Last week I travelled down to stay with my mother and Pat, as I was giving a talk to Pat’s Guild – the weavers, spinners and dyers of Kennet Valley – about Complex Weavers and the things we get up to. (This one lasted more than six-and-a-half minutes, so it wasn’t quite such a breathless ride… Thanks for all your kind comments on my rabbit-in-the-headlights performance, though.) The Kennet Valley crew are numerous and enthusiastic! Having heard so much about them, and seen some of the amazing group projects they produce, it was great to meet them in person and share a whole bunch of weave-chat. And when I wasn’t wearing my working hat, we went to exhibitions. LOTS of exhibitions.
The exhibit du jour is the Hockney retrospective at Tate Britain, so that was first on the list. It is ages since I’ve been to ‘that bit of Tate’ and I have never been to one of their blockbuster shows before. It was great to see some classic works up close for the first time, but very challenging to do so given the vast numbers of people in every room. Living in a less populous part of the country, crowds always take me by surprise and not in a good way. However, I discovered that by hanging around near the beginning until it was almost time for the next ticketed entry, the crowd did ease a bit and I was able to get closer to the edges of the gallery so that I could see things. I love that at 79 he is still trying new media (and it made me wonder what Matisse would have done if he had had an iPad).
We then moved on to Tate Modern for another retrospective, this time of Robert Rauschenberg. Apparently he isn’t such a draw for a UK audience, so we had a bit more space! I have only seen glimpses of his work before – the screenprints, mainly – and I discovered that I really liked some of his earlier experiments. They were presented in a way that allowed you to appreciate how thoroughly experimental he had been, which is not always easy from here and now.
I also had time to look around Switch House, as this was my first visit since it opened, so I started at the top (peering into the neighbours’ flats and taking in the general view) and worked my way down.
The exhibits from the collections were also very interesting, and I especially liked the Pavilion Suspended in a Room I by Cristina Iglesias (in the Between Object and Architecture room). The suspended panels are constructed from lengths of flat braids made of wire, and as you can walk through the piece you can examine it from just about every angle. However, after two more galleries I was about arted out, so there is still much I haven’t seen.
All of this was interesting and enjoyable, but then we went to Oxford to see Degas to Picasso at the Ashmolean. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. There was a bit of a crowd, but not too much, and thus I was able to be The Annoying Visitor. The one who spends ages in front of every picture, with their nose as close as possible, so that nobody else can see until they have moved on. Well, the lighting was low, and I can’t see as well as I used to…. Anyway, the wonderful thing about this exhibit was that there was very little painting. It was mainly drawings, and they were fascinating. In fact it started well before Degas with work from the 1780s and 90s, and charted the changes in and challenges to French artistic practice and to French taste in art right up to post-WWII. It was very well selected and I could have happily stayed there all day. Oh, and whoever wrote the captions has a lovely dry sense of humour. They were extremely informative and made me laugh out loud. It is only open for another month: go and see it.
And then the long train journey home. We crossed the Tay with the sun low in the west.