Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Silent Witnesses

The facts are hard to come by but most estimates suggest that France has no more than a fifth of the surveillance cameras deployed on British streets. As if to compensate, French streets have a very high population of carved and modelled figures maintaining observation over their flesh and blood compatriots. The city of Marseille is well endowed in this respect and a small selection follows here. It begins at the railway station where a selection of savage beasts and wrestling figures patrol the concourse. In the city centre they can be seen flanking the entrances to department stores and at busy traffic intersections where their frenzied activities, frozen in stone, form a strange counterpart to the furious commotion that circulates around them. As you pass through a doorway, a blank stare is directed downwards from the tympanum. And at many street corners diminutive Madonnas occupy tiny recesses at second storey level as a reminder of the existence of higher powers. 

Friday, 5 April 2013

Mondrian and Kleenex

In the autumn of 1949 the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed an exhibition, Modern Art in Your Life and among the exhibits were two Mondrian paintings and a Kleenex box. The show was designed to explore the links between Modernist painting and sculpture and the world of publicity and product design. It was reviewed in the New Yorker (Mondrian, Kleenex and You, Oct 15, 1949) by Robert M Coates who pointed out that many of those who expressed the greatest antipathy to Modernism found nothing to object to when it was appropriated in advertising and industrial design. Nearly 64 years later Mondrian and Kleenex have been reunited on the supermarket shelf in the Kleenex Collection of contemporary cubes. Neo-plastic geometry in the aisles of Tesco and an opportunity to blow your nose the Mondrian way are both to be welcomed although if the packaging net had been designed to place the glued flaps on the base instead of the sides it would have looked even better. Mondrian is the only artist whose work has been so unambiguously appropriated here but there may be others who could bring something distinctive to the Kleenex box. The name Francis Bacon was suggested to me - a judicious selection of bodily fluid stains with crossed syringes might find a niche market among the Brit Pack artists if nowhere else. I like the idea of an Ad Reinhardt box and I can imagine Matisse cut-outs and Léger’s grandes machines would easily adapt to the task but if I could consign just one artist to a lifetime of service on the Kleenex pack it would have to be Wyndham Lewis because nobody else would have been so infuriated by such a fate. Better still – nobody would ever buy it. 


Monday, 1 April 2013

Rockwell’s April Fool

I recently made some disparaging comments about Norman Rockwell and his lack of visual imagination and spatial sensibility. In this cover design from 1948 he makes a massive effort to put his imagination to work but the result is less than a triumph. The mechanistic permutations of body parts have produced an image that is mildly puzzling rather than spine-chilling. All the ingredients are present – sinister shopkeeper, hybrid creatures, animated puppets, physical incongruities – but the absence of atmosphere and genuinely diabolic inspiration completely wastes their potential. What should have been oppressively claustrophobic looks like a mildly boring but harmless tableau. It might seem ungenerous to point to Rockwell’s limitations but in the context of all the uncritical adulation that seems to surround him it feels like a duty.