Art Chronicles: Footnotes from Amsterdam

1.   Having had our visit to Amsterdam trimmed by one day thanks to the storm, a plan seemed necessary: mornings, museum or gallery; afternoons, wander, pither, shop, nap, as the mood dicates.

2.  Wednesday, the Rijks Museum: having prebooked and printed our etickets and arrived soon after opening, we had the huge central seventeenth century Gallery of Honour almost to ourselves – for the first 30 minutes, at least. Vermeer’s ‘The Milkmaid’, ‘The Love Letter’, ‘The Little Street’ & the marvellous ‘Woman Reading a Letter’; Rembrandt’s self-portaits, ‘The Jewish Bride’ and, with pride of place at the end of the gallery, ‘The Night Watch’. Privileged is how we feel.

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3. Thursday, the Stedelijk Museum, like it’s companion at the opposite side of Museum Plein, also recently refurbished and extended. We’ve come to see Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde, but first there’s an absolutely wonderful survey of modern painting from its beginnings towards the end of the nineteenth century, through Mondrian – not surprisingly, a lot of excellent Mondrians – and early modernism through CoBrA to abstract expressionism and onwards – except that we don’t get very far onwards, partly due to proximity of the café and a frugal memory of breakfast, partly as I’ve fallen in love with a Jackson Pollock I can’t remember seeing before –  ‘Reflection of the Big Dipper’ – smaller than the majority of his drip-period paintings and featuring an unusually bright blue at its centre, very much a Joan Mitchell blue, in fact (and, co-incidentally, the blue of my daughter’s top, obvious when she stands in front of it, but I digress).

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Restored by our time in the café, we head upstairs to the Malevich, which is nicely mounted and put together, including filmed excerpts from an opera for which he designed the costumes (think, Dr. Who Goes Constructivist), but with some 500 works in all, perhaps a tad too comprehensive. Plus, when we reach the climax of the exhibition, Malevich’s geometric abstract paintings, created some little time before abstraction was created, there’s some dissension in the ranks at how good/pleasurable they are. Not from me. Not, especially, from Sarah.

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4. Thursday evening, dinner at Toscanini’s, an Italian restaurant that comes highly recommended and, for once, all of the recommendations are, if anything, less fulsome than they might be: a large room with an open kitchen at the far end; charming, friendly but not over-fussy staff; the food is magificent. We all agree, some of the best we’ve had anywhere. The mixed antipasti, for instance, instead of being the usual spread of cheeses, hams and salamis sprinkled with rocket, features – as well as some superb cheeses, hams and salamis – small plates of duck salad, tuna with tomatoes, ……. and thyme. And so it goes. My secondi of veal fillet with veal kidneys  and mushrooms is to die for. Superb.

5. Friday morning, FOAM, a museum of photography that never disappoints: on the top floor which holds the library and their new talent room, there is a brilliant exhibition, Handbook to The Stars, by Peter Puklus – who would have thought three wrapped cakes of soap on a bathroom window in Budapest could be so beautiful?

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Peter Puklus: Handbook to the Stars

And the central show this time, quite brilliant, is Lee Friedlander’s America by Car.

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After which we cross the canal to the Museum Van Loon, a house originally built in 1672 for the Van Loon family, who were one of the founders of the Dutch East India Company,  and now host to a contemporary art exhibition, Suspended Histories; each room holds furniture and objects from earlier periods, cleverly interspersed with newly-created works of art which connect with or comment on the house and the family’s history, in particular its links with – and exploitation of – former Dutch colonies.

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.

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Robert Rauschenberg

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London, thank you.