The Late and the Great. Rembrandt: The Late Works. National Gallery

Three visits to this superlative exhibition are just not enough. However, despite joustling, such is Rembrandt’s power to lift you away from the crowds who, like me, fawn in miraculous wonder. This is a lifetime opportunity. GO.

You’ve probably seen the outstanding reviews, so what can I say? Simply this: NEVER let anyone tell you that artists have a ‘sell by’ date. Even in our supposedly more enlightened age, our cult of youth too readily equates ‘maturity’ with ‘past it’. This magnificent show, as well as the Late Turner’s at the Tate are testimony enough to stop this nonsense.

One painting says it all. Simeon with the Infant Christ in the Temple 1669. If you could see only one painting in this entire collection this would have to be it. The astonishing immediacy of the paint creates a masterpiece of depth and humanity. Looking at it is like a punch: The intensity of frail Simeon, his stiff, awed support of the bundled, tranquil infant, his knowledge that now, having seen the Christ child, he is reconciled and can, as prophesised ’depart in peace’. It is overwhelming. Is this really another self-portrait of sorts – a disguised Rembrandt facing starkly his own imminent death? Perhaps so. This is an astounding work, so intimate and revealing that I fear I shouldn’t be looking, but look I have to. The work is placed sensitvely in its’ own, independent space right at the end of the exhibition. Incredible. What a way to end this journey!



Hepworth Wakefield

Very easy hop to Wakefield from YSP. Moore and Hepworth put this part of the UK on the sculptural map, but never more so than now, with the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and this spankingly contemporary museum. Apparently the Hepworth Wakefield is ‘the largest purpose-built exhibition space outside London’. Seriously worth a visit for the elegant Chipperfield building opened in May 2011. From the outside the design is superb – simple, harmonious and thoughtfully positioned to integrate and maximise the benefits of the site. Windows, views, water, shape, all great. Shame that the interior cladding is somewhat dark and yet again large foyers at the cost of exhibition space. Your views?

Wakefield’s collection of Modern British art is curious, interesting and includes Bomberg, Nicholson and Scott. The Hepworth collection itself show her working method well, but I’m not sure about the selection, especially the larger sculptures. Unsurprising there’s a far more palpable sense of the sculptor in her St Ives studio, with I think, better work there.

Anyway, the whole is really worth a visit. And don’t forget that there’s a major Hepworth show at the Tate Britain next year.


Ursula von Rydingsvard YSP

Ursula von Rydingsvard (b.1942, Germany) is a New York based artist whose extraordinarily powerful work is shown in a beautifully curated exhibition, also on at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP). See this show. A must.

Over her long career von Rydingsvard has developed a singular, uncompromising sculptural language using modulated cedar beams that are painstakingly cut to manipulate, extend and twist form into dynamic, often sizeable organic sculptures. The works are both complex and simple, exposing a vulnerability that constantly references her politically troubled Polish / Ukrainian childhood at the end and aftermath of World War II. Fragility, instability are unavoidable facts here and it is this past upon which her whole artistic narrative has been built. Actual meanings are usually oblique, abstract, but not always, see Weeping Plates. From rustic wooden, domestic objects – shovels, spoons, bowls to a range of textiles – coarse linen clothing worn against skin, knitted, patchwork shawls made by her mother; such references are central to her creativity, and von Rydingsvard locks them into her own making majestically, unsentimentally.

Knitting, sewing and making clothes are all part of von Rydingsvard’s practice. As a counter to the density of cedar wood, animal intestines and cow abomasums (the fourth stomach) are carefully hand stitched, crafted for example into the exquisite, transparent, floating sculpture Stacked Blankets. Fragile fibres from deconstructed clothing are embedded into the pulp of handmade papers, cloth is sewn, found objects manipulated, arranged. These help her to explore, to keep her practice fresh, renewed.

This is a wonderful show. A tour de force, curated superbly to really seek out the thoughtful processes that have produced such a rich, resolved and potent body of work. Go. I’ve now been twice. Not enough!



Yorkshire Sculpture Park. In the Chapel : Inaugural Ai WeiWei Exhibition

You need no excuse to go to this wonderful 500 acre Bretton Estate, a playground to modernist and contemporary sculpture seen plein air plus museum, gallery, event. However, if excuse you really do need, then OK, it’s a great stopping point off the M1. But be warned: you’ll probably be staying longer than you’d guessed. An entire day is realistic with regular returns.

The defiant Ai WeiWei’s ‘In the Chapel’ in and outside the newly restored eighteenth century Bretton chapel is it’s inaugural exhibition. A quiet meditation on freedom, histories, identity, individual rights and much more, through symbolic materials including precious architectural salvage and  objects including 45 antique Qing dynasty chairs and a white marble Lantern, the latter nailing his mockery over state efforts to control.

Ai WeiWei’s is an undramatic, but penetrating examination of power and oppression – factors that have dominated his politically activist background. The poetic, gentle quality of this work acts in opposition to reinforce the stark, uncompromising battle that he wages; made the more so by his on going house arrest in China, making his a virtual presence only at the exhibition itself and sadly, impossibly not actual.

John Virtue’s The Sea. Sainsbury Centre.

The Sea. It’s really worth taking a look at John Virtue’s vast works and smaller studies together in this large exhibition. Virtue’s is a hugely ambitious project both in scale and theme. Enormous visceral paintings of a turbulent restless subject that he can, on occasions trap in paint dramatically.

Virtue works monochromatically. I first saw a collection of his large paintings at the end of his National Gallery residency in 2005 that focused on the brooding inner London skyline. Gestural, smog leaden skies, full of scale and energy, but seemingly divorced from the more restrained, graphic cityscapes below them, these works felt unresolved, but I certainly admired their ambition.

Now at UEA Virtue has dedicated himself to another vast project: The Sea from around his north Norfolk home. Vast, immediate and foamy. These paintings were made in acrylics probably for speed and convenience, but I pondered how much oil would have suited them. The giant work opposite the gallery entrance is the most resolved. Here the sea is all roar, majesty, ensnaring. Virtue traps its’ overwhelming force very powerfully. He is clearly preoccupied with our wild seas rather than the range of its east coast character.

Virtue’s vast scale, monochrome palette and gestural abandon have instant impact, but I could only find one work that sustained the first turbulent punch. Perhaps their froth and muscularity keeps me from entering the depths. I was at times swamped in paint and not in its efficacy. It is right to demand alot back from such large, forceful works. So I will need another visit, especially to focus on each of the numerous smaller paintings on paper.

My initial thoughts apart, this project is certainly a feat by any standard, so do go. Look especially at the liberated use of acrylic. I shall certainly return, but in the meantime am looking forward to your views.

Links: Marlborough (Virtue’s dealer. Plenty of smaller images to see):

Sainsbury Centre:

Titian’s Dianas, Edinburgh.

The National Galleries of Scotland and National Gallery, London plus other contributors have purchased Titian’s two outstanding Diana paintings that he made simultaneously between 1556 – 1559: Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto. They are astonishing works. Do try and see them. They tell us so much about colour, composition, Venetian art and so much more.

The story may be bleak, but the paintings themselves are sensuous, lyrical masterpieces that are both truly magnificent. Their partnership is so clear in this display with echoes and mirroring of one composition in the other. The still dazzling Venetian palette, the broad brush marks that became increasing evident in Titian’s later works and the lyrical, entwining compositions reinforce the fleshy seductiveness of these nymphs. References to Actaeon’s fate are oblique, but you cannot but feel for him confronted with such visceral temptation. The injustice also metered out on Callisto dissolves before such a beautiful painting. I have had the luck to see them displayed here in Edinburgh together with the National Gallery’s Death of Actaeon displayed between them. This is an appropriately darker palette to portray Actaeon’s miserable demise.

These works form the centrepiece for the exhibition Titian and the Golden Age of Venetian Art at the National Gallery of Art in Edinburgh (until mid September). They are wonderful, highly important western paintings and cornerstones too, to Venetian art of the time. So see them if you can. Do check out the link below:  

Looking Out, Looking In. Washington DC

We have seen various works by Andrew Wyeth in our sessions to support particular themes. I have always admired Wyeth’s outstanding craftsmanship, but have been very ambivalent over what I consider are often overworked, over polished images that quash his extraordinary abilities rather than sing them. The show Looking Out, Looking In that I stumbled upon at Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art has been a massive revision and revelation to me. Based on the ‘portal’ – windows and doors as the title suggests, these images are a stunning expression of how raw and uncompromising watercolour can be. They also reveal just how contemporary Wyeth’s compositions are. These works are alot larger than I had imagined, some being over 50 x 75 cms. Many are scratched, torn, gestural, with little restraint in the best work, almost fought into submission. Yet despite their surprising physicality, they are also still and deeply contemplative; quiet, measured, voyeuristic, uneasy.

Worth a visit if you are in DC. It’s hard to really see what Wyeth is really doing in reproduction, but check his watercolours out anyway to get an idea of what this material is capable of.