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Goodbye 2011 / Stormy weather edition

2 Jan

Just a quick note to express how wonderful it was to visit again the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea on Saturday and say goodbye to 2011, next to the stormy sea and enveloped by the amazing Modernist masterpiece that the Pavilion really is.

Built in 1935 by  Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff it is a supreme demonstration how Modernism can reflect back on both location and function, providing a wonderful backdrop for the seaside views and a flowing space that makes people the main spectacle. The two staircases are beautiful at capturing light and giving a sense of occasion, but it is the movement of the users that activates the space and makes it an ongoing performance.

Beauty, elegance, simplicity.

If you haven’t been, rush to see both the excellent Warhol exhibition (which is free, and do not be put off by the stupid title)

Here is a link to my photo set on Flickr: Click! 

For general information on the Pavilion check it’s Wikipedia entry: Click!

And here’s the link to their website: Click!

Hollywood glamour off the scale

4 Oct

Last Saturday somehow the stars aligned and we managed to go to the London viewing of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels, costumes and art at Christie’s. What can I really say about the most notoriously diamond hungry film star in the history of the world that hasn’t been said already ? This viewing was an once in a lifetime opportunity to see those items in person. And it was surely worth it.

The most prestigious gems were on show with an obvious highlight her 33.19 carat Elizabeth Taylor diamond ring (estimate $2.5m – 3.5m), which is exquisite. Such fire and brilliance but without looking as if it dropped off the sales rack of Claire’s (or any other cheap accessory shop). It’s simply mind boggling that she was wearing pretty much daily in the last 50 years. One’s eye can only imagine her washing the odd dish while wearing this rock.

Another major highlight was her 17 th century pearl that used to belong to Mary Queen of Scots, called La Peregrina (estimate $2m-3m). Which Burton acquired for her at auction against the Spanish Royal family. Taylor had it mounted in a necklace based on a painting of Mary in consultation with Cartier.  Taylor was not just a collector of statement pieces, she was clearly very much in touch with the history of her gems and how they should be worn. Can’t imagine many film stars of today showing such a willingness to learn and such great taste at picking some of the most stunning jewels the world has ever seen.

Finally the ruby set by Cartier (estimate $750.000) that Mike Todd gave her as a gift while on holiday in the south of France was simply extraordinary, a red hot accumulation of rubies accented with the pure white heat of diamonds set in platinum. A fellow (very posh and of a certain age) visitor to the display did exclaim that rubies are very difficult to wear. But seeing them on their last owner, they just highlighted her great beauty and exuberance. The viewing also featured reportedly the only piece Taylor bought for herself, The Windsor Brooch (estimate $400.000-600.000), which Edward VIII had especially made by Cartier as a present for Wallis Simpson, in the shape of the feathery crest of the Prince of Wales. Taylor was allowed to make a copy by Simpson (the two were close friends) but refused the last minute, so when it went on sale she had to have it.

The display itself was elegant and simple, the colour palette dominated by the violet colour she adored. The rooms were furnished with large banners printed with photographs of Taylor accompanied by some of her famous aphorisms. The room of costumes and couture was totally over the top, as befitting the Dame. From early demure Dior ensembles to some show stopping red Valentino, to heavily embroidered Ferre to the cheeky Versace  jacket with swarovski encrusted filmic faces of Elizabeth. All of them showed a woman on top of the glamour stakes that was not afraid to show off and to strut her stuff. No surprise there, she was a film star after all, not a carpenter.

One great surprise was the portion of her art collection that was on view and its selective nature. From some exquisite nudes by Augustus John, to a beautiful set of Vlaminck industrial landscapes. The fact that her parents were both art dealers must have informed some of her choices. The three main crowd pleasers on show were an Arles period Van Gogh that was brimming with sunshine and French provincialism (surely not a steal at the estimated £7m). A fantastic glowing landscape Pissarro (pere) with the rather conservative estimate of £900.000-1.2m. And a Warhol canvas on grey background of “Liz” a truly prime version of his famous series of portraits of Taylor based on a Richard Avedon photograph.

Also an oil on paper Self Portrait by Degas was penetrating and enchanting (yours for £350.00-450.000). A pretty late Renoir of a young woman wearing an oriental costume was nothing exceptional, but clearly carrying that signature made it worth £250.000! It was a shame that Christie’s did not make clear when she acquired each work…and not even the date of each painting was made. I do wonder if the six Augustus John paintings had anything to do with Richard Burton’s Welsh origins and their rather protracted and widely publicised romance that was a pivotal influence in her life. I may invest in the full catalogue when it becomes available just to get more information on their provenance and acquisition times. As this part of the sale is for me totally new and seemed to show Taylor in a totally new light.

For many this may have been a chance to gasp at the unbelievable jewels as some Elizabeth Taylor fetish that had to be seen. For me it was a fascinating journey in her taste in art, jewellery and clothing. A record of an extraordinary life that touched millions of people and yet had nothing everyday or simple about it. A life appropriate for one of the very last great divas of the US studio system. The tour continues till December where all her belongings will be sold at Christies New York, except for her paintings that will be dealt with by the London branch.

More Info

Here’s the Press Release

Here the auction site

Here is the set of photographs I took

Lucian Freud

22 Jul

The passing of Lucian Freud has given an impetus to a number of critics and writers to put on paper their thoughts on the artist. Reading through them you can get the sense of the man and the scale of his ambition and achievement.  He was a singular voice in British Art and with a particular brand of tunnel vision that made him inimitable. He was after the quirky, messy detail of everyday life, compressed in the messy surroundings of his studio. He was not a painter of grand conceptions and intellectual bathos. His work was a personal response to the world but was very removed from bland retinal reproduction. His paintings and prints are always good depictions of the sitters but they always engage with the internal life of the subjects. Partly due to the strenuous nature of his sitting for the models, most spot the characteristics of studied ennui. Looking deeply involved with their own self after long conversations with Freud, with a definite sense of vulnerability and self-revelation. Anyone that had the chance to face Freud’s icy stare can only imagine what it must have been like to be in the studio with him overnight helping him shape one of his canvases. (A series of photographs by his long-time assistant David Dawson have immortalised a number of sitters in his studio, depicting the dynamics at play).

My enduring memory of Freud was his very Germanic excitement (measured but with a definite glint in the eye) when he was delivering personally a self-portrait back in 2002. He just asked very politely where his exhibition was while his assistant carried the domestic scaled portrait, just out of the studio and two days before the opening of his exhibition. A sense of panic engulfed me as that was not the kind of scenario I was expecting…Lucian Freud to come in with one of his paintings? That was just off the scale! I gathered my thoughts in a split second and managed to mumble the location of the show and offered to walk them there…while stealing a glance at the painting.

When the show opened I was lucky enough to walk around it on my own and managed to have a proper look at the portrait and its thickly encrusted wall in the background. A residue of half a century of career made concrete. Some of the eulogies may seem over the top but Freud was an artistic rebel that did not need the artworld to feel validated. His work was seen as unfashionable and simply odd up to the 1970s, only to turn über cool and almost the polar opposite of the vacuity of the YBAs in the late 1990s. To see a large gathering of his paintings and prints is to see a microcosm of Britain in the last fifty years, describing a life of emotional engagement and fascination with the nature of humanity. He was our equivalent to Otto Dix and Goya, skill and painstaking strife for perfection with a unique, signature insight.

He will be greatly missed.

More photographs of Freud in his studio can be found here: NPG, London

A fascinating short film about his studio can be found here: Newness

The Hepworth Wakefield – The photos are in.

4 Jun
P1100630 by Georgios 1978
P1100630, a photo by Georgios 1978 on Flickr.

Dear readers, a couple of days had the opportunity to visit David Chipperfield’s other new Gallery (after his Margate the other week) and have to declare it an unqualified success.

The feel is mature, assured and concise. The finishes are smooth, precise but not self indulgent. Wakefield should be justly proud of this major civic pride injection and all of the visitors should be full of happiness and take in the work of Hepworth in a world-class setting. Chipperfield managed what a lot of architects fail far too frequently, he sculpted space using light and volume. The building’s exterior reveals a light filled, subdued interior, but with wonderful almost three-dimensional light from the unusual clerestory skylights. He also was very responsive to the location and both the industrial and waterside context of the new building. Fanciful museums as a means of regeneration quite frequently leave me cold. But the Hepworth is a building that has a sense of grace, civility and above all makes the art within speak.

I truly wish he had won the competition to built Tate Modern back in the day. His honed Modernism is much more warm and inviting than Herzog & De Meuron’s more flashy materiality, he’s more in the mould or Arne Jacobsen than the frequently bland Norman Foster. If you are living in Yorkshire you have no excuse not to visit, everyone else has to visit to admire this wonderful edifice.

Here is my set on Flickr with all the shots

Alexander the great

14 Apr

Was terribly surprised, to find by chance today that the retrospective exhibition is about to open in New York! To say I’ve always have been a huge fan of his ideas and mix of art and fashion would be an understatement. I truly envy the visitors to the Met that will enjoy such beauty…let’s hope it gets a transfer the V&A a place that inspired him greatly.

I’ve already pre-ordered my catalogue as there is such penury of decent literature on his career, this catalogue will be a wonderful tome to have and to flick through for inspiration. Hopefully a worthy tribute to his intellectual curiosity and true pioneering spirit. I unfortunately never had the chance to meet him but will be eternally inspired by a lot of his creations and more importantly his ideas of what fashion can become. In my mind he was the designer that really did not go after the market, he was much closer to an installation artist with a particular love for the darker coves of the human soul. As twee as it sounds a true visual art visionary.

The boring bits:

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

May 4, 2011–July 31, 2011

Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, 2nd floor

Here’s the link to the catalogue:

Here’s the link to the exhibition blog:

Anish Kapoor exhibition at the RA, a notable self indulgent pile of poo!

10 Jan
Went to the Royal Academy, after having read a few reviews and the Imagine programme on BBC1 (which incidentally was an all out hagiography with no backbone). So my expectations were not very high.
On arrival the herding of visitors in the courtyard did not look promising for the possibility of some space for contemplation in the exhibition spaces. On reaching the entrance I had to specifically ask to be allowed to see the show in its chronological flow and not start from the korteen steel piece in the central hall. I was told by one acquaintance I met at the show that the RA changed the flow of visitors due to the narrow walking space amongst the early works. This first room with the early (mainly) floor based pieces was very interesting and it reaffirmed just how alien his early pieces must have looked in the late 80s and early 90s. Those wonderful mountainous volumes coated in a fluffy layer of pure powdered pigment. They almost look as if the occupy the space between high-end baking and extra terrestrial sculpture.

The second room offered one of his really impressive wall moulded pieces in a rich, almost acidic canary yellow. It was fantastically suitable and at the same time fighting all the gilding and cornicing of the RA exhibition rooms. From there on though, the whole show deflated into a miserable pile of excrement. The third room was occupied by the dreaded cannon firing to the tiny watercolour gallery a shot of Vaseline impregnated pigment twice an hour. Seeing the gloopy paint piling on the floor of the Gallery did not make for good art. This was the start of art as a public spectacle of the lowest order. There were hordes of people wondering out loud when the next firing of red poop would be. It reminded me the sad crowds at Alton Tower waiting to get on to Nemesis. A pointless throng of people who are there to just satisfy their morbid fascination. I stayed for a few minutes and observed the people and it all had the feeling of a public execution during the 1400s. Everyone looking on waiting for the great event, the great ejaculation that stains the walls and part of the ceiling.

After the twenty or so minutes I spent observing the crowd I moved on the large exhibition room (is that the Weston Room?) It had the appearance of a hall of mirrors not dissimilar to what one can expect to find at Margate. The fact that all the pieces had been enlarged did not make them any better. And this room was doubly disappointing as Kapoor has made through his 30 year career so many successful mirrored and reflective pieces (particularly a couple of polished granite works from the late 90s). In this display most of the works were remakes of earlier pieces which smacked of his commercial interest in the retrospective. At his Hayward Gallery retrospective very few works were available for purchase and his mirrored pieces were arranged, wisely, in between major rooms, reflecting the visitors on their travels between two major installations. They were not the main thrust of the show. And their intellectual emptiness became evident by feeling a gigantic room of them at the RA. In this room the sight of people playing with their reflections in the pieces made me feel even more uneasy as he crossed the line once more into light entertainment. Losing the main purpose of fine art, to challenge the intellect and to awaken emotions.

The next room was the main attraction of the show, spanning the four galleries at the back of the RA. A use mass of red, Vaseline and wax encrusted mass of pigment moving through the elaborate granite doorways of the RA. In the process moulded into what looked like a mass-produced loaf of bread. To me the piece was another empty gesture by Kapoor, a lazy engagement with the architectural space. This works did not occupy the space it raped it in the most obvious way. Moving a pile of semi molten goo does not a good artwork make! I took my position in the middle room waiting for this morbid red loaf to go past. Watching how people tried to smell and touch it. And the poor assistant trying to ask them to stay behind the moderate barriers. For me the only interesting part of the piece was how it coated the door ways in its passing with this red viscous poo. In a way the sensation amplified by the prominent bins in the corner of all the rooms full of used paper towels that people used to clean their hands after they had –naughtily- touched his train of poo.

The grandiose scale of both the korteen steel piece in the central hall and the cement piles next doors where indicative of his art losing its way. What happened to his, previously, sensual surfaces that occupied the floors so graciously? All I could see around me where monolithic, unsympathetic, non human scaled ego statements. I longed for his subtle ways with colour that characterises much of his work. To me this show signified a terrible decline since his two commissions at Baltic and Tate Modern. His work ballooned in scale but he lost grasp of what made his work distinctive and vital.

A rainy morning in London Town

17 May
As I was waiting for the train this morning I noticed on my left-hand side a man wearing a bowler hat!
In the drizzly weather it reminded me of the Robert Frank photographs of late 50’s London, most of them taken in the City.
I had not realised that bowler hats are acceptable this day and age 😉
According to some of the attached links  they are acceptable in parts of France and Germany!
Well in London we are left with the post-chav remnants of the Burberry flat cap. Which surely can’t be good news for hat wearers!
Well talking about hats today it brought back to my mind Isabella Blow and the fact that she died last week.
I had the chance to see her a few years ago and was stricken by her attitude and that she appeared to be almost modelling the hat devoid of any expression…in the best catwalk tradition. And was intrigued what it must be like when you life is almost based on your sartorial choices. An attitude rather different to my everyday life. Still I enjoyed seeing her appear on magazine pages and websites, celebrating the little idiosynchrasies (or in her case outlandish hats that only she could just about get away with!) that make us all unique.
Fashion-crowd obituaries tend to emphasise the superficial nature of the business and trying to find qualities that are worth praising in a universal plateau
Isabella Blow

Just leaving York on my way back from Edinburgh…a bit of a mess with people trying to find their seats amongst the mayhem!

12 Aug
Edinburgh was lovely,went to Gauguin’s Vision at The National Gallery,Bacon-portraits and Cartier-Bresson at The National Gallery of Modern Art. All three shows were interesting, but the one that captivated my attention was Bacon. A large accumulation of his work, always has a curious effect on me. The experience is one of amazement,involvement,surprise,familiarity,respect,seduction. Seeing the fantastic full length portrait of Isabel Rawsthorne from Berlin had me quaking in my boots. The beauty of the colours and the handling were devastating. I could look at it for days and still find more excitement in it. More soon xx George
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