jctv: 03.01.2012HOME




A week in London, day V, The Tate Britain


[Should the artist, legitimate owner or the museum itself object to me placing these photographs here I shall remove them on request]

On my last day I went to the Tate Britain. That was brilliant. A very good exhibition of John Martin, a great artist of post-romantic apocalyptic spectacle, thickly spread with melodrama and vortex skies. I loved every city ploughed under and every shaft of lightening, every swirling cloud and flame. The various versions of Belshazzar’s Feast were a treat to compare, especially the one he did for himself and from which he made the mezzotint prints. Some economist should do Martin the great honour of calculating the cost of the feast and its architectural setting as Martin envisioned it. Not even Poetin could host a part like that. It would have a country’s GDP. Three parallel rows of long tables slowly disappear into the cavernous distance underneath an immeasurable building, hosting a party for thousands, perhaps the whole population of Babylon. No plenary after dinner speeches without a good PA system then. Daniel stands in the centre doing his propheting on the terrace of the King’s table together with the card-board caste of swooning ladies and conspiring men with sharp beards, intensive eyes and cruel mouths, who are, apparently quite oblivious to the miracle that is happening on the frieze of the enormous colonnade to the left which stands over the vast central courtyard, and where the writing on the wall appears in bright neon. It is all too wonderful for words. I also loved Joshua making the sun stop and Vesuvius busy covering Herculaneum and Pompeii in gushes of molten lava. And every time a violent vortex of swirling clouds, light and lightening accompanies the moment. The weather has a way of helping out in telling a good story. The fall of Babylon with its immeasurable stretches of colonnade and the tower of Babel cloaked in haze far away in the background, towering away happily, always unfinished and of a scale that is quite beyond the statically reasonable. Another great picture, which I did not know was mammon building pandemonium. I was reminded of an old favourite, Wiliam Rimmer’s Master Builder. They both stand in a similar pose: self-confident and slightly ridiculous. But then Mammon is a superman version of Rimmer’s master builder. He builds by envisioning. Imagine it. I feel another science fiction horror story coming up: Once upon a time, there was an architect who had the magic power to realise every vision he ever had by simply conjuring it up in his imagination. And when he opened his eyes, it stood there, built….. AAARGH, a nightmare! Actually, talking about pandemonium, the mezzotint of the rather good-looking Lucifer holding forth to his orderly crowd of sycophants is rather good, I wish I owned a copy. He sits there in the middle of a gigantic auditorium, something along the lines of the parliament of Pyong Yang but then the size Kim il Jung would have wished it, on a black globe, gesturing quite informally as if going through a bit of a brainstorm session with his fellow fallen angels. The prize of the show goes to the presentation of the triptych about the end of the world and the rising of New Jerusalem. All hail to the exhibition designers for making it such a good show, all of it, the sermon, the lightshow, the and finally the paintings themselves, uncluttered and there to be enjoyed all for themselves. The train driving into the chasm, Milton and Shakespeare looking at us rather smugly as they are comfortably seated at the left hand side of the picture which is Christ’s right hand side, the side for the upwardly mobile. And on the other side the gorgeously plump Whore of Babylon on which Elizabeth Taylor must have modelled herself, and her many clients who now visibly regret everything they have ever undertaken. And then that fabulous vision of an earth folding in on itself with whole cities churned upside down, crashing into a black hole. John Martin was perhaps a painter but above all he was an impresario. His works are as good as any play. And considering his obsession with things subterranean, it is perhaps appropriate that he turned his hand at trying to solve London’s sewage problem.

Then I went to see the modern stuff and renewed my love affair with Barbara Hepworth and my friendship with Henry More. They are great artists, both of them. Don’t ask me why, I haven’t got a clue, I just know that I could live with their sculptures and that they would never ever tire and that I would simply become friends with them in a way that I am friends with Moby Dick, Vasalis, Arend, Keats’ Odes, Hölderlin, Eluard and Spinoza. I rediscovered Eduardo Paolozzi, Lynn Chadwick and Reg Butler. Also enjoyed the deeply disturbing Gilbert and George and spent a long time in front of a work of art that is iconic in a truly religious sense; it inspires something akin to the quietness of prayer, but in a disquieting way: a quiet foreboding, it is the Our Father of modernity. It disturbs and frightens and at the same time it is still, and deep, and at the same time weirdly innocuous. Their ties are so frivol, their faces so amicable, if distracted; the black and white photographs of the north bank with the monument to the fire of London of 1666 is so small and inconspicuous in its significance that you hesitate to see it as in any way intentional. But, as everything appears so meticulously thought through, all sense of accident appears unreasonable. Then there was the surprise of the day, Michael Craig-Martin’s glass-of-water-that-is-an-oak-tree, which I enjoyed more than almost anything. I loved the simple what you see is what you get conversation between the artist and the fictional(?) critic who tries, haplessly but sincerely,  to catch the artist out. The whole thought experiment, a development of the ceçi n’est pas une pipe problem, is underpinned by an ironclad, maddening, Lewis-Carroll-like logic, as solid as an oak tree and at the same time as liquid as a glass of water, as transparent as a bathroom shelf and as opaque as the wall it is all hung on. But always gentle, simply brilliant and never tiring. There was more of course. Gwen John’s Rembrandtian self-portrait and her delicate pale nude with small breasts. And there were the pre-Raphaelites and the curious Augustus Leopold Egg (you need two such first names for a surname like that, he must have had a hard time at school…) and Turner and Constable and Hilliard and Millais and Waterhouse and Derby and Stubbs and you name it, it was all there and it was all wonderful. I spent a long time in front of Frith’s Derby Day and tried to reconstruct all of its Hardy-like stories. By the end of the day I was happily exhausted and walked back over Vauxhall Bridge and passed that ridiculous bus station that some badly trained architect thought up in a moment of lunar derangement.

Dragonfly by Lynn Chadwick, (thank you Maarten!) I loved it. Eduardo Paolozzi's spaces  
Gilbert and George's Red Morning The dome of the Tate  
A good space Another good space by Richard Hamilton  
Op art. Maarten thinks it is by Jean-Pierre Yvaral, the son of Vasarely An opening sentence after my own heart: Objects who's (sic) function it is to be enjoyed. I have never understood the label art for art's sake, I have never understood those who somehow see enjoyment as useless...  
An oak tree by Michael Craig-Martin The conversation about it, which is defintely worth a pause  
William Blake's space

David Wilkie's space

Constable's skying I'm not really quite sure why I put this in, but there you are  
Vauxhall Bridge The lights from the MI5 building  
Made me feel a bit Pink Floydy I was just photographing this sign for a ladder in the train on the way to Kingston, when a man standing silently at the door, began banging the train with intense violence and swearing with all his might. All the passengers looked up, saw the man and averted their gaze. Was he angry? Was he a Touretter? Was he going to hurt us, was he going to hurt himself? Should we worry about the train? The he got off and swoe some more, performing female genitals swinging through the air. And then all was quiet again and I could wonder about this ladder.  


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