Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Watty's been all cultural:

Two different Tates in three days. This may be some kind of record - well, for me, anyway. Firstly, Tate Modern on Sunday.

It's probably my favourite building in London, and I go there more than I go to any other place when I'm in town, which is not often these days. The Albert Hall in Proms season doesn't count. Well, OK, it does, but.

I'll start again. Thanks to being a member of Tate, I was able to stroll into the Cruel and Tender exhibition without queueing, or indeed, paying, and I recommend it if you're in the neighbourhood. The Tate's first full-scale photography retrospective, it takes as its theme 'the real in 20th Century photography'. It's an interesting and eclectic mix of photographers, and the contrasts were intriguing. I found, to my surprise, that the landscapes - mainly detailing the impact of mankind on the land - were more engaging than the portrait-style pictures of people, which seemed as a rule disengaged from their subjects. I make an exception for Diane Arbus, but a lot of the others seemed to depend on odd camera angles and lighting for effect, while the Bechers' industrial close ups are stark and strangely moving. a special mention, too, to Andras Gursky's 99 cent, which is overwhelmingly huge, and somehow soothing. Most interesting.

And then last night, I went to Tate Britain for a 'supporters evening' viewing of the Bridget Riley exhibition. Now, I know she's not for everyone, but you need to put aside your preconceptions about migraines, and properly look at these paintings. At some level, all painting is about lines, curves and colours, but Riley distills this into something which transcends mere painting. The earlier works, in particular, are alive with movement, and given the right amount of concentration, you really can feel yourself being almost physically drawn into them. One in oarticular, Arrest 2 is hung in such a way that I found myself looking along the surface to check that the canvas really was flat. The exhibition is arranged broadly chronologically, and it is fascinating to trace her development, from the stark black and white stripes of the early years to the recent riots of colour and form. One room is given over to an exploration of the creative process. Here are all those famous imges, painstakingly traced out on graph paper, and minutely annotated with lines, numbers and instructions. A terrific show, and a wonderful experience to be there 'after hours', as it were.

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