Saturday, 1 December 2012

Maud Sulter & Hector Watson

SEDUCED BY ART, the new show at the National Gallery
has a daft title, given that its thesis is the ways in which
photography in the 19th century and currently has responded to 'fine art'  of the old master variety - just as artists in all media respond and reflect previous work.  The exhibition has not been very well recieved critically, but there are some things in its favour: 
firstly, the juxtaposition of media forces attention on the contrivances involved in both photography and painting - reminding us again for example of the artifice involved in creating/staging/composing  figurative and 'real life' images.  It's more obvious in photography, where the viewer knows that models, sitters, locations, accessories etc must be manoeuvred into place, lighting adjusted, exposures calculated and so on, so seeing paintings alongside makes for heightened awareness of just what, say, Gainsborough was doing when making Mr & Mrs Andrews look as though they are sitting outdoors, on a garden seat, at the edge of a cornfield, when they weren't.


secondly, its  a welcome chance to see the late lamented Maud Sulter's great self-portrait as Calliope, muse of epic poetry and/or eloquence.  In fact, here Sulter was referencing the famous shot of young Sarah Bernhardt by Nadar, not any old master oil, although the profile pose, bare shoulders and rich drapery do roughly invoke many neo-classical depictions of the Muses.

There is another interesting portrait in the exhibition, , the  large-format three-quarter-length image of Hector Stanley Watson, taken in 1994 by Dave Lewis  for a series 'West Indian Ex-Servicemen's and Women's Association.'   It is hung in relation to Goya's half-length oil of the Duke of Wellington, making a rather grand  'old soldier' allusion, but it's a great picture. 

So thanks to National Gallery.

UPDATE JULY 2015    Belatedly,  I've only just learnt of the recent retrospective show of Maud Sulter's work, entitled Passion, held at  Maud Sulter's photographs are concerned with identity and connection.
Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow.
This  is the outcome of a curatorial research project by Deborah Cherry, Professor of Art History at the University of the Arts London, and Deputy Director of TrAIN (Transnational Art and Nation), and artist and curator Ajamu, and the exhibition is a partnership between Street Level Photoworks and Autograph ABP.

Here's a brief excerpt from a review by Leyla Bumbra of the show, which 'focuses on the artist’s identity, her Scottish and Ghanaian heritage and creates analogies between herself and famous women.
'The exhibition humanises those she photographed, and indeed herself, through her self-portraiture. Significantly the women that are represented are the few that made it into the history books, the ones who associated with men as wives and mistresses.  The exhibition successfully initiates a shift towards a reclamation of Sulter’s artistic importance.'

There is a catalogue (crowd-funded) which I'll post details of when I get them.

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