sun 09/08/2020

Visual Arts Reviews

The Genius of British Art, David Starkey, Channel 4

Fisun Güner Forgetting the rest of art history, David Starkey cunningly tries to convince us that the Tudors invented the portrait

“Henry VIII is the only king whose shape we remember,” David Starkey tells us in the first of a new series of “polemical essays” on British art. To demonstrate, he reduces the king’s form to its bare Cubist geometry. He sketches a trapezoid for the chest – an impressive 54 inches in life, as attested by his made-to-measure suit of armour; two “chicken-wing” triangles for the puffed sleeves; two simple parallel lines for the wide-apart legs. Oh, and a small, inverted triangle for the codpiece...

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Salvator Rosa: Bandits, Wilderness and Magic, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Sarah Kent Salvator Rosa's self-portrait 'Philosophy' provides 'a glimpse of the self-promotional flair that would spark a personality cult'

Mount Vesuvius blew its top in 1631, spewing molten lava into the sea and filling the air with ash clouds that reached as far as Constantinople. The eruption and accompanying earthquakes killed 3,000 people and caused widespread devastation, all of which made a lasting impression on the 16–year-old Salvator Rosa. As an artist he was to specialise in darkly tempestuous landscapes filled with menace in which small figures are dwarfed by towering cliffs, or beset by bandits, while storm clouds...

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Gauguin: Maker of Myth, Tate Modern

Judith Flanders 'Self-portrait with Manao tu papau' by Paul Gauguin

Gauguin has always been the poor relation in the art-legend sweepstakes. Unlike Van Gogh, there is no heartwarming story of overcoming lack of technical facility; no ghoulishly enjoyable story of genius crushed by madness. Instead, there is a story that veers from irritating to deeply unattractive: a businessman and Sunday painter, Gauguin acquired his technical skills across a range of art forms with almost insolent ease, before abandoning his wife and children in poverty to flee to...

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Treasures from Budapest: European Masterpieces from Leonardo to Schiele, Royal Academy

Fisun Güner 'Sleeping Girl': 'A smile plays on her lips as if she is dreaming of a lover, whose scent, perhaps, she can still smell'

Treasures from Budapest – phew! It’s overwhelming. One staggers out quite cross-eyed and wobbly-kneed. There are over 200 works, for heaven’s sake. And so many Virgins: sweet-faced Italian Madonnas, austere Eastern European Madonnas, pallid German ones. There’s a tiny, exquisite yet unfinished Raphael Madonna, known as The Esterházy Madonna, since much of the collection of Old Masters shown here was amassed by Prince Nikolaus II Esterházy. Oh, and there’s the stubby-nosed,...

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Sellars and Viola's Tristan und Isolde, Royal Festival Hall

Igor Toronyi-Lalic

People always overlook how much of a hippie Richard Wagner was intellectually. His philosophical stance differs little from that of Neil from The Young Ones. It's a side of Wagner you can't get away from in Tristan und Isolde, with its endless railing against temporal realities and its search for universal oneness - yeah man, oneness.

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Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929, V&A

Judith Flanders

Museum shows don’t often evoke a sense of smell, but without even trying, this Ballets Russes exhibition has visitors’ nostrils flared. The show is – intentionally – a feast for the eye, and even for the ear, with ballet scores (sometimes rudely overlapping) playing in every room. But smell?

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The Body in Women’s Art Now: Flux, Rollo Contemporary Art

Sarah Kent 'Squiggles of paint energising the canvas seem to embody her sexual excitement': Cecily Brown's 'New Louboutin Pumps'

Flux, the second in a trio of exhibitions devoted to images of women by women, immediately grabs your attention with an in-your-face animation by Swedish artist Natalie Djurberg. Clay figures enact grotesque stories that have a nasty, fairytale edge. A naked mother plays with her five children until, one after another, the youngsters climb into her vagina and disappear.

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Jimi Hendrix, Snap Gallery/Handel House Museum

sue Steward

A soundtrack of "Purple Haze", "Hey Joe" and other eternal Jimi Hendrix hits, is currently drifting out of the Snap Gallery along the swanky Piccadilly Arcade in Mayfair. A boutique exhibition space, Snap sits incongruously amongst purveyors of "fine" jewellery and gentlemans’ tailoring and its front windows are transforming the chi-chi mall with Gered Mankowitz’s photographs of the Sixties guitar genius, Hendrix.

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Rachel Whiteread: Drawings, Tate Britain & Gagosian Gallery

Judith Flanders

Rachel Whiteread is best known for her exploration of space, of presence and absence, of how we look at what is present – and absent – in the textures of our lives. House, her life-sized cast of a house in a derelict street in East London, first brought her to fame, and more recently Untitled (Plinth), her mockingly affectionate take on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, a resin-cast replica of the plinth itself, literally shaped a new viewpoint of that absence in the...

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Edward Weston, Chris Beetles Gallery

sue Steward Edward Weston's 'Golden Circle Mine, Death Valley', 1938

Edward Weston was once obsessed with photographing "toilets" (his word) and did it repeatedly in pursuit of the perfect image. "That gloss enamelled receptacle of extraordinary beauty" is how he described the scuzzy lav at the Gold Circle Mine in Death Valley, and seemingly near-orgasmic with excitement, said it was "an absolute, aesthetic response to form". That statement wasn’t about toilets alone, of course; this legend of American photography was, understandably, a perfectionist in...

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