Night Time City

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Last Friday I had to go down to London for a meeting. As it was scheduled for the afternoon I got the first off peak train down so the first train I could get home left at 7:30 p.m. Luckily there’s always something to do in London and on Friday evening Tate Modern is open late. As my meeting was on the South Bank, that seemed like a good option, especially as I quite fancied seeing the Red Star Over Russia exhibition that was coming towards the end of its run. A review of that to follow, but while I was in the Tate I got the lift to the viewing platform in the Switch House to take a look over a night time view of the City.

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Cezanne Portraits at the NPG

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The Thursday immediately after the Christmas break I had to go down to London for a meeting so we took the opportunity to have a short break in the Capital as there was a couple of exhibitions we particularly wanted to see. We were lucky in managing to book a room in the Euston Premier Inn for less than £60 – a remarkable bargain these days.

After my meeting in Southwark had finished late afternoon, I crossed the river and took the bus from near St Paul’s

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over to Trafalgar Square to meet my wife in the National Gallery where she’d been spending a few hours. We went back inside for a quick look at some favourite paintings and the small exhibition of paintings by the Finnish artist Gallen-Kallela of Lake Keitele in his native country. No photos allowed but I downloaded this picture from the National Gallery’s website (under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons licence)

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Lake Keitele (1905) by Akseli Gallen-Kallela

The National Gallery’s website tells us

For the first time in the UK, this exhibition unites all of Gallen-Kallela’s ‘Lake Keitele’ landscapes. They are displayed side by side, showing the gradual shift of the composition, between naturalistic landscape and highly stylised, abstracted image. They also illuminate the various influences, Finnish and foreign, absorbed by this highly distinctive and versatile artist.

The National Gallery closes at 6 so we made our way out onto Trafalgar Square and past St Martins in the Field

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round to the National Portrait Gallery which is open late on Thursday evening.

We had a look round taking in some old favourites – the Elizabethan gallery and portraits of some of my “heroes” including William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley and Humphry Davy – and some new discoveries before purchasing tickets for the exhibition of Cezanne portraits.

This is a major exhibition with 50 portraits by Cezanne, which has already been shown in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris and will later move on to National Gallery of Art in Washington.

As usual over here no photos allowed (how different it was in Australia where we could take photos even in paid exhibitions) but there’s a short youtube video showing highlights

The portraits are mainly of his family and friends with some of other people he knew – including workers from around where he lived, one in particular who posed for some well known paintings. There are also a good number of self portraits. Covering the whole of his career, it’s possible to see how Cezanne’s technique changed and evolved. Some early portraits, including one of his uncle Dominique, have been painted with a pallet knife rather than a brush.

One person who appears more than anyone else in the exhibition is Marie-Hortense Fiquet  his wife,  who he met in Paris when he was 30 and she was 19. He painted her about 30 times and a good number of these portraits are included in the exhibition.

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Portrait of Madame Cézanne with Loosened Hair, c. 1883 – 1887, Philadelphia Museum of Art (source: Wikipedia)

It’s very interesting to see how his portrayal of her changed over the years. She doesn’t look particularly happy in any of them and the later portraits are far from flattering to say the least. What does it say about their relationship? He married her against the wishes of his family and stuck with her until he died so he surely can’t have hated her and in those days wealthy men could easily discard a wife or lover. It’s well known that he was a miserable so and so, so perhaps that was reflected in his paintings of her or does it just reflect how his art evolved.

If these portrayals are hardly “attractive” in the conventional sense, and Cézanne has been accused of  “cruelty” in his painting of his wife, with whom he had a difficult relationship, he would no doubt have painted her in exactly the same way had the pair been in the first flush of romance, such was his obsession with pure form and shape.   (Mark Hudson writing in the Telegraph)

 

 

Clocking in

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A little before we clocked in and joined the production line in Tate Exchange we’d seen a series of 8,627 photographs and a film showing someone clocking in on the hour, every hour,  24 hours a day for a full 12 months during 1980-1981. One Year Perormance was undertaken by Taiwanese artist Tehching Hsieh in his studio in New York.

Marking the occasion by taking a self-portrait on a single frame of 16mm film, the resulting reel documents a year in his life at approximately one second per day – a pace that is polar opposite of the enduring length of the original performance

At the beginning of the project he shaved off his hair and we can see it gradually grow back in the series of photographs and the film.

It seemed such an odd thing to do. It meant that he was unable to sleep properly for a full year. He missed 133 clock-ins, and the reasons are documented on a note which is displayed amongst the contextual materials included in the exhibition along with letters, statements, uniforms, photographs, the punch clock itself and a time card. The main reason given was, not surprisingly,  sleeping through.

According to an interview in the Guardian the artist, the work

recalls the labours of Sisyphus, who, in Greek mythology, was forced to roll a rock repeatedly up a mountain, only to watch it fall down again

while it may seem to convey a message about the tedium and conformity of industrial labour, he tells Guardian Australia he is “not a political artist, although people are at liberty to interpret my work from a political standpoint … I’m interested in the universal circumstances of human life”.

Although clearly a crazy thing to do, there was something rather fascinating about the project and, personally, I can certainly see a political message about the alienation of work and how people are enslaved by work that is certainly relevant in this day of zero hour contracts and so-called self employed status workers employed by the likes of Uber and courier services.

Back to Borough Market

A few days after our short break in the Peak District I was down in Dartford with work. I’d travelled down by train via London so we decided to combine work with pleasure and the other half travelled down on the Friday morning and met me in London for a short stay. We were staying in a Premier Inn at Southwark near Borough Market. It’s a really “buzzing” area during the evening with plenty of places to eat and lots of pubs and bars, all of which were busy on an autumn evening. The terrorist attack by zealots who don’t like people having fun only a few weeks ago doesn’t seem to have stopped people getting out and enjoying themselves – and that’s the way it should be.

We had a rather nice contemporary style Leabanese meal at a busy Arabica , a restaurant under the railway arches on Rochester Walk near the market

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followed by a stroll along the South Bank before turning in

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The next day, after breakfast we went for a wander around the market.

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Giacometti at Tate Modern

I’d been looking forward to seeing the retrospective of work by Giacometti, a favourite artist of mine, that opened recently at Tate Modern. So when I was down in London a couple of weeks ago, I made time to visit the gallery on London’s Bankside.

Giacometti is a favourite artist – I like his trademark sculptures of elongated figures – walking men and standing women – with their rough, textured surfaces. The exhibition included plenty of those, with works from the Tate’s own collection, like Man Pointing  (1947)

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with other examples from public and private collections. As usual with these paid exhibitions, no photos allowed so the pictures in this post are either photos I’ve taken during previous visits to Tate Modern, or from the exhibition website.

As a retrospective, it included earlier works before the Swiss artist developed his signature style. In particular, his surrealist works from the 1930’s

The first room contained a large table covered with a large number of sculptures of heads in different styles and made from various materials – some quite tiny – covering his career, Being displayed in this way really allowed visitors to see how his style developed – initially relatively ‘lifelike’

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Head of Isabel 1936

they evolved into more abstract, fatter forms, eventually becoming flat and featureless rectangles from his Surrealist period. Then the later sculptures in the style for which he is best known. The heads included sculptures of his family members, friends and some famous individuals, including Simone de Beauvoir.

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Bust of Annette IV (1962)

Moving on through the other 9 rooms was a progression through his career. The next few rooms displaying abstract and Surrealist works – sculptures, decorative pieces (lamps, vases, jewellery and wall reliefs) and sketches in his notebooks.

Probably the most Surrealist of the works in the exhibition was the rather grusome Woman With Her Throat Cut (1932)more of a weird insect than a human being

Woman With Her Throat Cut

After WWII, he returned to Paris where he began to produce the elongated figures for which he is best known. These dominated the final 5 rooms

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Three men walking (source: Wikipedia)

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The dog (1951)

This is what I’d come to see. They’re simple, almost like 3 dimensional versions of L S Lowry’s ‘matchstick men’ in their complex simplicity

The thin figures that emerged like wisps of smoke out of Giacometti’s conscience in the second part of that murderous decade seem barely to exist. They are not so much statues as mirages of people glimpsed far away, shimmering on a horizon of ash. The human form, starved, bereft, but somehow standing tall. (Guardian)

There were paintings too. Again, he has a distinctive style. The figures are made up of a series of lines which merge to form an image rather like the dots in a Pointillist painting

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Seated Man (1949)

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Caroline (1965)

This was a marvellous exhibition that didn’t disappoint.

Meridian House, Greenwich

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I spotted the tower of this rather splendid red brick Art Deco style building while I was in Greenwich last week so wandered over to have a closer look.

The tower belongs to Meridian House, the former Greenwich Town Hall which was built in 1938-9 to a design by Clifford Culpin. Its original use was as a municipal facility including offices, and included a civic suite and public hall but was sold off by the London Borough of Greenwich in the 1970s and now houses the Greenwich School of Management and private flats.  The Borough Hall is occupied by “Greenwich Dance” .

The elegant clock tower is the building’s  most prominent feature and was apparently influenced by the work of the Dutch architect W. M. Dudok, paricularly the Hilversum Town Hall. It was designed not only to function as both a clock tower but a public observation tower so local residents could view the Royal Naval College and the Thames.

According to Pevsner the building was

“the only town hall of any London borough to represent the style of our time adequately”.  (Buildings of; England, London 2: South)

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