Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bilbao Foray

I have not been painting for the past two weeks, but I haven't been far away from paintings either.
I have seen a few shows in Rome over Christmas, but I want to start from the end: I spent 24 hours in Bilbao yesterday with the sole aim of visiting Antonio Lopez's show at the Museum of Fine Arts.

The show was well worth a trip. As my friend Allan Ramsey put it, this is a show to fly to, drive to, swim to, walk to, crawl to....
     I am not going to dwell on how delicious it was to see all those paintings and what a different sort of experience is looking at them in real life after having burnt my eyes out on reproductions.
I could finally appreciate the surfaces of the paintings, some times dry and scratched, some times smooth and seemingly effortlessly covered, the difference between his works on canvas and on board and his astonishing drawings.
Also, it was another occasion to admire the man himself, his work ethics, his dedication, his humbleness, his deep engagement with classicism.

  If you cannot catch a plane and get yourself there before the end of the show, you can still buy the catalogue  or buy the iPad app.

After such a delight in the morning, I went to the Guggenheim Museum in the afternoon, but what a disappointment !

The building itself, a weird metal extrusion from a fissured sac-a-poche, is nothing like the photos you see of it. One would think it is placed in isolation in an large space, a bit like, say, Sydney's Opera House or the pyramids in the middle of the huge Louvre courtyard.

 Actually the metal blob is sunk at the foot of a small urban hill, overlooked by drab apartment blocks.
Once you have successfully located the entrance ( it takes a while) you find yourself in a unnecessarily complicated and shapeless building with cryptic floorplans. ( I don't seem the only one with a dubious opinion)

On the left, another "more sincere" view of the building.

   The temporary exhibitions were " Painterly Abstraction" and Serra/Brancusi. The first one was the sort of "one each" show, where someone seemed to have randomly picked one example for each painter and aligned them on the walls of several rooms grouping them up a bit.  No depth, no further analysis.
The second show was even more arbitrarily put together. What do two artists such as Brancusi and Serra have in common? Ok, Serra was impressed with Brancusi studio and visited it for many days in a row when he was young in Paris. That's about it. It seems to me that the mini website on the show highlights the differences among the two artists more than any similarity or references of Serra to the work of his predecessor.
Serra works on the perception of space and time, viewers are meant to interact with the sculptures, he often makes site-specific installations, most of his sculptures are made of steel.
Brancusi instead worked on form, synthesis. His sculptures are self contained and do not require interactions, are not generally on a monumental scale ( apart from the famous endless column, made by repetition of smaller pieces though) and executed in different materials, marble, bronze, wood.
Moreover in the show installation, I felt that there was no dialogue at all between the works, Brancusi's sculptures pushing Serra's works on the walls.

What curiously happened, though, was that works from the two artists remanded me to the paintings and sculptures I had seen a few hours earlier at the Lopez show.

Lopez's Carmen Despierta and Carmen Dormida ( first photo above), as well as the many small babies heads in the show echo Brancusi's versions of the Head of a Child ( second and third photos), The First Cry and The Newborn in what is clearly a theme that has interested both artists.

One of Serra's pieces in the permanent installation The Matter of Time instead made me think about Lopez's drawings of his studio.

More evidently than in his paintings, the vertical lines defining the narrow walls of a bathroom bend in describing a field of vision that is spherical, curved: the huge steel walls of Between the Torus and the Sphere enhanced this feeling of a reality centred on the viewer's vision. 

I am now back in my studio with plenty of inspiration and I wish to all a Happy New Year full of art !

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