four art shows

I was nearly put off writing this by Tim’s superior piece below, but as I saw these today, I’d like to mention them. Order of my attendance rather than preference…

Mark Tobey at Robert Sandelson

Tobey’s work kind of looks like Pollock’s, but came about in a completely different way. It’s about calligraphy really, making swirling gestural marks that largely cover a surface, with no more compositional focus than Pollock. He’s another in the great tradition of abstract painters with strong spiritualist intentions, but as usual that’s easy to ignore if you want – but the meditative aspect is visible, I think. This is a strong show with a lot of fine works, and the gallery also has some nice works downstairs, including a lovely recent Riley and a couple of terrific Vasarelys.

Jenny Holzer at Spruth Magers Lee

Tim covered this below. I was disappointed, but the experience of the work not pictured on that link was made interesting and slightly disorienting by the varying speeds of the scrolling, individual lines varying, and their being a little out of synch. I’d still prefer her own statements to someone else’s poems, though.

Dan Flavin at Haunch Of Venison

Flavin was kind of a minimalist, linked with Judd and LeWitt. His work consists of small numbers of fluorescent tubes in some kind of structure. This has a handful of ’60s works by him, and I really liked a couple: a set that is apparently a tribute to the Russian constructivist (sort of), Vladimir Tatlin, and a set in a corner where the reflections in the corner worked well with the two hidden lights of different colours.

Chinese landscape art at the British Museum

I wasn’t surprised that this was my favourite of the day. Its title is ‘mountains and water’, which is what the Chinese say when they mean landscapes in painting. It’s a slightly patchy show, with some (very good) photographic reproductions of very old works, some second rate works and plenty of omissions; but there are some extraordinarily powerful works. It’s not helped by the thoughtless hang: people routinely tend towards the anticlockwise, and this is organised that way – but this means that the long handscrolls, made to be read right to left, are experienced the wrong way, unless you keep walking to the end then coming back again. Also, the best work of the lot, a titanic work by my favourite 20th Century Chinese painter Fu Baoshi, is right at the start. This sort of emphasises a unity in the last millenium of the genre in China (also reinforced by omissions), but it does make the rest (where the only rivals are in reproduction) slightly anti-climactic.