The National Portrait Gallery is one of those London museums that amply repays even a flying visit. As a regular visitor, you know roughly what you will find: awesome Tudor portraits that bristle with the trappings of status and power; politicians, writers, actors, musicians and celebrities galore; glimpses of people long gone and almost forgotten – all brought to life with painstaking verisimilitude or impressionistic bravura. And there are always some surprises too.
I wandered in the other day, taking advantage of a newly acquired Art Fund National Art Pass, which gives you half-price entry to major exhibitions all over the UK and free admission to over 200 museums and galleries, all for a single outlay of £39.75 per year. I didn’t have very long to spare, so I had a swift look at the current Man Ray exhibition and then quickly took in a couple of the permanent collection galleries.
One of the advantages of being based in Leeds is the presence of the Henry Moore Institute in the city, with its programme of serious and sometimes seriously difficult exhibitions about the nature of sculpture.
I don’t use the word ‘difficult’ in a spirit of criticism. Indeed, I think it’s important that public galleries to stretch our understanding of what artists do. Good art has a quality that can’t be reduced to a ‘words of one syllable’ text panel.
A couple of days ago I had the privilege of glimpsing HMI’s Sarah Lucas exhibition during installation. It’s always a surprise to see an artist you thought you knew in a different light.
Jules and I have spent the last 24 hours on the Isle of Mull filming Adrian and Jane of ‘Strongarbh House‘ in the picture-perfect town of Tobermory, as part of a series of films on collecting for Own Art.
I am ashamed to admit that despite being a quarter Scottish this the furthest north I have ventured. The landscape is utterly captivating and is home to some of Britain’s most spectacular wildlife including fallow deer, mink, otter and if you are lucky enough to spot them – dolphins (in my case not yet!). The dramatic coastal line beckons you to explore so it’s no surprise that landscape is central to much of the artwork in the area.
I am one of a seemingly small minority of art lovers who neither made it to Hockney at the Royal Academy (much as I like his work) nor had the foresight to book advance tickets for Leonardo at the National Gallery.
Lack of forward-planning is only part of the explanation. Like Cara Sutherland, who wrote a recent Rant on the subject, I am naturally suspicious of large, crowd-pleasing exhibitions and instinctively averse to the idea of viewing art in the company of lots of other people.
One of the benefits of Axis membership is that the website gets looked at by many organisations who are interested in working with and promoting artists.
Another benefit is that if these views turn into contacts, we provide the mechanism for those people to get in touch with artists. Each month I send hundreds of enquiries on to artists, often with my fingers crossed and a big smile, hoping that a great opportunity for one of our members is the outcome.
An obituary for the artist Adrian Berg stopped me in my tracks the other day, for I’ve loved his paintings ever since seeing a touring exhibition of his work in 1986.
- Leighton Hall, 10 July, 1991 Courtesy Gillian Jason Modern & Contemporary Art
At that time he painted the view from his window over Regent’s Park with all the obsessive, investigative intelligence of his hero Claude Monet, whose ‘series’ paintings of haystacks and cathedrals were Berg’s single most important source of inspiration.