BAUHAUS : ART AS LIFE (exhibition at The Barbican)

Gunta Stolzi, a student at the Bauhaus school of art wrote in her diary during OCtober 1919, “ …oh, I’d like to give myself … but I know that I have to wait, look into myself, all of myself. My little garret is just right for that; you cannot see outside, it envelops you and does not permit you to gaze into the distance – but into the depths – I need to look deep inside in the coming months.

The Barbican Centre – the gallery is to the right in this photograph

I had read an announcement of this exhibition last year; it seemed to me imperative to attend since the school is mentioned in photography modules and “Bauhaus” exercises are part of the course. However, this day is for fine artists not for photographers though we are allowed to attend. Another day with stroppy artists sounding out could be fun.

The first review I read is in The Times. Like many reviews of the arts by this newspaper, it is rather negative although extremely informative mentioning for instance, the “hygiene of the optical” proposed by Maholy-Nagy, the modernist approach and the general air of celebration of perhaps the greatest art school ever certainly of the twentieth century although this is something this exhibition apparently does not convey.The article ends by quoting Mies Van der Rohe, the last director of the Bauhaus, who said “The Bauhaus is not a school, but an idea.” Surely, the Bauhaus was more than an idea but according to this review this is not evident here.

legs outside the Barbican Centre

I learnt a lot from doing Bauhaus exercises particularly in understanding colour; the work of artists like Mondrian and Kandinsky now makes sense even Damien Hurst’s work with his multiple coloured dots seems comprehensible. Itten’s books are not too difficult to understand. He wrote, “Play becomes celebration; celebration becomes work; work becomes play” The Guardian review describes him as a “nightmare person” owing to his beliefs that involved strange diets (for instance, a large consumption of garlic), head shaving and the wearing of monastic robes. His writing is fascinating; here he is commenting on another Bauhaus member, Kandinsky who “began painting non-objective pictures about 1908. He contended that every color has its proper expressionist value, and that it is therefore possible to create meaningful realities without representing objects.

I order a copy of the catalogue before visiting and it is interesting to read some of the documentation (The Times review mentions that the documentation is good). My main interest is photography and it is strange to hear that photography students at that time also needed to know algebra; the emphasis was much more on the technical rather than the artistic side yet owing to rapid advances in photographic technology a more creative approach is possible today.

The Guardian review is more positive describing the exhibition is a superb collection of Bauhaus art works … “It was the last thoroughgoing attempt to apply a consistent idea to modern living, and we still live with and among its ideas and artefacts. At the time, everyone involved was feeling the way forward. There is a sense here of the genuinely exploratory.

Adrian Searle, writer of the Guardian review, says something that seems apt … “one feels a sense of optimism but also disquiet of a whole world about to be dismantled.” This does tend to be my overall impression although I realise the school at the time was quite different for as Searle says, “Innovation and pleasure went hand in hand at the Bauhaus.” A reader comments “The Bauhaus aesthetic is sometimes too austere for me but some wonderful things came out of its desire to break down barriers between the art-forms.

A review in The Telegraph mentions that this exhibition does something to challenge the reductionist concept of modernism. The exhibition is as much about the school as it’s products. The exhibition helps to brings this complex body of art to life.

Catherine Ince, co-curator of the exhibition, writes that the Bauhaus means many things to different people. It was the modernist’s most ambitious attempt to change the world.

Leaving home early, about 6.30 a.m., I drive to the station and catch a train to London; it’ll get me there well on time but later trains cost considerably more and I’ll be able to make use of the extra time – such as checking my emails. In fact, I am unable to pay for the parking at Taunton station so need to go online to sort this out.

Lighted ceiling at The Barbican Centre

The “Bauhaus : Art as Life” exhibition is being held at The Barbican which is itself quite modernist in construction. It is also a bit of a maze and although I do eventually find my way to the Barbican Centre, it is only after one or two wrong turns. The artists I am due to meet are nowhere to be found so I head for the exhibition itself and meet them on the way. Although this is a day for fine artists, there are a number of photographers there too such as Catherine and a Mexican woman called Ariadne.

OCA tutor Jim Cowan

Our tutor for the day was Jim Cowan from the OCA who had already seen the exhibition and gave us something of a guided tour; he also handed us a questionnaire which I shall consider later. His remarks sometimes slightly irreverent, helped to stimulate one’s interest in the exhibition.

This is a very big exhibition and not easy to view as a result. We visit the upper floor which focuses on the first Bauhaus building, to begin with, Jim giving a brief commentary on what each room is about; this helps to guide our attention and take in the work. Even with the three hours we spend there, before and after some lunch, there is too much to view in it’s entirety.

The Bauhaus started in 1919, soon after the First World War, and was really a merger between two art schools of the time under the directorship of Walter Gropius. This was an attempt to build a new world through art and was initially art and craft orientated with emphasis on learning skills. Gropius wrote the Bauhaus manifesto …

The artist is an exalted craftsman. In rare moments of inspiration, transcending the consciousness of his will, the grace of heaven may cause his work to blossom into art. But proficiency in a craft is essential to every artist. Therein lies the prime source of creative imagination.”

Already mentioned, one of it’s more colourful characters was Itten, himself a colour theorist who was also the member of a Zorastrian based sect called Mazdaznan that resulted in him wearng monks robes, eating plenty of garlic and even inducing vomiting as part of a spiritual purification process. There were those that loved him and those that loathed him.

The return to making crafted objects, an attempt to reunite art and industry, was not that new as William Morris had done something similar during the previous century. Apart from experimenting with different materials, students were also asked to consider the essence of the triangle, the cube and the circle. One room in the exhibition is solely about the square.

fountain @ The Barbican Centre

If there is something missing in this exhibition, it is perhaps colour. For instance, there is an impressive staircase window by Albers; there is a maze of different shapes and forms within it but this black and white photograph from 1923 can tell us nothing about what it looked like as the intricate display of colour it once was. This and other art works were part of the original Bauhaus that was destroyed in the Second World War. There is an interesting early photograph by George Muche that shows an arrangement of blades that foretells a sense of excruciating pain. A reminder perhaps of the more negative forces that this school were to arouse whichh ultimately lead to an aspict of modesnism that was later to be rejected. Housing blocks built in sixties England are perhaps an example since later these have been found not be progressive but rather depressing and impossible to live happily in.

Another member of the school was Kandinsky whose initial work was highly intuitive but later became methodical. For him, after a certain amount of research with his students, a triangle became yellow, the square red and the circle blue; however, from an understanding of other cultures such as the Tibetan where the triangle is red, we know that these symbols are not universally understood as Kandinsky imagined. The shift away from expressionism to other approaches such as Cubism and Constructivism (this latter school was not part of the Bauhaus although one of it’s exponents Theo Van Doesberg from Holland set up a school near to the Bauhaus and drew students from there to his place). Fonts were developed during this early period with thicker fonts being used for more emphatic even angry matters and thinner fonts for “sweeter” matters.

fountain composition

In 1923, Itten resigned as a result of differences of view with Gropius who he felt was taking the school in a more commercial direction; in fact, Gropius wanted the school to pave it’s way in the world and become financially viable. Other artists joined the school such as Paul Klee and Albers as well as Maholy-Nagy. Gropius wrote …

I would consider it a mistake if the Bauhaus were not to face the realities of the world and were to look upon itself as an isolated institution.”

Looking at the Bauhaus from a more historical perspective, one might consider the effect of rapid inflation had on it’s development but it was the rise of right-wing politics that sealed it’s fate. The students were not all from more well to do backgrounds with some being sponsored. The school itself was famous in it’s time but perhaps developed a more populist approach as fine art became design; was the Bauhaus where design became the important force it is today? At that time, graphic designer was not a profession! The Bauhaus became more left wing while the socialism of Germany became more nationalist in sentiment. In 1925, the Bauhaus had to move because the Weimar government was no longer prepared to grant funding and the school was obliged to set up in Dessau in a less prosperous area of the town. While, the print workshop had started by making art prints, it developed into making posters for government and industry even printing emergency bank notes.

A lot of items that they turned out were of a practical nature. For instance, Marianne Brandt who produced some fine photographs also was the only female metal worker; she produced an amazing array of tea pots while Albers made a fruit bowl that could be pushed across the table thanks to stylish ball bearing wheels. Wallpaper was the most successful product and yet the Bauhaus never got rich on this. The profit was taken by the corporates who managed to market the Bauhaus products. One can not help but see parallels with Habitat and Ikea today although these businesses are much more holistic in that they are one body rather than another body taking advantage of the original creators. The designers of Ikea and Habitat though wonld not be where they are if not for the Bauhaus.

The Bauhaus produced a series of books. One wonders if any of these 14 books printed in editions of 2 to 3,00 between 1923 – 30 are still in print; perhaps not, since many of the ideas expressed in them have been developed since particularly in photography which has changed so much.

There is a film being projected on a wall of the gallery that was made by Bauhaus students; it looks a bit dated now and some laugh at the demonstration of what were then innovative designs but are now taken for granted. Titled “How do we live in a healthy and economic way?” it was first shown in 1926 and gives a good idea of the ergonomic approach to living that has become so important in today’s world.

building meets water @ The Barbican

Towards the end of the exhibition, one starts to see more photographs. They are still largely documentary in nature often picturing buildings and groups of people in well produced photographic forms, However, some of the photographs showing sporting activities do not only well to capture movement but also show a sense of composition with mirroring between background and foreground. Photographs were also being used to create montages while different photographs would be placed next to each other in significant ways as in portrait snaps of Josef and Anni Albers. Portaits were made that were not mere mugshots but involved interesting camera angles and also close ups as in a series of photographic images showing someone’s mouth. A striking images is of hands, a number of diptychs being placed together to create a large panel of images. T.Luix Feninger, son of the artist Feninger, produced some good photographs such as one of a line of musicians staged not horizontally but vertically, one agove the other; not only is the composition strong here, the musicians are not strictly posed while the print sees a widening of the tonal range, an aspect of the photograph that was to be developed in America largely by Ansel Adams.

Although Walter Peterhans was the official photographer employed by the Bauhaus, Laszlo Maholy-Nagy did much of the photography and is well known for his contribution to the medium. In a 1930 film called “Lightplay: blcak white grey” he shows a dazzling array of form and light with accompanying music. the effect is a little dizzy but it is a wonderful exposition of Bauhaus made through the medium of film. His writing is of interest as he sought to define the uniqueness of the medium … “Until now, all the essays and commentaries about the paths and aims of photography have been following a false trail … photography does not gain or diminish in value according to whether it is classified as a method of recording reality or as a medium of scientific investigation or as a way of preserving vanished events, or as basis for the process of reproduction, or as ‘art’ … when photography relies on it’s own possibilities, its results, too, are without precedent … the range of infinitely subtle gradations of light and dark that capture the phenomena of light in what seems to be an almost immaterial radiance … only after a more or less exact photographic language has been developed will a truly gifted photographer be able to elevate it to an ‘artistic’ level … No ancient or contemporary painting can match the singular effectiveness available to photography.”

These words are from “Unprecedented Photography” a piece written by Maholy-Nagy in 1927; in it he mentions seven essential facets of photography which encompass making unfamiliar views with the camera, experimenting with different lenses, encircling the object, using different kinds of camera, X-ray effects, cameraless photography and true colour sensitivity. Photography has done a lot to explore these avenues since this time.

Paul Klee was another artist who gave his students exercises described as “purposeful play” described by the curator as “experimentationn under particular constraints to explore inherent and functional and constructive possibilities without stated practical aims” which rather aptly describes the exercises I was asked to do as part of the OCA modules in Level 1 photography.I enjoyed these and became interested in Itten and his ideas but this exhibition has made me more aware of the Bauhaus and it’s influence and it is one I do not particularly like. The nausea I feel while looking at it is perhaps an intended effect by some of the work inspired by a teacher from whom vomiting was encouraged!!

Some of the technical terms used to describe photographic processes are a little hard to understand. One sees what looks like a photo-montage, a group of photographs that have been stuck together on a single sheet of paper described as a photomechanical production.

An OCA student in the penultimate gallery

The penultimate room is devoted to photography. Photography developed towards the end of the Bauhaus and reveals an innovative approach different angles of view, close ups and different subjects, photographs that are not purely functional. The first head of photography was Walter Peterhans, son of the maker of Zeiss lenses, whose exercises for his students were to help them develop technically superior prints. He achieved this partly through lectures on mathematics yet also through exercises involving lighting, exposure and printing; for example, one of his students made a series of different exposures of a light bulb from one in which only the filament was visible through to a final one where the light bulb was visible as a glowing object. There were close ups of a mouth shown in a series all showing different expressions and a similar group of photographs of hands with wrists in some cases, arranged beside each other in provocative ways. Peterhans himself was a gifted photographer who made work that anticipates much that was to follow in the years to come.

After spending some five hours at The Barbican of which three and a half were spent inside the exhibition space, I made my way to The Tate Modern to meet a friend who is herself an artist and studied the Bauhaus; she helped me to see the school with a little more perspective. The Bauhaus were a little idealistic in their approach and their concern for the straight line and lack of ornamentation did not have a good effect on those who had to live in or alongside some of their constructions. Their altruistic ideas have since been questioned and yet the work they undertook, which has been so vastly influential, remains interesting. They perhaps mark the end of traditional art and the birth of modern art where form becomes function. Photography here however got off to a good start and although the works it produced are no longer contemporary, it’s traces can still be seen. Personally I do not care for the high contrast it tended to encourage and see this as due to a lack of understanding in how to use the materials. It was left to Ansel Adams in America to develop the science of exposure.

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OIL – an exhibition by Edward Burtynsky

The first exhibition at the newly opened Photographer’s Gallery is called Oil and is a series of large landscape style images; the subject is Oil and the landscapes it gives rise to. Not all images are of land however as a massive heap of road tyres demonstrates.

The exhibition is about the “life cycle” of oil from the place where it is extracted and the impact that it has on the environment towards it’s inevitable demise.

Photographs of oilfields such as those from California and Alberta inform one of a phenomena of which most of us are not fully aware.

The images in this exhibition are presumably made with a large format camera; they are excellently printed with attention to detail although the colour seems a little saturated at times.

His subjects are made creatively so that an oil refinery can be represented by a mass of pipes.

Another photo is of a Volkswagen Lot, a massive car park in Houston, Texas where some 1,0000 cars are represented.

Another photo from 2004 is of Nanpu Bridge Interchange, Shanghai in which one can see a number of levels with cars passing by, while in the background there is a cityscape.

Another photo is of a speedway in which the size of the crowd is emphasised.

My impression of the exhibition is really one of a succession of large extremely striking prints covering a range of subjects relating to oil; they are documentary photographs with artistic appeal.

Liz Wells talked extensively on the subject. She points out that his exhibition prints are matt; the images draw in the viewer with their beauty but the subject matter keeps the viewer at a distance. They are seductive yet allow the viewer to contemplate the scenes depicted.

“Epic” is how I might describe this body of work!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KZiKBKnesnU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4mTGP49n4Y&feature=relmfu

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cdQNR1d2Eok&feature=related

Burtynsky is an Eco Hero Award Winner!

“Good art does not have a fixed meaning!”

Suggestion that his work is political – he’s not trying to force a particular view point on people; different people will read the photographs differently. No one way to read his images!

Considers the politicisation of the environment as dangerous

Simon Norfolk talk @ Q.E.H Bristol

Simon Norfolk is one of the better known war photographers of the present time. I attended this talk at the suggestion of another OCA student and was glad I made the effort because it did turn out to be an excellent occasion and a welcomed departure from the more academic discussions and events the college arranges for us.

Simon Norfolk studied philosophy and sociology at Bristol University and then became a photographer. His reason for taking a large format camera with him to Afghanistan was simply because it was the cheapest camera he owned; he reckoned that there was a chance his camera might be stolen from him. Working in the capital, Kabul, is possible but far from safe and he is concerned that his guide might suffer reprisals for helping him since threats have already been made towards him.

What was refreshing about this talk was the way Norfolk did not focus on himself or try to sell us anything. He began by referencing his work to the paintings of Claude Lorraine which shows similar motifs of ruined monuments, the marks of civilisations that have risen and fallen. In fact, Norfolk talked about Empire in general terms much of it focusing on the British Empire in the days when it occupied a quarter of the world’s land mass and ruled over a third of it’s people, a remarkable accomplishment for such a small country. Yet Norfolk did not gloss over the days of Empire but also exposed it’s inherent racism evident in the many drawings and paintings as well as photographs that show the white man in positions of domination and superiority over the dark man. A member of the audience later commented that he had not come to the talk expecting a history lesson yet Norfolk reminded us of what an excellent historical tool photography can be as long as the photographs are read with insight rather than being used as the exercises in propaganda they often were.

One particular war photographer from the early days is of interest to Norfolk; his name was John Burke and he operated somewhat off limits by not being the official war photographer during the 2’nd Afghan War of the late 19’th century and as a result capturing many realistic scenes that were made with knowledge of the place and his subjects without the need to represent them formally as glorious men of Empire. In fact, in war there are no winners only losers, a point that Norfolk made not directly but by example.

The evening finished with Norfolk showing us a photograph of a group of people in England in which John Burke is said to be featured; he asked whom we thought was Burke among them.Various ideas and suggestions were put forward but not even Norfolk himself knows which Burke is.

Simon Norfolk talked a little about his way of making a living from photography from the various ways his work is communicated; there are exhibitions, the sale of prints,books,use of his work in publications and of course his website where anyone can see his work particularly in Afghanistan.

It was only after the talk, while writing this blog, that I came to know about the book Norfolk has done about John Burke. I had already heard about Norfolk’s book “For most of it I have no words”, an apt title for a book of war photographs yet also an appropriate title for a book about photography in general; a photographer’s images are there to record what words can not.

Leonardo da Vinci @ Bristol Museum and Art Gallery

A chance to meet fellow OCA student, Dorothy Flint, and see some superb drawings from The Royal Collection. In our house, we have at least two copies of Leonardo’s complete works as well as various other publications about him or by him. In the last few years, I have been to a Leonardo exhibition at The Victoria and Albert Museum as well as another exhibition of Italian drawings in which Leonardo was featured at the British Museum while I missed his major exhibition of paintings at The National Gallery last year since it was booked up even though he lived some 500 years ago in another country namely Italy.

Dorothy is an octogenerian student who is doing the Illustration Level 1 module. She had seen the exhibition before and so was able to show me around. There are only 12 drawings, all of which have been exquisitely executed, using a variety of papers and drawing materials such as chalk and ink. The subjects are also varied and include references to war, the human body and the apocalypse.

Perhaps my favourite was of acorns, still in their pods and attached to the branch which still bore leaves. Not only was the detail exquisite, it had been done using a rusty red colour, which belonged to both the chalk used to inscribe it and the paper on which it was made.

I also liked the head of an old man who has a somewhat exaggerated beak-like nose and appears short of teeth. His flowing beard is intricately illustrated and restores any dignity he might have lost in the almost comical representation of his face.

Another striking  drawing is that of a woman’s face, the inherent beauty of which is used to advertise the exhibition. However, the point of this drawing is to be found in the complex arrangement of the hair rather than the face.

After taking tea with Dorothy, I go back to see the exhibition again. This time I am with a group of visually impaired people and the guide rather looses my attention by saying that the drawings were probably acquired by the Royal Family during the reign of Charles 1’st when the writing on the wall of the exhibition says it was Charles 2’nd. She also says one or two other things that seem out of place but it is good to be able to spend almost an hour going around having a closer look at some of the drawings. Another image that strikes me is done on blue paper and shows a rearing horse. This was a design for a statue that was never made because Milan was invaded and the copper which would have been used in the statue was required for cannon fodder while the mould made to cast the statue was used for target practice. The guide mentioned something about the impractical aspirations of the artist Leonardo rather than the reality of the situation at that time.

Bauhaus : Art as Life

Although there is no OCA study day for photographers, there is a day for Fine Art students and so I shall apply to attend this day. The Bauhaus is mentioned at the beginning of the photographic course and one is asked to do a number of assignments with their principles in mind.

I had heard about this exhibition at the Barbican in London last year from perusing the internet and read this week the Times review which gave it 2 stars out of a possible 5, quoting Mies van der Rohe as saying “The Bauhaus is not a school, but an idea” and concluding that the exhibition does not give “the idea” of Bauhaus. Does it need to? The Bauhaus School was surely more than an idea; wild parties were also part of it!

The BBC4 programme Saturday Review also reviewed the exhibition (05-05-2012), this time in a more favourable light with an animated discussion. The Bauhaus began in 1919 in Weimar under the guidance of Walter Gropius, straight after the First World War, and it lasted until 1933 when it ended as a result of Nazi opposition who did not approve it’s association with radical and socialist ideas with it’s idea of achieving a kind of utopia through art and craft rather than racial purity. Regarded as one of the most influential art schools ever, it drew much from past art forms which it attempted to synchronise into a modernist view, and demonstrated a number of arts including photography. This exhibition presents a wide range of Bauhaus work almost as a history. Noted painters such as Klee and Kandinsky taught there. The exhibition explores the social side of the Bauhaus including the playfulness of it’s members evident in their parties which were conducted along Bauhaus lines! The Saturday Review guests are not completely won over by the exhibition (what about the diary entries of some members being shown!?) and mention that the exhibition can be confusing and dehumanising as modernism can be. One positive aspect of the exhibition is about being in the presence of the past with it’s hopes for “us” and engages the viewer in a tangible way, the art works being of substances such as wood. Bauhaus designs come in many forms such as blocks that children can play with and these designs can still be bought today. “Playfulness” is a distinctive characteristic of the Bauhaus. One may have a skeletal view of the Bauhaus but what this exhibition does is give a holistic sense to the movement. The school not only taught Bauhaus it also lived Bauhaus such as in the architecture of the original school building as well as the lives of it’s people; the parties were disciplined along Bauhaus lines which gives a certain Germanic feel as in “We will have fun!” One can see parallels with William Morris and his school of art which drew a great deal from past arts and crafts. There is a sense of hope in this exhibition,it does not pander to the negative views of modernism that have arisen since. There is an odd familiarity to many of the beautiful objects on display as similar designs are still being produced in the market place of today. Not all about German seriousness but also about frivolity. There is work from Kandinsky on display but one wonders whether Kandinsky was overshadowed by the Bauhaus since this work seems to lack some of his originality. Klee’s image of two towers is almost prophetic and hence haunting for what has happened since. Yet the work of these two great painters while at the Bauhaus does seem to bring up the craft versus art debate. There is a surprising amount of colour in this exhibition not something one might expect from the Bauhaus. Curvy lines and mass production! The disappearance of Bauhaus from pre-war Germany and it’s re-emergence in the USA is an encouraging fact.

Leaving home early, about 6.30 a.m., I drive to the station and catch a train to London; it’ll get me there well on time but later trains cost considerably more and I’ll be able to make use of the extra time – such as checking my emails. In fact, I am unable to pay for the parking at Taunton station so need to go online to sort this out.

The “Bauhaus : Art as Life” exhibition is being held at The Barbican which is itself quite modernist in construction. It is also a bit of a maze and although I do eventually find my way to the Barbican Centre, it is only after one or two wrong turns. The artists I am due to meet are nowhere to be found so I head for the exhibition itself and meet them on the way. Although this is a day for fine artists, there are a number of photographers there too such as Catherine and a Mexican woman called Ariadne.

Our tutor for the day was Jim Cowan from the OCA who had already seen the exhibition and gave us something of a guided tour; he also handed us a questionnaire which I shall consider later. His remarks sometimes slightly irreveren,t helped to stimulate one’s interest in the exhibition. At one point, I found myself talking to him about the photographic approach of the school in which mathematics was more important than aesthetic interest; of course, camera technology has come a long way since then and has made a more artistic approach possible but for the Bauhaus students, algebra came in handy.

This is a very big exhibition and not easy to view as a result. We visit the upper floor to begin with, Jim giving a brief commentary on what each room is about; this helps to guide our attention and take in the work. Even with the three hours we spend there, before and after some lunch, there is too much to view in it’s entirety.

The Bauhaus started in 1919, soon after the First World War, and was really a merger between two art schools of the time; it fell under the directorship of Walter Gropius. This was an attempt to build a new world through art and was initially art and craft orientated with emphasis on learning skills. One of it’s more colourful characters was Itten, himself a colour theorist who was also a member of a Zorastrian based sect called Mazdaznan that resulted in him wearing monks robes, eating plenty of garlic and even inducing vomiting as part of a spiritual purification process. There were those that loved him and those that loathed him. (further comment can be read below)

The return to making crafted objects, an attempt to reunite art and industry, was not that new as William Morris had done something similar in England during the previous century. Apart from experimenting with different materials, Bauhaus students were also asked to consider the essence of the triangle, the cube and the circle. One room in the exhibition is solely about the square.

If there is something missing in this exhibition, it is perhaps colour. For instance, there is an impressive staircase window by Albers and while there is a maze of different shapes and forms within it, the black and white photograph of it from 1923 can tell us nothing about what it looked like as the mass of colour it once was. This and other art works were part of the original Bauhaus that was destroyed in the Second World War. There is an interesting early photograph by George Muche that shows an arrangement of blades that foretells a sense of excruciating pain. A reminder perhaps of the more negative forces that this school were to arouse which ultimately lead to an aspect of modernism that was later to be rejected. Housing blocks built in sixties England are perhaps an example since later these have been found not be progressive but rather depressing and impossible to live in.

Another member of the school was Kandinsky whose initial work was highly intuitive but later became more methodical. For him, after a certain amount of research with his students, a triangle became yellow, the square red and the circle blue; however, from an understanding of other cultures such as the Tibetan where the triangle is red, we know that these symbols are not universally understood as Kandinsky imagined. The shift away from expressionism to other approaches such as Cubism and Constructivism (this latter school was not part of the Bauhaus although one of it’s exponents Theo Van Doesberg from Holland set up a school near to the Bauhaus and drew students from there). Fonts were developed during this early period with thicker fonts being used for more emphatic even angry matters and thinner fonts for “sweeter” matters.

In 1921, Itten resigned as a result of differences of view with Gropius who he felt was taking the school in a more commercial direction; in fact, Gropius was being pragmatic and wanted the school to pave it’s way in the world and become financially viable. Other artists joined the school such as Paul Klee and Albers as well as Maholy-Nagy.

Looking at the Bauhaus from a more historical perspective, one might consider the effect rapid inflation had on it’s development if any. The students were probably from more well to do backgrounds, The school itself was famous in it’s time but perhaps developed a more populist approach as fine art became design; was the Bauhaus where design became the important force it is today? At that time, graphic designer was not a profession! The Bauhaus became more left wing while the socialism of Germany became more nationalist in sentiment. In 1925, the Bauhaus had to move because the Weimar government was no longer prepared to grant funding and the school was obliged to set up in Dessau in a less prosperous area of the town. While, the print workshop had started by making art prints, it developed into making posters for government and industry even printing emergency bank notes.

 

A lot of items that they turned out were of a practical nature. For instance, Marianne Brandt who produced some fine photographs also was the only female metal worker; she produced an amazing array of tea pots while Albers made a fruit bowl that could be pushed across the table thanks to ball bearing style wheels. Wallpaper was the most successful product and yet the Bauhaus never got rich on this. The profit was taken by the corporates who managed to market the Bauhaus products. One can not help but see parallels with Habitat and Ikea today although these businesses are much more holistic in that they are one body rather than another body taking advantage of the original creators. The designers of Ikea and Habitat though wonld not be where they are if not for the Bauhaus.

 

The Bauhaus produced a series of books. One wonders if any of these 14 books printed in editions of 2 to 3,00 between 1923 – 30 are still in print; perhaps not, since many of the ideas expressed in them have been developed since particularly in photography which has changed so much.

 

There is a film being projected on a wall of the gallery that was made by Bauhaus students; it looks a bit dated now and some laugh at the demonstration of what were then innovative designs and are now taken for granted. Titled “How do we live in a healthy and economic way?”it was first shown in 1926 and ives a good idea of the ergonomic approach to living that has become so important in today’s world.

 

TOwards the end of the exhibition, one starts to see more photographs. They are still largely documentary in nature often picturing buildings and groups of people in well produced photographic forms, However, some of the photographs showing sporting activities do not only well to capture movement but also show a sense of composition with mirroring between background and foreground. Photographs were also being used to create montages while different photographs would be placed next to each other in significant ways as in portrait snaps of Josef and Anni Albers. Portaits were made that were not mere mugshots but involved interesting camera angles and also close ups as in a series of photographic images showing someone’s mouth. A striking images is of hands, a number of diptychs being placed together to create a large panel of images. T.Luix Feninger, son of the artist Feninger, produced some good photographs such as one of a line of musicians staged not horizontally but vertically, one agove the other; not only is the composition strong here, the musicians are not strictly posed while the print sees a widening of the tonal range, an aspict of the photograph that was to be developed in America largely by Ansel Adams.

 

Laszlo Maholy-Nagy did much of the photography and is well known for his contribution to the medium. In a 1930 film called “Lightplay: blcak white grey” he shows a dazzling array of form and light with accompanying music. the effect is a little dizzy but it is a wonderful exposition of Bauhaus made through the medium of film.

 

Paul Klee was another artist who gave his students exercises described as “purposeful play” described by the curator as “experimentationn under particular constraints to explore inherent and functional and constructive possibilities without stated practical aims” which rather aptly describes the exercises I was asked to do as part of the OCA modules in Level 1 photography.I enjoyed these and became interested in Itten and his ideas but this exhibition has made me more aware of the Bauhaus and it’s influence and it is one I do not particularly like. The nausea I feel while looking at it is perhaps an intended effect by some of the work inspired by a teacher for whom vomiting was encouraged!!

 

Some of the technical terms used to describe photographic processes are a little hard to understand. One sees what looks like a photo-montage, a group of photographs that have been stuck together on a single sheet of paper described as a photomechanical production.

 

The penultimate room is devoted to photography. This developed towards the end of the Bauhaus and reveals an innovative approach different angles of view, close ups and different subjects, photographs that are not purely functional. The first head of photography was Walter Peterhans, son of the maker of Zeiss lenses, whose exercises for his students were to help them develop technically superior prints. He achieved this partly through lectures on mathematics yet also through exercises involving lighting, exposure and printing; for example, one of his students made a series of different exposures of a light bulb from one in which only the filament was visible through to a final one where the light bulb was visible as a glowing object. There were close ups of a mouth shown in a series all showing different expressions and a similar group of photographs of hands with wrists in some cases, arranged beside each other in provocative ways. Peterhans himself was a gifted photographer who made work that anticipates much that was to follow in the years to come.

 

After spending some five hours at The Barbican of which three and a half were spent inside the exhibition space, I made my way to The Tate Modern to meet a friend who is herself an artist and studied the Bauhaus; she helped me to see the school with a little more perspective. The Bauhaus were a little idealistic in their approach and their concern for the straight line and lack of ornamentation did not have a good effect on those who had to live in or alongside some of their constructions. Their altruistic ideas have since been questioned and yet the work they undertook, which has been so vastly influential, remains interesting. They perhaps mark the end of traditional art and the birth of modern art where form becomes function. Photography here however got off to a good start and although it is no longer contemporary, it’s traces can still be seen. Personally I do not care for the high contrast it tended to encourage and see this as due to a lack of understanding in how to use the materials.

 

 

Later, after this exhibition was over, I read something on a college forum in which a student wrote about how well the exhibition brought the characters of the Bauhaus to life. I replied with the following comment …

“Jennifer writes, ” It presents the people involved – not just Gropius – as very much key in it all, and works hard to give you a sense of several of them as real people, not just names now in art history books.

I agree with what she says and I think this was a feature of the exhibition. However, I questioned the treatment of Johannes Itten as a religious eccentric; he did after all, write some of the best books of the last century about understanding colour. His emphasis was on not just understanding the theory of it all but also experiencing the effect of, for instance, different colours.

Itten we learn was a member of Mazdaznan which was a Hindu-Christian movement – incorrect, it comes from Zorastrianism which is Persian based rather than Indian. This might seem like a minor error on part of those putting the exhibition together but it is quite significant in real terms. Imagine calling a Muslim a Christian – it might start a riot! Hence, I feel the emphasis on Itten as some kind of religious fanatic to be a little biased.

Itten, one of the first to be employed at the Bauhaus, left after a few years and hence was probably villified for doing so. Anyone who reads his books, still in print unlike a lot of Bauhaus stuff, is going to find a better understanding of the Bauhaus than this exhibition gave although the exhibition in itself was a unique presentation of Bauhaus art and artifacts.”

Gillian Wearing

OCA students outside The Whitechapel Gallery for Gillian Wearing

The OCA blog of the day is here …

http://www.weareoca.com/photography/tell-gillian/

What follows is my blog which starts before the study day begins …

The OCA is due to visit the Whitechapel Gallery again after a week at the end of April to see the Gillian Wearing exhibition. I did hear a review of this exhibition on Radio 4 (Front Row http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01dtvkf#p00qj6kq) in which her work interviewing people is discussed by Sarah Crompton (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturecritics/sarahcrompton/) Art editor for The Daily Telegraph. She mentions that Wearing won the Turner Prize (in 1997) and explores the masks people wear (no pun intended) often through video interviews as well as still photography. A large collection of Gillian Wearing’s work is in The Whitechapel Gallery exhibition; she deserves to be better known. She has compassion in wanting to see the world through other’s eyes. What is the mask, what is the real person? Wearing is a listener. Some of her work is hard to take such as that of mother abusing her daughter yet her work is also inspiring.

A short talk by the curator of the exhibition is available on YouTube; he sees the discrepancy between the public and the private as an important aspect of her work … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv02v3aOrC8

One review can be seen here; it is a fairly brief one from the Daily Telegraph by Alaister Smart who mentions her ability to penetrate and unravel the people she portrays; her work is transportive, the sign of art …

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-reviews/9176491/Gillian-Wearing-at-Whitechapel-Gallery-Seven-magazine-review.html

The OCA sends us a link to another interview with Gillian Wearing in The Guardian …

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2012/mar/04/gillian-wearing-whitechapel-gallery-feature

This interview sems to be more about her than her work and as a result, I do not find it very interesting – the artist becomes celebrity – it is her work I want to see and experience. She is clearly an artist who uses photography rather than a straight photographer. I do not relate very easily to her as a person but surely the subject of the exhibition is her work not her; will knowing about her help me to understand her work? The interviewer asks her about her parents, fishing it seems for some personal meaning to her work and accepts he is projecting.

The interviewer, Tim Adams, however does make an interesting point by saying that Gillian Wearing has a talent for drawing people out and enabling them to say or write things that are perhaps truthful; this seems to be her role as an artist rather than being a photographer.

A video of her work I find eerie yet this is probably my reaction to the music rather than her work …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVBX7CDui-A

another video, shows clips of her work and is quite amusing while also being interesting …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=h7y5uvyhHgc

Receiving a copy of the monograph that accompanies the exhibition, I start to see what Gillian Wearing is about – playing with masks and a sense of identity is something other artists have done (one thinks of the American photographer Cindy Sherman who has been photographing herself in different guises for many years) yet Wearing still manages to make something new and different out of it.

Doris Krystof writes that Wearing’s work is about “communication as an act of (self-) realisation”.

One in the eye for Gareth - a rain drop had fallen from above!

                          One in the eye for Gareth Dent – he removes the falling water drop with a finger 

Her work does not seem easy to understand and so reading the essays at then beginning of the gallery guide in an attempt to gain some insight into what it is all about. The images are cleverly constructed and obviously require a lot of work to put together; for instance, the prosthetic masks for the series where GW plays the role of her immediate family members took a mask maker four months each to complete.

Personally, I am not sure I like the work and this might be because GW is probing, looking beyond the public self to a less well defined one. As she says, “what people project as the human mask they are is obviously is very different to what goes on inside. There is always a disparity and I am interested in that.” Dan Cameron writing in 2004 (Parkett, no. 70, page 100) notices the recurrent theme of awkwardness in her work, saying that it can “provoke a marked degree of discomfort in the viewer, by creating perspectives that produce in us a feeling of unexpected intimacy with her subjects.”

Daniel F. Herrman notes that Wearing’s work presents a “dramaturgic dissonance” between the public and the private space. I see something very seminal in her works since she uses “signs” and “masks”. She also appears to be playing with the fraught nature of photographic truth where faction and fiction are hard to identify.

As I approach the gallery, I find myself wondering that makes Gillian Wearing stand out as an artist. It has been mentioned that she presented a certain interpersonal reality before it became popularised on TV. Is her work the celebration of the beautiful woman she apparently is!?

She certainly has the hallmark of a great artist in that she presents her work in a way that looks simple. Her themes relate to the personality and we all have one of some kind; this makes her work quite universal and something that anyone can relate to.

GW succeeds in communicating her message.

GW explores sensitive issues that are relevant to all of us, whether we like it or not.

Herrmann suggests that GW is exploring her own identity and in doing so, asking us to explore our identity.

Gillian says she is not a photographer or a video artist; so what is she doing and where is she coming from? Finally, I have made it to the exhibition and meet up with other OCA students; now is the time to rally understand the work.

The first piece of work we see is a video installation of GW dancing in a Peckham shopping arcade …

http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/video/2012/mar/26/gillian-wearing-dancing-peckham-video

This is the only chance we get to see GW the person without a mask although it is not easy to really see what she looks like: her movements are wild and spontaneous yet she does not look like the world’s greatest dancer. The fact she is dancing in the middle of a public place might attract undue attention yet the presence of a camera probably deters people from responding as they might have done.

Her work is about how we interact with the world!

Prelude is the first video installation we are advised to see. It shows grainy black and white footage of a woman talking; however, the voice we hear is that of her twin sister for Lindsey, the worm in the video, has since died. The entrance hall of the exhibition contains a number of booths with different videos.

our OCA group at the Gilian Wearing exhibition

At the end of the entrance hall is a self-portrait of Gillian Wearing; it is characteristically awkward revealing a face that seems expressionless and makes her look like some kind of spacewoman. She wears a green top.

One piece of work that strikes me is a recreation of a Durer painting showing a group of reeds in fine detail. As with much of her work, it is painstakingly reconstructed; being in a lightbox, the illumination is brilliant. It is only later that I find out that this is a video installation and that one can see ants moving up and down the stems of plants! This is a wonderful recreation not just a modern copy.

In the same room, are a large number of photographs of people holding up cards on which they have written their inner thoughts. These photographs are not well constructed (feet are often cut off) and GW admits she is certainly not a photographer (a photographer would pay much more attention to what is and what is not included in the frame). GW does not need to be a photographer to do what she is doing.

One OCA student, Keith Greenoulgh, now at Level 3, remarks with a laugh that in art photography, no one ever smiles! I can not help but agree with this observation; perhaps it is a reaction to the false smiles we often wear in our everyday lives.

Another room is full of large portrait photographs. I wonder how much GW has to do with the actual production of these prints; presumably she uses a lab to have them made. We are told that she uses a team to construct the prosthetic masks and no doubt the team make the photographs too.

As seems to be the vogue at present, the photographs have no captions but one can find them together on a sign to one side. I like this effect because it encourages us to view the photograph rather than treat it as a referent.

One image in this room strikes me in particular. It is a black and white print of a woman. The pose is very stylised and the woman holds a mask of Gillian Wearing that hangs down from one hand. Small hearts are painted on her face, the dark lips are perfectly pursed, the hair is carefully arranged. By chance, Helen, another OCA student, knows who the woman pictured is; her name was Claude Cahun, a lesbian French resistance worker during the war in the Channel Islands who got arrested by the Germans and was due to be put to death but was in the end spared. One wonders what draws Gillian Wearing to this particular person.

Goffman points out that there can be a difference between what one says and the kind of body language one is using, GW is reflecting this kind of two-faced behaviour not in a judgemental way rather with understanding.

Another video installation is called “2 into 1” and is about a mother and her two twin boys. The humorous aspect here is partly the the two twins boys who seems very mischievous and yet endearing but also the way that the mother speaks the boys voice while the boys speak with their mother’s voice; this is a device that Wearing uses in other video installations.

Seeing GW’s work in a gallery space is much more striking than seeing it between the pages of the exhibition catalogue. It starts to assume a worth of it’s own and one no longer needs to think about it so much, one can just enjoy it. new nuances of meaning are discovered.

10 to 16 is a series of videos revealing the experiences of teenagers spoken through the bodies of older people who lip-sync the teenagers words (GW’s standard device again).

10 is of a ten year old boy who has a tree house and likes to sit up there, reading; his words are mouthed by a late middle-aged man lying on a sofa.

11 is the voice of a truant boy who has attacked others and talks of killing someone one day; his words are spoken by a couple of women having a picnic in the park.

12 is the voice of a totally unphased boy who seems happy with life although he is concerned about the possible loss of the tiger; he speaks through a middle-aged woman.

13 is the voice of a boy who wants to kill his mother for being a lesbian; this is spoken through the body of a naked dwarf who first lies in a bath then sits on the edge and finally puts a towel around himself and closes the bathroom door. There is laughter in the room as the boy says how he plans to kill his mother by preparing a pea soup.

14 a boy says how he steals money not just from his mother but also people in the street; talks through the body of a man in jeans seated on a fence.

15 a boy talks about buses through the body of a black man at a bus stop.

16 a fat person talks about the experience of being obese through a late middle-aged man in a suit.

One of the tutor’s present, describes GW as a fine artist rather than a photographer. Her approach is conceptual with a lot of effort spent in communicating what she wants to say. She has found her own theme and sticks to it doggedly.

More innovative than Cindy Sherman who tends to repeat the same idea; GW is progressing.

Talks about the need to develop one’s own narrative approach. Align interests with what one is doing; narrative may develop as one works; a body of work can develop out of this. Alex Soth who did a book about the Mississipi did not plan to do such a book; it merely arose out of pictures he was taking for no particular reason.

Another video in the downstairs hall is of what appears to be a mother and a grown up daughter who is dressed only in pants and bra. At times, the mother and daughter seem very close but very now and then the mother starts pushing her daughter down to the floor; this seems to be about the sometimes tempestuous nature of intimacy and the way a parent can abuse it.

Another video is called Bully Boy and shows, in a staged act, the way bullying can take place; I come in half way through and get the impression that although not real, this is some kind of encounter group, in which the participants are playing out fantasies. This is very disturbing so I am relieved to learn that they are actually playing assigned roles that they have been asked to undertake. The act is to help someone who is watching and has been bullied in the past; he then shouts at the people who have been play acting the bullying to tell them how he feels. This does seem confrontational even though it is in jest. Reminds me of the encounter groups that used to take place in the 1970’s.

The day ends with some of us lunching together after which most leave; I decide to stay a little longer as there is still much to see.

The confessions are a series of videos that play in booths, not unlike in Catholic confessionals. Those talking wear masks so one can not see who they are although one can see their eyes moving.

There is the confession of a man who has had a violent background; he was sent to prison for killing someone who he met by chance. He now holds down a good job and is liked but suffers from deep depression. I can’t help but find myself questioning his attitude which is so confidently negative.

A woman talks of how she stabbed her husband in self-defence; he had been violent towards her many times and when the case eventually comes to court, she is acquitted. It takes her another 6 months to get her children back from the care they have been placed in. She is still coming to terms with what she is doing and racked with guilt although she never intended any harm and was acting in self defence.

A 57 year old man talks about still being a virgin.

Another man talks abut how he wants to have his penis surgically removed but does not want to have a sex change. Still wants to be a man – frankly, I find this somewhat amusing although it is obvious that the man feels isolated.

One of the last images I see is a huge, incredibly well made black and white photograph of a flower arrangement- it is called People (2011). The concept is Wearing’s but I suspect someone else did the flower arrangement and someone else made the photograph.

It is good to know that Gillian Wearing does not claim to be a photographer and is rather a fine artist artist who uses the photographic medium because I do not see the photographs she makes as real examples of photography. What might these be? A subject for another day perhaps.

On reflection, I wonder whether the Gillian Wearing exhibition succeeds as a whole and feel it suffers because it is a collection of different bodies of work, all of which need to be understood in their own way. For instance, just taking the time to watch and listen to the confessionals would have been enough; as it was, I only found time to listen to a few.

This exhibition was more about the artist, presenting different bodies of work to say what a great artist she is. Overall, there seems to be nothing to take away except a feeling of unease about the human psyche.

BLOGS from other students who also attended the day …

http://flyer2001-tadsocalearningblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/study-visit-to-gillian-wearing.html

http://helenphotography.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/gillian-wearing-study-tour-photographs.html

http://www.nineelmsphotography.com/blog/?p=708

http://drjoolz.wordpress.com/2012/04/29/gillian-wearing-the-peepshow-ethics/#comment-16

(considers the ethics behind what Wearing is doing).

Poet as Painter : a visit to the Magritte Museum

MUSEE MAGRITTE : a look at the art and thought of Rene Magritte

Finding myself in Bruxelles for a week-end, I decided to visit the museum set up in 2009 tthat shows the work of the artist Rene Magritte; on the whole, I am more interested in photography rather than painting but the approach of Magritte to his work is fascinating and does seem relevant to myself as a photographer. The photograph can be considered a surrealist object and it is no coincidence that Magritte was himself interested in photography.

As we approach the Musee Magritte, Palyang mentions that Magritte worked a lot with contrasts; I wonder what she means as Magritte was not from the Bauhaus school in which a series of “contrasts” played an important role. I also do not associate contrast with his work. She mentioned day and night as being one of the contrasts. Of course, one can not ignore the concept of contrast as so much art draws on this with the Bauhaus school recognising this fact. It is perhaps in the meanings of his images that Magritte plays with contrast.

It was not surprising to learn that photography was prevented in the museum but to be told that I was not even allowed to make notes was discomforting; the Magritte museum website also contains text that can not be copied and pasted unless one does a screen grab. Does this shock have any relation to the surprise that many of Magritte’s paintings evoke? I was trying to see positively.

An early inspiration of Magritte’s was Giorgio de Chirico who wrote a poem called The Song of Love; Magritte’s words on de Chirico are about “making a painting speak about something other than the painting itself.” In other words, the painting is an expression of a thought.

Magritte “realised that, ultimately, aesthetics are merely accessory to the artwork: the idea is the only thing that counts.” Quote from the museum website – http://www.musee-magritte-museum.be/Typo3/index.php?id=89&L=0. Also “Art is first and foremost a way of knowing man and the world, and the painter has a role to play in revealing what the world is, or rather the mystery that it contains.”

Magritte - next to The Barbarian, London

It may not be correct to call Magritte a surrealist (he also experimented with Cubism and the naive) but it is undeniable that he was greatly influenced by the Surrealist group as a younger artist and writes of surrealism, “Surrealism is immediate knowledge of the real: the real is absolute, alien to all the different ways of interpreting it.”

Much of the material being shown by the museum is about the personal life of Magritte. There are many photographs of him with his friends and he seems to be detached from the moody torture driven artist who seems so popular in western art; Van Gogh who cut off his ear and eventually committed suicide is a classic example, Lucien Freud who got into physical fights with people on the street a later one perhaps.

Magritte was not just a highly skilled painter (perhaps only Dali and Ernst were his superiors in craftsmanship), he saw the painting in itself as a dead end; he was also a poet and expressed his insights through painting. This is where I find a bond with Magritte since the photograph can also be limiting and when one has finally reached a point where one can make a technically proficient photograph (this is not as simple as one might assume) one might find one reaches a point where one wants the photograph to say something more than it usually does. The idea that a photograph like a painting, can make a statement, gives the photograph much greater potential as an art object and possibly liberates it’s creator from the “tyranny” of the image.

At one time, Magritte included words within his paintings not as a way to affirm their subject rather as a way to question their meaning and one of Magritte’s most well known paintings is of a pipe beside which is written in childlike script, “This is not a pipe!” Magritte reminds us that what we see represented is not actually the object portrayed; a blindingly obvious statement but one we tend not to be fully aware of. Magritte is using text to “introduce doubt, to question the link, which he considered arbitrary, between the naming of a thing and the thing itself: between image and language” Quote from the Musee Magritte – http://www.musee-magritte-museum.be/Typo3/index.php?id=89&L=0

One can explore the “This is not a pipe!” painting of a pipe further in Michel Foucault’s essay “This is not a Pipe” written shortly after the death of Magritte in 1967 almost at the age of “three score and ten.” The understanding of this painting is surely relevant to the understanding of visual culture as a whole.

Some of Magritte’s sayings are written on the wall of the museum in both french and dutch but not english. This is rather disappointing as his thought is obviously an important part of his work and lost on the many like myself, who do not know French and Dutch well enough to grasp Magritte’s meaning. Again I am struck by the secretive nature of the museum; Magritte was apparently initially weary of the museum and not in a hurry to give them access to his archive so perhaps he could see his work might be appropriated. In the first year, the Museum had over half a million visitors and with most paying several euros each, the museum must have netted a large income. They are starting an online research centre for the museum so perhaps all the profit gleaned from preventing easy access to a posthumous Magritte will reap rewards that will benefit everyone.

As I see the exhibition, I get an idea for my own work, to explore Magritte further through making photographic representations of his work – perhaps I shall learn something worthwhile from this! Already, I am encouraged to make photographic representations of my own ideas.

Certainly, for me, this visit to see the work of an artist who although highly skilled still felt the painting to be limited, has been worthwhile because it has presented a way to go beyond the image to the realm of the poetic just as Magritte did. I have always admired his work and now I can see why.

After the exhibition, we visit the shop where Magritte’s work has been reproduced in endless different media from mouse mats to fridge magnets. The full museum guide costs Euro 40 which is rather costly. Another book which contains 400 of his paintings does not have a price on it; I note the details and the publisher and look it up on the net where it is unavailable from the publisher and costs over £300 from Amazon. I need to visit the museum the next day and decide to check on the price; it is only 10 euros which is a good price for such a book. Apparently the museum has bought up all the copies but does at least sell it for a reasonable price; I might even try selling my copy on Amazon at a much reduced price such as £100 to see if I can make a healthy profit.

Apart from the 400 images in the book, The Portable Magritte (published http://www.loudion.be), contains an introductory essay by Robert Hughes. This contains a good description of the artist as “storyteller”; “Modern art was well supplied with myth-makers ..But it had few masters of the narrative impulse … Magritte was its chief fabulist. His images were stories first, formal paintings second, but the stories were not narratives … They were snapshots of the impossible, rendered in the dullest and most literal way, vignettes of language and reality locked in mutual cancellation. As a master of puzzle painting Magritte had no equal … ”

After describing some of Magritte’s paintings, Robert Hughes goes on to write about the deeper concerns of Magritte that “were with language itself, the way that meanings were frustrated by words or symbols.” The classic example of this was the pipe painting (described above) that was also presented as an apple.

In fact, one can say that “Magritte became one of the artists whose work became necessary to an understanding of modernist culture.”

Of the shock or surprise Magritte’s paintings often contain, Hughes writes “their trigger is thought itself!”