Review of the Edward Burra show now on view at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (wherever that is)
It’s good to see that my complaints about the lack of recognition of the great Edward Burra voiced in the post below last March have been addressed. Now that my readers have some sense of the kind of pull I have in the art world they can attend what’s written here more seriously. And believe me heads are going to roll that nearly seven full months went by before this Burra show was mounted:
Ms. Cooke notes that this is the first major show of Burra’s work for 25 years. I was fortunate to have seen the retrospective back then at the Hayward Gallery and it was one of the greatest shows of any 20th century artist I’ve seen in my life. The neglect of Burra I put down the absolute obtuseness about painting of the contemporary art world going back half a decade.
Ms. Cooke herself evidences this. While giving Burra praise she can’t help but tack on what I consider a complete insult writing:
“It is his landscapes, though, that for me are the best paintings in this show: transcendent and wonderfully modern–you see Hockney here, and Michael Andrews–even as he nods to the masters.”
Hockney’s late watercolors while swell for contemporary art eyes trained to want their art simplistic and sweet have next to no relationship to the intensity, complex compositions, and absolute mastery of the watercolor medium that Burra’s works exemplify. I like Hockney’s watercolors, but as always he’s dabbling and the work shows that. I saw a group of them at the Getty over the summer. They look better in reproduction than they do in person. Burra’s work looks far better in person than it does in reproduction.
This is my greatest irritation with so many critics. They write absolute nonsense. Who in their right mind would compare this watercolor:
to this watercolor:
Next to Burra’s mastery of atmospheric perspective and control of light changing subtly from the right of the painting to the left where the sky darkens along with the landscape below it the Hockney looks like something done by a beginning art student.
It’s why so much contemporary art is so lousy. Invariably if someone has major money and major reputations the work itself isn’t looked at with any real criticism. And artists like Hockney, rather than challenging themselves, just throw out anything whatsoever to be greeted with universal cheers, regardless of any serious accomplishment.
The other quality that distinguishes Burra’s genius is that he’s not painting photographically. The landscape, just as Turner or Monet and company, is created primarily from his imagination. Burra’s is an orginal and distinctive vision.
I grant all that to Hockney. I think he’s a good artist. I just think that in reality the accomplishment is clearly minor compared to the standards of art set in the past and he’s done nothing to push his work, in my opinion because of the tendency of critics to promote tirelessly whatever artists the big money backs, and to ignore artists not backed by the money.
And the big money almost invariably backs work that is trite, easy to take in quickly, repetitive and without evolution (think Basquiat/Schnabel/Rothenberg expressionists). The other key ingredients are that work should be ironic, cynical, shallow and nihilistic. Look at a Lucian Freud. His early work is acceptably good but he really goes into high gear as he continues to push himself in the 50s and forward. And he’s pushing himself up against Courbet, etc.
He was completely obscure. Being in America in the 70s at art school, Freud didn’t exist. I believe that has everything to do with how good his painting become. In America, artists like B/S/R (above) became instant geniuses overnight with incredibly puerile work. And none of their work ever evolved or went anywhere except into sterile repetition. All of which has been received by the shills (critics) as if they’re immortal geniuses.
There is no evolution whatsoever in a painters like B/S/R. They’re not great artists. They’re not even good artists. Any good, not to mention great artist, goes through major evolution over a lifetime. Rothenberg goes from lousy to not as lousy. Basquiat goes nowhere and dies prematurely. Schnabel same as Rothenberg.
The contemporary art world has turned painting into a shallow joke. And, as Ad Reinhardt said back in the 60s, it’s the painters fault just as much as anybody else’s. They take the money and grab the awards.
It’s interesting to note that when Burra was having his lifetime achievement award pushed on him by the Royal Academy he told them they could piss off. He didn’t need the Royal Academy to tell him that his work was great. He knew it was.
The Contemporary Art World is organized to rub it in your face that graffiti stencils, people sodomizing each other, perfectly copied photographs, pleasant abstract designs, factories churning out porcelain kitsch (Koons), or even hand made porcelain sunflower seeds (Ai Weiwei), faux primitive cutesy drawings, gigantic photographs, formaldehyde sharks, infinite items “selected” by artists as art, etc…. are great art. Oh…. and don’t forget famous celebrities making puerile acrylic paint copies of Henri Cartier Bresson photographs. Duchamp is dead. Duchampian art is deader.
True Outsider is organized to tell you that they aren’t.