Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Moment in Time

Like, I guess, a lot of people with a basically touristic relationship with London, I have a bad habit of thinking of the city in terms of a few square miles at the very centre. I'm aware that this huge conurbation spreads out far beyond the Circle Line, of course, and I often watch those part go past from the train, but I don't get off there much. Then something comes along and prompts me to get somewhere like the Estorick Collection, out in Islington, as I did last Saturday, and I'm reminded that I should try harder.

I'd never even heard of the Estorick before this year, but it's a small gem, perched on the edge of Canonbury Square (which itself well earns its paragraph in the guidebooks, and which features a fragment of an Elizabethan manor house, lurking like a reality shard among the nineteenth century terraces); specifically, it's a collection of 20th century Italian art, primarily but not solely Futurism. What I read about was a temporary exhibition, curated by Jonathan Miller, called "On the Move: Visualising Action", which fitted in this gallery because its theme - the attempts by artists to depict movement more convincingly in the age of photography - was something that preoccupied the speed-and-modernity-obsessed Futurists. The exhibition sits on the borderlines between art and science, drawing heavily at the beginning on the work of Victorian photographic pioneers like Eadweard Muybridge and Etienne-Jules Marey, who developed the technology to show movement as it happened, thereby showing most painters that they'd been getting stuff like animal movement wrong for centuries. Some of these pioneers saw themselves purely as scientific researchers, but some of them clearly wanted to see themselves as traditionally artistic - Muybridge tended to photograph classically-draped nudes - and yet it was artists who wanted to break with tradition, such as the Futurists, who naturally jumped on the new ideas most enthusiastically, creating paintings and sculptures which imitated the photographic imagery.

The exhibition maybe loses focus a little as it moves on from those early days, finding a lot of quite interesting technical photographic work but less in art, as painters and sculptors in the twentieth century lost interest in representing movement (or anything else very literal) too much. Still, it's full of cool stuff, and for a bonus, you get to see the Estorick's fixed collection, which includes some slightly skewed Italian variations on styles like Impressionism.

The gallery has a good cafe, too, by the way, if it's not too crass to mention that.

Anyway, once we were done there, we walked and took a bus into the centre of the city, and ended up taking a stroll around the Native American and Asian sections of the British Museum. It struck me there that some gods seem far less discomfited by being captured and hauled off to Bloomsbury than others; Ganesha handles it all with elephantine dignity, whereas the Dance of Shiva becomes just a formal abstraction.

Dinner in Wahaca; Mexican food and tequila... And no inclination to relate that to the sinister Mesoamerican stuff I'd been looking at only a few hours before. Some gods are definitely best cast down and reduced to archaeological curiosities.

I have photos of the day up on Flickr, by the way.

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