August 15, 2014

We were on the road again by 9.00 am and anticipating the Matisse: The Cut-Outs and Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art exhibitions at the Tate Modern:

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My appreciation for the gallery is growing. Nevertheless, the interior still looks as though it could be Darth Vader’s larger bathroom:

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Responses (from ‘The Black Notebook’ (Jan. 2, 2008 – , 168-9 )):

Matisse:

  • M interpreted Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 1 using 5 colours.
  • The cuts outs have been dealt a serious disservice by the calendar and greetings card industry. They have repeatedly over-exposed a select few images of the work, and thereby made them disproportionately important in the public imagination.
  • M composed the cut-outs from back to front; from ground to figure. I never realized that before. But one can see it.
  • Things that I particularly like: The Bees (1948), Venus (1952), and Chinese Fish (1951). The latter anticipates the work of the British Pop artist Anthony Donaldson.
  • Some of the cuts-outs from the 1950s are reminiscent of Stuart Davis’s paintings in the 1940s. [Davis was exposed to the work of M in 1913.] A case of reciprocal influence, perhaps.
  • I’m drawn to the pinholes in the paper, where M secured the cut-outs to the support.
  • The Snail (1953) has never looked so good. It could’ve been made yesterday. In my opinion, it’s the best work in show. Coincidentally (?), it’s the most abstract. I’m always impressed by the way M positioned the black rectangle in the top half of the painting. The shape threatens to decentre the picture but is kept firmly in-check, like a moon caught within the gravitational field of the green, oblong earth beneath it.

Malevich:

  • Things that I particularly like: Cow and Violin (1913) for its rather cack-handed synthesis of Cubism and realism, Black Quadrilateral (n.d.), Black Square (1915), Red Square (1915), Black Square (1929), the Alpha (1923) architekton, Woman with Rake (1930-2). (Diebenkorn must have seen this; the background colours and geometric proportions anticipate those of his own landscapes), Suprematist Cross (1923).
  • Exhibition board: ‘Malevich dated the Black Square to 1913, though it was almost certainly painted in June 1915. The discrepancy was due to his belief that the date should be for the original idea for the painting rather than its creation’. This notion anticipates Sol Le Witt’s own prioritization and positioning of idea over and before making by half a century.
  • BS (1913) was not exhibited until the 1980s. Extraordinary! But I saw photographs of it in the late 1970s.
  • M: ‘The artist can be a creator only when the forms of the picture have nothing to do with nature’ (1915). What would Malevich have thought of Matisse’s cut-outs, I wonder, with all their references to natural forms? (The Snail partially excepted, of course.)
  • Matysukin: theories on the relationship of sound and colour.
  • M’s White on White is notable by its absence. Was it destroyed?

Malevich had to return to figuration during the Stalinist era when abstraction was branded elitist. The research ethos in British universities is a more benign form of the same totalitarian censorship. Today, the discourse is couched in terms of public accessibility and impact, rather than of the Communist dictum ‘art for the masses’.

We walked along the Embankment towards London Bridge via the back alleys around the old London Prison, and took lunch in the grounds of Southwark Cathedral where Shakespeare’s brother is buried. I lit a candle there:

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Borough Market (which I discovered last year), situated opposite the Cathedral, offers the finest range of good quality, regionally-produced food that I’ve ever encountered. The market is crossed and flanked by railway bridges; the enclosed area resonates with the rumble of trains (like constant thunder) passing overhead:

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We returned to the hotel in order to recompose ourselves and put in an hour’s work.

Late afternoon, we visited Covent Garden and ate dinner at the covered market. Then, onto Whitehall and the Trafalgar Studios (splendidly converted from a cinema) to see Richard III, with Martin Freeman (Dr Watson in Sherlock) in the lead role. Freeman had incorporated some of Hitler’s traits and ticks into his realization of this psychotic and despotic ‘little man’. The play was set in 1970s Britain during the ‘Winter of discontent’, as it was aptly called, of Thatcher’s ‘la Terreur’:

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The performance was electric in every sense of that word. The influence of David Lynch’s design for the Red Room in Twin Peaks, and his metaphors for paranormal presence, were evident influences upon the set design:

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Bed beckoned.

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