Archived Reviews (oldest first)


Review of the John Madejski Fine Art Rooms Exhibition for Deceased Artists.

(Part of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. June 14th to August 22nd 2010)


Sydney Heighington   August 8th 2010


A week or so ago, a few Intentists and I attended the Summer Exhibition at theRoyal Academy in the John Madejski Fine Art Rooms. I had understood it was an exhibition centred on deceased artists previously involved with the R.A. As we headed through Piccadilly toward Burlington house, I wasn’t quite sure whether Richard Cork had hung or even written about these works in a way that celebrated the artists and what they have achieved. After all it’s quite difficult to get your voice out as an artist when you’re alive, let alone in death.

            As soon as we walked into the first room, I was instantly grabbed by the sculptural work of Barry Flannigan.

 After looking at his ‘bronze’ hares marching to ‘war’, to try and gain some insight into his intention, I began to read the information, as it were, about the artist. It seemed to be mainly focussed on what he had achieved with his work. He was quoted to say, ‘the idea of the hare as an alter ego evolved.’ This to me inferred a creational development or trail within the artist’s own ideas. It seemed as though Cork, author of this ‘synopsis’ about Flannigan, was praising the author’s ideas, as though he had many reasons for creating it. I took note of this and sauntered through into the adjacent rooms.

I started to think that Cork actually gave two thoughts about the artist, as though these were the main focus rather than solely the work. I read another panel about Craxton, scanning through I was told that ‘a love ofGreece and byzantine art was evident in his work’. It started to become clear that there was a paradox in Cork’s words. As he mentioned in an overview of the exhibition and the artists, that the overall aim of the exhibition was ‘to move away from the notion of a memorial’. Really? It seemed to me that contradictorily almost everything he wrote about them was a celebration of their life, a memory of their work and an insight into the artist’s intention.

I became more drawn into the panels of information beside the works. I found in almost every single one, there was mention of the artist’s intention.Cork says that Craigie Aitchison ‘emphasises the loneliness of Christ by isolating him against vast, empty terrain.’ Is this not circling his intention? If it isn’t then it’s an assumption about the artist’s work? Or an assumption of what he was trying toachieve; What he intended to portray. Cork contradicts himself in many ways.

Another irritating assumption Cork makes is that Kidner has a ‘love for mathematics in his work’. Even if this was information Kidner had written about himself, say in his sketchbook or portfolio, then Cork is using his ‘irrelevant’ preliminary work as an important source to gather information about the artist. Essentially this means that the final works he has exhibited are influenced by the creational development of his work. How can this be if the final piece is set in stone, is something a viewer can interpret in any way they so wish.

I grew weary of what Cork had said in each panel, and even the overview of the exhibition. I read continual contradiction in his writing and felt that these panels were irrelevant, that if he really wanted to move away from the notion of a memorial, these works should have been hung without the panels, so that the viewer could interpret whatever they so wished about the work. I left the exhibition quite perturbed as to why Cork achieved the complete opposite of what he intended.

Hamiltons Gallery

13 Carlos Place


David Bailey – Then

David Bailey continues to be prolific in his output, (he has recently been photographing still-lives of various skulls and flowers) and yet, he will always be thought of as part of a trio of photographers (the others being Terence Donavon and Brian Duffy) who captured the swingin’ London of the 60’s. It is here Bailey returns in this fascinating exhibition at Hamiltons entitled ‘Then.’

I arrived at Hamilton’s fearing that, as with all successful artists, the fact that his work is so well known may hinder any fresh appreciation. My concerns were unfounded.

Bailey has decided to exhibit thirteen enlarged contact sheets of shoots that produced some of the most iconic images of the 60’s. Each thin black frame houses three negative strips of four images. Here you will find the likes of Michael Caine, The Rolling Stones and Lennon and McCartney in compositions that you have seen many times before, and yet they are only part of the work as we are given an honoury glimpse into the world that created them.

Looking at the negative numbers it is simple to trace the narrative of the shoot.  As I followed their order for Michaine Caine, I could see the trail of Bailey’s creativity, as Caine, following no doubt directions from Bailey, leans further towards the camera and raises his iconic glasses over his forehead.  You are left both with a sense that you have witnessed this studio event and with certain associations of Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of motion.

Other highlights that demonstrate Bailey’s creative processes include a rather spontaneous Cecil Beaton and Rudolf Nureyev, clearly enjoying themselves as they play up to the camera.

However, it is the contact sheets telling the creative story which grab most attention.  The backdrop of David Hockney’s portrait is changed from black to Bailey’s more familiar white, invoking the stunning tonal contrasts we associate with his work. In shot 3 of Penelope Tree, a finger comes into shot from behind the camera (Bailey’s?), and in shot 4 a suited right arm is repositioning Tree.

This method of displaying work is not entirely original, and yet those of us who have become weary of the photographic world of Photoshop and air brushing are given special permission to see the artistic process unedited and the sitter unvarnished. For example, negative 1 of Jean Shrimpton clearly reveals the tip of an old garment that covers her breasts, whereas negative 11 and 12 reveal under arm stubble that no doubt would have been removed.

If we are given permission to follow Bailey’s creative processes, we are not left in the dark as to what image Bailey chose. The favourite is loosely circled with what may have been a felt tip pen. With this the creative journey to meaning is complete.  Number 20 of the Catherine Deneuve shoot is not only chosen but cropped at a 45 degree angle.

Consequently, the choice has been made, and the exhibition is no longer celebrating floating intentions, but a progression to a realized work.

In sum, so much has been made in recent years of the impertinence of considering the artist’s ideas and intentions in appreciating a work of art that it is particularly refreshing to see an exhibition that focuses on this creative process. As in the final analysis, all art is fundamentally a human gesture.


Vittorio Pelosi 17/8/2010


                              The Dead Artists Aren’t Quite Dead Yet

Review of the John Madejski Fine Art Rooms Exhibition for Deceased Artists.

(Part of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. June 14th to August 22nd 2010)

by James Sirrell

 When one visits the Royal Academy to view an exhibition of recently deceased artists, one expects the exhibition is some sort of memorial or celebration of the lives and work of these artists, but apparently not. Richard Cork, our written commentator for the day, insists that this is no memorial. Really? Then why group together a handful of deceased artists?

When one walks around the gallery, next to each artists’ pieces of work is a small board describing the life and work of the respective artist. The rather lively looking hares stand majestically in front of me. The board tells me they were sculpted by Barry Flanagan, that he was “interested in the rich lore and mythology of the hare.” This statement is reinforced by a quote from the artist, “The idea of the hare as an alter ego evolved. It wasn’t inevitable when I started. But once you abstract from the human like that, it opens a window into the mind, it allows your imagination to roam.” All of this seems very reasonable; the viewer may not be familiar with the artist and his work and so the quote allows the viewer a small peak into the mindset of the artist and what he was trying to create. Without this information one may assume that Flanagan tried to capture the nature of each animal (the hare being the only work present), or perhaps Flanagan created the work for a friend who adored hares. Without this essential information about the artist, we cannot really start to form an accurate interpretation of the meaning of the work, and so without an idea of the meaning, how can one truly appreciate it or judge whether it is successful? One cannot. But as we are constantly told these days, the artist is dead, there can never be enough random and insipid interpretations, and long live Postmodernism.

On Craxton we are told, “he traveled around the Mediterranean,” and, “a love of Greece and Byzantine Art is evident in his work.” When looking at his paintings, they reminded me of Mexican and Hispanic art, not of Greek and Byzantine art. Having the knowledge of Craxton’s background and life allows one to make firmer interpretations, as apposed to vaguely postulating meaning upon ill-based assumptions. But of course this applies to the viewer as much as it does the commentator.Cork states that Craxton “was not afraid of detail,” and that “his work testifies to a love of distant locations mysteriously impregnated with history.” If the art and the artist are separate and mutually exclusive bodies then how can one make an assumption upon the feelings and emotions of the artist? Even if Craxton wrote a very detailed diary of his relationship with his work, the very mention of his name, his life and his thoughts is an affirmation of the unbreakable link between artist and artwork. It is only through looking at the artist and the art that we can find meaning.

The rest of the exhibition and written commentary continued much in this way. I am not suggesting that the information given is incorrect or falsified, but the very fact it is included highlights the ever-growing contradiction within the art world; the art is complete within itself and without the artist, while at the same time artists become celebrities and the worth of a work is based upon its creator. It is the artist that makes the art, the artist that gives it meaning, and it is the artist’s signature that we look for. When we go to a gallery, we admire the work and then frantically search the small board adjacent, hoping to find information and clues into the mind of the artist and the meaning of the work.  These artists may not be alive, but they’re not quite dead yet.