February 21, 2008

What's On In London

It's been a lovely few days here in London and only now, sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow, do I see a few raindrops falling outside.

Art lovers have several great reasons to come to London right now! The most recent, and for me most exciting, is the exhibition "Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia" now on at the Tate Modern. Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray and Francis Picabia were three of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. Past exhibitions tended to focus on the work of one artist at a time, or as part of a larger group such as the Dadaists, but Jennifer Mundy and her staff at the Tate have chosen to explore the influences and collaborations between the three.

The result is a mega show, in effect three retrospectives in one, featuring over 400 works of art. Included are icons such as Duchamp's painting "Nude Descending a Staircase No 2", 1912, his controversial urinal sculpture "Fountain", 1917, and his parody of the Mona Lisa "L.H.O.O.Q.", 1919, Man Ray's inspired rayographs and "Objects of My Affection", and Picabia's machine drawings and Transparency paintings. Themes of Movement, Machines, Light, Eroticism, Transparency and Opacity are examined and presented in clear and fascinating displays. The organizers' ambitious goal, to explore the connections between these 3 pioneers and their profound influence on the direction of art today, is achieved in superb fashion.

The Tate Modern opened in 2000 in a former power station on the South Bank of the Thames River, across from St Paul's Cathedral. Visitors enter through the former Turbine Hall, 35 meters high and 152 meters long, with a long ramp sloping down into the museum admissions area. This entrance has recently been transformed with a work by the Colombian artist Doris Salcedo and her installation piece "Shibboleth". Consisting of a long, snaking crack in the cement floor that runs from one end of the Turbine Hall to the other, the artist asks us to consider historic and current divisions that exist in society as well as the fault lines in our own world.

For a very fun trip from the Tate Modern to their more traditional branch, the Tate Britain, take a ride on the Thames Clipper - a shuttle service that runs every 40 minutes between the two museums, with a stop at the London Eye in between. It costs the same at the Tube, but it's a fast trip with a wonderful view of the sights of the city from the Thames.

The Tate Britain tells the story of British Art through the ages from 1500 to the present day. From magnificent Constable landscapes to figurative neoclassical marble sculptures, there is a lot of great art to be seen. Presently, the Tate Britain is featuring a special exhibition of work by the contemporary artist Peter Doig. Born in Britain, but raised in Canada and now living in Trinidad, Mr. Doig has earned quite a fine reputation as an artist and his pieces brings big prices at auction. This show is a concise but impressive look at his work, both oils and works on paper, from 1990 to the present. I found his early works, inspired by his time in Canada, the most haunting and provocative but that might just be a personal flashback to my own childhood! His later paintings seem thinner, less worked-up and for me less interesting, although his most recent works with staining paint have a beautiful dreamy quality.

The Banner announcing "From Russia" outside
The Royal Academy with
Sir Joshua Reynolds' statue to the right

Last, but by no means least, is the blockbuster show "From Russia: French and Russian Master Paintings 1870-1925" now on at the Royal Academy of Arts. There is a reason why the ticket line stretched out the door and down the stairs every single time I passed by the museum. The pre-opening drama with the Russian government very nearly refusing the loans only added to the excitement and the 11th hour negotiations that allowed the show to continue have been well rewarded.

This show is impressive for several reasons. It is an important survey of Russian and French paintings spanning the movements from Realism and Impressionism to Constructivism and Abstraction and featuring over 120 paintings on loan from The State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and The State Tretyakov Museum in Moscow and The State Hermitage Museum and The State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. These masterpieces, acquired by the Russian government from 2 major private collectors, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morosov, include works by Renoir, Monet, C├ęzanne, Gaugin, Picasso, Matisse, Gontcharova, Chagall, Kandinsky, Tatlin and Malevich, and they provide a fascinating look at the exchange between French artists and their Russian colleagues. This is a ground breaking exhibition as it is the first time many of these paintings have been seen outside of Russia and it is an amazing look at what was going on artistically in that country before the Revolution changed everything.

As you can see, it's been a museum-packed few days here in London, and I've enjoyed every minute. I leave you with a photo I took from the Waterloo Bridge earlier this week and I'll be back in touch next time from New York! Cheerio!

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