an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery
Far too expensive at £13.50 concession price (and they ask for a £2 donation on top).
Very well laid out, especially the main expo, although the whole thing feels a bit cramped. The early stuff, of which there is quite a lot, didn’t seem to me worth putting on the walls. Could have been done by anyone of the period. And all rather dull. Some pleasant art deco type sculptured heads. Then, after the show has started, for some reason one has to walk past one side a room full of documentary photographs and showing a projected film. Wrong place, wrong order. I think this should be an optional extra at the start or the end.
Moving swiftly on – the main rooms are very well done. Even so I thought a bigger room space would have suited the work better. But simple and well lit. Here the paintings, some of which I have been familiar with for some time, seemed very dull. I looked with great attention at these images both from very close up and at a middle distance and all stops between. And I could really find nothing much there. The idea of setting the figures in space with more or less distortions of scale seemed very ordinary. And what you found, if anything, in the actual figures was something that it seemed to me could have been achieved in a simpler, less pretentious manner. And it wasn’t very much. I thought they lacked any vigorous life or relation to life.
However, the sculptures that were in these rooms were quite wonderful. The subtle tricks of perspective, the marvellous concentration of detail in a vast space created by the bigger bodies was most moving. Pity some were under glass. They had real power and compassion for their subjects – and that in a universal way. Great work. The paintings seem to be trying to reproduce these effects in two dimensions and failing.
So – clear out the paintings and drawings. Use a bigger space and have more heads not in glass cases. That would be an truly great show.