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Wednesday, December 01, 2004

London Notes

I’m back in New York after a visit to London and Paris. While the trip wasn’t taken especially to look at art, I did do more than my share of that. I’ll be writing a few in-depth pieces over the next week, but here are some notes from London. I’ll do the same for Paris tomorrow.

Bruce Nauman at the Tate Modern: The Tate Modern continues its run of impressive commissions for the Turbine Hall with Bruce Nauman’s Raw Materials. I think of Nauman’s art in the same way I think of Eminem’s music—as being aggressive, self-absorbed, and (every once in a great while) totally engaging. This installation shows Nauman at his strongest, on all three counts.

The great space of the hall becomes a layered cacophony of vocalized nonsense, commands, and ambient sound, creating an environment that speaks to the experience of navigating through our communication-saturated contemporary world. (Bandwidth-heavy Flash site with sound here.)

The Tate Modern’s Permanent Collection: The Tate Modern’s hanging of its permanent collection, though, leaves much to be desired. A staffer told me that significant holes in the collection drove the decision to do the current thematic installation, rather than a chronological one.

One pairing of works, however, shows brilliance. A Monet Water-Lilies has been hung across a gallery from Jules Olitski’s Instant Loveland from 1968 (at right). The two works share the same lavender, green, and wheat-colored palette, and their pairing makes each stronger. Olitski’s work will never look as good as it does basking in Monet’s brilliance. And, in return, Olitski frees Monet’s palette from its shackles to representation, showing the possibilities of pure abstraction implicit, but never realized, in Monet’s late work.

Turner Prize Finalists: The Turner Prize finalists’ work on display now at Tate Britain shows mostly the result of a selection panel struggling to find four artists worthy of this recognition. My unenthusiastic pick for the prize which will be announced on December 6 would have to be Jeremy Deller’s Memory Bucket. A review of the show will follow.

The Saatchi Gallery at County Hall: Last year Charles Saatchi moved his collection to County Hall, a short walk from the Tate Modern and a pint glass’s throw from the city’s newest tourist draw, the London Eye. Always the promoter, Saatchi has put people in special t-shirts and parkas out on the walkway along The Thames to accost the tourists with laminated photos of the collection’s signature YBA works. Visitors to the London Eye are informed that their experience won’t be complete without seeing these great works of contemporary British art.

When this tourist responded that he was in the neighborhood specifically to visit the Gallery, Saatchi’s salesman didn’t know how to respond. I guess it’s not something he’s hearing too often these days. With admission set at a whopping $16.25 (with the current abysmal exchange rate) I can see why. Maybe if they tried the angle that they let visitors stand in the middle of a room filled with used motor oil (Richard Wilson’s permanent installation 20:50, at right) they would have more success—at least with the gear heads.

Inside, the galleries aren’t crowded, but the works are starting to show their age. The formaldehyde that Damien Hirst’s shark swims in has become seriously clouded, and the paper packaging of the consumer items strewn around Tracy Emin’s bed is beginning to discolor. One has to wonder how conservators in the future will decide to “refresh” the used-looking condoms also found there when the latex originals become brittle with age.

Update: The Art Newspaper's readers interview Charles Saatchi.

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