Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: Hungarian Photography, Cy Twombly, George Stubbs

By , Columnist

London. But only just. I was heading for the Eurostar and the David Shrigley opening at the Yvon Lambert gallery in Paris. On the platform yet and Ronnie called. Ronnie comes through London for Wimbledon or to see her alimony lawyer. She said she was sorry the Spaniard lost and why don’t Americans win any more, and why don’t we do lunch at Little Italy and then the “Hungarian thing” at the Royal Academy.

At least she didn’t suggest lunch at the RA. The food only gets worse. Charles Samaurez-Smith should do something about it as he did when he was director of The National.

So, in thirty minutes flat, Shrigley was forgotten and we were on Frith Street in Little Italy across from a man who once told me he’d lost his virginity to his cello teacher, which was why he’d taken up tuba. We waved. I think he’s too skinny for tuba.

Ronnie had a bigger question: why did Hungary produce so many outstanding photographers in the 20th century? Brassai, Capa, Kertesz, Moholy-Nagy, Munkacsi - and they’re only the ones I know about. Ronnie knew the other 97.

Martin Munkacsi Nude in Straw Hat.jpgThe answer should be (but maybe isn’t) at the Eyewitness: Hungarian Photography in the 20th Century exhibition in the Sackler Wing at the Royal Academy. Good? Better than that. I am standing there in the muddle and rubble of the 20th century. Destruction, building, beauty, carnage, humour, tragedy.  Each one of these images really is worth a thousand words. Colin Ford, from The National Media Museum, Bradford, and Peter Baki of the Hungarian Museum of Photography, Kecskemet, have pooled their experience to produce more than 200 images,  offering insights into this extraordinary legacy of these Hungarian photographers.

It works on many levels.  As an historical record, I am standing right there in history. Artistically outstanding. See this in the context of the times they were taken. Compulsive viewing and I shall be back. The catalogue is worth having also. Skip the Summer Show and trot upstairs and see. Until 2 October.

And why such brilliance from Hungary during these times? According to Ronnie it’s because the camera became the popular gift to give a teenager on his birthday or his bar mitzvah.

Cy Twombly.jpgCy Twombly. One of my students called from Rome to say Cy Twombly’s dead. Cy was 83 and skipped between Lexington, Virginia, and Rome, where he died Tuesday. He blurred the lines between drawing and painting, challenging the ideals of modern art with his ‘scribbling’ style. Some said it was childlike. No way. Twombly was inspired by a deep appreciation and knowledge of classical culture, in particular that of Greece and Rome, grounding his work in literary tradition.

If you don’t know him, look him up. See his monumental 3,700 square-foot ceiling painting for the Salles des Bronzes in the Louvre. He was a likeable man, maybe even a master. Without hurting the feelings of Lexingtonians, it was right that Cy should ease out of this place in Rome

Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey by George Stubbs.jpgChristie’s London has had yet another good week. On Tuesday, one of the finest horse racing paintings, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, painted in 1765 by George Stubbs fetched £22.4 million - a record for the painter. Christie's Matthew Paton said Gimcrack is "possibly the greatest horse racing picture that exists". Certainly a winner for Christie’s.

ArtScene quote of the week:

“When I work I work very fast, but preparing to work can take any length of time.” Cy Twombly

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments are…

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