Monday 17 August 2009

A Couple of Hours at Whitechapel Gallery

I was over in Whitechapel yesterday, too embarrassed to turn up more than an hour late for the Climate Camp meeting at the Rag Factory off of Brick Lane and too frazzled by the novelty of a hot August afternoon to cycle any further east towards home. So I popped into the recently expanded Whitechapel Gallery, which I used to visit regularly many years ago, back when the London Metropolitan University up the road was still the City Polytechnic. And what a surprise its cool, calming galleries turned out to be: no pretentious conceptual art, just paintings, some abstract but mainly figurative, from the long-running East End Academy exhibition and from the American artist Elizabeth Peyton.

Walking into the ground floor gallery, the first painting you see is Andy Harper’s ‘Feast of Skulls’ (above), a mass of black, pink and red that looks like fractal from a distance but is a mass of intricate detail of hundred of flowers. My other favourites included Guy Allott’s landscapes framed by a hole seemingly blasted through a tree, and Emily Wolfe’s almost photo-quality paintings of everyday household objects.

Upstairs, the collection of mainly small, intimate portraits by Elizabeth Peyton was fascinating for her choice of subjects, some historical and others artists and musicians, including David Hockney, Mick Jagger and Liam Gallagher. Peyton certainly has a way of capturing the angular, feminine male faces of people like Jarvis Cocker, turning them into whey-faced Pre-Raphaelite figures that are rather more interesting than the more simian features of Gallagher.

It has been a long time since I’ve spent an enjoyable hour in just one exhibition and clearly, I need to make more random decision like this in the future...


HarpyMarx said...

Oh yes, I really like Whitechapel Gallery they have some fantastic exhibitions, and I agree re conceptual art...and some installation art.

I saw Nan Goldin's excellent Devil's Playground exhibition a couple of years ago there. Truly amazing.

Kevin said...

I agree, some installations are great.

I wandered into the Tate Modern about three or four years ago when Rachel Whiteread had her 'Embankment' installation in the Turbine Hall - the one with all the white cubes. I remember thinking, yeah right, it's a bunch of white cubes, but when I walked through it, it was... magical.

There was a kid, maybe six or seven years old, who was there with his parents and I heard him say, "it's like walking on an iceberg..." And I thought, you know what? He's exactly right. Who needs art critics with insight like that?

HarpyMarx said...

Indeed who does need art critics....

Think I have a love/hate relationship with conceptual art/installation art as I worked in an art and design college for over 7 years...and art and design students can really drive you up the wall.

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