sun 03/05/2015

Visual Arts reviews, news & interviews

Cornelius Johnson, National Portrait Gallery

Florence Hallett

It’s far too easy to think about the history of art as a series of class acts, with one superlative achievement following another. Exhibitions tend to encourage this view, and the notion of a superstar artist is key to persuading us that the latest blockbuster is unmissable. We know that the artists with the biggest reputations were not always celebrated in their own lifetimes, but just as the characterisation of the great artist as a lone genius is misleading and fanciful, this one-room...

John Wood and Paul Harrison, Carroll/Fletcher

Sarah Kent

Described by the Tate as the Laurel and Hardy of the art world, John Wood and Paul Harrison are best known for appearing in superbly timed, comic videos using their own bodies to explore spatial relations. Projected over the concrete stairwell of the Carroll/Fletcher gallery 100 Falls (pictured below right) is excruciating to watch. A black-clad figure in a white room disappears from view up a wooden ladder. Seconds later he plummets down to crash land in a crumpled heap on the floor....

Sonia Delaunay, Tate Modern

Sarah Kent

In 1967 when she produced Syncopated Rhythm (main picture), Sonia Delaunay was 82; far from any decline in energy or ambition, the abstract painting...

YZ Kami, Gagosian Gallery

Marina Vaizey

The Iranian-born New York resident painter YZ Kami, now in his mid-fifties, continually plays with our hunger to look at “reality” while being...

Jo Baer, Camden Arts Centre

Sarah Kent

At 86, Jo Baer is still painting vigorously. In the mid 1960s, she was an established New York Minimalist along with artists like Carl Andre and Sol...

Ellen Altfest, MK Gallery

Mark Sheerin

An artist out of step with much of the art of her times paints canvases as charged as altar panels

Ravilious, Dulwich Picture Gallery

Marina Vaizey

The ravishing and gently surreal works of one of Britain's greatest watercolourists

theartsdesk in New York: On Kawara at the Guggenheim Museum

Markie Robson-Scott

A powerful meditation on time through dating, mapping and listing

Brighton Festival: The Locations That Make the Festival

Thomas H Green

A colourful guide to the 10 varied spaces inhabited by this year's eclectic festival

theartsdesk in Bilbao: Niki de Saint Phalle at the Guggenheim Museum

Fisun Güner

Brides, whores and nanas: the visceral works that draw on the artist's difficult life

Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, The Queen's Gallery

Marina Vaizey

From Eden to an embodiment of the power of the state: the garden in myth and reality

10 Questions for Artist Marcus Coates

Thomas H Green

Eccentric visionary talks birds, shamanism, intoxicated animals and the Brighton Festival

Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art, British Museum

Fisun Güner

More than the sum of its parts: an exploration of how the human form was perfected

Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions, National Portrait Gallery

Marina Vaizey

A masterly portrait of the Iron Duke that draws out a contradictory personality

Joshua Reynolds, Wallace Collection

Florence Hallett

The portraitist's experiments in paint buckle under the weight of too much information

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, Victoria & Albert Museum

Sarah Kent

A romantic 'hero-artist' or just a designer with a melancholic imagination?

Richard Diebenkorn, Royal Academy

Fisun Güner

One of the greats of postwar American painting in a breathtaking survey

Gift Horse, Fourth Plinth

Fisun Güner

An equine skeleton with connections to the City takes up residence in Trafalgar Square

Inventing Impressionism, National Gallery

Marina Vaizey

A fresh take: the commercial story behind the success of an avant-garde movement

theartsdesk in Calais: Simon Faithfull – To the Bottom of the World and Back

Sarah Kent

Online messages sent from elsewhere by an artist who loves the sea

Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album, Courtauld Gallery

Florence Hallett

Enigmatic works on paper, reunited for the first time since the Spanish artist's death

Sculpture Victorious, Tate Britain

Marina Vaizey

Technical innovation often coupled with meaningless extravagance

Picasso: Love, Sex and Art, BBC Four

Fisun Güner

Picasso's women and the role they played in his work

Salt and Silver, Tate Britain

Florence Hallett

Early photographs that brim with the spirit of experimentation

theartsdesk in Moscow: Remembering George Costakis

Tom Birchenough

Moscow pays tribute to the great Greek collector of the Russian avant-garde

Whitworth Art Gallery Reopens with a Meteoric Bang

Marina Vaizey

The Manchester gallery celebrates its past and looks to its future

Sotto Voce, Dominique Lévy

Sarah Kent

With seductive holes and nails hammered in aggressively, white is not as pure as it pretends

Magnificent Obsessions, Barbican Art Gallery

Florence Hallett

Jumble sale or treasure trove? Exploring the collections of 14 postwar and contemporary artists

History is Now: 7 Artists Take On Britain, Hayward Gallery

Sarah Kent

Summing up 70 years of British history in one exhibition would never be an easy task

Footnote: A brief history of british art

The National Gallery, the British Museum, Tate Modern, the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Royal Collection - Britain's art galleries and museums are world-renowned, not only for the finest of British visual arts but core collections of antiquities and artworks from great world civilisations.

Holbein_Ambasssadors_1533The glory of British medieval art lay first in her magnificent cathedrals and manuscripts, but kings, aristocrats, scientists and explorers became the vital forces in British art, commissioning Holbein or Gainsborough portraits, founding museums of science or photography, or building palatial country mansions where architecture, craft and art united in a luxuriously cultured way of life (pictured, Holbein's The Ambassadors, 1533 © National Gallery). A rich physician Sir Hans Sloane launched the British Museum with his collection in 1753, and private collections were the basis in the 19th century for the National Gallery, the V&A, the National Portrait Gallery, the original Tate gallery and the Wallace Collections.

British art tendencies have long passionately divided between romantic abstraction and a deep-rooted love of narrative and reality. While 19th-century movements such as the Pre-Raphaelite painters and Victorian Gothic architects paid homage to decorative medieval traditions, individualists such as George Stubbs, William Hogarth, John Constable, J M W Turner and William Blake were radicals in their time.

In the 20th century sculptors Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, painters Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, architects Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers embody the contrasts between fantasy and observation. More recently another key patron, Charles Saatchi, championed the sensational Britart conceptual art explosion, typified by Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin. The Arts Desk reviews all the major exhibitions of art and photography as well as interviewing leading creative figures in depth about their careers and working practices. Our writers include Fisun Guner, Judith Flanders, Sarah Kent, Mark Hudson, Sue Steward and Josh Spero.

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