Wednesday, March 10, 2010

London Exhibitions

Last week I re-charged my cultural batteries in London. I was reminded what an incredible centre it is for art exhibitions. In which other city could you see Michelangelo's 'Dream', read VanGogh's letters to his brother, marvel at Henry Moore's ouvre & scrutinize hundreds of Ronald Searle originals all in one day?!
In my experience only Paris has more top exhibitions simultaneously on the go (and London admission prices are catching up with the French capital too; for £12 a pop they should throw in a complimentary catalogue).  I was in town to see the exhibitions celebrating Ronald Searle's 90th birthday but also managed to squeeze in the big 3 major crowd-pullers.

First up, the Henry Moore retrospective at TATE Britain. I was somewhat disappointed by this- the Moore installation at Dulwich a few years ago was more impressive. It seems Moore's monumental bronzes work better outdoors. I realize there's only so many you can heave into the Tate galleries but the sculptures on show seemed to cancel each other out.

More interesting were the works on paper-several sketchbook pages are on display & for the first time I saw Moore's 'blitz' drawings in the flesh. These were records of conditions during WW11 when Londoners sheltered from the bombing in the tunnels of the Underground. I've never forgotten seeing as an art student Moore's 'sheep' sketchbook, impressed by his sculptural use of cross-hatching.

Later in the day I happened upon a Moore print in an antiquarian book shop window; a fine drawing of a rhinoceros, its form similarly expertly rendered.
Early next morning I walked along the Strand to the Courtauld Institute where temporary exhibitions are supported by a fine collection of Impressionist & post-Impressionist works, Dutch masters, numerous studies by Tiepolo & Tintoretto & that picture of Adam & Eve from the title sequence of Desperate Housewives (actually by Cranach the Elder). I was there to see some drawings by Michelangelo that I wasn't familiar with-a series of 'presentation' drawings made to woo a much younger man that the old artist was smitten with. (Were these part of the Michelangelo show at the British Museum 4 years ago?) The highlight of the series is the 'Dream'- it's unimaginable how the artist conjured up this masterpiece merely with chalk & his fingers-breath-taking stuff.

If only Vincent Van Gogh knew that even his hand-writing would turn out be so popular! His correspondence with his brother Theo is the major blockbuster this season with lines stretching the entire courtyard of the Royal Academy. I waited an hour to get in & spent 10 minutes shuffling along the glass cases peering at the fragile, brown letters before a power-cut plunged the galleries into darkness. We all stood murmuring in the gloom for 5 minutes before being ushered out the fire escape. In the confusion I took advantage of the disabled security alarms & slipped one of the priceless canvases under my coat & made for the exit. A ransom of this kind is the only way to coerce a refund from the RA beaureaucrats!

10 comments:

Ashley Boddy said...

That is the probably the thing I miss the most about living in London - the ability to get up and just go to an exhibition on a whim...now it all takes planning and travelling.

UM said...

You took the sunflowers. You're lucky, nobody has noticed a thing...

ukjarry said...

“The Dream” by Michelangelo was very beautifully drawn. Just to see him getting different textures and pencil strokes in such small paper space. And unexpectedly very, very rude. As I was starring at it from different angles at one point I got a vague impression as to what might have been originally drawn in one obscured section (and proved indecipherable in prints or scans). There was an engraving on the other wall which confirmed my naughty suspicion. Michelangelo had originally included, to mirror the large disembodied hand holding a sagging purse, an equally outsized disembodied hand doing something to a monumental organ more appropriate to the graffiti on a men’s lavatory wall. More surprising since in the rest of nude drawings collected here Michelangelo is no size queen.

The Arshile Gorky exhibition at the Tate was fascinating and revelatory too, worth several hours staring.

Matt J said...

Ash-well, we do have the Arnolfini, Science museum, SS Gt Britain, a fine art gallery in the museum & tons of graffiti on the streets!

Uli-can you help me get the frame off it?

Jarry-it reassured me that even the greatest draughtsman in history could not resist drawing a big cock & balls on his finest work!

Alan said...

I went to the Courtauld to see the Michelangelos just the other day. I agree (who wouldn't): absolutely phenomenal. And I don't recall them being at the Brit Museum show.
It was also a treat to see other items from the permanent collection: Cezanne, Degas, Lautrec, Durer

A. Riabovitchev said...

Are you still in London?If yes would like some lunch next week somehow?

Matthew Cruickshank said...

Nothing about drinking an entire afternoon away?fine reportage inspector jones! You look like woody in your lovely little drawing.

Matt J said...

Alan-the Courtauld has an amazing collection, one of London's 'secret' art galleries.

Andrei-I'm back in Bristol! I'll be back end of the month though, where are you working?

M@- that particular afternoon you mention is already a foggy memory for me!

A. Riabovitchev said...

I'm working for MPC in Soho area.Wardor street.We can organize some lunch if you wish?:o)

Matt J said...

Yes, I'll let you know when I'm in town.