Saturday, 25 August 2012

Show me the Monet

Set over several floors in the Albert Dock, Tate Liverpool is currently hosting a comparative exhibition of the later paintings of Turner, Monet and Twombly.

Although the space at the Albert dock is a lot smaller than, say, the Tate Modern, it has been very well structured and the rooms are airy and bright and do justice to some enormous works quite comfortably.

Unfortunately, my visit was a bit of a rush, so I didn't have as much time to reflect on individual works as much as I would have liked.

However, I very quickly identified that I had a strong response to the three artists, which remained consistent as I explored both levels of the Later Paintings exhibit.: Monet's work was absorbing, beautiful and stood out in every room for its vibrant colour and the aching beauty and romance; Turner's was much more opaque, but some of his larger works like his Hero and Leandro showed surprising and arresting details, drawing you in and rewarding more than they would superficially appear to; and Twombly ... well, it did provoke a fairly consistent reaction, which was irritation.

So, let's get Cy out of the way: while one or two of his works had an interesting use of colour and a hint of composition that made me think that I'd have them on my wall, most of them left me thinking either "pretentious twat" or "that looks like someone tipped a bucket of paint over a canvas and decided to sell it".

I couldn't really see what the hell Twombly's work was doing there, other than he'd apparently made a conscious effort to associate himself with painters who were much better than he was.

My take on Turner was a lot more mixed. He is known for the beige opacity of his paintings, moody and vague with (in many cases) only the faintest hint of structure and detail, but the longer you regard them, the more ghostly hints appear ... and disappear when you try to fix on them!

Technically, Turner's work is quite thought-provoking and intriguing, but the overall beigeness of his art led to me feeling equally beige about looking at it. Some of it was beautiful (I'd love to have his Hero and Leandro!) but somehow I didn't feel an emotional response to it. I could appreciate it as being "pretty" or "beautiful" even, and I could really appreciate the technical achievement and how he plays with your mind and your eye, but somehow when I walked away, I just didn't give a shit.

Monet, however, was an entirely different kettle of fish. Although his water lilies are probably his signature (ha! ha!) works, there were some of his less well-known (to me, anyway!) seascapes, like the Pyramids at Port Coton or Côte Sauvage leapt out at me as I walked into the gallery. I found myself moved by them, their wildness and romance lifting my heart. If I must be totally honest, I found myself somewhat less moved by the water lilies, probably due to over-familiarity.

I constantly found my eyes wandering over to Monet's works, even when I was consciously trying to focus on a Turner or a Twombly.

So, it was a very interesting exhibition overall, I'm not sure Twombly's inclusion particularly added anything, but I suppose there will be others who will feel I am just a snobbish Philistine!

On the 2nd floor of the gallery, however, a particular surprise awaited me - a sponsored exhibition called "This is Sculpture", which included a piece made of iron and braided leather that had me completely and utterly stymied as it appeared to float in mid-air! It took me a damn long time to figure it out, so I'm not going to tell you the trick!

Although called "This is Sculpture", the exhibition included paintings by Dali and Warhol and Duchamp's "Fountain" as well as Dali's "Lobster Telephone". I was quite stunned to see so many incredible, important and famous works in such a relatively small exhibition.

There was also an extensive display of the moulds and forms Philip Treacy uses to make his famous hats and fascinators.

My ultimate emotion after seeing this museum was regret - regret that I hadn't more time to spend there! There are so many amazing, absorbing pieces of art there that I don't feel it would be unreasonable to spend the best part of a day there just taking it all in.


John James said...

IrI constantly found my eyes wandering over to Monet's works, even when I was consciously trying to focus on a Turner or a Twombly.


Clareangela said...

From now on, I'm now going to expect full on academic argument and footnotes to quotable sources ;)

Obnoxio The Clown said...


John James said...

@Clareangela You whaa??