St Abb's National Reserve

St Abb's National Reserve
View from my office

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Culture Vulture

I've had two lovely trip out, this week, and feel I have recharged some batteries in the process. On Monday I went to Edinburgh, mainly to look at The Gladstone Gallery, off The Royal Mile, (where I'm sharing an exhibition in November), but there was an opportunity to see some art, so my friend and I went to The Gallery of Modern Art on Belford Road.
I can be left feeling angry and dim, in the presence of installation work; I have to work to turn round this idea and blame the artist for not communicating well enough. The justifications I have attempted to read get up my nose. Maybe I begrudge the artist their generous fees, maybe I am not clever enough, but I think public art should speak to the public, bridging a gap of understanding; an artist as communicator, as medium. Hirst's work smacks of 'clever' to me, that ideas that were considered a joke, in the pub, have been unwittingly funded, on behalf of the public when a sketchbook and maquettes would have sufficed. Perhaps his BIG IDEA is to channel money from the witless and opportunist capitalist? Ha, ha! what a joke! See them all queuing up to buy it! I think the work is made to serve his purposes, only, though and I worked my way through 3 rooms from sheep to pill boxes fairly quickly. I do love the stature he made for last year's RA show, but I much prefer the plasticised bodies Gunther Von Hagens prepared and displayed, as they (for me) celebrate and wonder at the incredible machine which is the human body. Damien Hirst seems to say 'Look! I'm not scared, here's a corpse, euugh!' Perhaps someone with real knowledge will sidle up to me, one day, and explain Damien Hirst's work to me, an I can flush with embarassment, then look sidelong at all the poor twits who bang on about how the amount of money public galleries are willing to spend on his work.
I loved Vija Celmins' charcoal drawings of the night sky and sea woodcuts. I understand aesthetic, I appreciate good drawing, methods of production and even some narrative, you see. I'm on safe ground and can leave aside the feeling I'm being laughed at, fooled, taken for a ride. There was a room of surrealist work which led me to a poet, whose work had been illustrated by- Man Ray, I believe; he is predominantly known for photography and sculpture. The poems, by Eluard, sent me, my dears; I loved them, and the fact I happened upon them by way of an exhibition of work that did not touch me; I appreciate, but feel nothing for surrealist works and I think it's okay to say that. I'm a student of art history, see the big picture, but it don't float my boat, okay? Anyhoo, after a dreamy poetic trip in a special, temperature-controlled room (for the reader, not the pages, I have no doubt!) I was happy enough to perambulate through the rest of the building, coming to land in front of 'Pink Roses, Chinese Vase' by S.J. Peploe. I do love the Scottish Colourists for the brushwork, the vibrancy, confidence and sense of their era. Peploe's image wasn't doing anything to change the world or make a conscience-changing statement, but, for me, sang out in its beauty and lit lamps in my brain. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe beauty is an under-appreciated quality in modern art-making; appreciation of nature of re-awakening importance.
Across at the Dean Gallery, paintings on long rolls of paper by Greg Creek were divine (Darling)- meandering, impulsive, images randomly placed and precisely executed; a joy to see. I didn't understand the purpose to them, but the aesthetic and quality of drawing let me off the hook. I'm afraid I had 'gallery eyeball' by then and had to go lie in a darkened room and sip green tea, so cannot finish my description of the exhibits.
Yesterday, I headed to Cragside with another friend, my son and his friend. I went in search of some distantly-remembered face; a Millais, perhaps, or Rossetti? A pale Pre-Raphaelite portrait that had stared wistfully over my head as I wandered around the house as a student, all those years ago. I found the many Wm Morris wall papers, sighed at the stained-glass, but could only see chubby children and kittens, sorrowful dogs and slaughtered stags on the wall (not-to-mention family portraits and landscapes). I'm not making any judgements, I'm just curious as to where my mysterious lady went? Was she just on holiday, from the Laing? Is she loaned out, or sold? Was I dreaming? It was a very enjoyable visit, all-in-all and whoever put the children's quiz together, clearly has a sense of humour!

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