Tag Archives: art

31 – Of its time

Out of time

I went to Tate Britain and what do I bring back?  A photo of my least favourite painting in the whole collection, that’s what! This might not seem to be an example of  pleasure – but it is.  It shows the fun that can be had when you revert to a chronological approach to hanging after years of a thematic straightjacket.

The Munnings picture might be technically brilliant, as the horses are vividly depicted, but it is completely out of time and in some ways irrelevant. The aristocratic splendour harks back to a time before the war when Britain had the largest empire in the history of the world and pretends that things have not changed, when everyone knows they have. An excellent example of how something can be good (technically) and bad (conceptually) at the same time, it was painted 5 years after the one beside it (which might not be cutting edge but at least shows something of the spirit of the age).

In fact when you look round this room of the interwar years you can see a huge fracturing of styles  and you get a sense of the struggle of  different artists to come to terms with a changed  world order,  both politically and artistically, after the great trauma of a war unlike any other.  It is illuminating to see more than one approach. Art history is too often presented as a simple linear thread, a main highway if you like,  and it is good to be reminded that there were  other smaller roads (that might not have gone anywhere in particular) that offered a different view.

P.S. Munnings is a central character in the film ‘Summer in February’ where he is routinely described as being a genius. From this distance it is hard to understand why unless it was describing a force of personality that cannot be transmitted through his painting

23 – Regulating the Harmony

Yesterday I talked about messing about with photographs and how time can disappear. The following quote is from the biography of Laszlo Moholy Nagy, by his wife Sibyl, shows how proper artists go about things

“If this bar —“ Mondrian pushed one black strip across the sheet, moving it a fraction of an inch at a time.
“Stop!” Moholy watched intensely. “Go back again.” The bar was returned to its initial place.
“Now try upwards.”
“No — no — not upward” Mondrian protested. “To the left, if at all only to the left.” Moholy knelt beside him. As Mondrian moved his strip to the left Moholy pushed another one to the right, slowly, slowly, almost imperceptibly slow. For a while they said nothing.
“It’s off balance,” Mondrian finally exclaims. “It’s off balance don’t you see?”
“Yes, I see.” Moholy was crestfallen. “Now I know.” With swift moves he rearranged the black strips. Then he jumped onto a chair, looking at the sheet on the floor. “Come up here,” he called to Mondrian, who was still kneeling. “From up here the tension is harmonised.”
Mondrian looked for another chair. It was the one on which I was sitting. I relinquished it and they both stood above my head pointing —
“To the left —“
“Higher?”
“Higher — but to the right.”
it was Moholy’s task to execute the turns.
“Non—non—non! Mondrian’s quick fire objections in the French language. “Too much, I say, much too much!” …
The room was chilly and my feet were ice cold. I would have liked to leave. I was tired of standing. But I couldn’t make my prosaic presence known. The two men on the chairs were like seers, regulating the harmony of the universe with strips of black paper.