Some London winter exhibitions
(After the Venice interview) I performed the annual homage to the Taylor Wessing show at the National Portrait Gallery on the other side of Trafalgar Square. It’s always surprising, especially for the variety of presentation (and often the variety of production) involved. There is a lesson to be had from those who win each year, inasmuch as experimentation and ‘artiness’ appear not to be the way to win it, in the past six or seven years at least. A look at the three prize-winners in 2018 should remind us that simple ‘straight’ photographs are what is required; images that say it all without the need to add.I bought the exhibition catalogue online because it was a fiver cheaper than the shop on the day I was there.
Alice Mann’s Drummies won. Richard Ansett’s Danel, 7 won the ‘People’s Prize’. This people’s prize idea turns up a fair bit these days...it always seems like a sop to take some pressure off judges in case their expert opinion offends everybody. A bit like ‘oh go on then, who should have won?’ Of course, it also increases the chances of winning a prize, so that’s not a complaint.
Later, at the Photographers’ Gallery I saw the retrospective Roman Vishniac Rediscovered. This was the first ever Vishniac retrospective in the UK. An impressive set from a time when photography was needed like never before, very classically hung (prints from contacts up to 10x8, off-white mounts or grey for montages, black frames), dwelling heavily on Jewish life in Germany under the Nazis. It was disturbing to note how Vishniac used his young daughter as a model, and thus a reason, to be taking photographs at a time when Jews were essentially forbidden to own cameras. It moved on to his work in the USA in magazines and his micro work. This is a show of two halves, since it was a simultaneous exhibition with the Jewish Museum London, each using different interpretive material. It would have been good to have the time to see the JML show.
I also visited Royal Academy’s show of drawings by Klimt and Schiele, from the Albertina museum in Vienna. Schiele fascinates me in particular; his drawing is so free but controlled and technical at the same time. Interesting to see how much cheap “packing paper” (brown paper) he and Klimt used for early sketches for bigger works, and indeed for finished smaller works by these two, and sometimes by other Wiener Secessionists. That’s what makes the white chalk and white body colour work so effectively.