Art Chronicles: Nottingham Contemporary

 

Saturday morning, with the sun shining despite forecasts of day-long rain, I went along to Nottingham Contemporary to see their current exhibition, Somewhat Abstract, a selection of work from the Arts Council Collection, which, to my pleasant surprise, included, in the words of curator Alex Farquharson …

… many examples of figurative art on the verge of abstraction, as well as art that isn’t abstract but that could not have been made without knowledge of it.

So, in Gallery 2, for instance, alongside the casts of Rachel Whiteread and the abstract canvasses of Prunella Clough, there is work by Sickert and Bomberg, as well as Frank Auerbach – one of his marvellous Primrose Hill paintings – and a beautiful – and truthful – little etching of Lucien Freud.

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And also in this gallery is the most moving and disturbing work in the whole exhibition, Gustav Metzger’s To Crawl Into – Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938. One of Metzger’s Historic Photographs series, in which photographs of historic events, often connected to the Holocaust, are greatly enlarged and then covered, usually by a cloth, which the viewer is encouraged to remove or crawl beneath, slowly revealing the image underneath.

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The principal component of this work is a press photograph, taken shortly after Austria’s annexation to Nazi Germany in March 1938, that depicts Jewish men, women and children being forced to wash the streets of Vienna as their fellow citizens look on. The photograph has been enlarged to over thirteen square metres – rendering the figures larger than life-size – and is displayed on the floor, covered with a cotton sheet. In order to see it, the viewer is required to crawl on their hands and knees beneath the sheet, mimicking the actions of the Jewish subjects, while the size and proximity of the image makes it impossible to apprehend as a whole.

Feeling too venerable to get down on my belly and crawl, with the help of one of attendants I slowly peeled the cloth down and away.

 

 

Art Chronicles : New York to Primrose Hill

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg

Whenever I flirt in my head with the idea of moving back out of London – those property prices, never mind the cost of a good flat white! – something happens to make me cast the idea back out of my mind.

Take yesterday, for instance. Sarah and I had somehow escaped for a few hours from the necessity of doing anything other than simply hanging out, so a quick glance at the internet sent us off on the underground [Bank line to Euston and cross platforms] in search of Saville Row, still a focal point for tailors of taste but also, now, home to two of Hauser & Wirth’s London galleries and the smaller Ordovas gallery exactly opposite.

Clyfford Still

Clyfford Still

Hauser & Wirth are showing, here and at Picadilly, a selection of works from the collection of Reinhard Onnasch, whose fascination with American art blossomed when he opened his own gallery in New York shortly after the end of WW2. So what was magnificently on show here in the South Gallery in Saville Row were pieces by artists associated with Pop Art – some lovely little Richard Hamiltons, a marvellous and marvellously balanced two-piece Richard Serra, and a beautiful Rauschenberg combine – then in the North Gallery work from the New York School of the 1950s and 60s, including two fine Clyfford Still’s and two works each by Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland. Louis and Noland were leading figures in Colourfield painting, a softer-edged second-generation form of abstract expressionism that owed much to the work of Helen Frankenthaler. I’d only seen work by these two artists in reproduction before and it was wonderful to be able to stand in front of the pair of Morris Louis’s canvasses, especially, absorbing their beauty.

Morris Louis

Morris Louis

Morris Louis

Morris Louis

And as if that weren’t enough, across the street at Ordovas there’s a small show – ten pieces in all – linking the British painter Frank Auerbach with Rembrandt. That Auerbach admired and made drawings from Rembrandt is well-documented, but, for me, looking at the work of the two men displayed here side by side, I just couldn’t see the connection. No matter. Central here are three largish Auerbach landscapes, painted in the 1960s and showing Primrose Hill in different seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter. As a group, they’re very fine, and, of the three, Summer is quite superb. The kind of painting you can look at for hours, forever seeing something new.

rembrandt-main-image

Robert Rauschenberg

rembrandt-catalogue

London, thank you.