Tate Modern, London
3 November 2005-5 February 2006
Henri Rousseau The Snake Charmer 1907. Oil on canvas 169 x 189 cm. Musée d'Orsay, Paris.
There has always been, particularly among city-dwellers, a widespread fascination with the idea of the jungle and its animals. In fact, this interest ran contemporarily with the explorations of Livingstone and Stanley in central Africa. Children's books such as Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, and more recently, Les Animaux de la Jungle, have enthralled children in France for decades. This is the same world that so fascinated Henri Rousseau. An important factor in this interest was that one did not have to endure the risks represented by jungle animals, nor the climatic discomfort experienced in travelling there. This was the advantage sensed by Rousseau - the jungle seen from the nursery table. His works were created in Paris, after visits by 'Douanier Rousseau' in his own time, to the Natural History Museum, and to the Jardin des Plantes. They amused, rather than obsessed Parisians. Rousseau, however, was as obsessed by the jungle as by his much-needed ambition for eminence as a painter.
Of Rousseau, much is known: that he was a customs official in Paris, who contrived the impression that he had travelled widely. He had no formal education in art or as a painter. The cages of the zoo in Paris's Jardin des Plantes, and the 23,000 bird species and 6,000 mammals in the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle provided Rousseau with many of the images that he incorporated in his paintings. One has the image of a somewhat Hulot like- character, striding purposefully through the exhibits, and halting before a chosen subject. The 'Douanier Rosseau' indeed was the butt of his artist friends. But he was impervious to criticism, and even Picasso came to admire him as a 'copain.' In the centre of the exhibition rooms at the Tate, one entire room is dedicated to the life of his contemporary Paris and to the interests, and pursuits of his contemporaries. This room is very documentative, and fully repays some time out of the span of an exhibition visit there. Vincent Gille of the Pavillon des Arts has curated this room, and selected the material that has endowed the exhibition with such extraordinary authenticity.
Predictably, as his career developed, Rousseau fell foul of the conventions of the French Academy in seeking acceptance: his fresh approach to configuration, botanical realism, and traditional forms of perspective placed him beyond acceptance, Instead, he came to be admired by sections of the Paris avant-garde for his special kind of primitivism, and for his mysterious but dramatic blazes of colour.
One reviewer, who will be nameless lest one of the Douanier's beasts were to escape and maul him, makes much of his personal view that Rousseau was a 'bad painter'. It seems the 'academy' never dies: it was, in fact, precisely his idiosyncratic, naïve style, that while never advanced critically by Rousseau himself, came in the end to sustain and delight his strong personal following in Paris; Rousseau's work is the stuff of drugs, and of dreams.
Bruce Nauman: Raw Materials
Bruce Nauman: Raw Materials – The great Turbine Hall at Tate Modern seems to evoke an Aladdin's cave for most artists. However, under Bruce Nauman's control, waves of spoken voices, all carefully positioned and structured, interact with each other and the viewer, who sees only the 16 speakers set out at regular intervals.
Douglas Gordon: Superhumanatural
The film and video artist Douglas Gordon had his first one-man exhibition in Britain at the Lisson Gallery in 1994, sponsored by its perceptive director Nicholas Logsdail, to which he returned again in 2001. The following year, he was to exhibit 'Entre'Act 3' at the Stedelijk Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven. 'Fuzzy Logic' followed at the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and from about this time his work really took off internationally.
Pop Culture on Repeat
Using today's most basic, accessible medium - the television - as her canvas, Candice Breitz treats film footage as found objects and pop fanatics as the makings of a chorus. Breitz's strong belief that, 'We learn who we are by watching others' fuels her exhibition of new works on view at the White Cube gallery in London.
New acquisition: Quattro Stagioni by Cy Twombly, Tate Modern, London
American artist Cy Twombly (see ‘Philosophy in Paint’) has four tall canvases on exhibition at the Tate Modern. ‘Quattro Stagioni’ (Four Seasons), a painting in four parts, was executed during the period 1993-94.
The Horse: 30,000 Years of the Horse in Art – book review
The Horse: 30,000 Years of the Horse in Art by Tamsin Pickeral is a gallop through art history from prehistoric times to the present, with the focus narrowed on the horse - a long-standing and yet surprisingly unmentioned muse of artists spanning centuries and continents, schools and movements. A creature of practicality and mythology alike, promising loyalty as well as escape, serenity and passion, domestic bliss and gallivanting into the wilderness, the horse indeed is a subject of promise.