Starting Over

Friday, May 26, 2006

Bas Jan Ader

Having heard rave reviews I was definitely going to go to this exhibition. My boyf read the review in the Guardian and looked not very interested but willing to go if I dragged him - so I took advantage of a mid-week day off work to go by myself, walking through leafy Hampstead to the Camden Arts Centre.
Now, I haven't been the the Camden Arts Centre for ages - I went a few times a few years ago and then I think it fell off my radar - but its a lovely space with a great feeling about it. And a nice walk to get there - although I could have done without the downpour of rain en route... that and the fact it was Wednesday may have contributed to the relative emptiness of the gallery - such a luxury to be the only person in a room!! Especially after recent trips to tates and National Gallery which felt like conveyer belts.
But anyway - the work itself was fascinating. I was a little apprehensive - 70s art always brings about a fear induced by seeing too many videos of 'body art' that are both banal and boring. Such work often seems very dated with its shock value and desire to challenge overwhelmed by the pace of time. Bas Jan Ader's work definitely meets the challenge of time.
Perhaps its because one can't escape the personal tragedy of his being lost at sea that his work is imbued with a quality of sadness and loss - but I think even without the facts of his life contributing to the way we see his work there is a strong emotional response, whether to the slapstick nature of his falling films - which have a real 'wince' quality, or to the photographs which include a self-portrait film still of Bas Jan crying (I'm too sad to tell you) as well as land/cityscapes which evoke a sense of emptiness, loss and a searching for something... The work is intelligent but most of all 'astonishing', in a way that all good art should seek to be. Definitely worth seeing!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Crime fiction

Sometimes you hear about a book, play, author, film and everything you hear seems to suggest that its not only good, but its right up your metaphoric street. That was what I was expecting when I finally got around to buying Manuel Vazquez Montalban's Murder in the Central Committee. Not only had he been heralded by positive reviews and inclusion in various recommendatory lists but I really get into good quality crime fiction, and what's more love Spain and a few Spanish authors... But I just didn't get into this one even after semi-struggling through to the end. Time to find someone new to try out!

A Weekend without Art

Yep - nothing more cultural than Eurovision and a glimpse of Big Brother. Spent most of the weekend facilitating an assertiveness course with a lovely bunch of gay men. No time to catch any of the exhibitions about and was tired and without the boyfriend for the weekend so didn't go out in the evening. Looking forward to Wednesday and my birthday day off!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Americans in Paris

(dedicated to Dennis Cooper, an American in Paris who's own blog is one year old today!)

At the monent I still seem to be choosing exhibitions based on what is finishing soon so apologies for this. Americans in Paris 1860-1900 is an exhibition currently on at the National Gallery (London) which was organised by the National Gallery, London and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

At the time Paris was the centre of the art world (which does raise the question as to which city currently holds this honour?) and draw in a number of American art students and artists, who then returned to the United States with Parisian influenced ideas and methods. Aside from
James McNeill Whistler and John Singer Sargent, my personal discovery was Mary Cassatt - whose work was part of the Impressionist movement. In a couple of her pictures the use of colour and the brushstrokes and the way they used focus were just lovely.

The exhibition also created an interesting narrative around the way in which Americans went to Paris and lived and worked there, although to some extent this narrative was underdeveloped. I was particularly interested in Henry Ossawa Tanner, an Afro-American artist who remained in Paris until his death in 1937, and in knowing more about his story.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ellsworth Kelly at the Serpentine

The Serpentine ( is one of my favourite galleries. I love the walk through the park to get to it, the smallness of the gallery such that any exhibition is never too large and overpowering, and the quality of space and light of the gallery itself. The space was perfectly suited to Ellsworth Kelly's exhibition of recent work; of simple forms and bright colours, shadows and light.

The Sultan's Elephant

My weekend included going into central London on Saturday morning to see The Sultan's Elephant - a large scale street theatre production by French company Royal de Luxe. Check it out at:

This was truly delightful - the size of it really changed the way I saw the city environment and the buildings we passed, and it was great fun following the girl and the elephant in turn and wondering where they would meet up, as well as observing the other people who had come to watch it and take part. An extra bonus was having streets of central London closed for this event!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Chris Ofili - The Upper Room

Caught this on its last day on display at Tate Britain (along with the mildly disappointing Tate Triennial). The Upper Room consists of thirteen paintings displayed in an environment especially designed by the architect David Adjaye. Each painting shows a rhesus macaque monkey, and each is dominated by a different colour, identified in Spanish on the elephant dung supports. The arrangement of twelve canvases flanking a thirteenth larger one suggests Christ and his Apostles, and within the architectural space and lighting this looks like a chapel with stained glass windows (aided by the use of resin and glitter). The individual paintings have layers of work and material and while by themselves are great works, exhibited like this are extraordinarily beautiful. I'm really pleased Tate Britain bought these and only now disappointed that they don't form part of a more permanent exhibition - perhaps nearby Tate Modern's Rothko murals.

Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Today I read that Indonesian author Pramoedya Ananta Toer has died. Pramoedya is best known for the Buru Quartet series which trace the rise of Indonesian nationalism in the first decades of the twentieth century, through a series of fictional characters. I began reading the series partly out of interest in learning more about Indonesia at a time where my knowledge was largely based around Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. The books are lively, intelligent and now on my list for a re-reading.
Pramoedya was nominated several times for the Nobel prize for literature. Almost all his work was banned in Indonesia, and he wrote eight of his novels, including the Buru quartet during his 10-year stay at the infamous Buru island labour camp where he was sent after four years of detention at various other jails.