Tuesday, 24 May 2011


I've walked to 79 works of art to make 79 blogs in the past 9 months. In fact there have been rather more visits then blogs, because sometimes I judged that the art wasn't worth it or the gallery was closed or the exhibition had just ended or I couldn't get an image.

And now for the next couple of weeks (Icelandic volcanic ash allowing) there'll be no more blogging as I'll be on the remote Greek island of Symi....

Looking back to my first entries I realise how indebted I am to those who run our wonderful free national galleries: in particular the staff at the National Portrait Gallery, the Imperial War Museum and both Tates. If they had been unfriendly I would probably not have continued. They thought it not at  all odd to take time to send me images and to help me with the rules of copyright and attribution. What's more, I found I was allowed to take pictures of their permanent exhibitions. That - plus the lucious outdoor sculptures of  Kapoor - propelled me into buying my first camera.

It hasn't been all plain sailing. Sometimes going to a commercial gallery needs courage.  You may need to search for it in the dark and the rain on a late winter afternoon. It's a rule that they don't signal where they are - just a discreet sign way above eye level or an inconspicuous plaque on the wall. Then you have to fathom out the electronic entry system, or there may be an unexpected doorman who sweeps you inside. The first thing you discover is that the place is empty, except for an attractive young person (usually a woman) who is clearly paid to pretend you are not there.You pick up a press release and perhaps a price list on her desk and she doesn't bat an eyelid. I suppose it's called discretion. If you ask her a question she won't know the answer but is likely to know someone who does and gives you an email address. If you mail, you may get a helpful answer or you may never hear another word or you may be added to their list of guests at the nexr private viewing. Her main job is to press the right switch to let you out as you walk towards the door.

Sometimes I contact the artist direct. It's exciting to be corresponding with someone across the world who's really pleased to be featured. Nothing is predictable. I found some watercolours in an otherwise empty shop window which is part of a medical centre. I didn't think they were exceptional but it was an interesting use of space for art so I contacted the artist whose details were on a card in the window. No response, yet he was clearly wanting to sell. I also saw a seascape at the Mall Gallery which, judging by the price, was by a relatively unknown artist. I loved the picture and really really wanted to include it. I think I emailed three times but  heard nothing. I still mourn the painting.

Sometimes it's like visiting old friends, work by people I have admired for years, maybe read their books, heard them lecture or joined in a seminar.  It's a limitation to have to exclude work you have to pay to see. There's a current exhibition by Tracey Emin I'd love to include. Normally I'd like to include the short list for the Turner prize, which this year the lucky people of Gateshead will see. But I'm encouraged that I must have recognised a good thing when I saw it : Nothing is a Must by Carla Black, (my sixth blog) an artist unknown to me when I  visited the Saatchi gallery. is there in the list with a chance of the prize..

That reminds me - hats off to the Saatchi gallery! It produces for £1.50 a b/w catalogue of each exhibition featuring a small photo of each work, with accompanying text and an alphabetical list of artists at the back, each with a small biog. It's perfect. All other art catalogues I've met are beautiful glossy treasures, large enough to be flaunted on a coffee table or hurled to the ground as a door stop. And very expensive.

Lastly, the current edition of THE WEEK has a section on its Health & Science page about the thrill of art appreciation. MRI scans show that when a sample of people looked at what they considered to be the most beautiful of 30 paintings, the part of the brain associated with pleasure increased by as much as 10%, which is the equivalent of the response evoked by looking at a loved one.. The sample chosen were selected because they had little knowledge of art and so were less liable to be influenced by the latest trends.

Just off to hear the latest forecast of where all that Icelandic ash is heading....

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