Meredith Etherington-Smith

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What I did this week was to interview Hiroshi Sugimoto for Art Review (read it in the November issue). Sugimoto is an artist whose work I admire enormously and who I have always wanted to meet. So there we were, sitting opposite each other at a table in the Serpentine Gallery where his show will open at the end of September. Quiet, yet fiercely determined. He started as an amateur boy cameraman - photographing locomotives, which were his very first series work. His dioramas and waxwork images, the modernist architecture series, and of course his seascapes, those calm, beautiful evocations of water and air followed after. Sugimoto proved to be highly articulate, happy to talk in great depth about his work and very worried that black and white photography will die because digital is so popular and the particular plastic coated paper he now uses to make his prints (all done by himself, by the way) will stop being made. He told me he felt like a dying breed, one of the last, the very last, black and white
photographers. I do hope not.

He told me he always starts with the concept, works that out over a period of time, sometimes years, before he embarks on his work. Some series such as his putative 'Waterfall' series never develop, there isn't enough in it for him, but the pure concept of water, when combined with air, led him to his 'Seascapes'. At the Serpentine at the end of this months will be 'Seascapes' and 'Pine Tree Landscapes' his evocation of l7th century naturalistic Japanese ink-painting. The series which interests me greatly is 'Modern Architecture' the concept of which is to show great modernist architectural masterpieces as they originally appeared in the imagination of their creator - before the planners and the electricians altered the original concept. These photographs are truly extraordinary in that they are recogniseably buildings by le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe but they look as if they are being seen from the vantage point of the l9th Century. London, 27 Sept 03

There are so many art prizes now, aren't there? I've judged one or two in my time but the Lexmark European Painting Prize - 30,000 euros for the winner - is the first I've helped to set up.We had the prize-giving last night - the culmination of a year's hard work, viewing over 2,000 paintings entered by artists from all over Europe.
First, the surprise; as there was no age limit or 'professional qualification' limit to this competition I was, frankly, expecting more than one amateur watercolour or muddy oil. We had one, which out of 2,000 is really very good. The subject matter was incredibly diverse ranging from paintings of architecture to Edward Hopper-esque cinema interiors (possibly also inspired by Hiroshi Sugimoto's 'Theatre' series featuring blank screens lighting up kitsch movie theater interiors), to a great deal of (I must admit) not very well executed hyper realist work.
The final selection looked very impressive - coming as it did from Germany, France, Poland, Italy Finland, Portugal, and of course G.B. The winner, and he deserved it, was Christian Ward, a painter whose work might be described as magical realism, whose career has been meteoric ever since he graduated from the Royal Academy Schools last year. Some of his graduate work was snatched up at his degree show by Charles Saatchi and is now on view in the Saatchi Gallery... London, 26 Sept 03

It's been a busy week, with upwards of seventeen openings one night!
Madness - up town, down town, the crowds were there. It's as if about half
the population of Greater London (12 million) are on a massive art binge.
The Hirst baroque religious show which I touched on last week made front page news in just about every paper here - I still haven't gone for my second look because the crowds are still seething around.

Elsewhere at the Royal Academy, Andrew Lloyd Webber filled ALL the galleries with his Pre-Raphaelite collection together with other acquisitions - a Picasso, a wonderful Canaletto.....the entire West End art scene was patrolling the galleries with their mouths open. I don't think any of us
realised how much A LW had actually bought over the past 40 years. My
favourites? Ophelia, by Millais which turned out to be tiny - the size of a
postcard and incredibly delicately painted and a Burne Jones called 'Night' which was a female, star-clad form ascending into the high clouds of romance (as Keats sort of put it). It looked more like a Symbolist than a Pre-Raphaelite painting and I was rather fascinated by it. I'll go and see
this show again for that one picture.

Something for the diary: Three short films by Ben Lewis on Matthew Barney,
Gregor Schneider and Maurizio Cattelan on Wednesday 1 October at the Prince
Charles Cinema - call (020) 7494 3654 quote artupdate and you get a special
price of £7.50. I think it will be worth it.

And if you are UK based, catch the series on BBC2 called If You Can't Take
it With You - about the estates left by musicians, artists and so forth. I've a cameo walk on in the Picasso film - the series starts with Hendrix and then Dylan. Should be fascinating. London 18 Sept 03


Dateline London. It's been art- challenge week in London. The blockbuster opening was Damien Hirst's 'Romance in the Age of Uncertainty' at the White Cube Gallery. Hirst is nothing if not consistent in thematic terms if not in result and this exhibition, his first for eight years, was composed of familiar and new elements. The formaldehyded animals, the flies, were the familiars, the unfamiliar were the butterfly wing pieces of such luminosity and beauty as to rival mediaeval stained glass windows. Glass cases were arranged in cruciform layout as if one was in a Church of Latter Day Disaster. What did I think? I'll tell you in my next blog, because there were too many art-world bodies and those who would like to be art-world bods at the opening; I believe, as in the case of Jake and Dinos Chapman's tribal show, one needs to be alone in the galleries with the work to understand what Hirst is really doing. More in the next blog. John Currin's show at the Serpentine Gallery left me feeling queasy and this must be the artist's intent. He specialises in first-glance saccharine portraits, beautifully painted in pale pastels, of characters in present-day American society. He captures their shallowness and self-regard, their divorce from feeling, their terror of 'what lies below' and their obsession with youth and being thin. Currin is telling us that American society is bankrupt and it is a queasy concept. Pastel colours notwithstanding, there is a savagery about this work equivalent in strength and disgust with subject to satirical drawings done by l8th Century cartoonists such as Rowlandson and Hogarth. You get the feeling that under the neat pink and white Brooks Brothers shirt, the flesh is rotting away. And then, as it turned out as an antidote, I went to an exhibition of Lucian Freud's youthful drawings, done when he was l7 and on a painting retreat in a leaking barn in North Wales. Even at so young an age, the future artist was apparent. Some of the drawings were no more than doodles, others were more fully worked out with fine hatching and strong line slightly reminiscent of Chagall. All, though, were lively, full of energy and invention. What a great contrast to Currin! I came away in life- and-art-affirming mode. More soon. London, 13 Sept 03

Meredith Etherington-Smith is editor-in-chief of both the London-based Art Review and the international Christie's Magazine. She has written three biographies, including a definitive volume on Dali (Dalí, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992). As a magazine editor she has sat at the helm of U.S. GQ, Paris Vogue and Harpers & Queen.

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