Friday, November 29, 2013

Body Language, Saatchi Gallery /The Male Nude: Eighteenth-century Drawings from the Paris Academy, Wallace Collection [excerpts]

Form and substance: Jean-Baptiste Isabey's
Seated man, leaning on his right arm, 1789,
the pose that of an antique Roman sculpture
© ENSBA, Paris
Brian Sewell [for the London Evening Standard]

Why would anyone prefer childish simplicity to a complex drawing that grapples with form, musculature, accumulated fat, the tension of the skin and the bones and joints beneath?

In his current exhibition, Body Language, [Charles] Saatchi again explores aspects of figurative art but with neither the aesthetic nor the visceral challenge of Sensation, and as the artists are not English we can draw no useful conclusions from it, as we did with the YBAs. It is the result, I fear, of perhaps too random a trawl in the United States and casual acquaintance in Japan, Budapest and Yekaterinburg. The only familiar artist is Chantal Joffe, an American working in London....

The spaces of the Saatchi Gallery are splendid, lofty, vast, the lighting brilliant, and of this the immediate consequence is that the paintings it houses are given false authority, and we stand before them in veneration as though before an altarpiece. But they are not spiritually thaumaturgical and they deserve no such response. We should discern at once that Makiko Kudo’s verdant landscapes have only the shallow charm of murals that the cheap restaurants of my youth employed to camouflage their shabbiness, that likening Helen Verhoeven’s supposedly mysterious gatherings to Picasso’s Guernica is as arrogant as it is absurd, and that Henry Taylor’s kinship with Martin Maloney, of whom, Californian born, bred and working, he can hardly be aware, is merely another example of the internationalism of bad painting. Why must the critic waste his time struggling to discern purpose in such feeble rubbish?....

The Wallace Collection exhibits 37 academies on loan from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where there is a cache of more than 600 by 220 artists between 1664 and 1793. They are probably the best but I have seen many that are as good or better, drawn over a far longer period as well as by other nationalities — even at the Slade, Royal Academy and South Kensington (the precursor of the Royal College) Schools they were part of the discipline well into the 20th century. They are not rare, nor are they expensive; instead, they are a genre of old master drawing that even the most modest collector may collect, and as observations of body language I would rather have one fine academy than all the slipshod bodies now on view in the Saatchi Gallery. Sorry, Charles.…

[read the whole review here]

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