You are expected write a review on an exhibition, artefact, film or text you have seen since the beginning of the module. The review should be no longer than 500 words. You should post your review on the relevant section of the module pages on UWE Online by the date given during the course of the module, and you will be expected to read and give comments on at least one other review by the same date. The Online page will be considered by staff when carrying out your assessment.

From Russia at the Royal Academy of Arts and the
Duchamp,/Manray,Picabia exhibition at the Tate Modern

On February 29 I took my senior art students to London, firstly to the Royal Academy, then to the Tate Modern.

The Russian experience had my heart racing at times. As with my first visit to the MOMA in New York, to see the weave of the real canvas, the brushstroke of a painting, iconic through reproduction: Cézanne’s ‘Mont Sainte-Victoire’, Matisse’s ‘Red Room’. According to the labels that I can’t help but read as I visit exhibitions the red room was actually a blue room when it was purchased, and based on a piece of material that Matisse had in the studio. He impetuously painted it red at the nth hour before it was shipped of to it’s Russian collector. I love these little bits of humanising information.

The revelation for me at this exhibition was the creative energy of invention and change among the Russian artists, fuelled no doubt by the ferment of revolution. I have long been fascinated by the way Malevich and his comrades copied the avant-garde of western Europe, almost painting by painting, hugely receptive, (a sponge is the metaphor often used) like Bob Dylan in New York in the winter of 1961. Following this apprenticeship, a period of the most extraordinary creativity, culminating in Malevich’s squares of black, white and red, the latter with the very Duchamp like title ‘Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions’. I did experience wonder looking at the originals, and another titbit from the label; that the original square was to hang high across the corner of the room, in the traditional manner of a religious icon.

No such frisson with the exhibition in the Tate, no tingling of hair to be in close proximity with well known originals, many of which are duplicates anyway, Dusty, yellowing, bric-a-brac; the collectings of a museum, artefacts rather than art, sad as an Oldenburger. But non the less fascinating. The sense of wonder for me was in relation to what has happened since rather than in the artworks themselves. We saw it first here; happenings, cross dressing, sex and anarchy, op and shock. Warhol, Beuys, Riley, Lucas, Hirst...

I have always had an ambiguous relationship with Marcel Duchamp’s work, responding to him and his energy rather than to individual works. Less so with Man Ray, who’s photographs resonated ever since I experimented with solarisation as a teenage photographer. Francis Picabia never featured in the repertoire of artists I hold as influences. I was fascinated seeing the three in relation to each other, the sense of the time that this generated; the fun, the puns, the play and playing off one another. The exhibition conjured up the creative energy which is what the art is about to an extent. We can perhaps appreciate it differently with hindsight. We have the language of a century of art with which to interpret it. Resonating with the passionate energy of the Russian artists.

I had a similar experience a few years ago, comparing two exhibitions in a day. In this case it was Picasso followed by Dali, and on this occasion the later paled into near insignificance alongside the raw creative energy of the former. Dali’s symbolic invocations of sex appeared laboured after experiencing Picasso full on.

With Duchamp in particular the fascination is cerebral rather than in the physical artefacts, the objects are signposts to the concepts. Taste is learned. If I were born an Indian I have no doubt I would hanker after the heat and the sweet of Indian food, if Japanese the fishy taste of sushi. Taste to an extent must be learned and like a language it takes time to acquire. So my wonder was focussed on the fact that here was a time when the language of art was being transformed. My own taste in artefact would be for the naivety of the outsiders, collecting flotsam on the banks of the Seine, or the wonderful humour in the wonderful machinations of Tim Hunkin. I find Duchamp in particular a difficult taste to savour, too strong, Picabia too weak, and Man Ray only palatable as a photographer. But non the less I savour the experience for the repercussions of their innovation.

Hamilton recently created a work based on Duchamp’s large glass (printed here at UWE, thousands of layers in Adobe Illustrator - another useless bit of interesting information). I was struck by the large glass, how clean and sparkly. My memory is of the photos of it lying in the studio covered in dust, and the drawings. I can’t say that it moves me greatly. I can appreciate the innuendo of grinder and piston, I am tickled by the risk, but it has been tamed with time. How will a pickled shark be viewed in a century or two? Will it be exhibited alongside the glass, or through it?

The talking point of the day from the point of view of my students was bumping into Keira Knightley (LHOOQ) at the first exhibition, and KT Tunstall at the second - collecting signatures with more current currency for them than an R Mutt or Rrose Sélavy!