Monday, March 08, 2010

Grey Becomes Black and White (is it true what they say?)

Kettle's Yard, in Cambridge, currently have an exhibition, "Modern Times: responding to chaos", described as being of "drawing and film" from the 20th and 21st centuries. Actually, there's a fair amount of paint and other two-dimensional media involved, albeit almost entirely monochromatic, while the film too is largely black and white - short looping "art pieces", mostly I think from the inter-war era. It might have been more accurate to have described this as an exhibition of black and white art from the last hundred years. Still, and even for an art ignoramus like me, it's an interesting show.

The assorted movements encompassed by this collection of stuff - Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism, Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, Conceptualism - doubtless have their crucial differences, but judging them purely by what's on show, they would all seem to tend to minimalism and abstraction; the occasional almost-figurative piece is downright jarring in the context. Some of the pictures seem to verge on architectural representation, and judging by the labels, one or two of them were actually meant that way, but mostly this may just mean that a modern human mind reads "angular structure" as "building". And gosh, I do find myself going round these things trying to interpret that way... Sometimes with great pleasure, in fact. Early in the exhibition there's a big painting whose title and creator's name I forget, but it's a wonderful swirl of black and white paint that could have devoured my attention for hours. Is it a bird? Is it driftwood? Is it a wolf?

The film pieces, incidentally, look like the last survivors of a lost and stillborn art form, especially today. When a cheap computer and some software can allow anyone to cobble together mind-wrenching full-colour animations and manipulated images in a spare morning, the idea of some obsessive oddball in 1920s Berlin or wherever spending hours hunched over a collection of hand-crafted drawings, photographing them frame by frame in order to create - gosh - moving abstract pictures taking a full seven minutes or so to play out, just seems tragically quaint. But obsessive artistic oddballs having their vision eaten by the system is a theme for another post - probably my next one.

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