on some late summery art in london town, miro, emin, twombly/ poussin/ dean, and cage

Edwin Parker by Tacita Dean 2011

My little friend and comrade has enabled me [firmly embedded in London for the summer] to catch up on some exhibitions missed, ones I might not get to otherwise and other big-ticketish shows; Miro at Tate Modern [to Sept 11], Emin at the Hayward [now ended], Twombly and the other guy at Dulwich [to Sept 25], Cage back at the Haywood [to Sept 18], etc.

To have so full a show of Miro in London is a privilege and I was beginning to think I’d miss it, despite looking forward to it for a year, from sheer lack of time. I’ll have to return to have anything art critical to say I think because what struck me most strongly was my familiarity with quite a lot of the work present. This makes an argument of sorts for block-buster shows, which I went to more humbly as a much younger person, in London, New York etc. Here, I kept finding that iconic Miro’s are not from the Tate’s permanent collection as I’d begun to assume but seen elsewhere before I was keeping score [but did put myself in front of lots of art around the world] …

There is a classic Miro [sardine] in the very first room and so it goes. The ‘surrealism phase’ is well embedded here in a language Miro formed early and which remains consistent in the work. All those red caps of Catalan peasants were a pleasure to see, for example. The greatest pleasure was a selection of The Constellations paintings, suddenly a condensation of all that is familiarly Miro happens. These are fierce, beautiful, and exceptionally potent works.

Two rooms of paired triptychs are must-see elements here, the first being the more pared and clearly an application of Miro to a New York horizon and ultimately more successful than the fussier of the second pair. The single canvas that gave me the most pleasure was his Mai 68 which is an explosion of energy, freedoms, and sheer animal joys all condensed into a loose late canvas; so consistent with his work, so freed up from most of its habits.

Lastly comes a room with a very elegant signing off of pieces, including a kind of codex of his symbolic forms, another great, fussy but successful triptych and a very strong final work. If you’re in London it’s simple; go and see this show. Make it your first or your last Miro, but make it… before September 11 when it closes!

Then there is Tracey at the Haywood. This is a hard one for me. Some of you know why, others should not think I’m being snide about the artist. One thing I’ve noticed lately is that younger, more cerebral International artists passing through London during the show all wanted to see it. They include artists whose work could not be more different in its aims and achievements, so it’s struck me as very puzzling. I always, as Slavoj Zizek puts it, assume the other person might be right because I want to get it right myself. It requires hoovering up all views, and beating the hell out of yourself before articulating a view which will, however, stand up…

One thing to say is that I’m happy that an old friend has young, smart artists keen to see her work. Whether they want to see more afterwards…

So I went, with my young ally, for my young ally, knowing also that they should see the show. I’ve not seen much of Tracey’s work, other than what is on my own walls, for many years. The last WC show I saw was disturbingly, disproportionately poor. The arc had plainly been cut! I went to a small show which played out early ideas to very dilute effect; arc now completely commodified and fantastically dilute. I settled for long distance relationships with the Venice incarnation; knowing how little interest the paintings hold, understanding why the move into sculptural forms was necessary, finding them slightly desperate and completely uninteresting.

The Haywood exhibition is a very faithful and generous representation of the work. It is, objective-speaking, a very good show and it closes on August 29th…

In brief; I’m pleased to see a wall of the banner-blankets; but it’s clear from their range that the first of them is the best. Hotel International ‘contains’ all the rest, which riff on the theme to ever diminishing effect with one or two exceptions. It was the sight of that first blanket that I remember celebrating -arguing the importance of it and believe me it took argumentation- on its first appearance in 1993. Then, since that drew me further in to intimate relationships with artist and work, the next few cherished years are extremely familiar. This is a moment of truth, there won’t be another moment to maximise sentimental recall [and a bit of critical perspective] after so many years.

Unfortunately, the films suffer very badly. I did find the first of them almost watchable but only because Tracey looks so sweet in it. I remember the moment very well, and I know that I’m enjoying it for what it meant to the person in it, not for anything else. This is for very personal reasons but in some ways that summarises the whole oeuvre doesn’t it? Ironically, the documentary film retracing a tougher Tracey’s steps through abortion has grown in the interim into a very strong articulation of voices unheard, things not said and her own pain and strengths. Abortion can’t ever be banal, despite the UK stats, but it generates banalities and one-liners here that are also acute even profound [though sight of my loyal amigo reminds me of how ‘young’ this all is. How stuck, ironically]; TE at her best and quintessence…

The neons, well, that’s too many words used already.

There is a large room of mostly earlier, very intimate, part-memorabilia, ‘Museum -era’ vitrines, along with other body effusions and intimacies; death mask through used ‘tampons’. I pop up by name in a piece in this room and I’m moved one more time by that dated-but-true army of friends [and recalled how when first exhibited, JSK and I were stuck in the land of double-barrels; India. No more!]. There is a first public commission, for the British Museum, represented here by two of a series of 10 prints, from which Tracey binned a 12th and later gave me the never-exhibited 1st. There is a vitrine of things addressed mostly to Tank Commander GH of which I have a comparable amount secreted away somewhere. Etc. These make me happy to see, invitations, scrawled envelopes, sweet cards, gifts, stuff.

It reminds me how hard Tracey worked to find a way, mainly, to make it work for her and certainly I don’t begrudge her that even if it does involve finding a way to market yourself successfully and it’s arguable how much more than that it involves. Tracey being adept as saying both fuckitalliwantisnow and it’sokayformetobeinmuseumsthatexcludeme… which is how you end up lobbying Tory governments for tax cuts obviously.

On the day I visit the audience is a classic Emin Audience; woundingly uncritical, everyone present is a potential or wannabe Emin, and that includes ones older than the artist who know a truth or two. They all represent the limits of the work though, which is about not being ignored, insisting on a right to say something, be there, be noticed, be taken seriously for an uncompromised version of self. Kinda. Whatever. It is an end achieved here, but to what effect?

Somewhere in the late mid-Nineties the work falls off into dreary slash lucrative repetition as the brand takes over completely; I’mnotembarrassedbysuccess. It’s an almost endless series of the same-old same-old [ifyouneedthistoshakeyouupthenyouprobablydo But! That was the otherwise unimpeachable Kathy Acker’s Spice Girls rationale and I never bought it!] until the last room, which contains the most recent work.

At last here is something. The first work has the inventiveness of need; someone in some room making something out of nothing and making it well. Here in the last room a trace of that spirit returns. Here are some sculptural pieces made from nicely prepared ‘rough’ timber with little additions to them. These are not world changing but they’re something. Something after a vast amount of nearly nothing. Something from nothing.

This room represents a new page and proof finally that Tracey can do something else, invest what she’s done and learnt in taking a risk again. In making things up; inventing! The pieces have a humility about them as well as a propertied slickness. There are muted colours; goodforallinteriors, all the sophistications of great comfort but yet they also have about them the elemental gesture of surprise. So a piece with some cut glass placed in a little divot in the top is great to see.

Then the walls have two or three new blankets. At last! A shift, a development, an attempt to break out of a lucrative mould. I don’t think these are great [versus that first blanket -Hotel International- which absolutely is] but what is great is that there is an attempt to develop, here embroidered lines and colour blocks make for a potential way ahead. The piece in one corner of little spiralling steps under a scratched neon line is as good as anything else in the show. What a relief, what a joy, how happy I am to feel this way about an old friend and their work.

So to Dulwich Picture Gallery to catch the small show of Cy Twombly with Nicolas Poussin (exhibition guide pdf) and to see Tacita Dean’s film Edwin Parker based on Twombly, a show that ends on September 25. This is also quite a lot to do with the cycle ride there with my young accomplice, on a day that promises rain and which will end, literally, in a forest with pockets full of acorns and clearings full of bats.

Dulwich is the closest of the Home Counties to those of us who live in central London. It comes as a shock. The Gallery incarnates that alienation; set in parks within parks with Walnut trees and perfect lawns. Great, actually. The place displays those nice flaws and nervy manners of those places beyond the often over-designed and worn smoothness of central London too. Great.

Bacchanalia [5 days in November] Cy Twombly 1977

This is a tightly curated somewhat academic show which achieves the objective of drawing parallels between the two artist’s work. Not visual obviously but inspirational and real enough as any maker will confirm. However, while they do add gravitas to Twombly [whom I didn’t realise needed any help in that respect?] by drawing attention to the shared Classical sources and obsessions, even showing one Poussin drawing that is reproduced and attached to one of Twombly’s canvases, the results are not entirely happy. So, ok, Twombly is a serious artist like all traditional artists and here is the proof, if anyone -who is, let’s say it, qualified by the only means that counts; having spent significant amounts of time looking at visual art of all kinds-doubted it.

So, to those doubters, the show makes the point that apparent squiggle and concentration of line and raining paint and so on has a serious purpose, which if you admire Poussin, as is so easy to do, you can transfer some of that to Twombly which might seem harder. But the effect is not to radicalise Poussin but to traditionalise Twombly. It’s as if the idea is that the tradition clawed him back, after those 1950s Basquiat-like glory of a series of works, came right in the end because instead of quoting, appropriating, remaking, drawings, scratchily into the awkward urban present, the washes of paint and scrawled quotation puts Twombly back in to classicism. So it’s okay then.

It’s a nice show, a nice little selection of works, which build to the grand foursome which you will have seen in Tate Modern most recently on permanent display. If you’ve not seen those, then get on your bike and head to Dulwich before it closes on the 25th.

Edwin Parker [Himself] Tacita Dean 2011

So to the film [the rest of the collection is highlighted for me with a Velasquez, and a room full of more Poussin’s] which I was fascinated to see but not for the first time leaves me frustrated and mildly irritated. Why am I being asked to watch this by its maker? It’s made up of overtly modest glimpses at the Very Great CT and bits of his Virginia studio, friends and their lunch. There is a clumsy dawn and dusk edit of the material. The nicest bit is a hard focus on a small bull-clip ‘lost’ on the corner of one of CT’s sculpture, which also seems to show evidence of having had something spilt on it. Indeed, the film enjoys showing how these venerated sculptures [I’m a fan] are just furniture in the studio, useful for propping up today’s post etc.

Perhaps TD makes a living by way of these films which subsidise her ‘work’ as such? She might, and I hope she doesn’t, make much play about the lack of distinction across her spectrum of works, but there’s a problem with that because if I’m invited to view this as film then it’s very ordinary. If I’ve asked to view it as art then it’s even more ordinary. If it’s a fascinating blur of the two [WOW!!], or not-even a blur, then it’s an indulgence of very average skills/ideas. Indeed it becomes cynical and mildly exploitative. I watched it through 3 times, while no-one else sat for more than a couple of minutes. That does say more about them than the film, but then again I remember being the only person that sat through 3-screened Chelsea Girls in a paying ICA audience once too… [which puts things in perspective too!]

TD’s film seems made for future recovery of the kind of obscure hobbyist that we have spent quite a bit of recent decades mining, restoring, recovering, no? But this is Establishment art, it’s time is now, the future will be different to western postmodernity! What there is to discover is far less than, say, the recent winner of the Jarman Award [Luke Fowler], slight but more nuanced as that work is… Jeeps! there are more visually challenging pop videos out there…

One last nice surprise is the short showing of the Hayward’s triumphant traveling show of John Cage which is upstairs in the Haywood project space but only until September 18.

This was not planned originally and suggests the show has been the success it deserves to have been. It’s been squeezed in, hung freshly once again and looks just great here. It’s on for barely a month and now that it’s in the centre of London you’ve got no excuse for not seeing it since it’s also free. You can also go along with no celebrity or academic trumpets blowing to entice you. You can go literally by chance, whenever you happen to have a few minutes spare or are passing one way or other…

Funnily enough and entirely against its maker’s intent; this could and I suggest should be a permanent installation here; proof that inventiveness is enough, sometimes is all, anyway that it is. If that sounds nuts, then I’d point out that the last permanent installation suggestion I made [CWE] has led directly to a very major installation commission for a certain yet-to-be-built Guggenheim!

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