Victor Hugo and Virginity


Liverpool St. Station- my point of entry from Harlow Town Britrail to the London Underground. Above in the center is the train callboard.

This past weekend was packed with art and lists. On Saturday I took the train into London to visit the Tate Modern. One of the galleries held an exhibition on meaning/ language/ understanding/ semiotics/ communication and the like. The gallery featured John Baldessari’s contribution, a rather seductive looking girl reading on James Joyce; in Baldessari fashion, the artist’s submission came in the form of a stack of litho prints piled on the gallery floor- I was more than glad to take one.


Baldessari has said, “For me, there is an image junk pile, and I’m a scavenger. Images are like random words that one might cull from a dictionary, and I’m trying to put them back together in some way, reassembling them.”

The Tate also featured a room of works by Mark Rothko. Entering, one finds a surprisingly dimly-lit room; only when your eyes adjust does one get the full effect of a Rothko painting. With some patience the paintings reveal an amazing depth of color. The transformation provided an experienced only matched for me by seeing one of James Turrell’s “Gaps.”

Another room featured the self-portraits of Francesca Woodman. The RISD grad produced a rather amazing body of work in the 1970’s before jumping out of her New York studio while only in her early twenties. Her portraits are beautiful, thoughtful, sad, enigmatic and mature; evoking in me a similar response as to some of Robert Frank’s later work.

Also housed in the collection are Ed Ruscha’s seemingly inane sketches of paper shapes, that is, until you look at the label and see that these delicate works are gunpowder on paper. Volatile yet subtle and mundane, Ruscha toys with combinations of materials, meanings, and message.

I was also lucky enough to see one of Manzoni’s “Artist’s Shit.” Canned, labeled and preserved, Manzoni’s poop rests in a glass case comfortably tucked away within the confines of the Tate Modern. And to think… how much fine art do we just flush every day?

Jackson Pollock, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Paul Klee, Francis Bacon, Picasso, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Dalí, Max Ernst, David Smith, Jean Arp, Yves Tanguy, Giacometti, de Chirico, Henry Moore, Francis Picabia, Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, Max Beckmann, Diego Rivera, Karel Appel, Lucien Freud, David Hockney, Chuck Close, Markus Lüpertz, Robert Rauschenberg, Georg Baselitz, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Helen Frankenthaler, Braque, Leger, Malevich, Brancusi, Henri Matisse, Clyfford Still, Carl Andre, Kandinsky, Naum Gabo, Piet Mondiran, Ellsworth Kelly, Julian Opie, Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton, Boccioni, Lichtenstein, Delauney, Frank Stella, Ad Reinhardt, Donald Judd, Robert Morris, Robert Mangold, Juan Gris, Georges Grosz, Rodin, Gustav Klimt, Jasper Johns, Magritte, Gerhard Richter, Dieter Roth, Claes Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, Andre Breton, Sol Lewitt, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, Troshin, Lissitzky, Rodchenko…

If your favorite artist was not on this list then perhaps he/she could be found at the Tate Britain or National Gallery where I went on Sunday. The National Gallery was very much like art history class, sans Michael Amy and the side conversations between Kyle and I. On the walls hung work from da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Hans Holbein, Titian,Botticelli, Vermeer, Cézanne, Van Gough, Monet, Seurat, Ingres, Rembrandt… I got to see Jan Van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Wedding, Carravagio, and just about every other artist mentioned in Art Through the Ages.

London as seen from the Tate balcony

The Tate Britain held an homage similar to my Shooting In the Streets post. I was able to see the first major photography exhibition ever held at the Tate. The show, called How We Are: Photographing Britain, traced the history of British photography. Represented was everything from original salt prints from Henry Fox Talbot’s Pencil of Nature, to work by Julia Margaret Cameron, Francis Frith, Madame Yvonde, Eve Arnold, David Hurn, Sergio Larrain, Alvin Langdon Coburn, to the more contemporary work of Tony Ray Jones, Chris Killip, Chris Steele-Perkins, Nicholas Battye, and Martin Parr.

The exhibition even included some photo-postcards on loan from Martin Parr’s personal collection (Martin Parr has amassed one of the largest postcard collections in the world). One of the standouts was Percy Hennell’s series of 1940’s color portraits of recipients of plastic and reconstructive surgery. The show contained an amazingly diverse collection, both in subject and process, that ranged from street photography, to cabinet portraiture, to advertising, to news, to social commentary; from salt prints, to chlorobromides, to some beautiful carbro prints, to chromogenic, to silver and platinum.

If you have the chance you should definitely take a look at the work of Angus McBean, Madame Yvonde, and John Havinden.

I left the Tate and finished the weekend full of ideas for future projects. I have been putting my sketchbook to good use; although I don’t think it appreciates it that much as it tries its best to hang on to the last shreds of perfect bind that keep it intact.

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite excerpts from a Simon Evans piece (each is a rather incoherent, incomplete, and poetic description of different cigarette burn shapes in a huge sheet of paper) :

-Victor Hugo and Virginity
-Homeless Wishing Well
-Dracula and Chinese Thief
-50% of the World’s Thickest Ankle
-Cheap Tobacco and Inexperience
-Kisses on T-Shirts
-Casual and Dangerous Earth In Pots Downtown


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