Thursday, 8 July 2010
Just as it is difficult to write a review of something you know absolutely nothing about, so it is a challenge to write about something you are passionate about. I will attempt to resist the urge to gush about Paula Rego. After years of flicking through her books with a gasp for every page, for every reproduced print or painting this was my first time seeing her work in the flesh. And there is so much flesh about Rego's work that it calls to be seen first hand in a small gallery space where there is no possibility of averting the eye or flicking past the page.
Another Rego fan who asks me to take a picture of him and his nephew in front of the Oratorio, the crowning Triptych of the exhibition, says 'Paula doesn't shy away from anything.' but in this exhibition I feel this more than ever. Familiar elements of Rego's work can be glimpsed but the nightmarish undertones have taken over, so that the grotesque figure of the deformed midwife, the woman with wrinkled gourds for breasts who performs the circumcision, are no longer the nightmare in the background but the reality in the foreground.
Rego's work is still folkloric, timeless and placeless but the issues it has swallowed and spat out are not. Female circumcision and abandoned babies, rape and oppression.
Picasso is a name everyone will recognise and is therefore an artist who everybody feels they can either dismiss or embrace in ignorant bliss. But there is more to 'Picasso' than swapping a nose for an eye to make an abstract portrait; The Gagosian bursting with sculptures, ceramics, prints and paintings as if it were Picasso's Mediterranean holiday home is proof of this.
Picasso is a sculptor, this is the revelation the Gagosian gallery held for me. His sunflowers in a vase cast fantastic skeletal shadows on the walls. I wonder if this is an accident of masterful curation and lament the fact that in the dark spaces of the gallery more is not made of the potential for the carnivalesque echoing of sculpture in shadow. Picasso cut-outs are displayed like scenery for the feast of Bacchus- musicians sitting cross-legged, crowned with ivy-leaves. There is a mock Greek vase, Picasso-printed. The sculptures are towering forms of metal and wood. They look as if they have just stepped out of a Picasso painting to find themselves shipwrecked in the white space of the Gagosian gallery, where gallery attendants look more like security guards in an expensive boutique.
Here we find a Mediterranean space in London; the cool white of the gallery space, models, sculptures and ceramics which fill display cases, titles in French, bull-fighting sketches and posters, Picasso's vibrant pallette, his holiday scenes that come straight from a sketchbook left out in the sun. Picasso is a master at turning the every day; a portrait, a scene from the house, in to a dream space, crammed with pattern and surprise. This exhibition is curated to stir the imagination, beyond the spaces of the work. We are transported to Picasso's studio, busy with clay models, works to be fired, prints drying and huge canvases looming above it all unfinished. It is not just about Art, but also artistic practice and an aesthetic way of life.
I see a drawing of Francoise and remember how her beauty, (burgeoning hair, the line of her nose, the almond bud of her eyes) captivated me in Paris in another form. In a painting the children drawing with their mother become the picture they create, great rectangles of blue and green encapsulating and carrying them in to a heady world of artistic inspiration. I have been to many Picasso exhibitions and galleries and arrived at the Gagosian with the anxiety that much of the exhibition would be familiar. But it is refreshingly new. I am surprised by sculptures and ceramic creations. Surprised to find that there is yet more of Picasso to be discovered.
I would like to go and see The War and Peace exhibition in Liverpool, but since I will not make it, The Mediterranean years (the sound of the sea, sand and terracotta villas) will soothe me for now.