top of page

Gallery Visits

Updated: May 22, 2019

Otto Dix, Portrait of Bruno Alexander Roscher, oil on panel, 1915

Magic realism: Art in Weimar Germany 1919-33 at Tate Modern

Well, show me the way To the next whisky bar Oh, don't ask why Oh, don't ask why

Show me the way To the next whisky bar Oh, don't ask why Oh, don't ask why

For if we don't find The next whisky bar I tell you we must die I tell you we must die

Alabama song or Whiskey bar by Berthold Brecht/Kurt Wiel evokes the age of the New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit)-a desperate search for oblivion and escape at a time of appalling social tension and collapse. Sounds familiar.

I was raised in a society wracked with racial tension and where political violence was hidden but never far away. As a young figurative painter in the late 70’s, artists like Christian Shad, George Groz and Otto Dix who were committed to depicting the social and political realities of the Weimar republic, seemed searingly relevant.

Speaking in 1965, the art historian G.F. Hartlaub, described the movement as ‘new realism bearing a socialist flavour’ Dix was a realist when Modernism seemed the only viable response. From the early 1920s, he devoted himself to the study of old master painting techniques, using a layering effect, produced first with egg tempera and, later, finished with oil. He stated, “We want to see things completely naked, clear, almost without art. I invented the New Objectivity.

I was also struck by the volumes of Wiemar photography on display and the obvious connection between the painters and photographers. Photography critic Wilhelm Kastner highlighted the important common characteristics to be found in the photography and painting of the Neue Saklichheit : a clear and sharp recording of things, extreme close ups and in depth perspective, the isolation of details, the filtering out of abstract structures and the emphasis of the material’s character. (p.182 Sergiusz Michalski ‘The New Objectivity’.)

Martin Eder, Parasites, Newport Street Gallery 26.9.18-13.12019

Exodus/Paradise, oil on canvas, 2018

I made the mistake of reading Jonathan Jones’s eviscerating review of Martin Eder’s show of paintings before going to see it for myself at Damian Hirst’s Newport Gallery in South London. It coloured the way I perceived the work and I found myself questioning my own response in the light of his powerfully expressed revulsion to the almost 50 works on show.

However, I was interested to read, in the hand out catalogue, that in preparation for Parasites, Eder ‘shut himself away with sketchbooks, notes and paintings dating back to the beginning of his career. This allowed him to trace numerous threads and shifts in his practice, leading to the creation of a number of works based on imagery conceived years previously, such as Psyche(2009/18). Coated in heavy varnish, the painting’s surfaces are often artificially aged and scratched in mockery of the quest for authenticity’. Eder states that “we are living in a perfidious (deceitful, treacherous) era, in which age is manufactured in order to produce the attribute of something valuable.”

I was not at all offended by the paintings and I found much to admire technically. Rather than merely prurient and lascivious, I found Eder’s weird, hyper real universe akin to a delinquent ‘Heavy Metal’ dystopia. (He does in fact play in an experimental rock group called Richard Ruin et Les Demoniaques ) Not to my taste but infused with a showy, lurid energy. The shiny, sickly, slickly rendered, sometimes cut up images reminded me a bit of Audrey Flack’s work- one of the early Photo Realists of the 1970’s. Eder says that”This collage is inseparable from the mechanisms of capitalism that drive much of the imagery we encounter daily: our memories are owned by companies”. In this regard he references the sculptures of the early Chapman Brothers but I felt his work lacked their edge and it often seemed just egregiously sleazy, cynical and voyeuristic.

Emma Kunz - Visionary Drawings: An exhibition conceived with Christodoulos Panayiotou at the Serpentine Gallery, London

Following the interim show Geraint held a talk on curation, concentrating on his own curatorial experiences and highlighting the curatorial writing of Hans Ulrich Obrist. So it was with particular interest that I went to see Emma Kunz at the Serpentine Gallery as Obrist is artistic director there. I’m not sure whether he was directly responsible for the hanging and curation but the results were stunning. Kunz’s work s were displayed in a simultaneously sensitive and adventurous way-the main gallery utilising the tremendous light and height of the space ,according the delicate geometric abstractions a suprisingly monumental quality. In an interview with the Guardian in 2014 Obrist outlined the tenets of curation.

Today, curating as a profession means at least four things. It means to preserve, in the sense of safeguarding the heritage of art. It means to be the selector of new work. It means to connect to art history. And it means displaying or arranging the work. But it's more than that. Before 1800, few people went to exhibitions. Now hundreds of millions of people visit them every year. It's a mass medium and a ritual. The curator sets it up so that it becomes an extraordinary experience and not just illustrations or spatialised books. I'm trying to expand the notion of curating. Exhibitions need not only take place in galleries, need not only involve displaying objects. Art can appear where we expect it least.

George Shaw the Holburne museum, Bath

If I should die, think only this of me: That there's some corner of a foreign field That is forever England. There shall be In that rich earth a richer dust concealed; A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware, Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam, A body of England's, breathing English air, Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away, A pulse in the eternal mind, no less Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given; Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day; And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness, In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Soldier by Rupert Brooke, 1915

This was a downsized version of a major retrospective of Shaw’s work at the Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, last year titled A Corner of a Foreign Field- a line borrowed from Rupert Brooke’s poem the Soldier. The very title of the show hints at Shaw’s gentle patriotism-understated, decent. Something simultaneously affectionate and critical - profoundly entwined with time and place.

George Shaw, Spare Time, installation

I had seen many of the works on display before but most revealing and surprising was a body of work called ’Spare Time’, an installation consisting of 46 works on paper in pencil or charcoal. I sensed that Shaw was willing us to see these works, inspired by his youthful infatuations and enthusiasms, as the imagery that informs and shapes his uninhabited paintings of Tile hill.

A grim photo fit drawing of the Yorkshire ripper glowers beside a tender portrait of Ian Curtis of Joy Division. Soft porn images from the pages of Fiesta and Men Only jostle with academic, drawing manual nudes. Romantic, cultured, figures such as T.E Lawrence, Wilfred Owen and Philip Larkin rub shoulders with Hammer Horror Frankensteins from House of Horror magazine...with David Bowie and Francis Bacon. This very British mix of high and pop culture echoes Peter Blake’s affectionate engagement with his own collections of folk art ephemera. The found and personal image interlink in forming an intimate mythology, conjuring narratives of class, belief and belonging.


bottom of page