Tuesday, 30 December 2008

2008 Pictures, Words and Noises

I really enjoy poring over all the different reviews of the best cultural events of the last 12 months at this time of year. This year, what with having my own blog now, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to share some of my own experiences of things I have particularly enjoyed in 2008 rather than just keeping them in my notebooks where they take the form of endless lists and scribbly reflections to myself.

Unsurprisingly I’m always visiting exhibitions of some kind. I think we are pretty spoiled in the Midlands with good galleries and venues and most months there is always something to seek out. At the Ikon Gallery this year, I enjoyed great exhibitions by Jurgen Partenheimer, Ruth Claxton, and I also the urban/industrial sculptures of Martin Boyce later in the year.

The exhibitions at Compton Verney are some of the most intelligently curated shows around, and a brilliant show this year was The Fabric of Myth, which drew together artists, ideas and influences from a hugely diverse range of sources in this wonderful exhibition of textile art. I normally enjoy exhibitions at BMAG’s Waterhall Gallery too, but the current show ‘The Art Of Birmingham 1918-Present’ seemed incredibly tired. As an artist working in this great city, I felt thoroughly depressed by the whole experience as I nipped in the other day for an hour’s respite from the Christmas shopping.

By far the best exhibition I’ve seen this year was Alison Watt’s ‘Phantom’ at the National Gallery. It was the culmination of her experiences as Artist in Residence there, and her enormous canvasses of folded and twisted fabric inspired by paintings in the Collection such as Ingres’ Madame Moitessier’ and Zurbaran’s ‘Saint Francis in Meditation’, I found incredibly moving. The work possessed a real honesty, sensitivity and sense of engagement which I think can be hard to find in lots of contemporary art. Indeed it was certainly hard to find in this year’s John Moore’s Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. This year it was selected by the Chapman Brothers, Sacha Craddock and Graham Crowley. There were some really interesting pieces, (I loved Julian Brain’s painting) but equally so many looked like they had actually been painted by the Chapman Brothers themselves. I felt rather cheated by it all, having expected much more from this, supposedly the premier painting exhibition in the country.

My other real artistic highlight was a trip to Florence in October with my wife, Diane. There are too many things to mention here and by the end of the week we both felt like we had overfed ourselves on Renaissance art. How wonderful it was though to visit the Brancaci Chapel, and the Monastery at San Marco to view the Fra Angelico’s. I also loved Pontormo’s Mannerist deposition masterpiece in the Church of Saint Felicitia. It seemed absurdly but magically enhanced by the way it was lit up when I put my euros in the little pay box.

Books I’ve enjoyed this year are largely older ones I’ve caught up with rather than ones from this year. These include ‘Come On In’ new poems by Charles Bukowski; ‘The Road,’ by Cormac McCarthy; and ‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ by Jonathan Safron Foer amongst others. I’d really recommend this funny and moving account of a boy seeking clues about his father’s past after he dies in 9/11. A great one for all lovers of New York. I also greatly enjoyed ‘Chuck Close: Work’ by Christopher Finch, a huge, brilliantly produced monograph on one of my favourite artists. A visit to the Francis Bacon retrospective at Tate Britain also prompted a re-reading of his famous interviews with David Sylvester. I’ll catch up with some of this year’s books in the next year or two.

Television and films seemed to pass me by this year, apart from the brilliant Dexter. Like many, I think I may have to enter the world of the DVD Box Set. Most the films that seem remotely interesting are on such a limited release or not around at all in Birmingham. I feel frustrated that I’ve not been able to see ‘The Hunger’, directed by Steve McQueen and will have to wait for a DVD release, which is not the same experience. It will be good when the MAC re-opens it’s doors.

And finally, my musical highlights. These have been many and include Fleet Foxes and ‘Seldom Seen Kid’ by Elbow, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ by Bon Iver, ‘Tell Tales Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol 8’ by Bob Dylan, as well as discovering Bob’s earlier ‘Saved’ and ‘Shot of Love’, and listening to all 50 of the first season of Theme Time Radio Hour’ during the summer in the studio. Bob proved great company and a musical education about early American music. And what can you say about his brilliant jokes? I also enjoyed ‘To Survive’ by Joan as Policewoman, the superb Felice Brothers, and the brilliant ‘Third’ by Portishead. My album of the year though has to be Glasvegas’ debut. A record so stirring and full of heart that it just has to be played at ear-splitting volume in the car whenever possible. Well it has been by me anyway.

I’ve seen some great live gigs this year too from Jah Wobble’s Chinese Dub (amazing!), to Henry Rollins’ spoken word, to Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks all at the Glee Club. Goldfrapp at Symphony Hall, to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Cardiff Millenium Stadium. There is nothing to add there really- he just is The Boss. But the best live act I’ve seen this year was Leonard Cohen at the NEC. I wasn’t sure how Leonard would work in such a venue, but he did. It was one of the most incredible and also moving concerts I’ve ever seen.

Phew! I think it’s best I leave it there. Happy New Year!

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