Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Yayoi and Georgiana

Took myself on an art day today. Woke myself up early for a Saturday, the earliest in a long while. Made myself a milky instant coffee with a sturdy helping of sugar and then out the door in to a murky grey morn, it’s supposed to be summer.

I woke up fully on the train. Saturday morning carriage still surprisingly filled with hipsters holding caffeinated drinks in flimsy white cups.

The queue when I get there is massive, it’s about an hour and half wait until the front and it’s only just gone 10:00. What a sensationalist exhibition, or populist because it’s free but I don't mind because I have been wanting to see this. Yayoi Kusama that Japanese New Yorker internationally famous pointillist feminist artist, the one I saw one of the best retrospectives of at the Tate a few year’s back is back in London, with some of her walk-in pieces. I had never been to the Victoria Miro gallery and I had wanted to ever since I lived on the boat. What’s an hour and a half on a Saturday morning when there’s nothing else to do but wait? 

The grey clouds had broken apart and turned into moving wisps. Seagulls dipped round and round about a tall skyscraper. 

A well-to-do family joined the queue behind me, they were fine apart from the son who must be at whatever parents call ‘a difficult age’ because he couldn't see the point of waiting for something (anything I assume) nor did he like art. As the line progressed I saw taxi cabs pull up and drop well-coiffed males with expensive sunglasses who looked perplexed at the idea of waiting. And aghast tanned belles who strutted up and down the queue surveying it whilst on FaceTime whilst taking a selfie. 

Once inside it was over in a flash. Upstairs there’s a walk-in box room with mirrored surfaces that contain some of the light-up pumpkin installations. They are not beautiful but striking and have that hallucinogenic appearance about them especially when seen close-up from inside a dark reflective box, but as I say, it was over in a flash - 20 seconds to be exact - because of crowd management. Apparently someone had fallen backward and smashed one of the pumpkins during a busy time (insert joke about the band here) whilst taking a selfie, amazing, so the staff had to limit numbers and duration inside the walk-in box. 

But there was more. The all-mirrored and slightly larger walk-in box downstairs which held a revolving flashing chandelier was more alluring. The infinite depth of reflections, you know that trick of facing a mirror to a mirror and getting an optical illusion happened, so the artwork called Chandelier of Grief sort of felt like that. Eternally spinning and superficial aka. ennui. 

In the outdoor garden a pond displayed an older installation by Yayoi, hundreds of silver orbs floating on the surface of the water called Narcissus Garden. It was all very her and I admired the space. Victoria Miro blows Damien Hirst’s new gallery out the water for sure. It’s the elegant use of light and form, concrete doesn’t have to always look like slabs. There’s this long narrow staircase wide enough for two slender maidens to ascend up like waifs, to hit a window pane. Even mortal me can walk up the stairs as through a tunnel to a bright surface. Then sky.

I headed on the 243 towards central London, the red buses completely inadequate for the heat. Sure you can open a window here and there but the seat covers are made of what looks like industrial velvet and you feel suffocated just looking at them. 

Dogs die in hot cars, is a thought. 

Ding Ding! off the bus at Somerset House which holds the Courtauld Gallery. Another space I’d never been to for no good reason at all. I’d been hankering to see the artworks of this Victorian spirit medium called Georgiana Houghton, because frankly they looked weird as hell. 

Ironically she drew most of her paintings about God: the father, son and the holy spirit mainly. White feathery veils were the spirit and the tiny dots something else holy, I remember reading, on the back of one her horrifically detailed paintings. These looked like the product of someone who was not only mad but concentrating really hard on being mad - but she wasn’t remember - because she was a Victorian who conversed with ghosts.

Spindly incessant lines evolving in to swirls
that erupt in to bloom.
Brash irrational colours 
all sensing impending doom.
No salvation

The artist said her hands were controlled by dead spirits like that of Titian’s or St. Luke the Apostle’s, it wasn’t her painting but these dead people and God using her body as a vessel. And you know what, the exactitude of her fine lines and fastidiousness of her scribbles do look like they were made in a trance state. Sure, these even reminded me of heinously close-up variations of Aboriginal DreamTime paintings which were often produced in ritual trance sessions. Yet Georgiana’s paintings were gory and fragile. Precious and atrocious. A bit sick to be honest.

But if you see one of her drawings you’ll think it’s a lot more modern than it is, even the curator when he got shown one of Georgiana’s paintings at first thought it was from the psychedelic period in art i.e. the 60’s. The cool thing is spirit medium or not, this Victorian woman artist managed to preempt the Abstract movement in art by about 40 years, Georgiana’s stuff in the Victorian time looked a bit like a completely-bat-shit Miro before Surrealism had even been invented. So how does that happen? 

That’s what I was interested by, anyway. This glitch in time in something so boringly linear as art history.

Nothing like it had been seen in the sitting rooms of Victorian houses or imaginations before. Yes, even at a time when seances, ouija boards, magicians like Houdini, and Arthur Conan Doyle type stories were prevalent. Even at a time when machines seemed to be superseding the human race à la Industrial Revolution with steam power and the light bulb. Even when Charles Dickens’ most popular Christmas tale conflated Pagan spirits with Yuletide morals in a Christmas Carol, did the people of Victorian England have the capacity yet to cope with the avant garde. It was way too early, far too avant.

Her downfall?

She puts on an exhibition of all her best work at a prestigious and probably pretentious art gallery in Bond Street in the 1870’s and it was a successful spectacle but ruined her financially. After that she didn’t get another chance and was forgotten about until now when post-modern art critics are looking at Victorian Georgiana’s spiritualist pieces with newfound admiration.