Thursday, January 15, 2009

Two London Art Exhibitions

I took the opportunity while in London to visit two art exhibitions, both excellent though very different. The first is in the National Gallery, Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian. This ends on 18 January 2009. This exhibition explores the dramatic rise of portraiture in the Renaissance and includes portraits from the great masters of Northern and Southern Europe, includes work by Raphael, Titian, Botticelli, Van Eyck, Holbein and Dürer. It was a great opportunity to see some of the greatest works of portraiture together. The climax for me was the great and well known portrait of Pope Paul III by Titian of 1543 from the gallery in Naples. The hands with their spread fingers, the head without the papal cap, the eyes staring somewhere to the right combine to create a picture of a powerful but uncertain man.

The other exhibition is the Rothko exhibition in the Tate Modern where the artist's paintings held by that gallery are augmented by other important works. His Seagram Murals were originally commissioned for The Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram Building New York. The artist abandoned the commision, gave back the money and kept the paintings. There is a rumour that he went to eat in the restaurant and found it elitist and very expensive and swore that his paintings would never hang in such a place. Rothko’s paintings seem far removed from the renaissance portraits. His are large paintings with a few basic shapes in deep dark reds, oranges, maroons, browns, blacks, and greys. They are impressive especially when viewed together in a show like this. Guardian review of the exhibition here.

I now always take the audio guide if one is available for art exhibitions and have found them well worth the small cost. The audio guide for the Renaissance show was adequate but that for the Rothko was the best I've yet come across. It was presented on a Dell Axim handheld pocket PC device, east to operate. It had items on each room in the exhibition which discussed the paintings but also the background including in some cases pieces of music the artist particularly liked to listed to. It also included some video interviews with the curator and the artist's daughter as well as readings of poems inspired by some of the paintings. Really helpful, a great use of technology - it was the equivalent to having a personal guide.

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