“Belgian light amid the gloom”

“I once lived in Belgium by mistake. I moved into a flat in Ixelles, a district of central Brussels, and spent my free time in museums, where I encountered art by remarkable artists of whom I had never heard. Among these artists were two who are receiving current attention: Fernand Khnopff and Léon Spilliaert.

“Symbolism is a late manifestation of Romanticism, the movement dedicated to the irrational, mystical and emotional in art. Symbolism (which flourished from 1840-1914) was an approach which allowed artists to deal with fundamental fears, desires and the meaning of human life through use of general symbols to induce strong emotions in the audience. Both Symbolism and Romanticism were founded on morbidity — a hyperawareness of death and the brevity of life — and a sense of loss at a receding past of heroism. The greatest Symbolists came from Northern Europe (and Switzerland), as if a hostile climate and long cold nights nurture a melancholy attachment to a fantastic past…” 

Read the full review here: https://thecritic.co.uk/belgian-light-amid-the-gloom/

“True Feminism has never been Tried, Comrade”

“Before starting Women Can’t Paint: Gender, The Glass Ceiling and Values in Contemporary Art I was filled with apprehension. Having read dozens of books on feminism in recent months, I expected something turgid and dispiriting. I should not have worried. Women Can’t Paint is one of the funniest books of the year and unintentional comedy gold. If Titania McGrath had written a polemic on the art world, this is the book she would have produced. Andrew Doyle’s latest comic creation is pitch perfect. According to the back cover, Helen Gørrill is an “artist, futurist, writer, editor and educator”. In the opening pages, she describes how her article for The Guardian on gender inequality in the arts received so much derision that its comments section had to be closed. By page 2 I was laughing aloud.

In 2018, I wrote a new Access art and design course for a prestigious Scottish university,underpinning the contextual studies design with equality rather than the traditional white heteromasculinist canon […] Two male colleagues made attempts to remove this vanguard, but I stuck to my guns and received a tremendous backlash […] Sadly, as soon as I left the institution the vanguard was immediately quashed, with only a tokenistic selection of women and BME artists (less than 6 per cent of the total) represented […] The white masculine canon alas endures […]

“Moral indignation, grandiloquence, reduction of art to quotas, use of jargon and the lack of self-awareness typify the feminist woke scolds of art administration and university faculties. The author’s imperiousness and lack of humour allow her to deliver towering inanities and spiteful asides in a manner surely not even our most skilful comic writers could contrive….”

Read the full review in The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/true-feminism-has-never-been-tried-comrade/

How Banksy hoodwinked a Generation

“In October 2019, Banksy’s 2009 painting of Devolved Parliament (showing the House of Commons populated by chimpanzees) sold for a record-setting £9.9 million at auction. Banksy has reached the level of Blue Chip Moderns and Old Masters in auction rooms, books of his art are in museum bookshops worldwide and his street paintings are beloved by ordinary people and tastemakers. For anyone who has looked at his art with a sharp critical eye, the question is: how did such banality hoodwink so many people?

“To answer that question and understand Banksy, one has to go back to his native Bristol of the 1980s and early 1990s. To many Bristolians Banksy is a folk hero; to others he is a sell-out. Banksy formed his political outlook in a city that is a hotbed of left-wing attitudes, from community activism and student politics to rave culture and non-conforming lifestyles. It was an obvious place for graffiti to develop into elaborate grand-scale street art. Being an anti-authoritarian progressive is utterly conventional in Bristol. When protesters stand in Bristol’s College Green with signs welcoming migrants they face not riot police or ridicule but sympathetic students…”

Read my full review on The Critic website: https://thecritic.co.uk/issues/january-2020/banksy-and-the-triumph-of-banality/

Hidden London: Discovering the Forgotten Underground

“When riding the Tube, passengers sometimes get flashing glimpses of lit side tunnels or abandoned stations. Before they fully register them, the sights are gone and passengers are left with a short-lived curiosity about the hidden life of their primary means of travel about London. The long complex history of the London Underground network has generated a legacy of disused stations, defunct lines and disregarded buildings. Hidden London: Discovering the Forgotten Underground (published by London Transport Museum in association with Yale University Press) presents some of those in pictorial format with extensive explanatory commentary.

“Parts of this story will be familiar to anyone who has disappeared down those rabbit holes of Wikipedia that beckon us when we are killing time. Closed stations, merged stations, tracks abandoned and service tunnels not open to the public are the inevitable by-product of a system that emerged piecemeal under multiple companies since 1863 and has had to serve a vast and changing city. Amateur historians of LU have long applied formidable scrutiny to plentiful available documentation, so there is little in this book that will be unknown to dedicated fans of LU trivia, but for general readers this is an ideal companion to lost elements of London’s underground rail system.

“There is a strange power to encountering these images of lost ages, at once melancholy and sinister. These are time capsules…”

Read the full review online at The Critic here: https://thecritic.co.uk/hidden-london/

Review: Airline Maps: A century of art and design

“From the beginning of scheduled commercial flights for the public, designers have used the excitement and liberation of air travel to inform innovative designs. Airline Maps: A Century of Art and Design collects a diverse range of plans and posters in a book that is truly global in ambition. It covers the period 1919 up to 2019 and includes material published for famous airlines of today and yesteryear. The book illustrates posters, sketches and original artwork for promotional material used by airlines.

 

“The book acts as a history of aviation. We see the birth of commercial carriers using unpressurised biplanes, through the period of colonial consolidation with turbo-prop craft and seaplanes for coastal or island stops through the heyday of national carriers with jet planes up to today’s budget carriers serving tiny regional airports. There is a roll call of lost companies: BOAC, Pan Am, Sabena, Air Ceylon. Imperial Airways embodies in its name and its routes the British Empire as it was it its final decades. Lesser known carriers, such as Iraqi Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Sudan Airways and Air Jamaica are represented.

“Following the end of the Great War, the large number of aeroplanes and trained pilots found employment in postal carriage and – soon after – providing passenger services for the rich…”

Read the full review here: https://thecritic.co.uk/airline-maps-a-century-of-art-and-design/

“Painting by Numbers”

“Last year, troubled by the way a common narrative did not seem to mesh with my lived experience, I set out to assess the obstacles women face in the fine-art world. As we all know, thanks to the tireless work of disinterested campaigners, supplemented by exert academics and repeated by an objective press, women face prejudice in society, including in the arts. Yet the findings of mandatory reporting to the British government purport to show that in 2018 women comprise 56% of the workforce in the UK arts sector, with an unfavourable earnings differential of only 2.6% towards median income women, mainly due to fewer women in top positions. What about the artists themselves?

“Starting in July 2018, for 12 months I collected data from press releases that I encountered as a critic in the form of emails, publisher catalogues, magazine advertisements and notices on specialist websites regarding the international art world…”

Read the full article on The Critic website here: https://thecritic.co.uk/are-women-discriminated-against-in-contemporary-arts/