Sunday, 31 October 2010


You are strolling along Bruton Street when you are stopped in your tracks. Bruton Street is a narrow mild-mannered street in the middle of Mayfair and pedestrians quietly going about their own business do not expect any hindrance. But there in the road is a crane and dangling from its chain is an upended wooden crate being negotiated through the Halcyon Gallery door with the tenderness of a man cradling a baby.   I’ll come back when the new exhibition opens and find out why.
A fortnight later I turn up and a man in uniform opens the door for me.  You need strong nerves to go into galleries where the value of the works is calculated in 5, 6 or 7 figures. It’s not for the faint hearted. Of course everyone is courteously, even warmly, welcomed, for a stranger may be a buyer or a dealer or an artist or a patron or someone useful from the media...
I climb several flights of stairs and start at the top. On the way down I found much to love about Mauro Peruccetti’s work and this elegant, light, spacious gallery. For example, By Prescription Only consists of a black granite base, to which is fixed a row of 7 upended capsules of the sort the doctor gives you to swallow because it’s good for you. Except that these are giant-sized and made from pigmented urethane resin so curvy and smooth and colourful that they cry out to be handled – perish the thought.  Like all good capsules they’re in two halves, the bottom half clear and stuffed full of twinkling Swarovski crystals, the top half tinted, each a different colour: lemon; purple; rose; crimson; orange, lime and mauve.   Along the base, which for a split second looks like a gravestone, the days of the week are spelt out in unrelenting stainless steel lettering.It’s a witty, lively and refreshing take on how we measure out our lives, no longer like T.S. Elliot in coffee spoons, but in something stronger...

 This picture is not in the gallery. It's Piero della Francesca’s Madonna del Parto (Madonna in Labour) which I saw a few years ago in a tiny museum in the village of Monterchi on the Tuscany Umbria border. That was the first time I'd seen a pregnant Madonna and now on the ground floor of the Halcyon Gallery I find another..

Piero's Madonna is drawing our attention to her miraculous pregnancy (unless she's starting labour and her calm unclenched fingers are there to comfort  thousands of women who come to pray to her). She's flanked by two triumphant angels holding back pink curtains in a jolly just-take-a-look -at-this-miracle sort of mood.

Back at the Halcyon, Mauro Perucchetti's There's Something about Mary is very different. Not a painting but a painted fibre glass statue of a  woman shrouded in a head-to-toe veil of chain mail which flows to the floor in rippling crinkles. Chain mail speaks of warfare, but also of protection. The total obliteration of her face and limbs and body beneath it reminds me that there will be some women who pass by in the street outside also shrouded in black. Around her head she wears a circlet of small steel beads. A girdle of the same material coils round her extended belly. She too is not hiding anything - she stands with her back arched so that her swollen belly is protruding, But no sign of an angel...
          There’s Something About Mary could be described as exhuberant. Perhaps she’s not waiting to be rescued.  but ready at any moment to throw off her veil and plunge into life. She is baffling and exotic and challenging. And beautiful.

           As I left, catalogue in hand, I was gently quizzed as to where my interest lay. Was it sculptor? I’m an academic, I said , and that seemed to settle the matter.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010



 I remember the moment I first saw a work by Yinka Shonibare, the artist whose giant ship-in-a-bottle-5-metres-long is now on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. Above is a snap which is probably bad enough to be included in a manual on what not to do with a camera. I'm trying to show three linked items:
  •  on top of the plinth in a glass bottle is Shonibare’s model of the flagship HMS Victory on which Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar
  •  Nelson's Column
  •  and a glimpse in the background of a Sea Cadet parade celebrating the 200th anniversary of the  Battle of Trafalgar one sunny October morning.

The worst fault is that the image fails to show the colour-drenched ship's sails. The sails inside the bottle are billowing as if in a stiff breeze and it's they who make the link with Shonibare's famous earlier work 'The Swing'.

Shonibare had achieved a dazzling critique of the painting on the left,  The Swing, by the French painter Fragonard, now in the Wallace Collection off  Oxford Street. Some thought the painting  charming or shallow or erotic - especially the view the young nobleman in the left has, and the secret priest-lover pushing the swing from behind,but it brought Fragonard  immediate success.
In Shonibare's version of the sculpture the girl is headless. And look at what she is wearing - a multicoloured cloud of skirts and petticoats and a distinct lack of satins and silks. 

Nigerian-born Shonibare comments on the sails of HMS Victory: "We think of some fabrics as African textiles; in fact these are Indonesian textiles produced by the Dutch for the African market. I'm interested therefore in their global nature, in the Indonesian, Dutch and indeed British connections, since they were also manufactured in Manchester. The sails are a metaphor for the global connections of contemporary people. This piece celebrates the legacy of Nelson – and the legacy that victory at the battle of Trafalgar left us is Britain's contact with the rest of the world, which has in turn created the dynamic, cool, funky city that London is."



BEDFORDBURY GALLERY (now closed)  26.10.10
This picture has a strong physical presence: it divides into two rectangles of colour – rough, tufty green grass below and blue sky above - both  splintered by delicate but feisty buttercups with all their associations of children’s guessing games, nosegays and posies. And the angle ensures that we are no longer in a grown up world which looks down or across the scenery while tramping across a meadow. Like children, we’re there below, among a forest of plants and tiny unseen creatures. You can almost feel an additional  invisible presence in the picture, the sun, which must be around somewhere because the buttercups are stretching towards it so vigorously.

Pictures with Presence, Looking with the eyes of the soul  is the title of the show.  Ann Bromley  offers ‘an exhibition of photographs, an invitation to inner peace’. The timing of the exhibition ‘celebrates the visit to London of Eckhart Tolle’ (author of The Power of Now).
I saw it on a cold, sunny, Sunday morning after a walk across Waterloo Bridge to the edge of Soho. Bedfordbury Gallery offers exhibition space to artists or galleries on two light, airy floors in a street wedged between Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. None of the photographs has a title. Image 27  describes the picture above because the artist fears that anything more specific might contaminate the viewer’s individual response.  Each is in a limited edition of 15.



Pen and ink on paper 21.5x21.5cm  
One of my daughters has been known to remark that I sometimes find a video of artists talking about their work more interesting than the work itself. I like the strong feeling of being allowed to go back stage. I recalled her words as I passed fairly quickly through some exquisite and perplexing work in the gallery until I reached an alcove with canvases and paintings stacked against the wall. I pressed an anonymous blue light on a machine hoping for the best. The fire alarm broke out. I had a few nasty seconds until I noticed that the workmen painting the street door of Art First Gallery were prepared for the noise and remained deeply unmoved.

       I stood watching Lewty being interviewed by Peter Larkin. Lewty’s work is idiosyncratic: he mixes pictures and calligraphy in a way which brings to mind English medieval illumination and our tradition of map making.
      ‘ You start with the desire to write, to record dreams,’ he says. But there has to be a structure. ‘You have to decide on paper size and ink and spaces and where to begin and when to end - but the rest is unfathomable’.  Lewty talks of ‘listening to what you want to do’. It strikes me that this is how some people talk about meditation.  ‘My mind is a very clouded place.. .you trust the enigma... something is given which comes with a sense of recognition, both strange and familiar’
      The video shows in real time how he writes, including the break whenever the pen lifts from the page, so you are left with a suspended part of a word, like a bird seen from far away. You have to wait patiently until there is a stab of recognition.

       What resonates with me most is when he says ‘... the words go on their own journey...I can’t decide if people read or see my work’.

Monday, 25 October 2010


Alf hadn’t considered his potential as a photographer’s model As I walked past Morley College window this photograph of my next-door-neighbour-but-three seemed to jump out of the window and shake me by the hand. Alf is a man who spent his life in the print industry. I know him as an elder at the church-on-the-corner, a family man and a spirited member of the community on our estate.  

I went into the Gallery to find out more. LIFE is the name of an exhibition mounted by Southside and designed to ‘explore identity, diversity and community’ through portraits of 20 local faces.    And what is Southside? A youth, media, music and arts project based in Waterloo which ‘gives quiet people voices’, through ‘constructive and creative opportunities’.   Why do they do that? To ‘inspire hope, motivate ambition and embrace diversity’.  
On the gallery walls were silhouettes on the theme of Defeating Our Fears  made by young artists from Southside of themselves.  It’s presented by Dulwich Picture Gallery. And the photographer? Jack Thomson lives in Waterloo and presents a weekly show on Southside Radio. He is one of their most experienced news reporters. He also produces his own music and helps other young people produce theirs. He is 15 years old.

All the portraits are inspired by the subjects’ one word description of themselves. Here are some of the words they came up with:
 peaceful/ quizzical/ lost /joker /positive /powerful /quiet /fab /thinking /confident /content /happy/shy /graceful / /confused /modest /lively /protective /inquisitive...
Which do you think Alf chose?
Which would you choose for yourself?

Saturday, 23 October 2010


Not the cleverest of pictures, I’m afraid, of this lively sculpture. In particular I’m not happy about the black menacing conjoined shadows in the foreground. You can find better on
One moment this sculpture looks as if it has been poured down from the sky, the next as though it is spurting out of the earth as a glistening volcano. It could spin and dance like a top. The outer rim of the circumference even reflects the slim shiny tip, as if the metal itself can fold and bend and curve like an acrobat. 

Kapoor has said ‘ I think disorientation - or reorientation one should say - causes one to pause and I think part of the purpose has to be to somehow slow time down, to make that moment of pause as long as possible’. 

The work reminds me of one of Kapoor’s most memorable sculptures which I saw at the Hayward Gallery in 1998. There many of his pieces were incorporated into the walls and floor of exhibition area. Suck was another stainless steel funnel (upturned) but this time its centre seemed to disappear into the floor like a gigantic whirlpool. It gave the illusion of infinite depth and you almost had to brace yourself so as not to be pulled down into its  centre.  Anish Kapoor has said that at the heart of his work is the fear of oblivion, emptiness and the depiction of the void. 

POST SCRIPT Like the Sunflower Seeds installation at Tate Britain, Kapoor’s work in Kensington Park has created controversy. Even light damage with no malicious intent, such as dogs’ paw marks or human hands  would harm the reflective surface. Now there is a round –the-clock team of security guards. The not insubstantial cast spread over 6 months, paid for by the Royal Parks Agency, a body which gets public funding and feels it has ‘a duty of care’ to ensure the works’ safety.

Friday, 22 October 2010


MAN & EVE GALLERY   2.10.10
Dig Down in Time
This picture is here under false pretences. It’s a postcard I’ve had for years and as I couldn’t take a photo in Man&Eve Gallery it’s standing in for Susan Hiller’s work, Dedicated to the Unknown Artists; Flying Spray, Feathery Foam.

Man&Eve  is an independent gallery which moved from a Grade II listed town house in Kennington to the former Lambeth Sea Cadets Drill Hall, an early 20C building in a quiet street not far from the Oval. Hiller's works are  in the Drill Hall itself, as well as on a very rickety stairwell (only for the stout-hearted), and in the yard outside.

Dedicated to the Unknown Artists... (seen here at Tate Britain) has been described as ‘an excavation of the overlooked, ignored, or rejected aspects of our shared cultural production’.  The display consists of framed anonymous postcards of views of rough weather on the English coast, the work of uncredited artists. In the centre is a typed chart in which she records and classifies visual differences between them - photo or painting, colour or mono, the frame margin, sea with shore, sea with bridge, with ship, coast, pier and prom... Together they challenge us to take a radical look at how we decide what is or is not worth preserving. After seeing the work I went home and classified the 100 or so postcards sent to my god mother over seven decades, which she had chosen to stick on her lounge wall with Blu Tac. Not a stormy sea among them as it happens – but then she did live in Lowestoft, the most easterly point of England, and she had probably seen enough of them.

I first saw Hiller’s work in 2000 at the Tate Britain's Intelligence exhibition. She’d collected from all over the world accounts of sightings or meetings with UFOs and aliens. Hundreds of tiny speakers suspended from the ceiling murmured in their original language and you could choose to move around, isolating one voice, or listen to the cacophony. A lone hushed voice in a crowded room felt a privilege, as someone narrated an event of great importance to them: listening to the voices together made it sound like an intergalactic convention. Trained as an anthropologist, she looks at ‘mass culture’: the romantic, the sublime, the comic, the saucy, the marginal and the irrational, How do cultures construct 'reality'. She talks of ‘investigations into the 'unconscious' of our culture’.

Her High Seas pc collections led to her being called ‘wild’ because  she brought Pop Art into Conceptualism.This is how Hiller herself puts it:

I’m interested in things that are outside or beyond recognition, whether that means cultural invisibility or has to do with the notion of what a person is. I see this as an archaeological investigation, uncovering something to make a different sense of it.

Man&Eve gallery? Since 2014, founding director Lucy Newman Cleeve has continued her curatorial practice as Man&Eve Projects, working with an evolving group of artists in a range of public and commercial settings

Wednesday, 20 October 2010



If I have a zoom function on my camera I haven’t found it yet, so this picture doesn’t truly represent the resounding presence of Anish Kapoor's Sky Mirror. It’s a stainless steel disc near the bank of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens. and faithfully reflects back what is happening to the sky, moment by moment, having first tinted it red. The colour brushes across the surface of the water too.
The shore opposite is like a green frill with a pattern of tiny deckchairs, open and welcoming, on the left, and tiny model yachts sailing in the breeze on the right. Ducks of various shapes and sizes swim past ignoring the intrusion, except when the base, just under water, comes in handy as something to stand on to do a spot of preening.
From time to time my godmother used to say to me when I was small, ‘Just look at that sky’ or ’....that sunset’.'If it was a painting' she would say, 'or if it only happened once a year, people would pay the earth to see it, but now they’re not even looking.’  

I wish she was still alive so that we could enjoy Sky Mirror together.

Monday, 18 October 2010



There are artists who surprise you.
There are artists who are illusionists. They tip your mind upside down and shake out your preconceptions.
There are also artists who take everyday materials and turn them into something ravishingly beautiful.
Anish Kapoor does all of that.

I first saw his work in 1998 at the Hayward Gallery and recall lying on the floor looking up at a rich red cavity suspended from the ceiling. At the Edge of the World II is 8 metres in diameter and saturated in a deep red pigment.  Am I looking up at a dome, with echoes of a religious building? Does the title hint at a  spiritual experience? And is that the colour of our first resting place, a woman’s womb? I still recall the meditative, calm, contained sensation it induced - that is,  after I’d got over the embarrassment of lying down in a gallery.  (I was not the only one).

Fast forward to a bright sunny afternoon walk in the park. Here is one of Kapoor’s four mirror sculptures in Kensington Gardens. All the people in the picture - including the photographer - are behind you (except for that hand on the right) What you see are their reflections, including that of the photographer. Under a sky the Simpsons would be proud of, Kapoor's burnished stainless steel arc has whisked a handful of strollers-in-the-park away into perpetual summer. They/we appear to be set apart, alive in another space, a community of people who have never met.

Ambling through the web a year or so later, I found most of this blog copied word for word. As well as seeing my photograph reproduced in an international architectural magazine. 
All without credits... but what's not to like about sharing? And I like the idea of a moneyless economy.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


 TATE MODERN 16.10.10


I’ve just heard that this installation is to be out of bounds because of health and safety fears. All that effort, those natural resources, the skills, the imagination which needed to come together to make this wonderful experience have been swept away.  From now on we’ll only have permission to look at it from the floor above where, as Rachel Campbell-Thompson the Times Art Critic commented, it will be as interesting as looking at a car park.

Only a few days ago I was queuing with about a hundred people outside Tate Modern. Opening day for the exhibition and only one minute to go... The crowd  surged in – Mohican hair cuts, trilbies, curly black top knots and all – and  some ran down the slope in the Turbine Hall for  sheer joy - or impatience? To my surprise  most turned left to buy tickets for the Gaugin exhibition so I became the third member of the public to tread on the precious sunflower seeds.

Precious they are – and beautiful - each one hand-crafted with a hand-painted striped husk. One hundred million of them. It makes me rethink my stock response to the label ‘Made in China’. Porcelain is one of China’s most prized exports and associated with what is beautiful and expensive, yet here we are casually walking on it.  I kneel down and pick up a handful - I count twenty seeds, each unique. These look edible enough too and I remember hearing that sharing sunflower seeds created a space for pleasure, friendship and kindness when China was experiencing times of poverty, repression and uncertainty.

Ten minutes later and the Hall has been transformed into a beach. We walk slowly and noisily as if on one of Suffolk’s shingle shores. People settle down in clumps taking ‘holiday’ snaps. One young woman lies on her back, star shaped, breathing ‘Fantastic!’ Others sit solemnly close to the wall gazing out across the Hall as if surveying the sea.

I wander across to watch Weiwei’s  short video which shows the people and town  of Jingdezhen where the seeds were made, a town which has been making porcelain for over 1,000 years.  1,600 people worked on the project for two and a half years. We meet  an enthusiastic young girl posing on her newly-bought motor bike and families where women found part time homework fitted in well with home responsibilities.  Al says that the past couple of years will become a myth in the history of the town.  Asked why he made Sunflower Seeds he said
 ‘From a very young age I started to sense that an individual has to set an example in society. Your own acts and behaviour tell the world who you are and at the same time what kind of society you think it should be.’

After the video  I wander back.  I want a souvenir. Should I slip a seed into my pocket? It wouldn’t be missed and no one would know. But I can’t steal. I give myself a get-out clause. This need not be my final decision – I’m bound to come back later bringing friends and family... I do no forsee that never again am i allowed to touch a seed.
AFTER THOUGHT:   The Millennium Bridge spans the Thames directly opposite Tate Modern. On the morning that the bridge opened   I went across on a charity walk. It swayed from side to side and we began to stagger like drunkards.  I was terrified that it would snap. That bridge was closed shortly afterwards on safety grounds, real or imagined. It was modified, perhaps to reassure the public, and now lives happily ever after.  But we shall never experienice 'Sunflower Seeds' again.

Thursday, 14 October 2010



Borough Tube Station

On the way home from Tate Modern I pass Borough Tube Station, with its grid of 60 portraits of staff drawn at work or in scraps of time off during their shift. This photo shows a handful, with a pair of lamp post shadows looking as if they’re interrogating the subjects. Goodwin drew them in different work places:  train operator’s cabs, signalling towers, management offices, station control rooms, ticket offices and gates. The caption under each one records the time taken to make each portrait (counted in seconds) next to the number of years the member of staff has worked on the Jubilee line.

There’s more to on to and you open a magic door.  Goodwin combines drawing with sound, photography and video.  You can tune into 60 brief speeded up films, one for each person, shot as the portrait was being drawn, with edited fragments of the conversation between artist and sitter. There’s the story of a stone-throwing lad taken after the court case to the depot where someone suggests looking into an apprenticeship; a rueful reflection on what might have been in the light of his sons’ success, intermingled with pride in his work; a moving tale of care and compassion when a traveller has a heart attack on an escalator.
The investment of time is an underlying theme. These lively warm, humane, informative,  multi-layered portraits contrast with what constitutes a ‘proper’ portrait to hang in a gallery or stately home, where the medium is lasting, when sittings take weeks, months, even years and the subject has the advantage of choosing location, regalia, furnishings, costume, make up -  and artist. 
Goodwin’s LINEAR is different, evoking a wonderfully powerful sense of the individuals and the collective in whom we place our lives every time we go down, down into the underground. 

When I get home the papers are full of reports from the inquest into the 7.7.2005 terrorist attack on London underground (and a bus), speaking of acts of kindness and heroism shown by rescuers, survivors and members of the public alike.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010



This entry was writen on 12/10/10 and was accurate at the time. Since then Baghdad has toured  many locations, and the IWM has had a major refurbishment. It's back there now, but not in the same place.

One path to the entrance of the Imperial War Museum runs between guns'n roses: exquisite Peace roses still in bloom in the gardens in October, and two gigantic British guns which between them clocked up over 50 years’ service on battleships in the last century. 
On through the glass doors and into the main atrium which is like a giant’s collection of curiosities. Some of the most deadly military weapons of the past 100 years crowd in on you. Here’s a French Field Gun from WW1; there’s a Jagdpanther (Hunting Panther), once the most efficient tank destroyer in the world, and beside it a German Schwerer (Heavy Gustav) Shell with a range of 23 miles. A Sopwith Camel aeroplane hangs like a trapped moth from the ceiling beside a Spitfire. There’s even a dinky little dinghy which sailed across the Channel on D day and came back with precious cargo of real people’s lives.
But now among the greys and blacks and browns a new colour stands out, a feisty glowing rust. It’s Jeremy Deller’s car, well, not his exactly, and no longer a car, but  a compressed tangle of twisted metal he salvaged from a suicide attack on the historic Al-Mutanabbi street book market. Al-Mutanabbi, who lived in the 10C, is said by some to be the greatest Arab poet, and the attack was interpreted as war on culture as well as human beings. There are eye witness accounts of pieces of flesh and  pages of books flying through the air. Thirty-eight people were killed - including the five sons of a cafe owner -  and over 100 were wounded. At the beginning of the 20th century, 10% of all casualties in conflict were civilians; in 2010 that figure is 90%. No one has ever claimed responsibility
But is it art? I first saw Deller’s work in 2010 when he created a stir at the Intelligence exhibition at Tate Britain. Later he won the Turner Prize. He has a social anthropologist’s knack of questioning our taken-for-granted assumptions and getting us to look at what genuinely moves us. He does it not by displaying the exotic or perfect, but by setting out the low key, the unexpected, the incongruous.
Which is why it’s in the Imperial War Museum.  The exhibits are mostly objects which waged war on someone or something in the past. But the car is in a sense a present-tense victim. ‘It’s unusual,’ Dellar says, ‘to see anything from the conflict in Iraq "in life", so I was interested in being able to show this car to the public...’ It’s already toured New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Now it’s a major new acquisition, incontrovertible evidence of the impact of modern war on civilians. The IWM hopes it will ‘encourage visitors to consider not just this car, but all our exhibits, in a new light.’ 


Monday, 11 October 2010


SAATCHI GALLERY, London  11.10.10

Oil on canvas     150x239cm 
 The upper 4/5th  of this painting is a black, black night into which melts a road and its pavement. A white fence, geometrically perfect, skips along from the left. On the right, glass panes of shop windows stare out at the viewer, unseeing. Anderson's painting leaves us free to penetrate the velvety sky, to listen to the stillness and the silence, to sense the dampness of the wet asphalt. 

 It reminds me of Susie Hamilton’s night-time cityscapes, empty of humans, which I first saw in the 1980s and still covet. She says ‘I like to show the legible and familiar morphing into mysteriousness or ambiguity’

Black Street also reminds me of The Wapping Project’s show Death Drive, 2009, a series of large photographs, beautifully lit, shown in a blacked-out room. They were of empty roads too, each of which had been the location of the death of a celebrity including Marc Bolan, Jayne Mansfield, James Dean and Princess Diana.

  In 2009 I saw a cluster of Anderson’s work - ‘Peter’s Series’ – at Art Now, Tate Britain.  It was set in a 1950s Britain which the artist, born in 1965, could never have known. He painted again and again a small sparse room in some one’s house, which had been set up as a barbershop by newly arrived immigrants (a common practice among first-wave Afro-Caribbeans, according to Anderson). 

 Above is Afrosheen 2009, full of  textures and shapes. At first glance it is reassuringly familiar- nostalgic even. But look again and see its ambiguity. The clutter can shift into an abstract work of red and blue and black blocks, with squares of slate. Clippings and papers appear to float. At the bottom of the painting the floor begins to disappear. At the top, is that an expanse of airy blue sky?

Someone called the work part of ‘a meditative suite of paintings’. Perhaps  'Anderson’s painting hovers between landscape and abstraction?



NEWSPEAK: British Art Now
       A woman, out of camera shot, is on her knees pondering a crumpled quilt which appears to have been carelessly thrown on the floor. The squares, all the same size, are in sober  terra cottas, browns and black, mixed up with juicy lemon and olive, jade and turquoise. Aubusson tapestries and carpets have been famous since the arrival of weavers from Flanders, who took refuge there around 1580.
But work with fabrics and threads, being rated ‘craft’, has often been shunned by curators. In the 1930s tapestry made something of a comeback when artists such as Cocteau, Dufy, Dali, Braque, Calder and Picasso were invited to Aubusson to express themselves through the medium of wool. 

Now here is Rupert Norfolk taking up this tradition with a magnificent (woolly) trompe l’oeil. No wonder the woman on her knees is so preoccupied. Is she feeling cynical about this work of art – or celebrating it? What you discover close to is that some of the folds and creases are real but others are illusions, woven into to the fabric, teasing the eye. Anyone who cannot bear a ruffled tablecloth or a wrinkled sheet should not come too near. You might pull and stretch this object forever without being appeased. But open you mind to Pixelweave and you may find it jumps and stutters and flows and slows down and races away.

Looking for some more of Rupert Norfolk’s work I catch sight of something and think - oh no, not a bit of dry limestone wall across the gallery floor. The Tate gave us bricks in stately rows and lines years ago, and crocks appeared across Tate Modern Turbine Hall more recently. What’s new? Come closer and here is a remarkable thing : Wall 2006.  You’ve seen stones as nature in the raw, and you seen stones which have been carved and coaxed into delicious shapes to lock together, making a temple or an arch or a god. But here are 125 limestone rocks which are neither: one side appears before us with its millions-of-years-old unique hollows and protrusions and imperfections - but the other side is a symmetrical, meticulous copy of the first side, hand carved and making the stone  ‘one flesh’, like a Siamese twin. Norfolk’s artifice - discreet, understated – is another gentle reminder of how what we perceive to be reality is culturally generated. 

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


SAATCHI GALLERY, London 6.10.10 


It’s my first visit to the Kings Road Saatchi Gallery.  I’m heartened by a floor-to-sky banner saying Admission Free, because the size and beauty of the building, plus its improbably glamorous setting and the carpet tracking the way between stately pillars suggest a stately home where outsiders know their place. I notice too that passers-by have more than their fair share of blonde beauty, young boys with cute caps and satchels, and old ladies with perfect cheek bones and hair pinned up with silver-tipped chopsticks.

The first surprise at the Reception Desk is a catalogue I can buy for £1.50. Art catalogues, like engagement rings, are often showy and expensive. Ideally you need to be certain of what you are doing before you get out the credit card, which is difficult when you don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for.  What if I don’t like the exhibition? For £1.50 I can take a risk.  It turns out to be perfect, with a b/w picture of each exhibit, strong enough to trigger a memory afterwards. I’m reminded of what Leonarda da Vinci said of the eye:  ‘Who would believe that so small a space could contain the images of all the universe?’ At the back of the catalogue are tiny pictures of each artist together with the briefest of biographies, which you don’t need, but are deeply satisfying to the curious.

     The first gallery is capacious, containing just three installations, two of which are suspended from the ceiling. NOTHING IS A MUST is a huge, open bag made of chalked sugar paper, ribbon, lipstick and glitter hairspray: it gapes open, flaccid, cheerful and playful. The title has sharp elbows which remind me that there are very good reasons why we should play, explore and create (even a blog) for no reason at all.
  The catalogue photograph shows it in its new-made glory but now there are holes and tears which sag and jag. What’s probably the worst damage is hidden beneath rough paper patches. A woman sketching gives each scar loving attention. 
Nearby is another Karla Black work. Imagine plucking a cloud from the sky and breathing on it until it turns into a pale mellow sultry chalky tangerine colour. That’s how beautiful PLEASER is. It’s made of cellophane, paint, sellotape and thread. Cellophane is a transparent wrapping film first made from wood pulp (cellulose) by Jacques Brandenberger , a Swiss chemist, just over a hundred years ago. I grew up handling cellophane-wrapped Christmas presents which were always scrunchy and full of promise. Cellophane crackles although it has a texture as smooth as glass and is as limpid as water. Present day clingfilm is a bitter disappointment: it has all the ambiguity and stickiness of treacle but is neither sweet nor luminous. 
You can walk round these large gentle art works because they’re in a fit-for-purpose huge gallery. The walls are cream, not the dead margarine colour I grew up with, but with a well-bred nourishing warmth.  It strikes me that the real star is the space itself, inside and out.  You don’t get much of that in central London: rooms and gardens tend to be small, streets and shops, buses and tubes, pavements and roads are crowded. Here you are invited by large elegant windows to pause and admire pleasing terraces of Georgian houses and calm rows of primary school children in identical russet and cream uniform sitting cross-legged on the greenest of green lawns.   (Museum of Modern Art. Ireland)