Sunday, 20 July 2014

Moore Rodin, Compton Verney Gallery, Warwickshire (15 February-31 August 2014)

To celebrate its tenth anniversary, Compton Verney Gallery, which is set in a former privately-owned stately home and parklands in Warwickshire, is host to a major exhibition comparing the work of two giants of sculpture – Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore.  Collaborating with The Henry Moore Foundation and Musée Rodin, the exhibition features five Moore and six Rodin sculptures in its grounds, with a larger selection of smaller pieces and drawings displayed throughout the gallery’s rooms.

In a similar vein to the Ashmolean’s Bacon/Moore exhibition which closed in January, this collection also draws parallels in the use of the human figure in each artist’s work.  However, while Bacon/Moore timelines and experiences of the Second World War overlapped, Moore/Rodin were separated by an age gap of fifty-eight years (Moore was nineteen when Rodin died in 1917).
Danaid, Rodin (1885)
Working Model for Mother and Child, Upright, Moore (1978)
The juxtaposition of large pieces of sculpture (particularly Moore’s modernist pieces) against architecture and gardens such as at Compton Verney are always a delight for the eyes.  Here though, the gardens overwhelm the pieces on display and could have benefitted from a greater number within the grounds – the delight in discovering the pieces was over immediately as all the others were always within eyesight.  Inside the gallery the selection of sculptures worked much more successfully.  Alongside both sculptors finished pieces and maquettes an additional display case demonstrated how Moore and Rodin were collectors of antiquities and found objects which reflected their contrasting working methods - Moore was drawn to African, Oceanic, pre-Columbian and Cycladic sculpture, while Rodin concentrated on collecting classical antiquities.
Rodin’s intense scrutiny of the form (invariably female) bear rich fruit in his torso studies which show every taunt muscle and clearly reflect his interest in classical sculpture, while Moore’s abstracted heads can also be traced back to his interest in Oceania.
 Torso of Young Woman with Arched Back, Rodin (1909)
Head, Moore (1984)
Bizarrely when visiting sculpture exhibitions, I am always equally as fascinated by any associated drawings as the sculptures themselves.  I find the link between a sketched idea and the finished creation, or in fact any drawing by an artist who predominately works in 3D, strangely compelling.

The Artist's Hands, Moore (1974)        The Cathedral, Rodin (1908
Walking around this exhibition, it quickly became apparently how familiar most of the work on display was, which made me realise how fortunate I have been in my access to such wonderful artworks.  I have been lucky enough to visit Musée Rodin and The Henry Moore Foundation Hertfordshire where the artists lived and worked and are home to the majority of the work here.  If this exhibition ignites (or rekindles) an interest or love in Moore and Rodin, then a visit to Perry Green and Paris should definitely be next.

Jenny Saville: Oxyrhynchus, Gagosian Gallery (13 June-26 July 2014)

Intertwine (2011-2014)
Jenny Saville is for me, the greatest living figurative painter today.  While various theories still abound on the positioning of figurative painting within contemporary art practice, Saville’s skill and virtuosity with any tool she picks up cuts across the majority of such theories with the sheer force of her talent.  It is almost inconceivable that in a career spanning twenty years, this is the first-ever solo exhibition of her work in London.  Some critics have said that Saville labours a little too much on the duality of the fleshiness of the female body and the nature of paint of canvas and indeed, I found the mother and child subject matter of her exhibition at Modern Art, Oxford a little bit too essentialist, but when her paintings are executed so marvellously, it should be as easy to allow her such obsessions as we do other artists with their own.

Odalisque (2012-2014)
The distinction between painting and drawing is always blurred in Saville’s art and several of the pieces on display here show her characteristic collisions of charcoal, pastel and oil on canvas.  Her subject matter remains predominantly the female form, but surely in paintings such as Olympia (2013-2014) and Odalisque (2012-2014), Saville is playing with art history depictions of the lone, passive female nude displayed for a male audience as rendered by artists such as Manet and Matisse.  Saville subverts such depictions by again showing us very real women now joined by their lovers before, during or after sexual intercourse.  These women are autonomous agents within the sexual act, sometimes completely absorbed, sometimes even bored – it is a reality, rather than a fantasy which Saville gives us here.     
Olympia (2013-2014)

In the same way Saville’s mark marking has previously captured the horror and pain of surgical procedures, here she captures sexual energy.  The splashing and dripping of her paint act as metaphors for bodily fluids being exchanged. 
In The Realm of Mothers, III (2014)
These paintings are explicit, but never fall into the pornographic.  The mix of photorealism and abstraction cement Saville into the canon of painters which continues to be re-written by the inclusion of more and more female artists and this will always be a positive revision.