#201 - "Extraordinary" - exhibition review, Helene Schjerfbeck 17/07/19

Royal Academy of Arts

This exhibition for the insufficiently known Finnish artist is a lovely surprise. Helen Schjerfbeck was a prodigy and her early work from the 1890s varies from accomplished, cutesy Victoriana to experimental mood studies like The Door. Once into the new century, geographically withdrawn but intellectually engaged with the international art world, her style roamed boldly: there are works here that echo Klimt and foreshadow Bacon and Moore. What stays constant is the sense of sitters – even of still lifes – caught off guard and captured in essence. This is especially true of the self-portraits, that begin with prettified perfection and end with the drawn expressionist maw of an old ghost. Extraordinary.

#200 - "Dazzling" - Olafur Eliasson: In Real Life 09/07/19

Tate Modern

How is it the Nordic countries pull off the finer things in life - food, design, art - with such effortless cool? After filling Tate’s Turbine Hall with his enchanting misted sun in 2003, Danish-Icelandic polymath Olafur Eliasson gets a retrospective in the new extension – and it is dazzling. With deft interventions – a wall of moss, a kaleidoscope porthole, a corridor full or sweetly disorienting mist – he lifts the spirit. Even his doomier works, about global warming’s effect on glaciers, are hearteningly beautiful. It’s not always comfortable – it’s disorienting to see the world anew – and it’s a shame it ends on reams of explanatory video. But I’ve rarely left an exhibition more cheerful.

#199 - "A lifetime's dazzling work" - exhibition review, Luchita Hurtado

Serpentine Sackler Gallery

What a revelation, and what an indictment of art world sexism. Venezuelan-born American artist Luchita Hurtado’s first public solo show uncovers a lifetime’s dazzling work, from captivating, colourful ab-ex geometries to surrealism-tinged foreshortened nude self-portraits, calligraphic designs on fabric to simple but engaged political works painted in this, her 99th year. On a basic level these pictures are gorgeous enough to fall into: but they also have a muscular, questing rigour and show a relentless desire to push the formal envelope. I could stand for hours in front of her colourful images of tessellating shapes or her collected small pictures of light through apertures. Bravo.

 

#198 - "Gently beguiling" - theatre review, Our Town 22/05/19

Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Thematically hokey but formally experimental, Thornton Wilder’s portrait of a turn-of-the-century New England town reminds us how America used to see itself. Laura Rogers’s pert stage manager calls the characters out from theatre seats mirroring the audience’s. Act One establishes the sober, neighbourly, god-fearing milieu of Grovers Corners; Act Two sees two youngsters (Francesca Henry and Arthur Hughes, sweetly affecting) married; in the extraordinary Act Three the dead view the living with pity from the cemetery. Ellen McDougal’s production, with everyone largely wearing what look like their own clothes, honours Wilder’s wish for simple, plain staging: the result is gently beguiling, though it doesn’t set off any rockets.

 

#197 - exhibition review, Secret Rivers 22/05/19

Museum of London Docklands

This is a charming, impressionistic rather than comprehensive look at the Thames tributaries that have been concealed, converted and in some cases reclaimed, told through a smattering of artefacts and art. The Fleet became a sewer, the Westbourne became the Serpentine, the Neckinger bred cholera in the Jacob’s Island rookery, now home to luxury apartments. There are skulls, swords, paintings and mixed-media work, plus documentation on the spoof campaigns to bring the Effra and Tyburn above ground again. There’s a bigger story here – what about the quaggy – but it’s a diverting reminder that London, as curator Kate Sumnall puts it, is as much a blue city as a green one.

 

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