Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present
National Gallery, until 20 January 2012
The National Gallery’s first ever major exhibition of photography, which opened on Wednesday, highlights how contemporary photographers have drawn constantly from both the history of photography and the history of painting. Divided into rooms by genres such as portraiture, landscape and still life, and comprised of loans from many different private and public collections, the show compares and contrasts artists one doesn’t normally see in the same space.
Left: Thomas Gainsborough, 'Mr and Mrs Andrews', about 1750. ©The National Gallery, London. Right: Martin Parr, 'Signs of the Times, England', 1991. C-type print. 51 x 61 cm. Martin Parr / Magnum Photos / Rocket Gallery. © Martin Parr / Magnum Photos.
A portrait of a suburban couple in their living room by British photographer Martin Parr (Signs of the Times, 1991) is hung with Thomas Gainsborough’s famous Mr and Mrs Andrews (c.1750), which depicts a landowning couple placed proudly in the foreground of their estate. In the central room entitled ‘Tableaux’, a battle scene by Emile-Jean-Horace Venet (1821) finds echoes in both Roger Fenton’s prints of the Crimean War (1855) and French artist Luc Delahaye’s photograph US Bombing on Taliban Positions (2001). These are a just few of the many juxtapositions across time and art-historical divisions that this fascinating exhibition presents.
The Northern Renaissance: Dürer to Holbein
The Queen’s Gallery, until 14 April 2013
Albrecht Durer, 'St Jerome in his study', 1514. Credit: Royal Collection Trust (c) 2012, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The other big art opening this week was at the Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace – a survey of the Royal Collection’s superlative Northern Renaissance masterpieces. There are occasional vocal announcements from art critics that the Queen’s collection should be in public ownership, and the quality on show in this exhibition only makes one think how wonderful it would be if these pieces could be on view for free all the time to the nation.
Paintings, drawings, prints, metalwork and illuminated manuscripts are showcased as examples of Northern Europe’s many artistic achievements during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which are often, somewhat unfairly, overshadowed by those of Italy. Highlights include Hans Holbein portraits and preparatory drawings and Dürer’s etchings, as well as other art-historical gems such as Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s The Massacre of the Innocents (1565–7).
Jean Dubuffet: Transitions
Pallant House, until 3 February 2013
The French artist Jean Dubuffet is the subject of a significant survey show at Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery, the first in a UK public gallery for over 50 years. The length of that time period is a slightly surprising one, given the influence Dubuffet had as a lynchpin of the post-war continental European art scene.
Jean Dubuffet, 'Nimble free hand to the rescue' (Main leste et rescousse), 1964. Acrylic on canvas, Tate: Presented by Galerie. Beyeler, Basle and Galerie Jeanne Bucher, Paris 1966 © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2012.
In the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, the Le-Havre born, Paris-based painter, inspired by the work he collected by non-professional artists at the margins of society, such as psychiatric patients, prisoners and children, developed a semi-figurative aesthetic characterised by spontaneous, naïve and gestural mark-making. Dubuffet called his work Art Brut (or ‘Raw Art’) and was part of a wider pan-European movement called Tachism (from the French word tâche, meaning blot or stain). The achievement of the Abstract Expressionists in New York are seen to have eclipsed those of the Tachists; perhaps now is the right time for Dubuffet and his associates’ reappraisal.
Artangel at Ambika P3, 4 - 18 November 2012
The cutting-edge art-commissioners Artangel are restaging a two-week run of an installation/performance piece that gained great acclaim in 2008: German composer and director Heiner Goebbels’ Stifter's Dinge.
'Heiner Goebbels: Stifter's Dinge'. Photograph by Mario del Curto.
Five hanging pianos move and play music by themselves in an eerie environment in which exterior weather conditions, such as mist and rain, are made manifest. The venue is the same as last time, the University of Westminster’s subterranean Ambika P3 space off the Euston Road, and, although tickets to the performances are £25, reviews from last time suggest that it will be a highly memorable event.
Anna Bjerger, 'Bare', 2012. Oil on aluminium. 50 x 40 cm. Copyright Anna Bjerger, Courtesy of Paradise Row. Anna Bjerger: Da Capo
Paradise Row, 1 December 2012
An intriguing show of figurative paintings by Swedish artist Anna Bjerger opened at Paradise Row at the weekend.
Like more famous names such as Luc Tuymans (who currently has a show at Mayfair’s David Zwirner) and Wilhelm Sasnal, Bjerger uses photographic material as inspiration for her canvases, using the act of painting to remake her source images in a far more ambiguous forms.
Most of the works in the exhibition feature figures turning away or hiding the face from the viewer, heightening the already elusive quality of her art.
Sam Phillips is a London-based arts journalist and contributor to RA Magazine