Looking for a paper on New Year’s Day I found the Telegraph and studied the usual round up of the coming year’s cultural events. This from its art critic Richard Dorment caught my attention:
I can hardly wait for LS Lowry to open at Tate Britain – not because I rate the old bore as anything more than a glorified folk artist, but because the show is being curated by two scholars whose work I emphatically do rate –TJ Clark and Anne Wagner. Tate Director Penelope Curtis’s decision to ask these two heavyweights to look at Lowry as a painter of modern life was inspired. And because of their involvement I’ll go with an open mind and hope to be convinced that there is something in his twee little stick figures I have not seen before.
My first thought was that it has come to a sorry pass when curators are considered more important than artists. My second was what the hell is Dorment doing posing as an art critic when he can’t make up his mind about an artist without a guiding hand.
I know something about one of the ‘heavyweights’ - the high panjandrum of Modernism, according to another critic - from a couple of reviews by him in London Review of Books. Here is an extract from TJ Clark’s piece on the exhibition of Richter’s work at Tate Modern:
The word ‘blur’ has come up. ‘Richter’s blur’, it is called in the literature. Again the term may be insufficient. When one gets to the moment in the show when Richter reinvents his ‘blur’ in the context of abstract painting – the two versions of Abstrakts Bild from 1977 are particularly astonishing, and still hard to look at – it is immediately clear how far from description of what happens in the paintings, and what its effects on the viewer might be, the monosyllable is. Critics have come up with alternatives. In the context of abstraction – that strange episode in art’s endgame – all the suggestions seem charged. Have we to do, for instance, with some kind of deliberate loss of focus or register? Maybe with a form of willed inaccuracy on the artist’s part. Or even vagueness. This last, might seem, is very much not a modern art value; though that might mean Richter was right to make it one. I like the story Richard Rorty told against himself late in life, when he heard that a philosophy departmennt had just hired someone whose speciality was vagueness, and he raised an eyebrow. ‘Dick, you’re really out of it,’ his host said. ‘Vagueness is huge.’
I have a suspicion that Rorty may not have been telling that story completely against himself.
Clark begins the next paragraph with this sentence: Emptiness, by contrast, is a condition that Modernism treasures.
I spent Christmas in Vienna and thoroughly enjoyed return visits to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and to the Albertina where there was an outstanding exhibition, Maximillian 1 and the Age of Durer. But when I reached the contemporary section of the latter institution, an abundance of that Modernist ‘emptiness’ became apparent. I noted some of the dos and don’ts of contemporary art:
- Do not confuse with different ideas. A single idea with the slightest variations will serve best.
- Produce work of a uniform size. It can be hung neatly.
- Framing must be immaculate. This will be the only craft on show.
- Representational painting is permissible, but only so long as it is an imitation of photography.