There has been much activity in the world of culture.
In the pouring rain I arrived at an evening opening of the National Portrait Gallery (Sainsbury Wing) – to see Facing the Modern: the Portrait in Vienna 1900 just before the exhibition closed. This was just lovely. Many pictures we had seen in Vienna – Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, but also there were unexpected paintings – by Schoenberg, who knew he painted as well as composed? A wonderful self portrait of a woman artist Teresa Ries – proud, assertive, confident. And some very modern work by Richard Gerstl who died tragically young. There was also some moving work – artists drawing or painting their partners on their death bed. Schiele’s wife who was six months pregnant succumbed to the flu pandemic in 1918. Schiele’s sketches of her were the last works he completed before he died three days later at the age of 28.
On the fourth floor of the museum, overlooking the Albert Dock, this was a provocative, involving exhibitions. There was the work of groups and movements from Argentina, Russia, France, Italy, some simply bringing art to the people, other work railing against injustice. The exhibition revived fond memories of the Seventies – the women’s campaigns, for equal pay, nurseries, the Hackney Flashers. It raised the importance of a signature on a work of art, the involvement of the viewer, sewing as art.
Sometimes it was not easy to see what point was being made. Was it the photograph or was it the subject of the photograph which was important? Of course it was both, but what were we being invited to look at? On the whole though, it was another reminder that so much of what we see around us – adverts, furniture, art – began in small secret workshops as a response to injustice in the world. But it was also a reminder that art is a political tool.
This was David Hockney’s very early work, when he was at Art school, and his first commissions, his infatuation with Cliff Richard – he was entranced by a newspaper headline about the rescue of two students – Boys Cling to Cliff All Night. There was also a photo opportunity – a gold lame jacket, round black spectacles, a blond wig, were draped on coat hooks at the entrance to the exhibition.
Also, unusually, there have been films – all of which are contenders in one category or another for an Oscar.
In Paris we saw Inside Llewyn Davis. See my review of this in my blog, the paris train under Nouvel An. Basically, he wasn’t thin and scrawny enough. The cat was good.
American Hustle – was this a clever enough hustle? Short answer, no. Was this a comedy? Who’s laughing? A man in curlers does not make a film a comedy. And would someone who looks like Amy Adams, whatever her character’s desperate background, have fallen for someone with that serious a comb-over? No. Call me superficial, but that just didn’t happen in the 70s. Or at all. I haven’t watched the Grifters for a long while, but I have a memory that it was sharper and cleverer.
12 Years a Slave – now then. This was powerful stuff and the film has had a tremendous impact. It’s a subject we should all have in our minds at all times, because the inhumanity goes on. And presumably some people don’t know about the terrible things that have happened. But was the film good enough for the material it was handling? I think about Beloved by Toni Morrison and the heart-wrenching, gut-wrenching power of her descriptions. There were beautiful shots in this film and Chiwetel Ejiofor plays his part magnificently. But I was left curiously unmoved, and angry because it could have been so much more.
Next post – Bach by candlelight in St Martins in the Fields, and the Bridge.