(Carl Andre's sculptures, Anthony D'Offay Gallery, 21 Mar 1989)
Bonnard is a much-loved artist but the true magnitude of his achievement has been insufficiently recognised. In his surreptitious, soft-spoken way, he invented a whole new language - a way of painting which is so mobile and fluctuant, in the shifts and moves of light across its animated mosaic of surface, that it becomes a potent analogue for experience; a way of recreating, in the texture of art, the texture of life itself.
('Bonnard at Le Bosquet', Hayward Gallery, 5 July 1994)
Clemente is a skimmer. He borrows willy-nilly (especially willy) from the iconography of Hindu temple statuary, he borrows from Mughal art and Rajput miniatures, all in an attempt to graft some kind of cultural respectability on to his lightweight pictures. But the borrowed forms that fill his art are like souvenirs, and his mysticism is the easy awe of the tourist.
(Francesco Clemente, Anthony D'Offay Gallery, 20 April 1993)
De Kooning, Willem
His best pictures are not major contributions to Western visual culture, or anything else as abstract and high-sounding as that. They are evocations of strange, dreamed orgies - attempts to evoke, in painting, something like the experience of having sex with someone gorgeous in a bath filled with maple syrup and milk while eating a fried egg and bacon sandwich. De Kooning's genius was inseparable from his essential indecency.
(De Kooning retrospective, Tate Gallery, 21 Feb 1995)
In the late 20th-century art students are taught to think of themselves as artists without being given much in the way of other instruction. No wonder that an enormous quantity of modern works of art amount to little more than mild buzzings of self-consciousness, fears or fantasies embodied in objects or actions, images or texts, dreamily shared with an audience that is relied upon rather too heavily to take an interest in them.
(BT New Contemporaries, Cornerhouse, Manchester, 22 June 1993)
Freud's achievement is to have made the milieu of the artist's studio, a place of waiting and contemplation and boredom, into a model of the world as he sees it through his own, disconsolate temperament: a place of limited possibilities, where all there is to do is paint or wait, glassy- eyed, for death.
(Lucian Freud, Whitechapel Gallery, 4 Sept 1993)
The paradox of Goya's imagination, so vivid and inventive, so swarming, is that it expresses a profound distrust of the claims made for the imagination. Imagination is what Goya finds most dangerous and suspect in human beings: that which is responsible for the delusions and fantasies that lead to war, the myths that lead to religious servitude, the ingenuities of torture. He painted the terrors of the mind to release himself from them.
(Goya, Royal Academy, 22 March 1994)
Hirst calls his dead sheep in formaldehyde Away from the Flock and that looks like something of an admission. The work is really a kind of self- portrait, banal and sad, too: an image of the artist's knowledge that, when it comes down to it, he is on his own; an emblem of terminal separateness; a small bleat of discontent.
('Some Went Mad, Some Ran Away', Serpentine Gallery, 10 May 1994)
Italian art in the 20th Century
The ghost of history has been modern Italian art's bane and its driving force. The Futurists' yearning for modernity, their obsession with movement and change, is succeeded by Giorgio de Chirico's stilled, melancholic enigmas, weighed down by the sense of the past.
('Italian Art in the 20th Century', Royal Academy, 17 Jan 1989)
Johns is growing old ungracefully. If his later work expresses anything it is uncertainty, manifest in the fractured, almost cack-handed manner of its making. He nails his jigsaw of motifs to the canvas with trompe- l'il tacks and strips of masking tape. In their falling-apartness, the pictures look like images of mental and physical collapse, of a life that has reached its cul-de-sac.
(Jasper Johns, American Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 28 June 1988)
Kitaj's gifts are those of a reasonably competent illustrator, in the sense that most of his pictures may be said to illustrate rather than embody their themes. They always remain about their subjects, which is one of the reasons why they never manage to be moving. There should be, at least according to the myth of Kitaj, a huge pressure of feeling behind his pictures. But the feeling always seems willed rather than present, like the emotions imperfectly summoned up by an actor playing a part without conviction.
(Kitaj retrospective, Tate Gallery, 28 June 1994)
Louvre, The (v National Portrait Gallery, London)
Visiting the Louvre's new Aile Richelieu is like visiting four or five new museums. By a peculiar coincidence, in the same week as the Louvre opened its new wing, London saw the opening of a new extension to the National Portrait Gallery. What a sad comparison it makes. While the French spend many times the entire annual grant of the Arts Council on a tremendous new museum housing some of the greatest art in the world, British parsimony produces a suite of rooms designed to house works of such stunning triviality as Glynn Wllllams's carving of Noel Annan or Michael Frith's portrait, in oils, of Robert Maxwell. If the Channel tunnel ever does open, the traffic will all be going one way.
(30 November 1993)
Violence lurks in this petrified world. Mantegna, whose obsession with stone and stoniness seems to have reflected something of his own, flinty temperament, developed the fantastic mineralogy of his paintings as a metaphor for threat, risk and danger. There are few gentle declivities in his art. But there are always jagged mountains, broken crags and sudden, sickening precipices.
(Mantegna, Royal Academy, 21 Jan 1992)
Nicholson's nearly-Braques and not-quite-Picassos are pictures that have been purged of dangerous modernity, made to look smoked by time. Painting Cubist pictures the colour of kippers, Cubist pictures that look as venerable (and unthreatening) as the dark old pictures in English country houses comes to look like Nicholson's way of holding Cubism, with all its passionate energy and irrational force, at bay.
(Ben Nicholson retrospective, Tate Gallery, 19 Oct 1993)
Oil piece (Richard Wilson's 20:50)
Rain falling outside the window rises to meet itself in reflection in the oil's still surface. After dark, lights from the city are trapped in its viscous depths. Wilson's menacing slick is under control, but only just. Kept in place by surface tension only, it mirrors the fragile balancing act that keeps us in control of our technology while always on the brink of messy, disastrous dissolution.
('20:50', Matt's Gallery, 18 Feb 1987)
The desire to distinguish art from pornography stems largely from anxiety. The hope is that works like Egon Schiele's erotic drawings might somehow be made safe if they could be shown to have crossed an imaginary line dividing one, unacceptable category from its opposite. But the fact is that erotic art cannot be made safe, because its subject is human sexuality.
(Egon Schiele, Royal Academy, 27 Nov 1990)
Queen, The: Her Pictures
The royal collection represents a wonderful opportunity for the monarch to demonstrate how much more enlightened and how much less philistine she is than the political rulers of her country - an opportunity for royalty to set aside personal interest and make reparation for the pitiful level of support granted to Britain's leading art institutions. So how about it?
(22 Oct 1991)
This should not need restating but perhaps it does. Rembrandt matters because he, more than any other artist before him, realised that to paint according to preconceived rules of decorum was a lie. He matters because he was the most forbearing and least sentimental painter. He matters because he was the painter of what it is to be human, to be alive and to have to die.
(Rembrandt, National Gallery, 31 March 1992)
Spencer was a visionary artist, yet his was a vision rooted in ordinary things. The mundane and the divine are co-extensive, a fact responsible for his bizarre conjunctions of subject and setting: The Baptism of Christ, for instance, set in the Odney Bathing Pool, where the Son of God is regarded with faint curiosity by commuters taking an early morning dip.
(Stanley Spencer, Barbican, 29 Jan 1991)
Turner Prize, The
After 11 years it has become abundantly clear that the true and proper role of the Turner Prize is to provide a forum for free and open debate of the true and proper role of the Turner Prize. It exists to promote discussion of such vital cultural questions as: What is the Turner Prize for? Whose values does it reflect? Why on earth do people spend so much time discussing the Turner Prize? Perhaps the greatest of the many mysteries surrounding the award is the fact that the Turner Prize has not (at least not yet) been awarded to the Turner Prize itself.
(22 Nov 1994)
Every time we visit an art gallery, it is to be reminded of the gulf that exists between the part of our minds that responds to images, and the part that wants to know them in words. It is not enough to claim, as some purists do, that a painting should be able to deliver its message without the assistance of words. Even Untitled is a powerful statement of artistic intention.
(On Artists' Titles, 12 Nov 1986)
Vuillard painted the things we assume to be solid (a person, walls, a floor) as if they are intangible phantoms; while he reserved for the things thought to be most fugitive and transitory (sunlight, for instance) his most blatant, insistently solid passages of paint. This freedom is a form of licence insisted upon.
(Les Nabis, Grand Palais, Paris, 23 Nov 1993)
House is a sculpture that memorialises, in its transfiguration of an ordinary person's home, the ordinary lives of ordinary people (ordinariness, it suggests, is one thing we all have in common). Unlike other kinds of monumental statuary - Nelson's Column, say - which suggests that history is made by the great and merely lived by the rest of us, House is stubbornly unheroic and democratic. Whiteread has made an image of how we all live, caught between solitude and sociability, out of the separate but abutting rooms of a house in London E3.
(2 Nov 1993)
X-rated: the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe
Paradoxically, his predatory, erectile flowers have more of the expected qualities of penises, while his penises are so exotically weird they seem inhuman. The penis as photographed by Mapplethorpe is like some curious plant that grows unaccountably and extraordinarily out of men's bodies.
(Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs, Hayward Gallery, 21 Sept 1996)
Worst Artist in the Venice Biennale, an unofficial prize traditionally awarded by a self-elected jury in the only bar in Venice that stays open after 4am, went for a record sixth time in a row to an Egyptian artist. The 1990 recipient was Farouk Yahba, who impressed with the startling ineptness of Mummification 1-5, a series of five pastel mummies with electric filaments plugged into their noses.
(Venice Biennale, 29 May 1990)
The great Kamakura sculptures of Buddhist monks propose a notion of celebrity quite alien to Western thinking. The individual becomes worthy of celebration precisely because he has suppressed his sense of himself as an individual. He enters the Buddhist pantheon at the moment of his own mystical disappearance.
(Kamakura sculpture, British Museum, 19 Nov 1991)Reuse content