If you are fortunate enough to live in an area that is well supplied with Art Galleries decisions often have to be made, usually on financial grounds, as to which exhibition you should go to. If you live in or around London and went to every fee-paying exhibition on at any one time, the cost would be astronomical. On the other hand, which exhibition should you not attend and on what criterion should you base that decision? Then there are the exhibitions that you intend to go to but put off until the very last minute, by which time it is much too late. Making decisions is no easy matter.
Major public Art Galleries are out to both educate the public and generate much needed revenue and they have publicity departments ready and waiting to promote their products. The biggest money-spinner is the Blockbuster Exhibition and the biggest of the big will probably have Monet in the title. When you combine this with the Nation’s love of gardening then queues will begin to form just thinking about it. I have nothing against the R.A. I have a Friends’ ticket, have paid in advance and can go as often as I like. The trouble comes when I have to decide whether or not to venture half way across London on public transport to visit what is one of the best small galleries around – The Dulwich Picture Gallery.
A recent exhibition was of the work of M.C. Escher. He is a graphic artist whose intricate interlocking designs are approved of by schoolchildren and astrophysicists alike. His prints are so well reproduced and familiar that that alone would be enough to preclude a visit. The exhibition turned out to be one of the most interesting I had seen all year and would have made an excellent study visit. Seeing Escher’s work in reproduction is no substitute for seeing the actual sized pictures in the correct medium in real life and for students interested in drawing it was one not to be missed.
Art Galleries have sprung up in seaside towns all around the South Coast from Chichester to Hastings, Eastbourne and Margate and are easily accessible by day return. The Pallant House Gallery in Chichester is top of the list for interesting exhibitions. While Tate Britain relies on the well known names of English Modernism to bring in the crowds, Chichester can concentrate on the lesser known artists such as the poet artist David Jones, the war artist Evelyn Dunbar, or the Surrealist Edward Burra, bringing these often forgotten and neglected artists back to public attention.
Exhibitions I have missed include the William Gear exhibition at Eastbourne and then again for a second time when it was in Edinburgh. I missed the Helen Frankenthaler when it was at the Turner Contemporary at Margate and the L S Lowry by the Sea exhibition at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings, as well as Sickert at Dieppe at Chichester and of course many more. They might not have been great exhibitions but then again now I will never know.
Scanning the exhibitions guide I spot the latest show at Dulwich. Nicolai Astrup was a Norwegian contemporary of Edvard Munch known and loved in his native country but unknown here. Here is an opportunity for the marketing department to go into overdrive. Astrup painted idyllic scenes of rustic Norway with fiords and happy peasants celebrating fire festivals in flower filled meadows in front of snow capped mountains. Is this enough to tempt a visit? Perhaps. (And OCA will be running one to this show on the 2 April – blog post to follow)
The current show at the Jerwood Gallery in Hastings is of work by the painter John Bratby. The general public was invited to “Bring Us Your Bratbys” from which a retrospective would be formed – and 300 turned up on the day. Bratby was an artist of mixed fortunes who was also highly prolific but could often lack quality control. Will this be an exhibition of his not very good later pictures or of his much better pictures from the 1950s on which his reputation is based? The chances are it will be the former but on the other hand this might be an opportunity for reassessment. Then again it could just be a very enjoyable day out.
One way or another, a decision will have to be made…