Moments that made the year: I'm sorry, I can't remember ...
Friday 26 December 1997
For instance - and this is to the immediate point - I see that I wrote about "The Quick and the Dead", the South Bank Touring Exhibition on art and anatomy, that it "may well be the most interesting show to be seen this year". I wrote that in November, so was not taking much of a chance, though still hedging prudently ("may well be"), and quite what "interesting" was supposed to mean I'm now not certain, but it could have simply meant "satisfying to write a review of".
And that's another thing these retrospects make clear: how the sheer imperative to get something definite said can override all other considerations, and subsequently creates a positive barrier to retrieving your original response. And maybe there wasn't one, anyway. Maybe you made it all up. Oh, but surely it was interesting, and more, to see this historical line- up of anatomical creatures, some so hearty, some so queasy, all so remote from modern medical froideur - lots of issues there, but some fantastic drawings too: should have made a second visit, just to make sure.
And there were Duane Hanson's remarkable human simulacra, posed weary and weighed-down around the Saatchi Gallery, sculptures whose perfect literalness, whose very lack of artistic handling, made them peculiarly vulnerable and exposed to the viewer's mercy. Yes, I seem to have liked that a lot, seem to have been very persuasive on the subject - though, if the show was still on, I don't know that I'd run to see it again. And which is truer, the judgment then or now? (Or is it the kind of art that wears off?) Yet I still feel warmly about the exhibition, perhaps just because it was good to talk about.
A further professional deformation, that - to look back fondly on the things that reviewed well, that made a good write-up. That would also include three German shows from early in the year. There was the Lovis Corinth retrospective at the Tate, the nearest thing to an art blockbuster this year, a lot of painterly huff and dash redeemed at the end by the wonderful late self-portraits with their negative Expressionism, dumb, hesitant, baffled. There were the drawings of Georg Grosz (at the Royal Academy). There were Auguste Sander's photos of "People of the 20th Century" (National Portrait Gallery), that strange, stiff portrait-series which looks like a catalogue of human life as seen from an infinite distance. No. Yes. I stand by all that. Absolutely.
And "Sensation" (RA) can't be forgotten either (but that memory is hardly a personal matter, the whole world enforced it) - for a handful of good works on top of everything else.
To close, though, with an objective fact. There's no doubt who the most exhibited artist was: William Hogarth. The tercentenary of his birth was marked with shows at the Tate Gallery, the Sir John Soane Museum, the Whitworth Gallery, the British Museum and the National Gallery. Never wrote about any of them, certainly saw some of them, but I can't now remember quite which.
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