Art & Photography 2016

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Saul Leiter: Barbershop 75

A daft title to this piece, when exhibitions like the retrospective of Saul Leiter’s work at The Photographers’ Gallery early in the year make all too clear the extent to which photography – some photography – successfully aspires to the qualities and conditions of visual art, of painting, thus making the distinction unnecessary. Leiter, of course, became a photographer almost by default as his family disapproved of his initial ambition to be a painter. Also excellent were Alec Soth’s photographs under the title Gathered Leaves at the Science Museum’s Media Space, Paul Strand’s photographs and films at the V&A, and, perhaps best of all, William Eggleston’s Portraits at, not surprisingly, the National Portrait Gallery.

The two most compelling – and rewarding – art exhibitions for me were Mona Hatoum at Tate Modern (conceptual art to admire the look and construction of as well as to think about) and the Frank Auerbach retrospective, continuing from the previous year, at Tate Britain. The Georg Baselitz show, We’re Off, at the White Cube, Bermondsey was quite powerful and  Georgia O’Keefe at Tate Modern was well-curated and therefore interesting, though I found it hard to warm to much of the actual work. The survey of Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy gave over its central rooms to some magnificent pieces by Jackson Pollock – quite staggering in their rhythm, their use of colour, their complexity and their unity – as well as lovely, compelling work by Joan Mitchell, Sam Francis and Phillip Guston – and they’re just my personal favourites. But why only one work by Helen Frankenthaler and that far from her best?

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Joan Mitchell: Mandres

The last show I got to see before the year’s end was the excellent Rauschenberg retrospective at Tate Modern. It was seeing the exhibition of Rauschenberg’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1964 that first got me interested in post-war American art – in twentieth century art at all, really – an enthusiasm that has only strengthened over the intervening years. What is perhaps most striking – most enjoyable – about the Tate show is the effective way in which is demonstrates Rauschenberg’s range – combines, collages, performance pieces, sculptures, photographs, drawings, paintings, collaborations with Merce Cunningham, with John Cage and Jasper Johns – the variety and exuberance of his work, almost right to the end of his life, is astounding.

 

 

 

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Photography: Saul Leiter & Alec Soth

There are two contrasting and equally enthralling photographic exhibitions in London right now: Saul Leiter: Retrospective at The Photographers’ Gallery (until April 3rd) and Gathered Leaves: Photographs by Alec Soth in the Media Space at the Science Museum (until March 28th).

Leiter’s work, his colour work especially, is so clearly that of someone who is also a painter: his interest is in colour, texture, form. Individuals glimpsed, frequently in mirrors, through glass misted with condensation, through mist or snow, are little more than points of focus. Leiter cares little, in his images at least, in who they are, where they have come from or are going to.

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Saul Leiter

These photographs live by their beauty: too many seen at once (a danger the current show does not fall into) would be, perhaps, too rich.

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Saul Leiter Painting

Alec Soth’s work, as displayed in the airier galleries of the Science Museum’s Media Space,  has more variety, partly because of his decision to work as much in black and white and in colour, but more specifically due to the fact that he works on distinct projects –as he says on his web site, I like to take pictures and I make books. So, for Broken Manual, he tracked down and photographed people who had chosen to live in isolation within the United States, both the people and their environment; and in Looking for Love, he matched images to numerous actual love letters (most often letters of rejection) that he had solicited.

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Alec Soth : Not in Current Show

Some of Soth’s photographs have a formal beauty that makes you want to stop and gaze irrespective of their context, but it is the context – and the chance t0 do so that this rare show provides – that makes his work both individual and outstanding.

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Alec Soth

I’ve been lucky enough to have seen both of these shows more than once and feel lucky to have done so: to take on for a moment, the argument arising from the decision to remove thousands of images from the Royal Photographic Society’s collection currently held  at the National Media Museum in Bradford and transfer them to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, wouldn’t it be great if it were possible for these two exhibitions to travel beyond the capital to Bradford, or Manchester, or Nottingham, or, indeed, anywhere north of the Watford Gap?

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Alec Soth