While I’m not sure that it really matters very much in the greater scheme of things, for the sake of maintaining the temporal accuracy of the blogological record, it might be noted that today’s rambling offerance is by way of a bipartite continuation of that previously begun with last week’s discursive circumlocution. And so, emerging from the penumbra of the temporarily crepuscular caverns of the Royal Academy, where are currently displayed the illuminating video projections of Bill Viola and the delicate chalky sketches of Michaelangelo Buonarotti, I reflect upon the mysterious wonders of human existence as encapsulated in the exhibition’s somewhat portentous title of Life Death Rebirth. Deep and murky waters indeed – where do we come from and whence are we destined? Questions that have puzzled theologists and philosophers over the ages and, while I have no new answers or insights to offer on the nature of the possible long-term termini that await us all, on a more drearily demotic level of engagement with the material realities of the quotidian, I now cross over the road, walk past the Bernard Jacobson Gallery (having already briefly blogged a couple of weeks ago about their rather nice mixed exhibition of prints arranged to celebrate the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of their opening in the capital) and call into the Thomas Dane Gallery. As readers of the comments that sometimes form a lingering coda to the main weekly blog may recall, the exhibition here has come highly recommended by the artist, curator and loyal subscriber Richard Ducker, someone’s whose opinions I respect but, whose tastes, being of such a highly advanced nature, I’m not always able to share.
All of which brings me up to the three-room installation by Amie Siegel and the question as to whether it really is, ‘…one of the best shows currently on (display in the capital)…’. Well, it’s certainly neatly produced; has a sensible intellectual thread of logicality behind its conception; and contains a centre-piece video element that was sufficiently interesting to keep me sat on a bench watching for the full term of its 26-minute running time. And, since I usually get bored with looking at video presentations and depart their displays with times faster than most Olympians take to run the hundred metre dash, I’m willing to concede that the artist definitely has some fairly rare presentational skills and that her show certainly deserves some carefully considered contemplation.
So, first off, what is the content of her production that makes it so very compellingly watchable? Well, I suppose broadly speaking it’s a sort of rambling shaggy dog dogumentary centered around the exploration of an Italian architectural curiosity known as the Villa Malaparte. Built on a rocky promontory that juts off the Isle of Capri, this luxurious private residence has all the large light-filled, open-plan rooms and stylish fittings associated with the best of Modernist good taste but its most distinctive feature, however, is an impressive external brick starirwell that leads up to a sort of open air patio roof, ideal for both gazing moodily out towards the sea below or else prostrating oneself beneath the tanning ultra-violet rays of the Mediterranean sun above.
Perhaps most famously, the building was used as a setting for Jean Luc Godard’s film Le Mepris, an adaptation of the novel by Alberto Moravia which, in turn, was based on a story about a director trying to make a film about Homer’s Odyssey. All this is usefully explained in the voiceover that accompanies various short screen clips from the film as well as stills showing the movie’s stars, Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli, and various shots of copies of the cover of Moravia’s book. But then the film spirals outwards along various interlinked thematic trails relating both to the history of the building and also to a number of artistic works with which it is more tangentially associated. Consequently, there’s a whole range of collaged imagery with references alluding to such tasty items as Freud’s essay on Gradiva, Alain Resnais’ film La Derniere Annee a Marienbad, Pink Floyd performing at Pompeii and Georgio de Chirico’s artistic visions of his favourite Turinian city square.
By way of introduction into this slickly professional screen compilation, the first room in the Gallery offers up a suite of small framed presentations of edited pages of the original Moravian novel from which Siegel has redacted various sections in order to highlight the actions of Emilia, the character played by Bardot in the Godard film. Then, to complete the cleverness of the overall installation, in the final room the artist has created a sort of 3-D reversal of this initial teaser by showing a scene from the film in which she has carefully arranged to have Bridget’s pulchritudinous persona digitally expunged from the filmic action. Now, all of this is, of course, the most delightfully deliciously, disingenuously arch piece of Post-Modern jocundity – a sort of ludicrously ludic series of nods, winks, in-jokes and allusions that presumes the audience will share a kind of broad knowledge of 20th century cultural keystones that run from Freudian theoretics to Nouvel Vague cinematics, and Prog Rock popticians to Italian Metaphysicians. Which is fine for me since this is all very much my kind of home territory and I’m ever so smugly pleased to be able to confirm that not only have I read great chunks of Moravia and Freud; watched most of Godard and Resnais; and recognise Floyd’s greatest hits; but I’m very familiar with de Chirico’s works and have even made a pilgrimage to the Piazza San Carlo which was his great inspirational source. But then I can’t help wondering whether art should be quite so exclusively framed and prescriptive as to be designed to tweak the titilatory senses of such a small bunch of culture vulture obsessives like myself, albeit that it probably also includes most of the critical and curatorial elites that programme and promulgate the artistic layerings that make up the bulk of the country’s cultural stratigraphy.
At which point of dilemma I think it must be time to move on out and race along on to the next item on today’s itinerary, the appreciation of which perhaps requires the accumulation of much less background baggage to enjoy, it being a very attractive mixed display of Modernist prints over at the Alan Cristea Gallery. And while I’m sure it’s entirely unintentional, the show could be taken as a sort of friendly rivalistic response to the Bernard Jacobson Gallery show mentioned briefly above, in that both eponymous gallery owners have evidently rummaged round their stock rooms to pull out some truly top class works from a selection of their most favoured and celebrated star artists. At any rate, there are some exceptionally wonderful pieces here including items from Picasso, Braque, Miro and Matisse that show how each of these painters was equally adept at working within the print medium.
Both the Jacobson and Cristea Galleries were at one time situated on Cork Street an address that, when I was about half my current age, was considered to be the hub wherein were situated at the time all the most important galleries for displaying the fruits of Modernistic experimentation and endeavor. Also situated amongst those great edifices of artistic excellence, at least for a brief period of time in the 1980s, was the Robert Fraser Gallery whose eponymous executor had been one of the original promoters of the British form of Pop Art that was once such a vital signal of the swinging credentials of the capital’s art scene. And now by way of tribute to the gallerist who laboured under the slightly mocking soubriquet of Groovy Bob, the Gazelli Art House is presenting a display of works by some of the artists that gained prominence, or were at least helped along their professional paths, by the somewhat haphazard promotional efforts of the complex and raffish Mr Fraser. I suppose the key artwork on show here now is one of the famous Richard Hamilton prints (see above) that shows Mick Jagger being driven away after being caught in a drug raid for, sitting next to the superstar singer and sharing his handcuffs and tribulations, is none other than Fraser, who unfortunately also managed to get nabbed in the same infamous bust. Other images from the era on show here include a mixed lot of paintings and sculptures including works from Jim Dine, Jann Haworth (see below), Peter Blake, Derek Boshier and Colin Self, all of which make the show a rather cheery walk down a memory lane of ephemeral ‘60s nostalgia.
Finally, there’s just time to briefly mention a show suitably set to counter-balance the jolly joviality of that happy time of exuberant excess – acknowledging the art that effectively wiped the smile off the face of that colourful decade and instead put a few wrinkles on its brow. So, the Simon Lee gallery has a small but elegant selection of Minimalist metalworks that try once again to convince that less can sometimes be more, especially if it’s heavy enough, as is the case of the opening work by Richard Serra in which he precariously balances one giant lump of iron girder on another. Elsewhere, somewhat less threateningly but no less less is one of Carl Andre’s aluminium floor pieces which, along with the other lumps, strips and spindles assembled by Bruce Nauman, Giovanni Anselmo (see below) and Luciano Fabro, share the same simple integrity and appeal to the senses that, in the end, I suppose will either prompt the viewer towards a smile of sensual satisfaction or else a sneer of sniggering scorn.