Wednesday, 15 April 2009

'Diana and Acteon'

I visited the new exhibition at Compton Verney yesterday. ‘Diana and Actaeon, The Forbidden Gaze’ was an exhibition that initially centred around the mythological tale of ‘Acteaon, a skilled and dedicated hunter who, when out hunting with his hounds, happens to approach Diana bathing in a stream with her companions. Acteon is transfixed by Diana’s nakedness and beauty; Diana is momentarily passive and vulnerable in his gaze and seeks revenge for his intrusion of privacy. Diana transforms Acteaon into a stag and sets his own dogs on him, tearing him to pieces.’

The exhibition opened with a reproduction of a Titian based on the theme (which was recently acquired by The National Gallery). Some say that Titian was the first modern painter with his later works such as 'The Flaying of Marsyas' (below). The violence of the scene is superbly expressed in the painterliness of Titian's brushwork.

The show then explored in increasingly graphic and sexual ways, through both historical and contemporary works of art, how the depiction of the female naked body has continued to persist as a genre in European fine art. Importantly it looked at ‘the cultural and social influences involved in seeing- and with this, possible feelings of embarrassment, fascination, guilt and pleasure’. It certainly did push this side of things. I’ve never seen so many images of female genitalia under one roof! Often on a very large scale. How very rude...On a more serious note, it was another really varied and well curated exhibition from Compton Verney.

John Currin, 'The Dane', oil on canvas, 2006

John Currin, the celebrated American painter, had this piece above represented. There is a lot made of Currin’s virtuosity as a painter, but I’m not sure. He is skilfull to be sure, but no more than many painters. I don’t like the bits where he has ‘exquisitively rendered a golden candle stick’ or whatever. They just seem quite academic exercises you once would have dealt with at art school, and often spoil the unity of the painting. It’s the images and ideas that are interesting. But again, I’m not sure how interesting these are. I saw his retrospective at The Serpentine Gallery a few years ago, and really enjoyed it. I then caught it again a few months later at The Whitney in New York, and found it so empty and irritating. I find him confusing. He is very interested in interview however. There is a link below to an interview, where he talks about these recent paintings derived from Danish pornography. Apparently, the idea behind these came out of his anger at the 9/11 bombings, which I found fascinating:

I’ll leave the last word to two old ladies I overheard in front of Currin’s painting, ‘ It’s all very interesting, but you wouldn’t be able to have it on your living room wall when the grandchildren come around’.

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