Monthly Archives: September 2006

The Gallery of Modest Art.

I am meeting someone for lunch at the Gallery of Modern Art; they asked me to text them where we were going.

And the wonder that is predictive texting invented “the Gallery of Modest Art” for me.

Now that really would be sometihng; but it might make for a small exhibition…

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The Hirshhorn Museum, Washington. August 2006.

The Hirshhorn is full of modern art; a lot of sculpture – there is an excellent sculpture garden which we wandered around, and smaller sculpture inside – and lots of large painting. There was a room of Clyfford Still, whose work I love, and a couple of Rothkos.

The floor of the lobby was an installation designed by Jim Lambie – a Glaswegian artist: lots of striking colours (almost psychedelic!). There was a beautifully intense piece by Anish Kapoor, “In the Hub of Things” – a large, hollow hemisphere of intense blue pigment; inside the sphere, in the shadow, it was impossible to see where it ended: I felt as if my hand would disappear if I placed it inside, a literal black hole (no time or space or light).

feet on Jim Lambie's installation, Directions Jim Lambie's installation, Directions

Anish Kapoor, At the Hub of Things

There were also some Matisse bronzes of large, massive backs, similar to those that used to be in the Tate (before it moved to Bankside – I can’t remember if they are in the new building or not); they may be casts of the same statues. These bronzes have a lot of power – a deep pull.

The Hirschorn itself is an interesting building – doughnut-shaped, the hole being a courtyard. In the centre is a large fountain. Beside the building, on the Mall, was a large sculpture of a giant brush stroke: close up, it was abstracted, and it was only when I looked over from across the Mall that I realised what it was. I think it must have been by Roy Lichtenstein – it had that kind of feel. Then some steps lead down to the sculpture garden. There are a lot of Rodin pieces – “the Burghers of Calais” and his “Monument to Balzac”. It was very sunny, the shadows adding an extra depth to the sculpture.

The curve of the Hirshorn Museum Fountain reflected in the Hirshorn Museum Brush stroke sculpture, the Hirshorn Museum

Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, the Hirshorn Museum Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, the Hirshorn Museum

We then wandered around the National Gallery of Art’s sculpture garden. There was a huge Louise Bourgeois cast spider (not one for arachnophobes); a beautiful, stepped “Four Sided Pyramid” by Sol LeWitt; and a perspective house by Roy Lichtenstein, which keeps its perspective as you walk around it.

Sol LeWitt, Four Sided Pyramid Sol LeWitt, Four Sided Pyramid

Sol LeWitt, Four Sided Pyramid

“Please DO touch the artwork.”

When I came back from walking in the wilderness last weekend, my wife told me about an exhibition she had been to at the Botanic Gardens.  We went back there the next day.

It is an interesting exhibition: Two Voices.  It is the work of two artists – a blind photographer, Rosita McKenzie, and Rebecca Marr, her sighted collaborator.

The pictures were interesting: they had a slightly random quality to them – there were parts that were out of focus, there were different angles.

But more interesting were the tactile representations of the pictures that accompanied each one.  Printed on raised paper, they enable one to actually feel the photographs.  Some of these prints were transliterations of the photos, others were interpretations.  The sign on the wall read “Please DO touch the artwork.”

There are also spoken descriptions of each picture, and lots of materials in Braille – fascinating to touch.  The spoken descriptions are equally beautiful.

I am not sure how the two artists worked together, but the outcome is fascinating.

The exhibition runs until October 1.

It reminded me of a film about a blind photographer – Proof, in which the photographer (played by Hugo Weaving – later of the Matrix; “Proof” is a far more sensitive movie!) compulsively takes polaroids just to make sure that he records the events he can’t actually see; he then gets people – such as a young Russell Crowe (later of – ) – to describe what he has photographed.

Adam Elsheimer

I try to avoid exhibitions during the festival – unlike live performances, many of the exhibitions carry on into October or later (this year, one exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is on until January).  This show, however, closes tomorrow, so I decided to make the most of having free time in Edinburgh to go and see it.

It was an exhibition of paintings by Adam Elsheimer, an artist I had never heard of until this summer.  Born in Frankfurt in 1578, he painted in Venice and Rome until he died aged just 32.

He painted in oils on copper – apparently not unusual, since copper was readily available around artists studios where they most commonly used it for print making.  It meant most of the pictures were small, though; and some were tiny, little more than miniatures.

Despite their size, the pictures were full of detail: so much so that visitors to the gallery were given credit card-sized plastic magnifying glasses so explore the pictures.

They were exquisite: dark, rich colours depicting religious or mythological stories.  He painted “Tobias and the Angel” several times, and seemed to like rather gory mythological tales like “Apollo and Coronis”.  Actually, the religious paintings were probably more gory – “Judith and Holofernes” (she is pictured slitting his throat) and a very graphic “The Beheading of St John the Baptist” (Salome with a large salver receiving the gift!).

The real pleasure lay in the backgrounds: the leaves on the trees, the ripples on the water, the stars and clouds in the sky.  (According to the blurb, there are microscopic brush strokes around the stars which aren’t clearly visible with the naked eye – you need a lens or a microscope – and these lines make the stars “shine”).

The pictures’ size did feel limiting though: I was constantly peering deeper into the pictures, straining to see more.