There’s a slightly shabby door in Tate Britain that leads into another world. It’s a world that allows me in but never makes me feel welcome. It’s a world I wouldn’t want to live in, or even be in when anyone’s home, but one I love to visit. And, if the Tate website is accurate (not something that can guaranteed given its longstanding confusion about the whole thing), it’s a world that is only accessible until Sunday.
Taking a last look at Gerhard Richter: Panorama at Tate Modern, which finishes tomorrow, I was struck, as at previous visits, by the large, predominantly white, abstract painting in the final room of the main show. The white of the painting makes it feel like a large, snowy landscape at once charming me and reminding me that this winter has so far failed to bite.
The traces of colour coming through the white make me think of Peter Doig’s Ski Jacket, a painting of a similar size and somewhat similar palette, though Doig’s painting makes much more use of colour. (It also reminds me of Wilhelm Sasnal’s Photophobia though that lacks scale by comparison.)
I went to Jeff Wall’s show at White Cube unsure quite what to expect. At some point when I wasn’t paying attention, Wall left behind the elaborate tableaux and sometimes less than obvious references to the history of painting and started to tell different stories – somehow simultaneously simpler and more complex – through his photographs. The work here is from two separate bodies of work that feel in some ways as though they could have been made by two different people.
In the ground floor space there are three photographs of the Sicilian landscape. Described as ‘documentary pictures’ in the press release, these tell of a landscape fundamentally unchanged over time but one in which the modern world is nonetheless constant visual presence. The drystone walls in Hillside near Ragusa might have been there for centuries staying low to blend into their surroundings; man is not a recent incomer to this place. By contrast, the electricity pylons stride across the hillside with a confidence that its natural inhabitants – the short, windswept trees growing on the low ground – don’t seem to share.
In these early days of the year, I want to think back to work I’ve seen in the last year to see what’s stayed with me. A good starting point for that is to think about the big stuff: the days when art overload is a significant threat. Days like Frieze Art Fair. I don’t always get to Frieze; some years I just can’t face it. The scale of the thing puts me off somewhat and I’m really not a fan of the art world en masse. It’s possible I’m just slightly allergic to art fairs. Art needs time and at Frieze the pressure to see everything can be overwhelming so last year I decided to browse in a really unsystematic way and just spend time with the things I chanced upon that interested me most. Perhaps inevitably that means that what I remember most clearly are some of the things that were tucked away in corners, works that could be seen in isolation rather than against the backdrop of the fair.
Panorama, Gerhard Richter’s exhibition at Tate Modern, includes so many show-stoppingly great works – Aunt Marianne and Uncle Rudi (the juxtaposition of which I wrote about for MostlyFilm.com), the paintings of Richter’s daughter Betty, squeegee paintings both large and small to name but a few – that it’s a surprise when something quieter, seemingly simpler, works its way under my skin. But two rural landscapes, both painted in the mid-1980s, did just that. I was reminded of the time I spent with Barn and Meadowland last weekend at the Whitechapel Gallery when Wilhelm Sasnal’s rather larger argricultural lanscape Pigsty grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go.
As at the start of every year, there are things in the art calendar I’m really looking forward to and things I’ll go out of my way to avoid seeing. Oddly, this year the two things that immediately spring to mind are both public art commissions related to the forthcoming Olympics and both take the form of a tower of sorts. One – Anthony McCall’s Column – I’m ready to travel half the length of the country for despite knowing its ephemeral presence may disappear in some weathers. Sadly, unlike the last work I saw by the same artist, the other – Anish Kapoor’s Orbit – will be all too visible.
A new year and a new resolve to write about art (and yes, there are plenty of other resolutions I should be making and maybe I will, but I promise not to talk about them here; it’s for the best). And when better than New Year’s Day to think about what a hangover looks like? Wilhelm Sasnal’s Photophobia (on show at the Whitechapel Gallery until, ooh, later on today) isn’t intended as the abstract painting it initially appears to be. Rather, it’s an attempt to record that first blast of light that invades your consciousness when waking with a bad hangover. The light in the painting is intense and beautiful but its beauty doesn’t mask the pain it depicts. Like more than a few others in this show, this is a painting I could contemplate for a long time. The delicacy of the colour palette and use of paint are beautiful and, viewed as an abstraction, these perhaps transcend the subject matter, but the slightly nauseating colour that bleeds into the painting from its edges and the jarring brightness of the light brings the pain home and reminds me why I seldom drink to real excess these days. [And if your waking moments this morning looked a bit like Photophobia, well, drink lots of water and perhaps have little lie down. Then, if you feel up to it, perhaps see whether you can turn the experience into art.]