October 16, 2012

What's On In London

After three days of sun and fun in beautiful Madrid, it is off to London where the weather is gray but there are a lot of great things to see and do.

Let's start at the main reason for my visit, the inaugural Frieze Masters art fair, an offshoot of the ten year old Frieze Art Fair held in a tent in Regent's Park.  While the original Frieze concentrates only on contemporary art, i.e. nothing created before the year 2000, Frieze Masters is broader in scope offering works from ancient art and artifacts up until 1999.  For me, this fuller spectrum is far more interesting as there is truly something for everyone's collecting or viewing interests.

Like, for instance, the marvelous, tiny carved Eskimo tools and implements on the stand of Galerie Meyer, Paris.  Or the three carved stone gargoyles from a French cathedral on the stand of Sam Fogg, London.  Or the Calder mobiles slowly spinning to 1920s jazz music on the stand of Helly Nahmad, London.  Or the plethora of modern masters on the stand of Acquavella Galleries, New York.  Some likened this fair to a mini Maastricht and while I thought there were some very fine exhibitors, the fact that it was held in a tent and the wall colors were limited to white, grey or black, made it far less elegant than the sumptuous booths in Holland.  Nevertheless, it seems to be quite a success with a lot of quality material and a lot of visitors too.

There are also several terrific exhibitions now on view at various London museums.  I had read about and was very keen to see the Tate Britain's fall presentation "Pre-Raphaelites:  Victorian Avant-Garde".  Considered Britain's first modern art movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (or "PRB" as they cryptically signed their canvases) was established in 1848 as a reactionary group rebelling against the art establishment and the industrial age.  By 1860 they had metamorphosed into the Aesthetic Movement in which Beauty became the ideal and reality was left by the wayside.

Drawing from their own rather substantial collection rounded out by some very fine loans, the Tate Britain has brought together over 150 works in various media including painting, sculpture, photography and the applied arts, by such luminaries as Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.  It was a gorgeous exhibition, well curated and clearly explained and I was in total Victorian Heaven!

I also wanted to visit the Tate Modern and rather than descend into the depths of the Tube, I opted for the fun and efficient ferry service that runs from the Tate Britain on Millbank, past the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament to the Tate Modern at Bankside where I was fortunate to be able to catch the exhibition "Edvard Munch" which was closing in just a few days.

Edvard Munch's work was recently the center of attention with the sale of his masterpiece "The Scream" that now holds the record as the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.  But this was not a retrospective of the artist's Ĺ“uvre.  Rather than re-hash his already well known paintings and prints of the 1880s and 1890s, "Edvard Munch: The Modern Eye" looks at the work done in the 20th Century, with a particular focus on his experiments with photography and film.

While this Norwegian artist is probably best known for his images of angst, torment and alienation he was more than just a tortured soul.  Certainly never cheery or lighthearted, the works on display offer a different perspective of the artist's efforts at coming to terms with his demons.  I did not leave the exhibition feeling on top of the world, but I did feel that I had a better understanding of his method and motivation.

Another hot ticket in London these days is the exhibition "Bronze" at the Royal Academy in Picadilly. I must confess that the subject of bronze had never been too compelling, but a friend whose opinion I trust insisted that I go, so I did.  Wow!  Was I glad I listened!

Covering all periods of bronze sculpture from Europe, Africa and Asia, the show is arranged not chronologically but according to subject.  At first it can be a little jarring to see an artifact from 1,100 B.C. next to a 20th Century work, but it ultimately all fits together to show just how versatile and important bronze has been to art and decoration since it came into use as an artistic medium over 5,000 years ago.

On display are over 150 tour de force examples of the bronze casters craft.  Exquisite 14th Century Benin figures from Nigeria are as compelling as Benvenuto Cellini's larger than life statue of Perseus and Medusa from 1840.  Picasso's 1951 "Baboon and Young" stands alongside an Egyptian "Seated Cat" from 300 B.C., which stands next to Giambologna's realistic "Turkey" commissioned by the Medicis to decorate their garden grotto in 1517.  All of these works are guarded by an Etruscan "Chimaera of Arezzo" whose lion body, snake tail and goat head coming out of its back must have been fearsome in its time!

The Royal Academy's presentation of bronze objects, Gods, heads, figures and relief sculptures was absolutely fascinating.  A remarkable look at a not very well known, but certainly worthwhile subject and an exhibition I was very happy to have seen.

I commemorated my last night in London with a special treat - a concert held in St. Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, right next door to the National Gallery.  I had only ever heard recordings of this renowned orchestra and was thrilled to have a chance to see them live.  Imagine beautiful music by Vivaldi, Handel, Mozart and Bach, played by candlelight in this historic church.  It was pure magic and the perfect end to a very nice few days in London.

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