it is of its time. It is so 'unrelieved'. But look what has happened in the middle distance: someone renovating a row of these charming EC1 houses has chosen what at first sight looks like Pantone's colour of 2019, Living coral. It wouldn't work if every architect did this - but every so often a punch of punctuating 

colour works beautifully against all the concrete. Here's a close-up.

Monday, 4 February 2019

Dear Friends of the Built Environment, herewith my personal 'Architecture as Art' London pick, the remodelling of a derelict chapel, by Craftworks, Winners of Don't Move, Improve 2019

Picture courtesy of Dezeen (click on the site for more inspiring pics)
The annual Don't Move, Improve! architectural competition is run by New London Architecture

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Bonnard brings the Shimmering Light of the French South to Bankside

Winter London is beautiful with its black, white and grey, its filmic dark and light. But a trip to Tate Modern to see the colours of summer, irradiated with southern European light, may be just what London and Londoners need at the moment. Some 90 works are on show. 

Buy yourself a members' card (£76 if paid by direct debit) and you can visit exhibitions at all the Tate galleries as often as you like - an art staycation that should certainly lift the mood.