12 December 2013 - While at the Ione Parkin exhibition do take in the accompanying exhibition ‘Great Western Railway in Art’. I’m not a railway fanatic but there is one painting there that is an absolute must to see – William Powell Frith’s The Railway Station of 1862 (Royal Holloway, University of London). This is a wonderful painting that captures the hustle and bustle of Paddington Station. The central group is the artist and his family and they are surrounded by a crowd of fellow travellers and station staff. Apparently each individual is based on life. A fine steel engraving of this work is hung beside the painting onto which the artist (?) has written a key to some of the dramatis personae. One can spend ages in front of this painting, catching all the little vignettes and actions – the police arresting the pickpocket for instance. Audiences would queue to see Frith’s paintings. Many nineteenth century artists were acclaimed in this way; it was the equivalent of going to the cinema today.
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15 November 2013 - What a week at the sale rooms! Christies and Sotheby’s Post War & Contemporary Sales in New York combined to achieve sales of over $1 Billion! Christies’ sale totalled $691, 583,000 which is a new record for an auction sale. This featured the Francis Bacon’s triptych of Lucien Freud reached $142,000,000 (including buyer’s premium) making it the third most expensive sale on record, while Sotheby’s sold Andy Warhol’s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) for $105,445,000. The list of works in both sales achieving over $10,000,000 is extensive!
So what does this all mean? The internet is alive with opinions about hedge funds, collectors and dealers protecting their vested interests and manipulating the market, creating an art market bubble. This situation has been growing over the past decade and evidently there it is not going to stop. I find it a tad depressing in that there is a growing disparity between the art itself with the unrealistic values that are being foisted upon it. These auction sales are a very public way of setting new benchmarks while they also show the increasing global wealth that is being deposited in art objects. The top tier of the art market has become separated from the rest.
15 November - Recently I was fortunate to catch the last day of an exhibition at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen Gallery in Bovey Tracey called intoLACE, a show of work by contemporary artists exploring the world of lace. It was an inspiring exhibition with highlights, for me, by Susie Needham (photograms), Elaine Wilson (mixed media), John Thomson (steel) and Emma Rawson (glass). However the most arresting works were the ink drawings of Teresa Whitfield. As described “Characterised by a close resemblance to real fabric, Teresa Whitfield’s highly detailed ink drawings reference a time before the industrial revolution, when hand-made textiles were part of everyday domestic life for women.
The drawing method that Teresa Whitfield uses bears a striking resemblance to the process of using thread so that the drawings are more like a re-enactment of lace-making than simply a likeness to the end product; the level of realism in the work often confuses the viewer as to whether they are contemplating a real piece of lace or a photograph. The drawings occupy an unusual space between the drawing of an object and the recreation of it in a different medium.
By using a low-tech labour-intensive process such as drawing Teresa Whitfield’s work prompts discussion about the loss of craft skills in a mechanised and digital culture and provides audiences with a visual understanding of the impact of these changes. The viewer is encouraged to take a closer look at both hand-made and machine-made lace; and by contemplating the relationship between the painstaking method of production of these drawings and the highly skilled and time-consuming production of lace, to reconsider their perceptions of each.”
A full exhibition of Whitfield’s lace drawings is currently on at the Somerset Rural Life Museum, Glastonbury, until 14 December. I highly recommend a visit. One cannot but be impressed by the skill and patience in making these extraordinary drawings.
As a start I would like to thank Grayson Perry for attempting to demystify the world of contemporary art in the BBC Reith Lecture series. He does so with intelligence and humour, and it seems he is quite prepared to take constructive pot shots at the Art Establishment. He points out the daft idiosyncrasies as much as he celebrates the success of a market that stretches across the globe. This latter point is also the art market’s down side as more and more influence is being held by just a small group of international dealers who have the resources to play the game at the highest level. The result is that middle tier galleries are struggling to survive since they can’t reach the collectors/buyers with deep pockets but have to deal with rising rents and the cost of participating in international art fairs if they wish to try to compete. It is not a level playing field. There is much debate as to where this is heading, and the consequences for the health of art market as a whole, including a panel discussion at this year’s Basel Art Fair and several blog conversations arising from it.