Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Pretty As A Picture

Southbank Centre

Upper Ground Street

I meant to mention the Sigmar Polke exhibition catalogue yesterday, if only to say I didn't buy one.  Fifty pounds?  You jest...  I think I'll wait for the vast pile of remainders in a year's time.  I did see a couple of German photography books that excited my interest as I exited through the gift shop, though, but I simply copied the details into my notebook (Christmas is coming).  You might fancy them them, too:

Atlas / by Gerhard Richter (Walther König, 2011, ISBN 978-3863350567; also Thames & Hudson, ISBN 978-0500970171)

The Düsseldorf School of Photography / by Stefan Gronert (Aperture, 2010, ISBN 978-1597111362)

An interesting contrast with a "challenging" show like the Polke at Tate Modern is always to be had by visiting the Bankside Gallery, just along the embankment to the west of the Tate. The Bankside is the home of the Royal Watercolour Society, and usually has a show of members' work.  It is free to enter, has a well-chosen bookshop, and -- ahem, quite important to us ageing gents -- has clean, well-equipped toilet facilities which can be used without asking.

In yesterday's post, I made a slightly sarcastic contrast between "art" and "interior decorating".  A visit to the Bankside after the Tate always raises this comparison in an interesting way.  The paintings on display range from the utterly conventional to the mildly experimental, having in common only a medium and a professional level of competence in using it, and they are there to be sold, not to mess with your head.  They are therefore uniformly nice; unthreatening, harmonious, skilful, and often rather beautiful.  After all, if you want a picture for a domestic room, you will generally have a size, a colour range, and a particular "look and feel" in mind.  You are unlikely to be shopping for a Polke-style twenty-foot-square shocking pink abstraction sprayed onto bubblewrap, or a looped video installation.

Of the paintings on display at the Bankside Gallery yesterday, I found about 70% filled me with impatience:  please, why are you people still doing this?  The year is 2014, and yet in style, technique and choice of subject matter, so many of these painters are reproducing the moves and motifs of the previous century; for example, those faux-naive assemblages of domestic and natural objects with (crucially) cats that sell well as greetings cards for your more sophisticated friends and relatives, or the kind of dry, sub-photographic rendering that was all the rage in the 1980s.

It's primarily interior decoration, for sure, but I suppose it sells, and nobody joins the Royal Watercolour Society out of seething revolutionary discontent, after all.  And not everyone can make a living out of scribbling over "appropriated" porn with a biro...

Not a painting... (Rennie Street)

Partly a painting... (Blackfriars Road).

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