Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Darren Almond, To Leave a Light Impression, White Cube, Bermondsey, London

The Full Moon photographs of Darren Almond evoke a sense of passing time. They show time in it’s immensity. Like telescopes looking out into space Almond’s photographs capture old time. The nature of photography is the capturing of light, and once light has been caught, it is already the past. This may seem obvious, but we don’t always think about it when looking at a photograph. With the photography of Darren Almond this is made explicit.

All the photographs in this exhibition are of remote places, and almost always uninhabited. We don’t see any people. There is often running water, which due to the manner of production (extremely long exposures of up to an hour using only the light of a full moon) resembles cloud. Only the rock of the mountains is in focus, or the ice of the glacier, only the slowest moving things. The sky is usually grey as the clouds merge over time, yet more still than the water. Except in one photograph we see the arcs made by the movement of stars, evidence that we ourselves are moving through space.

There is occasional evidence of humanity: a railway track running straight up the middle of one image; a bridge in another; a sequence of photographs of standing stones. The photographs themselves are evidence of humanity and the existence of a technological culture. The photographs of standing stones span this entire history, the technology of one culture observing another. All these photographs are the human gaze at nature. Is it a dispassionate gaze? scientific? artistic? Are we looking at Arcadia? A utopian vision of a world without humans? A world before humans? A world after humans? 

With these questions we return to the immensity of time. The moment of the photograph, this long moment, is but a blip. All is quiet but nothing is quite still. By capturing an hour in these beautiful images the artist shows us that the only constant is change. Even the mountains move.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Pandora’s Promise, a film by Robert Stone

Nuclear energy has suffered from bad press. Ask people what the word nuclear evokes and you’ll probably get words like fallout, radiation, meltdown, armageddon, and nuclear winter. The nuclear industry is linked in the public perception to public health concerns such as an increased cancer risk, and to environmental catastrophes such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. The popular fiction surrounding nuclear is of a future where vast swathes of the planet have been made uninhabitable by nuclear disaster, either as the result of malignant forces, be they terrorists or a renegade military, or by our own stupidity and greed. Ironically perhaps the images used to promote nuclear energy when it was first introduced in the 1950’s and 1960’s have become the same images which are now the stuff of nuclear nightmares: large glowing giants marching through huge power hungry cities; strings of electricity pylons crossing the landscape emitting powerful invisible rays; faceless scientists in lab coats assuring us that everything is better with nuclear power. 

Robert Stone’s 2013 documentary film, Pandora’s Promise, sets about to debunk these myths. And it does this by interviewing at length environmentalists, scientists and commentators who in recent years have changed sides in the debate, from strongly opposed to strongly in favour. The interviewees include: founder of the Whole Earth Catalogue, Stewart Brand; Pulitzer Prize winner, Richard Rhodes; science writer, Gwyneth Cravens; and activists, Mark Lynas and Michael Shellenberger. From the very beginning the “fearlessly independent” film contrasts the calm, scientific opinions of it’s protagonists with footage of emotional anti-nuclear demonstrations, juxtaposing the science with ordinary people’s anger and passion. 

The structure of the film is simple. It outlines the arguments against one by one, being sure to present them as understandable concerns, and then carefully presents evidence to convince otherwise. It claims that people have been scared away from nuclear energy because of the very real dangers of nuclear weapons, and that people are guilty of confusing the two very different issues. It describes nuclear energy as a clean energy and a potentially unlimited source of electricity. 

Many of the arguments put forward in the film are compelling. It talks of our ever expanding demand for energy, saying that, as the developing world catches up with the developed world, energy consumption is set to double by 2050 and treble by 2100. It tells us of the often unseen energy costs of the latest technologies. For example, when you take into account the manufacturing process and the servers needed to maintain everything it is connected to, an iPhone consumes the same amount of energy as a fridge. 

The film makes the argument that the countries that consume the most electricity are the ones with the highest standard of living, which I can see makes sense as these are usually the richest countries who can afford better health care and have better access to water and food, but it then goes on to suggest that these countries have a higher standard of living because they consume more electricity, and that therefore it is a human right for developing countries to consume as much electricity as we in the developed world do. This argument strikes me not only as overly simplistic (there are many other factors involved with having a higher standard of living such as governments and companies controlling access to resources, a hangover from our Colonial past) but also as false logic. The sun is hot therefore everything hot is the sun. It doesn’t work. 

The film acknowledges climate change as a reality and says we need to seriously cut-down on use of fossil fuels, stating that three million people per year die as a result of air pollution caused by the use of fossil fuels, primarily coal, but says that to expect renewables such as solar and wind to take up the shortfall is an impossibility. Their power generation capabilities are too sporadic (the wind does not always blow, the sun does not always shine) and they usually rely on natural gas (a fossil fuel) as a back up. The film goes on to suggest that the fossil fuel industry, which it describes as being incredibly cynical, has at times helped bankroll the anti-nuclear lobby because it knows that renewables cannot possibly pose a threat to it’s continuing dominance. The film’s conclusion is that only nuclear power can produce enough electricity to satisfy the world’s growing needs.

Finally the film tackles perhaps the biggest stumbling block to the population’s acceptance of nuclear energy: safety. Again, Pandora’s Promise aims to allay these fears. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the result of nuclear weapons not nuclear energy. Background radiation is naturally occurring and, we learn, increases with altitude. The current levels of radiation at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island are lower than those naturally occurring in the hills of New Hampshire, and much lower (up to ten times lower) than those passengers are exposed to on an air flight. Accidents which occurred at Fukushima, Chernobyl and Three Mile Island couldn’t possibly happen again as the technology has improved since then to make such accidents impossible. 

Only fifty six people, as reported by the World Health Organization, have died as a result of Chernobyl the film claims. The film compares this number to the “one million” dead as claimed by environmental groups. Far from being a barren empty wasteland Chernobyl has a thriving local environment and many communities have moved back in with no apparent detrimental effects. Having worked in the past with an organisation providing life affirming and life improving activities for children from Chernobyl suffering from Leukaemia I do question these facts. If fallout from such an accident wasn’t as bad as we thought why do such organisations exist? And what constitutes an acceptable level of risk anyway? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? I don’t think anyone has ever been killed by a wind turbine or solar panel.

No matter how ‘safe‘ nuclear energy production is, and I still have unanswered questions after watching this film, I still can’t get beyond the issue of waste. Pandora’s Promise attempts to ease fears regarding the waste issue also (although it doesn’t even mention it until two thirds of the way in): the next (fourth) generation of power stations produces very little waste, most of which can be recycled as fuel to produce yet more power, and the resulting unusable waste from this process is only dangerous for eight hundred years rather than the ten thousand years of the current (third) generation power stations. This waste, the film claims, can be, and currently is being, safely stored on site. But, even if we’re only talking hundreds rather than thousands of years, how can we predict what the world will be like in eight hundred years time? Just think for a moment what the world was like eight hundred years ago, and how alien the twenty-first century might look to someone from the thirteenth century. How can we possibly plan to keep waste safe for such an unknowable future? 

If we were certain of the stability of our future, as a planet and as a species, if we could count on an optimistic outlook for our science and culture, of the continuation of our ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ way of life, then maybe we could be certain of the safety of nuclear. But I am not convinced. I am not convinced of the stability of our present, that our ‘liberal’ and ‘democratic’ way of life even exists now, let alone being certain of an unforeseeable future hundreds of years hence. There are too many uncertainties to take the risk.

I think the main issue here is one of over-consumption. The idea of the whole planet consuming as much energy as we in the developed world do now terrifies me. We consume too much. Our systems are inefficient. We produce far too much waste. Most of our systems of energy use were developed at a time of apparent super-abundance. We had no idea how much population and demand was going to grow. Rather than bringing the rest of the world up to our level of consumption we need to seriously cut-back on our own. Without denying the developing world improvements in standards of living we need to find a sustainable middle ground.  

Even after watching this film I still believe that we need to develop renewables. The sun is always shining somewhere. The wind is always blowing somewhere. Geothermal and tidal energy are never ending sources of power. Maybe we need to rethink how we access and distribute our resources. But also we need to develop micro-generation technologies. We need a revolution in energy production similar to the one that has been building in recent years in food production - locally sourced and sustainable. Ironically perhaps the very processes we need to be developing, such as small scale, micro-generation, permaculture, and mobile technologies, are being trialled most effectively in the developing world, in places that don’t have the huge infrastructure of the developed world.  

This film is right in that we need a calm, reasoned debate on the issue of nuclear power,  especially now as our government plans for the next generation of power stations. We need to look very carefully at the facts and not be overwhelmed by our often irrational emotions, and Pandora’s Promise certainly adds to this very important debate. But I do question some of it’s conclusions and it’s “fearless independence”. And many of the questions around nuclear power still, unfortunately, remain unanswered.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Alex Hamlin Reclaims Contemporary Art for the Common Man

A man sits on a chair in an exhibition space in an art gallery. There is nothing remarkable about the man - he is tall, Caucasian, mid-to-late 20s. There is nothing special about the chair - it is the same as the chair on which the gallery invigilator sits at the entrance to the exhibition space. There is a white circle with a three metre radius marked with duct tape on the floor around the unremarkable man sitting on the ordinary chair. This circle denotes the limit of the audience’s physical relationship to the man. The invigilator ensures this boundary is not crossed. The man sits there for six hours in two three hour sessions, from 10 to 1 and 2 to 5, with a one hour break in the middle for lunch, where he is whisked off to an undisclosed location to keep him away from the influence of his audience. Every so often the man picks up a piece of paper from a small pile by his feet, looks at his watch and scribbles something on the paper, the invigilator then walks over to take the piece of paper from him, at which point a second invigilator enters the exhibition space to take the piece of paper from the first invigilator. The first time I witness this I follow the second invigilator to inquire about the paper. I am told it is a Certificate of Authenticity signed and with a note of the time by Alex Hamlin, the man sat in the chair, to prove that he was thinking about art. I ask how Alex decides when to sign them and am told they are signed when Alex has a particularly inspirational thought about art. I am then told the Certificates are for sale for £10 each. I buy the one I have just witnessed Alex signing - it has a number one written on it in the same handwriting as the note of the time. After the event I discover Alex has signed a total of twenty one Certificates at an average of one every seventeen minutes or so, although he signs more in the first half of the day than the second, which suggests he is maybe tiring towards the end. All twenty one Certificates are sold, the money raised going towards the costs of promotion for the event and the subsequent production of the catalogue, of which this review is to be a part. Over the course of the day I would estimate approximately two hundred people witness Alex Hamlin thinking about art.
Alex Hamlin Thinks About Art is a complex work, there is much more to it than initially meets the eye. It is terribly important to the piece to stress that Alex Hamlin is not an artist. He doesn’t like art, or, rather, he doesn’t really ‘get’ it. It frustrates him. He is a layman struggling to make sense of an, in his view, elitist and exclusive preoccupation. He finds it confusing, purposefully obfuscating, and, to be honest, largely irrelevant. The remarkable thing about Alex Hamlin is that, after several conversations with his friend, the artist Christopher Robinson, who is the curator of this work, Alex agreed to expose his struggles to the public in a cathedral to the very institution he felt challenged by. By performing this courageous act Alex Hamlin has reclaimed art and the art gallery for the common man.
Alex Hamlin will be, I imagine, unaware of the pedigree of his action. As the First World War raged nearly a hundred years ago dada declared that art was to be for all and by all, an unrealised ambition which has lasted throughout the history of the twentieth century avant-garde. Alex Hamlin is only the most recent in a long tradition desiring to wipe the slate clean in order to begin afresh. His innocence is certainly refreshing as is his authentic curiosity and desire to understand.
Alex may well be right in his honest critique of contemporary art - too much of it is needlessly obscure - too much of it has its metaphorical head up its metaphorical backside (less art for arts’ sake more arse for arse’s sake), and with Alex Hamlin Thinks About Art Alex uses the favourite weapon in contemporary arts’ arsenal, irony, and reflects it devastatingly back on itself.
How do we know Alex Hamlin is thinking about art? He could be thinking about that cute girl who just walked into the gallery. At some point we, as viewers, must abandon our disbelief and willingly enter into the game of the piece, and if we do we find more layers and more depth. But did the work create that depth or have we invented it in our own minds? What does inspiration look like? Is it as banal as a man sitting in a chair? What makes a work of art? What, for that matter, makes an artist? These are huge questions and Alex Hamlin Thinks About Art forces us to ask them again.
Alex Hamlin Thinks About Art complicates the understood relationship between artwork, artist, viewer and the institution delivering the artwork to the viewer (the gallery). If Alex is the artwork, it asks, who is the artist? Is there an artist? Does Alex become the artist through his performance of the piece? At what point? Before? During? After? But if Alex becomes the artist doesn’t that undermine the whole premise of a non-artist reclaiming the gallery space for the common man?
Alex Hamlin Thinks About Art forces us to conclude that as soon as we think we have it nailed, a definition of art or the purpose and meaning of art, someone, usually an artist but in this instance unusually and refreshingly a non-artist, comes along and does something to throw it all up in the air again. The word ‘art’ it would seem (and the thing it signifies) is permanently malleable, forever in flux, and will always remain so. To think about art is to think about our relationship with the world and our understanding of reality and to consider what it is to be a conscious being who thinks. For a human being these are the biggest questions one can ask. As is: “I wonder if that cute girl wants to go for a drink when I’m through here thinking about art?” 

Friday, 2 November 2012

Richard Hamilton: the Late Works – National Gallery, London

To enter the world of Richard Hamilton’s late works is to enter a self-contained closed world of reflections and mirrored fragments. Endlessly self-referential, works reappear in other works, which themselves refer back to yet other works. To view them is to participate in a post-modern game through art history. And it is a thoroughly enjoyable game to play.

The first works we see are paintings where the National Gallery’s Sainsbury Wing has been transformed into a vast cathedral, sparsely populated by female nudes and tiny reproductions of earlier Hamilton works. These two paintings (The Saensbury Wing (1999-2000) and Charity), like many in the exhibition, reference a painting in the National’s collection, Pieter Saenredam’s The Interior of the Grote Kerk at Haarlem (1636-37). And with these paintings we are introduced to all of the main themes of the exhibition: interiors, paintings in the National Gallery, the female nude and other works of Richard Hamilton.

In Lobby (1985-87) a hotel lobby is painted with unwavering verisimilitude, the planes within fragmented by carefully rendered mirrored surfaces. It is a meticulously measured photo-realistic painting. The only ‘painterly’ marks are to be found on the flowers in the foreground and the painted paintings reflected in the two large mirrored columns. Lobby reappears in a later work, Hotel du Rhone (2005), where it hangs prominently on a wall in a digitally rendered collage of a hotel room being hoovered by a naked chambermaid. The contents and layout of the room bring to mind Hamilton’s most celebrated image, probably the most famous collage in art history, Just what is it that makes today's homes so different, so appealing? (1956).

Other than Lobby and The Saensbury Wing not many of these works could be described simply as paintings, although Hamilton did refer to them as such. They are mostly digital mash-ups incorporating elements of painting, collage and photography and finally printed onto canvas.

Hamilton’s nudes are always beautiful young women and it is in two more of these nudes that we find the final preoccupation of this exhibition, and a major preoccupation of Hamilton’s career. Descending Nude (2006) shows the same woman four times, three times reflected in a mirror walking down a flight of stairs, and the fourth facing the mirror. In The Passage of the Bride (1998-99) the female nude is reflected in the glass of a section of Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23), otherwise known as The Large Glass, which is seen hanging on the wall of another domestic interior. In the nineteen sixties Hamilton played an important role in the rehabilitation of Duchamp’s reputation in the art world, not least by remaking many of Duchamp’s works and bringing them to a new and wider audience. Duchamp blessed this project, even going so far, in typically Duchampian manner, as to sign Hamilton’s versions of his work. Another Duchampian aspect to Hamilton’s work is the delight he takes in replicating his own work on a smaller scale, as in Duchamp’s Box in a Valise (1935-41).

The clumsiest aspect of Hamilton’s work on show here are the titles, bad puns and unsubtle allusions, as if he hasn’t got the confidence in his audiences ability to ‘get’ the references. And one or two of the works are considerably weaker than others. I wasn’t entirely convinced by The passage of the angel to the virgin (2007), Hamilton’s updating of a Renaissance favourite, the Annunciation, for example. But these are minor quibbles. The exhibition is worth a visit alone for the opportunity to view Hamilton’s last work, Le Chef – d’oeuvre inconnu – a painting in three parts (2011 – printed 2012), which will probably pass into Hamilton legend as his last, great, unfinished, masterpiece.

Hamilton was working on Le Chef… for the final eighteen months of his life and he described it, according to this exhibitions catalogue, as his Etant Donnes. This is a slight exaggeration. Duchamp worked on his final piece in secret for twenty years when everyone thought he had given up art, releasing it only after his death as a way of upsetting Duchampian scholars from being able to sum up his life’s work into a neat little Duchampian shaped compartment. Hamilton’s final work doesn’t really deviate from the well-trodden Hamilton path. It is a nude, a particularly beautiful one. It references, and indeed collages, a number of old masters. And it is a digital mash-up of photography, painting, and collage. Based on a short story by Balzac, Le Chef… tells of a young painter trying to paint the perfect nude, produce the epitome of beauty and desire, but when he shows his work to a couple of other painter friends all they see is a mess of paint except for one beautifully rendered foot.

Thomas Schutte: Faces and Figures - Serpentine Gallery, London

Thomas Schutte has been producing a wide variety of art, from architectural installations and mixed media sculptures to ceramics and drawings, for more than three decades. This current exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery in London concentrates on one of Schutte’s major preoccupations, the human face and figure, drawing on work from the last fifteen years. It is perhaps surprising then, due to the eclectic nature of his practice, that this show has such a traditional feel, being made up as it is primarily of sculptures in bronze, steel and aluminium, and drawings in ink, pencil and watercolour.

It is to the drawings that I am most drawn. There is a quiet, calm seriousness to them, a misleading simplicity. They do not shout for attention. They quietly, calmly and seriously get on with what they do. Often Schutte will draw the same subject many times over a period of months or years, modifying his materials aloing the way, some in ink, some in pencil, some with crayon added, some with watercolour added, with the result that his drawings frequently appear in series. On show here are Luise (1996), Mirror Drawings (1998-99) and Paloma (2012). It’s as if through repetition Schutte is acknowledging the ultimate futility of drawing, it’s inherent failure to capture the true and complete spirit of a subject, as well as his own limitations as an artist, and by use of repetition he can somehow get closer to that unobtainable absolute truth.

In some of the drawings there is a real delicacy of touch. Henri (2012) for example is a very simple and beautiful line drawing in pencil, which has two occurrences of red crayon. Untitled (2006) is an ink drawing of a male face where the ink is thick and black on the right of the picture but the lines, and consequently the face, on the left disappear into the whiteness of the paper. And in another Untitled (2006), the subtlety of the line and delicacy of the face, this time female, is contrasted by a thick block of bright orange on the neck.

The majority of the sculptures on display, I’m afraid to say, fail to move me. They include a series of expressionistic bronze heads, Wichte (Jerks) (2006); an imposing armless figure with solemn deep cheekbones cast in dark rust coloured steel, Vater Staat (Father State) (2010); a long haired and bearded sunken faced bronze, Memorial for an Unknown Artist (2011); all beautifully executed with expressive features, but failing to move me in the way, say, the sinister figures of Juan Munos do, a comparison most explicit in the two large sculptures outside the gallery, United Enemies (2011), two pairs of figures, again armless, with poles for legs, bound together and uselessly straining against each other desperate to pull themselves apart. (When I was viewing these I was delighted to find them both crawling with ladybirds, an unexpected incongruity and pleasing unintentional addition to the work, the bright red dots against the pale blue of the bronze.)

My two favourite of Schutte’s sculptures, Walser’s Wife (2011) and Frauenkopf mit Blume (Woman with Flower) (2006), are both female heads, both resembling the heads of buddhas with smooth Asiatic features and rough textured hair tied up in a bun. Walser’s Wife is upright whereas Frauenkopf… is lying on its side. Walser’s Wife, the most striking of the two, is aluminium painted with gold and purple lacquer, which plays tricks with your eyes reflecting different colours depending on the angle of view. Frauenkopf… is the more familiar and traditional green and brown of bronze. But it is detail that makes these sculptures compelling. Both contain intentional imperfections around the eyes. Walser’s Wife has two small tears, solidified drips of lacquered aluminium, falling uncannily from her upper eyelids. Frauenkopf… has a lump underneath the left eye and a dent underneath the right. Her whole face sags ever so slightly in the direction of gravity’s pull, giving her features a barely noticeable yet  unnerving asymmetrical skew. Both pairs of eyes, in representations of an otherwise idealized yet realistic style, are just deep grooves, devoid of eyeballs or pupils and therefore of emotion. It is in these minor deviations from verisimilitude that we are apparently purposefully separated from the same truth that Schutte seems so eager to obtain in his drawings.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

A Cut Through Time

In 1964, two years before a chance encounter turned her into an instant celebrity and altered many people’s perceptions of her art, Yoko Ono performed for the first time what has probably become her most famous work. In Cut Piece Ono sat on a stage in a traditional Japanese female pose with a pair of scissors next to her and invited members of the audience to step forward and using the scissors cut parts of her clothing from her. She repeated the performance in 2003. The films of these two performances are currently on show at the Serpentine’s Ono retrospective facing each other in a small room alone. It is striking when viewing these two films together how time and circumstance can alter a performance as outwardly simple as this.

The 1964 film is black and white and has the look of being filmed by a (talented) amateur. The woman seated on stage is young and beautiful and looks vulnerable and unnerved. She gazes blankly into the mid-distance passive and immobile. To view the film is an uncomfortable experience. As a viewer (voyeur) we are complicit in the sexualised violation of a young woman. The glee with which some of the male participants literally cut strips off her is incredibly disturbing. Cut Piece (1964) is a powerful work of feminist propaganda. Ono once said of it: “this is what all women go through every day.” It discusses sex, gender and power relations brutally and explicitly. It is a stunningly successful work of art.

By contrast, Cut Piece (2003) is a very different performance. Professionally filmed and in colour the subject is a completely different woman. Ono is now old, famous and very powerful. The vulnerability has all but gone. Only through the strange transgressed taboo of seeing an elderly woman being stripped nearly naked does the work retain any emotional power. Ono is at all times strong and in control. The performance is more a celebration of Ono’s celebrity than a radical work of art. It has become the equivalent of an aging rock band playing their greatest hit to a stadium of devotees. You can take nothing away from the artist for having written such a classic song, but you really wish you’d seen it performed in a small club back when it was fresh and exciting and youthful.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Light and Colour, Up Bubbles All His Amorous Breath

Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings, Tate Liverpool

This is one of those summer blockbuster shows and, as such, had it been in London, the galleries would have been heaving and the visit would have been an unpleasant experience of jostling and aggravation. But this is Liverpool, I am in a provincial Tate, it is a beautiful day outside and the steady but far from overcrowded stream of visitors are in friendly and conversational spirits. This is also one of those conceptual shows, hung around a usually ill-conceived idea dreamed up by a curator, where the merits of the works on display are sacrificed for the good, or often not-so-good, of the concept. Thankfully, in this instance, the concept works and the curator, Jeremy Lewison, has done a remarkable job.

Three painters, separated in time. Monet was only 11 years old at the time of Turner’s death and Twombly wasn’t born until two years after Monet’s own death. All three in their own times were derided as ‘daubers’, challenging received notions of what a painting could, or indeed should, be. The exhibition concentrates on the mature work of its subjects at a point in their respective careers when their reputations and public profile were assured, and it opens with a grand statement.

To the left as one enters is Turner’s The Parting of Hero and Leandro (1837), to the right facing it and equal in scale and ambition Twombly’s Hero and Leandro (to Christopher Marlowe) (1985), and on the wall at the back, between the two, Twombly’s painting in four parts Hero and Leandro (1981-84). And this is the exhibition in a nutshell: conversations between painters 150 years apart with similar aims and shared concerns and themes. The conversations continue throughout: Turner’s paintings of Waterloo Bridge face Monet’s paintings of Waterloo Bridge; Turner’s sunsets face Monet’s sunsets; Monet’s water lilies face Twombly’s peonies; and on; and on.

The most successful conversation, to my mind, and the one I returned to again and again over the course of my visit, was between a series of Turner’s small oil-on-board seascapes (c.1840-45) and Twombly’s epic Orpheus (1979), which share a minimal palette of off whites and creams and the splicing in two of the picture plane by a muted horizon line. Orpheus has been placed such that it dominates the largest room of the exhibition. Possibly the wittiest conversation was between Monet’s Water Lilies (after 1916) and Twombly’s Petals of Fire (1989) where Twombly’s diptych of smears and drips of black, red and white, seems to be mocking Monet across the decades, goading him for being the acceptable face of modernist painting.

Now, I must admit that I was not a fan of Monet before I came to this exhibition. I was excited at the prospect of Turner and of seeing how Twombly fared in proximity to an undeniable master. And I must also confess that my opinion has not been greatly changed. I find Monet’s use of colour to be gaudy and somewhat vulgar in a polite kind of way. Although he does improve when he allows himself to copy Turner and to soften his palette, as in Morning on the Seine, Giverny (1897) or Waterloo Bridge, London, at Sunset (1904).

The star of this show is undoubtedly Twombly and I don’t think I was alone in coming to that conclusion on the day of my visit. I suspect most people came for either Turner or Monet, having little or no prior knowledge of Twombly, and if nothing else this show, through careful and considerate curation, has done wonders towards furthering the acceptance and understanding of contemporary painting in the view of the average art going member of the public. I heard several visitors comment that when they first saw the Twombly’s they ‘didn’t get it’ but the longer they spent with them and saw the connections with the more acceptable paintings of Turner and Monet the more their appreciation grew. And vice versa, by placing Turner and Monet in proximity to Twombly it becomes clear (especially with Turner) how radical they were in their own time and how common acceptance is something that only comes about with the distance of hindsight.