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I went today to the Tate Modern, a gallery I’ve not visited in (I would guess) over 20 years. I’ve missed out it seems.

The Tate Modern specialises in 20th Century art, my interests tend more to the Renaissance and (obvious as it may be) to French Impressionism, perhaps explaining my relative lack of engagement with 20th Century art. Similarly, like many I grew up in a family with no interest of any kind in art, and such education I have in it I have picked up ad hoc along the way – I suspect this is true of most people. As painting reached the 20th Century, theory became more important, and literal depiction less so. Pre-20th Century art is also of course frequently heavily dependent on theory, on symbolism, on a language lost to the lay viewer that we must study to fully engage with. But, and it is a key but, it also often featured relatively accessible subjects (at least on a surface level) and pleasing aesthetics, so that even if one did not realise the significance of the choice of a particular shade of blue or the reference contained in an arrangement of figures, one could still enjoy the painting as pictorial art.

Modern art, to use a rather unhelpful phrase (particularly given some of it predates my grandfather’s birth) is not so friendly. There is a sense, as a lay viewer, of attending a conference in a language one only dimly understands. One follows some parts of what is going on, is baffled by others, senses meaning which cannot always be deciphered and at times likely find meaning that isn’t actually there. All that said, the Tate Modern clearly realises that this is a common experience, and is at pains to assist. Descriptions of works or movements are generous, certain works have additional passages next to them from other artists describing the work’s meaning to them, rooms have boards describing particular movements. Less successful is the plan to the gallery, which is astonishingly light on detail, making it much harder than it should be to find particular rooms or works. I wanted to revisit a room of six linked Gerhard Richter works and finding it again was needlessly difficult.

Still, enough on the gallery itself. What was truly impressive was the works within. When I visit a gallery, I normally write down names of certain artists, so I can follow up later and read more about their work. In the course of a two hour visit I noted:

Gerhard Richter whose 2006 Cage sequence is vastly more impressive in the flesh than can be captured online.

Edward Burra, whose 1930 The Snack Bar has a fascinating ambiguity.

Zoe Leonard, fascinating black and white landscape photos and disturbing images such as her 1990 photograph Wax Anatomical Model raising questions about depictions of feminity, with the crooked angle of the photograph forcing us to recognise the incongruity of giving an anatomical model a pearl necklace and blonde hair.

Max Ernst caught my attention with his 1934 The Entire City, a work which I thought captured the anxiety and tension of its age.

Meredith Frampton brought an extraordinary sense of stillness and grace to his paintings, his 1935 Portrait of a Young Woman is reminiscent of the paintings of artists such as Sargent while his slightly earlier (1928) work Marguerite Kelsey subtly undermines the calm of its sitter with the priapic flower to her right, indicative of subsurface passions.

Many other works also caught my attention, but after about two hours I started to fatigue. I tend to find that I can only concentrate and really engage with art for a few hours at a time, after that I find I start to saturate, works washing over me – there comes a point I find I simply can’t take any more in on any meaningful level. Unfortunately, that meant the installationist works (which I got to last) passed me by, I shall have to make a return trip for those. On the other hand, I did also see some excellent works by Jackson Pollock, Meryon by Franz Kline which had real power, in fact the abstract expressionists generally were both rewarding and put in useful historical context. Interestingly, abstract impressionism is a form of art which has never previously spoken to me, but standing before the works and giving them time, allowing myself longer than instinct suggested to soak in the works, I found they had a genuine depth (often in more than one sense).

Afterwards, walking back to the tube, I found that I was looking at the buildings around me in a different way. I noticed bridge supports for a bridge that wasn’t there, an overgrown church, a peculiar building I’d guess from the first half of the last century, architectural oddities all around. As I said, I finished on the installationists, many of whom seek to make us look at the everyday in new ways. On the way back I wasn’t trying to see the route to the gallery, I was walking in a different direction, but even with all that I was looking at things differently. That’s already fading, but it was still real, and suggests to me that there is some truth to the claim that some of these works can change how we engage with the everyday.

I’ve only scratched on what the gallery contains, a marvellous room of Soviet poster art for example, both impressive and yet chilling too, art as propoganda, symbols of a regime that killed millions of it own citizens. I was also greatly impressed by two Richard Long photographs, and now intend to see his current exhibition in a couple of weeks.

Part of what I’ve taken from this small trip, is that even that which is inaccessible to us is often only inaccessible because of our own laziness. Make the effort, and many of the works give back far more than one puts in. Not everything spoke to me, some works elicited little more than “oh yes, I see what you’re doing there”, but many provided much more than that and I haven’t even touched here on the experimental cinema I saw which I now intend to track down…

I always like to start a new blog shortly before getting beasted at work and then falling ill for a fortnight, it helps give it that so important early momentum.

Anyway, here‘s a link to my only review in June for Videovista, a deeply disappointing film called Dragon Hunter. I also received for review a very interesting Chinese film named Drifting Flowers, but sadly the disc was flawed and the film failed eleven minutes from the end. As it was actually an interesting drama with some excellent acting, I’ll likely end up buying it on DVD to see how it finishes.

I’ve started reviewing dvds for the website www.videovista.net, my first three are of:

Fine, Totally Fine, a quite brilliant Japanese comedy

Mulberry Street, an American indie horror movie, slight curate’s egg

Slap Shot, the excellent 1977 George Roy Hill ice hockey movie

The point really is to experiment with a new type of writing, more particularly writing to a target word count and a deadline and with a different subject matter than my usual literary stuff. That’s not with a view to any kind of professional writing, that would take all the fun out of it, but just to go for a slightly different sort of challenge.

So far, mixed results, Emma (my wife) commented they didn’t really sound like me, which is probably true. I haven’t found a voice in them yet, certainly. Also, my review of Fine, Totally Fine didn’t really capture the film, which is frustrating. I think with hindsight I took too conventional an approach when what I was reviewing was quite unconventional. The result is functional, but not especially interesting.

Still, it’s a learning process, this month a hopefully interesting Chinese arthouse movie and (because it was a really poor crop of possible reviews) a godawful looking fantasy movie that hopefully will positively surprise me. We’ll see how those go.

This is something of an experiment for me, occasionally I feel like writing down thoughts on subjects which aren’t really suitable for my other blog, www.pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com, which is purely a literary blog.

Mostly that’s thoughts on cultural stuff, film, tv series, music, computer (and other) games, comics, occasionally other topics may catch my eye.   

At Pechorin’s Journal I tend to try to make fairly serious blog entries about particular books, working through what they said to me, what worked for me, what didn’t and so on.  Here it’s going to be more whatever catches my interest, and entries will probably be a lot shorter.

Or not.  Brevity after all takes much more work than verbosity.

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