Category / Art

Anselm does Piccadilly March 6, 2007 at 6:39 pm

Anselm Kiefer has a good claim for being the finest painter working today. But his paintings are huge and not really suitable for reproduction on anything that isn’t ten foot long so here’s a tower of his instead (in the courtyard of the Royal Academy).

What is so impressive about Kiefer is his seriousness. He dares to be serious. He is not in awe of the (fantastically amusing it’s true) Cattelan/Kippenberger tendency. It takes an extraordinary talent to reject lightness of touch and not appear pretentious: that’s the way the art game is set up at the moment. But often Kiefer manages it.

East End Games February 25, 2007 at 4:05 pm


One of the things I love about Shoreditch is that the rules are not clear around here. What’s this? Do you like it?

Something that works, kinda December 28, 2006 at 3:53 pm

I was in Cambridge on Thursday, seeing some friends. We visited the Fitzwilliam museum, an interesting if flawed establishment. (Don’t hang the Rembrandt so you can’t see the face for the glare of the lights, please, folks.) A few minor carps aside, though, it is interesting how well the museum system works. The works are well looked after, they can be see, for free, much of the time, and it is uplifting and delicious to see three Monets from one seat. Here’s a mask to whet your appetite.

Random big vs. focussed little November 14, 2006 at 5:53 pm

In the last little while I have been lucky enough to visit the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Prado in Madrid. Due to rebuilding, there is not much by volume on show in Amsterdam: just ten or so rooms. But most of the famous Dutch paintings are there: the Rembrandts, Vermeers and Franz Hals.

(Blog illustrated with a gratuitous view of Madrid from my phone: I love the light on the water.)

At first I was a little irritated to pay ten euros to see this small exhibition, but after going to the Prado, I’m not sure it isn’t a really good way to see the collection. You don’t have to walk through halls and halls of undistinguished canvasses, as you do in Madrid. You don’t have to search for the gem hidden in the rough. One might disagree with some the details of the Rijksmuseum’s selection, but seeing those three Vermeers on the same wall, intimately: that was wonderful. In the Prado in contrast, there are lots of indifferent Velazquez, with the great pictures separated (or in London for the National Gallery show) and without context. Perhaps having twenty of someone’s favourite canvasses from a big collection can be better than having all of it?

My phone is still more artistic than me… November 4, 2006 at 5:23 pm


…at least in direct sunlight. This was taken in the grounds of the Sue Ryder home in Cheltenham, where my mother is currently being looked after. It’s a sad time, but at least she is surrounded by caring people and the beauty of the countryside. The black hole at the heart of the sun seems appropriate too in the circumstances.

Ten pounds each for Albert July 2, 2006 at 9:30 am


Look at this delightful (or hideous, if you have similar taste to me) structure. It’s the Albert Memorial. Now riddle me this. This edifice was recently restored, at considerable cost: over £10M. As a Londoner, would you have put a pound in the box to renovate it? As a visitor, would you have paid £10 or more to see the brand new regilded structure? Does it create enough extra economic activity to pay for its cost of capital? Or is it just another Victorian monstrosity which should have been left to die?

Adding up the Tate June 11, 2006 at 8:23 pm

A friend and I went to see the rehang of the Tate Modern yesterday. It’s interesting, perhaps flawed in places, – whoever decided that it would be good to hang the futurists in a big gaggle high up on one wall should be taken out and re-educated, – but compared with, say, MOMA in New York, it’s imaginative, focussed and thought-provoking. But more than that, it’s free. MOMA is twenty bucks. Now suppose you were an economist working for the state of New York or the city or whoever. How exactly would you decide whether it was better, on purely rational economic grounds, for MOMA to be free or not?

Obviously it will cost money to open it for nothing, but if you do, lots of people will go who could not or would not afford $20. And some of them will be inspired to create things, some of which will sell for cash. So making MOMA free will generate some extra economic activity. But how much, compared with the costs? How could you estimate it? While you are thinking about that, here’s a picture of the silver birches outside the Tate, taken by my phone with its easy to fool exposure control.

CP Snow as a power source… April 19, 2006 at 8:41 pm

…because he’s turning in his grave. I think the two cultures thing is getting worse. Certainly mainstream arts people not only are unembarrassed by their ignorance of science, they even flaunt it (scroll down to ‘Opacity Quotient’). Clearly this problem has been with us for a long time. Perhaps it is time to set a few equivalences, just so the arty types understand the thresholds of ignorance, as it were. Something like

Ignorance of Newton to a scientist = Ignorance of Shakespeare to an arts person

through

Ignorance of Electromagnetism to a scientist = Ignorance of Dickens to an arts person

to

Ignorance of String Theory to a scientist = Ignorance of Structuralism to an arts person

It’s quite amusing trying to construct the parallels if you have a few moments
to spare.
Gödel = Joyce?
Transfinite set theory = Gabriel Garcia Marquez?
Dark Matter = Derrida?

When the technology is more artistic than you are April 5, 2006 at 5:08 pm


Look what happens when my mobile phone’s camera gets over- loaded by being pointed straight at the sun – I particularly like the purple halo around the black sun. This kind of objet trouvé has a long and glorious history, of course, going back at least to Duchamp, but it is still nice when it happens.

They really aren’t out to get you, George March 31, 2006 at 8:50 pm

There’s an interesting article in the London review of books this week by Slavoj Zizek. It quotes the Commandments of Liberal Communism (original from Technikart magazine):

1. You shall give everything away free (free access, no copyright); just charge for the additional services, which will make you rich.

2. You shall change the world, not just sell things.

3. You shall be sharing, aware of social responsibility.

4. You shall be creative: focus on design, new technologies and science.

5. You shall tell all: have no secrets, endorse and practise the cult of transparency and the free flow of information; all humanity should collaborate and interact.

6. You shall not work: have no fixed 9 to 5 job, but engage in smart, dynamic, flexible communication.

7. You shall return to school: engage in permanent education.

8. You shall act as an enzyme: work not only for the market, but trigger new forms of social collaboration.

9. You shall die poor: return your wealth to those who need it, since you have more than you can ever spend.

10. You shall be the state: companies should be in partnership with the state.

The author then goes on to say that people who adhere to these commandments (in whose ranks he counts Bill Gates and George Soros) are the real enemies of progress.

Now, one never likes to punctuate a well-crafted delusion, but sometimes they really are not out to get you, Slavoj. A major proponent of the capitalism is an evil conspiracy theory is George Monbiot, hence the title of the article: he makes the same error as the LRB writer, the mistake of anthropomorphising the system. So, George and Slavoj, there is no single entity which is the capitalist system. There is no smoke filled room full of oligarchs plotting the destruction of liberties and the enslavement of the world’s workers. There are just (not very) rational economic actors, working within an economic system. The system can sometimes produce consequences most of us would agree are desireable, like increasing wealth; and sometimes ones that are less so, like the farrago that is most of the developed world’s protection of its farmers at the expense the less developed countries. So let me add an eleventh commandment.

11. You must understand the system and its rules, for that determines everything that is possible. If you do not like what is possible, then you must strive to change the rules.