Thursday, 29 December 2011


Time was, I used to pretend that these end-of-year reports were some comprehensive distilling of the year, like you get in proper blogs or quality papers. The truth is, I was only ever using them a memory-jogger for all the things I’d thought to write about over the past twelve months, but never got around to.

Particularly for visual art exhibitions, but in most other fields as well, this last year’s been a frenetic one. (If ‘Doctor Who’ went somewhat off the boil, that’s an exception to the rule.) And I’ve been busy with other stuff, so perhaps it’s no surprise I’ve got behind things.

So, despite the blog’s recent concentration on visual arts, there were still a few things which escaped comment. Perhaps not strictly to be listed as visual art, but I enjoyed both the British Museum’s ‘Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World’ and (particularly) ‘Journey Through the Afterlife: The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead.’ The Afghanistan show was perhaps a little scattershot, recounting different civilisations arranged along the silk route which had little in common, while the Egyptian had more of a focus - on how their myths and rituals concerning the afterlife had changed over time.

Generally, I enjoy such events but there’s not much scope for me to write about them. I’d love to imagine I could make erudite points, on how recent scholarship has challenged some of their hieroglyphic translations or something like that, but the chances seem remote to be honest with you. (I’m back to see their show on the Hajj next year, but short of becoming an Islamic scholar in the meantime shall probably stay quiet on the subject.)

I did consider writing something about the ’Out of Australia’ exhibition in their prints room (which seems to be fast becoming one of my haunts), but time was pressing and it was so wide-ranging (from the Forties to the present) it was hard to focus on.

I wasn’t always convinced by the emphasis on “Australian-ness”, I got the impression that rather than trying to capture Australian landscape or culture most saw themselves as modern artists who simply happened to be based in Australia. The Angry Penguins, for example, a self-styled Surrealist group, were hardly named after the most notable native animal, and seemed more concerned with imagination than nation. (In fact the precise phrasing of the title seemed to have it better, for most seemed to leave Australia as soon as their career kicked off. Perhaps in those days it didn’t have much of an indigenous art trade.) One exception was the European artists who’d been interned there during the war, such as Erwin Fabian (see below). Others became influenced by Aboriginal art...

I seem, for some reason, to be very bad at writing about Cartoon Museum exhibitions. I did intend writing something about their ’Doctor Who in Comics: 1964-2001’ show. Readers with exceptional memories will remember me writing something about Doctor Who and comics for the late, lamented ’Comics Forum’, longer ago than I care to admit. This exhibition did convince me I should go back and rewrite whole chunks of it, possibly not a very realistic prospect but surely a sign of a good show!

My main criticism would be the lack of material from the Sixties. This is probably something of a fait accompli, shows like this rely on comic fans and their private collections of original art. But before the Seventies there’s little of this, particularly in British comics. Without anyone intending such, it feels like a whole era of comics history is being written out. (Disclaimer: a fair amount of Doctor Who comic strips from the Sixties were admittedly awful, and nothing much to do with the TV show beyond affecting a fairly rough approximation of William Hartnell. But surely they’re still part of the history!)

’Capturing Colour: Film, Invention and Wonder’, at Brighton Museum, was a decent local exhibition. But it’s emphasis on the technology of early colour film (if interesting in itself) did make it rather insistent on “capturing” colour, as if any other kind of image was incomplete, rather than employing colour – as an aesthetic choice and key to emotional states. And this while showing clips from Powell and Pressburger films, whose lurid colour coding was surely anything but naturalistic! (see below)

(Brighton Museum also brought us ’George IV and His Friends’, a small-but-perfectly formed exhibition of caricatures and political cartoons from the Regency era, and ’Ragmala: Paintings From India’.

Despite my best intentions, I managed to miss the shows dedicated to Bridget Riley, Gerhard Richter, Lygia Pape and ’Infinitas Gracias: Mexican Miracle Paintings’. The last three of these are still showing into the New Year, but I almost certainly won’t be able to make them.

I was also absolutely gutted to realise I had missed Wild Thing, a Royal Academy show devoted to the sculpture of Eric Gill, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Jacob Epstein. (Which actually finished the year before last.) Anyone who read my review of the Vorticists will be familiar with the last two names, while (irony of ironies) I publicly grumbled about the smallness of a British Museum show given to Gill last year! Oh, to turn back time...

While this year may be pushed to match the last for quality (even if I’m very much looking forward to both the Munch and the Bauhaus shows), it seems more than a match for quantity. I already seem to have managed to commit myself to seeing at least one out-of-town exhibition a month, and counting.

As much of this is of course due to the accursed Olympics, a fair portion of what’s happening is blatant tourist bait. (Though I will probably be sad and obsessive enough to attend this one.) But others do seem intent on actually giving the crowds something worth seeing. You never know, I may even attend one or two shows not about Modernism...

Coming soon! First I shall endeavor to put together similar catch-up posts on films, theatre and gigs. Then, despite all this activity, there are still a few visual art reviews I should have posted last year which I will hopefully  catch up on in the next few weeks. (Yes, doing them now does officially qualify as a pathology). There’s also one I might even be able to manage to run in the nick of time, but please don’t hold me to that! After then things may go quieter on the blog from while I concentrate on other things for a bit. (Not always interesting or creative things, alas...)

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