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Notes from London Art Week 2009
A visit to London Art Week seldom leaves time to fully immerse yourself in the work that you see.
My few days' visit inevitably started with the opening of Frieze. This year it felt particularly commercial, and, I have to say, pedestrian. I didn’t take much away from it - other than a mild hangover. The veneer felt thin, complementing many of the exhibits beautifully. There are always interesting things to see at Frieze, but I tend to leave perplexed as to why they are overshadowed by a deluge of unimportant, banal mediocrity. But then I remind myself: it's a commercial fair like any other. It's more about the market than it is about art.
Next day I'm at Anish Kapoor at the RA: a razzmatazz retrospective showing the greatest hits, and you can't help but be impressed (Kapoor picture right). Having said that, the spirituality of Kapoor’s work seemed largely to have been replaced by ostentatiousness. A number of the sculptures were diluted repeats of previous pieces and as such felt a little devalued. But they were impressive none the less.
Then I'm over to White Cube at Mason's Yard to see the Anselm Kiefer. This was less powerful, for me, than other Kiefer shows. He's undeniably a great artist, but this felt distinctly de-caff. Round the corner, I popped in to Beaux Arts. Good exhibition of the ever energetic John Hoyland. I was kindly given a copy of the hardback book to accompany the show: ‘Scatter the Devils’ - a great title!
I had meetings near Vyner Street, so did the rounds. The most memorable bit was a visit to a new gallery across the road, called ‘The Last Tuesday Society’. Silas Wynd ('just call me Wynd'), artist and main man at the Last Tuesday Society (famed for their masked hedonistic balls), has opened this gallery-come-shop of weird, wonderful and terrifying curiosities. It was great and I could have spent a long time there.
I headed over to Shoreditch for a meeting, and remembered the exhibition ‘Gloria’ was on, containing work by many familiar faces from Cornwall. They were frantically finishing the install (picture left: Lucy Willow) but kindly let me look around. The show looked good and competed favourably with much else that I had seen. It's nice to see artists from the region getting in on some of the action, though I wonder what impact was made in the light of so many other goings-on.
Back to Zoo, in its new location just off Shoreditch High Street. It was no better than an average student show, and worse than many. A real disappointment, and a waste of time that could have spent looking at something else.
Then to the opening of an exhibition of older works by the great Michael Sandle, held at a small, established gallery near Islington called Art Space, run by Michael Richardson. A quality dealer – overshadowed in the current PR world, I am sure, by many of the Zoo and East End younger counterparts. Could not help but ponder on this. Great work shown in a modest way by a dealer who has been supporting work he believes in for over 20 years. Seems important.
I had missed the opening night of the exhibition ‘The Age of the Marvellous’ at One Marylebone Road (picture right), an exhibition housed by All Visual Arts and curated by Joseph Le Placa, but had an hour free on the way back to Paddington so stopped there on the way back through. I must say I’m very glad that I did. It is one of the most complete and interesting shows that I have seen in some time. Firstly the venue was right. I get tired of people commenting on the space and having nothing to say of the work, but the space at One, Marylebone Road (an old church) was ideal for a show of this nature, and certainly added to the experience. There were over 50 exhibits on three floors. The exhibition took ‘the cabinet of curiosities’ approach which aimed demonstrate the sum of all of man’s knowledge. The show was a stunner, with most of the work of genuine interest. There was also a heavy dose of craftsmanship.
One show that I missed was ‘The Sacred Made Real’ at the National Gallery, an exhibition of Spanish art from 1600 – 1700. ‘The Age of the Marvellous’, for me, had the same power as the art of this period – it also took the sacred and made it real, and made connections with the timeless nature of art. This came as a welcome surprise, after having been bombarded with so much contemporary work, which quickly becomes forgotten in the temporary concerns of the present. Thankfully, this show was far from forgettable.
Joseph Clark is Director of Millennium Gallery, St Ives.