edinburgh: minus one day

Yesterday was the day before travelling to Edinburgh.

It’s always a strange day; fortunately I had most of my packing and sorting already done because of being homeless and having spent the last two weeks on canals and in Northampton and in Wales and all that, so I spent yesterday back in London, going around art exhibitions with my Mum.

Somehow we managed four exhibitions altogether: at the Royal Academy we went to ‘Sargent and The Sea’ (a bit dull – and why did they not have any of his Venice paintings?) and the Summer Exhibition. The Summer Exhibition is remarkable – it’s an open-entry exhibition where any artist, established or unheard-of, can submit work, and if it’s good enough they’ll display it. It’s like the art world’s version of the Edinburgh Fringe – alongside the Hockneys and a new Emin there are things by people nobody has ever heard of and they are smashing.

My favourite thing, of course, was David Mach’s ‘Silver Streak’. This is it:

I don’t know if you can quite tell, but it’s made out of coathangers. Wire coathangers. The fuzziness you can see is all the hooks sticking out. I don’t know exactly what it’s trying to say, but it’s a remarkable piece of sculpture.

We carried on with the sculpture thing by going to the Henry Moore exhibition at the Tate. I quite like Moore’s early stuff, the stuff where you can tell what the things are. Like…

…in this Mother and Child, which he did in 1932, you can see exactly what’s going on – you can see the protective look in the mother’s body as she projects a huge, hard shoulder to the world, looking out for any danger to her child. It’s lovely. It’s not like a generic Madonna because in Madonnas the mother gazes adoringly at the kid; they have a comparatively banal religious purpose and perhaps because of this they show nothing about the feelings of paranoia or protectiveness that come with motherhood (I assume). But…

…this one, which he did in 1983, is a Madonna. And it’s pretty dull in comparison, not only because of its purpose but because in later life Moore’s sculpture got so abstract that you can’t really tell much about what’s going on. You can just see that there’s a big figure hunched over a small figure. There’s nothing really for the observer to do, nothing to participate in except to try and recognise what’s what in the shapes.

My favourite work in the exhibition, though, wasn’t even a sculpture at all but a drawing. It was called ‘People Looking at a Tied-up Object. This is it:

What’s in the wrapping? Why is it so much more interesting that the other strange objects lying around? See, it gives you something to think about…

And then we went to the exhibition of British Comic Art. Which was good, but was really more a history of visual satire from Hogarth onwards than it was an art exhibition. And it wasn’t really all that funny either – no matter how much the exhibition had to pretend that there is still some great visceral value in pictures of Fox getting overfriendly with negroes, it’s just not that great to look at anymore, because topical comedy isn’t funny if it’s not topical. And if it’s not funny, then it’s not comedy. So it was an exhibition of non-topical non-comedy.

Anyway. I’ll be seeing plenty of actual funny art – which hopefully gives me things to think about – in the next few weeks. Lots of comics are there already, like I was this time last year. I’m just not quite there yet…

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