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Feb 2009 Journal

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Art Notes (review)

After Europe’s long dark night of the soul, a post-war artistic boom ignited Paris. The spirit of Modernism, fostered by art mogul Aimée Maeght’s Galerie Maeght in 1945, brought a sparkling array of artists out of the cold. Miro, Calder, Giacometti and Braque introduced colour, energy, mythology and surrealism to counter the gloom of war.

The Royal Academy of Arts, sponsored by BNP Paribas, celebrates these four artists in 140 works and includes Bonnard and Matisse, who helped establish the gallery. Braque’s brooding birds in a foliage of green or dull mud colours have an ominous quality. His landscapes are solid and dispassionate, almost pessimistic, echoing the Cubism he invented with Picasso. Close friends Miro and Calder blend poetry with playfulness: Calder stunned the art world by wearing his serpentine canvas with hieroglyphic motifs at the Galerie’s 1947 surrealist exhibition. Calder tended to outline his abstract forms in black using red calligraphy. His Great Oyster Seller in harsh pinks, a starfish woman in red, and a red eye demonstrate his wit and humour.

Giacometti’s elongated sculptures suggest purpose and movement despite their stillness. His interest in West African tribal art inspired Spoon Woman; his forests are filled with human trees, based on his childhood perception of forests as being full of people standing still and talking to each other.

Lurking behind the Burlington Arcade is the RA’s ‘alternative’ gallery, which launched a three-month season entitled GSK Contemporary. Their exhibition, Touching Space, is a collaborative, educational project with members of Complicite offering performance art, using film, theatre, kinetic sculpture and narrative in which science and arts students at Ashmole School, London, and St Xavier’s in Mumbai (long before the massacre there) share a multi-dimensional experiment based on mathematicAL principles. There’s even a temporary cafe built out of art storage boxes called Flash. But is it art or is it science? Hard to tell. Julian Rosefeldt’s Trilogy of Faith analyses everyday behaviour to discover how messy and repetitive it is. Others, less prosaic, show the stuff of dreams and nightmares, featuring a girl in a long white dress under fir trees. As people loomed towards me in the exhibition, I didn’t know whether they were art installations in themselves. But the full-size cut-out of the Venus de Milo set in a perspex frame was less threatening! I passed a huge, untidy room with dirty dishes and cooking pots on the stove, a fan blowing out an old newspaper, open jars of nutella and, of course, the obligatory cliché - an unmade bed.

The contrasting peacefulness of Alfred Sisley, lone Brit in a sea of French Impressionists, is at the National Gallery until mid-February. Born in France to an English family, he substitutes English leisure life along the Thames for boating parties on the Seine. Sisley’s Welsh scenes are considered the masterpieces of his late career. His colours perfectly reflect the light and the landscape of the west coast and prefigure Modernism in his play on colour, space and contrast.
 

 

 

Gloria Tessler

previous article:God on trial (Point of View series)
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